NCAA makes example out of Izzo, UConn women's streak, more (cont.)
I'm sorry, but it's long past time for North Carolina coach Roy Williams to rip off the Band-Aid and install freshman Kendall Marshall as his starting point guard. Marshall is simply a better player than junior Larry Drew II, and the team runs better with him at the helm. To wit, Marshall played 15 minutes in Saturday's loss to Texas. He had seven points, three assists and one turnover. Contrast that with Drew, who played 25 minutes and had two points (on zero field goals), three assists and four turnovers.
It's hard to imagine a more psychologically uplifting win than Florida's 57-44 pasting of Kansas State. The Gators failed to score a point in the game's first seven minutes before blowing the Wildcats away. Maybe they'll start playing with more toughness from here on out. And I gotta give kudos to my man Erving Walker, who finally attempted more free throws (seven) than three-pointers (three).
Butler still scares me offensively, but the Bulldogs have gotten a nice (and surprising) lift out of sophomore center Andrew Smith, whom Brad Stevens promoted to the starting lineup six games ago.
Imagine how good UCLA would be if Malcolm Lee got it going. Lee had seven assists in Saturday's big win over BYU, but he was 3-for-11 from the floor (0-for-4 from three) and had nine points in 33 minutes. The 6-foot-5 junior's numbers are down across the board from last season.
Memphis has now had two close shaves at home in overtime against bad teams -- Arkansas State and last week against Austin Peay. In the last couple of weeks the Tigers have lost two players to injury and a third (Angel Garcia) to a professional opportunity in Spain. Sounds like the wheels are getting a little wobbly down there.
Auburn lost at home to Presbyterian over the weekend. Just making sure you knew.
Good news for Minnesota: Senior point guard Al Nolen is expected to play Thursday against South Dakota State after missing the last five games because of a stress fracture in his foot. Nolen is not a big scorer, but he provides this team with a great deal of toughness and leadership. The Gophers really missed him in that home loss to Virginia.
Seems to me UNLV's lack of a post presence is catching up with it. It puts too much pressure on the guards to score, and those guys are not great shooters.
Renardo Sidney's official debut for Mississippi State wasn't much better than his exhibition tuneup. The 6-11 sophomore fouled out in just 25 minutes against Virginia Tech, and he finished with 12 points and five rebounds. Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News made a great point when he stated that Sidney had 20 months to get himself into shape, and this is what he came up with? Sidney is so far behind (he sat out all of last season and the first nine games this year for NCAA violations) that I don't see him really catching up until at least next season.
You won't see too many performances that are more dominating than what Purdue's JaJuan Johnson did against Indiana State on Saturday. Johnson scored the Boilermakers' first 17 points en route to a career-high 31. Now let's see him do it against a good team.
UConn has added 7-1 German center Enosch Wolf to the roster. Wolf recently graduated high school in his native country and took prep school courses in Massachusetts to get eligible. It will be nice to have another big body around, but to those who think a midseason addition by a foreign player will make a big difference, I have two words for you: Ater Majok.
A big key to success is recognizing who you are, where you coach, and what you can use to your advantage. So credit Notre Dame coach Mike Brey for figuring out that one advantage his team can always have over the rest of his league is experience. Besides recruiting players who will stay for four years (more by necessity than choice), Brey looks for quality transfers like Ben Hansbrough (who came from Mississippi State) and Scott Martin (Purdue). The Irish's starting lineup features five seniors, a true rarity in today's game. This is also the best defensive team Brey has had in South Bend, though let's face it, that's not saying a whole lot.
Here's a sign you're not good: Oklahoma's starters played all but 14 minutes against Cincinnati, and they lost by 10 at home.
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Duke (1)
2. Kansas (2)
3. Ohio State (3)
4. Syracuse (6)
5. Pitt (7)
6. Villanova (8)
7. Connecticut (10)
8. Michigan State (11)
9. Kentucky (12)
10. San Diego State (14)
11. Georgetown (15)
12. Washington (16)
13. Texas (17)
14. Illinois (9)
15. Kansas State (5)
16. Minnesota (19)
17. Purdue (20)
18. Missouri (21)
19. Vanderbilt (23)
20. Tennessee (4)
21. North Carolina (24)
22. Notre Dame (NR)
23. Gonzaga (NR)
24. Baylor (13)
25. UCF (NR)
Dropped out: BYU (17), Memphis (22), Louisville (25).
The big decisions this week were what to do with Tennessee, Illinois and Kansas State. I'm willing to give a half-mulligan to the Illini for their loss to Illinois-Chicago. They played a pretty good rival that was hyped up to beat them, and they couldn't make shots. Stuff happens. I might have given Tennessee the same merciful treatment for losing to a very good Oakland team (even at home), but for the Vols to follow that up with a loss at Charlotte is harder to forgive. And yet, we can't just overlook those wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh, can we?
Kansas State lost to Florida in a road-neutral game. The Gators aren't great, but they're far from terrible. I split the difference and dropped K-State to 15th.
Elsewhere, allow me to offer a hearty welcome back to Gonzaga after a one-week stint in my penalty box. I was a lone voice in the wilderness sticking by Gonzaga for a while, primarily because the Zags were losing to teams ranked higher than them. But I couldn't overlook a 22-point loss at Washington State, so I dropped them out. The Zags redeemed themselves -- and me -- by beating No. 9 Baylor in Dallas on Saturday. That win was especially impressive considering Gonzaga's best player, Steven Gray, missed the second half with back spasms, and its third-best player, Elias Harris, fouled out with six minutes to go.
I was inclined to rank Notre Dame this week anyway, but Gonzaga's win over Baylor lent added credibility to the Irish's win over the Zags last week.
If you recall, last week I ranked BYU for the first time. I had been among the last to board the Cougars' bandwagon, but it appears my initial instincts were right. BYU suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday to UCLA. The Cougars' best wins came over Arizona, Saint Mary's (by a point) and South Florida (in double overtime). Sorry, that's not a top 25 team to me. The Cougars won't have a chance to get back on my ballot until they face San Diego State at home on Jan. 26. (Circle your calendar for that one, by the way.)
I noted Memphis's problems above. It might not seem fair to drop the Tigers out of the rankings after a win, but when you have to squeak out an overtime victory over Austin Peay at home, you're not a top 25 team. I thought it was poetic justice that in the same week I dropped Memphis, I ranked UCF for the first time. The Knights, having beaten Florida at home and Miami in a road-neutral game, now look like the team to beat in Conference USA.
Finally, it looks like I'm an outlier when it comes to North Carolina. In this week's AP poll, the Heels are unranked and stand in "others receiving votes." After watching North Carolina take Texas to the buzzer on Saturday, I feel confident my faith in the Tar Heels will soon be vindicated.