Here are 10 things you have to know about college basketball right now:
(1) Losing Larry Drew hurts UNC in a big way
Losing Larry Drew hurts UNC in a big way. While Andy Katz is right in many ways about Larry Drew's selfish move to leave the suddenly-back-from-the-dead Tar Heels in February, I do understand his frustration.
Drew was an overrated prospect to begin with and was never truly a starting-caliber point following in the footsteps of Ty Lawson. His defense, while solid, was never enough to compensate for his lack of shooting, inability to finish or his average decision-making in a system in which the point guard truly runs the team.
However, anytime something has gone wrong in Chapel Hill over the past two years, everyone, yours truly included, has blamed Drew, and that is the unfair truth. With Kendall Marshall displacing Drew and the Heels looking suddenly like a contender in the ACC, the other unfair truth is about to come out: Marshall is also not good enough to win big with by himself.
Marshall struggled in Carolina's big games early in the season, and that is why he did not start earlier. Marshall is big, at 6-foot-3, and a solid floor leader and passer, but he is not able to penetrate against top-level defense. He makes more shots than Drew but is a set shooter who takes a long time to get his shot off, and his pace can be too slow for Roy Williams' style.
Marshall also doesn't have a true backup. Dexter Strickland is simply not a point, and teams will climb all over him. UNC will miss Drew on the floor, even though the locker room will be a far more comfortable place.
(2) What's wrong with Michigan State?
Sparty needs all hands on deck to put out the fire left by the 20-point drubbing at the hands of Iowa. Their Final Four run last season had hidden the mass of issues that Tom Izzo had been dealing with.
If you are keeping tabs, Raymar Morgan, Chris Allen and Corey Lucious are all no longer a part of the problem. So what is? My sources have told me for two years that Izzo is frustrated with his message not getting though to his veteran players, and this is just the embodiment of that fact.
It seems that Kalin Lucas may suffer a Chris Thomas-like fate, in that he was a star during his sophomore year but stayed in school and probably has a tough time coping with not being in the league right now. Playing with regret is never easy, nor is the realization that Lucas will never be viewed as a first-round pick again.
(3) Lavin vs. Howland
St. John's-UCLA is the matchup of the week, a showdown between the former and current UCLA head coaches.
Lavin -- who won 68 percent of his postseason games in Westwood, made five Sweet 16 appearances in a six-year stretch and had great wins and terrible losses -- has been seen as an empty suit by many in Pauley. From Baron Davis' cheap shot of winning the Pac-10 without a coach, to former AD Peter Dalis never truly having his back, Lavin never truly overcame the interim tag he was initially bestowed.
Meanwhile, Howland, who won four straight Pac-10 titles and took the Bruins to three straight Final Fours, is coming off his second down season (they won just 11 games his first campaign in Westwood) and actually interviewed for the DePaul job last offseason. Howland, like nearly every coach who has called Pauley Pavilion home, has never felt the admiration he arguably deserves, and the city's recruits and AAU programs turned a deaf ear to his and his staff's overtures after Jrue Holiday's disappointing season.
Meanwhile, St. John's comes floating in with very little to lose. The game is ridiculously early for the late-(if ever)arriving Bruins crowd, and all the pressure in the world is cast on Howland. All the while, Lavin is steadily gaining coaching respect by beating Duke and landing a top-10 class in his first season in Queens.
(4) Kemba Walker out of the top 5
I have long thought that Jared Sullinger, not Walker or Jimmer Fredette, is the national player of the year. With Walker's jumper going the way of the dodo recently -- he is shooting just 37 percent against Top 25 opponents -- others are passing him during conference play. Arizona's Derek Williams, Texas' Jordan Hamilton and Duke's Nolan Smith have their teams winning, they are all shooting a better percentage and, while they do not have Kemba moments, their overall seasons have been far more consistently productive.
(5) Oregon, Oklahoma coaches deserve your respect
There are some coaches who are coach-of-the-year-worthy despite not being in the running for the COY award. Dana Altman and Jeff Capel are probably the two most likely candidates for such an honor.
Altman, in his first season in the Pac-10, has clearly established his coaching credibility by not losing his team after starting out 0-4 in league play. After dismantling Wazzu 69-43, the Ducks have climbed back by winning four of six, including a win over in-state rival Oregon State in Corvallis.
Capel, who has, essentially, an entirely new staff and nine new players, is currently in third place in the Big 12. By going small and playing Cameron Clark at the 4, Caple has shown a willingness to change and coach in a pragmatic way. Like Oregon, there are some ugly losses coming versus teams with far more overall talent and skill but, in showing the ability to beat the middle and bottom of their respective leagues, other coaches are taking notice and giving respect to both, as it looked ugly in early January.
(6) Several teams are back from the dead
The parity that has allowed schools like Virginia Tech to resuscitate their postseason hopes is something to behold. While the Hokies cannot escape their K-State embarrassment and subsequent failures, look around at the landscape of the sport and that pales in comparison to other big losses: UNLV losing to UCSB at home, Illinois' loss to UIC, Vandy losing at home to Arkansas, UCLA dropping a guarantee game to Montana. In fact, also credit the Bruins with finding at least some of their mojo of late. Other back-from-the-dead teams are North Carolina, which pummeled BC on the road this week, and Gonzaga, which continued its long streak of dominance over Portland with a huge win at the Chiles Center.
(7) UConn, Texas struggle with zones
Syracuse beat UConn in similar fashion to the way that Louisville beat UConn; Cuse finally got active hands and feet from their guards in their zone and made Kemba Walker beat them with his jump shot. Walker hit everything he threw up in Maui, but outside of his stunning shooting in Chaminade's gym, he has come back down to earth.
UConn has found a secondary weapon in Jeremy Lamb, making the Huskies far more dangerous now than they were a month ago. The bigger issue is that Alex Oriakhi looks lost, and his team struggles to find ways to get him the ball against zone defenses. The Huskies can win a national title, but cannot do it unless they develop more zone looks for their only inside weapon.
Add Texas, San Diego State, North Carolina, Washington and Pitt as teams that struggle more against good zones or pack-oriented man-to-man defenses. But they thrive against pressure man-to-man.
(8) Cincinnati's schedule hurts March chances
The selection committee is not stupid. While Joe Lunardi currently has 11 Big East teams in the field, my conversations with past and present committee members have led me to believe that Cincinnati's soft schedule will ultimately be its undoing, and several other teams in the Big East may sit closer to the NCAA cut line than you are led to believe. Keep an eye on Virginia Tech, Colorado, Nebraska, Utah State, Oklahoma State, Gonzaga, Duquesne, George Mason, Northern Iowa, Penn State, Cleveland State and Costal Carolina as teams that could get in as at-large teams, despite their own inept schedules or early-season issues.
(9) Guard play Texas A&M's biggest weakness
Mark Turgeon has done an amazing job building A&M into a consistent winner and making Reed Arena, a sterile and nondescript 10-year-old venue, into one of the best environments in college basketball. But the Aggies' ceiling is pretty obvious. One coach who scouted A&M told me, "Dash Harris and BJ Holmes? Either or both should be coming off the bench, but both as starters? Their guards are veteran nice players, but you cannot win big with both playing 30 minutes; that is just amazing they are winning that way."
(10) College is the best place to develop your game
Forget what NBA folks try to tell you. College is the best place for players to mature as people and as ballplayers. While the common perception is that once a player gets to the NBA he can focus solely on hoops and thus make strides in leaps and bounds, the truth is that is totally a misconception.
First of all, more players selected in the first round are being sent to the D-League, the reason being that, in addition to more draft picks not being ready for the league, there is not enough time in an 82-game season to teach new players. Take a peek at the improvement of Jordan Hamilton, John Henson, Jordan Williams and Derrick Williams -- and you can see that the college game, while not as top-end talented as in the past, still fosters talent, in addition to all-around personal development, better than the NBA does.