Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/30/2006 02:24:00 PM
Colon Blow, The Rooster, And An Instant Huggins Classic
Seriously, I doubt I could fabricate a post this hilarious (in a sad, sad way). Thanks go out to Bob Huggins and Kansas State for the following trifecta from Wednesday night:
1. Freshman forward Luis Colon punches Cal's Taylor Harrison late in the second half, and is ejected.
2. In Colon's place, Huggins inserts a guy with an absurd rooster-mohawk. The sub just happens to be Ryan Patzwald, a walk-on who left the Cincinnati team in 2005-06 ... after being arrested on suspicion of DUI. Enjoy the YouTube!
3. After the game -- a 74-48 loss on the road -- Huggins tells one of the NBA scouts in attendance, "You need to get me some players or I'm gonna have another heart attack." Kudos to the K.C. Star's Howard Richman for getting the quote. What a priceless ending.
Kansas' Julian Wright, a star on the court and at the lanes.
As part of an ongoing series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Kansas' Julian Wright on Wednesday. The versatile sophomore power forward helped spark the Jayhawks' overtime upset of top-ranked Florida in Las Vegas last Saturday night, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 42 minutes.
Luke Winn: You committed to play for Kansas on the day Bill Self visited your home in Illinois, without ever even seeing campus first. What, exactly, did he say that convinced you?
Julian Wright: I was comfortable with him and Kansas. I was already starting to get recruited by him when he was at Illinois, so I was familiar with what he was about. He was straightforward; he talked about the Kansas family, and how I could play a lot, with some great guys, but I had to earn it first. Looking back, that was the truth, I wasn't ready to come in and start and play 30 minutes right away. I had to get better in practice first.
LW: There was some kind of apology in there, too, right? I had heard you were upset because KU had given up on recruiting you for the whole summer after [assistant] Norm Roberts left for St. John's ...
JW: At first I didn't want to hear from them again. Kansas had been my favorite -- even if I didn't say it -- way back in the spring, and I was upset during that summer, thinking, couldn't they have at least sent me a letter telling me what was going on, or why they weren't interested? My mom asked me to give [Self] the chance to explain what happened. So I listened, and knew I had to make a grown-man decision. I could have held a grudge like a little kid and not thought about it, and let someone else get that last scholarship. Or I could go ahead and play for the team I wanted to play for, with guys like Mario [Chalmers], who I had already gotten to know at the USA Basketball camp.
LW: The whole impromptu, players-only clearing-of-the-air session you guys had in your hotel the night before the Florida game is becoming Kansas legend. Can you tell me exactly what you said that evening?
JW: It'll need to be censored. Basically we all knew that coach [Self] was frustrated, and we were starting to get frustrated, too. He was on us all the time, and we needed him to be on us, but it got to the point where I could sense a lot of players starting to plant negative seeds, in terms of making small excuses or pointing fingers. And excuses are coach's pet peeve. I just started saying, 'What are we doing? This is not how we can play. How are we going to be good until we start playing the way coach wants us to? He's on us because he knows we can be better.'
I heard a lot of 'Shut-ups' from people, and I later apologized, because I was saying a lot of personal stuff, just to fire them up. It was basically the same stuff that coach says, but maybe in terms that a player could relate to a little more. I was frustrated. Not because people happened to have bad games, but because the way we were playing, there wasn't any zip to us, no passion or energy. I said we shouldn't be stressed out, we should be living for these moments.
LW: If the night before the Florida win was serious, what was the night after like in Vegas?
JW: We actually left right away. People were happy, but they were tired, too -- it was a high-intensity game. We watched the tape on the plane on the way back, and even though we won, we knew we still had work to do, that it's just a stepping stone to getting better.
LW: So you're telling me no one wanted to pull an all-nighter on the Strip.
JW: I think a lot of guys wanted to stay a little bit longer, but it was a tiring trip. We didn't even get back into our rooms [in Lawrence] until sunrise. Had we gone out [in Vegas], I would have been more scared for the staff than the players. (Laughing.) LW: And what was your favorite moment from that win?
JW:Brandon Rush's winning shot. Not that I thought Joakim Noah was going to block it, but I was in position to get the rebound just in case. At the same time, as a spectator, I knew he was going to finish strong and make it. Our main focus was to get in the paint and put pressure on Florida's defense, so it was fitting that the game-winner was scored in the paint.
LW: Switching sports here, I've heard you're big into bowling. True?
JW: I was actually a little late [for our interview] because I was bowling. I hadn't been to the lanes in a while.
LW: And you have your own ball?
JW: Yeah, it's called the "Big Bully." It's a dark red ball, with a logo of a guy with some big muscles on it.
LW: Is this a long-time obsession? Tell me how you got into the sport.
JW: I bowled once in seventh grade, and I didn't bowl again until my freshman orientation here at Kansas. ... This summer was when I got serious about it. I was up there [in the student union's J-Bowl] almost every day, trying to take it to another level. Some of the guys there had been bowling since they were 5, and they were brutalizing me by 50 pins while I was just struggling to not get any gutters. That's not the case anymore -- my motivation was to become the best bowler possible in the quickest amount of time, and my average is up to the 160 range now. I've gone from barely breaking 100 at the start to almost hitting 200 every third game or so.
LW: What's your taste in music like? Not bowlers' polka, I assume?
JW: My iPod has a little bit of everything, over 1,500 songs now. I mostly listen to R&B, though. A little jazz, a little hip-hop. But I'm not a big hip-hop head like a lot of players are. There are just too many songs out there that talk about the same stuff. It gets repetitive. I'm more of a person who appreciates the actual substance of the music, not just the music itself. LW: So who are your R&B All-Stars?
JW: Of all-time, the top three are probably Joe, 112 and R. Kelly. Lately I've been listening to a lot of Bobby Valentino, Eric Benet and Justin Timberlake, though. Gotta have Justin Timberlake on there.
LW: Back to hoops. You have pretty unique passing skills for a big man. How did that part of your game develop?
JW: I don't think I take it for granted, but when I start watching other guys my size with the ball, I start to appreciate my ability to see the floor. Coach gets mad at me sometimes because he says I think too much looking for the extra pass, rather than just going ahead and scoring. I guess I have a willingness to give. I'd rather see someone else get the basket. It comes from back home [near Chicago], when as a kid I'd play about two grades higher than mine, with guys who were stronger and faster. I've never been a ballhog, and and usually that's the only way they'd let me play -- if I promised them I'd pass the ball around.
The concept of creating your own shot was pretty much foreign to me until I got to college. And I still don't feel like I need to score a lot of impact the game. I'd rather pass it. LW: You've been creating a lot of looks for your new star freshman, Darrell Arthur. How happy are you with his progress?
JW: I was really proud of the way he played down the stretch against Florida. He's coming along faster than most freshmen. We took him under our wing this summer, and told him if he didn't worry about playing well, or being great right away, that's when he'd start to get good without even noticing it. The way he runs the floor and rebounds really helps us a lot.
LW: Finally, if you had to pick a College Dream Team -- four guys to play alongside you -- and you couldn't choose any other Jayhawks, who makes the roster?
JW: Man, that's tough. Since Al Horford blocked my shot like that, I'll take him at the five. I've got nothing against 7-footers, but I'll take him because I want all of my guys to run the floor. At point guard, I'll go with Acie Law [of Texas A&M]. He's smooth and knows how to play under pressure; I got to see him a lot this summer. At the two, I'll go with youth and use Kevin Durant [of Texas]. He's really skilled, long and athletic and can shoot the ball. I'll put him on my team any time -- he can explode for 20 points and plays far beyond his years. At the three I'll take Alando Tucker. He's pretty good up there at Wisconsin, a real tough-nosed player. I've never faced up against him, but I know he's from my area of Illinois, too. And I'll play the four -- I'm pretty comfortable with that now.
It was inevitable, in the inaugural year of the NBA age-limit rule, that the early obsession would be over the freshmen who changed their programs from Day 1. Texas unveiled a brand-new run-and-gun system built around Kevin Durant. Washington's scoring, for the first time in years, balanced out between the paint and perimeter after the addition of 7-footer Spencer Hawes. Arizona handed bionic wing Chase Budinger the keys to its offense. And Ohio State, no doubt, will run much of its game through Greg Oden when he finally makes his debut.
While all of those are newsworthy developments, I'm shifting my attention to a different -- and just as valuable -- crop of rookies this week: five guys who appear to have been tailor-made to fit their program's existing identity. For blog-trademarking purposes, let's call them the Freshmen Who Fit.
The idea materialized while I sitting courtside for Gonzaga's upset of North Carolina last week in the NIT. It was my first time seeing the Zags in person this season, and most of what I'd read about them focused on the whole "New, Post-Morrison Gonzaga" angle. Then with 15:34 left in the first half, and UNC up 12-2, the Zags brought in a freshman guard, Matt Bouldin, who looked anything but new. He was right out of the Dan Dickau/Blake Stepp mold, with hair that's a cross between Dickau's and Mike Gordon's from Phish (Morrison's was different -- more Randall "Pink" Floyd with a thin 'stache), and the proper combo-guard skills to make him a quintessential backcourt star in Spokane.
Possessing superior court vision to any of the Zags' veteran guards, the 6-foot-5 Bouldin brought equilibrium to a lineup that didn't have it when shoot-first PG Derek Raivio was running the show solo. Bouldin helped Gonzaga scrape itself off the floor and take the lead at halftime, dishing out four first-half assists -- and went on to finish with 14 points and six dimes in 30 minutes off the bench. Afterward, the Littleton, Colo., product said (not surprisingly) that we were far from the first to state that he seemed destined for Zag-dom; he has, after all, been rocking the hirsute look since eighth grade.
"Ever since Day 1 [in high school], even before I started getting recruited, people have been telling me, 'You're a Zag,'" said Bouldin, who has often been called the best Colorado-born player since Chauncey Billups. "Gonzaga has done really well with guards like me -- guys like Stepp and Dickau -- so I wanted to go there and fit the mold."
Bouldin may look like a renegade to the close-cropped basketball world, but he's a Gonzaga conformist, and the headliner of the first-ever FWF team. Now, let me unveil the other four:
Wayne Ellington, SG, North Carolina: I slotted Ellington into this role on the same night I saw Bouldin. Although Ellington largely disappeared from the game after starting and scoring the Heels' second bucket (a three-pointer), he looks like he was made to wear a Carolina jersey -- even moreso than fellow freshman Ty Lawson, whom many have called a Ray Felton clone. Ellington's game has the smoothness and grace that's defined so many UNC scoring guards. I talked with one NBA scout in attendance at the Garden, who agreed, saying, "[Ellington] is the prototypical Carolina two-guard or wing player -- but he's more Joe Forte right now than Vince Carter."
Raymar Morgan, SF, Michigan State: Morgan hails from Canton, Ohio, but he could easily pass as a next-generation Flintstone. He's built exactly to coach Tom Izzo's liking -- a chiseled 6-foot-7 forward who plays physical defense, and rebounds and attacks the basket aggressively. His tough D on Durant -- as well as 18 points on the offensive end -- keyed the Spartans' upset of the 'Horns on Nov. 16. Morgan has emerged as MSU's second-leading scorer, at 10.9 points per game … and I couldn't imagine his rough-edged skills being plied in different uniform.
Javaris Crittenton, PG, Georgia Tech: Crittenton hasn't exactly been a superstar from the get-go for the Jackets; he's their third-leading scorer but struggled mightily in crunch time of the Maui Invitational (10 turnovers against seven assists against Memphis and UCLA). Still, doesn't this kid just look like a Georgia Tech point guard? He has that Stephon Marbury scoring-point mentality, and at 6-foot-5 is physical enough to forcefully push the ball past smaller defenders. Crittenton and two-guard Lewis Clinch make up one of the ACC's most dangerous young backcourts.
Darrell Arthur, PF, Kansas: Arthur, who already leads KU in scoring (15.9 ppg), has made the biggest impact of any of the FWF crew, but I wouldn't call him a program-changer -- because he fits perfectly into the Jayhawks' ultra-athletic, ultra-young starting lineup. The lanky, 6-9 forward is an ideal frontcourt mate for do-everything forward Julian Wright. Arthur is the only big man on KU's roster who matches Wright's athleticism, and has been a frequent benefactor of his stellar passing skills. With plodding center Sasha Kaun in the lineup the Jayhawks are less fluid on offense. With Arthur, their guard trio can run all it wants -- and know that he'll be able to keep up.
Have nominations for the FWF squad? Leave them in the comments.
Spencer Laurie and his Missouri St. teammates pulled off an impressive victory over Wisconsin on Friday.
A recent history of the Missouri Valley Conference, in five, one-quote acts: Act I: Denigration
Selection Sunday, 2006, minutes after the NCAA tournament selection committee has granted a record four Valley teams bids into the big dance:
CBS' Jim Nantz: "Something has gone haywire with this computer system ... I mean, the ACC and the Big 12 generated the same number of bids as the Missouri Valley? I don't buy it."
Act II: Rebuttal
In the days after Selection Sunday, figures from the NCAA and Missouri Valley react to statements that their bids were unjustified -- despite the fact that the league was ranked sixth overall in RPI, ahead of the Pac-10.
Bradley coach Jim Les: "I think a lot of this fallout comes from a lack of knowledge. It's coming from guys that have watched our teams play a game or half a game. They don't see us as much as the teams from the bigger conferences. The Valley is a tremendous basketball league, filled with good players and coaches. We're doing everything we can to get better, and hopefully a year like this can help us break down barriers and perceptions."
Act III: Dissent
In a snub largely ignored due to the furor over the league's four bids, a fifth Valley team, 20-8 Missouri State, is left wondering why it was left out of the dance. It had an RPI of 21, the highest ever of an excluded team. Did the committee fear that five bids would really send the anti-Valley crowd into a frenzy? Missouri State coach Barry Hinson: "We really don't know what to do ... we really don't. We're told to play teams that have winning records, play a tough schedule. I want to get mad, but I don't know who to get mad at."
Act IV: Vindication
Within less than a week of Selection Sunday, both No. 7-seeded Wichita State and No. 13-seeded Bradley reach the Sweet 16, appearing on covers of Sports Illustrated. The Shockers knocked off No. 2 Tennessee, while the Braves upset No. 4 Kansas and No. 5 Pitt.
Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon: "I just hope with the success, next year's selection committee instead of taking the eighth place team from a BCS conference will take the second or third team from the Colonial or Missouri Valley or whatever league is having a great year. Those are teams that are hot and have played well all year and deserve to be in this tournament." Act V: Sustainability
It is now late-November of 2006, the first month of the season after what's being called the Year of the Mid-Major, and there is only one conference with two wins over top-10 teams: The Missouri Valley. Over Thanksgiving weekend, No. 24-ranked Wichita State upset No. 6 LSU 57-53 in Baton Rouge. And unranked Missouri State beat No. 7 Wisconsin 66-64 in the South Padre Island Invitational. Missouri State coach Barry Hinson, to SI.com on Monday: "I'm not going to sit here and say we're better than the Big 12, Big Ten or SEC -- because if I did that they would rush in and do a drug test. ... Is this conference going to be as good year in and year out as those leagues? I'm not sure. But the current situation is, we are now, so don't take it for granted, and don't discredit us. We had a great year last year and we're off to a great start this year."
MISSOURI VALLEY: 2006-07
BIG WINS (road/neutral court games unless noted)
Bradley 78, DePaul 58*
Missouri State 66, Wisconsin 64
Southern Illinois 69, Minnesota 53
Bradley 101, Rutgers 72
Wichita State 57, LSU 53
Illinois State 78, St. John's 65
Creighton 58, George Mason 56
Southern Illinois 69, Virginia Tech 64
Washington 70, Northern Iowa 61
Indiana 73, Indiana State 66
Oklahoma State 73, Missouri State 70 OT
Illinois 75, Bradley 71
* home game
If you wrote the Valley's success off in the 2006 NCAA tournament as a fluke, or if the sight of multiple MVC teams in SI's Top 16 made you angry ... were you paying attention on Friday and Saturday?
Hinson's Bears held Wisconsin to 13 percent shooting from long distance, and shot 63 percent from the floor in the first half. Wichita State was actually called the "more physical" team by Tigers coach John Brady. It was the Shockers' second win over a Final Four squad in eight days -- they beat George Mason, also on the road, on Nov. 18.
On Kyle Whelliston's mid-majority.com, the list of "upsets" -- games in which a team from outside the biggest eight conferences (BCS plus Conference USA, Mountain West and Gonzaga) has beaten one of the establishment -- reached 44 as of Nov. 26. At the same time last year it was 30. The Valley is responsible for seven of those -- in addition to a trio of narrow, "quality losses." (See chart.)
The reality, for the second straight season, is that the Valley is at least a four-bid league, and its status as the flagship of the mid-majors is in jeopardy -- because it's no longer acting like a mid-major conference. It's superior to the C-USA, which has one elite team (Memphis), but could easily be a one-bid league. If Wichita State continues to beat ranked opponents (next up is Syracuse, on Dec. 2) and cracks the top 10, and either Southern Illinois or Missouri State can enter the top 25, who's to say that the Valley isn't on par with the Big Ten or Big 12?
I caught up with Hinson on Monday after he and his team had returned from Texas; they lost the South Padre final, in overtime, to Oklahoma State. Reports from the Wisconsin upset had described his Bears as businesslike -- and he said they were following orders: "We told our players, we're going down there to win two basketball games, and when we do, or if we don't, we're not going to act like a bunch of idiots. This is a team that went to the elite eight of the NIT and won 22 games last year. I know the old saying, expect to win -- and even though we were playing the No. 7 team in the country and one of the best in the Big 12, we did."
What I found more interesting was how much Hinson said his players genuinely care about how other MVC teams are faring in the non-conference season. In November, December and on Bracket Buster Saturday in February, Valley camaraderie does exist. When Hinson's phone buzzed with the news Southern Illinois had beaten Virginia Tech -- he gets text messages of all the Valley scores -- he heard his players talking about it on the bus almost simultaneously. They were following the Wichita State-LSU game on the ESPN ticker in their hotel, rejoicing at the result.
Last year was much of the same: "I can remember us sitting at Chili's in the Chicago airport after beating Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Bracket Buster [on Feb. 18]," he said. "We were dying over every shot in the Wichita State-George Mason game on TV. And then we got home and stayed up to watch Creighton beat Fresno State. This league sticks together."
Missouri State is going to have trouble replicating its RPI resume from '05-06, when it didn't lose to a team lower than No. 45, finished with the highest RPI in the Valley (21) ... and was still relegated to the NIT. "We won't ever get over that," said Hinson. "I think the Dixie Chicks have a song out right now that says, 'Forgive, sounds good, but forget [I'm not sure I could].' We can forgive. But that'll never be forgotten."
You have to think the win over Wisconsin, which shouldn't finish lower than third in the Big Ten, will have a bigger impact than any RPI numbers in the selection committee's mind. If the Bears can take care of business in the Valley, they'll get into the dance -- and that should ease their pained memories.
Butler's Julian Betko bounced back rom a rough start to finish with 15 points.
NEW YORK -- It's an inside joke. Butler coach Todd Lickliter often claims that his insurance premiums have skyrocketed because of the likelihood that senior Julian Betko -- a Slovakian swingman with a penchant for making maddening decisions -- will give him a heart attack. "Julian told me he's in on it with my wife, and they're trying to collect," said Lickliter. "I've even told him I've canceled the policy so he'll quit doing those things, but he won't quit."
So when Lickliter and Betko were standing in the tunnel of Madison Square Garden following the Bulldogs' third straight win over a BCS-conference team -- this one a 56-44 beating of No. 22 Tennessee in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals -- they weren't celebrating. They were talking about insurance. Betko, who had rebounded from a shaky start to score 13 key second-half points, including 11 straight in one wild stretch, said, "You can get that policy down now, coach."
I'd agree with Betko's assessment. Neither Lickliter nor anyone on the Butler bench seemed at risk of a cardiac arrest Wednesday. In fact, there was a strange level of calm amongst the Bulldogs -- no Cinderella dancing, no looks of surprise on their faces as they limited a previously unbeaten Vols team to 10.3 percent shooting in the second half and advanced to the title game to face Gonzaga. Only the rest of us were surprised; this is, after all, a team that lost three of its top five scorers from 2005-06 (when it went 20-13) and was picked to finish sixth in the Horizon League.
All it's done to defy those low expectations is beat Notre Dame, Indiana and Tennessee in a nine-day stretch to put itself in an improbable position: on the edge of the Top 25. Said junior guard A.J. Graves who scored 15 points on Wednesday, "I guess people call us a mid-major -- so teams we play are always going to be looked at as better than us if they're in a major conference. … But we've made it here [to New York] now, and we've shown people what we can do."
The question is no longer if Butler is good; it's now, how can a team with limited depth and no one over 6-foot-7 on its roster keep on winning? Let's break down the three big reasons:
• First off, they're old. In an age where the nation's powerhouse teams often run with blue-chip 18- and 19-year-olds, the Bulldogs are a bunch of seasoned geezers. I scoured their media guide and wrote down the ages of their top six players: Betko is 23, Brandon Crone is 22, and everyone else -- Graves, Brian Ligon, Drew Streicher and Mike Green -- is 21. That's an average age of 21.5. Tennessee's top six, meanwhile, features three players under 20 (Duke Crews, at 18, and Ramar Smith and Wayne Chism, at 19) and an average age of 19.7. Said Lickliter, "One thing we did think about Tennessee was, they're kind of young, and maybe that would help us -- or you could at least hope it would." Considering that the Vols' sub-20 trio combined for just nine total points, while Butler's over-21 duo combined for 25, I think the experience helped.
• They have a classic "dagger" guy in Graves, who leads the team in scoring at 17.8 ppg. He's a small kid (just 6-1 and 160 pounds) from a small town (Switz City, Ind.: population 311) who makes more than his share of huge plays. He banked in a 3-pointer to sink the Hoosiers last week in Indianapolis, and aided in Wednesday's upset by shooting 3-of-8 from long range for 15 points, and committing just one turnover while playing all 40 minutes.
His dagger against the Vols wasn't a three, though: it was a steal made under the five-minute mark in the second half. After missing a runner, which was rebounded and forced up the floor by UT's Tony Passley, Graves picked Passley's pocket and created a layup for Ligon that put Butler up 49-40 -- and silenced any thought of a burnt orange comeback. The humble Graves called it a "lucky" play. "Our one and two [guards] are supposed to get back after we shoot, so I shouldn't have been going for a steal in the first place," he said. "But I did it anyway, just because I thought I could get the ball."
Said Lickliter, "I think A.J. has been making plays like that his whole life. He stays in the game, and he plays it at a very alert level."
• Finally, they take care of the ball. Tennessee brings the heat as well as any team in the country, and had forced 107 turnovers in its first four games (26.8/game) … yet the Bulldogs committed just 16 and handled the Vols' 1-3-1 press with relative ease. "I thought honestly if we could stay under 15 [turnovers], said Lickliter, we would be in great shape. I thought it would be a very difficult team to play against -- they're averaging almost 30 [forced] turnovers], but I believed in our guys." Tennessee, meanwhile, is still looking for a reliable point guard. The Vols coughed the ball up 23 times ... and didn't face a single possession of full-court press.
The calm before the storm: McDonough at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Drew Williamson (right) high-fives teammate Brian Henderson as Old Dominion celebrated its upset of Georgetown on Sunday night.
WASHINGTON -- It was Sunday afternoon on the Georgetown campus when Brandon Johnson and his Old Dominion teammates got their first look inside the barn-like relic that is 2,500-seat McDonough Arena. Before their pre-game shootaround began, Johnson remembers asking no one in particular, "Wait, this is where the Hoyas play their home games?"
To the Monarchs, a Colonial Athletic Association team that calls a 8,424-seat building home, this seemed like a strange setting for the No. 8 team in the nation -- a Big East powerhouse, no less -- to be playing host. So why were they there? The Hoyas moved out of the 54-year-old McDonough in 1980-81, first to play in Landover, Md., and now at the Verizon Center downtown, but they've made a point to play on campus at least once each season in the John Thompson III era. Seeing that this was undoubtedly the biggest game on ODU's schedule, though ... coach Blaine Taylor offered Johnson & Co. an answer that was both factual and motivational:
"Coach informed us that Georgetown only scheduled two games in this place -- rather than the Verizon Center -- all year: us and Winston-Salem State," Johnson said. "He said they usually just use this as a practice gym. What they didn't know was, we all love practice!"
Johnson uttered those words amid a cramped-but-jubilant Monarchs locker room in the bowels of McDonough, where minutes earlier a few reporters (myself included) had walked into the crossfire of a celebratory water-bottle fight. ODU had reason to party: the 75-62 upset it had just pulled off over the Hoyas stands, after Oral Roberts' win over No. 3 Kansas on Nov. 15, as the second-biggest stunner of this young season. Monarchs senior forward Arnaud Dahi (15 points, six rebounds) said the sold-out crowd of mostly rabid Georgetown students had fostered an "us-against-the-world atmosphere" in the intimate gym, where the Hoyas hadn't lost since 1982.
This game should go down as The Hidden Upset. It featured all the emotion of an NCAA tournament Cinderella win, but was only witnessed by a minscule crowd -- and unlike Oral Roberts' feat, it wasn't on TV. (Admittedly, I made the trip because the McDonough scene would be a rare treat; I didn't expect the Monarchs, who were picked to finish fourth in the CAA, to go all George Mason on Georgetown.) Said Taylor, "You are a little envious [of the other upsets]. We're all human, we sit home and watch TV and see the highlights. We just beat a ranked team with a tremendous reputation -- and since people won't be able to see it, this is going to leave a lot of them scratching their heads and saying, 'I wonder how that happened?'"
As a member of the lucky 2,500, it's my duty to take you beyond what's already in the AP recap. Prior to the game, the last message Taylor wrote on the whiteboard was "FINISH THE JOB." Just a week earlier, the Monarchs (4-1) blew a chance to knock off Clemson in the final of the Cox Communications Classic in Norfolk, Va., losing 74-70, and Taylor didn't want a similar late-game fade to occur in D.C. What happened instead was an improbable surge: After trailing by four at half, ODU used a 21-3 run to outscore the Hoyas 48-31 in the second.
Point guard Drew Williamson said Taylor had also stressed that, "If we can outrebound them, we'll be able to win." That seemed like an impossible task against the Hoyas' NBA-caliber front line of Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, but the Monarchs used a heroic team-rebounding effort -- nine players with between two and six boards -- to win that battle 35-28. ODU was especially opportunistic on the offensive end, grabbing 15 offensive boards to Georgetown's seven.
Green, the Hoyas' star forward, had a glaringly poor stat line of just two points, three rebounds and three turnovers before fouling out in 25 minutes. "When he's off, we more than likely will be off," said Thompson. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out."
The thing that did baffle Georgetown (2-1), though, was the 1-3-1 matchup zone the Monarchs switched to in the second half. They opened the game in man-to-man, Taylor's bread-and-butter, before switching to a 2-3 that kept them within striking distace of the Hoyas. The second zone was ODU's ambush move, as Taylor said he hadn't used it all year. It dedicated a man to Hibbert (who finished with 17 points) in the lane and, in place of smaller guards, used 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Jonathan Adams at the top to stop Georgetown's high-post feeds. It only further exposed the Hoyas' inability to stroke it from long range: they shot 3-of-10 in the second half and finished 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) for the game. The Monarchs, meanwhile, lit up the gym by hitting 6-of-9 of their second-half treys.
The X-factor that pushed ODU over the top was its veteran composure. Down the stretch the Monarchs relied on a dual point-guard lineup of Williamson, a senior, and Johnson, a junior; together they finished with a combined 23 points, 11 assists and just two turnovers. While Georgetown had eight second-half giveaways, ODU had just two, and get this -- they didn't commit a single turnover for the final 15:47.
Only one Monarch lost his cool for a few moments: Lithuanian senior Valdas Vasylius was T'ed up with 16:25 remaining for talking trash to Green. ("I didn't curse, I was just saying 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' to him after I hit that 3," Vasylius explained). Despite being showered with raucous chants of "a--hole" by the Georgetown crowd for the remainder of the game, Vasylius rebounded to score 14 key second-half points and play a major role in the win.
On the heels of George Mason's storybook run to the Final Four, Sunday's upset is the latest blow struck by a CAA team against one of college basketball's elite. The small ODU section, about 40 strong, showed its conference pride by breaking into a "C-A-A" chant in the final minutes (it was met with an "N-I-T" chant by the Hoya students, who later filed out in a somber mood). But really, how could anyone have seen this coming?
The Monarchs were more primed to do something like this last year, when, led by stars Alex Loughton (13.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Isaiah Hunter (14.3 ppg), they finished 24-10 and went to the semifinals of the NIT. Without their two leading scorers, they were afterthoughts in the CAA behind Hofstra, George Mason and Drexel heading into 2006-07. "Last year we came in with the bulls-eye," said Williamson. "Now that we've lost Alex and Isaiah, we have to find the identity of this team."
And that new identity? "We're still trying to figure it out," he said. "This was our first big game together."
The drenched crowd in the locker room was more intent on figuring out what, if any, celebration would be waiting for them back in Norfolk -- a three-and-half-hour bus ride away. "I think," said Dahi, wearing a devious grin and attempting to speak for all of the Monarchs, "that we're all going to do our homework, and get ready for class tomorrow!"
At that, the rest of McDonough's party-crashers broke up laughing.
The scene in the McDonough Arena stands, a half hour before tipoff.
Four games into his collegiate career, Texas sensation Kevin Durant is already must-see TV.
NEW YORK -- Texas freshman Kevin Durant spent the past two nights at Madison Square Garden scoring a total of 50 points and grabbing 19 rebounds, and yet when Longhorns coach Rick Barnes went into Friday's post-game press conference, he said with a straight face, "He hasn't played well yet. I'm telling you."
Despite statistical evidence to the contrary, it's a statement I'm inclined to believe. The best team in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic was Maryland, which took down St. John's and Michigan State to win the title. But the biggest curiosity was the Suitland, Md., product who headed southwest to play his college ball in Austin, and is only a year away from becoming an NBA Lottery Pick.
In his second national TV appearance as a 'Horn, the 6-foot-9 Durant gunned and glided his way to 29 points in a 77-76 consolation-game win over St. John's. He only scored nine in the second half, though, and had a similar fade the previous day, when he scored just five second-half points (finishing with 21) in a narrow loss to Michigan State. He was undoubtedly fatigued, playing 30-plus minutes both nights, but also seemed content to assume a complementary role in crunch time.
Durant's blend of basketball grace -- no 6-9 player in the country moves or shoots as well as he does -- and late-game passivity evokes memories of one of the college game's most enigmatic players of the past few seasons: former UConn forward Rudy Gay. The amazing thing is, Durant, just four games into his career -- and less than two months removed from his 18th birthday -- is already ahead of where Gay was at the end of his sophomore season. Whereas one would watch Gay score 15 and wonder why he didn't get 25, it was easy to watch Durant drop 29 on the Red Storm and think, he could have had 40.
Point guard D.J. Augustin, Texas' other stud freshman, set up many of Durant's five 3-pointers Friday, including two from NBA distance. Augustin said that when Durant finally unveils the whole package, including more drives to the hole and a low-post game he's been reluctant to flash, "I don't even want to see it, because it's going to be too scary. Kevin's got so much to his game that I don't think anybody will be able to stop him."
I found Durant's parents, Wanda and Wayne Pratt, in the Garden stands at the start of the second half; when Wanda examined the first-half box score, she was more interested in how many rebounds Kevin had (seven) than his point total. I asked her about her son's Sphinx-like mien, and she said that "he's a very laid-back, reserved guy" off the court. We talked about how, after graduating high school at 17, Durant is one of the youngest players in all of the NCAA -- and it might take a couple of months for him to truly take charge of the Longhorns. "Right now, he's just getting used to college," Wayne said. "He's enjoying it -- but as the season goes on, and he gets more and more seasoned, he'll take more of a leadership role."
It already appears that the freelancing, perimeter forward role Durant is playing in Texas' new offense -- which is said to be modeled after the Phoenix Suns -- will allow him to thrive more than a slower, halfcourt setup would. "He's the kind of guy we're going to move all over the court," said Barnes. The coach had his young 'Horns studying video of the Suns in the offseason, with hopes that an uptempo attack led by Augustin, sophomore A.J. Abrams and Durant could make up for the Horns' size deficiency in the post.
Durant, when asked which of the Suns he modeled his game after, gave an instant, animated answer: "Boris Diaw. I love him, he's one of my favorite players in the game. I try to be like him a lot, man. He's so versatile, he can pass, he can do everything. I want to be like him."
While Diaw was a late bloomer who toiled in obscurity in France and Atlanta before blowing up in Phoenix, Durant is already on everyone's -- both his college opponents' and the NBA's -- radar. He has the first step and the handle to blow by most defenders, but will need to get more aggressive in the lane. After the Spartans kept Durant under wraps in the second half on Thursday, Michigan State freshman Raymar Morgan said, "He's NBA-caliber, but he's the type of guy who doesn't like a whole lot of contact." If Durant makes an effort to ensure that his free-throw attempts consistently outnumber his 3-point tries (he took eight 3s against seven FTs against MSU, and had an even six-six split vs. St. John's), his scoring average will explode.
With all of this room for improvement, it's stunning to think that a kid who's just 18 years and 49 days old is already averaging 22.8 points and 9.5 rebounds for a nationally ranked team. "He's special," Barnes said of Durant, "but he's going to get so much better over the next three months." By March, he'll be far more than a curiosity.
Drew Neitzel, who has moved to shooting guard this season, is the only junior in the Spartans' starting lineup.
Sizing up Michigan State after its 63-61 win over No. 19 Texas in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic on Thursday at Madison Square Garden ...
BRIGHT SPOT: I worried for Drew Neitzel's well-being after watching him get wrapped in a violent hug-slash-headlock by 6-foot-8 teammate Marquise Gray when the buzzer sounded. But the Spartans' slender point guard was on such a high that, in the postgame locker room, he said he didn't even remember the embrace.
Neitzel had a reason to be euphoric, having just scored the game-winning bucket, a layup with 2.4 seconds left to break a 61-61 tie. It was the kind of gutsy drive that coach Tom Izzo needed out of his junior shooting guard; Neitzel knifed through a slipping Justin Mason and a converging D.J. Augustin near the top of the key, and delivered the most important field goal of his 15-point, six-assist night.
"We got the ball in and [the play] broke down," Neitzel said. "Coach [Tom Izzo] said if the play broke down, go with the high ball screen. I saw the paint wide open, so I just split it -- and I was fortunate enough to get to the basket."
When the Spartans said in the preseason that Neitzel, a career 5.9-point-per-game scorer, was going to be their primary source of offense, it was only natural for neutral observers to be skeptical. Izzo, however, was a believer: "[Neitzel] has always been surrounded by exceptional scoring talent, and he's looked to be a distributor," the coach said then. "I have no doubt he can be the scorer we need him to be, while still ranking among the league leaders in assists."
In the three full games that Michigan State has moved Neitzel off the ball and played sophomore Travis Walton at the point (wins over Youngstown State, The Citadel and Texas), the plan has worked: Neitzel has averaged 16.3 points and 4.7 assists. And Gray, the guy who gave Neitzel some rough lovin' on the Garden floor, is proud: "[Drew] has to be one of our go-to guys," he said. "For him to make that shot, and play like he did down the stretch, it was really big."
FRESH FORCE: Kevin Durant, the all-world freshman for the Longhorns, was a five-star power forward out of Rockville, Md. -- and is considered a lock to be an NBA lottery pick. Raymar Morgan was a four-star small forward out of Canton, Ohio -- and is expected to stay at Michigan State for a while. On Thursday night, however, Morgan was just as, if not more, valuable than Texas' budding superstar. While Durant faded in the second half, scoring just five points (to finish with 21), Morgan poured in 11 of his 18, including an alley-oop with 6:25 left to put the Spartans up 58-55.
"Raymar was fired up to play against [Durant]," said Neitzel, who threw Morgan the lob. "[Durant] was the second-rated guy coming out of high school after Greg Oden, and Ray wanted to prove himself. Both guys showed how good of players they're going to be."
If Morgan continues his hot start -- he's the first freshman in MSU history to score in double-digits in each of his first four games -- he'll be considered one of the top rookies in the Big Ten.
PRESSING QUESTION: How good are these Spartans? Even Izzo said after the game, "Don't kid yourself. If I looked at these two teams right now, I still think [Texas has] got a much better basketball team."
Michigan State had a few sloppy stretches, turning the ball over 16 times to Texas' nine, and were helped by the fact that the Longhorns' stud freshmen (Durant, Augustin and Damion James) played like freshmen in the second half, almost completely abandoning their offense and settling for a barrage of often ill-advised three-pointers. On defense, Texas' rookies struggled to rotate in their 2-3 zone, letting the Spartans shoot 52.9 percent from beyond the arc. "We got lucky, we won a game tonight, and it's going to help us grow," Izzo said.
The things Michigan State did well, though, were play classic, Izzo-style defense and finish strong, with Neitzel scoring the clutch basket, Drew Naymick grabbing key offensive rebounds, and Morgan staying cool under pressure. The Spartans weren't expected to contend for the Big Ten title, and I still think they're a few steps behind Wisconsin and Ohio State. There will be plenty of nights this season when MSU struggles to score, because it doesn't have enough offensive options after Neitzel and Morgan -- but the rest of the conference race is wide open, and it has as good of a shot as anyone does at third place.
Today we turned the SI.com college hoops section into Architectural Digest, or at least tried. Basically, I wanted to examine a spectrum of team-building philosophies from an architectural standpoint, starting with the one that worked best in 2005-06 (Florida) and moving on to four aspiring teams with interesting traits (Kansas, Wisconsin, Texas A&M and Hofstra).
My favorite parts were the contributions of an actual architect, Scott Schiamberg. He's a senior associate at HOK Sport, which is like the UNC of sports architecture firms -- they're a powerhouse in the field that's designed venues such as Camden Yards, Jacobs Field, and the new Yankees and Mets stadiums. Scott used to play second base for my wood-bat baseball team in Central Park (once leading us in OBP) and, as a Michigan State diehard, was happy to provide some hoops analysis.
What I did was give Scott a synopsis of the five teams' building strategies, along with a list of adjectives that best described their style -- and he used his expertise to create a match with a real-world architectural project. Here were his picks, which also ran as inline boxes in the stories:
THE REAL-WORLD ARCHITECTURAL EQUIVALENT TO: FLORIDA
Mayne and Morphosis, like Florida basketball, only recently became a well-known commodity -- but now they're on the map to stay. The Gators have running big men and team chemistry, and Diamond Ranch -- maybe the most famous high school building in the country -- is large in form but blurs the distinction between building and landscape. It's a sleek, innovative, low-cost project that's now ingrained in pop culture, from car commercial backdrops, to print ads, to movies. Remember the high school in Orange County? That's Diamond Ranch.
THE REAL-WORLD ARCHITECTURAL EQUIVALENT TO: WISCONSIN
The Badgers often play their big men on the perimeter in the swing offense -- and the Seagram Building was designed with an inside-out philosophy. It was part of the German Bauhaus movement to expose the actual structure, sans any frilly exterior, as ornament -- hence the I-beams on the outside of the building. Despite being built in the '50s, the Seagram has retained iconic popularity into the 21st century.
THE REAL-WORLD ARCHITECTURAL EQUIVALENT TO: KANSAS
This building, considered one of the city's most innovative skyscrapers, was built atop a classic structure -- the original headquarters of the Hearst Corporation, which opened in 1928. Norman Foster is one of the industry's most prominent architects, and he came in -- like Bill Self, at a historically rich institution like Kansas -- and constructed new landmark on top of an old one.
It's a tower, but it's lighter than the typical skyscraper due to its use of triangular structure on the exterior. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, have a modernized offense with three guards; a sleeker, more intriguing team that may not be like the Kansas of old, but is recognized as one of the nation's best.
THE REAL-WORLD ARCHITECTURAL EQUIVALENT TO: HOFSTRA
Yancey Chapel (Sawyerville, Ala.) Architect: Samuel Mockbee/Rural Studio Year: 1995
Mockbee's Rural Studio project was the architecture of the mid- and low-majors: Working with his students at Auburn, he went into impoverished communities in the South and built beautiful structures out of overlooked material -- anything from car tires covered in concrete (which make up part of this chapel), to carpet squares, to hay bales. His motto was, "everyone, rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul." Hofstra found a group of undervalued guards, who were either too skinny or too small for big-time D-I teams, and fit them into a harmonious unit in one of the nation's lesser conferences. Mockbee built structures so beautiful and ingenious that you wouldn't know they're made of tires -- and he did it on no budget. He believed that a lack of big-budget materials was not an excuse for being able to do great architecture.
THE REAL-WORLD ARCHITECTURAL EQUIVALENT TO: TEXAS A&M
Tate Modern (London) Architects: Herzog & de Meuron Year: 2000
The Aggies' program and the Tate Modern followed similar paths. The Modern was a gigantic building -- a big eyesore -- on valuable real estate across the Thames River from St. Paul's Cathedral. Texas A&M was a struggling team, at a powerful athletic school, in the middle of a fertile basketball state. In London, HdeM came in and revived an old, ugly power station, making it into one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The Modern was a sleeping giant, sort of like the Aggies, who are now a top-10 team.
Memphis fans: You're ticked. And I'm ticked too -- at myself. So I'm going to try to do the right thing and set the record straight: In the projected NCAA tournament field that appears in this week's SI preview issue, the Tigers were NOT intentionally left out of the Field of 65.
I, and everyone else in our college hoops gang, fully believe the Tigers are going to win the Conference USA. Handily win the C-USA. They were No. 13 in the Power Rankings I posted on the site in October, and were similarly ranked in the ballot I submitted this summer. (The rankings in the magazine are a collaborative effort, an internal poll of sorts -- they aren't solely my opinion.)
When I wrote the blurbs for the rest of the field, I mistakenly believed Memphis would be among the top 16 featured in our Scouting Reports ... and only put Houston, our No. 2 team from the C-USA, in the 17-65 section. I've spoken with our editors who read the piece and they too, confirmed that had the oversight been spotted, the Tigers would have been in the bracket. But this one is on me.
To recap: There is no SI conspiracy against Memphis. There was an honest mistake made (mine). And I'm sorry.
As an addendum, here are a few more specific replies to the hordes of irate e-mails that poured in tonight:
• No, I did not smoke crack and decide that Houston would win the C-USA. • I'd appreciate it if you did not make good on your threat to use physical force if I ever set foot in FedEx Forum. • I promise that hours and hours of work go into those tourney picks -- thorough research of each conference race, roster assessments, etc. -- and we do take them very seriously. And a mistake like this in SI is not acceptable. But I don't think being shot or banished from the college basketball world is a reasonable punishment.
The only bright side to this: You can brag to your less-informed friends that Memphis is your sleeper pick this year ... and when the Tigers make a Final Four run, claim to have known all along that, even though those "experts" at SI left them unranked, you knew Calipari and the boys had potential.
SI's preview issue dropped today (on the Internet, at least -- you'll have to wait a day or two for it to hit your mailbox). I figured I'd post shots of the five regional covers ... including the first ever for the University of Wisconsin. Who had Brian Butch in that office pool?
One footnote: The Badgers did appear in the background of an old cover, getting posterized 1975-style by Indiana "Super Sub John Laskowski." And Washington, if you were wondering, has been on the cover twice, both for football: Sonny Sixkiller, in 1971, and Bob Schloredt, in 1960.
Brad Buckman didn't expect to be back in Austin again this year.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
I'm aware that the season has started -- I endured about 20 minutes of a riveting Citadel-Michigan State tilt on GamePlan yesterday -- but today's blog isn't about a current player. The topic is former Texas forward Brad Buckman, who was sitting in the stands for the Longhorns' 92-66 rout of Chicago State on Friday night. The previous day, he signed with the NBDL's Austin Toros (otherwise known as the team Darius Washington Jr. left Memphis early for) as a locally allocated player. And why should you care about that?
You should care -- and sympathize with Buckman -- because he's had a strange past few months. The D-League wasn't where he expected to be playing his first year of pro basketball. Not because he believed he'd be in an NBA starting lineup, either: After playing on the Mavericks' summer team, he inked a one-year deal in August with Olimpia Larissa in Greece's A-1 league. It was a nice, six-figure contract in one of Europe's elite divisions, which he told the Austin American-Statesman would be "a great opportunity."
Then, on Oct. 27, this short news item appeared on eurobasket.com: "The Greek Athletic court decided to suspend for two years from the Greek league Brad Buckman (203-F-84, college: Texas) because they found him guilty for using illegal drugs. Olimpia Larisa will release him and search for a new player.
It was a puzzling report, considering that Buckman never had any drug issues in his four years as a Texas starter. And then the whole story came out: He had tested positive for Adderall, an attention deficit disorder drug his father said Buckman had been taking, with a prescription, since middle school. It registered as an amphetamine in the Greek league's tests. "When he got over there, [Brad] was told to make sure he tells someone on the team [about the medicine]," Brent Buckman told the American-Statesman. "For whatever reason, he didn't do it. That's when the problem started. I think he's so naive. He figured if a doctor prescribed it, it's good."
The Greeks have basketball smarts. They managed to upset the latest incarnation of the U.S. Dream Team in this summer's World Championships without a single NBA player on their roster. But when it comes to common sense, the heads of Greece's A-1 league are severely lacking. They stubbornly ignored Buckman's explanation and effectively booted him from the league.
Now, Adderall isn't as innocuous as say, Claritin. It's often illegally sold on college campuses as an exam-cramming aid or party stimulant, and could feasibly be used as a "greenie" of sorts for athletics. But Buckman wasn't getting his on the black market. He was a prescription user who was treating ADD. If anything, he may have warranted a one-game suspension for failing to disclose it. But a two-year ban on the eve of his first pro season? That was cruel and unusual punishment.
Buckman's agent, Keith Glass, told the American-Statesman, "I thought that if they had any human beings on the [Greek] court, they'd give him a short suspension. But they were bureaucrats who followed the letter of the law. I'm a lawyer, and intent is important. He had no intent to hide anything." Glass also called the suspension a "joke."
So Buckman finds himself back in U.S., which isn't all bad. He'll be under closer watch by the NBA, and is playing pro ball in Austin, where he went to high school and college. Where the suspension hurts most is on the bottom line. As quality American player, his Greek contract could have been worth around $150,000, plus free housing. The average NBDL contract, meanwhile, is reportedly a paltry $35,000. Buckman may have lost six figures over a medicinal misunderstanding. And that's an infuriatingly raw deal.
Bill Walker's landing at Kansas State gives the Wildcats the nation's top recruiting class.
Michael J. LeBrecht/SI
Who expected to see Kansas State and Purdue in the top 10 of anything basketball-related? Signing Day for the Class of 2007 is here -- with Wednesday, Nov. 8 being the first day recruits can ink their letters of intent -- and two surprise squads have crashed the party. We got the lowdown from scout.com expert Dave Telep on his top 10 classes; he classifies early arrival Bill Walker in K-State's '07 class (because, logically, "that's where we've been evaluating him for the past four years") and names the Wildcats No. 1.
1. Kansas State Impact Players: Bill Walker (No. 2 SF), Michael Beasley (No. 1 PF), Dominique Sutton (No. 11 SF)
Talk about urgency: The Wildcats will get Beasley and Walker together for one season, 2007-08, before both are likely to jump to the NBA.
Telep says they should form an "overwhelming front line" along with 7-foot-3 center Jason Bennett, the headliner of K-State's Class of 2006. Choosing Bob Huggins' second haul of recruits as the nation's No. 1 class, Telep said, "boils down to the fact that they got two guys who have the chance to be program-changers -- and that doesn't happen very often.
"Beasley will be one of the best players in the Big 12," said Telep, "and Bill Walker hits you with an enormous amount of power and size at the small forward position."
Will Paul Harris stick around for a sophomore season at Syracuse in order to team up with his old high school point guard, Flynn, and Greene, a Baltimore (Team Melo) product who rated the best overall player at his summer's Nike camp by scout.com? If so, the Orange will be a top-10 team in 2007-08. Telep said that "as important of a recruit as Greene is right now, he's still in his formative years -- and he could end up being the best prospect in the entire class [of 2007]."
3. Duke Impact Players: Kyle Singler (No. 1 SF), Nolan Smith (No. 10 SG), Taylor King (No. 7 SF)
Singler is the reason the Blue Devils are in the top five; he's a polished perimeter player with NBA size (6-foot-8, 200 pounds) who is inevitably thrown into the Adam Morrison/Larry Bird category of big-time, throwback scorers. "[Singler] is a guy who could have picked up the phone and committed to any program in the country, and they would have accepted," said Telep. "His skill set is completely on another level." 4. Purdue Impact Players: E'Twaun Moore (No. 7 SG), Scott Martin (No. 5 SF), Robbie Hummel (No. 8 SF), JaJuan Johnson (No. 11 PF)
Matt Painter pulled off an amazing coup in West Lafayette, recruiting a class that featured four top 100 prospects -- including three in the top 50 -- after finishing in last place in the Big Ten. "They made the most noise out of nowhere," said Telep. "This is the defining class for Matt Painter at Purdue -- and all of these kids have advanced their games in the past year [since being signed]." These blue-chippers won't take long to gel, either: three of them (Moore, Martin and Hummel) have already been playing together on the same AAU team.
5. Michigan State Impact Players: Durrell Summers (No. 6 SG), Kalin Lucas (No. 5 PG), Chris Allen (No. 9 SG)
The Spartans recruited three talented big men in '06, and here they secured their backcourt of the future, with two homegrown guards (Summers and Lucas) and one star plucked from Georgia (Allen). "These three guys are designed to turn up the tempo of Michigan State basketball," said Telep. "You sometimes think of Tom Izzo teams being bruising and defensive-minded, but all of these guards are big-time offensive players."
Jerryd Bayless anchors another strong class for Arizona.
Bayless is considered a Gilbert Arenas-type combo guard who can create off the dribble; he re-signed with the Wildcats after de-committing during the Summer of 2006. He should start from Day 1 in Tucson. "When you add a guy like Bayless it changes the makeup of your backcourt," said Telep. "He's a big-time player who you find minutes for." Horne, meanwhile, was 'Zona's second consecutive big score from San Diego, after landing Chase Budinger in the Class of 2006. Horne, Telep said, "is an elite-level athlete who is good enough skill-wise to be a top-25 prospect." In other words, probably not a one-and-done player, but a wing with massive potential.
7. Ohio State Impact Players: Kosta Koufos (No. 3 PF), Evan Turner (No. 18 SF), Dallas Lauderdale (No. 15 C)
The Buckeyes capitalized on their momentum from the Oden haul -- and probably, the likelihood that Oden would be gone after one year -- to secure another top-10 class that included a five-star 7-footer (Koufos). Telep noted that Koufos shouldn't be labeled as Oden's replacement -- "they're distinctly different players," he said -- but will give the Buckeyes a European-style big man with a strong outside shot. Turner, meanwhile, is a long wing player (6-6) from Chicago who was thought to be headed to Illinois ... but chose OSU this summer.
8. Indiana Impact Players: Eric Gordon (No. 1 SG), Eli Holman (No. 18 C), Jamarcus Ellis (juco SF, four stars)
"Eric Gordon is the sole reason Indiana has a top-10 class," said Telep. "Without him, it's borderline top-25." Gordon's hotly contested recruitment -- in which he spurned Illinois coach Bruce Weber late in the game and opted to play for Kelvin Sampson instead -- was the story of the offseason. Even if he's in Bloomington for only one season, he's the kind of game-changing guard who will make the Hoosiers dangerous. Ellis was the Chicago Public League MVP as a high school senior ... three years ago. He's an old rookie who resurfaced after one season off, and another at Chipola Junior College.
9. Florida Impact Players: Nick Calathes (No. 3 PG), Chandler Parsons (No. 12 SF), Alex Tyus (No. 15 PF)
The Gators followed up their national title by bringing in a solid class that won't be looking to bolt to NBA after one or two seasons. Calathes, the eventual heir to Taurean Green's point-guard spot, is the clear headliner. He's a 6-foot-4 point guard who doesn't have the prettiest jumper but knows how to run a team, and played with Parsons in AAU ball. "You can't fully appreciate Calathes until you see him play numerous times," said Telep. "There's something in his makeup that's just wired to win -- it's not a stat you can put your finger on."
The Hoyas' traditional recruiting strength has been in the frontcourt, securing stars such as Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert and Vernon Macklin in recent years. This year's class is unusual in that it features two big-time guards. Freeman, a 6-4 scorer from prep powerhouse DeMatha Catholic, and Wright, a tough, 6-1 point who had originally committed to N.C. State, will form Georgetown's backcourt of the future. "Freeman is a multi-year college basketball player," said Telep. "I wouldn't be surprised if we're looking at a kid who might be a future Big East Player of the Year."
It could be 2007 before we see Greg Oden on the court in an Ohio State jersey.
Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
The preseason question I hear most -- even more frequently than "Can Florida repeat?" -- is about Ohio State's Greg Oden. People primarily want to know when the big guy, who had surgery on his right wrist this summer to repair ligament damage, will play his first college game. The answer is that he started physical therapy late last week (after having a screw removed from the wrist) and the Buckeyes are targeting their Jan. 2 Big Ten opener against Indiana for his debut.
They'd obviously love to activate Oden sooner if he's ready; and on the flipside there's still a remote chance he could come back even later if the rehab isn't on schedule. OSU had been taking weekly X-rays of Oden's wrist, and when I talked with Buckeyes coach Thad Matta a few weeks ago, he said that if one indicates his prize center has miraculously healed, "you'll be able to hear me yelling." He was well aware that I was on the East Coast.
There's a different Oden question that I'm more interested in, though -- and it's one that's bound to come up in March: How will his late arrival affect OSU's NCAA tournament seed?
I recently posed a couple of hypothetical scenarios to a trusted tourney source to get an idea of how they might be addressed by the selection committee. The first had Oden returning on Jan. 2 to an 11-2 team that had been killed by North Carolina and Florida, but with the big guy in the lineup, went on to win the Big Ten regular-season title. Would those early losses be completely forgiven by the committee because Oden wasn't involved? And would the Buckeyes be cut some slack in consideration for a No. 1 seed?
The feeling I got was that while early losses wouldn't be entirely ignored, OSU would get special consideration as long as it's clear that Oden had a measurable impact on its success down the stretch. If he changes games and puts up big numbers, than the Buckeyes will be evaluated as a different team. The Oden Effect could end up being the reverse of the Kenyon Martin Injury from 2000, where Cincinnati was demoted from a No. 1 seed after losing their Wooden Award winner to a broken right fibula during the C-USA tournament. The Buckeyes could get a minor promotion, perhaps from a 3 to a 2, or a 2 to a 1. If (by chance) Oden turns out to just be a role player, than OSU's entire body of work is more likely to be evaluated on the same level.
The second scenario is more improbable: What happens if Oden's wrist doesn't heal as quickly as expected, and as a cautionary measure, OSU waits until midway through Big Ten play -- say, 23 games into a 30-game regular season -- for his unveiling? If the Buckeyes were .500 in the league at that point, but went on to win their last seven games and finish strong in the Big Ten tournament, how much impact could a run such as that have?
The committee, my source assured, would have to evaluate Ohio State's whole season -- especially since Oden would only have played in one-third of the games. A couple of important factors would come into play, though: First, a team's last 10 games are used, for seeding and selection purposes, as a "snapshot" of how well it's playing heading into the dance -- and the Buckeyes could finish strong with Oden. Second, the committee also considers factors such as how much a good young team has gelled down the stretch, and therefore might be more willing to overlook early losses. The Buckeyes would probably be looking at a bump in this scenario, too -- although more like from a 5 to a 4, or a 4 to a 3.
Fans of other NCAA tournament teams shouldn't get upset. The committee has been using the same set of rules to deal with injury cases for years. No unique exceptions will be made for Oden. And believe me, it's better off if Ohio State gets seeded in the right place. Do you think some unlucky major-conference champ wants to get stuck with Oden's Buckeyes in their region as a No. 5?
My apologies for the blog's inactivity last week. We ran a series of rankings galleries (here, here, here, here and here) because all of our writers were locked in the college basketball bunker, working diligently on the SI preview issue, which will hit your mailboxes next week. I filed my last installment late Sunday night ... and am now allowed to return to blogging.
If you have a beef with any of my rankings -- and I know you do, because a few of those notes hit the inbox this week -- feel free to make them publicly in the commments.