Fast Break (Cont.)
Former Indiana and UAB coach Mike Davis took his unheralded team into the Coors Events Center and darn near pulled off the upset. Colorado had to overcome a 39-point performance from Tigers guard Omar Strong. Alas, the Buffaloes could not overcome their defensive deficiencies over the weekend as they lost at Wyoming, 76-69. Bye-bye, top 25.
The Redbirds fought hard against the nation's No. 3 team but came up short thanks to a heartbreaking no-call on the last possession. Senior guard Tyler Brown, who scored 25 points, began the sequence with a shot fake on Cards forward Chane Behanan. When Behanan left his feet, Brown dribbled once and jumped into Behanan as he launched a potential game-tying three-pointer. It is one of the more difficult decisions an official has to make, but after watching the play several times on my DVR (a luxury the referee does not have, incidentally), I thought the zebra made the proper decision. The rule of thumb is that when the shooter is the one who initiates the contact, the referee usually doesn't call a foul. In this case, that was even more applicable because Brown took a dribble before jumping into Behanan. But it was close.
SI.com: James Southerland had 35 points coming off the bench in the win at Arkansas. Why isn't he good enough to start?
Jim Boeheim: He is good enough to start, but I like to have that weapon off the bench. We learned a couple of years ago, first with Kris Joseph and then with Dion Waiters, what kind of boost you get from somebody like that coming off the bench. He plays starter's minutes, so that's what matters the most.
SI: Can you look at your roster and say one guy is your best player?
JB: Michael Carter-Williams is good -- he's real good -- but we've got good balance. Triche is good. C.J. Fair is solid. We just have a lot of solid players. We're similar to where we were last year depth wise, but we don't have a shot blocker like Fab Melo.
SI: If you could pick one area that needs to improve, what would it be?
JB: Our interior defense has to get better. We're allowing too much inside. Right now that's a weak spot. We also have to develop our depth by getting some of our freshmen to play better.
SI: Speaking of freshmen, what's up with DaJuan Coleman? He doesn't seem to be doing much.
JB: He's doing all right. It's just a matter of getting up and down the court. That game against Arkansas was so fast, it was hard for him, but he still had six points and five rebounds in 12 minutes, and he missed two layups.
SI: Unlike most coaches, you actually channel surf and watch a lot of games. Who has impressed you?
JB: I'm shocked at how well some teams are playing. I thought Xavier lost everybody, and they're pretty good. Mississippi is playing pretty well. I was surprised at how good Arizona State looked when I watched them play. Gonzaga might have the best team I've seen [Mark Few] have in a while. College basketball has come all the way to where there are just so many good teams. But there are no great teams out there that I can see.
SI: What do you think of this latest wave of conference realignment?
JB: They're just going to keep doing this for 10 years, so we'll have to sit back and wait for the next move. I just don't understand. Is it really worth some extra money when you've got to take your team and go play someplace far away? Is it worth it when you're competitive in one league, and then you switch to another one and you're not winning? Somebody will say we're getting all this money, but you're doing all this travel and you're not winning. Is that what you want? Do the kids at Maryland want to go play at Iowa and those places? I don't know. Time will tell whether that was a good move or not.
SI: When you talk to Jim Calhoun, does it make you wish you were retired, or does it make you glad you're not?
JB: How about that president gave him six million dollars to retire. I wish somebody would do that to me. What was she thinking? I know he still goes to practice every day. But I don't think about it. I have a lot to do. I have a lot of kids -- my own kids, not my players. I feel probably as good as I've ever felt right now. If we lose a couple of games, I might not feel so good.
Guess you're not a fan of the Wolverines. Your last two columns only mention them as a backdrop for the teams that they beat. Pitt and N.C. State did put up a good fight but they lost to the better team. Here is a good one for you and it should be titled "Burke and Hardaway form the best backcourt in the country."
-- Mike Fleszar, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Actually, there's no greater compliment to a team than to write that you're impressed with a team because it lost to them by a close margin. This is clearly the best team John Beilein has ever coached. It's not just that the Wolverines are effective, they're also exciting to watch. I won't argue with Burke and Hardaway being called the best backcourt in the country, although there's a case to be made for Peyton Siva and Russ Smith at Louisville.
At this point, I can't even identify a real deficiency of Michigan's as a long-term concern. The Wolverines are playing great at both ends of the floor: They're ranked seventh in the country in three-point percentage (44.1) and fifth in field goal percentage defense (26.7). They're even fifth in the country in rebound margin (+14.0), whereas Beilein teams are usually in the deep negative territory (by design). The two main caveats with the Wolverines right now are that it's early, and they're young. None of their top six players are seniors, and three of them are freshmen. But that's picking nits. Clearly, this is a team with national championship potential, and it has been a long, long time since we have been able to say that about Michigan.
Regarding this quote from your recent Hoop Thoughts article: "Kelly Olynyk's return from a suspension has given Gonzaga a boost, but it appears to have come at the expense of the team's starting center, Sam Dower. I'd love to see those guys play well together."
Until Sam Dower starts defending and rebounding better, he is going to be the fourth big man in the rotation behind Harris, Olynyk and Karnowski. He is the worst defensive big man Mark Few has coached, so unless he is scoring like he did at Xavier last season, there's zero reason for him to be out there. Due to all the depth Few has this season, he is less tolerant of guys being lazy on the defensive end.
-- Daryle, Spokane
This is what you call a high-class problem. In Gonzaga's win over Pacific last weekend, Dower had 18 points and nine rebounds (three offensive) in 24 minutes off the bench. That's a solid night's work. I realize that Zags fans are excited about 7-1 freshman Przemek Karnowski, a native of Poland, but he is still a freshman who is unfamiliar with American college basketball. He's strong, but also a bit lumbering. Kelly Olynyk, the 7-foot redshirt junior, is the team's best big man, but I don't see him as a dominant scorer just yet. So whatever your concerns about Dower's defense might be, the fact is, the Zags will need all hands on deck if they are going to reach the Final Four, which is once again a very realistic goal. Putting Dower and Olynyk on the floor together for long stretches gives them a strong look up front that few other teams can match. We'll see over the next few weeks, as they hit the teeth of their nonconference schedule, whether that is a viable option moving forward.
"Atlantis is the new Maui" is a convenient way of completely sidestepping any talk of a hot start by an Illinois team that you failed to have on your radar at the beginning of the season.
-- Kyle, Peoria, Ill.
Actually, I don't think Illinois was on anybody's radar at the beginning of the season, but I'm glad the Illini's hot start is playing well in Peoria. Though this was not a vintage Maui field (mostly because North Carolina is having a down year), the Illini didn't get a lot of sizzle out of winning the championship. But they did get into the top 25, which I doubt anyone expected would happen just a few weeks ago.
Mike from Michigan called Burke and Hardaway the best backcourt in the country, but Illinois' D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul should be in that conversation. Paul has been phenomenal. He's averaging 18.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists while making 41.5 percent from three-point range. Pretty impressive for a guy who started out making 27.9 percent from behind the arc as a freshman. That's the value of having older players, and Illinois has more than its fair share. Four of this team's top five scorers are fourth-year players (three seniors plus redshirt junior Joseph Bertrand). And of course, first-year coach John Groce has given this program a jolt of fresh energy with his up-tempo style and high-octane demeanor.
Illinois fans have been beat down for a while, so I'm glad they are enjoying this wonderful early start. But there's that word again: early. I'd recommend keeping a level head until we're well into conference season. I think I read somewhere the Big Ten is gonna be pretty good this season.