Posted: Wednesday December 7, 2011 1:02PM ; Updated: Wednesday December 7, 2011 1:02PM
Seth Davis
Seth Davis>COLLEGE BASKETBALL MAILBAG

Syracuse's strength, Boatright's shortcomings, more (Cont.)

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The San Diego State Aztecs are knocking on the door of an AP Top 25 ranking.
The San Diego State Aztecs are knocking on the door of an AP Top 25 ranking.
Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESS

Just wondering. You do know San Diego State is eligible for your AP Top 25 vote, right? Maybe they should lose more games to top-10 teams, and win the rest against more top-25 teams on the road. SDSU apologizes for being in San Diego in a conference with at least three NCAA tournament teams.

Mike, Los Angeles

Just wondering, Mike: You do know there are only 25 spots available on my ballot, right? I'm all for fan enthusiasm, but game results can be stubborn.

San Diego State has actually played a pretty good schedule thus far. The Aztecs had Creighton -- whom I ranked 20th last week -- on their own home floor two weeks ago, and they built a 17-point first half lead. Then they unraveled in the second half and lost by two. They also played a road game against a Baylor team that was without its best player, Perry Jones, and still lost by 10. And on Sunday, they played a California team at home that had gotten blistered by Missouri by 39 and beat it by one point. And no, I did not rank Cal last week, either.

The Aztecs were fourth last week in "others receiving votes," so they're clearly knocking at the door of the top 25. In the meantime, let me tip my hat to what Steve Fisher has done here. Think about it: San Diego State is a midmajor program that lost its top four scorers from a team that won 34 games and reached the Sweet Sixteen. And here we are barely a month into the season, and we're having a healthy debate over whether they should be ranked. This Aztecs team is obviously not as good as last year's -- as the loss to Creighton proved, the defense is a little suspect, and their foul shooting has been atrocious -- but it is well worth watching as the weeks unfold. Just keep winning, Mike, and the ranking will come.

It's funny that you bring up that you are mystified that after four years Lewis Jackson has not been able to develop a long range jump shot. I think most Purdue fans are ecstatic that he is hitting 30 percent of his threes ... because Lewis might be the worst perimeter shooting guard in the country! This is progress.

Steve Winbun, Lafayette, Ind.

With fans like these, who needs haters?

My point about Jackson, who has made three of his 12 three-point attempts through the Boilermakers' first five games, was that I thought he would make more improvement by his senior year. It would be less mystifying if Jackson had otherwise shown that he was not a good shooter, but he's making a respectable 45.6 percent of his shots and a career-best 72.7 percent of his free throws.

Still, I do not want to fall into the trap of looking at Jackson and only pointing out all the things he's not. He's not tall, and he's not a three-point threat, but he does a lot of things well. He has become a dependable midrange shooter, plus he's a tenacious ball hawk, an effective rebounder, and of course I love his speed in the open floor. Moreover, Jackson has mastered a lot of the nuances of the point guard position which bedeviled him during his first two college seasons. If Purdue makes it back to the NCAA tournament, Jackson will be a major reason why.

I was at the UConn-Arkansas game, and I'd like your expert opinion. Is Ryan Boatright better than Kemba Walker was as a freshman? He was quite impressive this weekend. The big difference I notice is he can shoot. Kemba had no shot as a freshman.

Ken, Cheshire, Connecticut

Well, that didn't take long, did it? Boatright's career is all of two games old, and already he's drawing a comparison to one of the best guards to play college basketball in the last decade.

I'm sure Ken would be the first to agree that Boatright has a loooooong way to go before we can start putting him in Walker's class overall. But his point is well-taken: At this very early stage, Boatright appears to be a more polished offensive player than Walker was as a freshman. Let's line up the numbers:

Walker 25.2 mins 8.9 pts 2.9 assts 1.8 TOs 47.0% fg 27.1% 3fg 27.1% ft
Boatright 34.0 mins 18.5 pts 4.5 assts 1.0 TOs 63.2% fg 50.0% 3fg 76.9% ft

So Walker averaged 14.1 points per 40 minutes, and Boatright is averaging 21.8. Advantage, Boatright. And Boatright's shooting percentages are higher across the board. Another advantage Boatright has is that while Walker had to fight a senior (A.J. Price) and a junior (Jerome Dyson) for playing time, Boatright is able to play alongside a pair of sophomores in Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier who are clearly more comfortable playing off the ball.

On the other hand, it's worth pointing out that as small as Walker is, he fairly towers over Boatright, who is listed rather generously at six feet and 160 pounds. In the end, what truly differentiated Walker was his heart. He worked hard to improve every offseason, and he brought UConn to the promised land last season through sheer will. I love Boatright's poise and his talent, but until he shows that he has the heart of a champion, he'll remain a poor man's Kemba Walker. Which is a pretty good compliment when you think about it.

 
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