<
>
Insider

NBA talent drain has caught up to Pac-10

1/29/2010

As we head into a weekend packed with hoops, here are some rumblings and grumblings around the college basketball universe ...

• The best Duke transfer ever is Jamal Boykin. Boykin has been the one constant for Cal in what has been an up-and-down season for the Bears. He had 25 points and 10 rebounds Thursday against Arizona State. Boykin will be the key for Cal on Sunday in a battle for -- wait for it -- first place in the Pac-10, when the Bears play in Tucson against Arizona.

Why is the Pac-10 so down? In the past two seasons, the league has had 21 players drafted, 13 of whom were selected in the first round. The next closest leagues in terms of losing NBA talent are the ACC, Big 12 and Big East (all of which have more teams, mind you). Each of those leagues has seen 13 players drafted in the past two seasons -- total. Only nine have been taken from the SEC, and five -- yes, five -- from the Big Ten.

• Drexel owns Northeastern at Matthews Arena. For the second straight year the Dragons went into the house of the league-leading Huskies and took them down, setting up a weird scenario for the CAA. The league clearly has premier talent in terms of coaching and players for the "mid-major" level. But outside of William & Mary (Wake Forest, Maryland) and Old Dominion (Georgetown), there has been little in the way of nonconference upsets.
Old Dominion has beaten the Tribe, but both NU and ODU have struggled when playing top-level nonconference competition on neutral floors. Regardless, ODU travels to Boston on Saturday for a quick turnaround after beating Georgia State at home Thursday night. Gerald Lee is probably the biggest key to the game. The Monarchs' Finnish center is a very effective scorer who has only been limited in conference play when he gets into foul trouble.

• SMU is coming along nicely with Robert Nyakundi playing more minutes. Before you scoff at the thought of SMU receiving praise, keep in mind that the Mustangs nearly beat both UAB and Tulsa at home before reeling off three straight wins, including two in C-USA play. No one is saying they will win or even compete for the league title, but after losing seven of nine games, Matt Doherty started playing Nyakundi big minutes and his shooting has opened up the floor. The sophomore has averaged 17 points per game during the Mustangs' three-game winning streak, after averaging just four in his previous 12 games. SMU could be a spoiler in a league that has four teams very much in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid.

Speaking of C-USA, the best NBA talent in the league is at Marshall. Hassan Whiteside has unreal talent and upside. The 6-foot-11, 215-pound freshman had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks in a home loss to Memphis on Wednesday night. Whiteside is amazingly long and has the type of timing that only the elite shot-blockers are born with.

He seems to be further along offensively than Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado was at the same age. Now let's see if he can add to his thin frame. While Billy Donovan has struggled to find consistency since winning back-to-back national championships, we'll see with the success of Marshall head coach, and former Florida assistant, Donnie Jones just how deep that coaching staff was.

• Oklahoma's Tommy Mason-Griffin put on a show Wednesday night in Norman in a win over Iowa State. Willie Warren and Tony Crocker were out with ankle injuries, but Mason-Griffin broke some Cyclone ankles with 38 points. Mason-Griffin has had numerous run-ins with the coaching staff, but his talent is undeniable and therein lies the rub.

Oklahoma has an interesting couple of games that are very winnable when Warren returns, but the dynamic between Warren and Mason-Griffin -- along with Tiny Gallon continuing to struggle to live up to the hype -- makes OU one of the more intriguing grease fires to keep an eye on in February.

• It looks like Rick Barnes has settled on eight guys. Justin Mason played 27 phenomenal minutes against Texas Tech and UT survived a first-half 3-point barrage from Tech to pull away late with the win.

It would appear as though Barnes has decided on sitting Jai Lucas and Alexis Wangmene in an effort to gain some sort of consistency. Lucas brings little to the table on defense and is merely a shooter on offense.

If Barnes stays with Dogus Balbay, Avery Bradley and Mason, the Horns will have the three best perimeter defenders, collectively, in college basketball on the floor. Though their shooting could be an issue, Damion James' ability to step out and be a face-up 4 should help. James is as close to a clone of my old teammate Desmond Mason that I have ever seen. Both played as undersized 4 men who have awkward shots that go in during their senior years. Both are from tough backgrounds, both are relentless workers on their game and both are ridiculous athletes. But there is one difference. James doesn't play as hard on defense as Mason, and if he wants to win big, that must change.

• K-State calls Bramlage Coliseum the "Octagon" or the "Octagon of Doom," but KU is coming into Saturday's "College GameDay" encounter with the Wildcats in Manhattan with the most obscene record of any conference archrival in America. KU is 20-1 in what Rock Chalk fans call "Phog Allen West." There are a couple of keys in what is the biggest game for K-State in the past 20 years.

The Wildcats must score in transition and on second shots. Otherwise they rely on Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente to bail them out. Also, KU must take advantage of Clemente, who is far and away K-State's weak link on defense.

For Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor needs to re-emerge quickly. He has the perfect skill set for this type of game, but he is playing with no confidence and is passing when he should shoot and shooting when he should pass. Cole Aldrich needs to be a ball-screener when Luis Colon is in and a post-up option when he is out. Colon is solid down low defensively, but struggles out on the floor. His backups are long and lean, but Aldrich can wear them out inside. Xavier Henry must play better as well. He gets in "cool guy" mode and his release on his jumper is way too slow when that happens.

• Why is Oklahoma State playing better despite the injury to Ray Penn? It's simple: Obi Muonelo. Muonelo seems to have been the whipping boy for Travis Ford as he struggles to guard out on the floor, which infuriates the Oklahoma State coach.

But since OSU started using its zone more often, Muonelo has taken off as an undersized 4. With 18 3s in the past four games since his dreadful 1-for-12 performance against Oklahoma, Muonelo has totally changed the way teams have to guard OSU. Also, the Cowboys are playing off the penetration of James Anderson, who might be the most unselfish superstar in college basketball.

• Keep an eye on Charlotte. The 49ers have several blowout losses in nonconference play, but all of them are to top-level teams like Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Duke, with one iffy blowout loss to Old Dominion. But with a win over Louisville at Freedom Hall (could end up as a good win), a solid home win over Temple and a current four-game win streak, Bobby Lutz's team is in the mix in the seven-deep A-10. Derrio Green has been hot of late, and BC transfer Shamari Spears is really productive in Charlotte's offense. With three of its next four games away from Halton Arena, Charlotte needs to win all four to get into the at-large NCAA hunt.

• I had Villanova in my preseason Final Four, and I think the Wildcats are coming along nicely, but the death march begins next week. The rest of Villanova's regular season includes the following games: at Georgetown; at West Virginia; home to UConn; at Pitt; at Syracuse; at Cincinnati; home to WVU. We will know how good the Wildcats are in a month.

The key for Villanova is its deep outlets to start its break. All of its big men get the ball out quickly, and the guards are past the hash mark. That is the sign of a well-coached fast break. To slow the Wildcats, you must challenge those pitch-outs without reaching and giving up a fast break.

Doug Gottlieb is a college basketball analyst for ESPN and a contributor to ESPN.com. "The Doug Gottlieb Show" can be heard weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio and ESPNRadio.com.