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King's Court: Top storylines in hoops

Saturday's North Carolina-Kentucky showdown in Lexington still seems so far away. Until we get there, though, there's plenty to keep us satisfied -- including a Big Ten/ACC Challenge that features Duke-Ohio State and a Friday night doubleheader that includes Florida-Syracuse and Vanderbilt-Louisville.

As always, King's Court is here to make sure you're up to date on all the pertinent storylines.

In a zone

A new challenger in the Pac-12: Welcome Stanford to the mix of teams that could contend for the title in what is arguably the country's weakest Big Six conference. Most preseason prognostications had the Cardinal finishing in the lower half of the league, but Johnny Dawkins' squad is 6-1, with the loss coming in the NIT Tip-Off final against third-ranked Syracuse in a game the Cardinal led until the final few minutes. With UCLA struggling and Arizona and Washington incorporating new players, there's no reason Stanford can't vie for the Pac-12 crown.

Rick Majerus: The likable Saint Louis coach, who led Utah to the 1998 NCAA title game, is back in the spotlight. The Billikens are 6-0 and ranked No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, a startling feat for a team that went 12-19 last season. Even more impressive is Saint Louis' résumé, which includes double-digit wins against Washington, Boston College and Villanova. On Sunday, Majerus' squad whipped previously unbeaten Oklahoma 83-63 in the championship game of the 76 Classic in Anaheim.

Harvard: The Crimson are 6-0 and on the cusp of breaking into the Top 25 after defeating Florida State and Central Florida -- one day after the Knights defeated Connecticut -- in last weekend's Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright averages a team-high 12.2 points and seven rebounds for Harvard, which is off to its best start since the 1984-85 season. The Crimson haven't made the NCAA tournament since 1946.

Big Ten/ACC Challenge: I'm looking particularly forward to this week's event because of four games: Duke at Ohio State (Tuesday), Wisconsin at North Carolina (Wednesday), Indiana at North Carolina State (Wednesday) and Florida State at Michigan State (Wednesday). I'll go with the home team in each game. This is the 13th year of the challenge. The ACC won the first 10 years. The Big Ten has won the past two.

Iona's offense: The Gaels are averaging a national-best 95.4 points per game and own victories over Maryland (89-63) and St. Joseph's (104-99 in two overtimes). Iona's setback was a 91-90 loss to Purdue. Scott Machado leads the nation in assists with 12.2 per contest and is also averaging 18.6 points.

First-year coaches: UNLV is 7-0 under Dave Rice, while Frank Haith has Missouri looking like a top-10 team. Archie Miller guided Dayton to a championship game win at the Old Spice Classic, and Mark Gottfried has given North Carolina State fans something to get excited about.

In a funk

Kendall Marshall's defense: The North Carolina point guard is still one of the best -- if not the best -- players in the country at his position. But he seemed to get exposed a bit while attempting to guard UNLV's Oscar Bellfield, who repeatedly drove past Marshall and into the lane during a 16-point, nine-assist performance in Saturday's upset of the Tar Heels. What's concerning is that Bellfield isn't nearly as good as the next two point guards Marshall will face: Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor and Kentucky's Marquis Teague.

Villanova at the 76 Classic: The preseason expectations weren't all that high for the Wildcats following the loss of three of their top four scorers (Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena). Still, no one could've predicted that Jay Wright's squad would've finished fourth in an underwhelming 76 Classic field with setbacks against Saint Louis and Santa Clara.

Twitter: I've got nothing against it personally -- heck, I'm on it all the time -- but Twitter continues to cause headaches for coaches across the country. Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor couldn't keep himself from lashing back at critical fans following his 11-turnover performance against Duke last week. And now Connecticut forward Alex Oriakhi has taken complaints about his diminished role to the world wide web. If I were a college coach, I wouldn't let my guys tweet during the season. Serves no purpose.

Wichita State's résumé: The Shockers may be the best team in the Missouri Valley Conference -- although Creighton and Indiana State would beg to differ -- but they've come up short in the two games that would've done wonders for their NCAA tournament résumé. Both losses -- to Alabama and Temple -- occurred in Puerto Rico. After Sunday's home game against UNLV, the Shockers won't have many opportunities for quality out-of-league wins.

Season-ending injuries: They continue to mount for some of the nation's top players. Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis, a preseason All-Big East selection, is out with an ACL injury. And Minnesota's season is all but lost thanks to a knee injury to all-everything forward Trevor Mbakwe.

First-year coaches: Maryland's Mark Turgeon may be regretting his decision to leave Texas A&M, while Texas Tech's Billy Gillispie is trying to win with a roster full of freshmen and junior-college transfers. George Mason is 4-2 under Paul Hewitt, who wasn't counting on losses against Florida Atlantic and Florida International. Rodney Terry is off to a 2-4 start at Fresno State, which is nothing compared to the struggles Larry Krystkowiak is enduring at Utah, which is 1-5.

Questions for the King

Is UNLV for real?

It was hard to think otherwise while watching the Rebels dismantle North Carolina late Saturday night. I couldn't have been more impressed with the way Dave Rice's team kept attacking, attacking, attacking … right up until the final horn. Mike Moser is playing like an All-America candidate with averages of 15.1 points and 13.7 rebounds, which ranks second in the nation. And Chace Stanback, Bellfield, Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall are veterans with tremendous poise. We'll find out a lot more about UNLV during upcoming games at Wichita State (Sunday) and Wisconsin (Dec. 10). Still, at this point, the Rebels certainly look like the real deal.

How much will Ryan Boatright's presence help Connecticut?

A ton, apparently. After missing the Huskies' first six games because of an NCAA-mandated suspension, Boatright played 33 minutes in Connecticut's 78-76 overtime victory over Florida State in the Battle 4 Atlantis consolation game. He had 14 points, three assists and no turnovers. The 6-foot Boatright likes to push the ball and play up-tempo, a style that will work well in Storrs.

Who is the best team not in this week's Top 25?

I still think Michigan State could be pretty salty. The Spartans have played two notable games (against North Carolina and Duke, both on neutral courts) and lost each time. But they're still one of the better rebounding teams in the country and are obviously well-coached. My other choice, if I can have one, is Georgetown. I love Jason Clark's game, and the trio of Hollis Thompson, Henry Sims and Otto Porter is hard to stop. The Hoyas are good now, and they're only going to get better.

Good things come in threes

Three Top 25 teams I'm still not sold on

1. Vanderbilt: The Commodores, who have dropped home games to Cleveland State and Xavier, have been one of the season's biggest disappointments thus far.
2. Memphis: Rebounding, shot selection and maturity are again issues for Josh Pastner's talented team.
3. Texas A&M: Khris Middleton's injury has slowed the Aggies, who aren't as good as some of the teams also receiving votes.

Three coaches -- besides the ones we already knew about -- whose seats may be getting toasty

1. Ken Bone, Washington State: The Cougars underachieved last season, and now they're 2-4 with a loss to UC-Riverside.
2. Mike Davis, UAB: One season after making the NCAA tournament, the Blazers are 1-4.
3. Ken McDonald, Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers are 2-5 after going 16-16 last season.

Three underrated games this week

1. Georgetown at Alabama, Thursday: A road win might be enough to catapult the Hoyas into the Top 25.
2. Florida at Syracuse, Friday: The Bernie Fine situation will likely overshadow what should be a great game.
3. Purdue at Xavier: Year after year, the Musketeers play one of the nation's toughest nonconference schedules.

Three bold predictions

1. The Big Ten will win the Big Ten-ACC Challenge with ease.
2. Marquette will emerge as a serious threat in the Big East race.
3. North Carolina 74, Kentucky 68

Three things for fans to debate

1. Cameron Indoor Stadium versus Allen Fieldhouse?
2. Straight to the NBA, one season of college or two seasons of college?
3. Best barbecue: Kansas City, Texas, Memphis or North Carolina?

Report card

A -- Next year's Battle 4 Atlantis field: How about a field that includes Duke, Louisville, Memphis, Minnesota, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Stanford and VCU. And you thought this season's Maui Invitational was strong.

B -- Tom Crean: Patience is beginning to pay off at Indiana, where Crean picked up a huge win in Sunday's 75-59 victory over Butler. Even though the Bulldogs are in rebuilding mode, it was still an important victory for Crean, whose team could turn some heads by beating North Carolina State on Wednesday in Raleigh.

C -- Central Florida Knights: Sure, the upset of Connecticut was great and all. But how about capitalizing on the momentum and beating Harvard the next day, guys? Instead, Donnie Jones' team came out flat and lost 59-49 in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

D -- Cincinnati: If you're going to schedule soft in the nonconference, you'd better make sure you win all of your games. The Bearcats did that in 2010-11, when they entered Big East play with a spotless record. This season, though, Cincinnati has already lost to Presbyterian and Marshall. And big games still loom against Wright State, Radford and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. #sarcasmmeter

F -- Dancing: My performance at my brother-in-law's wedding was atrocious. Remember Willard from "Footloose"? That was basically me. Someone needs to teach me how to Dougie.

Footloose scene | Dougie

Thoughts from press row

1. Freshmen rarely get the chance to star at Pittsburgh, but it appears Khem Birch may be an exception. The highly touted forward is averaging 28.5 minutes in his past two games and has responded with averages of 12 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks. It will be interesting to see how Panthers coach Jamie Dixon uses Birch once forward Dante Taylor, who missed the past two games with migraines, returns to the lineup.

2. It's been amusing to read comments from people criticizing the media for "over-hyping" North Carolina. Folks, just because a team loses one game doesn't mean that team was overrated. North Carolina still has six or seven first-round draft picks on its roster and a Hall of Fame coach on the sideline. It won't surprise me if the Tar Heels are back in the No. 1 slot before conference play begins.

3. Royce White (Minnesota) and Chris Allen (Michigan State) are the two transfers who generated the most offseason buzz at Second Chance U -- also known as Iowa State. But former Penn State star Chris Babb has demanded the most attention of late. Babb is tied with White for the team lead in scoring with 14 points per game. He had 26 points in Saturday's win over Rice and has made an astounding 52.3 percent (23 of 44) of his 3-point attempts.

4. Speaking of impressive 3-point shooters, Wisconsin's Josh Gasser has made 15 of his 21 attempts (71.4 percent) from beyond the arc. Wow.

5. Pineapple has no business on pizza.

6. Best wishes to St. John's coach Steve Lavin, who has decided to take some additional time away from the sideline while he recovers from prostate cancer surgery.

7. Auburn plays one of the weakest nonconference schedules in the country, but I can't say I blame second-year coach Tony Barbee. Early-season wins -- no matter who they're against -- are huge for building confidence and generating fan interest, and the Tigers need plenty of both. It'll be interesting to see how they fare in Friday's road game against Seton Hall, which has improved immensely. Former Texas guard Varez Ward is averaging 12 points and 5.8 assists for Auburn.

8. Todd Mayo -- O.J.'s younger brother -- is off to a solid start at Marquette, where the freshman is averaging 8.8 points off the bench.

9. North Carolina coach Roy Williams is hacked off -- and not at one of his players. For the second time in three seasons, Williams is trying to figure out how a fan of an opposing team -- in this case, UNLV -- scored tickets in a section reserved for Tar Heels fans. Williams said an overly derogatory Rebels supporter was seated behind the Tar Heels' bench, next to the wife of a North Carolina assistant coach, during Saturday's loss to UNLV. "For some of our fans to … get tickets through the [booster club] and then sell their tickets to UNLV boosters that are sitting right behind our families, I don't like that. And if the shoe fits, wear it. I don't care who it is, and I'll tell the sucker face-to-face: I do not like that, will not like that, don't ever forget it. I'm trying to find out who it was."

10. Nikola Vucevic's early departure to the NBA and a season-ending injury to Jio Fontan are killing USC. But coach Kevin O'Neill probably gets goosebumps when he thinks about the potential of next season's squad. Along with a healthy Fontan and an improved Dewayne Dedmon, the Trojans will add former Wake Forest standout J.T. Terrell to a team that also includes emerging point guard Maurice Jones and underrated freshman Byron Wesley.

11. Looking forward to hitting the road this weekend. St. John's at Kentucky on Thursday, Vanderbilt at Louisville Friday, North Carolina at Kentucky Saturday and UNLV at Wichita State Sunday.

Pit stops

Hill Country Barbecue, New York: Nothing says barbecue like New York City. Well, OK … maybe not. But I certainly felt like I was back in Texas when I walked into Hill Country on West 26th St. in the Big Apple. From the moist brisket to the beef ribs to the chicken that was as tender as a mother's love, my "plate" (which was actually wax paper, a nice touch) was filled with so much meat that I almost didn't have room for the mac-and-cheese and baked beans with burnt ends I ordered as sides. But somehow I managed to get 'em down the hatch, while still saving room for the customary postgame slice of Ray's Pizza, a staple of any trip.

Ted's Cafe Escondido, Norman, Okla.: I haven't found many Mexican restaurants better than Ted's and, trust me, it's not from a lack of looking. Their self-proclaimed "Best Mexican Tacos" are loaded with flavorful chopped fajita meat and the perfect amount of diced onions and cilantro. And a free bowl of queso is a nice touch to go along with the complementary chips and salsa. Dessert sopapillas are also on the house. Along with the good service, the best thing about Ted's is the tortillas. Best I've ever had. Ted's, which is always packed, also has locations in Oklahoma City and Edmond.

Chicken sandwiches at White Castle: A lot of people roll their eyes when I tell them I'm a White Castle fan. And I get it. The burgers are tiny and greasy and certainly not overloaded with meat. But before you pass judgment on White Castle entirely, I'd encourage you to try the chicken sandwich. Or be like me and get three or four of them along with your regular burger(s)-and-fries order. The chicken is high-quality, has the perfect amount of breading, and the small slice of American cheese makes it go down smoothly. And without the threat of lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise oozing off the bun and falling into your lap, the chicken sandwich is an ideal eat-in-your-car snack while you're rushing between Louisville and Lexington for a Cardinals or Wildcats game.

Jason King covers college basketball for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKingESPN.