Monday, February 14, 2011

'Off Tha Hook'

Texas is 10-0 in the Big 12, including a win over #1 Kansas.
Kansas (24-1, 9-1 Big 12) enters the week as the nation's number one team after previously unbeaten Ohio State (24-1, 11-1 Big Ten) fell to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center in Madison last Saturday, even though Texas knocked off the Jayhawks 74-63 in Lawrence on Jan. 22.  Still, the Longhorns (22-3, 10-0 Big 12) were edged by only one vote by Kansas in this week's balloting and it would not be surprising for Texas to overtake that #1 ranking even if both teams win out during the regular season.  The reason why: You don't mess with Texas' schedule.  Coach Rick Barnes put his team in a position where they would battle tested come this time of year by playing a rather brutal non-conference schedule, despite having a young team.  The Longhorns have recorded wins over Illinois, North Carolina, and Michigan State, while losing to Big East powers Pittsburgh and Connecticut by a combined three points (their third loss was on the road to Southern California Dec. 5, a clear aberration at this point). All five of those teams are ranked top 50 in RPI.  The strategy has paid off as Texas is 10-0 in conference play with wins over #16 Texas A&M (twice), Baylor, #13 Missouri, and that "W" against the then second-ranked Jayhawks on the road.  As a result, many experts believe Texas is the team to beat right now. (including a friend of mine who told me on Facebook about a month ago that he could easily see Texas in the Final Four.  I see where he's coming from now, especially since he predicted the Melo Syracuse team to win the NCAA championship in 2003, when the Orange weren't even ranked!)  Bob Knight called sophomore guard/ forward Jordan Hamilton the best offensive player in the country and for good reason.  Hamilton, a very athletic and aggresive slasher out of Dominguez H.S. in Compton, is averaging 18.9 points per contest and can score on the drive and is shooting well from distance (41%).  At 6'7" 220, he definitely has a little Carmelo Anthony in his game.  Inside is true freshmen Tristan Thompson averaging 12.8 points and 7.5 rebounds.  He is 6'8" but plays alot taller than that because of his long arms.  I can see a little Hakim Warrick in him.  Sophomore guard J'Covan Brown, former McDonald's All-American and Florida-transfer Jai Lucas, along with Turkish product Dogus Balbay, fill out the other guard spots.  Maybe combined they can bring to the table what Gerry McNamara did.  But there are teams on the rise that will have something to say come tournament time, and teams that better find a way to get their act together quick, or they won't make it out of the first weekend.
Pick your poison between Marcus, right, or Markieff.

On the Rise

The Morris Twins and Kansas - Despite the humbling setback to Texas, the Jayhawks have imposed their will on almost every other team they have played this season.  They lead the nation in field goal percentage (52.3), Marcus Morris is averaging nearly 17 ppg on 61 percent shooting while Markieff Morris averages 13 per on 59 percent shooting.

Brad Wanamaker and Pittsburgh - With leading scorer Ashton Gibbs out with a MCL injury, the senior from Philly dropped a big 21 points at the Pavillion against Villanova Saturday to lead the No. 4 Panthers (23-2, 11-1 Big East) to a 57-54 win last Saturday.

Harrison Barnes and North Carolina - Maybe its just me but Barnes looks like he is finally benefitting from the college weight room.  Barnes appears to be more defined in his body, and his game is also responding, as he has scored in double figures in eight of 10 conference games.  In case you needed visual evidence . . .

On the Fall

Kemba Walker and UConn - I had Walker as P.O.Y., as many others did earlier, and he's still averaging 22.8 ppg, good for seventh in the country, but the game against Syracuse in Hartford killed it for me.  Kemba had 8 points and the Huskies just looked plain awful against the 2-3 zone.  I know not everyone can defend like the 'Cuse but why wouldn't other teams just zone up UConn and make someone other than Walker beat you?

The Illini are fading away.
Chris Singleton and Florida State - The big win over Duke Jan. 12 in Tallahasee may not mean anything now that Singleton will undergo surgery to repair a broken right ankle.  Singleton led the Seminoles in scoring (13.8), rebounding (7.1), steals (2.1), and 3-point percentage (37.5).

Demetri McCamey and Illinois - Bruce Weber has had a long drought since reaching the NCAA Tournament Final in 2005 (with mostly Bill Self's players) but had the talent and experience this year to atleast make a push in the Big Ten.  McCamey averaged 16.2 points, 7.2 assists, and shot 52.5 percent from three in the first 19 games of the season.  In the last six games McCamey is averaging 7 points, has 25 assists to 21 turnovers, and is shooting 32.5 percent from distance.  The Illini (16-9, 6-6 Big Ten) are 2-4 in those games.

Still Dangerous:

G - Nolan Smith - Duke
G - Jimmer Fredette - Brigham Young
F - Terrence Jones - Kentucky
G/F - Jordan Hamilton - Texas
Knowles hit 7 3's on the 'Cuse Feb. 12
F/C - Jared Sullinger - Ohio State

Players to Watch

G - Ben Hansbrough - Notre Dame
G - Preston Knowles - Louisville
F - John-Paul Olukemi - Oklahoma State
G - Jordan Taylor - Wisconsin
G - LaceDarius Dunn - Baylor
G - Erving Walker - Florida
F - Mouphtaou Yarou - Villanova
G - Dwight Hardy - St. John's
F - Derrick Williams - Arizona
G - William Buford - Ohio State

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