This is the burning question of the week: How did UConn, after winning the Maui Invitational and riding back to the Northeast atop a golden surfboard, garner only four No. 1 votes in the latest AP poll?
Granted, there are three teams worthy of being No. 1 as we enter the first week of December: Duke, which has wins over Davidson (at home), Memphis (neutral court) and Indiana (road); Texas, with neutral-court victories over West Virginia and Iowa; and UConn, with neutral-court victories over Arkansas, Arizona and Gonzaga. But at a stage where there are still teams in the major polls that have barely played three games, the Huskies are the only squad in the nation that has already beaten two top-10 teams (the Wildcats and Zags) and a third likely NCAA tournament team (the Razorbacks) -- and it accomplished all that with its starting point guard, Marcus Williams, sitting at home suspended. That, to me, is the definition of power. And it shall be rewarded here.
Note: These are the first regular-season Power Rankings; teams' positioning in the preseason edition had no bearing on their placement here.
Huskies coach Jim Calhoun was on point when he said (in the Hartford Courant) of the happenings in Maui, "The best player in the tournament? [Gonzaga's] Adam Morrison. The most valuable player in the tournament? Denham Brown." Brown, a senior who has for years been regarded as the max-effort guy in UConn's tough practices -- but has rarely been a star in actual games -- had his coming-out party in Hawaii, playing stellar defense and scoring 47 points in the Huskies' three wins, including a one-hander over Morrison with 1.1 seconds left in the final to beat the Zags 65-63.
This could go down as Brown's greatest collegiate shot, and if I were him, I would get this AP photo (click to enlarge) of the signature moment framed -- while at the same time lamenting that the gym in which in happened, the Lahaina Civic Center, is so "quaint" that the prime background element in Brown's celebration picture is not fans, but rather a large sign for the Women's Restroom. Next three: 12/2 vs. Texas Southern, 12/8 vs. UMass, 12/18 vs. New Hampshire.
Gotta feel for Josh McRoberts. The freshman and his fellow Dukies make the trip Bloomington (where they beat Indiana on Wednesday), less than two hours from his hometown of Carmel -- and he had to tell his family to stay home, to avoid Hoosier fans' hostilities. "Obviously they wanted to go, but I told my Mom it's probably better if she didn't," McRoberts said in the Raleigh News & Observer. "I don't think she could handle all that [verbal abuse]." The reason for fans' resentment is that they feel McRoberts bailed on his home-state U for the Blue Devils -- but it comes across as sour grapes. Why should McRoberts be viewed as traitorous for heading eastward to a higher-ranked academic institution (Duke is 5th, IU is 74th in the US News and World Report rankings), and, if he is going to be a one-and-done guy, an instant shot at a national title? Normally, a high-schooler is applauded for earning a full ride to an elite school ... unless, of course, he is supremely talented in either basketball or football. In that case he is somehow obligated, in fans' eyes, to ply his trade for home-state U ... or else.
Two weeks ago, I received a frantic IM from a former SI.com intern, who was on the clock in the first round of his "BCS-conference-players-only Fantasy College Basketball League"-slash-geekfest. The Dukie firm of Redick & Williams was off the board, as were Iowa State's Curtis Stinson, UConn's Rudy Gay and Texas' Daniel Gibson. After much hemming and hawing, I proposed LaMarcus Aldridge -- and was immediately greeted with IM-scoffing and IM-doubt. The ex-intern took UCLA's Jordan Farmar instead. Not a terrible pick, but please note: Through five games, Farmar's total of points + assists + rebounds + steals + blocks was 105 (he missed one game due to injury), while Aldridge's was 167. Aldridge has posted a double-double in each of his six games this season, while Farmar is still nursing his bum ankle. This is my substitute for IM-gloating, in case you hadn't already recognized. Next three: 12/3 vs. UT-Arlington; 12/5 vs. Rice; 12/10 vs. Duke.
All, it seems, anyone wants to talk about these days is Adam Morrison's moustache (as well as his 43-point effort against Michigan State) but I am troubled by the consensus opinion of it in the national print media. I found four print mentions of the 'stache via Google news, all along the same vein, and collected the vital attributes of the commentators:
The Standard-Times (Mass.): "Despite sporting a haircut and mustache that would make even Ron Jeremy cringe ..." (COLUMNIST'S STYLE: short hair, no facial)
Louisville Courier-Journal: "The only thing not to like about the Zags is Adam Morrison's mustache." (COLUMNIST'S STYLE: shaved head, no facial)
L.A. Times: "Adam Morrison looked unstoppable against Maryland and Michigan State but may want to reconsider the mustache." (COLUMNIST'S STYLE: short hair [female])
Los Alamos Monitor: "I'm thankful I don't have to see [Morrison's] mustache up close and in person." (COLUMNIST'S STYLE: photo n/a)
C'mon, short-haired writers, why all the hate? Morrison tries to bring some funky style to college hoops and, like, clockwork, journos are calling for the Mach-3. How 'bout picking on close cuts and clean shaves for a change? Will there ever be a day when we read, "Patrick Sparks has a crew cut that would make even Charlie Weis cringe ..."?
Next three: 12/4 at Washington; 12/8 at Washington State; 12/10 vs. Oklahoma State.
If you were impressed by what the Tigers did in New York for the NIT Season Tip-Off -- running all over No. 16 UCLA and coming within three points of No. 1-ranked Duke -- consider this: Their catalyst, second-leading scorer and top assist man, Darius Washington (whose emotional freshman experience was chronicled by Grant Wahl), was suffering from a deep thigh bruise and a swollen knee, forcing him to wear a taped-on football pad under his shorts. "It felt like my leg wouldn't move," Washington told the (Memphis) Commercial Appeal of the games at Madison Square Garden. Would they have beaten the Blue Devils with a healthy D.W.? I'm not willing to go that far -- Shelden Williams was on such a mission in the second half that he likely would have willed Duke to victory under any circumstances -- but when Washington is in full gear the Tigers are perhaps the most dangerous open-court team in the nation. Next three: 12/3 at Cincinnati; 12/10 at Providence; 12/17 at Ole Miss.