Longhorns prove they're deep and talented
Editor's note: This edition is for games played from Monday, Dec. 14, through Sunday, Dec. 20.
Team Of The Week: Texas
Last week: Beat Texas-Pan American 104-42; beat UNC 103-90 in Arlington, Texas
It was a light week because of final exams, but that shouldn't discount what the Longhorns accomplished. Texas had the most significant win of a title contender because everyone was waiting to see how it would handle the spotlight against the defending national champs in front of nearly 40,000 people.
The defense could have been quite a bit better in giving up 90 points, but the Longhorns proved they can score on anybody by scoring over 100 for the second straight game. They were certainly helped by the combined 48 points and 30 rebounds from Damion James and Dexter Pittman against UNC.
Texas' depth has always been a strength and it was once again apparent in the win over the Tar Heels. The Longhorns certainly showed they have oodles of talent and productivity at all five positions. There is a tremendous balance with five double-figure scorers and even more role players that seem to understand their position on the team. So far there are no squabbles on a team that is devoid of scrubs. This is a squad that can challenge top-ranked Kansas in the Big 12 and en route to Indianapolis. Texas gets another shot to prove its power with a home game against Michigan State on Tuesday.
Player Of The Week: Elijah Millsap, UAB
Elijah Millsap, the younger brother of NBA forward and former Louisiana Tech standout Paul Millsap, has helped make UAB relevant in a year when the Blazers were expected to be further down the pecking order in a balanced Conference USA.
Millsap, who transferred to UAB from Louisiana-Lafayette, was the dominant performer on the court in a stunning 64-47 win over Cincinnati, putting up 22 points and grabbing 15 boards. He also had four steals and made a pair of 3s. Millsap was everywhere in helping the Blazers push past the Bearcats for their most significant win of the season.
UAB, which plays host to Butler next before going to Virginia and Arkansas, beat Georgia handily for its other major-conference win. The Blazers' only loss was at Kent State.
Millsap closed the week with a strong performance in a true road game. He again collected 15 boards and this time chipped in with 10 points in an 18-point road win at South Alabama.
Millsap is a good watch, and because of his activity on the court, Mike Davis' Blazers matter before New Year's Day -- something that was not predicted in the preseason.
The Rest Of The Rotation
Chris Warren, Jr., G, Ole Miss: Warren's comeback from an ACL injury has been remarkable. He's producing at an even higher clip than he was before he was injured. Warren outdueled UTEP's stable of guards with 32 points, making 13 of 15 free throws and five 3s in a 10-point overtime win over the Miners in Southaven, Miss. He didn't need to do too much in the rout of Centenary, but he'll likely be West Virginia's No. 1 target when the Rebels play in Morgantown on Wednesday.
Alex Stepheson, F, Jr., USC: Stepheson was hurt for the first two games, including the Trojans' home loss to Loyola Marymount. But the North Carolina transfer has delivered in nearly every game since, save a one-point showing at Texas. Stepheson was the dominant big man in the upset of Tennessee on Saturday, scoring 19 points, grabbing 15 boards and making an efficient 8-of-11 shots. If Stepheson can be a major factor, why not give the Trojans a shot in the Pac-10?
Jacob Pullen, Jr., G, Kansas State: Pullen lit up UNLV with seven 3s in the previous week for 28 points. He didn't fade one bit with a week between games. Pullen remained hot, making six 3s and scoring 30 points (10-of-15) in a 13-point road win at Alabama. In his last two games -- both wins away from home -- Pullen is shooting 65 percent from the field (20-of-31) and 68 percent from 3 (13-of-19).
Juan Fernandez, So., G, Temple: Fernandez was the star last week in the upset of Villanova, scoring 33 points, making 11-of-15 shots and converting on 7-of-9 3s. The Owls had one game this week and upset Seton Hall on the road by six. Fernandez was once again a stud, scoring 21 points, making all six free throw attempts, burying a 3-pointer and converting a high percentage of shots (7-of-12).
• Derrick Caracter, Jr., F, UTEP: Caracter had quite a week as the Miners went 1-1. He scored 15 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the overtime loss to Ole Miss, but then scored 21 points and snatched 10 boards in a rout over Alcorn State. Trust me: He'll be one of the top newcomers in Conference USA.
• Mike Gerrity, Sr., G, USC: USC picked up Gerrity as a transfer from Charlotte by way of Pepperdine. The Trojans desperately needed a point and were lost without one in the first eight games. Gerrity made quite a difference, outplaying his more hyped counterparts on the Vols in 37 minutes. Sure, he was 1-of-7 from the field, but he got to the free throw line, making 10 of 11 and scoring 12 points. He also dished out 10 assists. His savvy veteran play will help the Trojans be a factor in the Pac-10.
• Brady Morningstar, Jr., G, Kansas: Morningstar wasn't new to the Jayhawks. He was a part-time starter a year ago. But a DUI in the preseason got him booted for the fall semester. Kansas coach Bill Self used Morningstar for 22 minutes in the win over Michigan. Morningstar isn't going to be a star, but the addition of Xavier Henry to an already productive team means Morningstar doesn't have to do more than be a role player and limit mistakes.
• Jai Lucas, Jr., G, Texas: Texas coach Rick Barnes is clearly going to bring Lucas along slowly. He used him for six minutes against North Carolina on Saturday. That's OK. Lucas needs to earn his time with a team that's ranked No. 2 in the country.
• Keon Lawrence and Jeff Robinson, Seton Hall: The Pirates lost the first game with these two on board, falling to Temple by six at home. Lawrence scored 11 points, while Robinson added just five and had four fouls. They'll need to do more going forward.
• Reggie Redding, Sr., G, Villanova: Jay Wright didn't waste any time and started the previously suspended Redding against Fordham on Saturday. He played 27 minutes and helped the Wildcats with 15 points.
• Ater Majok, Fr., F, Connecticut: The native of Sudan made his debut against Central Florida on Sunday and it was hardly hype-endorsing with one point (0-2 FG) and three rebounds in 16 minutes in the comeback win over the Knights.
Places To Be This Week
Lexington, Ky., Monday: Kentucky goes for program win No. 2,000 against Drexel. This was one of those inevitable numbers -- the only drama was whether the Wildcats would get it before North Carolina. They will. Good thing John Calipari and Bruiser Flint are such good friends. There will be no hard feelings when Kentucky beats Drexel for the honor of being the first to 2,000.
Oklahoma City, Monday: UTEP missed a golden chance to pick up a quality win, losing in overtime to Ole Miss. Beating Oklahoma in Oklahoma City would qualify for the Miners. Derrick Caracter has quickly become a major player for UTEP and could be tough for the Sooners to handle. And no need to go home after this one, as Oklahoma State and La Salle tussle afterward at the Ford Center.
Austin, Texas, Tuesday: Texas looked national title-good against North Carolina, but here's the tricky part: Can they get right back up for a Michigan State team that seems to have its mojo back? Yes, the game is in Austin, but the Spartans are road-tested. Should be a good one.
Lawrence, Kansas, Tuesday: The Pac-10 had some good vibes working Saturday with USC, Arizona State and Washington posting quality wins. Cal has Theo Robertson back and is a much better team than the one that showed up in New York last month. But this is still at Phog Allen against top-ranked Kansas.
Birmingham, Ala., Tuesday: Butler continues its rugged nonconference slate by going to upstart UAB, which has put together its most impressive start under Mike Davis. The Blazers are suddenly looking like trouble in Conference USA. This will be a tough get for the Bulldogs.
Seattle, Tuesday: Texas A&M travels to Washington in the final game of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. A&M helped New Mexico's national profile with a loss to the Lobos in Houston. Washington missed out against Texas Tech and Georgetown. Beating Portland senseless helped morale, but UW needs a signature win.
Seattle, Tuesday: Yes, we're staying in Seattle -- specifically to KeyArena for LSU-Washington State. Wazzu still must be taken seriously in the Pac-10 with the league's best player in Klay Thompson. LSU coach Trent Johnson knows this trip all too well from his time at Stanford. The Cougars could use a power-six win, even if the Tigers don't end up being an NCAA-bound squad.
Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday: Ohio State is still finding its footing without Evan Turner, and after nearly upsetting West Virginia this weekend, Cleveland State suddenly looks like the team that beat Wake Forest in the NCAA tournament last season. Wonder how the Vikings will show in Columbus this week?
Morgantown, W. Va., Wednesday: Ole Miss' backcourt of Chris Warren and Terrico White should provide a difficult matchup for West Virginia's guards. But the difference here could be Kevin Jones, who has been the most consistent Mountaineer to date. This should be a good watch from beginning to end.
St. Louis, Wednesday: The records of the squads don't matter. Illinois and Missouri almost always provide entertainment in this annual game and the tempo will likely be at a high clip once again. Both the Illini and Tigers have had their moments of erratic play thus far, but the winner of this one can be taken a bit more seriously.
Newark, N.J., Saturday: The Big East opens with the only game on the national schedule the day after Christmas. Had Seton Hall not fallen to Temple, this had the potential to be an undefeated affair. Instead, the Pirates now must find a way to split -- at the very least -- their first two Big East home games. This is the first. Syracuse is the next.
6:30 p.m.: UTEP vs. Oklahoma (ESPN2)
7 p.m.: Drexel at Kentucky (ESPNU)
9 p.m.: La Salle vs. Oklahoma St. (ESPN2)
9:30 p.m.: St. John's vs. Cornell (MSG)
3 p.m.: BYU vs. Nevada (ESPN360)
7 p.m.: Michigan St. at Texas (ESPN2)
8 p.m.: Butler at UAB
9 p.m.: California at Kansas (ESPN2)
11 p.m.: Texas A&M at Washington (FSN)
7:30 p.m.: Ole Miss at West Virginia (ESPN2)
9:30 p.m.: Illinois vs. Missouri (ESPN2)
10:30 p.m.: NC State at Arizona (FSN)
3:30 p.m.: West Virginia at Seton Hall (CBS)
Highlights: North Carolina-Texas
• Kansas State: The Wildcats have beaten Xavier at home, UNLV in Las Vegas (Orleans Arena) and then handily crushed Alabama in Mobile. Frank Martin has this squad locked in tight. As dominating as Kansas looks at times, I wouldn't be surprised if K-State nabbed KU in Manhattan.
• Steve Alford, New Mexico: If I had to vote for a national coach of the year two months into the season, it would be a close vote between Alford and Northwestern's Bill Carmody. Alford has done a sensational job with a team that was supposed to be in transition. The comeback win over Creighton at home preserved an amazing 12-0 start.
• Ryan Wittman, Cornell: Wittman continued to be one of the top scorers that gets little pub. He led Cornell with 29 points and hit a 30-foot shot at the end of overtime to beat Davidson in the semifinals of the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.
• Florida State: You can't overstate how critical a road win in the ACC, especially early, will be for teams projected in the middle of the pack. The Seminoles will need some separation, and winning at Georgia Tech in overtime on Sunday night will help them accomplish that. FSU couldn't close out the game in regulation but was composed in OT, outscoring the Yellow Jackets 12-5 for the 66-59 win in Atlanta.
• Gordon Hayward, Butler: In his team's second straight quality win, Hayward hit the game-winner to beat Xavier and contributed 22 points, 14 rebounds and hit 4-of-5 from 3-point range. In his last three games -- against Georgetown, Ohio State and XU -- Hayward has piled up 70 points and 30 boards. What a player.
Hard To Digest That
• Georgetown lost at home to CAA favorite (but previously struggling) Old Dominion after the Hoyas looked so strong in wins over Butler and Washington on neutral courts the previous week.
• Tennessee was so flat at USC and was run out of the Galen Center in the worst loss of the Bruce Pearl Era.
• Gonzaga was so bad against Duke in Madison Square Garden, suffering its worst loss (76-41) since 1990. That's as poor as I've seen the Zags play since they achieved national prominence during their Elite Eight run in 1999.
• Louisville can look lost in losing to Charlotte and Western Carolina, with or without healthy players, and then score 102 points in a rout of Western Kentucky.
• Notre Dame's 11-point win over UCLA doesn't register much at all nationally.
• Oklahoma continues to struggle against perceived lesser competition. Even though Northern Colorado might end up being the Big Sky's best, OU's one-point win at home is still perplexing.
• The officials waved off the final 1.2 seconds for Xavier at Butler in one of the oddest endings I've seen in years. Maybe it was the right thing to do, but it was still bizarre.
• UMass won on an opportune layup by Terrell Vinson to beat Memphis in a thriller in Boston, after the Minutemen had floundered in previous games against Seton Hall, Michigan State, Cornell and Central Florida.
• Florida hit a skid with losses to Syracuse (understandable) in Tampa and then to Richmond (a potential sleeper in the A-10) in Sunrise, Fla.
• Jamel Jackson can score 40 points off the bench for Seton Hall against VMI and then score just three in a loss to Temple.
• Not sure what is worse: Auburn losing at home to Sam Houston State or giving up 107 points in the process. Auburn has now lost to four teams outside power six conferences. Sam Houston's Gilberto Clavell deserves some love, lighting up Auburn for 34 points on 14-of-17 shooting.
Renaissance And Revival
• Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but the USC win over Tennessee, Washington's dismantling of Portland and Arizona State's win over San Diego State at least gave the Pac-10 something to cheer about.
• Maybe the move of the Atlantic 10 headquarters to Newport News, Va., had some good karma behind it as Richmond beat Florida for its second win over an SEC team this season (it also beat Mississippi State); Temple won at Seton Hall; Dayton continued to cruise and Xavier beat Cincinnati at home and nearly clipped Butler on the road.
Highlights: Texas Tech-Wichita St.
• Missouri State: The Bears are off to a surprising 10-0 start. The best wins are over Tulsa and at Saint Louis; the former against a possible NCAA-bound team. The Bears have an SEC date at Arkansas this week before the Valley begins with two of three on the road, including a stop at Northern Iowa. Home games against Illinois State and Wichita State will tell us plenty.
• Wichita State: The Shockers didn't have Clevin Hannah in a loss to Pitt. He was suspended and the Shockers lost. But that's their only loss. Their homecourt advantage is one of the best that never gets discussed, as Texas Tech found out this weekend when it got removed from the ranks of the unbeaten.
• Northern Iowa: The Panthers have wins over Boston College in St. Thomas, at Iowa State and have three true road wins overall. Northern Iowa is still the league favorite.
• Illinois State: The Redbirds may have the league MVP in Osiris Eldridge (18 ppg) and just picked up a true road win this weekend, beating Utah by 10 in Salt Lake City. The Redbirds are serious contenders in the Valley.
• Southern Illinois: The Salukis beat San Diego and San Francisco at the Holiday Hoops Classic in leas Vegas this weekend. At 7-2, don't dismiss SIU from this race.
• Creighton: The Bluejays are 4-6 and overall have been a disappointment, but I refuse to say this squad is toast. Creighton had New Mexico beat on Saturday before a major Lobo comeback at the Pit. The Bluejays did beat Nebraska and lost a tough opener at Dayton. I wouldn't be shocked one bit if the Jays made serious noise during the Valley season.