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Observations from Feast Week

12/5/2008

Last year's freshman class was touted as being the best ever. They were good, but we are too prone to hyperbole when discussing these things.

However, it's not hyperbolic to say that this year's freshman class is the most over-discussed group.

For example:

• Brandon Jennings got a DNP (coach's decision) in Italy -- he is averaging under 5 points a game.

Jrue Holiday, whom I touted coming into this year, had 3 points and was decent in the Bruins' loss at Texas.

B.J. Mullens is Ohio State's seventh leading scorer.

Scotty Hopson is doing well at Tennessee, for a freshman, scoring 9.5 points per game.

Kemba Walker, who is having a very good year so far, only managed three points, two assists and two turnovers at Buffalo in 30 minutes.

• Oklahoma's Willie Warren is up and down like my stock portfolio.

Yes, Samardo Samuels has been pretty good, and so has Nevada's Luke Babbitt, among others, but I think we may want to chill on the one-and-done idea for almost all of these guys.

They will be great players eventually, but comparing them to O.J. Mayo, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Michael Beasley seems incomprehensible right now.

• Expect Lorenzo Wade to be back in a San Diego State uniform in time for the Aztecs' game against Saint Mary's. Wade, SDSU's leading scorer last season, was suspended indefinitely after being arrested on a charge of stealing a television from a woman's home. Those charges have been dismissed, and Wade is set to return to the team.

• Ernie Kent's seat seems to be warming up again at Oregon. Despite backing into freshman stud Garrett Sim, an all-state prep in Oregon who originally signed at Cal before getting out of his letter of intent after Ben Braun was fired, the Ducks were mauled by Utah in Salt Lake City. Now, losing to the Utes is no death sentence, but losing 85-71 after falling apart in Maui and losing to Oakland at home? Kent has gone to two Elite Eights and gotten contract extensions after each; yet still he seems to be a guy they keep around until they can lure Mark Few back "home." With Kansas State, Saint Mary's and San Diego all coming in to Mac Court, his team must play some defense if Kent is going to continue to collect checks from his alma mater.

• While we're at it, how do you explain Utah? The Utes lost at home to Southwest Baptist in their first game, but now that Tyler Kepkay (dynamic off-ball screens), Shaun Green (dead-eye shooter) and Luke Nevill (7-footer who sometimes looks like an NBA center) are rolling, they've collected wins against Mississippi, at Missouri State and against Oregon. Utah seems like a player in the MWC.

• You may have missed it, but two Big Ten coaches went a long way toward keeping their gigs Wednesday. Northwestern dismantled Florida State behind Craig Moore's 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Bill Carmody's crew led from tip to buzzer and beat the Seminoles by 14. The Cats lost to an NAIA team in an exhibition game, but since then the Wildcats have looked very solid. Their only loss came to an undefeated Butler team, by four. With an incredibly undisciplined DePaul team coming to town Saturday, Northwestern will be Chicago's best team by Saturday night. (I know Illinois-Chicago had a huge win at Vanderbilt, but the Flames lost to DePaul at home).

Also in the Big Ten, Ed DeChellis has Penn State playing well, as the Nittany Lions went on the road and beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta. DeChellis, who has been close to turning the corner several times in Happy Valley, simply needs to avoid the injury bug, and his team can take a very light nonconference schedule with just one loss into a Dec. 31 tilt against ... Northwestern.

Talor Battle has been shooting the eyes out of the basketball from 3, as has Stanley Pringle, and even though he is undersized, Jamelle Cornley continues to come to work in the low post and finish with productive numbers.

Mario Little has been cleared for practice with Kansas. Little told me that he is ready to help right now and that he has recovered from a stress fracture. The KU coaches think he could be the missing link to their offense, which goes stretches without a midrange bucket. Little's return is not good news for Travis Releford, and Tyrone Appleton, whose minutes are limited anyway and will all but disappear with Little in the rotation.

• Illinois State could be the favorite in the Valley. Osiris Eldridge is back and Champ Oguchi (went by Chamberlain while at Oregon) is killing it for the Red Birds (17.4 points per game). While Creighton and Southern Illinois have played a tougher schedule to date, the three- and sometimes four-guard lineup used by Tim Jankovich is working to perfection thus far.

• Kent State is excited for Tyree Evans to become eligible. Evans originally committed to Kansas State in 2004, but a variety of legal troubles have kept him bouncing from school to school. He was set to play for Maryland this season but was released from his commitment in the spring.

Evans is a 6-3, 23-year-old phenomenal athlete whose talent should have him playing in the pros, but he has now settled in Kent, Ohio, where his most recent coach, Bobby Steinburg, is now on the staff. Steinburg coached Evans at Motlow State CC in Lynchburg, Tenn., and should help with his transition with the Golden Flashes. Kent State overscheduled a bit with its loss to Saint Mary's at home (ending an 18-game home winning streak), which followed a loss at Kansas on Monday and two close losses to Illinois and Texas A&amp;M. Al Fisher has been nursing a tweaked ankle, but relief appears in sight with Evans' coming to help the Flash backcourt.

• Baylor is very concerned that they will shoot too early in possessions to beat Washington State in Pullman. The Bears, who love to play fast and are only now discovering the joys of defense, need to control Taylor Rochestie and freshman stud Klay Thompson on the road.

These are some teams I saw extensively during Feast Week, along with my honest thoughts on their play.

• North Carolina -- Ridiculous. To quote Bill Self, whom I spoke with Monday: "They have a ceiling that is here [top of his head] and they are playing here [eye level]. Other good teams have a ceiling here [eye level], but they are not playing anywhere near that level." Not only is UNC talented, but they are also firing on all cylinders very early on.

What I like most is that Larry Drew, Bobby Frasor and Ed Davis come in and give them great energy defensively and the starters seem to see that as a challenge, so they return to the game and defend.

UNC played very soft at times defensively last year, and so far this year, not so much. Does anyone realize that Deon Thompson might be the best low-post player no one talks about. Forget the two epic Duke games: at Wake Forest on Jan. 11 -- that will be an amazing up-and-down hoops contest.

• Notre Dame -- Still very little in the way of actual defense against top competition. Not that ND is not really fun to watch and brimming with confidence, but the Irish had little defense to match the elite level of the Tar Heels. On the other hand, I think that Kale McAlarney is every bit the shooter that Steph Curry is. K-Mac has deep range, is a better passer and also has to fit into an offense that is not solely built around his abilities.

• Texas -- Great win over UCLA, but I am still not sold on their point guard play. A.J. Abrams is in the discussion with Curry and McAlarney as a shooter, but as a point guard? Please.

Justin Mason is a terrific all-around athlete who is a jump shot away from being a lottery pick. Anyone else think he has the look of this year's Russell Westbrook? Not a point, not a shooter, but makes plays nonetheless with his freaky athleticism.

• Kansas -- Kent State should not have talked trash to him Monday night, because Sherron Collins awoke from a gamelong slumber to dust off the Golden Flashes.

Cole Aldrich needs to see the ball more -- he scores early in every game and then goes 10 possessions without seeing the rock. Tyshawn Taylor plays like a better offensive version of Russell Robinson. He is fundamentally sound; has great feel; and, unlike Robinson, can hit shots from 3. Now, if he finished better, KU would not be as dependent on Mario Little's return.

• Michigan State -- Kalin Lucas is not the second coming, Delvon Roe has either not rehabbed well or is not ready, and they are playing without Goran Suton. Sparty is a mess, but how did they finish last year, Sweet Sixteen? Relax, Sparty, Izzo seems to have a decent grasp of college hoops.

• Wake Forest -- Wow. Jump-off-the-screen athletes, and Jeff Teague is a pro. I love James Johnson's game and Al-Farouq Aminu's length and athleticism. Dino Gaudio has himself a tournament team, and I cannot wait for the Duke and UNC games.