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Mailbag: All-American arguments

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Lots of comments and criticism about the Midseason All-American teams I released in King of the Court earlier this week.

And, yes, we are not truly at the season's midway point, but we are embarking on conference play.

Let the feedback ring.

Best players? What about …?

No Big Ten players on your Midseason All-American list? No Manny Harris or Kalin Lucas? We can definitely see your roots with the picks from Kansas, Kansas City and Baylor, and the way you ignore the Big Ten.

Jeff Kelley
Saint Jean de Boiseau, France

Why would I include Kalin Lucas when his own coach benched him for a lack of leadership? You have a decent argument with Manny Harris, who's probably the top NBA-caliber player in the Big Ten not named Evan Turner. But his team has been terrible. He's not one of the Top 15 players in the country right now.

Your Midseason All-American teams are loaded with popular media choices. There aren't 15 players in America playing better than James Anderson at Oklahoma State. He might be the best player in the Big 12 and you can't call me biased because Kansas is my team. You need to re-evaluate your list if you are leaving him out.

Tex Taylor
No location given

I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong, so I have no problem saying that I made a mistake by not including Anderson on one of my Midseason All-American teams. I'm not sure how I overlooked him, because I've been a fan of his for the last two years and am well aware of how good of a season he's having. If I had to do it all over again I'd definitely put him on either the second or third team.

Your midseason report is lacking in insight. There is a team whose record as of Dec. 31 was 13-1. They've won three games against Top 25 teams and have one of the best small forwards in college hoops today. This team has one senior, one junior, two sophomores and eight freshmen. Considering this had been dubbed as a ''rebuilding year,'' their coach should be mentioned as a midseason coach of the year. Can you guess what team this is?

Los Angeles

Steve Alford definitely deserves to be in the coach of the year conversation for what he's done at New Mexico. And small forward Darington Hobson is arguably the top junior college transfer in all of college basketball. The Mountain West race between the Lobos, BYU and San Diego State should be a good one.

How can you not have Jeremy Hazell from Seton Hall on any of your Midseason All-American teams? I know Seton Hall isn't ranked, but they have given both Syracuse and West Virginia all they can handle, and they are in the midst of their best season in years. Hazell single-handedly has carried this team, scoring 38 points against Syracuse and 44 against West Virginia. I definitely think he was overlooked in your column.

Allen Smith
Bedford, New Jersey

Hazell is a very good player who is averaging 23.2 points a game. I certainly don't have anything against him. I'm just not a huge fan of the way Seton Hall plays. There seems to be almost zero structure on offense. Instead it's just a bunch of guys firing up selfish, ill-advised shots. Hazell is scoring a lot of points, but he's also averaging nearly 20 field goal attempts a game while shooting just about 40 percent from the field. The result has been a few lofty point totals and highlight reel plays for Hazell, and two Big East losses for Seton Hall. Again, I think Hazell is an exceptional player. I just think he needs to be reined in a bit.

Bruins down for how long?

As a Los Angeles native, I watched UCLA make three consecutive runs to the Final Four. This year is obviously a completely different story. Do you think UCLA will be back next year or, because of the complete lack of talent on the roster this season, will it take longer? I'm thinking two or more years.

Ben Herman
Los Angeles

I agree. Even with the addition of standout center Josh Smith – a 6-foot-10, 270-pounder from Covington, Wash. – I'm not sure the Bruins will be able to solve all of their problems a year from now. There simply isn't enough talent on UCLA's current roster. Freshmen Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt are nice players, but Ben Howland needs a superstar, a program-changer. Not just on the court, but beside him on the bench. UCLA's staff took a huge hit a few years ago when assistant coach Kerry Keating left to take the head coaching job at Santa Clara. Keating was instrumental in UCLA landing standout players such as Kevin Love. It's no coincidence that the Bruins' recruiting classes began to suffer once Keating left Westwood. Still, the good thing about basketball is that it only takes one or two superstars to change the fortunes of a team and a program. If UCLA can sign a few difference-makers, Howland will coach them back to the top of the Pac-10.

Kudos for Kevin O'Neill piece

Thanks for asking KO (USC coach Kevin O'Neill) all those great questions. I just read this for the second time today. USC basketball doesn't get much coverage in the local papers.

No location given

I always enjoy catching up with Kevin O'Neill, and I'm glad my Q & A with him was so well-received. A few people scratched their heads when USC hired O'Neill over the summer to replace Tim Floyd, but I thought it was a great move.

Trojans tourney tough?

With Mike Gerrity totally transforming the entire makeup of USC's team by leading them to impressive victories over Tennessee and a better-than-expected UNLV team in the Diamond Head Classic, how do you think USC will finish in the Pac-10? Will the Trojans make the NCAA tournament?

Long Beach, Calif.

I think the Trojans are good enough to win the Pac-10 title, partly because they've got three battle-tested seniors in their starting lineup, and partly because O'Neill is one of the better coaches in the conference. And let's be frank: the Pac-10 is not very good this year. The two teams that could easily finish ahead of USC are Washington and Cal, both of whom have some nice pieces. Even if USC were to finish third – or maybe even fourth – in the league, it would stand a good chance at an NCAA tournament berth thanks to its non-conference wins against Tennessee, St. Mary's and UNLV. I just really like USC's vibe right now. The Trojans have a good thing going.

Food for thought

How about starting a food blog with a comprehensive list of all the places you like to grub at? I agree that Neely's in Memphis is good, but I think the dry ribs at Rendezvous a few miles away are even better. On a side note, all the hype over John Wall at Kentucky is overshadowing DeMarcus Cousins. If he can stay out of foul trouble and keep his temper in check, he is dominant.

Dave Murray

A food blog sounds like a good idea, Dave. Maybe that's something I can test out in the offseason. In the meantime, keep reading King of the Court to keep up with my various Pit Stops. At the very least, maybe we can come up with a working list of all of them that we can attach to each column. I've heard mixed reviews on Rendezvous but definitely think I need to give it a try to find out for myself. As for Neely's, the main thing I liked about the ribs was the portion. I also fell in love with the pulled pork sandwich, which was about the size of my steering wheel.

Mizzou mistreated

You have Missouri ranked 11th in the Big 12? Are you serious? Did you watch the Illinois game on national television? I remember you saying something similar about them last year around this time. Please.

Michael Dubay
Tulsa, Okla.

Yeah, I saw Missouri beat Illinois. I also watched the Tigers lose to Richmond and Oral Roberts. Mizzou is getting better, but I'm not sure a victory over the unranked Illini is a good enough reason to start sticking out your chest if you’re a Missouri fan. Illinois lost to Georgia, you know. Also, I had Missouri ranked 11th before the Illinois win. The Tigers are ranked No. 8 in this week's edition of Calling All Conferences.

The Big (Ten) question

I'm a big Michigan State fan and follow the Spartans and Tom Izzo a lot. I know the Big Ten has a tough group of teams like Purdue, Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Who do you think will finish first in this year's conference race?

Ron Blowers
Rutherford, N.J.

Things could change, but right now I think you'd have to say that Purdue is the heavy favorite. Ohio State would've given the Boilermakers a run for their money, but Evan Turner's back injury will keep that from happening. Michigan State could definitely work its way into the mix. A lot of people are down on the Spartans, but remember, Tom Izzo's squad played an incredibly tough non-conference schedule with games against North Carolina, Texas and Florida. That could end up helping Michigan State in the end. I'm also high on Wisconsin – mainly because of point guard Trevon Hughes, forward Jon Leurer and coach Bo Ryan. I think those three teams finish first, second and third, respectively.

Feeling Badgered

The national media typically ignores the Wisconsin Badgers despite their success year after year. Aside from a national title what will it take for the Badgers to get some respect?

No location given

I don't think people have enough respect for good coaching and discipline and hard work. Sometimes we get so caught up in recruiting rankings and projected NBA draft picks – all of the glitz and glamour – that we ignore the blue-collar teams that play the game the right way. Wisconsin probably doesn't have one future NBA player on its roster, yet the Badgers are beating teams who do. That's a credit to Bo Ryan and the work ethic of his players, who completely demolished Ohio State on Thursday. What Wisconsin is doing should be refreshing to the true college basketball fan. There's no reason the Badgers can't win the Big Ten title.

Considering Calipari

Do you think Coach Cal will start to get some acknowledgment from the press for the job he's doing at Kentucky? Or will his past keep him from being considered a great coach? It seems like he is never mentioned among the elite coaches despite turning around Kentucky's program in a year – and it's not only been because of his recruiting. He's done a great job of coaching those kids. So far he has reminded me of Phil Jackson, but I'm not sure he will ever be listed in the same category as Roy Williams, Bill Self, Coach K, etc. Even if he wins a title. Thanks.

B. Swinford
Nashville, Tenn.

John Calipari has never received enough credit for being a good coach. Signing good recruits is one thing. Getting them to buy into playing team basketball is another. Months after they arrive on campus as prima donnas, Calipari's star-studded recruits find themselves playing harder than they ever could’ve imagined. That's why his teams always rank near the top of the national charts in field goal percentage defense and assists. Those kinds of things don't happen without a good coach. The job he has done thus far at Kentucky has been magnificent. A team that could've been defined by egos and in-fighting and selfish play is operating as a unit. The credit for that should go to the coach. Unfortunately, it probably never will.

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