First Take: The Best In The Land
That’s right, at the moment, it’s Texas.
Texas wasn’t supposed to be this good, this fast.
With a backcourt comprised of talented, but inexperienced freshman and a center that had never consistently played extended minutes, the Longhorns despite being a popular early Final Four pick, seemed like they wouldn’t reach that level until March actually rolled around. Back-to-back wins over North Carolina and most recently Michigan State show that not only has Rick Barnes’ team hit its stride a couple of months earlier than expected, but they are the best team in the country right now. That’s right Kansas fans, the best.
The beauty of college basketball is the polls are fluid and ever changing just like the teams and players themselves. The Jayhawks have more experience and a trio of stud players who can match up with any in the nation, but Texas can match them for depth and out due them in athleticism. To be fair, Kansas hasn’t had the opportunity to take on the elite competition that Texas has this season, which goes back to my point about the polls being constantly in a state of flux, but based on the bodies of work right now, my money is with the hook ‘em horns.
While we’re talking about current rankings right now, Damion James is the best frontcourt player in the Big 12 – sorry Cole Aldrich. Forget that he just established a new career rebound record at Texas and that he will eclipse the all time Big 12 mark in a few short weeks, the senior posted averages of 24 points and 14 rebounds in his teams wins over UNC and Michigan State. If that isn’t a good week, I don’t know what is.
Kansas for their part looked solid enough in taking care of Cal 84-69, but didn’t really put on the jets until late in the game. The Jayhawks were devastatingly balanced, putting all five starters in double figures and recording 27 assists on 33 made field goals. This was a quieter game for stellar freshman Xavier Henry, but he was still impressive to watch with the basketball. I know I’m by far and away not the first person to say this, but with the kind of numbers he has put up and with the efficiency he has been doing it, how is this kid not getting as much recognition as John Wall? I know he isn’t the same caliber of athlete, but c’mon.
I talked about UTEP as one of the teams in Conference-USA that could unseat Memphis this season, last night UAB further proved that it will be the other. The Blazers improved to 11-1 (7-0 at home) with a 10-point win over #16 Butler thanks to a balanced offensive attack and a hounding defensive effort that limited the Bulldogs to just 34 percent shooting on the night. Given that Memphis won last night as well behind a near triple-double from Elliot Williams (20 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists), C-USA is shaping up to be one of the more interesting conference races of the season as we venture onward into 2010.
Florida is proving to be a conundrum right now – perhaps a late blooming version of Portland. Remember, the Pilots were everyone’s mid-major darling the first week of the season with some impressive wins, but have officially been whipped off the national scene in the weeks since they fell into everyone’s good graces. The Gators, originally considered a team that would land somewhere between 25-35 in most polls, jumped out of the gate with an 8-0 start and a win over Michigan State. Since then, Florida has dropped three straight, of which the Syracuse defeat isn’t bad, but Richmond and then last night’s L at home against South Alabama leaves me questioning whether or not Billy Donovan’s group finishes in the top three of the SEC, let alone ending the season with a national ranking.
Speaking of ranked teams that were/are floundering, it looks like Washington may have pulled itself out of the gutter somewhat with a win over Texas A&M last night. Unfortunately it had to come on a night when the Aggies lost senior guard Derrick Roland for the season due to a gruesome broken leg. It was a sad event to watch unfold with Roland’s teammates visibly shaken by the event as he lay on the floor being tended to by the training staff of both teams. You knew right away it was bad when head coach Mark Turgeon ran onto the floor while play was still happening because he saw how severe the injury was. Roland suffered a fracture of both his right tibia and fibula and was immediately rushed to the hospital to undergo surgery to repair the leg. Obviously, our prayers are with him for a speedy and full recovery.
The BYU/Nevada match up turned into everything I hoped it would be and then some. In a ridiculous 110-104 win for the Courgars, each team had three players go for 20+ points and one player each top 30. You want to talk about a defensive minded coach’s worst nightmare: both teams shot 46 percent from beyond the arc, with BYU hitting 63 percent of its field goal attempts and Nevada connecting on 59 percent. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned Mountain West/WAC barnburner is there?
The single biggest surprise team of the season six weeks in, I bet you can’t guess it. How about Army? The Black Knights, who fired their head coach right before the season began, have jumped out of the gate to a 9-2 start after taking down New Hampshire last night. Their only losses have come on the road, at VMI and Buffalo (I’ll let the first one slide) and all with a roster that is devoid of anyone scoring more than 13 ppg. Things can certainly change once the Patriot League schedule gets underway, but with three more non-conference games ahead against Southern Methodist, Portland and Brown, a couple of wins combine with a solid effort in league player and we could be talking about a 20-win season.
Well it’s hump day, so there’s no better way to spend your night than watching Mississippi visit West Virginia at 7:30 ET. I’d like to say the Mountaineers will be on their guard after a close call at Cleveland State over the weekend, but I have yet to see Devin Ebanks play remotely close to what the preseason expectations were for him. The only other games broadcast nationally tonight pit Illinois against Missouri in a game that screams “One Of Us Will Be An At-Large 10 Seed In March” and a North Carolina State team that isn’t as good as their 8-2 record against an Arizona team that might be worse than their 5-5 standing. If you really want words to live by for tonight though, rummage around the internet for any kind of video feed that might show you the Charlotte vs Old Dominion contest. What could be better than one of the early front runners in the A-10 hitting the road to battle the CAA preseason favorite? Well for tomorrow night, not much. Remember, the Monarchs took down Georgetown over the weekend and Rick Pitino is still wincing from the beat down the 49ers put on Louisville a couple of weeks ago.