Dec. 16, 2004
By Brian Curtis
Senior Editor, CSTV
This is the time of year that I love. Well, not so much as the bowl games after New Year's Day or as that Sunday in March when the hoops brackets are announced. I love the middle of December because it's when I make the transition from college football to college basketball, and even manage to get some of both. So we'll hold off on some final football thoughts until January. Now, for the roundball...
The first month of the season has taught us a lot--well, not really. We knew going into the season which teams would be good. We knew that Carolina was loaded and it was only a matter of keeping Rashad McCants' head in the game; we knew that Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks were deep and experienced; we knew that Wake Forest's backcourt with Chris Paul and Justin Gray would be tough as we knew that Dee Brown and Deron Williams at Illinois could be the best. So what have the first few weeks told us?
Well, maybe some pundits underestimated the Illini. I had them in my Final Four picks a few weeks back, but I didn't think they could rise to #1 so early in the season. Of course, destroying the then #1 team on national television helps. Their win showed us they are good and perhaps Wake is not as good as the hype. Don't get me wrong, the Demon Deacons will still go far, but that loss badly exposed some major gaps in their game. As for Illinois, the key to its success this year will not be Brown and Williams, but the big man, James Augustine. Augustine still needs work but if he goes down, Bruce Weber has a problem.
As for the others...Carolina's loss to Santa Clara in the Pete Newell Challenge was clearly an aberration. They were without their heart and soul, Raymond Felton, and Santa Clara had already played three games. Clearly, Roy Williams gave them a talking to because the Tar Heels have looked unbeatable since then. They rolled in Maui and crushed all non-conference foes, including Indiana (who, by the way, doesn't look good.)
Oklahoma State looks very good and, with five veterans, they know how to win.
Paul Hewitt's club at Georgia Tech just keeps on winning. They've risen to #3 in the nation playing fundamental basketball. Jarrett Jack looks ready to explode. Now they have to get through the cruel ACC. Their best win so far was over Michigan. Look to the New Year's Day clash with Kansas.
Let's talk about the Rick Majerus to USC thing. First of all, I don't completely buy the Majerus line that USC would be the only school that he would go back on the sidelines for. Yes, it was on his short list, but this is a guy who wants to coach, and surely there are other jobs he would consider. Now the interesting part. How does this work? I mean, he won't start coaching until the 2004-05 season is over, but what about the next four months? He cannot act as a representative of the Trojans in any way. He can't be out promoting them, he can't be meeting with high schoolers, it's like he won't even exist. Ah, but he will. The current players know it, interim coach Jim Saia knows it, and so will potential recruits. This is an awkward situation for everyone. Why couldn't there have been a private talk between Majerus and USC, an agreement that he would be the next coach, and an announcement in April. Yes, the word may have gotten out, but it would be better than this.
One of the more difficult jobs belongs to new St. John's coach Norm Roberts. A longtime assistant to Bill Self, Roberts helped Self at Kansas, Illinois, Tulsa and Oral Roberts. Now he has his own program, and it's from the bottom up. "I've been fortunate to be with teams in the past with a lot of experience," the coach told me, "and this is a young team. I need a lot of patience." The start of the season has not been great, with losses to St. Francis, Niagara, Illinois State ands Hofstra. The bright spot? The 75-65 win over Virginia Tech. "That was one in which we competed all game. There were peaks and valleys but we competed. We can build off of that." Daryll Hill leads the way with 17.6 points per game and he is one of three players averaging in double figures. It's going to take some time for the Red Storm. Roberts is an excellent recruiter and will lock up top New York talent to stock the shelves left bare by Mike Jarvis. He'll get it done there.
Sean Banks gets suspended from the Memphis team. Do you think he would have been if they were 9-0 instead of 5-4? It's a relatively easy two-week stretch ahead so perhaps they can stay afloat while he sits.
Duke can play outstanding basketball, but I still don't see a lot from Shavlik Randolph. He's in there 23 minutes per game. As for Shelden Williams, he's applying better but his assist to turnover ratio of 1 to 3.6 is awful. Will somebody please put a hand in J.J. Redick's face? I mean, smother the guy. He's that good.
When I was at Atlantic 10 Media Day two months ago, every coach I spoke with told me that George Washington was the cream of the crop and should run away with the conference. They said this to me on camera and off. GW coach Karl Hobbs seemed to be impressed when I told him, but he's not dumb. He knew what he had. The veteran 6-1 team has huge wins over Michigan State and Maryland after an early loss to Wake Forest. Seven players are averaging at least 20 minutes per game. They could be a legit Elite Eight team.
What about Steve Alford's great start with Iowa? At 8-1, the Hawkeyes look good with an inside and outside presence. Their run in Maui, with wins over Louisville and Texas, gave them confidence. The non-conference slate has not been that difficult, but the Big Ten should be interesting. Jeff Horner is playing great. He's leading the team in scoring and shooting 50% from the floor.
Florida State? Oh boy. Losses to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (OK, they're pretty good), Kent State, TCU and Florida International. They have the talent to be better than 4-4.
I had a chance to be at the Rutgers-Princeton game last week. The Tigers are fun to watch with everyone on the floor launching threes.
Jason Fraser at Villanova is improving after so many medical setbacks. If he stays healthy, he could be a force by February.
The NCAA brackets come out in just 12 weeks, one week after the expected arrival of my first child. Talk about March Madness.
Brian Curtis serves as an analyst and insider in all of CSTV's football programming and is CSTV's Senior Editor. To ask Brian a question or comment on his column, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Brian's latest insiders' book, Every Week A Season, on sale now at all major bookstores and online.
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