Charting a Course to March: 7 Games For the Final Stretch

 As of today, the first day of the 2010 NCAA Basketball Tournament is exactly three weeks away.  That means it’s time for cramming.  Below are listed the seven games over these last few weeks of the regular season that every college hoops fan should try to catch. 

hummel1. February 28th: #14 Michigan State at #3 Purdue

Reasons To Watch:  The loss of Robbie Hummel for the rest of the season with a torn ACL is really sad.  I had become a big believer in Purdue and thought they actually had a shot at winning the national title, but without Hummel, that will be impossible. You have to feel bad for those Purdue fans in Indiana.  I mean, what else do they have going for them?  At least Drew Brees won the Super Bowl.  They do still have guard E’Twaun Moore, who is one of my favorite players in the country.  He’s not the quickest guy or the best shooter, passer, or defender, but he does everything well and he repeatedly makes big shots for the Boilermakers.  JaJuan Johnson is one of the best centers around, and the return of point guard Lewis Jackson from an injury gave them a lift over the past few weeks.  But it all comes back to Hummel, their best all-around player.  They were headed for a #1 seed, and their remaining games will be very important because the selection committee will only have a handful of games to decide how far they drop from the #1 line, and it’s hard to imagine that they won’t drop at least a seed or two. 

Michigan St. came into the season with huge expectations, but also some question marks, and it seems like those questions have not been answered.  They come into this game having lost 4 of their last 6 games.  They don’t have a good road win all year, and they actually only have two wins over tournament locks (Gonzaga and Wisconsin).  They needed Delvon Roe to make a big leap, and it hasn’t happened at all.  Raymar Morgan continues to disappoint.  Kalin Lucas is an elite college guard, and Draymond Green has been one of the most improved big men in the country, but how far can that get them?  If they’re to be taken seriously in the tournament, they need to go to Purdue and beat the Hummel-less Boilermakers in this game.

How far can they go?:  It’s very hard to know what to make of Purdue right now, which is why they’ll be a team worth watching.  Coach Matt Painter will be earning his paycheck, and I think they could still get to the Sweet 16, but any further than that seems doubtful.  Michigan St. is looking like they’d be lucky to make the Sweet 16.

2. March 2nd: Illinois at #9 Ohio State

Reasons to Watch:  A couple of interesting teams here worth gathering some more information about.  Illinois could turnerlock up a tourney berth with a win here, but they probably don’t need it.  They have a load of good wins on their resume, but a couple of bad losses as well.  Point guard Demetri McCamey is one of the lesser-known star players in the country.  He averages 15 points and 7 assists, and racked up 16 assists in a loss to Purdue last week.  But he’s unique because he doesn’t look like your typical assist-machine point guard, with a wide body that allows him to outmuscle a lot of other guards.  The front-court combination of 7-footer Mike Tisdale and super-athletic Mike Davis help to make this team dangerous.

Ohio St. is definitely an interesting team right now.  First off, they have the Player of the Year front-runner in do-everything forward Evan Turner, who is averaging 20 points, 9 boards, and 6 assists.  Secondly, because they lost three games in a 6-game stretch that Turner missed with a back injury, their national stature is probably slightly below what it otherwise could be.  And finally, coach Thad Matta has taken an interesting tactic of shortening his rotation to the point where there IS NO rotation.  Matta has basically just been playing six guys, with Turner and a trio of big, talented guards (David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and William Buford) rarely coming off the court.  It seems to be working for them, as they’ve won 9 of 10, with the only loss to Purdue.

How far can they go?:  Illinois will be a prime candidate for a minor first-round upset, and has Sweet 16 potential.  Ohio State has arguably the best player in the country, which means they are capable of beating just about anyone on any given night.  But will they be fatigued from playing so many minutes?  With the injury to Hummel, the Buckeyes might now be the best team in the Big Ten, and don’t rule them out from a trip to the Final Four. 

3. March 3rd: #6 Kansas State at #1 Kansas

Reasons to Watch: I previewed the January 30th game between these teams, which Kansas won in an OT thriller.  That result is one reason to watch this game.  Another is to get a better read on this Kansas St. team.  Right now, they’re looking at a possible #2 seed in the tournament.  They’ve earned that seed, but I’m wondering if, even in a season of parity, there is 2-seed talent on this team.  Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente form an awesome backcourt, but if they’re not making their jump shots, how else does K-State beat you?  Now, they don’t have any bad losses, so it seems like they find a way, but I’ll be watching this game to see how K-State matches up with the #1 team in the country when they don’t have their home crowd behind them.

How far can they go?:  KU is the national title favorite at the moment.  K-State is getting Final Four buzz but I’m not completely buying it.  I see them going down in the Sweet 16, but maybe some favorable matchups could get them to the Elite Eight.  This game will tell us more.

vasquez4. March 3rd: #5 Duke at Maryland

Reasons to Watch:  You wouldn’t guess it if you watched the Duke/Maryland game on February 13th, when Duke demolished the Terrapins, but this game could determine the regular-season ACC champion.  Maryland sits at 10-3 in the conference, a game behind the Dukies.  That alone makes Maryland an interesting team, because when was the last time you saw a team at 10-3 in the ACC, and already at 20 wins on the season, but not ranked in the Top 25?  The bottom line is, they have the resume of a ho-hum solid team.  They’ve been fairly consistent and gotten the job done against the likes of Florida State (twice), Clemson, and Georgia Tech.  They haven’t lost a home game in conference play.  I’ve always been a pretty big fan of versatile senior guard Greivis Vasquez.  His supporting cast features two other solid seniors, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne, and no doubt all three of those guys will be motivated to take down Duke in the final home game of their careers.  Is Maryland a legit 2nd place ACC team that will be heard from next month, or are they an also-ran, unranked non-factor?  This game may be the answer.

How far can they go?:  Duke could end up with a 1-seed, but I’m not a believer.  Their ceiling is probably the Elite Eight.  I’m not completely sure what to make of Maryland yet, but I don’t expect to see them playing in the second week of March Madness. 

5. March 6th: #7 West Virginia at #8 Villanova

Reasons to Watch: You look at the rosters for these two teams and it really makes you wonder why programs like St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Rutgers are not a lot better.  8 of the 10 starters for these teams (including all 5 for West Virginia) hail from the greater New York City area, and that’s not including Nova’s talented reserve guard Dominic Cheek.  Despite all that talent, and the fact that these teams have been in the top 10 almost all season, they also both have some flaws. 

Nova lost back-to-back games for the first time this season last week.  They are really deep, but it seems like maybe that’s become part of the problem.  Defensively, they’re not measuring up to Nova teams of the past few years.  In their loss to Georgetown a couple weeks ago, the Hoyas just had their way with them at the offensive end.  The team has loads of talent, but maybe Jay Wright needs to focus on finding the mix that will get some stops.

West Virginia has three forwards that look like future pros in Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, and Kevin Jones, but butlerBob Huggins will have to pull off some coaching magic to get a team with guards this mediocre to advance far in the tournament.  Considering it’s been 14 years since a Huggins coached team made it past the Sweet 16, the odds may not be in their favor.  But when Butler is going well he is really special, and he’s the type of player that can put a team on his back and carry them to a win.

How far can they go?:  These two teams are similar in talent-levels, but I like Nova more, especially since they have the experience of a Final Four run last season.  I think they could get that far again, but they probably don’t have a title in them, and I don’t expect them to be playing on that final weekend in Indianapolis.  West Virginia probably doesn’t have the guards to get it done in the tourney, they’ll bow out out in the second or third round.

6. March 6th: #21 Texas at Baylor

Reasons to Watch: This is a matchup between a team that was apparently over-hyped most of the season (Texas) and a team that has probably been under-hyped (Baylor).  The pressure in this game will be on Texas to take some positive momentum into the Big 12 tournament.  All the talk about Texas early in the year was that they had a ridiculous amount of talented depth.  Here we are, on the verge of March, and they have exactly two players that they can count on consistently: F Damion James and G Avery Bradley.  With every other player on the team, either due to injury, foul trouble, or just general inconsistency, they’re left crossing their fingers and hoping for a good performance.

Baylor has one of the top backcourts in the country (talent-wise and name-wise) in PG Tweety Carter and SG LaceDarius Dunn.  At 6-4, and with the ability to score any way he wants, Dunn looks like a future NBA 2-guard.  Also with impressive names and impressive games are forwards Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy, who is one of the better sixth men in the country.

How far can they go?:  Texas just seems to be a mess, so they’re worth watching to see if they get it together in time.  They probably have Final Four talent, but it’s not impossible to see them going down in the first round if they get a bad matchup.  Anyone’s guess right now.  Baylor, on the other hand, looks to be a sleeper pick that could potentially make an Elite Eight run.

w johnson7. March 6th: #4 Syracuse at Louisville

Reasons to Watch: Louisville put themselves on the right side of the bubble with a win at Syracuse a couple weeks ago, and they would definitely nail down a bid with another win in this one.  They’ve had an up and down season, with a home loss to Western Carolina in December, and a blowout loss at St. John’s just before the big ‘Cuse win.  They’re led by three of the key contributors to last year’s team that earned a #1 seed: star big man Samardo Samuels, much-improved Edgar Sosa, and steady 2-guard Jerry Smith.  But despite all the experience and talent, they haven’t been able to put it together.

Syracuse, however, has pretty much had it all put together from Day One this season.  They only have one loss besides the Louisville one, and it would take a couple of stumbles for them to fall off the #1 line come tourney time.  Wesley Johnson is still in the Player of the Year conversation, but his production has dipped a bit in February.  Like Ohio State, ‘Cuse doesn’t go deep (basically a 7-man rotation), so you have to wonder if Johnson is running out of gas, especially considering he sat out last year after transferring.  Besides Johnson, Andy Rautins is one of the best shooters in the country, and two Philly natives who were teammates at St. John Neumann, F Rick Jackson and G Scoop Jardine, have both had breakout seasons. 

How far can they go?:  Syracuse is a national title contender.  Louisville is a tough team to predict, but unless they show something in these last few weeks, they’re probably a team that won’t be able to win more than one game in the tourney.

Charting A Course to March: Games for Saturday, 2/6

There will be must-see games early next week, but before then, let’s take a look at three more Saturday games worth catching this week. 

reynolds#2 Villanova at #8 Georgetown, 12:00 on ESPN

It was a somewhat odd win for Georgetown over Duke this past Saturday.  Their Big Three of Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman, and Chris Wright came up big, each scoring 20+ points in the 89-77 victory.  But the crazy stat from the game is that the Hoyas shot a ridiculous 72% from the field in the game.  They’ve definitely been an efficient offensive team, and Duke isn’t an amazing defensive team, but you just don’t shoot 72% very often, and when you do, you would actually hope to win by more than 12 points.  Still, it was an impressive win, but they had a letdown on Wednesday night with a loss to South Florida, who is under-rated, but a team G-Town should handle at home if they have Final Four aspirations.  We’ll learn more about them when they welcome Villanova to town.

Nova suddenly finds itself as the 2nd-ranked team in the nation, staring at a possible #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and considering the way #1-ranked teams have been dropping, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see them reach the top pretty soon.  But to do that they’ll have to win two brutal road games in a row, with a trip to Morgantown to play West Virginia following this game.

This Nova team is pretty typical of what we’ve come to expect from them during the Jay Wright era.  At first glance, the frontcourt doesn’t appear to have what it takes to be a national power, but Wright’s system seems to work best when he has a talented, versatile, and deep group of guards, and they certainly have that this year.

Of course, the big name with Nova is Scottie Reynolds, who has taken another big step with his game this year.  Reynolds burst onto the scene in the second-half of his freshman year, putting up a bunch of big scoring games.  At that point, though, he was basically just a gunner.  It was hard to imagine that three years later he’d be shooting just under 50% from the field, and still averaging 18.5 points/game.

Since steady senior swingman Reggie Redding made his season debut (following an injury), Nova is 11-0.  He’s a strong glue-guy and team leader that brings a lot to the defensive end.  Their gang of guards also includes returnees Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, as well as standout freshman Maalik Wayns.  Finally, there’s a lot of pressure on forward Antonio Pena to hold his own down low and give them some inside scoring.  He’s responded with a big season thus far.

#17 Temple at Richmond, 2:00 on ESPNU

Temple, the only team to beat Nova so far, followed their first loss in conference play last week with two straight easy wins and are hopefully fernandezprepared for two tough ones against Richmond and Rhode Island.  Juan Fernandez has mysteriously disappeared from the offense over the last few games, and they’ll need him to get it going again if they want to win these next two.  Are the Owls a team that can make some noise in March?  It’s road games like this that hold the answer.

As for Richmond, I haven’t seen them play.  I do know that they have a legitimate shot at making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004, thanks to quality wins over Florida, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Old Dominion.  They feature a veteran starting line-up, with five upperclassmen, all of whom have played significant minutes throughout their careers.  One of those starters is Delaware County native (and Springfield High graduate) Dan Geriot.  Their leading scorer is guard Kevin Anderson, at 17 a game.  One last fun fact about Richmond: they are the only team in college hoops history to win NCAA tournament games as a 12, 13, 14, and 15 seed.  If they can win this game, they’ll be well on their way to a return to the Dance, and they could very well have a better seed than any of those listed above.

#13 Gonzaga at Memphis, 4:00 on ESPN2

This is gut-check time for Gonzaga, as their seeding in the Dance could very well be decided by how they play in the next week.  They’re coming off a rare conference loss (their second in the last three seasons) to San Francisco, and they’ll get a harrissolid Portland team on Thursday night, followed by Memphis on Saturday and the always-tough Saint Mary’s next Thursday.  The Zags have a bunch of nice wins on their resume (Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Illinois, Oklahoma, as well as Portland and Saint Mary’s in their previous meetings), but playing in a small conference, they never have much room for error.

Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray form one of the better guard tandems in the country.  And it looks like Coach Mark Few and company have found the next great Gonzaga player, as freshman forward Elias Harris has kind of come out of nowhere (actually Germany) and has been amazing.  Over their last 10 games, Harris is averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds.  He’s a springy 6-7, and he’s also hit 13 of his 28 3-point attempts on the year.  But, all in all, this team is not nearly as deep as last year’s team, which couldn’t get past the Sweet 16, though they did run into that juggernaut North Carolina team.

As for Memphis, they could really use a win here to bolster their chances of making the Field of 64, but they are solid and the Pyramid is a tough place to play.  They are led by Duke transfer Eliot Williams and his 20 points/game.

Charting A Course to March: 3 Games to Watch on Saturday

The NFL season is down to its final game and on Monday the calendar will flip to February, which means it’s about time for all of you fair-weather college basketball fans out there to start paying attention so you can sound like you know what you’re talking about by March.  I plan to be here to help by alerting you to some of the upcoming games you should be watching.  

For the rest of the season, just about every Saturday will be chock full of games worth watching, and this Saturday is no exception.  It’s going to be a frigid day too, so whip up some hot cocoa and kick back on the sofa to get a belated start on your ’09-’10 college hoops education.  And keep checking back for more of these updates and watching the games.  By the time Selection Sunday rolls around, you’ll be smoothly saying things like, “Syracuse’s length on defense reminds me of their ’03 title team; they have a shot at this thing.”

Three Games to Watch on Saturday, January 30th:

nolan smith#7 Duke at #11 Georgetown, 1:00 on CBS

Unlike the two games below, this game does not feature a front-runner in the national championship race, but it does feature two storied programs that could play a key role in your NCAA bracket victory, even if you won’t be penciling them into the Final Four. 

Over the past eight seasons, Duke always sits in the Top 10 for most of the season (with the exception of ’07 when they were mostly unranked), but can’t get past the Sweet 16 in March (with the exception of a Final Four appearance in ’04).  So the annual question has become, are the Dukies for real this year?  Despite a #7 ranking this week, a 17-3 record, and a trio of exceptional college players on the roster, the answer appears to be ‘no’, yet again.

First, let me give myself a little pat on the back for saying in November that Jon Scheyer was maybe the best player on the team, not Kyle Singler.  Scheyer has had a monster senior season and has supplanted Singler as Duke’s National Player of the Year candidate.  At the same time, allow me to place my foot in my mouth for proclaiming that Nolan Smith was a ‘question mark’.  All Smith has done is average 18 points a game, shooting 47% from the field and 48% from 3, while playing lock-down defense on the perimeter.  The bottom line though, is that, while the big men are improved from last year, they’re still not good enough.  If things break right for Duke, they could end up in the Final Four, but it doesn’t look like the Big Three will have enough help to get them there.

As for Georgetown, I must say that I haven’t see them as much as I should have so far.  Most of their publicity goes to sophomore center Greg Monroe, and rightfully so with his averages of 15 points and 10 boards.  But I got my first good look at the Hoyas during their loss on Monday night against Syracuse and he was virtually non-existent.  But he has had some huge games against top competition, including 29/16 against Villanova and 24/15 against Butler.  For me, the player that makes Georgetown go is veteran guard Austin Freeman, who has really found his shooting stroke after struggling from the outside last season.  He’s a smart player and a solidly built 2-guard.  Finally, junior Chris Wright is perhaps second only to Scottie Reynolds among Big East point guards.

#23 Vanderbilt at #1 Kentucky, 4:00 on ESPNcousins

Everyone will have plenty of opportunities to see Kentucky, as just about every one of their games has been televised nationally, but this will be their first game following their first loss of the season, and it will be against a talented Vanderbilt team.  What do we make of this Kentucky team?  First off, as I said a while ago, a loss was one of the best things that could happen to them.  I’m not a believer that it’s always good for teams to have a loss before post-season play, but when 3 of your top 4 players are freshmen, I think it’s a great thing.  Without a loss, it’s really hard to get these freshmen to keep practicing hard and to bring their A games every time out.

Also worth mentioning is that, considering the disappearance of North Carolina and the disappointing showing so far from UConn, Kentucky really doesn’t have any “marquee” wins.  We really haven’t seen these young kids match up with any of the top teams in the country and we won’t, at least until the NCAA tournament.  They clearly have the physical ability to play with anyone, but do they have it mentally?

Aside from the brilliant John Wall, track the continued development of freshmen DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe.  At the beginning of the year they looked like future lottery picks, and it’s looking more and more like that “future” could be in about 5 months.

I saw Vandy play for the first time on Wednesday night, when they picked up their best win of the year so far (at Tennessee) and improved to 5-0 in the SEC.  Their standout players against Tennessee were senior guard Jermaine Beal, with 25 points, and 6-11 Australian center A.J. Ogilvy,  who showed shot-blocking ability and a soft touch.  Their leading scorer is swing-man Jeffery Taylor.

pullen#2 Kansas at #13 Kansas St., 7:00 on ESPN

Obviously this is a major in-state rivalry game and the fans in Manhattan, Kansas will be giving a loud welcome to the Jayhawks.  Kansas, who would move back into the #1 spot with a win here, will have their hands full with the upstart Wildcats of K-State.  Kansas has recovered well from their first loss of the season, winning 5 straight and blowing out solid teams in their last two games.  K-State had a let-down loss to Oklahoma St. following their defeat of then-#1 Texas last week, but they came right back with a very nice win at Baylor, who will most likely be a tournament team as well. 

The excitement in this game may very well come from two diminutive guards that can really score: Sherron Collins and Jacob Pullen.  Collins, well-known to hoops fans at this point, is a leader and a big-game player that will surely have the ball in his hands if the game is close late.  Pullen is one of the better guards in the country that most people don’t know about.  He was a role player a couple years ago when K-State was thrust into the national spotlight thanks to fellow freshman Michael Beasley.  Now Pullen is the Man in Manhattan, averaging nearly 20 points a game for the season.

The Jayhawk’s star freshman guard, Xavier Henry, has seen his production decrease as the season goes on after a red-hot start to the season, but two frontcourt players have been picking up the slack.  Preseason All-American center Cole Aldrich has had two straight nice games and will have a definite size advantage against the K-State big men.  Meanwhile, Philly native Marcus Morris has become something of an X-factor, breaking out to average nearly 20 points and 8 boards over the last five games.  Finally, keep track of Tyshawn Taylor, a starter as a freshman last year, who has mentioned transferring because his minutes have been cut in favor of Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed.

For K-State, Pullen is joined in the backcourt by another small-ish guard, Denis Clemente, a tough and quick fifth-year senior who transferred in from Miami last year, and who just happens to be a second cousin of the great Roberto Clemente.

Charting a Course to March: Kentucky Wildcats

December 5th: #4 Kentucky 68, #10 North Carolina 66, at Kentucky

December 9th: #4 Kentucky 64, #13 UConn 61, at Madison Square Garden

December 12th: #4 Kentucky 90, Indiana 73, at Indiana

wallWith the arrival of John Calipari and the top recruting class in the nation, Kentucky has really emerged as the most talked-about team in the country so far this season.  I’ve been able to watch their last three games, ending with a win at Indiana on Saturday that pushed their record to 10-0.  It’s hard to imagine there is a more fun team to watch in college basketball.  They’re probably the most purely talented team in the nation and, at least physically, they look more like an NBA team than a college team.

Any conversation about Kentucky has to start with freshman PG John Wall.  The word “electrifying” gets thrown around a lot in sports, but it fits the bill with Wall.  Opposing coaches have described him as “better than Derrick Rose” and “the best point guard to come into college basketball since Jason Kidd.”  The kid has it all: size (6’4″, will need to add some muscle), athleticism, quickness, defense, shooting, passing.  He turns it over too much right now, but he makes a few plays a game that just leave you shaking your head, or laughing out loud.  He’s a legit national player of the year candidate, and will almost certainly be the top pick in next year’s NBA draft.

The key veteran for Kentucky is junior F/C Patrick Patterson.  Kansas’s Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich were both pre-season All-Americans, but Wall and Patterson might just form the best duo in the game.  Patterson is an elite rebounder and has added a very effective jump shot to his game.  He can run the pick-and-pop like a pro right now.  He’s the best big man I’ve seen so far this year, and he should join Wall as a top-10 pick in the June draft.

The team has two other players that could end up as lottery picks (especially if they stick around for at least one more season): freshmen Eric Bledsoe and Demarcus Cousins.  Bledsoe would be a star PG at just about any other school, but with Wall around, he’s playing off the ball.  Cousins is a power forward with NBA size and athleticism, and a lot of skill to go with it.  He’s had a lot of foul trouble and probably needs to mature a bit, but he’s already averaging 14 pts and 8 boards.

The supporting cast to those four future pros includes three solid, 6’7″ guards, Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson, and Ramon Harris, along with a promising freshman F/C, Daniel Orton.

With three of their top four players being freshmen, they have the expected mental lapses.  The best thing that can happen to this team will be to lose a few games so they realize that they can’t just rely on their talent.  Calipari has been trying hard to get that across to them, but it will probably take them getting beat before they really start to listen.  It will happen though, and this will be a very tough team to beat.

Best-Case Scenario: National Champions

Best Guess: Final Four (They’re not the best team in the country right now, but they definitely could be by March)

Charting A Course to March: North Carolina vs. Michigan St.

December 1st:  #11 North Carolina 89, #9 Michigan St. 82, at Chapel Hilled davis

North Carolina:

This team’s relying on a lot of underclassmen, and they’ll only get better as the season goes on, but they look pretty good already.  Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard are the unspectacular but rock-solid seniors providing much needed experience.  The big-name sophomores are Ed Davis, who’s showing a soft touch to go with his superior size and athleticism, and PG Larry Drew II.  Davis could be an All-American this year, and if he adds some muscle he could eventually be a force on the next level as well.  I’m not convinced that Drew will ever be a star, but he’s already a steady lead guard. 

The bench is made up almost entirely of first-year players (including soph. Tyler Zeller, who missed most of last season with an injury), but that doesn’t mean it’s not really good.  John Henson is the biggest name among the freshman.  He’s a rail-thin, athletic 6’10 forward, who allegedly can also shoot it pretty well.  He could be the key to this team if he can emerge as a force at the small forward spot.  PG Dexter Strickland showed a lot of ability in this game.  The Wear twins also come in with a lot hype.  As the year progresses, this could end up being one of the best benches in the nation.  They don’t have much depth at guard, and another question for this team will be whether or not the guard play from Drew, Ginyard, and Strickland is good enough to win it all in March.

Best-Case Scenario:  National Champions

Best Guess: Final Four

Michigan St:

The Spartans have almost everyone back from last year’s team that lost to UNC in the championship.  Junior PG Kalin Lucas is the team leader and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, but he didn’t play a great game here.  F Draymond Green really stood out in this game as maybe the most improved player on the team.  They need his presence in the post.  Raymar Morgan has had a lot of injuries and illness to deal with and that probably explains why he’s a disappointment.  He led the team in scoring two years ago as a sophomore, but he doesn’t look like a guy that can create his own offense all that much.  He had 18 points, but almost all of them came in transition and on alley-oopsA key to this team could be F Delvon Roe.  He came in with a lot of hype last year but was underwhelming.  He shows flashes of being really good, but can he do it on a consistent basis?

The three returning guards along with Lucas, Durell Summers, Chris Allen, and Korie Lucious, are all capable of putting up a big game and give this team a level of talent and experience in the backcourt that most teams would love to have.  This team showed a lot of heart in coming back from a 16-point half-time deficit in Chapel Hill.  They’ll need Green and Roe to avoid foul trouble (both fouled out).

Best-Case Scenario:  National Champions

Best Guess: Elite Eight

Charting a Course to March: College Basketball Notes

Throughout the college basketball season, I’ll give my observations on random teams and players, assessing where they are at that point of the season, and looking ahead to where they could be in March.  We’ll give it the highly creative name of “Charting A Course to March.”  If nothing else, it could eventually be used for help in filling out those brackets.

November 27th: #7 Duke 68, UConn 59, at Madison Square Garden

Duke:

scheyerAs usual, Coach K’s team will be led by the perimeter players (whatever happened to the Shelden Williams, Carlos Boozers and Elton Brands?).  Kyle Singler is being called a National Player of the Year candidate, but he might be slightly over-rated.  Senior PG Jon Scheyer might be the best player on the team and should have a great year.  Nolan Smith is getting a lot of hype, but there’s a reason he was benched last year.  He’s been moved off the ball, but is still a big of a question mark in my book.  The big men are nothing special but look improved from last year, and they’ll add a highly-touted freshman, Mason Plumlee, when he returns from an injury in a few weeks.  They have only 3 scholarship guards on the roster, and one is a freshman, so depth could be an issue there.

Best-Case Scenario: Final Four appearance.  I don’t think the Singler/Scheyer duo is championship material.

Best Guess: Sweet 16. It will be interesting to see what Plumlee brings to the table, though.

UConn:

A lot of talent has left Storrs, but there’s still a fair amount left.  Kemba Walker is a championship-caliber PG, and will be one of the most exciting players in the country.  Jerome Dyson is a steady veteran with him in the backcourt.  Stanley Robinson is an NBA-level athlete, but isn’t very skilled.  The rest of the frontcourt is inexperienced, but with Gavin Edwards and Alex Oriakhi, they could make a run at leading the nation in blocks for a ridiculous 9th straight year.  This team’s biggest weakness will be outside shooting, as they made ZERO 3’s in this game.  But if Jim Calhoun can work his magic, they could be tough enough defensively to win a lot of games.

Best-case scenario:  Final Four appearance

Best Guess:  Sweet 16