Larry Drew's departure disgraceful, Indiana rising and more (cont.)
I stand by my earlier assertions that by the time the NCAA tournament rolls around, Kentucky is going to be the best team in the SEC. The Wildcats are thisclose to figuring out how to win. That was clear last week in their near-misses at Ole Miss and Florida. Even so, I still believe John Calipari needs to recruit a few high-character players he knows are going to be around for a few years. Yes, you have to have lottery-level talent to win an NCAA championship, but you can't get that trophy when you are this dependent on freshmen.
For a guy who is supposed to be a big-time shooting guard, Kenny Boynton's shooting form is awful. Florida's 6-2 sophomore is shooting 83 percent from the foul line, but he's making 30 percent from three-point range -- and he takes a lot of threes. Boynton needs to spend every single day this offseason forgetting everything he ever knew about shooting and working with a really good coach to break down his form and build it back up again. It's his only chance at an NBA future.
Missouri is 0-4 on the road in Big 12 play this season. I'm not sure Allen Fieldhouse, where the Tigers are playing Monday night, is the place to reverse that trend.
By far the most interesting bubble team is going to be St. John's. As of now, a lot of bracket projections have the Red Storm in the tournament. They have four wins over teams ranked in the Top 25, including the big one over Duke. However, they also have a couple of bad losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham (although the loss to St. Bonaventure isn't looking as bad now as it did then). More problematic is the fact that the Johnnies have four of their last seven games on the road, and two of the home games are against UConn and Pitt. They're .500 now in the Big East, but they're going to have a hard time staying there over the next five weeks.
From a conference standpoint, no bubble is going to be as fun as the ACC's. Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Clemson are locked in a four-way tie for fourth place with a 5-4 record. I doubt all four are going to get bids, and maybe just two of them will. It's going to go down to the wire, and the head-to-head results are going to be big.
Is it possible that George Mason is this year's George Mason? The Patriots knocked off Old Dominion last weekend to win their ninth straight. Circle Feb. 15 on your calendar. That's the date George Mason plays at fellow CAA leader VCU. Barring a collapse, I expect both of those teams will play in the NCAA tournament.
Everybody talks about The Jimmer's shooting range, but not enough is said about his ability to get to the foul line. In four of his last five games, Fredette has shot at least 10 free throws. That includes Saturday's win over UNLV, when he was 16-for-16 from the line. On the season he is making 89.6 percent. That's how you get Capone.
Quick: Who's the leading scorer in the Big East? If you said Kemba Walker, you were wrong. It's Providence guard Marshon Brooks, who scored 43 points in last Saturday's loss to Georgetown to up his average to 24.1. Walker's average is 23.2.
Villanova is just a much, much better team when it runs its offense from the inside-out. Mouphtao Yarou and Antonio Pena don't have to put up huge numbers every night, but if they're getting touches they can keep the defense honest. And it gives 'Nova's guards the clean shooting looks and driving lanes they need. Pitt might be the best team in the Big East, but I still think Villanova's A-plus game is just a little bit better than Pitt's.
And now for your weekly Kyrie Irving update. Last Friday, when doctors removed the cast that was protecting Irving's injured toe, some people interpreted it as a breakthrough. It was a milestone, but it was not a breakthrough. This step has long been part of the plan, so the only notable news is that doctors did not push back the date. From what I hear they are encouraged by the way Irving is healing, but he still has to undergo a full month of rehabilitation before anyone has a realistic idea of whether he'll be able to play this season.
Irving has been doing a lot of strength work the last few weeks, so now he has to work on his legs and that foot. The situation remains very fluid and hard to predict because Irving is basically suffering from turf toe, which is primarily a football injury, so there's very little precedent. It's even more difficult to predict what will happen because Mike Krzyzewski keeps insisting Irving will not return this season -- not because he really believes it, but because Coach K doesn't want his team to hinder its development based on that hope. He did the same thing when Elton Brand broke his foot as a freshman. All season long, Krzyzewski insisted Brand would not come back, yet he was in uniform on the last weekend of the regular season. So the bottom line is, I still do not anticipate Irving coming back, but there remains a slim chance that he and the team will have a very interesting decision to make around the start of the ACC tournament.
When I heard that former Michigan State guard Korie Lucious visited Iowa State last week, it made me think that Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg is playing with fire. Does Hoiberg really want Iowa State to be known as the place where troubled transfers alight? Hoiberg has already accepted forward Royce White, who left Minnesota following an arrest for theft and fifth-degree assault, and Chris Allen, who was booted out of Michigan State's program last summer for multiple violations of team rules. Now he wants Lucious, who was arrested on a DUI charge last summer and two weeks ago Tom Izzo dismissed him from the program. I'm not a judge of morality so I would never say whether a kid is good or bad. I also don't deny that those three players have some talent. Still, I have to ask the Mayor: Can you really win games with these guys? And is this the best way to build a program?
To clear up something I was confused about, until CBS ace researcher Wayne Fidelman cleared me up: Five years ago, the NIT eliminated its requirement that teams carry at least an overall .500 record to be able to play in the tournament. However, no team with a sub-. 500 record has ever been invited. Class dismissed.
We all know the kind of season Arizona sophomore forward Derrick Williams is having, but it's a great sign that sophomore guard Lamont "Momo" Jones scored a career-high 27 in the Wildcats' triple-overtime win over California. There's nothing like a little dash of Harlem to spice up hoops in the desert.
I wish I had a definitive answer for why Illinois is in such a bad tailspin, but inconsistency has to be at the top of the list. It's hard to have a go-to guy when you don't know who's going to show up night after night. When Demetri McCamey was in his scoring slump, Mike Davis picked things up. But after posting a season-high 22 points in the win over Penn State, Davis shot 3-for-11 and scored eight points in the loss at Northwestern over the weekend. You shouldn't be so undependable by the time you're a senior.
It is hard to believe, but the chances are increasingly dire that Michigan State will make it back to the NCAA tournament. Besides being 5-6 in the Big Ten, the Spartans still have a lot of tough games remaining: at Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan, and home against Penn State, Illinois, Purdue and Iowa. Considering the team's only win in its last six games came at home by one point against Indiana, do you really think the Spartans will finish the Big Ten regular season over .500? Neither do I.
Speaking of Indiana, I have to say I have never seen a fan base so passionately support a struggling team. The Hoosiers still fill Assembly Hall for every home game, and the place is always rocking. (By contrast, Ohio State couldn't even fill up the Schottenstein Center for its big game at home against Purdue.) The Hoosiers lose a lot of games, but they play their tails off and the fans know it. Their loyalty has been rewarded recently as IU scored home wins over Illinois and Minnesota in the last two weeks. The fans know things will get better in time, but they're not waiting until it happens to show up. Bravo.