Happy holidays from Cub Scouts. With a super busy week ahead, a Friday column is looking pretty doubtful, but fear not; the second half of the college arena bucket list will be back the following Friday. Things are a bit truncated today with the quiet week ahead, as teams gear up for the start of conference play!
1. College basketball (and Cub Scouts) really misses Kenny George.
Last year, the Bulldogs of UNC-Ashville were a bit of a revelation as the “20th-run” team from Carolina had their best season ever. 21 wins; an NIT berth, and their top player returning seemed to predict another strong season. The television powers that be made sure that Ashville was a major player on the national schedule (they have already been on four times this season) but things just haven’t turned out right.
Bulldog faithful, college hoop fans, and the network schedule makers let out a collective groan, when it was learned in the offseason that the 7-8 360-pound behemoth of a center was afflicted with a form of staph infection that forced a partial amputation of his right foot. Since then, Ashville has stumbled to a 4-8 start and have been less than competitive in their major pre-conference match-ups with North Carolina, Tenn., and Duke. (Holy Overscheduling Batman!)
Last night, a certain high-profile freshmen center took advantage of the now extremely height-challenged Bulldogs. Ohio State post man B.J. Mullens had his own individual dunk contest, as the Buckeyes easily cruised to an 83-59 victory. Taking advantage of the huge space vacated by George, Mullens put up 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
Needless to say, we all miss the gentle giant and hope the best for his future!
2. Teams with legitimate title hopes
As a notorious poll/ranking hater, I will refrain from giving a numerical value to where all college teams are at this point, but I will look ahead a bit.
How many teams can truly vie for a national title come springtime?
I am going to go with just five at this point in the season.
*UNC — This is a no-brainer, as the ‘Heels have proven they are more than “as advertised.” This team is DEEP, has few weaknesses, and it never hurts to have the returning national player of the year. I will also throw out the “revenge factor” as that final four semifinal egg they laid against Kansas last year will be motivation enough.
*Connecticut — I wasn’t entirely sold on this team until seeing their fight, depth, and experience in the gutsy overtime victory over Gonzaga this past Saturday. A.J. Price willed his team to the win (hitting a Mario Chalmers-esque three-ball to send that game into OT) and with a frontcourt of Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet, coach Jim Calhoun is primed for another title run.
*Oklahoma — I was big on this team to start the season and they have not failed to deliver. Blake Griffin has been a consistent monster, while freshmen Willie Warren has been the Big 12’s top newcomer. However, it is the play of backcourt veterans, Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker that might vault this group into a long postseason.
*Pittsburgh — Veteran backcourt (led by Izzo’s boy Levance Fields), a stud swingman (Sam Young) and underrated post play (smiling sopohomore DeJuan Blair) should help this team erase their embarrassing postseason record over the past. Remember this team has annually had a top seed but hasn’t gotten past the Sweet 16 in the past six years. I’m going to ignore this awful track record and give Head Coach Jamie Dixon the benefit of the doubt. Final Four or Bust.
*Gonzaga — Not surprisingly the ‘Zags are making a Cub Scouts’ list. Despite being the only of the five with a loss (and two at that) Gonzaga is still going to be in a position to get a top seed and vie for the ‘chip. Like I mentioned in my feature (on newsstands everywhere) this team is deep, has experienced guard play that can fill in from 3-point range, and solid frontcourt that can dominate at times.
(Side note: I am little worried about our boy, Jeremy Pargo, who has been negatively instrumental in both of Gonzaga’s losses. Late-game turnovers abound and are completely out of character for this senior leader.)
3. Games this week
After last Saturday’s college hoopsapolooza (didn’t I tell you about those games?) things calm down a bit this week.
Texas, playing ANOTHER tough road game, head to the frozen tundra of Madison to take on the Badgers of Wisconsin (930 PM EST on ESPN2)
If you have ESPNU, you can see a really nice Midwestern Mid-Major Match-up as Butler faces Xavier at 7 PM
UAB travels north to Louisville to take on the Cardinals at 4PM on ESPN2.
CBS has a game tipping simultaneously with West Virginia at Ohio State.
Monday: A nice doubleheader opens the Big East season as Georgetown faces off with UConn at 7PM on ESPN2 followed by former league foes Cincinnati traveling to Memphis.