Early-season hits and misses
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl will answer your questions every Wednesday during the college basketball season. Click here to send him a question.
SEATTLE -- I try telling people there's no such thing as a Sports Illustrated jinx, and then it happens again. There I was in Indy watching Purdue somehow beat No. 1 Arizona last Saturday, and it all came rushing back: Beginning with the 1999 national title game, I've now been on hand six of the last seven times the AP's top-ranked team has gone down. (The only exception was Temple's upset of Cincinnati last February.)
You could see this one coming, though, when 'Zona tried to play four times in six days in arenas five time zones apart. Before the game I told coach Lute Olson that flying charter must have saved his team some energy as it blew in from Maui. "Charter?" Olson said. "Our charter was United from Hawaii to L.A. to Denver to Indianapolis."
Geez, Coach, if you're going to play so many games in a row, you could at least get some fat-cat Arizona alum to donate a private plane, couldn't you? Michael Wright said he was up for 24 hours straight while in transit.
In any case, if form (and my likely travel schedule) holds, you can take it to the bank: No. 1 Duke won't lose until it meets Stanford in the Bay Area on Dec. 21. (Then again, Dan Rather also said something about "taking it to the bank" this month, didn't he?)
Indeed, as much as it pains me to say it, we aren't always right here at the 'Bag (though at least we can admit it). A quick recap of my hits and misses so far this season:
As for Arizona, I don't consider the Wildcats a "miss" just yet. With Loren Woods and no jet lag, they're still the best team in the country.
Onward to the 'Bag ...
What do you think of the Big 12 and of Kansas's Drew Gooden? Jayhawks fans all know about this guy, but I don't hear much talk about him nationally. He's one of the best rebounders I have ever seen.
I'll tell you this: Any team that's good enough not to start Drew Gooden has an embarrassment of riches. So far, Roy Williams has been platooning Gooden and Nick Collison in the starting lineup (each have started three games), and the risk has paid off. By keeping Eric Chenowith in the starting rotation, Williams has built up the center's confidence, while Gooden and Collison have been getting more minutes than Chenowith and performing well enough to earn them.
At 16.3 points and 8.3 boards a game, Gooden has become a consistent producer after a freshman year in which he was often hot and cold. The Jayhawks have so many weapons (six players are scoring in double figures) that they should win the Big 12 without much resistance, though Oklahoma (and perhaps Missouri) won't just roll over.
What's your take on Tennessee this year? Vincent Yarbrough is a great player, but he seems to lack that killer instinct. I think the Vols are a great team and have a real shot at making the Final Four, but they would be better off if Tony Harris had turned pro. He does not make his teammates better. In fact, I think he makes them worse with his attitude.
Well, Jake, I figured that either Maryland or Tennessee would be the most overrated team in the country, but so far Maryland is winning hands down. The 4-0 Vols' victory over Wisconsin was a good step, but I was even more impressed with their demolition of Austin Peay (a solid team) this week. Granted, both wins came at home, but there's no denying that Harris has been electric. You'd expect his 17.3 ppg, but his 25:3 assists-to-turnover ratio may be the most revealing stat of the year so far in college basketball. Yarbrough's shooting has only been so-so, but it's hard to nitpick about this team these days.
We'll get a better idea of what Tennessee has when it meets Virginia on Dec. 19 at the Jimmy V Classic and follows that with a game at Syracuse three days later.
STATION BREAK ...
CDs TO LISTEN TO WHEN YOU'RE DRIVING THE LENGTH OF INDIANA ON TWO HOURS SLEEP IN A RAINSTORM AND DRINKING A HALF-GALLON OF MOUNTAIN DEW TO STAY AWAKE
1. U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind
Over Christmas, I plan on searching through my parents' basement for old Daily Princetonian articles to confirm what I already know to be true: You have been milking your hair as a thematic device for at least eight years now. On the subject of bald guys, was Syracuse's win in the Great Alaska Shootout a case of a well-coached team being ready to play early in the season, or does Jim Boeheim have something special here?
Not true, Steve. I've only been milking the hair thing for seven years. (Where do you get your facts? The Daily Princetonian op-ed page?) As for Boeheim and the 'Cuse, I'm not ready to jump on the bandwagon yet. Remember, Kansas won last year in Alaska (against similarly mediocre comp) but soon fizzled. And while Preston Shumpert looked like he was ready to become the go-to guy last week, I want to see him do it on a regular basis in the Big East.
IN OTHER 'Bag news, we received a big response to my Top 10 College Teams of the 1990s list, though many of you seemed to think I meant Top 10 Teams of All Time. (Duh. Does everybody have to act like they live in Palm Beach County?)
Suggested replacements ranged from Loyola Marymount's 1990-91 team ( Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble ) by Kevin Weicker of Kelowna, B.C., to Connecticut's 1998-99 national champs ( Richard Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin ) by Mike O'Reilly of New London, Conn., to Indiana's 1992-93 team ( Calbert Cheaney, Greg Graham, Alan Henderson ) by Abdul of Atlanta.
All three are excellent suggestions which nearly made my list. I'd surely include LMU as one of my favorite teams of the decade (who didn't love watching them score triple digits all the time?) but they just didn't win enough games for my taste. As for UConn, Hamilton had a phenomenal final and Jim Calhoun's team stuck to a brilliant defensive scheme, but I'm convinced the Huskies would have lost four out of five to Duke that year. And while Indiana had its best team of the decade in 1992-93, those Hoosiers weren't even the top squad in their conference that season. (Yes, they won the Big Ten, but Michigan made the NCAA final.)
THE BICE-MAN COMETH
Finally, we have a winner in the 'Bag's first ever contest, in which we asked you to provide the current whereabouts of Travis Bice and Moses Scurry, everyone's two favorite reserves on the 1990-91 UNLV team.
Matthew Suhr of Phoenix had what was surely the funniest answer: "I think I saw Travis Bice and Moses Scurry kicking it in Eugene Edgerson's afro." Alas, I checked Big Gene's billowing 'fro in Indy and didn't locate them. Thus, the official CNN/Sports Illustrated hat goes to Keith Hudson of Nashville, who correctly replied that Scurry is working in Las Vegas at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, while Bice is an executive at Circuit Express, a Tempe, Ariz.-based circuit-board-manufacturing outfit.
(By the way, Keith, we need your address if you want the hat. Send word.)
Just for the fun of it, I put in calls to both Bice and Scurry on Tuesday. Scurry never called back, but crack UNLV hoops historian (and Los Angeles Times journalist) Paul Gutierrez informed me Scurry had played in Japan for a few years before returning to Vegas, spending five months in jail on a carjacking offense, and eventually getting a shot with the local IBL team.
However, I did reach Bice, who sounded as though he thought I was a crank at first. But soon he warmed up and filled me in. This year he bought Circuit Express, becoming its owner and chairman, and recently UNLV had a reunion for the 1989-90 Rebels, inducting them into the school's hall of fame. "It was pretty neat," Bice said. " Tark was there, and so was Moses. Most of the NBA guys couldn't make it because of training camp and nobody could find David Butler, but we had a good time."
One crucial question remained to be asked, though: Dude, have you gained any weight? "I played at about 150, but now I'm clear up to 170," Bice told me. "I always wished I would have been this big when I was playing!"
Maybe, Thin Man, but then we wouldn't have liked you so much.
That's all for now. See you next week.
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