1. Which team not in the AP top 10 has the best win this season?
Mitch Light: You could argue that Oakland’s win at Tennessee is the best for a non-top 10 team, but that really isn’t in the spirit of the question. I’ll go with Georgetown, which beat Missouri in Kansas City — basically a home game for the Tigers. I think Mizzou might be a bit overrated (No. 13 AP), but that is still a very good win.
Braden Gall: Probably Oakland. Its brutal early schedule — at Purdue, at West Virginia, at Illinois and Michigan State — finally paid off for the Golden Grizzlies when they went into Knoxville on Tuesday and handed the Tennessee Vols their first loss of the year. Greg Kampe, with 445 career wins, is one of the longest tenured coaches in America and he has a potential NBA player in big man Keith Benson. Benson dropped 26 and 10 on the Vols.
Nathan Rush: UCF’s 57–54 win over Florida could redefine the entire Golden Knights basketball program. In his first season in Orlando, Donnie Jones needed just six games to secure a signature win. Even better, the win came against mentor Billy Donovan. There have been other nice wins from teams outside the top 10 this year, but I’m not sure any were as potentially historic as UCF’s monumental win over in-state big brother Florida.
2. Which team have you changed your opinion on the most — either positively or negatively — since before the season started?
Mitch: Florida. I still think this is a good team and a team that should make the NCAA Tournament, but it looks like the same as last year’s team with the same issues — shaky guard play, inconsistent outside shooting and a lack of depth. The Gators aren’t getting much help from their freshmen, either. Patric Young, a big man ranked among the to 30 recruits, is averaging 3.2 points and 2.9 boards in 15.0 minutes, and swingman Casey Prather is averaging less than 10 minutes per game.
Braden: Florida on the negative side and UConn on the positive. The Gators returned largely intact with an excellent front line and talented backcourt, but Billy D’s group got dominated at home by Ohio State and then lost to a first year coach at UCF. This team still hasn’t won a tourney game since 2007, and until proven otherwise, I am back to being cautious with this team after lots of preseason hype. UConn has the National Player of the Year in Kemba Walker. Center Alex Oriakhi is one of the most improved players in the nation. Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun will have to continue to develop his youngsters if he wants to make a deep tourney run, but no team has surprised more than the Huskies.
Nathan: It’s hard not to pick Connecticut. Although Jim Calhoun has run one of the top programs in the nation for decades, this year’s club was not supposed to be a Final Four contender. But the unreal play of Kemba Walker (28.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.3 spg, 53.3 percent from the field, 88.4 percent from the line) has carried the Huskies to an 8–0 start with impressive wins over Michigan State (70–67) and Kentucky (84–67). Obviously, the real tests will come during Big East play and in a strong non-con schedule that includes Texas (Jan. 8) and Tennessee (Jan. 22). But right now, UConn is playing way above my preseason expectations.
3. Who is the most underrated player in the country?
Mitch: There a lot of candidates, but I will go with Mississippi State swingman Ravern Johnson, who is leading the SEC in scoring with 23.8 points per game. Don’t expect that average to remain that high all season, though. Johnson has been asked to shoulder a large part of the scoring early in the season with big man Renardo Sidney (who is now eligible) and point guard Dee Bost (will play in January) out of the lineup. What makes Johnson’s productive impressive is his efficiency; he is shooting .481 from the floor (while averaging over 16 shots per game) and .472 from 3-point range.
Braden: A recent ESPN player power poll had Wisconsin’s versatile forward Jon Leuer as the No. 7 player in America. He wasn’t anywhere near pre-season All-American status for most publications, but all the 6-10 smooth shooting big man has done so far is average 20 points per game on 51.3 percent shooting. He grabs a team-leading 7.5 boards per game with nearly two blocks and over two assists per contest as well. He is shooting nearly 80 percent from the stripe and 50 percent from long range. With little scoring around him, few teams count on one player more than UW counts on Leuer.
Nathan: If players were stocks, Harrison Barnes would be a Warren Buffett special. He’s a blue-chip who has fallen on hard times and the market has overreacted to a point where the No. 1-ranked incoming freshman in the country has become the most underrated player in the land. The North Carolina rookie is being talked about as if he is a bust. Barnes (11.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 35 percent shooting) hasn’t found his sea legs yet, but I expect him to approach his preseason first-team All-America and No. 1 overall NBA draft pick expectations once he does.
4. Name an off-the-radar team that has been as disappointment. Preferably a team not in a Big Six power conference.
Mitch: Dayton, who we picked fourth in the A-10, jumped out of the gate with a 7–0 start but lost three of its next five games. The slide started with a stunningly lopsided 68-34 loss to rival Cincinnati and continued with a 73-68 loss at home to ETSU. Then after a too-close-for-comfort two-point win over Central Connecticut State, Dayton lost at Old Dominion, 74-71.
Braden: I will go with Gonzaga, if Spokane counts as “off-the-radar?” Honestly, I cannot remember the last time the Bulldogs were under .500 like they are now at 4-5. All five losses are respectable — Kansas St, Notre Dame, Washington State, Illinois and San Diego State — and Elias Harris’ Achilles/shoulder injury has hurt. But Robert Sacre and Steven Gray have played uncharacteristic basketball. Without any qualifiers, however, North Carolina (and its dozen or so McDonald’s All-Americans) is easily the most disappointing team in the nation.
Nathan: Richmond could and should be undefeated right now. The Spiders have pulled off upsets over Purdue (65–54) and at Arizona State (67–61), but have also been upset twice — at Iona (81–77 in 2OT) and at Old Dominion (77–70). Star point guard Kevin Anderson (17.1 ppg, 4 apg, 3.4 rpg, 1.3 spg) had two of his three highest point totals (24 at Iona, 23 at ODU) in those losses. Although an 8–2 start is respectable, Richmond has failed to capitalize on an opportunity to be mentioned among the mid-major powers.
5. Kansas State vs. Florida in Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday. Who wins?
Mitch: Tough call, but I will go with K-State. This isn’t a true road game, but it will obviously be a pro-Gator crowd. Kansas State is 2-0 on the road, with a quality win at Washington State and a victory at Illinois-Chicago in a homecoming game for guard Jacob Pullen. I think the Wildcats’ defense can be the difference; they are holding their opponents to 38.5 percent shooting overall and 31.9 percent from 3-point range. K-State’s biggest issue is on the foul line; they can’t shoot (54.3 percent) and they send the other team to the stripe far too many times.
Braden: Kansas State will win the game, but it won’t be easy. The Wildcats are 345th (out of 346) in free throw percentage at 54.3 percent, so Frank Martin’s bunch can’t get out of its own way at times. The game being in the Sunshine state will help Florida, but only a little. South Florida is Martin’s old stomping ground from, so he will have his guys ready to go.
Nathan: The Gators will have the crowd on its side in this “neutral” site, so I’ll go with Billy Donovan’s inconsistent squad to pull off the upset over K-State. Guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are streak shooters with the ability to get red hot at the right time, while senior big men Vernon Macklin (6-10, 240) and Alex Tyus (6-8, 220) provide matchup nightmares down low. But versatile glue guy Chandler Parsons or athletic true freshman Patric Young will need to step up in order for the Gators to take down a top-10 Wildcats squad.
NEW YORK – There are occasions when Kansas coach Bill Self smiles during a postgame press conference and, at the same time, it seems obvious he could use an entire bottle of Tums to calm his nervous stomach.
Last Tuesday night was one of those times. Self had just watched his Jayhawks commit 22 turnovers while still pulling away for an impressive, 81-68, victory over Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“We’ve got a fun team, but we’re wild. We’ve got to harness some of that,” Self said.
Enter Josh Selby — super recruit to the rescue. At least that is the popular theory. Selby, a freshman combo guard who was the No. 1 ranked player in the final Rivals.com class of 2010, will make his debut Saturday when Kansas welcomes USC to Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. College basketball’s next whiz kid was ordered by the NCAA to sit out the first nine games of the season for accepting improper benefits as a recruit before he signed with Kansas.
The penalty is almost over. Selby is itching to go. Jayhawk Nation gets an early Christmas present, and all eyes are going to be on No. 32.
“It will be as anticipated a home game as we’ve had in years,” Self said, admitting there is an incredible buzz surrounding the USC game. It’s clear Self and his players are excited too. Selby, 6-2 and 183 pounds, is good enough to step in and be a major contributor. The Jayhawks already lead the nation in field goal percentage (55.8), assists (20 per game) and are fifth in scoring (87.3 ppg).
Self has a good team. Tyshawn Taylor, who has been KU’s primary ball handler to this point, agrees the “dumb turnovers” need to go. If only that careless streak could be eliminated.
“Well, Josh is wild too, so he’s going to fit in great,” Self said. “But if you look at our team, who breaks down pressure? Obviously, you need a second guy that can do that. And Josh is the only guy in our program who can run really bad offense and come away with two or three points. Every team needs that.”
Self has been coy, saying he doesn’t even know if Selby will start against USC. That’s just Self’s way of trying to lower expectations, which will be ridiculous either way. The coaching staff knows Selby is a rare talent but it’s also understood he needs time to find his comfort zone during games.
“We want him to fit in, be one of five,” Self said. “He doesn’t have to be ‘the guy.’ We don’t have ‘the guy.’ “
Self says he isn’t worried about chemistry problems. Since this team has already demonstrated a desire to share the ball, that’s probably an honest answer. Self said Taylor, Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed don’t need to play as many minutes as they have been at the guard spots. Sophomore point guard Elijah Johnson, who has had some productive minutes off the bench, could be squeezed out of the rotation.
“Somebody’s going to be the odd man out,” Self said. “I think that (player) could be different, game-to-game.”
Taylor said the Jayhawks aren’t worried about any disruptions to team chemistry.
“Josh is going to be a big part of this team,” Taylor said. “It might take him a little while. It might not. He might come in and be a big impact right from the beginning. I think he’s capable of doing that. He’s been at practice, he knows our plays, and he’s been around. It’s not like he just came to our team.
“I think it’s going to be the same. He does things like we do.”
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Guard Ramone Moore averaged 18.0 minutes and 7.6 points as a sophomore at Temple last season. Those averages have increased to 31.5 minutes and 14.5 points through the first eight games for the Owls this season. The 6-4 product of Philadelphia put together a career game last Thursday as Temple shocked Georgetown, 68-65, handing the Hoyas their first loss of the season. Moore was 12-for-18 from the field and scored a career-high 30 points. Prior to that game, Moore had scored more than 20 points just once with the Owls. “I try not let the big stage faze me,” Moore told the Associated Press. “I’ve always been calm playing basketball. I’ve been doing it my whole life.” In the previous game, a 64-61 victory over Maryland, Moore scored 16 points.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger was limited to 17 points Sunday in an 85-60 victory over Western Carolina. That’s news because three days earlier Sullinger went off for 40 points and 13 rebounds in a 75-64 victory over IUPUI. The Columbus native hit 12- of-17 shots from the field and 16-of-23 free throws. The last Buckeye to score 40 had been Dennis Hopson in 1986 when he tallied 41 against Dayton. Sullinger had missed Ohio State’s shootaround before the game in order to pay respects to one of his favorite uncles at a funeral home.
GAMES OF THE WEEK Monday, Dec. 13 Longwood at Seton Hall
Hard to find many decent games this week until Saturday. It’s time for semester exams. Longwood, an independent from Farmville, Va., continues its road tour of the country, heading to the Prudential Center with a 3-7 record. The Hall, 4-4 and still without injured Jeremy Hazell, scored 104 points in a win at UMass Saturday.
Tuesday, Dec. 14 Oakland at Tennessee
Oakland is 5-5 but gave Michigan State a 77-76 scare on Saturday. The Vols are coming off that impressive 83-76 victory over Pittsburgh of the Big East on Saturday.
Wednesday, Dec. 15
Auburn at South Florida
Wouldn’t it be fun if Cam Newton showed up in uniform for the Tigers against USF? Doesn’t seem likely does it?
Thursday, Dec. 16 Oral Roberts at Missouri
Golden Eagles coach Scott Sutton knows a thing or two about the Big 12. He should have known better than to schedule Oklahoma and Mizzou back-to-back. Oral Roberts lost to the Sooners 73-60 Saturday and will need more than a miracle to win at Mizzou Arena.
Friday, Dec. 17 Tennessee at Charlotte
Vols coach Bruce Pearl loves taking his team on the road and proving his critics wrong. Here’s another chance.
Arizona State at Nevada
Nevada is 2-7. Arizona State just snapped a three-game losing streak by beating Gardner-Webb. Hey, it’s Friday night!
Saturday, Dec. 18 USC at Kansas
Allen Fieldhouse will be full to welcome Josh Selby to the Kansas lineup. But USC will be hyped to welcome transfer Jio Fontan too.
Texas vs. North Carolina
The Tar Heels have losses to Minnesota, Vanderbilt, and Illinois already this season. Roy’s boys could use a win over Texas. But the Longhorns could use this to build their resume as well.
Kansas State vs. Florida
This game is one of the highlights of the week, since both teams are ranked. Thank the Orange Bowl Classic for this matchup.
South Carolina at Ohio State
The Gamecoks are 7-1 with six consecutive wins since losing to Michigan State. But beating the Buckeyes at Value City Arena is a tall order.
Sunday, Dec. 12 Stony Brook at Notre Dame
Steve Pikiell’s Seawolves are struggling offensively, but gaining valuable experience through a demanding schedule. Notre Dame has sharing the ball well. The Irish rank 15th nationally in assists (17.4 per game).
THEY SAID IT
“We’ve played one of the hardest schedules in the nation this year. I’m pretty sure if other teams played the same schedule, they’d be in the same situation probably right now. ... We’ve got to keep fighting.” — Gonzaga’s Elias Harris, after an 83-79 loss at Notre Dame dropped the Bulldogs to 4-5 overall.
“The aggressive team usually gets the advantage, but we were taking it like a sissy and they took it up like men.” — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, after Syracuse crushed the Spartans, 72-58, in the Jimmy V Classic.
“The future can be this year.” –— Louisville coach Rick Pitino, after his Cardinals improved to 8-0 with a 77-69 victory over UNLV.
“When you come to Duke and play for Coach K, it’s always in the back of your mind — what’s coach about to pass next? He’s always about to pass something.” — Duke’s Nolan Smith, after Mike Krzyzewski posted career victory No. 878 and moved within one of North Carolina’s Dean Smith on the all-time list.
“My assistant said we had four freshmen in and a walk-on. That’s not a good mix to come into this situation.” — Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, after an 84-47 loss to Duke in Durham, N.C.
Duke’s Kyrie Irving has suddenly gone from the most exciting freshman in college basketball to the most watched injury of the season. With his foot in a cast and Duke saying Irving is out indefinitely, we are left with two big questions. First, have we seen the last of Irving in a Duke uniform? He has logged just eight games, but that might be it. If he can’t play again this season, there’s nothing holding him back from entering the NBA Draft after the season is over. Irving has already proven himself as a lottery pick. There would be plenty of time in the spring for Irving to hold individual workouts for teams. The second question is how does Duke react? The Blue Devils had shown the ability to attack any defense with Irving in the lineup. Irving gave Duke a dimension few teams have with his ability to break down defenses. Don’t feel too bad for Duke. Mike Krzyzewski is still loaded with talent. The Devils may have to resort back to the way they operated last year. That wasn’t a bad formula.
Victory of the week: Fordham improved to 5-4 with an 84-81 victory over St. John’s Saturday night. It was a good win for the Rams, made better by the fact they rallied from 21 down in the second half. Brenton Butler led the way with 22 points and Marvin Dominique hit the big free throws with 1:31 left. On the flip side, that’s not a good result for coach Steve Lavin, who has a senior-laden team in his first season at St. John’s.
It was a strange week for Memphis. The Tigers played aggressive defense against Kansas and hung with the Jayhawks until halftime of the Jimmy V Classic. Later in the week came the news that leading scorer Wesley Witherspoon will miss five weeks after surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. Then on Sunday junior forward Angel Garcia announced he is leaving Memphis at the end of the semester to play professionally in Spain.
There are a lot of November tournaments we could do without, but thumbs up to the new Champions Classic that will feature Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State from 2011-13. Those four prominent programs will play each other at different neutral sites during the agreement on ESPN. The event begins at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15, 2011 with Duke vs. Michigan State and Kentucky vs. Kansas. Atlanta will host in 2012 at the Georgia Dome. The next season the doubleheader moves to the United Center in Chicago.
Syracuse doesn’t have a true star on its 10-0 team but give a lot of credit to senior forward Rick Jackson, who is averaging 14.0 points and 12.5 rebounds in 34.0 minutes per game. Jackson’s averages are up from 9.7 points and 7.0 rebounds last season. “Rick has been good from day one this year,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He is as good as any inside guy you can ask for. He has been a good rebounder. He doesn’t have help out there and he is taking it upon himself to do a better job.”
Tie Talk: Self and Boeheim brought out the big ties from their closet in for the Jimmy V Classic. Self wore a red-and-blue stripped tie against Memphis. Turned out it was the same one he wore when Kansas defeated the Tigers in the 2008 national championship game. “Yeah, it is,” Self said, “but I didn’t know that when I picked it out.” Boeheim was wearing a Jimmy V brand tie for cancer research, designed by Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. “Rick Pitino paid $10,000 (at the Jimmy V auction) if I would wear this tie,” Boeheim said. “We won, so I’ll probably have to wear it again.”
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken’s web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).
1. You're down two points in the final seconds. You can pick one player in the nation to shoot a wide open three to win the game. Who do you pick?
Mitch Light: Well, there might be better pure shooters out there (Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins and Arkansas’ Rotnei Clarke come to mind), but I will take a seasoned veteran like Jimmer Fredette from BYU. Fredette is shooting a rather ordinary 34.4 percent from three this year, but he shot 44.0 percent as a junior when he averaged 22.1 points per game.
Nathan Rush: It's a toss up between Vanderbilt's John Jenkins and Duke's Seth Curry. I probably would have been 100 percent Jenkins until the sophomore sharpshooter disappeared at the end of Vandy's 85–82 overtime loss at Mizzou — although it's hard to be disappointed by a 23-point night on 5-of-10 shooting from long range. On the other side, Curry was the go-to guy at Liberty before transferring to Duke, so he's used to the pressure. Plus, both his brother, Stephen, and father, Dell, were deadeye shooters with ice water in their veins. Still, when it comes down to an open 3-pointer, I'll go with Jenkins, who I think should take “Reggie Miller fastbreak layup” 3s or any other half-open look he gets from beyond the arc.
Braden Gall: I really wanted to pick Jimmer Fredette from BYU. He has big-game experience, is a veteran and can flat-out shoot the rock. But Vanderbilt's John Jenkins has to be the pick. The Dores’ shooting guard is averaging 19.1 points per game and has made 27 three pointers (on 7.5 attempts per game) already this season. He has a J.J. Reddick-type stroke from the outside that is simply a rare commodity. So pure.
2. What is the best team in the nation that doesn't play in a Big Six power conference?
Mitch: It’s got to be San Diego State. The Aztecs are 9-0 with wins at Gonzaga and at Cal (by 20 points) and home wins over Saint Mary’s and Wichita State. Steve Fisher’s club has a star in sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard and a host of athletic complementary players. SDSU looks to be the best team in a very strong Mountain West Conference.
Nathan: This particular San Diego State squad could probably beat some of Steve Fisher's lesser Michigan teams from the 1990s. Athletic forwards Kawhi Leonard (16.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg), Billy White (12.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Malcolm Thomas (9.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg) give the Aztecs a powerful frontline — Leonard is 6-7, 225 pounds; White is 6-8, 235 pounds; Thomas is 6-9, 220 pounds. Meanwhile, senior point guard D.J. Gay (11.3 ppg, 3.6 apg), Santa Clara transfer sharpshooter James Rahon (9.1 ppg, 14-of-26 from three) and Chase Tapley (8.4 ppg) have all the bases covered in the backcourt. San Diego State's roster is definitely loaded, but I worry about the team's 63.4 percent shooting from the free throw line. That must improve if the Aztecs hope to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Braden: Losses to Cal and Texas A&M made for a slow start for the Temple Owls, but they have bounced back with a win over Maryland and led for most of the way in a big resume win against Georgetown Thursday night. A school-best 9-0 start for San Diego State makes it a good choice as the Aztecs have wins over Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, Wichita State and Cal. BYU and Memphis are off to good starts with some okay wins, and both have some serious talent around the perimeter. However, a 9-0 UNLV team with wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech has been the most impressive. Five players are averaging at least 9.1 points per game and the Runnin' Rebs are winning by an average margin of 19.3 points. A win over Louisville on Saturday should hopefully justify my pick.
3. Which new coach is doing the best job?
Mitch: Donnie Jones has UCF off to a 7-0 start, highlighted by a 65-59 win over South Florida and a 57-54 victory over Florida and his former boss, Billy Donovan. Jones inherited a solid nucleus from Kirk Speraw, but these same players went 15-17 last season. Jones turned Marshall into a winner in three seasons in Huntington and figures to have UCF competing for C-USA titles in the near future.
Nathan: UCF's Donnie Jones could make a solid case that his team is the best in the state of Florida — following statement wins over South Florida (65–59) and Florida (57–54). If UCF takes down Miami on Dec. 18, the Sunshine State will be black and gold. Jones was Billy Donovan's right-hand man at Florida before coaching Marshall for three years. He's off to a great 7–0 start at UCF, thanks in large part to Marcus Jordan, who is averaging a team-high 16.4 points on 53.1 percent shooting from the field, 85 percent from the free throw line and 48.1 percent from downtown. If Jones' Knights keep it up, they'll be a C-USA Cinderella come March.
Braden: I will go with Donnie Jones at UCF and his 7-0 start. Yes, there are a few West Florida wins mixed in, but beating your former mentor and boss — as the Knights did when they topped the Billy-D and the Florida Gators, 57-54, last week — was especially sweet for Coach Jones.
4. Which new coach is doing the worst job?
Mitch: It’s been a rough start at for Tony Barbee at Auburn, where the Tigers are 3-4 with home losses to UNC Asheville, Samford, Campbell and Jacksonville, but he inherited arguably the weakest roster of any Big Six conference team. It’s also been a struggle for Tad Boyle at Colorado, but my answer is Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest (who came from Colorado). The Demon Deacons are 5-3 and have lost three game homes, to Stetson by 10, VCU by 21 and Winthrop by nine.
Nathan: The "Big Nasty" Corliss Williamson is off to an ugly start at Central Arkansas. Granted, there isn't must to work with, but Scottie Pippen's alma mater is 2–6 with a 40-point loss to Missouri State and an unsportsmanlike 71-point win over lowly Champion Baptist. Outgoing coach Rand Chappell went 104-104 over seven seasons and, for better or worse, Williamson brought the spotlight to Conway, Ark., due to his local celebrity status as a McDonald's All-American from Russellville (Ark.) High School; an SEC Player of the Year, 1994 national champion and NCAA Tournament MOP at Arkansas; and an 11-year NBA veteran. I fully expect Williamson, who had never had a coaching job until this year, to improve with experience. But he's off to a slow start.
Braden: Can I go with the Illinois equipment manager? If he/she is eligible? However, being neither a coach nor necessarily new, I would say the women's ball fiasco isn't exactly getting to the heart of the question. I know not much was expected of Auburn, but Tony Barbee's start — three straight losses to UNC-Ashville, Samford and Campbell — has to be one of the worst starts to a coaching career at an SEC school. Two narrow wins over Middle Tennessee and Arkansas-Pine Bluff packaged with another bad loss to Jacksonville, and I immediately accepted my scholarship offer to play back-up shooting guard for the Tigers.
5. Will Gonzaga make the NCAA Tournament if it does not win the WCC Tournament?
Mitch: My guess is no, but the Zags (4-4 at this point) still have several opportunities to pick up quality wins, beginning this weekend when they travel to Notre Dame. They still play Baylor in Dallas and host Xavier, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and Memphis (though I’m not sure beating Wake would be a quality win). Three of Gonzaga’s four losses have come against top-15-type teams in San Diego State, Kansas State and Illinois, but at some point Mark Few’s club will have to start beating good teams. The best win to date is a 66-63 neutral court victory over Marquette.
Nathan: After early season losses to San Diego State (79–76), Kansas State (81–64), Illinois (73–61) and Washington State (81–59), the 4–4 Bulldogs have plenty of ground to make up if they hope to make the Big Dance as an at-large bid. Luckily, the loaded schedule will provide plenty of opportunities, with games against Notre Dame (Dec. 11), Baylor (Dec. 18), Xavier (Dec. 22), Oklahoma State (Dec. 31), Wake Forest (Jan. 2) and Memphis (Feb. 5). Right now, however, I'd say Mark Few's Zags will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 if they don't win the WCC Tournament.
Braden: Certainly 4-4 is not what Zags fans were anticipating for the 2010-11 campaign. But the losses are great — if there is such a thing. They lost a close one to SDSU and were handled with relative ease by elite Kansas State and Illinois squads. The blowout loss at Washington State is concerning. But as usual, an incredibly difficult schedule could help rebuild the resume. Non-conference games against Xavier, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, Memphis, Baylor and Notre Dame offer plenty of opportunity to prove their tourney stock. I think with a veteran guard in Steven Gray, a dominate post man in Robert Sacre and a rising, versatile superstar in Elias Harris (who is expected back this weekend), the Bulldogs will have enough non-conference clout to earn an automatic bid should they falter in the WCC Tournament.