Fast Break: Florida flexes muscle, Illinois' Paul impresses, more
Recapping the good, bad and everything in between of the week that was in college hoops.
Player of the Week: Brandon Paul, 6-4 senior guard, Illinois
Paul turned in a performance for the ages against Gonzaga on Saturday night. Playing against a top 10 team in a tough road environment, Paul dominated from behind the three-point line (5-for-9) and by attacking the rim (10-for-11 free throws). He had four rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks, and committed just two turnovers and one personal foul. After totaling 35 points in the 85-74 win, he turned to the Gonzaga student section and pretended like he was holding a phone to his ear. Call him the Player of the Week? No maybe about it.
Team of the Week: Florida
Illinois would be the obvious choice, but in embarrassing Florida State by 25 points in Tallahassee, the Gators further stamped themselves as one of the nation's truly elite teams. Florida has used a balanced offense to reach its 7-0 start and it is getting a nice lift off the bench from 6-foot-4 freshman guard Michael Frazier, who had 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting against the Seminoles. This team is playing D and hitting the glass. In other words, it has all the elements to win an NCAA title.
Glue Guy of the Week: Justin Hawkins, 6-3 senior guard, UNLV
While many Glue Guys revert to this role because they are unable to score, the best of the sticky men actually have the ability to score but sublimate that for the benefit of the team. If the team needs a big bucket, they're capable of providing it -- which is what Hawkins did for the Runnin' Rebels last Tuesday at Portland. He is already one of the nation's best perimeter defenders, but with the team's best player, junior forward Mike Moser, sitting out with a hip injury, Hawkins came off the bench to score a season-high 15 points, including two three-pointers during a key second-half rally. Hawkins helped UNLV to overcome a nine-point deficit and win, 68-60.
Freshman of the Week: Ben McLemore, 6-5 guard, Kansas
McLemore was forced to take a redshirt season last year because he didn't qualify academically, so he has a leg up on the other true freshmen across the country. Against Colorado on Saturday, McLemore had 24 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. He only shot 6-of-16 from the floor, but he more than made up for it by going 10-for-11 from the foul line. McLemore also scored 21 points against Oregon State last week. Jayhawks coach Bill Self has said for a while that he needs McLemore to become this team's top offensive option. It has happened even more quickly than he hoped.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Gary Talton, 6-1 senior guard, Illinois-Chicago
Colorado State made the NCAA tournament last season and returned virtually its entire squad intact, but the Rams could not get by Talton and his red-hot Flames on Saturday. The Dallas native had 20 points (on 12-for-12 foul shooting) to go along with five rebounds and five assists in the 64-55 win. That improved UIC's nonconference record to 8-1, which is tops in the Horizon League.
Best Win: West Virginia 68, Virginia Tech 67
I gave serious consideration to Dayton for beating Alabama on the road, but the Mountaineers needed this one a lot more. The Hokies had come in riding high in the wake of their win over Oklahoma State, and the Mountaineers were still smarting from their 1-3 start that included a humiliating 37-point loss at Gonzaga. The Mountaineers got 15 points from LaSalle transfer Aaric Murray, but the biggest points came on a driving layup with five seconds to play by 6-1 sophomore guard Juwan Staten. It was Staten's only field goal of the game, but it was the most important of West Virginia's season.
Worst Loss: Northwestern 74, Baylor 70
As the saying goes, you never need to fear failure because far more people have been ruined by success. The Bears had no reason to get big heads after they beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena -- this was still a team that had lost two of its previous three games -- but they had no competitive energy against Northwestern. Baylor was insouciant on defense (the Wildcats made 51 percent of their shots) and somnambulant on the glass (they were out-rebounded by a 36 to 23 margin). There is plenty of talent here, but losses like this will not help eradicate this program's reputation for inconsistency.
Best Comeback: Wyoming 81, Illinois State 67
This game seemed over when the Cowboys trailed 50-31 with 17 minutes to play. However, behind 19 points from Larry Nance Jr., the Cowboys waged a stirring comeback, not only erasing the massive deficit but also pulling away down the stretch. The win catapulted Wyoming to a 9-0 record for the first time since the 1987-88 season, but more important, it taught the rest of us a very important lesson: Don't go Sharpie too early on this club.
Flavor of the Week: SMU
I guess the rookie can coach a little. The Mustangs and their septuagenarian coach Larry Brown haven't exactly faced a murderer's row of opponents, but give them credit for starting off 8-1 after wininng just 13 games last season. SMU could get its comeuppance this week when it hits the road for two games (at Rhode Island and Utah), but given how brutally weak Conference USA is (beyond Memphis), it's possible the Mustangs could remain in the NCAA tournament picture for a while. That would make for a terrific story during the second half of the season.
Worst Free Throw Shooting Performance (Combined)
Marquette made just 7-for-17 from the stripe on Saturday versus Wisconsin. So how did the Golden Eagles win? Because Wisconsin was 9-for-23. Who's teaching these kids, Dwight Howard?
Worst Injury: Mike Moser, UNLV
The word "worst" applies in every sense here. The replay of Moser injuring his elbow against Cal Sunday night was pretty gruesome. It was evident right away that it was badly dislocated, although X-rays taken late last night indicated there was no fracture. It was also the week's worst injury because of the implications for UNLV, which managed to scrape out a thrilling 76-75 win at Haas Pavilion, but will badly miss Moser's rebounding and leadership while he's out. Finally, it's a real bummer for Moser, who could have turned pro last year but came back to be part of what was shaping up to be a special team. Let's hope he's back relatively soon.
Best Idea: The Texas Tip-Off
As I reported last week in Hoop Thoughts, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis is on the verge of closing a deal that would begin next season with a Veterans Day extravaganza featuring four games being played simultaneously in Cowboys Stadium, site of the 2014 Final Four. I was frankly amazed at the amount of backlash this idea evoked from people who worried about, among other things, players getting distracted by whistles from other courts, or games having to be stopped momentarily because of a ball rolling onto the court. O, the travesty! If these same nattering nabobs of negativity were standing on the beach at Kitty Hawk, they would have turned to the Wright Brothers and said, "Dude, you can't fly that thing. It might crash!"
Best Tradition: Taylor University's "Silent Night"
The ritual at this small NAIA school in Upland, Ind., dates back to the late 1980's, when an enterprising assistant coach came up with the idea of having the student body watch the beginning of a game in silence, and then break out into cheers when Taylor scores its 10th point. The celebration took place once again last week on the traditional Friday night before finals. The students were dressed up in wacky costumes and erupted when the big moment came. Later on, they danced Gangham-style at halftime, and then they swayed and sung "Silent Night" in the game's closing minute. Perhaps most amazing of all, for the fourth straight year the 10th point was scored by Casey Coons, a 6-foot guard from Indianapolis. Check out the video highlights the school put on its website. If that doesn't get your holiday groove on, nothing will.
Five Games I'm Psyched To Watch This Week
A Few Minutes With ... Michigan Coach John Beilein
The other big thing is, he's seeing the game differently almost every game. He's taking the initiative to instruct his teammates what to do. He'll even tell the coaches. He'll say things like, "Why don't we just change the angle?" When a guy starts talking about angles, you know he's starting to understand there are a lot of ways to play this game.
Dipping Into The E-mail Bag
Obviously, it is not easy for a coach to try to recruit players without a long-term deal, but that is not the issue with Ollie. The issue is we really don't know whether he can coach. Part of Ollie's argument is that he's young and charismatic, so I would think he could back that up by getting verbal commitments from recruits who will sign with UConn in the spring as long as he gets the job permanently. That would give him some nice leverage. I realize showing patience is not usually a strength of fans and the media, but UConn athletic director Warde Manuel is smart to show it here.
The far more interesting question is what happens if UConn has a good-but-not-great showing. That would make it a close call. Everyone knows Jim Calhoun and most of the UConn player alums want Ollie to get the job. If Manuel gives it to someone else, that will be interpreted -- especially by Calhoun -- as a slap in the face. So stay tuned.
I reject the argument that you can't look classy in a golf shirt and slacks. Coaching a basketball game is a physical endeavor. I would think these guys would do a better job if they were comfortable. Also, the culture of the sport has changed from the old days to the point where the coaches have become TV stars on the sidelines, and frankly I would prefer to see that dialed back.
But hey, reasonable minds can differ. Suit yourself.
Jack undercuts his own argument here by mentioning the Kentucky game. I'm an AP voter and I can only go by results. If the Terps wanted to gain more respect, they should have finished off the Wildcats when they had the chance.
Then again, I've never quite understood why fans are so worried about getting more "respect" from outsiders. It's a pretty simple formula: Win games and the respect will come. Maryland's best chance to do that is a mid-January stretch where it plays at Miami, home against N.C. State, and at North Carolina, followed by road dates at Duke and Florida State later that month.
Perhaps I should amend my assertion to say that UCLA has the worst fan base of any sport, not just college basketball. I actually lived in Los Angeles for two years and have spent several summers there, so I understand what's going on. Why should people sit indoors on a beautiful day to watch a mediocre team, when they could be surfing the waves in Redondo Beach? And yet, when the Bruins (or the Lakers or the Kings or the USC football team) get going, the fans turn out in droves. The traffic in L.A. is not an impediment when the team is winning big.
This, of course, is common to most fan bases. What makes UCLA's different is that, because of the program's incredibly rich history, those same fans still think it should be an elite program on the level of Indiana, Kentucky and Kansas. Yet, the fans at those schools turn out no matter how their team is performing, and they wouldn't let a little traffic (OK, a lot of traffic) get in the way.
As you can see from my AP ballot below, Peter is preaching to the choir. I am higher on Oregon than just about anybody. The main reason is I think Dana Altman is a great coach. His teams at Kansas State and Creighton always played tough defense, but they still got out on the break and scored. The difference this season is that he has strength and talent in the frontcourt. Arsalan Kazemi, the 6-7 senior transfer from Rice, is a real difference maker. Right now he's third in the nation in steals per game (3.67) and he's fourth in the Pac-12 in rebounds (9.5). Kazemi and Tony Woods, another big transfer (from Wake Forest) who blocks a ton of shots, make for a unique tandem inside. It's not a fluke that this team beat UNLV in Las Vegas and took a very good Cincinnati team to the wire the next night.
For those of you who doubt me, circle Jan. 10 on your calendar. That's when Arizona comes to Eugene. If the Ducks want to make a statement that vaults them into the national consciousness, that is the time to do it.
This Week's AP Ballot
1. Indiana (1)
2. Duke (2)
3. Louisville (3)
4. Michigan (4)
5. Ohio State (5)
6. Syracuse (6)
7. Arizona (7)
8. Kansas (8)
9. Florida (9)
10. Cincinnati (11)
11. Illinois (19)
12. Missouri (12)
13. Gonzaga (10)
14. Michigan State (13)
15. San Diego State (15)
16. Pittsburgh (16)
17. Oregon (17)
18. UNLV (18)
19. Minnesota (20)
20. Notre Dame (21)
21. Georgetown (14)
22. N.C. State (24)
23. Creighton (25)
24. Wichita State (NR)
25. New Mexico (NR)
Dropped out: Boise State (22), Baylor (23)
Gonzaga was the only ranked team that lost last week, but two other teams on last week's ballot also lost. I admit that my decision to rank Boise State was part sentimental, but I couldn't leave the Broncos in after they got blown out by Utah on the road. Ditto for Baylor following its loss at home to Northwestern.
Gonzaga probably deserved to drop more than three spots -- the Zags were lucky to win at Washington State last Wednesday night -- but as I moved down the rankings, I kept running into teams with bigger flaws than they have. That includes Georgetown, whom I dropped even though the Hoyas did not lose, which is something I usually don't do. When you can only muster 46 points against Towson, you've got problems.
Taking Boise State and Baylor out of my rankings opened up two slots. I gave Wichita State the slight edge over New Mexico only because I considered a road win over VCU to be superior to a neutral court win over UConn. But they're both very good teams.
Since we're in a quiet period due to final exams, I didn't have as many teams to consider at the bottom of my ballot. Florida State, Colorado, UConn and Cal all lost. Charlotte can make a good case to be ranked if it wins at Miami this weekend, but it would probably take losses from a bunch of ranked teams for Charlotte to make my ballot. I also gave a close look to Wyoming, which has a great chance to remain undefeated for another four weeks, and Murray State, whose only loss came against Colorado in Charleston. Maryland, Kentucky and North Carolina are still on my radar, but they will probably need to beat someone on my ballot before I rank them. Otherwise, the pickings were pretty slim.