College Hoops: 5 Burning Questions
Good wins? Bad losses? Breakout sophomores? The editors discuss.
By: Mitch Light | 11/18/10, 10:09 PM EST
Athlon's Mitch Light, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions in college basketball each week.
1. What result from the first week-and-a-half of the season has surprised you the most?
Mitch Light: Kennesaw State’s 80-63 win over Georgia Tech has to be at the top of the list. The Owls jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first half and were never really threatened. I applaud the Yellow Jackets for a playing an Atlantic Sun team on the road, but you have to win that game if you are Georgia Tech.
Nathan Rush: Butler’s miserable showing during an 88–73 loss at Louisville was a shocker. With Gordon Hayward off to the NBA, I didn’t expect the Bulldogs to make another run to the title game this year. But I didn’t expect Brad Stevens’ club to look so sloppy and overwhelmed by a talented but unproven U of L squad. Scrappy center Matt Howard and veteran guard Shelvin Mack combined to score 48 of the team’s 73 points, but no one else showed up. Coach Stevens emptied his bench to give 14 different players floor time. Butler did not look “G-double-O-D, Good” at the new KFC Yum Center. The Bulldogs looked surprisingly bad.
Braden Gall: Georgia Tech’s 17-point loss to a Kennesaw State team that was seven games under .500 last season. Wait, did you say biggest surprise? Never mind, that is actually not a surprise at all.
2. What has been the most impressive win this season?
Mitch: The easy answer is Ohio State’s big win over Florida in Gainesville. That was very impressive. But I will throw another one out there — Western Kentucky 98, Saint Joseph’s 70. The Hawks are very young and will struggle to win games this season, but WKU made a strong statement by winning on the road by 28 points. Oklahoma transfer Juan Patillo scored 17 points in his debut for the Hilltoppers, but the real story was the play of Sergio Kerusch, who poured in a game-high 31 on 6-of-8 shooting from the 3-point stripe.
Nathan: In a bizarro BCS bowl on the hardwood, Ohio State crushed Florida, 93-75. Bruising freshman big man Jared Sullinger had 26 points, on 13-of-17 shooting, and 10 rebounds against the Gators’ formidable frontline. The overwhelming strength of “Big Sully” turned a battle of top-10 teams into a lopsided mismatch. The Buckeyes, especially Sullinger, appear to be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Braden: Easily the Ohio State Buckeyes going into the O-Dome and rolling over a much bigger Florida team. The Buckeye guards might be the most athletic and versatile set in the nation — and they also might have the best post player in the nation in Sullinger. Ohio State, picked third in the Big Ten, ran away with the second half against a team that was picked to win the SEC.
3. What has been the worst loss? .
Mitch: Richmond should be a factor in the very competitive A-10 this season, but the Spiders suffered a bad loss Thursday night, losing 81-77 in double-overtime on the road to an Iona team that was 0-3 with losses to Kent State, Cleveland State and Bryant. If the Spiders are on the bubble in March, this game could come back to haunt them.
Nathan: Midterm election season trends continued when the President’s brother-in-law, Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, fell to regional “rival” Seattle University, 83–80. The Redhawks were winless — losing to Maryland, San Francisco and Cal Poly by an average margin of 22 points — heading into their matchup with the Beavers. But former UCLA point guard and current Seattle coach Cameron Dollar was able to guide Elgin Baylor’s alma mater to a 12-point second-half come-from-behind upset at Key Arena. As a result, Robinson’s approval rating is falling fast in Corvallis.
Braden: LSU, Auburn, Texas Tech, Colorado, DePaul, Wake Forest, Iowa, Rutgers, and South Florida have all lost games that they maybe should have won — but not much is expected from most of those teams. I go back to the 13-20 (last year) Owls of Kennesaw State drubbing the Yellow Jackets. I know not a lot is expected of Paul Hewitt’s bunch, but no one does less with more than Georgia Tech.
4. What under-the-radar freshman are you most interested in watching this season?
Light: Since I have a feeling my colleague Nathan is going to pick South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington, I will go with Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. The Buckeyes will be in great shape if Craft, a true point guard, can step in and run the team (like he did in the win against Florida) and allow William Buford to play off the ball. The Buckeyes don’t need much scoring from Craft, though he is capable; they simply need him to run the show and get the ball to the right people in the right places.
Nathan: South Carolina point guard Bruce Ellington has already made a splash with 22 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals while holding his own against Michigan State star Kalin Lucas. Although Ellington is still a raw talent, the AAAA state championship winning quarterback and South Carolina Mr. Football finalist — who lost to all-world tailback Marcus Lattimore last year — should continue to improve now that he is focusing solely on basketball. I think Ellington will contend for SEC Freshman of the Year, as the Gamecocks are counting on him to help replace Devan Downey’s leadership, playmaking and scoring.
Braden: There are almost too many to name. I am very interested to see key point guards contributing serious minutes on potential NCAA teams. Phil Pressey at Missouri debuted last night with nine points in 22 minutes against Western Illinois and could be asked to play a key role with Big 12 title hopes. Trae Golden is Bruce Pearl’s back-up at a serious position of concern for the Vols. The youngster already came through with two clutch free throws late in the Missouri State game this week. Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser is starting at shooting guard for the injured Rob Wilson and debuted with 21 points, nine boards and three assists on Sunday. Both Tennessee and the Badgers have conference title hopes and backcourt concerns. With Kevin Pittsnogle comparisons running rampant in Ann Arbor, it should be fun to see what type of impact the smooth shooting 6-9 Evan Smotrycz will have. Big man Josh Smith at UCLA will be intriguing to watch as well. However, all pale in comparison to Jared Sullinger at Ohio State — who is simply a beast!
5. Give me a sophomore you think might emerge as a star this season?
Mitch: I’ll go with Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, who is off to a strong start despite his surprising struggles from the 3-point line. Jenkins, who shot 48.3 percent from three as a freshman, is 1-of-11 from the arc after two games. But he is averaging 16.0 points per game thanks to his strong shooting from 2-point range (11-of-16) and the foul line (7-of-8). Don’t be surprised if Jenkins averages around 17 or 18 points per game.
Nathan: Miami combo guard Durand Scott averaged 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals in 33 games as a freshman out of New York City powerhouse Rice High School. Scott showed flashes of greatness late in the year, scoring 29 points at North Carolina and leading the Hurricanes to the ACC Tournament title game, where they lost to eventual national champion Duke, 77–74. This year, Scott should establish himself as one of the top all-around guards in the ACC.
Braden: Maryland’s Jordan Williams. Texas’ Jordan Hamilton. Northwestern's Drew Crawford. Duke’s Mason Plumlee. UCLA’s Tyler Honeycutt. Any sophomore from Indiana. But I will go a little off the beaten path and tab Villanova point guard Maalik Wayns to turn in an NBA Lottery-pick type season. Jay Wright has this team poised for another deep tourney run with Wayns being the difference between the Sweet 16 and the Final Four. After averaging 6.8 points and 1.3 assists as a freshman, he is off to a great start in 2010. Through three games, he is averaging 14.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game — including a 12-assist performance Wednesday night against Boston U.
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