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Around the country: Remember Memphis

1/18/2009

Memphis keeps winning, and keeps getting largely ignored. I watched the Tigers against Tulsa, and think that Memphis is every bit as good as any team ranked from No. 21 to No. 25. But Conference USA and the Memphis TV schedule are killing the Tigers' profile. I haven't ranked the Tigers in any of the latest Power Rankings, and it is largely because I have had too many other teams on my mind ahead of Memphis. Every game I have seen him play, Tyreke Evans has been getting better, and it shouldn't take the NCAA tournament for all of us, myself included, to figure it out. Memphis will get a good shot at getting back in our frontal lobes with a game at Gonzaga in February.

• I have heard people say you need to have "your head on a swivel" on the defensive end. Isn't your head already on a swivel? Wouldn't that be your neck?

• When coaches get involved in the barroom argument about which conference is best, it means only one thing: They are stumping for more teams to get into the NCAA tournament. Every coach believes that his league is tougher to win in than any other, and that nobody understands that better than they do. But you know what? Coaches should stump for their leagues because some in the media will parrot whatever the coaches say without independent thought. Coaches should stump for their leagues because it works.

• Speaking of the "best conference," what does that really mean? If it means the conference with the best teams at the very top, that would be the ACC in a close contest with the Big East. If it means the conference with the best depth of NCAA-quality teams, it would be the Big East in a walk.

• No player has improved more from last year to this year than Villanova's Dante Cunningham. He has put up great numbers, and has done it consistently and with a mature game. Cunningham is the kind of player you want a senior to develop into and is a great example of the value of sticking around.

• Butler is not as good of a team as it was last season -- yet -- but the Bulldogs are hard to play against and to beat. Gordon Hayward is a heck of a player and shooter, and I have really enjoyed watching Matt Howard over the past year and a half. Howard knows how to use his body, play angles in the post and he really understands the game.

• Kansas lost three games last season, finishing 37-3 and winning the national championship. If a voter had kept Kansas in the No. 1 position all season long last year, would that voter have been wrong? Is Boston College's win over North Carolina just an "upset" or is it clear evidence that BC is far better than anticipated? Or that UNC is an inferior team? If the decisions on rankings are so important and so easy, why not just have one person do it and we can all save our breath? Because rankings are subjective, and mean different things to different sets of eyes. Here's how I do my vote: I do not vote for teams I have not seen, and I take no more than five minutes to vote each week. I list the teams in the order I see fit for that week, and I do it off the top of my head -- without consulting the prior week's rankings. Is that the right way? Maybe not, but I am just one vote.

• Isn't it amazing how, when trying to make a case for a team, we talk about how the team "almost won" in a close loss to a good team, but we don't talk about the close games the team "almost lost"? If we consider near-miss losses, should we not also consider near-miss wins? When a team loses, we always talk about how close the team was to winning. Why don't we talk about the team that wins a close one as being close to losing?

• Speaking of Kansas, Bill Self joked that his team must be really tough to scout because there are times that they don't run anything the way it was designed. That is the lament of a young team.

• Duke's Kyle Singler is a terrific player. He is always around the ball, and does not need the ball in his hands to make plays because he also makes great reads. I really respect his game.

• I didn't hear the warning given to the Georgetown bench in the first five minutes of the second half with Duke leading 46-42. But I did see the reaction of Hoya freshman Greg Monroe when official John Cahill whistled Monroe for a technical foul (his fourth personal). Cahill's back was turned to the Georgetown bench, then he turned around and called the technical on Monroe. Monroe reacted immediately, protesting that he said nothing, and pointed behind him to a fan. If Monroe was acting, he certainly fooled me. Georgetown didn't lose because of that technical foul, but it was certainly a major factor in the game. I am not saying Monroe didn't say anything because I don't know. All I know is, if the official had ignored what he had heard behind his back and the technical foul call had not been made, nobody in the building or watching the game on television would have noticed a thing.

The technical foul call raises a couple of questions. First, was that technical call really necessary? To me, the answer is no, even though it may have been justifiable. The official's back was to the bench, and he could not reasonably be expected to identify the culprit in that loud atmosphere. In my judgment, the official should have ignored it and moved on. Both benches were demonstrative and reacted to calls all game long. In my judgment, that was not the right place to draw the line.

Second, is it appropriate for technical fouls to count as personal fouls? I do not believe so. To me, such a subjective call should not result in a personal foul and free throws -- that is too much of a penalty and has too much potential to change the game to leave up to the differing sensibilities of officials. Third, if officials so dislike being "shown up", why do so many officials use scowls and over the top gyrations and gestures when making calls? Officials "show up" players and coaches all the time, and for the most part, announcers and writers are silent about it. Officials' calls are questioned, but the way officials act is rarely mentioned. There is never a time when an official should have an angry scowl on his face when making a call -- and there is never a time when an official should stare down players when making a foul call like they were pointing out a criminal. It is simply wrong. The officials say they don't want to be the show, and most of them aren't. But none of them should be. If we expect the players to maintain poise and calm, the officials need to do so, too.

• Duke broke out a 1-3-1 half-court trap against both Georgia Tech and Georgetown. The Blue Devils played it for only a possession or two in each game, but it was successful in giving the opponent a completely different look and keeping them off-balance. The 1-3-1 can be effective because it isn't seen much, and young players and teams can get caught standing around or catching the ball in bad spots.

• Siena is quietly 8-0 in the MAAC, and with Edwin Ubiles, Alex Franklin and Kenny Hasbrouck, the Saints are still a good team. After failing to win the nonconference games against the big shots that Siena scheduled, there is little chance the Saints will make the field as an at-large team. But if Siena can win the MAAC title, this team can still do well in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

• This is hardly a big deal, but I still maintain that making the lead official available to the media after a game would be a good thing. The officials make a lot of money and are professionals -- they are fully capable of explaining their calls and judgments, and doing so would enhance their credibility, not detract from it. Every time I have spoken with an official, I have come away having learned something. If the officials were allowed or compelled to speak, I think it would be a good thing for everyone.

• Despite the two losses, North Carolina is still just scratching the surface of how good it can be. When that team figures it out, the Tar Heels will be out of sight. The Heels have yet to play up to their capability on the offensive end and are still putting up scary scoring numbers.

• Louisville's Terrence Williams is a terrific all-around player, and he is playing the best basketball of his career. He is also a real character. Last year, Williams had a T-shirt printed up with all of Rick Pitino's college stats from his playing days at UMass on it. This year, Williams has a T-shirt with "PHD" on it (for "Poor, Hungry and Driven," one of Pitino's favorite sayings). Williams has a great smile to go with his game, and it is nice to see him using it so often.

• Louisville does a nice job of pressing and playing great half-court defense. Most pressing teams give up a lot of easy baskets in addition to forcing turnovers. Louisville's press walks that fine line of speeding you up and turning you over while at the same time being stingy to score upon. The cumulative effect of the press is significant -- Louisville's press takes out your legs.

• When you watch Louisville's press and then watch Clemson and Tennessee's presses, you will see the difference. Clemson gives up a lot of easy scores on the back end of its press, and Tennessee takes the press off and retreats after the initial trap is split or beaten.

• You can be crowned king one week then appear on a milk carton the next. The latest example of that is Arkansas. The Razorbacks beat Oklahoma and Texas and many people were righteously indignant about Arkansas not being ranked. Since the Texas upset, the Hogs have lost three straight and stand winless in the SEC. In the Big Ten, Michigan has lost two straight to drop to 3-3 in conference play, with two of the losses at home. The Wolverines have beaten Illinois and Iowa at home, and Indiana in overtime on the road. Michigan could use a win at Penn State on Tuesday night. It doesn't take long for fortunes to change, in either direction.

• Mike Montgomery has always used "cue cards" on the sidelines to call out plays to his teams. It is an old Jud Heathcote tactic that Montgomery used at Montana, Stanford and now at California. When Cal made a play call at Maples on Saturday, it seemed like Stanford was completely prepared for what was coming. It is not unusual for teams to have detailed scouting reports, but it is a little unusual when all of the players are completely in tune with it. Stanford was well-prepared, and the players made good use of the preparation to get the win.

• Some teams provide players with detailed, 40-page scouting reports, including play diagrams of everything. Other coaches provide only a page or two of personnel information. And some don't give one scrap of paper to the players. Georgetown will go over personnel and discuss tendencies that need to be defended, but the Hoyas don't bog the players down with too much information. Georgetown likes to concentrate on what it needs to do and its principles, rather than focus too much on the opponent. There are a lot of different ways of doing things and doing them right -- the key is whether the team believes in it.

• I was looking at schedules and noticed that Michigan State and Michigan play only once this season. That is ridiculous. There are some rivalries that should be preserved no matter what -- Michigan and Michigan State is one of those rivalries. Similarly, Duke and North Carolina State play only once this year. That is a rivalry that should not be diminished either.

• You hear a lot about teams going on "runs." The best way to get on a run is to play good team defense and get stops. The best way to stop a run is to run good offense and score.

• I feel for the Arizona players. The upperclassmen have played for three different coaches, and the situation has been very difficult for all. And the Wildcats have found new and innovative ways to lose games. Against USC, Nic Wise was whistled for an intentional foul which cost his team, and Jamelle Horne committed another late-game foul that provided a free throw opportunity for the opponent to win. Horne is a good player, but he is learning some "time and score" lessons the hard way.

• When Wake Forest has been really good over the past eight years, the Achilles heel for the Demon Deacons has been defense. Skip Prosser once told me that the field goal percentage defense of his best teams was ultimately going to cost them. This year, Wake Forest leads the ACC in field goal percentage defense. While Wake can score, the defense is why this team is winning.

• The more I watch Tulsa's Jerome Jordan, the more I have been impressed with his development. I had the chance to work with Jordan at the Nike Skills Academy, and he is a great kid with a load of potential. Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik has really improved Jordan's game, and his poise in the post has been upgraded. In his past two games, against Memphis and Marshall, Jordan has averaged 22.5 points and 11.5 rebounds and has shot 17-of-19 from the free throw line.

• In Notre Dame's loss at Louisville, the Irish had a shot to win it at the end of regulation. Mike Brey called a set play with a flat screen set by Luke Harangody. When Tory Jackson came off the screen, Harangody was wide open on the pop. Jackson just took it one bounce too deep into the lane.

• Long Beach State is 5-0 in the Big West under Dan Monson, and the 49ers are much improved over the team that Monson took over last year. Monson is a good coach that took over a tough situation at Minnesota after his great success at Gonzaga in 1999. He took over a real challenge at The Beach. His top player, Donovan Morris, is averaging 17 points per game and is the best player in the Big West along with Fullerton's Josh Akognon.

• UCLA had a chance to win in regulation against Arizona State, but got only a marginal shot with not enough time to rebound it. Then UCLA didn't even get a shot at the end of the overtime period with a chance to tie. The Bruins need to execute better in late-game situations.

• I'm not sure the man that walked onto the floor during the Marquette-Providence game should be prosecuted, but I am sure that no matter how much security we put into place at a sporting event, the players, coaches and fans are vulnerable to any whack job that wants to cause a problem.

• Top high-school prospect Derrick Favors announced his intentions of attending Georgia Tech on Wednesday around 6:30 p.m. ET, just minutes before Georgia Tech was to play Duke on national television. Favors held a press conference, shown on ESPNU, and put on quite a theatrical performance. Favors had a backpack brought out, which contained a bag, which contained a baseball cap with the GT logo. Favors chose not to tell the coaches recruiting him about his decision beforehand. He let them find out when everyone else did, and even stated that he wanted to "mess with [Paul Hewitt's] head a little bit."

I do not blame Favors. He is a great prospect and by all accounts a good kid. But there should have been an adult (his high school coach, a parent, a guardian, a teacher) that stepped forward and told him to get over himself. The young man should have told the coaches involved first, and he should have said no to the silly press event. But this is just another area in which the basketball culture has veered off into a silly direction. It is not the kid's fault -- he is just a kid. It is our fault.

• I watched Georgia Tech clang so many free throws against Duke that I thought I should have worn a helmet. Then I watched Purdue at Northwestern, and saw JaJuan Johnson get fouled with just over two seconds remaining. Johnson tried to intentionally miss the second of two free throws so as not to allow Northwestern enough time to inbound the ball and get off a tying or winning shot. Johnson threw a frozen rope at the rim ... and it went in. Crazy.

• I have not seen a better perimeter shooter than Northwestern's Craig Moore. If he is allowed to catch and shoot, it is going in.

• Iowa is not a good team, but Matt Gatens is a very good young player. Gatens is averaging almost 11 points per game and is very skilled and efficient. Gatens shoots 51 percent from the floor, 55 percent from 3, and 97 percent from the line.