Around this time last season it was North Carolina and everyone else. That's why the 2009-10 campaign has been so exciting thus far. With the exception of Kansas, there aren't any truly elite teams – and even the Jayhawks haven't looked all that crisp at times.
Besides Kansas, the best teams I've seen this season are Syracuse, Kentucky and North Carolina. The teams in my second grouping would be Purdue, Texas, West Virginia, Duke and Villanova.
Obviously, all of those schools will get better – lots better – in the coming months. But the overall parity should make this season more fun and unpredictable than 2008-09.
Now, on to this week's mailbag.
Burning over Turner
What can Ohio State to do minimize the loss of Evan Turner for the next eight weeks? Also, what is the best and worst case scenario for the Buckeyes for the next two months? What's realistic?
There's a lot of buzz in college basketball circles that Turner could possibly return a week or two sooner than expected. Let's hope that ends up being the case. In the meantime, Turner's teammates are going to have to step up in all phases of the game. Remember, along with being a great scorer, Turner is a tremendous rebounder and passer, so he'll be missed in those areas, too. Ohio State will lose some games without him, but maybe not as many as you'd think. The fact that the Buckeyes are in the Big Ten – instead of, say, the Big 12 or the ACC – should help Thad Matta's squad. It's a league where defense and grind-it-out play is emphasized more than anywhere in the country. Scores are often low and games are usually close. Just look at how many tight games Indiana played in last year despite a huge talent gap. Good coaches find ways to adjust, and Matta is one of the game's best. I doubt the Buckeyes will win the league title, but the season is not lost by any means.
Great job on the John Wall profile. It was such a well-written article about one of the best players to come along in my lifetime. I'm 27 years old and have been involved with basketball my whole life. I used to work with the Kentucky basketball team as an assistant strength coach when Tubby Smith was here. I don't ever remember a player who had more of a positive impact on the game than John Wall. The way John plays the game with such passion, his will to win, the way he handles himself on and off the court, the way he prepares both his mind and his body for competition is what every young player should strive to be like. I'm so proud we were able to get him for what is sure to be only one year. There will be plenty more chances for wonderful articles about John Wall and the Kentucky basketball program this year. Keep 'em coming.
I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Wall was hardly the cocky prima donna I expected him to be. He's as friendly and engaging and humble as any freshman I've ever covered. I'm glad he gave me some time and allowed me to tell his story.
Wildcats ahead of schedule
I think you said North Carolina would beat Kentucky (last weekend) but that Kentucky would be better at the end of the season. Well, Kentucky is better now and will be better at the end, too. HOW ABOUT YOUR TAR HEELS NOW?
Man oh man, was my prediction off base. Kentucky is so much better than North Carolina that the Wildcats slaughtered the Tar Heels by three whole points. It was an impressive win for a young Kentucky club, no doubt. But just as impressive was the comeback North Carolina mounted after surrendering a 28-2 run in the first half. I think both teams are capable of reaching the Final Four and winning the whole thing.
Big 12's best
In your opinion, who is the best player in the Big 12?
Hmmm. That's a tough one. If you're talking about the top NBA prospect, Cole Aldrich is the hands down choice, with Willie Warren and Craig Brackins not far behind. But as far as what player means the most and does the most for his team, Kansas point guard Sherron Collins would be my choice. There aren't many players in college basketball this season who offer a package as complete as Collins brings to the table. He can penetrate, score from midrange or beat you with a 3-point shot, and he's become more and more of a selfless player every year. His biggest attribute is his leadership and poise. It's not easy being the face of a program as scrutinized as Kansas, but Collins – who is on pace to become the winningest player in school history – handles it with ease.
Behind Syracuse stats
Do the teams ahead of Syracuse in the polls truly deserve their rankings? Syracuse practically leads the nation in six categories (No.1 in field goal percentage, assists and steals and No. 2 in scoring offense, blocks and victory margin). Yet Syracuse is only ranked sixth. Kansas only leads the nation in one statistical category. How can Syracuse have all of those remarkable stats and still magically not have enough to be No. 1 in the polls.
Kansas is ranked No. 1 because it returns its entire team from last year and has three potential first-round draft picks in its starting lineup. The people who are voting Kansas No. 1 are doing so based on the opinion that, if Kansas and Syracuse met head-to-head, Kansas would win. The only thing hurting Syracuse is that it wasn't even in the Top 25 poll at all when the season began. That the Orange have climbed the charts this fast is an indication that voters don't they think they are a farce or a one-hit wonder. This team has all the pieces to beat any team in America when things are clicking. Including Kansas.
Feeling the draft
So far this season, which players do you think have done the most to improve their draft stock? More specifically, are there any players who weren't on anyone's radar that have played themselves into consideration? My pick for out-of-the-blue player of the year so far would be Charles Garcia of Seattle. Obviously he's not playing many top teams, but he's been absolutely dominant on a team that doesn't have many other scoring options.
The draft is a funny thing. We spend all season talking about players improving/hurting their stock, but once NBA teams begin conducting individual workouts during the spring, everything a player did or didn't do the previous season seems to be irrelevant. Still, it's a fun topic to discuss. Off the top of my head, I'd say Patrick Patterson (Kentucky), Terrico White (Ole Miss), Sherron Collins (Kansas) and Wesley Johnson (Syracuse) have all improved their stock. John Calipari has helped Patterson add another dimension to his game. He's proving that he can hit the long jumper and handle the ball facing the basket. White is playing so well that NBA scouts are predicting he'll be a Top 10 pick and Collins – who entered the season a fringe first-rounder – is in the best shape he's ever been in during his career. He's become a more complete, well-rounded player and a better leader. Johnson showed flashes of brilliance after two seasons at Iowa State but was basically forgotten about when he transferred. Now he seems like a first-rounder. As far as under-the-radar guys, Michigan transfer and shot-blocking specialist Epke Udoh has been an absolute stud for Baylor and is being mentioned as a potential first-rounder. Your boy Garcia at Seattle sounds like a player. Hopefully the right people will take notice.
Enough about Butler
What has Butler ever done to deserve so much press? Every year there is so much hype about this team, but no one really cares about them outside of Indiana. What's the deal? Now they've lost three games in a row, proving they were way overrated. Now we can bury them again until the annual fret-about-their-NCAA-bid extravaganza. Why you waste your column on this team is beyond me. It's Butler, geesh!
You're right. Butler's No. 11 preseason ranking was way too high. Still, to completely ignore a team that is 62-7 over the past two-plus seasons would be irresponsible. Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens made a good point after Tuesday's loss to Georgetown about the emphasis placed on how a team fares in the NCAA tournament. Sure, it's telling that Butler has bowed out in the first round the past two seasons. But that shouldn't negate all the success they had in the regular season and the two Horizon League titles they won. That's the worst part about the NCAA tournament. It devalues the regular season. That being said, Butler will be taken less-and-less seriously until they start winning games against big-name opponent. The Bulldogs are 1-7 against Top 25 teams under Stevens.
You said Xavier Henry would be the first one-and-done in Kansas history if he left school after this season. Does the name Wilt Chamberlain ring a bell? Sorry, couldn't resist an opportunity to go "old school." Take care.
The name Wilt Chamberlain definitely rings a bell. The Stilt was one of the greatest players ever at Kansas – for three years.