Monday, November 12, 2012

Early Lessons in College Basketball

By Joshua Duffy

When you're trying to evaluate college basketball teams, it's best not to draw too many conclusions based off just a game or two. Any team with a coach worth his salt will improve considerably between now and March.

With that said, sometimes you can draw conclusions based off limited information, and there were a few things that stood out over the first two days of games (as of this writing):

* Kentucky, buoyed by another crop of super-star freshmen like Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress, fought past a game Maryland squad 72-69 in Brooklyn on Friday night. A win is a win, but there is something missing from coach John Calipari's standard recipe for success: a dominant point guard.

With all of the recruiting accolades afforded Noels and his fellow frosh, there's nobody on the roster to play the Derrick Rose/John Wall/Marquis Teague role at point. Sophomore Ryan Harrow was so underwhelming Friday, it took former walk-on junior guard Jarrod Polson to the Wildcats past Maryland. It's great that Polson got his chance and took advantage, but he's not a title-winning point guard. He's a glue guy off the bench for 15 minutes at best. And if Calipari can't get Harrow up to standards, Kentucky is going to have trouble replicating last season's March success.

* This may finally be the year NC State breaks the Duke/North Carolina stranglehold atop the state's college hoops power structure. In addition to preseason ACC player of the year C.J. Leslie, second-year coach Mark Gottfried has senior Richard Howell, junior Lorenzo Brown and top 20 freshman Rodney Purvis to round out a roster that took Kansas to the wire in last season's Sweet 16. With a ridiculously easy 97-59 win over Miami (OH) to start things off, the Wolfpack showed they are a serious Final Four contender.

* It's a shame Connecticut is ineligible for this year's NCAA tournament, because Shabazz Napier is the kind of player who can get you to the second weekend all by himself. Despite wearing some of the ugliest uniforms this side of Maryland football, Napier put up 25 as the Huskies beat Michigan State in Germany.

* For its part, I'm not worried about Michigan State yet. Freshman Gary Harris struggled against Connecticut, shooting just 1-for-7 from three, but Tom Izzo will get things worked out. It probably won't be in time to beat Kansas on Tuesday, but he'll have them right in the thick of the things in the Big Ten and ready to make a run in March.

* UCLA is no joke. They beat Indiana State 86-59 on Friday, and that was without the temporarily ineligible Shabazz Muhammad. When Muhammad comes back (and he will), this team is a legit national title contender.

* It will be interesting to see how Florida State grows after dropping their opener 76-71 to South Alabama. The question for coach Leonard Hamilton will be: If not Snaer, who? In the loss Friday, senior guard Michael Snaer shot 2-11 from the field and 0-6 from three. When that happens, can somebody else step up and lead the way? Maybe it will be freshman Montay Brandon, who tied for the team lead with 11 points in just 19 minutes on Friday, but that's a lot to ask of a freshman.

* You want an example of great offensive balance: Try Xavier scoring 117 over Fairleigh Dickinson without a single player scoring more than 22 points. Seven different Musketeers scored in double digits, paced by sophomore guard Dee Davis' 22 (with 15 assists thrown in for good measure). They play Butler on Tuesday, and that is a game well worth watching.

Like I said, two days' of games isn't a whole lot to go on, but you have to start somewhere. And as these teams continue to grow, so will our perceptions of them.

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