Well, it’s 2013, which means March Madness and the Final Four in Atlanta can’t be far away now. Plenty of teams are making moves to get into the dance (like Gonzaga) and, by the way, Kansas is back, though I am not sure they really ever left. It just seems like we all forgot about them. Gonzaga and Kevin Pangos got two huge wins over Baylor and at Oklahoma State around the holidays. You know what else Kansas and Gonzaga have in common? The birthdays of their coaches. Bill Self and Mark Few were both born on December 27th, 1962, so happy 50th to them both.
Welcome back, UCLA!
Three of the Pac-12′s All-Freshman team are plying their trade in Westwood as Shabazz Muhammad, who reminds me of James Harden, Jordan Adams and Kyle Andeson all are doing great things. Muhammad is averaging 19.6 points per game. With the defections of Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb, look for UCLA to use an eight-man rotation, which is fine. Duke is playing seven and no one blinks at that. UCLA hosts Cal and Stanford this weekend in Pauley and has a chance to be 12-3, something no one saw coming back in November when the Bruins fell to 4-2 after a home loss to Cal Poly. I always remind people that my Sweet Sixteen team from Arizona State in 1995 won 24 games, swept Arizona and beat Michigan, Maryland with Joe Smith and “Big Country” Reeves and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Guess what? We also lost to Texas-San Antonio. It happens.
The Super Easy Conference:
The SEC might just stand for Super Easy Conference this year. Alabama A&M beat Mississippi State over the weekend and Southern already beat Texas A&M. Yes, I know there are some good teams, and two of them could be Final Four material in Florida and Missouri. Of course, Kentucky will be in the mix for something soon. But after those three, it isn’t real pretty. Andy Kennedy was hired in the spring of 2006 and is doing a nice job at 10-2, but Ole Miss doesn’t have a single win on its schedule that raises an eyebrow. LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee are all fighting hard, but not sure any of them are any good. Now here is where it gets nuts…Vanderbilt, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State all have losing records prior to conference play. That is unheard of for a major conference. The ACC’s worst team is Wake Forest and it is 6-5. West Virginia is the Big 12 worst at 7-5. The Big East has two teams at a respectable 8-4 at the bottom. Only Purdue at 6-6 is at .500 in the Big Ten. Both Utah and Arizona State have topped win totals from last year in the Pac-12, and although USC is 5-8 it has played a brutal schedule and is starting to mix in a bunch of new players. It beat Dayton the other night. The SEC is not a good league right now, especially when compared to the others. The bottom seven teams in the standings have gone 0-10 against ranked teams. The league is 7-21 in road games. It has two great teams… and a bunch of we-shall-sees.
Transfer here for the NCAA Tournament:
The next time someone asks why you would take a transfer for a guy who only has one year to play, just point to the Pac-12 this year. Larry Drew II had 10 assists as UCLA beat Missouri in overtime, and he has 112 assists against just 22 turnovers this season. And Mark Lyons, who came in from Xavier, so far could be undefeated Arizona’s MVP.
Player of the year candidates:
National player of the year will be a tight race, but how about the play of Louisville’s Russ Smith lately? He is averaging 19.8 points in just under 28 minutes. Two years ago, he averaged 5.6 minutes and 2.2 points. Good to see someone just continue to work hard and improve. Same for Mason Plumlee, who averaged 14.1 minutes and 3.7 points his freshman year. This year the big Dukie is at 33.0 minutes and 19.5 points. These guys were patient and are being rewarded for hard work.
Weekend appointment viewing:
Want some good games this weekend? How about Ohio State meeting Illinois, as Thad Matta takes on a former assistant of his, John Groce. Keep an eye on Santa Clara and Kevin Foster hosting Gonzaga too. Oklahoma State got it handed to them by Zags and now must travel to Kansas State. And now that the NFL’s regular season is over, look for some good Monday night hoops made famous by the Big East way back in the 1980s. The irony this week is that Notre Dame will play at Cincinnati in what would normally be a must-watch college basketball game. Small problem: the Irish football team plays a pretty big football game that same night.
– Bill Frieder
Former Michigan and Arizona State head coach Bill Frieder is an analyst for Dial Global’s coverage of NCAA Basketball. In his weekly blog Boxed Out, Bill scours the box scores to bring you interesting stories from the world of college basketball.