Hoop Thoughts (Cont.)
Two thoughts regarding the controversial flagrant foul called on Purdue's D.J. Byrd which cost the Boilermakers dearly in their loss to Villanova during the NIT Tipoff semifinal. First, while it may have technically been a correct call, Byrd crossed the absolute minimum threshold to warrant a flagrant one. It looked to me that he was raising his arms up -- as opposed to swinging them around -- when his elbow hit Villanova guard Darrun Hilliard on the chin. I'd like to see some adjustment in the interpretation of this rule to give the referees more latitude.
But I don't agree with the commentary that this is a bad rule. It came about a few years ago out of a raised concern for player safety. The rules committee devised the flagrant one/flagrant two distinctions so that a player's elbow could make this type of contact without being ejected. In the final analysis, this is a good rule and the correct call was made, but this situation could benefit from some tinkering.
I know Keith Appling has been terrific so far, but folks in East Lansing will tell you that 6-5 freshman Denzel Valentine is Michigan State's best passer. If he could get more minutes, that would move Appling off the ball, where he's more comfortable. More important, it would help get the Spartans' bigs, Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, get going offensively.
I see the remarkable way that Villanova junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston has slimmed down his body, and I wonder why UCLA center Josh Smith can't do the same. Smith is costing himself millions of dollars because he does not have the discipline to eat well. Smh.
The two highest-impact, mid-semester transfers: UNLV forward Khem Birch and Missouri guard Jabari Brown. When those guys become eligible next month, those teams will kick into higher gear.
I love that the Big Ten Network uses actual students to call preseason basketball games. Makes me appreciate how many young, eager broadcasters are ready to take over the airwaves.
It also makes me happy to see Louisville guard Russ Smith shed his "Russ-diculous" label. Through three games, Smith's scoring average has gone from 11.5 as a sophomore to 21.3. His shooting percentages have also skyrocketed to 48.9 percent overall (up from 35.6 last year) and 48.1 percent from three (up from 30.6). Rick Pitino said Smith improved over the course of one week more than any other player he has coached.
I'm looking forward to seeing Kelly Olynyk get back into the mix for Gonzaga. The 7-foot junior redshirted last year, and over the summer Mark Few raved to me about his improvement. Olynyk was suspended for the first three games for violating the school's code of conduct, but he'll make his return this week at the Old Spice Classic.
I don't like it when coaches call time out during a crucial late-game possession. I prefer Bob Knight's philosophy: If my players don't know what to do in that situation, I haven't done my job in practice.
I'll take it even further with three ideas for rules changes regarding time outs. 1) Teams should only get one full time out and one 30-second time out per half. 2) Coaches should not be allowed to call time out. 3) Time outs can only be called during a dead ball situation, which is the rule in international play. Allowing a team to get out of a bad spot by calling time out during live action is akin to letting a quarterback to call time out right before he is sacked.
Great sign for Baylor that Brady Heslip played well against St. John's. He had been shooting terribly in the Bears' first four games but he sank 8-of-12 from three-point range and scored 29 points. When Heslip plays catch-and-shoot, the shots fall. When he puts it on the deck and tries to create for himself, they don't.
The biggest question for Duke is how long Seth Curry can play this well if he's not practicing because of the lingering pain in his shin. Players need practice to keep them in shape and give them reps with their teammates. Curry is also unable to work on his game outside of practice. That's got to become a problem eventually, right?
I don't like it when fans and/or commentators say referees shouldn't blow the whistle on late, critical possessions because they should "let players decide the games." Sometimes players decide games by fouling.
Stan Van Gundy only worked half of the Georgetown-Florida game as an analyst for NBC Sports Network before it was called due to condensation aboard the USS Bataan, but I thought he sounded terrific. I didn't mind the NBA references, either -- that is his perspective, and it is an interesting one. I hope SVG finds more work calling college games.
Mark Lyons is a terrific talent and prolific scorer, but I'm not convinced he's the best fit at Arizona. There are a lot of scorers on the team who could benefit from playing with a pass-first point guard, but Lyons isn't that type of player.
If you get a chance to find Detroit senior forward Doug Anderson on your TV dial, seize it. Best dunker in college basketball.
Alex Len is justifiably getting most of the love at Maryland, and the NCAA's decision to grant Dez Wells a waiver to play right away was an eye-catcher. But the guy who's making this team go right now is junior point guard Pe'Shon Howard. He still can't make threes, but through three games he has 25 assists and just six turnovers. I like what I see there.
I'm not a big "conference" guy, but Colorado's win over Baylor was very important for the Pac 12. It also shows that the Buffaloes will be a bigger factor in the conference race than their sixth-place finish in the Pac 12's preseason poll would indicate.
THIS WEEK'S AP BALLOT
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Indiana (1)
2. Louisville (2)
3. Duke (11)
4. Kentucky (3)
5. Michigan (6)
6. Ohio State (7)
7. Syracuse (8)
8. Arizona (9)
9. Kansas (4)
10. Michigan State (17)
11. Memphis (10)
12. Florida (12)
13. North Carolina (13)
14. UNLV (14)
15. UConn (15)
16. San Diego State (18)
17. UCLA (19)
18. Gonzaga (21)
19. N.C. State (5)
20. Cincinnati (22)
21. Missouri (24)
22. Creighton (25)
23. Colorado (NR)
24. Florida State (NR)
25. Pittsburgh (NR)
Dropped out: Baylor (16), Wisconsin (20), Notre Dame (23)
The first decision was what to do with N.C. State in the wake of Sunday's 20-point loss to Oklahoma State. On the one hand, you don't want to overreact to one game. On the other hand, you also don't want to give too much stock to preseason perceptions. N.C. State might not be as good as I thought, but I don't think the Pack is as bad as it looked on Sunday.
As for Oklahoma State, you could make a case that the Cowboys should be ranked, but here again, I'm trying not to overreact to one game. If the Pokes really are that good, it's only a matter of time until they have a number next to their name.
Head-to-head results are important, but there are enough results that it's impossible to keep teams in perfect order. Even though Michigan State beat Kansas last week, I didn't think it was right to rank the Spartans ahead of the Jayhawks considering they had also lost to a then-unranked UConn team. But as you can see, I also think pretty highly of UConn despite its narrow escape over Quinnipiac. Frankly, I probably have UConn too high, but I don't like moving teams down after a win, even if it was troublesome.
From a ranking standpoint, it also helps that we know Shabazz Muhammad's status at UCLA. We'll know a lot more after Monday night, when the Bruins play Georgetown at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn. If they win there, they will probably play Indiana Tuesday night. Wouldn't that be dandy.
Further down, Colorado enters my ballot thanks to its wins over Baylor and Murray State. Florida State lost its opener at home to South Alabama, but the Seminoles are a young team, and they were playing without freshman point guard Devon Bookert in that game. I was impressed by the Seminoles as they beat a plucky Saint Joseph's on Saturday night, so I wanted to reward them. And even though Pitt needed overtime to beat Oakland at home on Saturday, I think it's only a matter of time before the Panthers are ranked in the AP poll. I figured I'd try to get ahead of the curve.