Happy Monday, Hoopheads. Here are my weekly Hoop Thoughts to get your week started off right:
* One of the reservations I had about Kentucky going into the season concerns Demarcus Cousins’ maturity. I still have those doubts (he clearly lost control of his emotions during the win over North Carolina), but the team is not as dependent on Cousins as I anticipated. Yes, they could use his production, but John Calipari has plenty of other big men (Patrick Patterson, Perry Stevenson and Daniel Orton) he can rotate through the post. Physically, Cousins is a monster, but emotionally he is still a kid. This team will be better if Calipari has the luxury to bring him along slowly.
* One thing about Norm Roberts’ teams at St. John’s: No matter what their record or what the scoreboard says, they always play really, really hard.
* We’re about a month away from learning just how good Duke really is, because that’s how long it will take freshman center Mason Plumlee, who just returned after missing four weeks with a broken wrist, to get up to speed.
* I hate to say it because he’s such a good guy, but it’s going to be very, very hard for Jeff Lebo to survive at Auburn. The Tigers lost at home to Troy on Friday to fall to 4-4. Needless to say they could use a win over Virginia tonight.
* I originally thought the speculation that the Pac 10 might only get two teams into the NCAA tournament was silly, but it sure is tough to come up with three who deserve to be in the field. Because the teams have done so poorly in nonconference games, it will be hard for them to improve their RPI once conference play begins.
* Red flag alert: Texas is shooting 62.2 percent from the foul line, which is ranked 302nd in the U.S.
* Let me tell you, Clemson is not going to get over that loss to Illinois easily. You just don’t forget blowing a 23-point lead at home. Somewhere down the road, the Tigers are going to amass a big lead in an important game and wonder in the back of their minds if they’re going to have another pratfall. You can also be sure opponents will know that no lead is insurmountable against them.
* I’m still waiting for Cole Aldrich to break out and have a really big scoring game. So far his season high is 18 points against Memphis. He only scored 7 points on 1 field goal against UCLA Sunday night.
* I think people may be overstating the significance of Florida transfer Jai Lucas becoming eligible for Texas this month. Lucas is a decent point guard and the Longhorns are fortunate to have him after losing Varez Ward for the season. Keep in mind, however, that there’s a reason players transfer. Lucas left Gainesville because he couldn’t beat out the players there for playing time, and there are still a lot of really good guards in that program.
* I will now contradict myself and direct your attention to another transfer who is about to become eligible at Cincinnati. Ibrahima Thomas is a 6-11 junior from Senegal who transferred from Oklahoma State. Bearcats coach Mick Cronin told me that despite Thomas’s size, he is far more comfortable on the perimeter than in the paint, so that’s where Cronin will play him.
* Tough break for Georgia Tech losing Iman Shumpert for three weeks because of a knee injury. The Jackets were already suspect in the backcourt, so this will make it even harder for them to get the ball to Derrick Favors where he can score. Favors does not yet have a polished offensive game, so he really needs a point guard who can set him up properly.
* Good news for UCLA finally getting freshman Tyler Honeycutt back into the lineup. Honeycutt, a 6-9 freshman forward whose slight build will remind you of Tayshaun Prince, was totally inactive over the summer recovering from back surgery, and then he missed the first six games because of a fractured tibia. Honeycutt played 19 minutes against Kansas Sunday night. I don’t know how much impact he will have this season, but he is by far the Bruins’ best freshman, and the sooner he gets going on his development, the better things will be for UCLA.
* I wouldn’t read too much into Louisville’s loss at home against Charlotte. The Cardinals were playing without three guards who sat out with minor injuries (Peyton Siva, Preston Knowles and Jerry Smith), so their defense was nonexistent. The bigger question is why Samardo Samuels can’t get more than 6.6 rebounds per game. (He only had four against Charlotte.) I asked Rick Pitino that question on Sunday night, and he told me Samuels’s lack of explosiveness prevents him from being a good repeat jumper. “He didn’t rebound well in high school either,” Pitino said. Until Samuels remedies this, it’s hard to imagine him a good pro, much less entering the draft next spring.
* Don’t look now, but Herb Pope has been putting up some pretty good numbers at Seton Hall – especially on the boards, where he is averaging 11.2 rebounds per game (to go along with 13.3 points). The Pirates have been staying local and playing weak competition, so we won’t know until they face Temple at home on Dec. 19 if they’re for real. But some NBA scouts who have been to their practices say that Pope still shows a lot of potential.
* I kind of like Miami, but Dwayne Collins needs to learn to play with a lot more fire. He was horrible in the loss at BC Sunday night: 4 points and 1 rebound in 18 minutes.
* Big Ten fans can chortle all they want about winning this year’s challenge over the ACC, but keep in mind that Georgia Tech, which was picked to finish fourth in the conference in the preseason, did not participate because the ACC has one more team than the Big Ten.
* Arizona lost at Oklahoma Sunday night to drop its fourth game out of its last five. All of those losses have been respectable so it’s not impossible for them to bounce back, but you have to seriously downgrade this team’s chances of keeping its 25-year NCAA tournament streak alive.
* Is there anyone out there who actually watched a little college basketball last season who is surprised that DaJuan Blair is an effective NBA player?
* I heard an announcer during a game recently say that Baylor was the second-tallest team in the country. As Ed McMahon would say, I did not know that. One of those bigs, 6-10 junior forward Ekpe Udoh, is among the season’s early revelations. He is averaging 14.8 points, 9.4 assists and 2.1 assists per game, and he is making 66.2 percent from the floor. Watch him if you can. You’ll thank me later.
* Here’s a little trivia tidbit for ya. What do Ray Meyer, Digger Phelps and Al McGuire have in common? Besides winning a ton of games, none of those guys ever coached a league game at DePaul, Notre Dame and Marquette, because they were always independents back then. That’s not to say they weren’t great coaches, but it’s a little easier to stockpile wins when you can set your schedule end to end.
* The Big 12 is the best conference in the country. Go ahead, disagree with me. I dare ya.
* I can’t tell you how often I see a player miss out on getting a rebound because he’s boxing out his man instead of going after the ball. John Wooden used to tell his players not to bother boxing out, which he referred to as “negative rebounding.” Tom Izzo teaches his guys to hit their man once and then go after the ball. Chasing the ball is much more important than boxing out. Class dismissed.
* It has been a while since Penn and Princeton staged a dual for supremacy in the Ivy, but it looks like Cornell and Harvard are going to give us an ample substitute. Cornell, which has road wins at Alabama and UMass, beat Saint Joseph’s on Sunday to improve to 7-2, while Harvard played UConn tough in Gampel Pavilion before losing 79-73. Cornell and Harvard also have two of the better mid-major guards in America in Ryan Wittman and Jeremy Lin, respectively.
* Good call by Fran Fraschilla throwing out Gonzaga’s Matt Bouldin for early (read: premature) All-America consideration. I don’t know if Bouldin will warrant first-team honors at season’s end, but he has been blazing at the start, averaging 18.4 points (41.8 percent three-point shooting), 5.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
* Although if point guard Demetri Goodson doesn’t develop some long-range shooting skills, Gonzaga will a little too easy to guard in the halfcourt. Goodson is fast, but he was just 1 for 8 from three-point range during the Zags’ first eight games. I guarantee you that will be in every opponent’s scouting report this season.
* An NBA scout who recently saw Iowa State’s Craig Brackins play told me he came away very disappointed. Not only did Brackins get his rear end handed to him by Northwestern’s John Shurna, but the scout said it didn’t seem to bother Brackins that it was happening.
* A couple of hidden gems that are popping up on the radars of NBA scouts I’ve spoken with: Seattle U’s Charles Garcia, a 6-9 junior forward who is averaging 25.7 points and 10.4 rebounds; Oakland’s Keith Benson, a 6-11 junior who is averaging 17.3 points and 10.6 rebounds; and George Mason’s Mike Morrison, a 6-9 sophomore whom one scout described as “a Theo Ratliff-type.” That is how these people talk.
* I may end up being wrong (happens about once a decade), but I’m just not a big Jarvis Varnardo guy. People think that because he’s a prolific shot blocker that means he’s a great defender. To me, he’s only a great weakside defender. He’s much less effective at stopping his own man. Plus, he still has not developed his strength or a go-to offensive move. How often do rail-thin guys who can’t score stick around in the pros?
* Seems like every year, Bo Ryan and Al Skinner put a bunch of guys on the floor that nobody has heard of, yet their teams are tough, smart and win games they shouldn’t.
*I gotta say Washington freshman point guard Abdul Gaddy has not exploded onto the college game the way I thought he would. Through six games, Gaddy is averaging just 4.3 points and 2.7 assists in 19 minutes. His biggest struggle has been on the defensive end. Despite playing just 10 minutes in the Huskies’ loss at Texas Tech, Gaddy committed four fouls.
* North Carolina fans don’t need to worry so much about the Heels’s halfcourt offense. This team’s best offense is always going to be throw it up and let the big guys crash the offensive glass.
* I know I say it every year, but I fear it’s only a matter of time before somebody is seriously injured during a court storming. I wish every school made it a policy to have enough security in place to keep fans from rushing the floor.