King's Court: A look around the nation
Tu Holloway led a furious rally in Xavier's comeback against Purdue on Saturday. Less than a two-hour drive away, NBA scouts flocked to Rupp Arena to watch Kentucky and North Carolina play a game for the ages.
Phew! What a weekend.
As always, King's Court is here to get you caught up on all of college basketball's current storylines as the 2011-12 season heats up.
In a zone
Dick Vitale: This week's King's Court crown goes to college basketball's greatest ambassador, Dickie V, who received an incredible honor Monday when the University of Detroit Mercy named its court after the ESPN announcer and former coach. Vitale went 78-30 in four seasons as the Titans' head coach from 1973 to '77. He won 21 straight games in his final season before becoming the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. Vitale became emotional and was clearly touched during a news conference to discuss the honor.
Long Beach State's schedule: No team from a mid-major conference will enter league play as battle-tested as the 49ers. Dan Monson's squad upset Pittsburgh in the second game of the season and has since dropped road games to San Diego State (in overtime) and Louisville. Long Beach State plays Kansas tonight and still has games remaining at North Carolina (Saturday) and against Xavier (Dec. 22). Name another school with five nonconference games against top-15 opponents.
Tears of joy: Xavier guard Tu Holloway couldn't help but get emotional after his team's 66-63 victory over Purdue this weekend. Holloway helped the Musketeers rally from a 19-point deficit by swishing three 3-pointers in the final 1:48 for the dramatic victory before a sellout crowd at the Cintas Center. Holloway's chin quivered during a postgame interview on the court. "I dreamed of this as a kid so much, going out there and hitting shots like that," he said. "It's unreal for me."
John Thompson III: The Georgetown coach doesn't get nearly enough credit for his prowess on the sideline. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, JT3 already has the Hoyas back in the Top 25 after Thursday's dramatic 57-55 win at previously unbeaten Alabama. The No. 21 Hoyas, who also have defeated Memphis, are 7-1 heading into Saturday's game against Howard. Their only loss was by four to Kansas.
Kentucky-North Carolina: The NBA season tips off in three weeks, but in some ways it felt as if it began Saturday when the Tar Heels and Wildcats squared off in Lexington. As many as 12 potential first-round draft picks saw action at Rupp Arena. Kentucky escaped with a 73-72 win in what was easily one of the best games I've ever witnessed in person. Crossing my fingers for a rematch in the NCAA title game.
A first time for everything: Harvard boasts a national ranking for the first time in the history of the program. The 8-0 Crimson, who play at Connecticut on Thursday, are No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and No. 25 in the Associated Press poll. There are now just seven Division I schools left that have been in Division I since the AP poll began in 1948 and have never been ranked: Brown, The Citadel, Colgate, Furman, Lafayette, Lehigh and William & Mary.
In a funk
Stagnant offenses: Injury-riddled USC scored 36 points in a loss to Cal Poly earlier this season and scored only 40 in a setback against Minnesota last week. At 55.1 points per game, the Trojans are on pace for their lowest scoring average since 1948-49. Northwestern wasn't much better in Sunday's 68-41 loss to Baylor, when the Wildcats shot just 24.1 percent.
Florida's backcourt: The thought entering the season was that the Gators' backcourt was among the best in the country with Erving Walker, Brad Beal, Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario. But turnovers have been a huge problem for the unit thus far. Florida had 20 turnovers in Friday's loss at Syracuse and 16 in a setback earlier this season at Ohio State.
Colonial Athletic Association: The CAA had a nice run last season with Virginia Commonwealth advancing to the Final Four and two other teams (Old Dominion and George Mason) making the NCAA tournament. This season, though, the league doesn't appear nearly as strong. VCU is rebuilding; ODU has home losses to Northern Iowa and Vermont; George Mason already has dropped games to Florida International and Florida Atlantic; and preseason favorite Drexel is 2-4 with losses to Delaware, Saint Joseph's and Norfolk State.
Flip-flop: Last season, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas-El Paso finished first and second in Conference USA. So far this year, they're at the bottom of the standings. UTEP is 1-4, and UAB is 1-6. In a combined dozen games, the pair has managed to beat only UC Riverside and Troy.
Travon Woodall: The Pittsburgh guard is out for the next four to five weeks with a groin strain and an abdominal tear. The loss is a huge blow to the Panthers, who surely will miss Woodall as they open Big East play -- not to mention Saturday's game with Oklahoma State. The 5-11 junior has been averaging 14.1 points and 8.3 assists.
Iowa State: There was quite a bit of buzz entering the season about the Cyclones being a "sleeper" team thanks to the addition of transfers such as Royce White (Minnesota), Chris Allen (Michigan State) and Chris Babb (Penn State). But ISU has two inexcusable losses against in-state rivals Northern Iowa and Drake and was never very competitive at Michigan on Saturday.
Questions for the King
One month into the season, how would you rerank the "big six" conferences?
Here's my breakdown:
1. Big East: I'm not sold on Louisville as a top-10 team, although my opinion could change once the Cardinals get healthy. But I think Connecticut, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Marquette will be really, really good -- if they're not already.
2. Big Ten: I'm not sure anyone is good enough to challenge Ohio State for the conference title, but the depth in this league is strong. At least it appears to be. We knew Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State would be good. But Illinois and Indiana are undefeated, and, somehow, Minnesota is finding a way to win without Trevor Mbakwe.
3. SEC: The league is top-heavy, but Kentucky is a Final Four favorite and I think Florida, Alabama and Mississippi State are all deep and talented enough to make significant NCAA tournament runs. Vanderbilt, despite its struggles, is pretty salty. And Ole Miss and Tennessee are a lot better than most thought.
4. Big 12: Pay no attention to what the computers say. This is the worst the conference has been in years. Baylor and Missouri are both in the top 10, and, even though it isn't an elite team, Kansas is still solid. But after that, there is a massive drop-off.
5. ACC: Other than North Carolina, there isn't much to brag about here. Duke isn't nearly as good as it was last season, and the third-best team, Florida State, is coming off a three-game losing streak. The bottom five teams are simply unwatchable.
6. Pac-12: Ugh.
Why was Baylor a four-point underdog at Northwestern?
It rarely happens, but every now and then, oddsmakers miss badly on a game. That was clearly the case Sunday when the seventh-ranked and undefeated Bears played against an athletically overmatched program that has never once played in the NCAA tournament. I'm guessing Baylor was an underdog because it's historically bad on the road. It's a new season, though. One in which the Bears beat the Wildcats by 28.
Is Illinois for real?
It certainly seems that way. I wasn't buying into the Illini at first, but beating Gonzaga 82-75 Saturday was quite a feat for a team that was supposed to be in a transition year. The emergence of 7-foot-1 center Meyers Leonard has certainly helped, along with the addition of guard Sam Maniscalco, a graduate transfer from Bradley.
Good things come in threes
Three teams that are ranked too high
1. Louisville: The No. 4 Cardinals are extremely well coached and play a menacing brand of defense, but ranking them ahead of teams such as North Carolina is ridiculous. Louisville's only good win thus far is Friday's overtime victory against Vanderbilt.
2. Creighton: It's been an exciting season for the 17th-ranked Bluejays, whose 7-0 record includes wins over San Diego State, Nebraska and Iowa. I'm not so sure they'd be as fortunate against a few of the schools ranked below them, such as Georgetown and Mississippi State.
3. Texas A&M: The Aggies are in a state of flux right now and are still trying to figure out things offensively. Billy Kennedy's squad should be strong once Khris Middleton is back and healthy but, for now, A&M probably doesn't belong in the polls.
Three worst teams from big six conferences
1. Utah: Under first-year coach Larry Krystkowiak, the Utes are 1-6 with the losses coming by an average of 20 points. They lost 80-59 to Boise State, 87-65 to UNC Asheville and 82-52 to Fresno State. There's also a loss to Montana State, and the only win was by three against something called San Diego Christian. Things are likely to get worse (if that's possible), as Utah just suspended top player Josh Watkins indefinitely for violating team rules.
2. Boston College: Believe it or not, Utah wasn't a lock for the top spot. BC is that bad, folks. Saturday's 75-61 home loss against Boston University marked the sixth defeat in the past seven games after that stirring three-point win over New Hampshire in the opener. And BU isn't the only middling in-state foe to crush the Eagles. Boston College lost to Holy Cross by 22 and to UMass by 36!
3. South Florida: There's a gigantic gap between No. 2 and No. 3 on this list, and frankly this spot could've been occupied by a number of teams, including Texas Tech, Rutgers and South Carolina. But the Bulls have beaten no one of significance, scored just 49 points in a loss to Penn State and lost by 23 to a down VCU team.
Three intriguing games before the weekend
1. Missouri vs. Villanova, Tuesday: Mizzou had favorable matchups in blowout wins against Notre Dame and Cal in Kansas City. The Wildcats will provide the toughest test of the season thus far for Frank Haith's squad.
2. Arizona at Florida, Wednesday: Expect the youthful Wildcats to struggle away from home. This trip all the way across the country to Gainesville won't be an exception.
3. West Virginia vs. Kansas State in Wichita: Frank Martin was Bob Huggins' assistant for one season at K-State before Huggy Bear bolted for his alma mater, WVU. Martin stayed behind and was promoted to head coach. He still considers Huggins a close friend and mentor.
Three things for fans to debate
1. NCAA tournament teams: 68 or 96?
2. Who wins the Pac-12?
3. Best coach in the nation not named Mike Krzyzewski?
Three staples of any lengthy car trip to cover a game
1. Flamin' Hot Cheetos
2. Peanut M&Ms
3. DCOD (Diet Coke on draft)
A -- Mike Kennedy: Wichita State's play-by-play voice announced his 1,000th consecutive game Sunday when the Shockers defeated UNLV at Koch Arena. Kennedy has not missed a game since beginning his career in November 1980. "One thousand games, and he's never lost any of them," WSU coach Gregg Marshall quipped.
B -- Jim Boeheim: Inappropriate as his initial comments might have been regarding the Bernie Fine scandal, Boeheim deserves credit for finally saying the right things about the situation during a postgame news conference Friday. Hopefully Boeheim was sincere and makes good on his word to get involved with organizations that help victims of abuse.
C -- Vanderbilt: After watching the Commodores play Louisville, my thoughts were meh. A good team but not a great one -- and certainly not worthy of its lofty preseason ranking. I realize that the look of the team will change once Festus Ezeli returns.
D -- Party Rock Anthem: It's catchy and was one of the most popular songs of the summer. Still, it's barely December and the song by LMFAO has already been played out at arenas across the country. Enough already.
F -- UCLA: Instead of getting better, things only seem to be getting worse. The 2-5 Bruins are definitely the season's biggest disappointment thus far.
Thoughts from press row
1. It'd be a shame if Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger (back spasms) doesn't play when the Buckeyes take on Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. Like most college basketball fans, I've been looking forward to a Sullinger-Thomas Robinson matchup. A healthy Buckeyes team should beat KU by six to eight points, but, if Sullinger is sidelined for a second straight game, the Jayhawks should have a chance.
2. Arizona State is doing a little bit better than I thought it would without standout recruit Jahii Carson, who has yet to be cleared by the NCAA. The Sun Devils are 3-4, but they won a tough road game at Tulsa this weekend and annihilated a Wake Forest team that just beat Nebraska on the road. Three of ASU's four losses have come by six or fewer points. Trent Lockett leads the team with 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds a game.
3. Painful as it was for Minnesota to lose Trevor Mbakwe to a knee injury, the situation is bringing out the best in forward Rodney Williams, an underachieving junior who averaged just 6.8 points last season. The absence of Mbakwe forced coach Tubby Smith to move Williams from the wing -- where he struggled with his outside shooting -- to power forward, which is where he played in high school. Williams has responded by averaging 13 points and 8.5 boards, 2.5 blocks and 3.0 steals in his past two games, wins over Virginia Tech and USC.
4. I caught a little grief this weekend for saying Kentucky and North Carolina were the "two best teams in the country, and it's not even a debate." I'll stand by that statement. When the Tar Heels and Wildcats are playing at a high level, no one can beat them. The problem is that, like any team, they will have off nights from time to time. The mark of a great team is finding a way to win when you're not at your best. We'll see whether these two progams have that kind of gumption.
5. Visited the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville this weekend. Wow! Impressive.
6. There are 15 undefeated teams remaining in college basketball, including three each from the Big 12, Big Ten and Big East. The surprise team in the group is Tulane, which is 9-0 for the first time in 20 years after Saturday's 57-52 victory over Georgia Tech.
7. If I still had a vote for the Heisman, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III would be the easy pick. It'll be a travesty if Griffin doesn't walk away with the hardware. Speaking of which, Baylor has a national player of the year candidate in all three major sports, as Brittney Griner (women's basketball) and Perry Jones (men's basketball) also will be in the mix for some postseason hardware. Not bad for a school that people said "didn't belong" in the Big 12 or "would never compete" in the Big 12.
8. Selection Sunday just won't be the same this season without listening to people talk about how Virginia Tech got snubbed. The Hokies are 5-3 with losses to Minnesota (without Mbakwe) and Kansas State (in Blacksburg). Even if Tech works its way onto the bubble, those setbacks will hurt the Hokies in the selection process.
9. I'm usually not one to say "I told you so." But because so many people like to point out when I'm wrong (as I was when I picked North Carolina to beat Kentucky), I figured I'd pat myself on the back for being on the money in a preseason video segment about two under-the-radar teams. My selections: Mississippi State and Marquette. Hold the applause. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Goodfellas Pizzeria, Lexington, Ky.: If you're ever taking a leisurely stroll through downtown Lexington and want to engage in a little binge eating at, say, 2:30 a.m., make sure to stop in Goodfellas. Standing in a crowded entryway -- which I'm guessing is about the size of a Texas Tech "storage closet" -- amid french-kissing couples and inebriated college kids is worth it when you bite into your crispy slice of pizza, fresh out of the oven. My fellow scribes and I were so smitten with its goodness that we got back in line and ordered a second slice. The Goodfellas employee behind the counter laughed and told me I was funny. "What do you mean, I'm funny?" I said. "Funny how? Funny like a clown? Do I amuse you? Do I make you laugh? What do you mean, I'm funny?" OK, that part didn't really happen. But it would've been cool if it had.
Kegler's, Morgantown, W. Va.: The folks at Kegler's definitely know how to run a sports bar. Then again, I was so in love with the "season blend" wings that Bob Huggins could've been sitting on the stool next to me and I wouldn't have noticed. Come to think of it, that guy to my right did kinda resemble well, never mind. Kegler's has always had a nice crowd when I've stopped in, and it has great specials, including 45-cent wings on Monday and Tuesday.
Dodie's Seafood Cafe, Dallas: Whenever I go back to my hometown, I never, ever, leave without stopping by Dodie's for some fried catfish, fried shrimp, crawfish etouffee or seafood gumbo. It's Cajun-style seafood at its finest -- at a very affordable price -- all in a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. I always go to the original location on Greenville Avenue, but Dodie's has opened up restaurants all across the Metroplex. It's not hard to understand why.
Jason King covers college basketball for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKingESPN.
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