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Luke Harangody is an Irish force.
(Joe Raymond/AP Photo)
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Less than two months into what is sure to be a brief college career, Kentucky freshman John Wall has led the Wildcats to 14-0 record that includes marquee wins over North Carolina and Connecticut.
Wall is averaging 17.9 points and shooting 52 percent from the field. He's made 44 percent of his 3-pointers and 82 percent of his foul shots. Tuesday, just for kicks, he dished out a school record 16 assists in Kentucky's 104-61 victory over Hartford.
"Unbelievable," Wildcats coach John Calipari said, and by now, there can't be many college basketball fans who don't feel the same way.
So we know that Wall is nation's best player and, barring injury, the likely No. 1 pick in this summer's NBA draft. None of that is expected to change over the next three months.
But what about other schools and other players? If the season were to end tomorrow, who would make the All-American team or be named coach of the year?
Considering most programs are about to begin conference play – if they haven't already – I figured it'd be fun to unveil my first Midseason All-American Team. It will be interesting to compare this team to the one that's unveiled at the end of the season.
F Damion James, Texas – He has averaged 24 points and 14 rebounds in big wins over North Carolina and Michigan State. James would be the MVP if not for Wall.
F Wesley Johnson, Syracuse – The Iowa State transfer lit up North Carolina and is projected to be a Top 10 pick in this summer's NBA draft.
C Luke Harangody, Notre Dame – The big man is averaging 24.2 points and is on pace to become the Big East's all-time leading scorer.
G John Wall, Kentucky – North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Wall is the top point guard prospect since Jason Kidd.
G Sherron Collins, Kansas – The leader of the country's No. 1 ranked team is on pace to become the winningest player in school history.
Coach Jim Boeheim, Syracuse – Boeheim has the Orange in the hunt for a No. 1 seed despite the loss of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris.
F Patrick Patterson, Kentucky – The Wildcats' unsung hero has improved his draft status by coming back to school.
F Quincy Pondexter, Washington – He is averaging 21.9 points for Pac-10's best team.
C Ekpe Udoh, Baylor – The Michigan transfer ranks second in the Big 12 in field-goal percentage and rebounding and first in blocks.
G Jon Scheyer, Duke – The Blue Devils' floor leader is averaging 18.2 points, has 66 assists and only 10 turnovers.
G Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – Pullen is the leader of a 12-1 Wildcats squad that hopes to challenge Kansas and Texas for the Big 12 title.
Coach Bill Carmody, Northwestern – The veteran coach has the Wildcats in the Top 25 for the first time in 40 years despite the loss of star Kevin Coble.
F Dexter Pittman, Texas – Pittman is quickly becoming one of the most dominant forces in college basketball.
F Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia – Butler has a knack for hitting big shots that have kept the Mountaineers undefeated.
C Cole Aldrich, Kansas – The Jayhawks pivotman has battled illness, but his presence alone keeps opponents out of the lane.
G Klay Thompson, Washington State – The son of former NBA star Mychal Thompson is averaging 25 points.
G Xavier Henry, Kansas – Henry is the best freshman in the country so far other than Wall.
Coach Kevin O'Neill, USC – The former Marquette, Northwestern and Tennessee boss inherited a terrible situation yet, somehow, has the Trojans in position to compete for the Pac-10 crown.
Malcolm Delaney has Virginia Tech on track.
(Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo)
Northwestern – The Wildcats are ranked in the Associated Press poll for the first time in more than 40 years. Now 10-1 and a winner of nine straight, Northwestern is ranked 25th. That the Wildcats have been this successful without injured star Kevin Coble says a lot about the coaching of Bill Carmody and the leadership of players such as John Shurna and Michael Thompson.
Arizona-North Carolina State – You missed a good one if you went to bed before the Wildcats' 76-74 victory over the Wolfpack last week in Tucson. Nic Wise drove the length of the court for the game-winning layup with one second remaining. The previous 37 seconds had seen Arizona blow an eight-point lead, as North Carolina State made two 3-pointers and converted on a three-point play in the moments before Wise's heroic shot.
Malcolm Delaney – In a season where standout point guards are plentiful, Virginia Tech's Delaney often gets overlooked. And that's a shame, because the 6-foot-3 junior is averaging 21.5 points for the Hokies, who will take a 10-1 record into Wednesday's game against Longwood. Delaney has a career scoring average of 14.8 points and has made 83.2 percent of his free throws in his two-plus seasons in Blacksburg.
Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights may not be one of the best teams in the Big East, but they may be the most improved. Fred Hill's squad gave No. 10 North Carolina all it could handle Monday before losing 81-67 in Chapel Hill. Rutgers trailed by just six at intermission and cut the Tar Heels' 17-point second-half lead to four with about two minutes remaining. I'm predicting at least six Big East wins for Rutgers and Mike Rosario, who is averaging 18.1 points.
Mike Davis – Alabama-Birmingham may have trouble holding on to Davis very much longer. Davis, who coached Indiana all the way to the 2002 national championship game, has led the 11-1 Blazers to 10 straight victories, including recent double-digit triumphs over ranked schools such as Butler and Cincinnati. With league play fast approaching, UAB appears to be the best team in a strong Conference USA.
Jimmer Fredette – Brigham Young is 13-1, and Fredette is the main reason. The 6-foot-2 junior guard is averaging 21.6 points – and his play as of late has been nothing short of phenomenal. Fredette scored a school-record 49 points in Monday's 30-point victory at Arizona. The two games before that, against Nevada and Nebraska, Fredette scored 33 and 24 points, respectively.
DePaul – First things first: Why did the Blue Demons agree to play a road game at Florida Gulf Coast? And, good gosh, how bad must they be since they lost. It's not like DePaul can blame the defeat on the absence of Mac Koshwal, who missed eight games because of an injury. Koshwal made his return in the game and scored 16 points – and the Blue Demons still couldn't beat the 4-6 Eagles.
Derrick Nix's foul shooting – One of the more amazing statistics of the college basketball season thus far belongs to the Michigan State forward, who has missed 25 of his 28 attempts from the free-throw line. Not the 3-point line – the free-throw line. Nix has a nice game, otherwise. But he's obviously got to put some work in at the foul stripe.
Matt Doherty – There are too many good high school programs and players in the middle of Dallas and the surrounding areas for Doherty's SMU squad to be this bad. The Mustangs are 4-6 with zero wins against quality opponents. Doherty – the former Notre Dame and North Carolina head coach – entered the season with a 33-58 career record at SMU. Athletic director Steve Orsini needs to make a change after the season and hire Billy Gillispie. He's a changed man, and the perfect fit for this job.
Big Ten – The league race should be entertaining with Purdue, Michigan State and a few others, including Northwestern, contending for the title. But the parity we were hoping for in the offseason hasn't turned out to be as strong as we initially guessed. The back injury suffered by Ohio State's Evan Turner has caused the Buckeyes to slide a bit (although their fortunes could certainly change once Turner returns). Michigan and Illinois have been huge disappointments. Royce White's legal problems and eventual decision to leave the team have kept Minnesota from improving as much as Tubby Smith had hoped. Penn State has regressed and Indiana is still mired in a major rebuilding period. A good conference? Definitely. A great one? No.
Snow – Would someone please name one good thing about the slick, wet, white stuff that kept me from spending the holidays in Texas for the first time in 34 years? Just one good thing, because to me, all snow and cold weather are good for is car wrecks, flight delays, broken hips, frostbite and the flu.
Which team has been impacted the most this season by a devastating injury?
Other than Purdue losing point guard Lewis Jackson, the top-tier teams have been lucky enough to avoid any major setbacks. Instead it's some of the "teams on the rise" that have been hurt the most. None more than Indiana, which lost Maurice Creek for the season Monday when Creek injured his knee in a victory over Bryant. Creek was leading all freshmen scorers in the nation with a 17.6-point scoring average. Losing your best player is a major setback for any team, but it's even worse when it happens to a program that's in the middle of a massive rebuilding project. The loss of Derrick Roland at Texas A&M is also gut-wrenching for an Aggies squad that will struggle to make the NCAA tournament without its second-leading scorer.
How good is USC?
It's still too early to make any bold predictions about the Trojans and where they will finish in the Pac-10 race. But, hey … let's be honest. What happened at USC the last few weeks has been really impressive. As if beating a very good Tennessee team wasn't enough, the Trojans blew past two more strong opponents (St. Mary's and UNLV) en route to winning the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. The Dec. 19 addition of Charlotte transfer Mike Gerrity, a point guard, has totally altered the look of Kevin O'Neill's squad. Turnovers are down, and players such as Marcus Johnson, Alex Stepheson and Dwight Lewis are becoming more productive and efficient because they're getting better shots. Adding forward Leonard Washington to the mix has also been beneficial. Washington became eligible two games ago and is averaging 9.5 points since his return. Again, we'll see if USC can sustain its success, but don't be surprised if O'Neill's squad finds its way into the Pac-10 title hunt.
Duke and North Carolina are clearly the best teams in the ACC. Who ranks third?
That's a good question – and I'm not sure I know the answer. Just when one team starts to look good they suffer an inexcusable loss. Clemson fell to Illinois at home after losing an 18-point lead in the second half. William and Mary beat Wake Forest. Georgia Tech couldn't get by Florida State at home. Boston College lost to Harvard and Rhode Island (not that the Eagles were really in the mix for No. 3. I just wanted to mention those bad losses). Right now I'd probably put Florida State in third place, simply because the Seminoles (11-2) are hot with five straight wins (and it's about to be seven with two easy games on the horizon). Still, this league has every bit as much parity in the middle and toward the bottom as the Big Ten and the Big 12. North Carolina and Duke are the only elite teams in the conference, but it's not like the ACC has any really bad teams, either. All of it should make for a fun league race.
Kalin Lucas was told to take a seat.
(Darron Cummings/AP Photo)
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo benched star guard Kalin Lucas during Tuesday's practice because he is not satisfied with how Lucas is handling his role as a team leader. Lucas, who is not suspended, is averaging 15.7 points per game for the 9-3 Spartans but had six turnovers in last week's loss at Texas. … Suspended Iowa guard Anthony Tucker pleaded guilty to public intoxication Tuesday following his arrest last week. Hawkeyes coach Todd Lickliter said he expects Tucker to return to the team, although he's not sure when. … Illinois guard Alex Legion has left the team. Legion averaged 3.2 points in 33 career games in Champaign. He transferred to Illinois after beginning his career at Kentucky. … All 11 of the players who scored for Texas in Tuesday's victory over Gardner-Webb did so by halftime. … John Wall had 11 assists at intermission of Kentucky's victory over Hartford on Tuesday.
Deonta Vaughn must step up for Cincinnati.
(Al Behrman/AP Photo)
Connecticut at Cincinnati – The Bearcats need more out of Deonta Vaughn.
Northwestern at Illinois – Can the Wildcats carry their non-conference success into league play?
Ohio State at Wisconsin – Badgers will try to take advantage of Evan Turner's absence.
Tennessee at Memphis – This would be Josh Pastner's first big win as a college coach.
West Virginia at Purdue – If the Boilermakers can beat West Virginia, they can beat anyone.
Dayton at New Mexico – Two of the country's top non-Big Six squads go at it in The Pit.
Michigan State at Northwestern – The Spartans can't afford a slip-up here.
Kansas at Temple – This may end up being the toughest game on KU's non-conference slate.
Louisville at Kentucky – On a scale of one-to-10, how ruthless will the Wildcats' fans be on Rick Pitino?
Clemson at Duke – The Tigers will be one of the more athletic teams Duke has played.
Xavier at Wake Forest – The Skip Prosser Classic should be a good one.
Ohio State at Michigan – The Wolverines are looking to rebound from a disappointing non-conference season.
Notre Dame at South Florida – This won't be an easy win for the Irish.
New Mexico at San Diego State – One of the most anticipated games of the Mountain West season takes place right off the bat.
Chris Ogden, Texas – After starring at Seminole (Texas) High School, Ogden earned four letters as a reserve for the Texas Longhorns from 2000-03. He was the team captain when Texas reached the Final Four during his final season. Ogden joined the staff as a student assistant just months after his final game. He then spent four years in an administrative role before becoming a full-time assistant this season.
KOTC: How did you end up at Texas during your playing days?
Ogden: Coach Barnes was recruiting me along with most of the other Big 12 South schools. But there was definitely a difference here. The main thing they talked about when I came to visit here was winning championships. I wanted to be a part of it.
KOTC: What is your most memorable experience as a Longhorn player? Was it going to the Final Four in 2003, even though you lost to Syracuse in the semifinals?
Ogden: Actually, the Elite Eight game, when we beat Michigan State to get there … that was as memorable as anything. It was in San Antonio, so there were all these Texas fans in the stands. It was incredible. We were celebrating with 40,000 people. It'll be stuck in my mind forever.
KOTC: What do you remember the most about the Final Four?
Ogden: It was unbelievable to be there – until Carmelo just took it to us. We had no answer for him. But being there was just surreal. At the time you don’t really think about it but, looking back, you appreciate it. I kept the chair from the team bench – they let us buy them – and I've still got my sweatsuit. I took some pictures and I've obviously got the ring.
KOTC: How did you end up becoming a coach?
Ogden: Right after we got done playing that spring, after the Final Four, coach asked me if I wanted to be a student assistant, because I still had another year of undergrad. Of course I said yes. I was here that whole summer and I started working with the guys. It's just progressed since then.
KOTC: Have you know for a long time that this is what you wanted to do?
Ogden: I was back and forth for awhile, but by my senior year I really knew I wanted to coach. I wasn't playing much, but I was always paying attention to the scouting report. Even as a player, I was always trying to make suggestions to the coaches if I felt they were needed. A few times Coach Barnes would even walk down to the end of the bench and ask me, 'What do you see?'
KOTC: What is Rick Barnes' best quality?
Ogden: He gets guys to play hard, and that's not easy to do. The second thing is how he treats people. He gives the assistants time to be with our families. This may sound weird, but we can kind of pick our hours, as long as we're getting our job done.
KOTC: Do you have any children?
Ogden: Yes, my wife, Katie, and I have a son. He's almost two and his name is Bo. We've got another one on the way. She's due in March, which should be interesting. We actually had Bo in March, too. It was a C-section, so we were able to pick the day. Our last game of the regular season was on a Saturday, so we did it that Monday before the Big 12 Tournament. Two days later, I was gone. And we went to the Elite Eight that year, so I wasn't around too much during the first three weeks of his life.
KOTC: What are your career goals?
Ogden: I definitely want to be a head coach. I wouldn't do this if I didn't want to be a head coach. I wouldn't travel and be away from my family this much and chase high school kids around like I do.
KOTC: Speaking of chasing high school kids around, I understand you were the lead recruiter for standout freshman Avery Bradley. That must've been pretty tough, considering he hails from Tacoma, Washington.
Ogden: He actually used to live in Texas, although I didn't know that at the start. It was an initial cold-call at first. Then I found out he was from Texas and that he wanted us to recruit him. It was a weird deal. I had never seen him play. I had just been added to the staff and I was taking over the recruits that Ken McDonald (who went to Western Kentucky) had been on. But I kind of wanted to find my own guy. I don't know why, but I picked him. He was low in the rankings, but he was my guy. I started recruiting him so hard that you'd have thought I wasn't recruiting anyone else. I was calling and sending all these handwritten notes. I was doing everything I could to make sure I was keeping in touch with him daily, as long as it was within the rules. It was great to get him.
KOTC: What do you like to do away from the court?
Ogden: I love spending time with my family. I love Texas country music, and I love trying to find the best hamburgers and chicken fried steaks and greasy spoon restaurants that are out there.
KOTC: Who has the best burger in Austin? And the best barbecue?
Ogden: Hat Creek Burgers is the best. It's owned by my buddy, Drew Gressett, a former walk-on. Make sure you check out. For barbecue I love the Salt Lick. I've got the list from Texas Monthly magazine that lists the Top 50 burger joints and the Top 50 barbecue restaurants in Texas. I'm going to try to hit every one of them.
Chicken is the king of fried foods.
(Larry Crowe/AP Photo)
Babe's, Garland, Texas – Family-style, home-cooking at its best. Pick from six meats – fried chicken, chicken fried steak, fried catfish, fried chicken fingers, pot roast, hickory smoked ribs or smoked chicken – along with all the vegetables you can eat for less than $15. My recommendation would be to try the fried chicken (they give you five huge pieces) and then load up on black-eyed peas, green beans, mashed potatoes … and TUMS. With eight locations, this is easily my favorite restaurant in all of Texas.
Kegler's, Morgantown, W.Va. – You can't go wrong with the one-pound "Mountaineer Burger" at Kegler's, a comfortable, laid-back sports bar that's a favorite among West Virginia students and athletes. But I'm a wings guy, and Kegler's has 15 varieties from which to choose. I went with a 16-piece order of the "Seasoned Blend" along with a few Miller Lites that were still speckled with frost. Can't wait to go back.
Big Pink, Miami – If you're in Florida for the Orange Bowl and have plans to hit up South Beach, be sure to stop by Big Pink on the corner of 2nd and Collins. I was always partial to the club sandwich and a bucket of the restaurant's famous potato chips, but then I tried Big Pink Breakfast Burrito and swore I'd never order anything else. Scrambled eggs, bacon, avocado, jack cheese and tomato wrapped in a massive flour tortilla and topped with salsa and sour cream … wow. You may be a bit too bloated for the beach afterward, but hey, if you can eat the whole thing, that was probably the case already.