Ten impressive college hoops starts
Ten things that have impressed me – and five that haven’t – so far this college basketball season:
I’m impressed by Alabama. The Crimson Tide (5-0) won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title by with authoritative victories over Maryland, Wichita State and Purdue. They’re playing midseason Anthony Grant defense so far, ranking third nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defense rankings. And forward Tony Mitchell has been assertive, leading the team in scoring (17.2) and rebounding (9.6). Alabama joins Kentucky and Florida in getting off to fast starts on the year.
I’m impressed by the blue-shoe movement in Maui. Michigan, Tennessee, UCLA and Kansas all broke out stylish new blue Adidas hightops in the first round of the tournament Monday. They looked great. And three of the four teams won their openers. Gotta be the shoes.
I’m not impressed by Reeves Nelson. Or his coach. Nelson is UCLA’s leading returning scorer and rebounder and a big reason why the Bruins were ranked in the Top 25 entering the season. Then they opened 0-2, losing by 11 points to Loyola Marymount and 20 to Middle Tennessee State – as bad a start to the season as the Bruins ever have seen. UCLA coach Ben Howland suspended Nelson after the first game, then Nelson tweeted “WOW” when the Bruins lost the second game, then Howland reinstated Nelson, then he missed the team flight to Maui. No matter, he still played on the island, scoring one point in 11 minutes off the bench. This is starting to resemble Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury’s enabling of Renardo Sidney last year.
I’m impressed by Missouri guard Kim English. His first three seasons of college basketball, he shot 39, 39 and 37 percent from the field. This year he’s shooting 56 percent – and 66 percent from 3-point range. Operating in a more coherent offense under new coach Frank Haith, English is averaging 15 points and 5.3 rebounds for the 4-0 Tigers.
I’m impressed by Indiana. The Hoosiers haven’t played anybody, but in the last few years that still didn’t guarantee victory. This season they’re 5-0 with five dominant victories. Along the way they’re second nationally in 2-point field-goal percentage (61.2 percent). Freshman Cody Zeller has been sensational without trying to do too much, leading the team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks. He’s shooting 80 percent from the field, and the last game against Gardner-Webb was the first time he missed more than one shot in a game. The challenges will come soon enough: between Nov. 27 and Dec. 17, Indiana plays Butler, North Carolina State, Kentucky and Notre Dame.
I’m not impressed by the state of Tennessee. Vanderbilt looks like it’s feeling the pressure of an unfamiliar preseason Top 10 ranking. Memphis has not displayed much basketball IQ yet. Belmont, once again, can’t win the big one, losing by a point to Duke. Tennessee might be the best team in the state – and if that’s the case, the state isn’t as good as we thought it was.
[The Dagger: Memphis struggles to get back on track in Maui]
I’m impressed by Robbie Hummel. The Purdue fifth-year senior has come back splendidly from two torn ACLs, leading the Boilermakers in scoring with a career high 20 per game, plus five rebounds. You have to be happy for the guy to come back after consecutive devastating injuries helped derail Final Four aspirations for Purdue.
I’m impressed by Saint Louis. Rick Majerus’ team has opened with three straight dominant victories, most recently crushing 2011 Sweet 16 team Washington. The Billikens led by 25 at halftime against the Huskies and look like Majerus’ best team since the tail end of his exceptional tenure at Utah. The game is more interesting when Majerus is a factor – and so is the Atlantic-10, which already has a couple of strong teams in Xavier and Temple.
I’m not impressed by the Big East. The league will be fine in the long run, but the start is inglorious. Cincinnati lost to the Presbyterian Blue Hose. (Yes, the Blue Hose.) West Virginia lost to Kent State. Pittsburgh was handled at home by Long Beach State. South Florida lost to rebuilding Penn State. Georgetown lost to rebuilding Kansas. St. John’s was bounced twice in Madison Square Garden against Arizona and Texas A&M. The other 23 teams in the league are doing fine.
I’m impressed by Doug McDermott. The Creighton guard and coach’s son is nearly scoring a point a minute so far for the undefeated Bluejays: 21.5 points in 24.3 minutes per game. He’s shooting 64 percent from the field and 58 percent from the 3-point line. For those who didn’t already know, McDermott showed his worth in international play for USA Basketball this summer and is backing it up now.
I’m impressed by Wisconsin’s defense. The Badgers have played nothing but chumps so far, but the defense is still airtight. Heading into their game Tuesday night against UMKC, they’re leading the nation in effective field-goal percentage according to Ken Pomeroy at 31.5 percent. Their first three opponents averaged 35 points.
I’m not impressed by Chris Lowery. The Southern Illinois coach entered the season coaching for his job, and so far it’s been a losing proposition. Literally. The Salukis opened by losing to Division II Ohio Dominican and are winless on the season. In 2007, after taking SIU to the Sweet 16, Lowery actually turned down the Michigan job to stay at Southern Illinois. That seems like a long time ago now. Lowery’s record his first three years at SIU: 76-26. His record since: 57-69.
I’m impressed by a trio of Tobacco Roadies who have stepped up their games. For North Carolina, John Henson is a more mature player, upping his scoring from 11.7 to 16.7 points; his field-goal percentage from 50 to 60; his blocks per game from 3.2 to 4.0; and his foul shooting from 48 percent to 62 percent. For Duke, Seth Curry has upped his scoring from nine to a team-high 16; his rebounding from 1.8 to 3.6; his field-goal shooting from 42 percent to 51 percent; and his assists from 2 to 3.2. For North Carolina State, Lorenzo Brown has upped his scoring from 7.4 to 16.4; his rebounding from 6.5 to 9; and his foul shooting from 65 percent to 85 percent.
[Weekly storylines: Tourney time]
I’m impressed by Ohio State. DeShaun Thomas has stepped up as a sophomore, giving the Buckeyes balance across at least four positions with Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Aaron Craft. If the rest of the roster provides just a little depth – an annual concern in Columbus – they’ll be a top-five team all season.
I’m not impressed by Maryland. Mark Turgeon’s debut season has featured a pair of blowout losses – one to Alabama and one to Iona. After the loss to Iona, Turgeon ripped his team to the Washington Post, saying, “This is the biggest challenge I’ve ever had in coaching; it’s not even close. … I can’t make it any easier on these guys. The lack of commitment to running the plays the right way is mind-boggling. I’ve never seen anything like it.” With the football team having a horrible first season under Randy Edsall, it’s safe to say the transition game is struggling in College Park.
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