Friday, December 10, 2010

This Week's Starting Five

Here's another new feature on the blog as we get closer to the start of conference play, (unless you're the NEC, whose conference openers were played last week in their unique split-season league ledger) taking a look at the happenings around the college hoops world earlier this week and previewing what's to come tomorrow:

  • Jimmy V Classic
We learned quite a lot from the Tuesday night tango at Madison Square Garden. Even without Josh Selby, (who makes his long-awaited return next week) Kansas proved they are capable of making the long run to what could be the Jayhawks' second national championship in four years. What has impressed me the most about Bill Self's squad is the ability to rely on not just the Morris twins in the absence of Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Tyshawn Taylor and sixth man Thomas Robinson have been among the most critical components on this powerhouse, with Robinson pulling down six rebounds a night on average while only playing sixteen minutes. The team the Jayhawks beat is no slouch either, as Memphis is still dangerous even without the now-injured Wesley Witherspoon, who will miss the next five weeks following knee surgery.

In the nightcap at the "World's Most Famous Arena," one team showed they are still not there yet, while the other proved themselves in a big-game atmosphere. While Michigan State will indeed be the dominant squad many expect them to be come March, (I picked them to cut down the nets in Houston before the season started) Tom Izzo's boys still have some kinks to be worked out, as they usually do in nonconference play. Izzo even admitted his team was "spent" by their schedule that included an appearance in the Maui Invitational, a road game at Duke and a de facto road game against Syracuse at the Garden. On top of that, Kalin Lucas is still not fully recovered from the ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in the Spartans' second round NCAA Tournament victory over Maryland last March. On the other side of the court, Syracuse finally came out to play after a few nonconference scares; and of all the players I expected to have breakout seasons for Jim Boeheim, (namely Kris Joseph and Brandon Triche) none stood out more than senior Rick Jackson, who underwent a total makeover during the offseason. Jackson has arrived leaner and more dominant on the court for his final campaign in an Orange uniform, shedding his image as a big man who was done in by foul trouble to the tune of 17 points and 16 rebounds in 'Cuse's 72-58 win over Sparty.

  • Hopes and dreams in a hard cast
If you're a Duke fan, you're holding your breath when it comes to freshman point guard Kyrie Irving and hoping he's back in the 3-4 weeks he's now predicted to miss with his toe injury. If you're an opponent of the Blue Devils, "out for the season" is what you want to hear. As much as the North Carolina fan in me does not want to see Irving destroy the Tar Heels, losing him would be a major blow to the game as he really is a special player, averaging 17.4 points per game and being the biggest reason why Mike Krzyzewski is undefeated this season. If you haven't seen his 31-point performance against Michigan State last week, you need to catch up once the rookie makes his return.

  • Speaking of freshmen...
Irving isn't the only first-year guy to make an impact, and he's not the only one I was wrong about either. Before the season started, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger struck me as a little overrated, and I'm not going to lie. It only took two games to change that opinion after his 26-point, 10-rebound performance against a then-No. 10 Florida team on the road in Gainesville. Little did I know that that was only the beginning for the Buckeye forward, who posted a school-record for freshmen with 40 points (and 13 rebounds as well) in last night's comeback victory over IUPUI. Sullinger will probably be one-and-done, but he will no doubt be a top 5 pick in June's NBA draft. However, he'll lead Thad Matta deep into the NCAA Tournament before that, you heard it here first.

  • SEC-Big East Invitational
After losing to North Carolina this past Saturday, I mentioned on Twitter (those who tweet can follow me at @DalyDoseofHoops) that the Wildcats still had to show me something if they really are better than John Calipari's Elite Eight team of one season ago. While Wednesday's 72-58 decision over Notre Dame wasn't the cure to every Big Blue problem, it certainly was a step in the right direction. With Tom Crean and Indiana coming in tomorrow, the Wildcats cannot afford to take a step backwards even though their schedule gets a little easier in the near future. The interleague exhibition resumes tomorrow from Pittsburgh highlighted by the No. 3 Pitt Panthers squaring off against Tennessee, who already owns a key win against the Big East in their Preseason NIT upset of Villanova. The key for the Vols will be their scoring from the wing and interior, and Pitt will be challenged to stop the one-two punch of Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris.

  • We are...
After seven games, 5-2 is respectable for St. John's even after a deflating home loss to St. Bonaventure this past Tuesday. At the Johnnies' pregame press conference this afternoon, senior guard Dwight Hardy mentioned the need to "dominate" the Red Storm's next opponent, which is Tom Pecora's Fordham team. The Rams, led by sophomore Chris Gaston, will need to rely on their long-distance prowess to break Steve Lavin's zone defense; and will also need to hit their free throws, something St. John's struggles with as well. This game looks like a convincing Red Storm win on the surface, but could be closer than expected if both teams fail to execute at Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx.

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