- Jay Bilas, College Basketball analyst
• Bilas Honor Roll:
Brian Roberts, Dayton (31 points, 5 assists vs. Pitt)
Brian Butch, Wisconsin (21 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists vs. Texas ... leadership)
Brandon Johnson, San Diego (27 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists vs. Kentucky)
Danny Green, North Carolina (20 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists vs. Valpo ... consistent)
Damion James, Texas (21 points, 15 rebounds vs. Wisconsin ... a machine)
Chris Gaynor, Winthrop (21 points, 1 turnover vs. Miami ... Chris Paul's cousin)
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (23 points, 13 rebounds vs. Valpo ... POY)
Will Daniels, Rhode Island (28 points, 8 rebounds vs. Ga. Southern)
Tyrone Brazelton, Western Kentucky (29 points vs. Troy)
J.J. Hickson, NC State (33 points, 13 rebounds vs. Western Carolina)
Raymar Morgan, Michigan State (24 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists vs. Wisconsin-GB)
Alonzo Gee, Alabama (21 points, 13 rebounds vs. GW)
• Two Seasons: Some teams have some extra time off before and after the holidays, and some are making it almost two seasons with a training camp sandwiched in the middle. Duke last played on Dec. 20 and will not play again until Jan. 6 against Cornell. This is the first time that Mike Krzyzewski has tried this approach, and when the players return this week, Duke will essentially be starting a new season with a new training camp. Oklahoma State is using the same period to go back to the fundamentals and teach young kids how to play, while using the experience it had to show the players the right path for the "new season" coming up. The Cowboys need to get in better shape, run more disciplined offense and better defend the bounce.
• Stock Dropping: I know us media types will probably never stop talking about a player's stock rising and falling every week. But, you can stop listening. So, please stop listening to all of that nonsense, and all of these silly lists and mock drafts. A player's stock does not rise and fall as does a traded commodity. There is only one time that the player's "stock" or value is important and that is on the eve of the NBA draft. We in the media will talk to a scout or a front office guy ... or worse someone they know that has talked to someone else, and then run out and write what they say like it is gospel. Well, it's not. Scouts don't draft players. You can take 20 scouts, and they will have several very different opinions on a player. Plus, some NBA people will put out some puffed up information on a player and watch all of the information addicts start drooling. It happens all of the time. The NBA draft doesn't matter right now. Neither do all of these mock drafts and rankings. Don't pay attention to them, especially if you are a player. And, if you want to have some fun, go back and look at some of the crazy projections that have been made over the past 10 years. They are a good reminder that this is an inexact science, and anyone trying to sell you on this stuff is also probably selling used cars. In 2003, Sports Illustrated quoted an unnamed NBA scout as projecting Peja Samardziski as the top pick of the 2005 NBA draft. Right now, after bouncing in and out of the draft over the past few years, Samardziski is projected as a second round pick. Does that sound exact to you? And, by the way, the best stock brokers don't overreact to stock performances day by day. They look at the fundamentals, gather all relevant information and make solid decisions over the long term. That's what the best NBA people do, too. If you are relying upon these rankings, then sell!
• Gotta Be Lucky: You have heard how you have to be lucky to win big in college basketball. It's true. I'm not talking about a lucky shot or a lucky call or a lucky bounce, I'm talking about injuries. Nothing can tube a season faster than injuries, and that is a lot about luck. Every program does what it can to minimize injuries, but sometimes, they just happen. Look at Pittsburgh. The Panthers do everything right, and Mike Cook goes down against Duke and Levance Fields goes down against Dayton. Assuming Pitt cannot overcome these injuries, people will forget they happened and just look at the record and the bottom line. Cincinnati knows ... when Kenyon Martin went down in 2000, the Bearcats were No. 1 and a favorite to win it all. He broke his leg in the Conference USA tournament, and it was all gone. How many people remember that when talking about the best teams of 2000? When Scott May broke his arm in the 1975 NCAA Tournament, Indiana was unbeaten. The Hoosiers lost to Kentucky. With May, Indiana could have gone two straight years without a loss. There are countless other seasons that have been negatively affected by injuries. Pitt's is just another one. You have to be lucky, too.
• Fool Me Once: Missouri lost on the road to Mississippi State, which is certainly not a disgrace. However, it is also not unheard of this season. It wasn't that Mizzou lost, it was how they fouled a 3-point shooter down the stretch ... twice. If you foul a 3-point shooter in a late game situation twice in a season, it would be too much. To do it twice in successive possessions, that is simply undisciplined defense. It is also a good recipe for losing on the road.
• Learning to Win: Teams have to learn how to win, and how to prepare to win. When you have youth and inexperience, or if you have an older team that has not been there before, it shows. Coach-directed teams only go so far, and one of the best ways for players to learn is from older teammates. There just aren't enough of them.
• Toeing the Line: Florida State will probably make the NCAA Tournament this season after a nine-year absence. The Seminoles have explosive and athletic guards, and they are efficient from the free-throw line. Thus far, Florida State is shooting a stunning (and ACC-leading) 78 percent from the free-throw line as a team. As a comparison, Clemson is shooting a cellar-dwelling 65 percent. That free-throw shooting will win Florida State some games and lose some for the Tigers.
• Quick Scores: No team in America scores as quickly as North Carolina. The Tar Heels are averaging 92 points per game, and they have not even played their best yet. If you do not get back at the point of conversion and stop the advance, you are cooked. North Carolina will wear you out with quick scores. They call those "easy baskets", but there is nothing easy about them. You have to work your tail off to score easy. North Carolina works its tail off. And, they are used to playing at that pace, and most teams are not. If you don't get Carolina into a halfcourt game, you can forget it.
• Playing Well in a Loss?: Several of the different coaches I have played for have told my teams, "If we play well and lose, I can live with that." Of course, it isn't really true. In playing the very best teams in the country, and playing some of the best teams ever, I have never seen a coach live up to that phrase after a loss. Most coaches, in their heart of hearts, would tell you that they would rather play poorly and win than play great and lose.
• Learning Experience: When Texas guard A.J. Abrams canned one of two free throws to put the Longhorns up by 2 with 12 seconds remaining, we had a wonderful lesson in end-of-the-game execution, and all of the things that go into it. Wisconsin ran a high screen, pick and pop with Brian Butch and Michael Flowers, and Flowers hit a big 3-point shot to put the Badgers up by 1. When the ball went through the net, there were just under three seconds on the clock, and Connor Atchley quickly moved to inbound the ball. There are so many ways to do things that it is impossible to provide a road map for every single situation. This isn't football where you have a little scorecard to tell you when to go for two. But, in a full-court situation and the clock under five seconds, I believe that you should call a timeout and set something up. If there are five seconds or more, I think it is better to inbound it quickly and take it upcourt against a defense that is scrambling and not yet set. Atchley inbounded the ball in a hurry, and Flowers made a heads up play to intercept it and end the game. But, even if Atchley had safely inbounded it to the intended receiver, there was too little time to get up a decent attempt. Georgia Tech called timeout against Florida State, had to inbound it to a non-handling forward and still got a pretty good shot. The Longhorns will learn a lot from that game, and be better next time. The problem is, Rick Barnes would rather his team learn lessons while winning.
• Smart Move: I couldn't like or respect Eddie Sutton more than I do, and I am happy that he is getting the opportunity to get back on the sidelines and coach again. He is one of the great coaches in the college game, and he should coach again if he wants to. However, I do not think it was the right thing for San Francisco to push a coach out of the door and bring someone in that you know is only there for a short while and had never set foot on campus before, whether it is Eddie Sutton, Ben Howland, John Wooden or anyone else you can name. I just don't agree with bringing in anyone that is a short-timer and doesn't know the players. I don't believe this is right for college basketball, the coaching profession or the kids. Can you imagine how confused the players must be right now? That said, San Francisco did a really smart thing by hiring former South Florida coach Robert McCullum to assist Sutton. I have worked with McCullum, and he is a great man and a really fine teacher of the game. He understands kids, and will do a great job with Sutton. If San Francisco is smart, the school will consider McCullum for the full-time position.
• Speaking of End of Game: There are so many ways to teach your team. Several coaches I know are using film of other teams in their end-of-game situations to teach their own team how to handle such situations. It not only gives you contemporary situations that the players can relate to, but you don't have to beat up your own players and their performances. You can beat up somebody else's players and show how poorly they did something and get your message across. So many kids are more fragile now than they used to be, coaches are having to pick their spots, and this is just one of the ways.
• Check Him Out: There are several players you need to check out this season, and one of my favorites is Rhode Island's Will Daniels. At 6-8 and a senior, Daniels has size and length, he is built like a brick house, and he is a very good athlete that has great skills. e can play the wing or in the backcourt as a shooting guard, but he can also go into the post, rebound, block a few shots, and he is a very good shooter to 3-point range. Daniels is a matchup problem for most power forwards, and he can really pass the ball. As he improves his defense, Daniels will have a chance at the next level. To date, Daniels is averaging 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals, while shooting 50.0 percent from the floor.
• Check Him Out, High School Edition: In watching several games at the Athletes United For Youth/Bojanges Shootout last week, I got to see 6-9 junior Derrick Favors of South Atlanta High School. Against Jeannette Senior High School, Favors put up a line to remember: 42 points, 20 rebounds, 12 blocks and three steals in just 27 minutes. Favors has every skill you want in a player, and has a great future ahead of him, as long as he keeps his head screwed on straight.