Posted: Wednesday December 7, 2005 5:21PM; Updated: Wednesday December 7, 2005 5:55PM
Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
I watch a lot of college basketball, and I've had just the opposite impression this season: It seems as if play has been markedly down, mostly because last year was so exceptional. Sure, there have been notable exceptions, but for every Gonzaga-Michigan State game there is an Arizona-Kansas game (one of the most profoundly ugly games this year). There's a lot of phenomenal young talent out there, but that talent needs experience and time to grow. No doubt last season was an amazing year, but aren't you stretching it a bit and being selective in your evidence of improved hoops play across the board this season? -- Erik Alexander Charlottesville, Va.
Well, I did qualify what I wrote by referring to the big games in Maui and New York City and noting that "top teams appear to be playing at a high level." (I certainly wouldn't include Arizona and Kansas among the nation's top teams right now.) It's too early to spot any real nationwide trends in quality of play, but you're right that there have been some big clunkers this year too. (I refer you to Iowa's victories against Kentucky and N.C. State.) After the memorable 2004-05 season my expectations were for a general letdown this year, and it's still quite possible that could happen.
(I also admire you for sticking with games like Arizona-Kansas. The 'Bag didn't have the stomach to watch all 40 minutes.)
As usual there's a lot of talk about who the best player in the nation is: Adam Morrison, J.J. Redick, Rudy Gay, etc. But I'm wondering who you think the most exciting player in college basketball is right now. If you could watch one player play who would it be and against whom? -- Brett David Vancouver, Wash.
Right now there's no player more exciting to watch than Morrison, who had his second 43-point explosion of the year in a 99-95 loss to Washington last Sunday night (which, in cae you missed it, was a heck of an entertaining game). Morrison is facing some daunting defenses these days, from triple-teams to defensive specialists like the Huskies' Bobby Jones, and he's still putting up crazy numbers with all sorts of moves. Considering the blanket defense Memphis' Rodney Carney laid on Redick in New York over Thanksgiving weekend, I'd love to see Carney get the Morrison assignment when the two teams meet on Dec. 27.
I was extremely impressed with Marco Killingsworth in the Indiana-Duke game. However, don't you think Indiana is looking at tough road ahead when Killingsworth isn't able to put up 50 percent of Indiana's points or teams begin to double him up? No one else looked ready or able to hit any shots otherwise. -- Jeff Miller, Washington D.C.
Well, Killingsworth has had two less-than-dominant games since his 34-point explosion against Duke (which had some impatient pundits proclaiming him the best player in the nation). And while Mike Davis can't be happy with the way his team squandered an 11-point lead and lost to Indiana State on Tuesday, he can be encouraged by the rise of Ben Allen, a 6-foot-10 Aussie freshman who only got one minute on the floor against Duke, but has hit for 21 and 15 points in the past two games. (Once the injured D.J. White comes back the Hoosiers could be extremely formidable on their front line.)
I'm a big-time Blue Devil, so it really pains me to ask this, but ... is Shelden Williams one of the more overrated players in the country? It seems as if he racks up a lot of his big numbers against clearly inferior competition, but then in big games or against other marquee players he frequently fails to live up to his billing. (Cases in point: Sean May last year and Marco Killingsworth this year.) I also think his Defensive Player of the Year honor comes largely as a result of his obvious shot-blocking talents. Granted, he is a great safety valve against good penetrators, but his post defense is not very good. (See Killingsworth.) Especially when you consider his repeated problems with foul trouble, which absolutely kill the team every time they arise (his foul trouble figured prominently in pretty much every loss last year), I'm not sure how good an interior player he really is. What's your take? -- Wilson York, Atlanta
What's with all the self-flagellation by Duke fans these days? (Two weeks ago we had a Blue Devils fan ask me to rank the Duke stiffs of the past decade.) I think you're being a little uncharitable to the Landlord about racking up big numbers against "inferior competition." (I wouldn't exactly call his 30 points against Memphis the result of a lame opponent.) But you are right about this: foul trouble has been a recurring concern for Williams, and Killingsworth's one-man rampage had a lot of people down-grading the Landlord to Slumlord (for one night, at least). How about we get back to this conversation next week after we see how Williams does against the big front line of Texas on Saturday? (We can't tell you how fired up we are about that one.)
Are you just trying to keep up with ESPN on the ACC slobbering? Why don't you just pick an all-ACC Final Four this year? -- Jim Raleigh, N.C.
Once again you show your prejudice against the ACC. You never give this conference any props. There's no question that right now the ACC is the best or second-best conference. Out of curiosity, where do you rank the ACC? Fifth? Sixth? -- Wesley Walls, Towson, Md.
Well, which is it, guys? Am I an ACC hater or an ACC apologist? We still feel good about our Final Four picks (which include two ACC schools, Duke and Boston College), but we will admit that we spoke too soon last week by claiming that the Big Ten was in line to be the nation's No. 2 conference behind the Big East. After the ACC's seventh straight overall victory in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, we'll slot the ACC in there at No. 2 right now.
Who writes better poetry: J.J. Redick or Rashad McCants? -- Devin Gordon, New York City
You be the judge (both selections printed with permission from the authors):
My life story is read in poetic stages I was once weak-minded, now I'm courageous The cause and effect of a thousand actions The mathematical breakdown of micro-fractions It's difficult to fathom the coming of the rapture What if I awoke in an empty pasture? Suddenly every ounce of passion had been depleted And all my determination had been defeated The rain pours, my tears fall The pain subsides, I stand in awe A lightning bolt strikes, I feel a sudden energy Thunder clouds approach, I can't run from destiny A tornado tears me down, but I will stand again My life is a hurricane, but I'll weather it to the end
Why is my life so hard, yet extremely easy? The things that I do are so easy to me that people make things hard just so it can be even. Well, everything is not fair. But right now as we speak I am the most criticized athlete ever. Feels like I'm under a microscope, everything I do someone has something to say as if they were waiting for a reaction. Just to see what I would do.
It seems like every girl I meet, they have the same exact thing to say. "I HEARD ABOUT YOU!!!" Like damn, how much can people really be talking about me? It's not like I do anything wrong. I get up, shower, get really fresh, go to school, lift weights, go home, sleep, wake up and do it all over again. So what is so bad about doing all of this?
Is it because my car is nice, clothes are nice, because I listen to Jay-Z, cuz I'm kinda cute? Or is it just "jealousy"? This has got to be the weakest emotion that anyone can have. To be jealous that I have what you don't have. But what I don't understand is why hate on just me? Then I thought, ain't no one fresher than me, no one flier than me, no one realer than me. So I am the reason people hate, prime reason you should hate anyone like me. I think it's cuz I was "BORN 2 BE HATED.
Separated at Birth
Bill Self (top), John Roberts (bottom)
Kansas coach Bill Self and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. -- Tim Swindoll Shawnee, Kan.
Picks from the 'Bag
In theaters: Capote. We've been big fans of Philip Seymour Hoffman from the moment he played a sniveling Daddy's Boy prep-schooler in Scent of a Woman, and that only continued through his scene-stealing roles in Boogie Nights, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Magnolia. (His best work might actually have been his Broadway performance with John C. Reilly in True West.) But in Capote our man Phil hits his zenith in a lead role playing the high-pitched, high-living author Truman Capote as he produces the literary masterpiece, In Cold Blood.
Hoffman's portrayal is so dead-on, in fact, that my friends and I have been debating the Billy-Crudup-as-Steve-Prefontaine Question: When you're playing a real-life character, how much of good acting is being able to do a successful impression of that character's mannerisms, affectations, etc.? And should there be more to it than that? I'd argue that Hoffman not only does a great Capote impression, but he's able to sustain an impressive emotional pitch for more than two hours. That's good acting -- and the difference, the 'Bag would argue, between Hoffman-doing-Capote and, say, Darrell Hammond doing a successful Al Gore impression on Saturday Night Live.