Evan Turner has Ohio State back in the mix, Texas, Kansas and Kentucky all won on the road and, for the first time in awhile, North Carolina seems rather ordinary. Just two weeks into January and the conference races are already getting intriguing – just like the questions in this week's mailbag.
North Carolina blues
When do you think the Tar Heels will be ranked in their more rightful place, about 20-25? They were No. 9 in the nation when they lost to Charleston, and then they only dropped about three spots to No. 12. That is absurd. Now that they were spanked by Clemson, shouldn't they drop down to 24 or 25?
I definitely expect North Carolina to make a significant drop in next week's poll – probably in the No. 17-22 range. As poorly as they played against Clemson, I don't have a problem with the Tar Heels remaining in the national rankings, mainly because they've played such a tough schedule. There's no shame in losing away from home to Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas, especially when you've got such a young team. The Tar Heels had a chance to win each of those games. But you're right, even though it was missing some key players, North Carolina's performances against Charleston and Clemson were inexcusable. The Tar Heels have a chance to be an excellent team, but they need to learn how to win on the road.
Too much talent at KU?
Regarding your article on how Kansas has too much talent, Connecticut had the same problem a few years back when George Mason beat them in the NCAA tournament. That team was loaded with guys like Rudy Gay, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone – all first-rounders. Denham Brown went in the second and Rashad Anderson is playing in Europe. Despite being the most-talented team in the country, they did not play well together and actually seemed to dislike each other. I think this was largely because the team had too much talent and was overloaded with "me first/alpha male" stars. So there is definitely a possibility that teams can be "too talented" and miss the all-important blue-collar guys who will set screens, take charges and box out.
Interesting comparison, Scott. I definitely think Kansas' players like each other and get along well. And let's not forget, the Jayhawks are 15-1, so it's possible we're being a little too quick to criticize. I just think that Bill Self is having trouble getting his team to embrace the "little things" that you mentioned at the end of your e-mail. They don't think they're being selfish, but they are. I'm not sure they know what it means to sacrifice individual glory for the good of the team. Or at least not all of them. I don't think the Jayhawks have a bad attitude or a poor work ethic or a lack of desire. The bad stuff they're doing isn't intentional. I just think they have an ability to take their game to another level, an unstoppable level. But they haven't figured out how to do that just yet, but I think they will.
In September the Kansas basketball team went out and sought trouble with the football team. Does it surprise you that they are discontented? That was a great opportunity for Self to prune his team of troublemakers. Which troublemaker was in the middle of the fights? Tyshawn Taylor. He's more worried about his "rep" than anything else. It's not that he doesn't know his role, it's that he doesn't like his role, which is to dish to the scorers and play good defense.
Taylor may have been the person who voiced his displeasure, but that doesn't mean he's alone in his discontent. The most telling part of his comments came when he said, "… I think a lot of guys feel that way." Still, as you mentioned, it's obvious that Taylor needs to channel his focus more toward the team and less toward himself. It's up to Bill Self and team captain Sherron Collins to help him with that.
Good of you to bring up Kyle Singler's problems. As a Duke fan I tend to be overly critical when something is off, and a lot of analysts – particularly TV guys – keep talking about how great Singler is. He desperately needs a mid-range jumper. I can't remember him ever making one. All he's got is the 3-pointer and the ability to get garbage points off of rebounds. It's painful watching him drive the basket or post up against athletic forwards. Sure, he got conditioned to play post over the last two years because of Duke's height issues, but a guy of his stature needs a better offensive game. He's going nowhere at the next level without a consistent jumper.
I think one of the reasons that coaches and commentators are so high on Singler is because, fundamentally and mentally, he's as good of a player as there is in college basketball. It's clear he spent hours upon hours in the gym during his pre-college days, honing his footwork and passing skills. He moves both in the paint and away from the basket. Coaches always have appreciation for guys with good fundamentals because they know how hard they worked to develop. That being said, Singler is having a mediocre season. He's averaging 15.4 points, but he's shooting just 41.7 percent from the field and just 33.8 percent from 3-point range – both career-lows. More than one-third of Singler's field goal attempts (74-of-204) have come from beyond the arc. I think Singler is a darn good player – probably one of the Top 25-30 in the nation. But he's not a Top 10-15 guy like so many make him out to be.
Johnson belongs on Wooden list
I couldn't help but notice that your short list for the Wooden Award didn't include Wesley Johnson. Can I ask why? At 17.4 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game, he is no slouch. His assists, blocks and steals are all hovering around two per game, as well.
The reason I didn't mention Wesley Johnson is because my parents built my swingset facing a wall, which led to a head injury that sometimes causes me to be a bit careless. Obviously, Johnson deserves to be in the conversation for the Wooden Award along with John Wall, Sherron Collins, Damion James, Evan Turner, Luke Harangody and Jon Scheyer.
The Pac(-10) is whack
In this week's AP poll, not only are there no Pac-10 schools in the Top 25, but no Pac-10 school even got a vote. When was the last time that happened to a major conference? Is the Pac-10 really that bad? A Stanford team that was picked to finish last in the Pac-10 took Kentucky to overtime. Stanford doesn't deserve a vote, but are there really 30-35 schools in the country better than any Pac-10 school?
Unfortunately, I think the league really is that bad, Paul. I certainly wouldn't have any problem if a school such as Cal or USC received some votes. Both of those teams have solid starting lineups and are well-coached. I think they're the best two teams in the league right now. I also think those programs have bright futures along with Arizona, who has actually been rather impressive at times when you consider the state of the program that Sean Miller inherited. What concerns me, though, is the future of the rest of the league. How can anyone be excited about Oregon or Oregon State right now? Or Arizona State or Washington, which has lost three straight? Those teams may be better next year, but not significantly. Tough times out West.
Secret burger stuff
I forgive your ignorance, but if you haven't ordered from In-N-Out's vaunted "secret menu," you're missing a great deal. Order your burger "Animal Style" to get chopped grilled onions, a mustard-grilled patty, extra sauce and pickles. "Animal Style Fries" gets you cheese, sauce and grilled onions on top of your taters. Personally, I like the whole-grilled onions, where they take a slab of onion and grill it before adding it to the burger. Check it out. But shhh … it's a secret.
I've ordered my burger "Animal Style" in the past and thought it was decent, but I think I like it better without all the extra stuff. It's good enough on its own. I didn't know about all the other kinds of ways to order an In-N-Out burger, though, so I appreciate the link to the secret menu. I need to find a reason to get back out to L.A. so I can experiment. Too bad the Pac-10 stinks so bad right now. In the meantime, let's start another new food conversation: How do you like your Chipotle?