The Halfcourt Trap: Here And There Edition.
by, 12-05-2011 at 04:56 PM (10852 Views)
I'll leave analysis of the firestorm the BCS has caused yet again this season to others. We're nearing the quarter pole of the college hoops season and teams are beginning to round into form. Here are some observations of what we've seen so far. Let's get down to business.
1. Tennessee missed a grand opportunity Saturday against Pittsburgh. An inability to keep the Panthers off the offensive boards and multiple breakdons in defending the pick and roll doomed the Vols. All, however, is not lost in the nonconference portion of the schedule. If UT can sweep their slate between now and the early January rematch with Memphis, Cuonzo Martin's team will be positioned to make postseason play. With that in mind, the game at Charleston may well be the biggest of the season. A win there would put the Big Orange on track to go into league play with a respectable record and solid momentum.
2. Some programs just know how to do things correctly. Murray State fits that description. Billy Kennedy's departure could have stunted the momentum Murray gained from last year's success. It hasn't. As they have become accustomed to doing, the Racers have moved on with a new coach and continued their winning ways. After yesterday's win over Dayton, they stand 9-0 and have a Great Alaska Shootout title on their resume. Isaiah Canaan is playing at a level worthy of national notice. The Racers' date with Memphis on December 11th gives them a shot to garner Top 25 consideration with a win.
3. The best way for a coach to appease a restless fanbase is to win games. That's exactly what Bruce Weber is doing at Illinois. This weekend's impressive win over Gonzaga pushed the Illini's record to 8-0. More importantly, the disfunction of the past two seasons appears to be a thing of the past. Led by Meyers Leonard, Weber's team is far more cohesive and balanced than the trainwrecks of '09-'10 and '10-'11. A good portion of the credit for that transformation goes to senior transfer Sam Maniscalo, who has given a young team a tough veteran presence on the perimeter.
4. While they haven't exactly played a Murderer's Row of a schedule, Tulane has to be a pleasant surprise at 9-0. Former UT assistant Ed Conroy has his team winning at a level not seen at Fogelman Arena in some time. Kendall Timmons has developed into an all C-USA caliber player and the Green Wave is defending well enough to mask their offensive limitations. While it's probably a bit much to expect Tulane to contend for a conference title, it's a good sign that Conroy has the program winning the games they should. That's certainly progress from recent history.
5. The only thing that kept Wichita State out of the NCAA Tournament field the last two seasons was an inability to take advantage of opportunities against marquee nonconference opponents.The Shockers broke through that glass ceiling this weekend. With their blowout win over a UNLV team that handed North Carolina their first defeat, Gregg Marshall's club banked a huge chip to cash in come March. As long as they take care of business inside the Valley, it's a near certainty Wichita will be dancing this spring.
6. Ole Miss is showing a real aptitude for winning close games. The Rebels have already won down to the wire battles with Drake, Miami, DePaul and Penn State, the final two of those on the road. Given the scany difference between SEC teams 6-11, coming out on top in tight contests is likely to be the difference between an NCAA bid and a trip to the NIT. The last hill for Andy Kennedy to climb in Oxford is to get his club into the field of 68. Composure down the stretch may be what finally gets them there. Also, it appears Kennedy has struck gold again with an under the radar perimeter recruit. Jarvis Summers is showing signs he will follow in the extremely productive footsteps of Terrico White and Chris Warren.
7. Larry Krystkowiak knew he wasn't inheriting a perfect situation at Utah. The Utes have struggled to play competent basketball since Andrew Bogut led them to the NCAA Tournament. That said, it's hard to imagine he knew it would be this bad. The program that Rick Majerus had 8 minutes from a national title stands at 1-6 this season. The only win is over San Diego Christian. The Pac 12 isn't great, but it's difficult to figure out where league wins will come from for the Utes. Krystkowiak is a solid coach. However, it's going to take quite some time for Utah to dig out of the rubble of the Jim Boylen Era.
8. Mike Davis has made a habit out of exceeding expectations at UAB. It seems as if every season Davis melds together newcomers and replaces lost production well enough to keep the Blazers in the Conference USA hunt. So far, this team hasn't followed that script. Only Cameron Moore is playing at a winning level and the rest of the squad has struggled mightily on the way to a 1-6 start. It will be interesting to see if Davis is able to get the ship righted in time for conference play.
9. Southern Miss is quietly making a case that they will be heard from in the Conference USA race. Larry Eustachy's team has two victories against a talented New Mexico State squad. Their only losses in a 5-2 start are at underrated Denver and to Murray State in the Great Alaska Shootout finals. Eustachy has found another underrecruited scorer in LaShay Page. If the newcomers on the USM frontline continue to progress, it wouldn't be susprise to see the Golden Eagles in C-USA's top 4.
10. This may be the year that Baylor's production finally equals their talent and hype. The Bears went into Evanston yesterday and obliterated previously undefeated Northwestern. With AJ Walton and Pierre Jackson providing stability at the point, the plethora of NBA talent on the Bears' frontline is dominating opponents. Of course, this has happened in spurts before. With a less than impressive nonconference slate on tap for Scott Drew's club, Big 12 play will show whether or not this is the year Baylor reaches its vast potential.
I'll be back in this space soon. Stay classy, 8th.