Happy New Year to all the hoop lovers out there.
College Football is officially over, unfortunately we didn’t get to see an Alabama versus Oregon final but now the focus shifts solely to BASKETBALL!
Thankfully we college basketball people don’t have to worry about the BCS B.S. because college hoops plays the greatest tournament of all to decide the national champion. The Big Dance takes us from Selection Sunday to the Sweet 16 down to the Final Four and One Shining Moment.
Before you know it March Madness will be here!
As we head into conference action, I’ve been reflecting on some of the early season highlights and top performances so far.
TEAMS worth mentioning
Notre Dame – off to a great start at 14-1, perhaps they can ease the pain of the drubbing the football squad took.
Harvard – lost two of their top players to suspension and haven’t missed a beat. 8-5 with a win at Cal, losses to UConn, UMass, & St. Joe’s aren’t anything to be down about. Had a game absolutely stolen from them by St. Mary’s, Harvard led for 39:59 and lost. I saw it and still can’t believe it. Freshman PG Siyani Chambers is playing great averaging 12.6 ppg and 5.9 assists.
Gonzaga – The Zags might have their best team in several years. Kelly Olynyk (Canada) is playing like the WCC Player of the Year, an award you thought would go to Elias Harris (pictured – Germany) or Kevin Pangos (Canada). Perimeter shooting (Pangos) remains a key for the 15-1 Bulldogs, whose only loss was at home to 14-2 Illinois, as they have great size and depth in the post.
Illinois – First year coach John Groce has the Illini playing with tons of confidence and they have a star player in Brandon Paul.
Butler – They are at it again…first they reach the final of the Maui Classic by beating Marquette and North Carolina and then they knock off Indiana in OT after 3 of their bigs foul out.
Cincy – Quietly shot out to a 13-0 record including a win over Oregon but have since lost 3 of 4, can they rebound against a tough Big East schedule?
Duke 14-0 & Michigan 15-0 are on top of the polls and look like legit Final Four contenders in a season where there is no dominant team but several strong clubs who could hoist the trophy.
Arizona 14-0 & Oregon 12-2 have gone through a coaching change and program revitalization in a short amount of time. They play in Eugene this Thursday, we’ll find out how good both teams are. Oregon’s all-Frosh backcourt of Dominic Artis 10.1 ppg & 3.6 apg and Damyean Dotson 12 ppg will need to play at a high level for the Ducks to win who have nearly six players scoring in double figures. Sean Miller’s squad will try to win two on the road in the Pacific Northwest, never easy.
Let’s not forget the start Indiana got off to, Syracuse and Coach Jim Boeheim (900+ wins) are once again in the top 10, NC State has a shot at the ACC title which makes North Carolina the 3rd best team in Research Triangle…when was the last time we could say that? Louisville beat Kentucky and looks good and Tubby Smith has the Gophers going in Minnesota.
Some PLAYERS you need to see
Paul (Illinois) dropped 35 on Gonzaga and Olynyk (Zags) put 33 & 10 on Santa Clara, two of the better performances I’ve seen this year so far. While the aforementioned Dotson and Artis (Oregon) play with the poise of upperclassmen. Fellow Duck Arsalan Kazemi (Iran, Rice transfer) is a solid all-around performer.
Javan Felix (Texas) has performed incredibly well for a guy who wasn’t even thought of prior to the season. With Myck Kabongo sitting out, Felix has become the leader of the Longhorns – 9.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, and 6.6 apg – Coach Rick Barnes will need him even when Kabongo returns.
Another freshman out of Texas…Waco, Texas is 7’1 Isaiah Austin (Baylor), mobile and versatile he’s scoring 14.8 ppg and grabbing 8.9 rpg. He has a huge upside and an NBA Draft in his near future.
BC’s Ryan Anderson has improved after a nice freshman campaign. The 6’8 PF is averaging a double-double in the ACC.
Oklahoma State has a Point Guard walking around in a Linebacker’s body. Marcus Smart , only a freshman, is already the
leader of that squad and has them playing well.
I think one of the MIP’s (Most IMPORTANT Players) of the season is St. Mary’s PG Matthew Dellavedova who played for Australia in the London Olympic Games. Without him the Gaels struggle badly and if opposing teams are able to defend him like Pacific, Ga Tech, and Harvard did, they won’t make the Dance. They play at Gonzaga this week.
COMEBACK PLAYERS who have helped a lot
Santa Clara got Mark Trasolini (6’9 Sr. PF – Canada) back from injury this season, he’s scoring 16 points and gets 8 boards per outing while 2,000 point scorer Kevin Foster (6’2 Sr. SG) is back from suspension. They went 0 for their final 17 last year and are 12-4 already this year, having a team of Juniors and Seniors really helps.
BYU’s 6’5 Soph. Tyler Haws came back from a mission to provide the 12-4 Cougs some scoring. He put up 42 against Virginia Tech and he’s averaging 20.9 to go along with inside force Brandon Davies 18.9.
Butler’s Rotnei Clarke exploded off a Red-Shirt year after he transferred from Arkansas. Bulldog fans (including my buddy & alum Willie Mac) are glad he did. I’m looking forward to their match-up with Gonzaga on January 19.
Let’s just say that Mark Lyons had ‘issues’ at Xavier and he’s bounced back pretty well playing for Arizona.
St. John’s Coach Steve Lavin, not a player but he’s back and helping the Johnnies who lost interim coach Mike Dunlap to the Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA.
In closing, I’m going out on a limb, call me out, Tweet my comments, hit me on Facebook, I don’t care. In conference and tournament play, scouting reports, video study, the game slows down a bit…NO WAY are we going to see a guy score 138 points like Grinnell College guard Jack Taylor did back in November.
That’s my call and I’m sticking to it.