by Cub Buenning
This past week, Cub Scouts took the opportunity to immerse itself in as much of the college basketball available through the television airwaves. In just the first few days, we all learned that our projected drop in the Pac-10 was going to be apparent from the word, ’GO.’ Four of the conference’s top five teams have already been beaten by inferior opponents; the Trojans of Southern Cal did a double dip by getting punked by Big 12 “middle of the roader” Missouri on Sunday evening. Now that all teams are under way with a couple games under their proverbial belts, more can be ascertained.
1. The Mid Majors are here to stay.
The teams from the lesser-known conferences have already been making noise and have made it known that they will be heard from later this spring. (I will use the ESPN Top 25 here only for a reference point of the relevancy.) Gonzaga University has spent the season in the Top 10, a supposed first for a school of its size. Xavier and Davidson are also included in the Top 25, making it three schools from outside the “BCS” conferences. St. Mary’s, Virginia Commonwealth, Mercer, and a cast of others are nipping at the polls’ “heals” and must be considered worthy of attention come tournament time.
The CAA is top-heavy with four teams that could vie for the title and “The Valley” (MVC) is back in form with champion Drake, along with the strong-as-ever pair of Creighton and Southern Illinois. Everyone familiar with the college game is excited in preparation for another tournament run by Siena. The Saints—which return the bulk of the team that took down Vanderbilt in last year’s first round–will be testing themselves from the start of the year with a very challenging schedule which includes Kansas, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh.
(Cub Scouts will make the assumption here that there are a couple teams that would figure in this conversation that have been neglected.)
2. The Beasts of the Big East are for real.
Louisville, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Marquette, West Virginia, Georgetown, Syracuse, and Villanova have all been impressive early in the season, keeping clean sheets after one week. Unlike in college football, the difference, or style of the win is irrelevant in the terms of the selection committee come March (the only ranking that matters in college basketball). Getting wins under your belt before the grind of this conference might be more important than the actual head-to-head battles themselves. Luckily, this group of teams has not been too adventurous with their scheduling; most of the teams will only face real opposition in one of the early season tournaments. Throw in Seton Hall’s wins over USC and Virginia Tech and those rumors of ten or eleven bids might not be all that far fetched.
3. Memphis might miss Chris Douglas-Roberts more than Derrick Rose.
This was something I was thinking about while watching CDR get bench splinters during the NBA’s first couple weeks. I think the world of both of these guys as players (I had Rose as the top pick all year and Douglas-Roberts was a lottery pick in my estimation) but what is currently left and new at Memphis has not been able to replace the departures of these two guys (and Joey Dorsey, to some extent, as well). CDR was the top scorer on last year’s Tiger team, that was one Mario Chalmers (a guy I wasn’t high on, but glad to see doing well, anyway) deep-three away from a national championship, and Douglas-Roberts’ scoring and aggressive nature is obviously missing from this year’s team. Granted they will still win 25 games and get a top seed (1-5) for the tourney, but the players have looked lost without someone to take the ball over (both physically and figuratively) at times in games. That part of Rose is missed, but much of his ball handling and distribution is being picked up by former starter, junior Willie Kemp and senior Antonio Anderson is even picking up that slack. Tyreke Evans is not ready to be a dominate college player (like CDR was) and what Head Coach John Calipari’s team lacks was exposed during their recent weekend loss to Xavier. That and they missed half of their thirty free throw attempts.
4. Blake Griffin and Stephen Curry are as advertised and both will be great professional players.
This pair of All-American “shoo-ins” was already a part of possibly one of the best college games of the season, when they saddled a few other monster performances around that 82-78 thrilling Sooner victory. In the games leading up to and after the 25-point, 21-rebound outing in that epic win, Griffin went for 35 and 21, 24 and 18, and a measly looking 20 and 19. He is averaging a robust 26 and 20, while shooting 75 percent from the floor and getting three steals a night, to boot. Most of his opponents have lacked that true size that will slow down his numerical domination, but make no mistake that more of the same should be expected for this expected no. 1 pick in next June’s NBA Draft.
The nation’s leading scorer, Curry, on the other hand, got a career high 44 points in that loss in Norman, but has also raised his shooting percentage by three points from a year ago (and still at 43 percent from long-range,) all while dropping nine assists a night, good for fourth in the land. Much has been made of whether Curry can make it at the next level, but rest assured this kid will play major, long-career minutes in the NBA. The quickness of his release can only be rivaled by Ray Allen. Yes, the kid needs to bulk up (one more year of our favorite weight room/cafeteria) but his playing ability and ease on the court are hard to ignore at first glance. He can play the game, shoot better than most EVER, and has the game’s quickest release to go with a high basketball IQ.
5. College basketball is still more exciting than the NBA.
Sorry, but that is tough news for most of y’all to read, but it’s true. I will spare you the larger picture angle of my above statement and give you just some quick snapshots.
— In the first week of the season, there was a half-court buzzer beater to win a game. The game, already in overtime, between Xavier and Virginia Tech was tied with just over ten seconds remaining. Va. Tech worked for a good shot and when a mid-range jumper went off the rim, Hokie forward, Jeff Allen tipped in the miss for a two-point lead with just three ticks remaining. When the ball was inbounds to a guy that hadn’t made a shot all night, Dante Jackson did what came natural, took a couple dribbles, pulled up from half-court and banked in the game winner. Two teams surely to be fighting for tournament births come March, already scrapping and fighting for quality wins in November.
— The fact that all teams in the L are supposedly of the highest quality means that few games can ever be considered “upsets.” The Playoffs, based on its format and innate competitiveness allows for that to occur, which largely leads me to being an “all-season” college guy and a relatively predominately post-season professional-type. Already this year, there have been wins by Portland State over Washington, UAB over Arizona, Xavier over Memphis, and Mercer over Alabama. These teams come into some of these games and play their hearts out and hope for one night of glory. This reason alone makes the college game a more enjoyable watch for us at Cub Scouts. Very little downtime (which riddles the pro game, often during late first/early second and third/forth quarter periods of game) makes most of the games stockpiled with runs, consistent effort, and ripe for exciting finishes.
Have there been any “upsets” in the NBA this year? Again, this won’t happen until a sevent seed takes down a second seed in the first round of the playoffs. The college game gives us these slices of David vs. Goliath on an almost nightly basis.
— The actual location that most of these games are taking place. Are you kidding me with this? A week long hoop-party in Puerto Rico? A late fall round-ball retreat to the Hawaiian Islands? Right about now, some of these NBA rookies are looking at their ninth hotel in two weeks and might even forget for a second where they are shacked up for the night. The NBA grind at this point in the season is just becoming a reality for the young bucks of the league.
(Before this morning, I had also written a paragraph about how there were no good finishes in the NBA and that someone like Derrick Rose probably wishes he was with Memphis in the Caribbean as opposed to being in the middle of the Bulls’ infamous Circus, seven-game road-trip. I had mentioned that instead of winning all the time, he was a part of a struggling team that was about to get beat down in the SLC by one of the League’s best home teams.
*** As most of you know, however, the Bulls snapped the Jazz 14-game home-winning streak which dated back to last spring, with a buzzer-beating 22-footer by Larry Hughes to steal a one-point win***
So, it appears that the college season is going to be another competitive (there are at least a dozen teams that truly have a shot) and exciting year to follow. Cub Scouts would like to apologize to the fans of the Big Ten, ACC, and SEC as the previews just didn’t happen. Hours of “pen and paper” work has gone for naught, but trust that those teams and players will be covered over the course of the year. The Friday column that appeared last week will become the norm now that we are knee deep in action, requiring the two posts each week (Tues./Fri.)
Tonight’s college games are highlighted by a marquee match-up between Texas and Notre Dame, two programs with realistic Final Four aspirations. That game tips at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, with a nice little nightcap at 10 p.m. ET on the deuce with Kansas and Syracuse.
Check Cub Buenning’s scouting website for weekly player reports. Many players highlighted in Cub Scouts are thoroughly covered on the site.