Commentary

'In The Know' makes its season debut

Originally Published: January 6, 2012
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

I know how to ice skate, ski and at one point my life, I knew how to do a front handspring.

I don't know how to water ski, snowboard or do a front flip without the aid of a diving board.

I know where I was when Lorenzo Charles dunked Dereck Whittenburg's air ball (home on the sofa, watching with my dad); when Christian Laettner sank his buzzer-beater against Kentucky (behind the Duke bench, two years out of college and terrified to write); and when Princeton upset UCLA (at my college roommate's apartment, mad I was no longer covering the team).

I don't currently know where my glasses or car keys are.

I know how to recite the prelude to "The Canterbury Tales" in old English (thanks to my high school English teacher for that bit of useless information).

I don't know how to speak another language, unless pig Latin counts.

Most important, I know what I know. I'm unafraid to share what I think I know, and I'm OK admitting what I don't know. Generally speaking, the last outweighs the first two by about five crates of elephants.

And that is the point of this column. It is my weekly come-to-Jesus meeting: a chance to boldly proclaim what I know, cautiously offer what I think I know and sheepishly admit what I don't know.

And yes, admitting I was wrong in weeks previous will be part of the process.

[+] EnlargeDion Waiters
Mark Konezny/US PresswireDion Waiters and the Orange have proved they're the legit No. 1.

Five things I know

1. Syracuse is not merely the No. 1 team by attrition.

Technically the Orange rose to the top spot because everyone in front of them -- North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State -- all lost. But since taking over No. 1, Syracuse has done little to prove it doesn't belong there. The Orange are 16-0, have won their games by an average of 21.8 points (fourth in the country), score at a nice clip of 80.7 points per game (14th) and stingily allow just 58.9 (32nd).

Syracuse comes at its opponents like a hockey team, rich with so much depth that Jim Boeheim can practically do wholesale line changes without a drop-off. Dion Waiters is the team's second-leading scorer. He doesn't start.

It doesn't really matter how Syracuse got to the top spot. The Orange belong there.

2. The Big Ten is the best conference in the country

Take heart, Jim Delany. Your football teams just got shellacked in the bowl season, but your basketball teams are making up for it.

The league is the best and there's really no conversation. Five of the 12 members are in the top 25. Joe Lunardi has seven in his latest Bracketology and even the bottom is rising from the ashes. Iowa opened league play with back-to-back road wins and Penn State somehow just ran over Purdue.

3. The Atlantic 10 is going to be bananas

On Wednesday, La Salle upset Xavier and Dayton knocked off Saint Louis. Charlotte beat Richmond, a Sweet 16 team a season ago, and Saint Joseph's, a team on the rise, needed overtime to beat Duquesne. That was in one day.

Who's the favorite in this league? Get your dartboard handy.

4. Steve Prohm deserves to be in COY conversation
Note to athletic directors: Listen to your team members. Murray State is one of four remaining unbeatens, in the Top 25 and not likely to lose anytime soon.

And it was the Racers who went to bat for Prohm, an assistant on staff, when Billy Kennedy bolted for Texas A&M. Prohm isn't the only candidate; Tom Crean and Frank Haith will certainly get a ton of votes, but he deserves to be among them.

5. Pittsburgh and Villanova are each missing a key ingredient.

What's missing? Toughness. It's hard to fathom that Pitt, the ultimate blue-collar team, would come up short in that category but look at the Panthers' last game. They coughed up a four-point lead with 17 seconds left, including the game-winner when they played Ole! defense.

Villanova, meantime, has a bunch of players with great high school resumes and no oomph. There is no there there, no presence, no attitude. The Wildcats not only lost at home to South Florida; they got steamrolled by 17 despite closing to within three with a full nine minutes to play.

You can get by without a lot in the Big East. But not without toughness. Unless the two teams find some tenacity and gumption, they might as well get comfy in the league basement.

Five things I think I know

1. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is Kentucky's MVP.

[+] EnlargeMichael Kidd-Gilchrist
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIHis contributions on and off the court help make Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Kentucky's MVP.

At media day in Lexington, Darius Miller talked about how it was up to the senior class to lead and guide the freshmen and not just sit back and marvel at their talent. He believed not taking ownership early led to Kentucky's slow start last season.

He was right about that team but with this group, the seniors don't have to offer direction. Kidd-Gilchrist is supplying it. Dominant on the court (13.9 points and 7.9 rebounds), the freshman is even more valuable off it, beginning the team's "Breakfast Club" early-morning workouts. That's exactly the sort of internal guidance and leadership this young team needs.

2. Seton Hall is good, but I'm not sure about great.

Unless Jim Calhoun was going to guard Jordan Theodore or make shots for UConn, his absence wasn't what allowed the Pirates to beat the Huskies so decisively. It was Seton Hall's toughness.

That's what I like most of all about Seton Hall.

Here's what I need to see: The Pirates have a string of "winnable" games coming up: at Providence, against DePaul, at South Florida and Villanova, and home against Notre Dame. Truly good teams beat the teams they're supposed to beat. We'll see if Seton Hall is truly good.

3. Virginia is good, but I'm not sure about great

Sammy Zeglinski and Mike Scott are as powerful a tandem as you'll find, the first formidable from the arc and the second powerful inside. Right now the Cavaliers are easily the third-best team in the ACC but Virginia's résumé is light. The Cavs' strength of schedule is ranked a lowly 252nd, and they've played just one team -- Michigan -- with a top-50 RPI.

So I'm reserving judgment on just how good Virginia is for at least another week -- Jan. 12 when the Cavaliers play at Duke.

4. Something is wrong with Wisconsin but I'm not sure what

It's not that the Badgers aren't good. They just don't look right. Losing at home to Iowa is fairly inexplicable and losing back-to-back games at the Kohl Center, even if one is against Michigan State, is downright jaw-dropping.

Jordan Taylor's numbers have dropped significantly and with them, Wisconsin's consistency, which is usually a staple of Bo Ryan teams. There's no need to panic in Madison but with a tough road ahead -- at Michigan and Purdue in the next two games -- I'm curious to see how Wisconsin fares.

5. Gonzaga will be a tough out come tournament time

The Zags slipped off the national radar after losing back-to-back games to Illinois and Michigan State in mid-December but have roared back with six consecutive wins.

And in those wins, Mark Few's team has been relentless on the defensive end, giving up an average of just 59 points. If Gonzaga can keep that defensive energy up, and coupled with the inside-outside duo of Kevin Pangos and Elias Harris, it could have the Cinderella darlings of yore making some new history.

Five things I know I don't know

1. What's ailing Xavier?

Did the brawl cause a fracture in team chemistry? Were the Musketeers smoke and mirrors early and this is who they really are?

I don't have the answer, but I know something is wrong. Xavier, once the easy favorite in the Atlantic 10, has dropped five of its past six.

The Musketeers are in real danger of becoming the Michigan State of a season ago, the team everyone kept expecting to get better and never did.

2. What to make of Louisville

The Cardinals are, to me, one of the bigger enigmas in the Top 25. I like them and then I don't, all in the span of 10 seconds.

[+] EnlargeRick Pitino
Mark Zerof/US PresswireRick Pitino's Cardinals are one of the bigger enigmas in the Top 25.

Defensively, they're terrific. They are old-school Rick Pitino, pressing, pressuring the ball and harassing the bejesus out of their opponents.

Offensively, I can't remember the last time a Pitino team struggled to shoot so much.

I think Louisville is good. I'm just not sure how good.

3. Who the favorite for player of the year is

All of the top teams are actual teams, winning because of a group effort as opposed to an individual star. That's actually a good thing. It makes for better basketball.

It doesn't make for easy voting.

Whom do you take from Kentucky -- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Anthony Davis? What about Missouri -- Marcus Denmon or Phil Pressey? At North Carolina, is Harrison Barnes or John Henson more valuable than Kendall Marshall and his 10 assists per game? At Syracuse, it's pick a player -- Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine. Pierre Jackson is just as critical to Baylor's success as Perry Jones III is.

Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullinger really are the only two singular star players at any of the top teams, but is either the best in the country?

The good news is we have plenty of time to figure it out. And it will be tons of fun figuring it out.

4. Why Todd O'Brien can't transfer

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I still have no clue why Saint Joseph's won't let its little-used big man -- who would have been a hardly used big man this season -- enroll and play at UAB. O'Brien resubmitted paperwork to the NCAA this week and awaits the verdict.

This shouldn't be that complicated.

To me, it's like a relationship. If one person wants out, let them go. Hanging on won't make them love you any more.

5. A good place to eat in Champaign

I'm headed there on Tuesday for the Illini's game against Ohio State. All recommendations welcome via Twitter, @dgoneil1.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.

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