As we near the mid-season point in college basketball (or at least the transition point), I’d like to take a moment and pose some questions for Sawdog. I think he has been able to watch a few more games than me as I’ve been wrapping up another semester of school. From what I’ve seen, the playing field in college basketball seems a bit more leveled. Perhaps Creighton or Murray State wants to be the next Gonzaga or Butler? I like the way this season has played out so far, and I just want to go ahead and make a bold prediction: Missouri will be the next champion!
Here are eight questions that I pose to Sawdog:
1. In your eyes, which team has surprised you the most?
I’m most impressed with Missouri. Any time there’s a coaching change you would expect a little bit of struggle implementing a new system, but under first year coach Frank Haith (yes, the old Miami FL coach) Missouri has cranked it up! It’s hard not to get excited thinking about how special this Mizzou club can be. They have what looks like elite guard play and their early season chemistry seems to be special. Look out!
2. In your eyes, which team has disappointed you the most?
I’m not crazy about being too hard on teams early in the year…too many more weeks for improvement…but in the spirit of the question I’ll pick Memphis. At 5-3 Memphis has gone from preseason #9 to unranked in the ESPN/USA Today poll. They have an elite scorer in Will Barton, and with other highly touted recruiting classes filling the roster they are underachieving a bit. Yes, their losses are to good teams like Michigan, @ Georgetown and Murray State…but if you want to be elite just go out and beat those teams. A close win over what has turned out to be a putrid Tennessee team is also uninspiring.
3. Who is your mid-season choice for Player of the Year?
I can’t go against Jared Sullinger. He’s missed two games but so what, it’s early. He’s a great leader on a great team, and they probably don’t lost @ Kansas with him in the lineup. He’ll dominate here again shortly.
4. Who is your mid-season choice for Coach of the Year?
Well I know who it isn’t–Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin! I’ll go with first year Murray State head coach Steve Prohm. He was a very popular pick by the local community–serving as an assistant for many years–and he’s off to a great 11-0 start, a #24 national ranking, and wins @ Memphis and @ Western Kentucky. It’s nice to see highly regarded guys with a track record of excellent character succeed at a high level.
5. What is your assessment of the CBSSports contributors Dream Teams, and who would be your starting five, top reserves, and coaches?
CBSSports hit on something that we here at College Courtside fully endorse–nerdtastic pretend games where you can assemble dream teams. Instead of spending a ton of time discussing my thoughts on their entire teams, I’ll just note a quick pro and con to each of their teams.
Parrish: I’m a big fan of the Mike Rosario bench pick. That kid comes in and drains shots. Jeremy Lamb has to be in my starting lineup. None of this come in and provide offense off the bench stuff. For a non-Kentucky player, J Lamb is my guy.
Goodman: If you want a great team on the floor no way I have both Kidd-Gilchrist and Barnes on the same roster, with Barnes starting. Kidd-Gilchrist already beat him head to head (I know Barnes fills a certain catch and shoot role for Goodman, but in the bigger picture one player, Gilchrist, has an “it” factor and the other doesn’t). Also, Yancy Gates?? I’m not a fan of cancer. The Scott Machado pick is great.
Norlander: Anthony Davis is an alien, and I happen to agree with him being on the court. Denmon is a monster…glad to see Norlander fit him on the roster over the more popular teammate Phil Pressey. I’m not crazy about him having Thomas Robinson as his “wing” player. He’s going with a big lineup but I prefer a crazy do it all freak out there on the wing creating insane matchup problems.
Borzello: I’m a fan of the John Henson pick, representing North Carolina. Matchup problems off the bench. I’m not crazy about Perry Jones….seems like a lack of focus and intensity at times…so I think he could have done a little better there.
As I’m sure these CBS gentlemen will tell you there are certain players you know you want right off the bat. Then it’s a matter of figuring out exactly which position they will play, what style offense you want to run and then figure out how to stay within the rules (only one player from any team can be on your roster). Jared Sullinger is on my team. I know that. So starting with that strategy here is my starting 5 dream team:
PG Tu Holloway, Xavier Point guard was my toughest position to settle on. Even though Kendall Marshall has improved his shooting this year, it’s still not dangerous, and I like a scoring point guard, one that has the ability to pass or shoot with equal danger in the final minutes of a game. Jordan Taylor has had a small dropoff so far this year compared to last year, and since we’re in the moment here, I was looking for something a little more. The fact that Taylor is just 6’1 (I thought he was taller!) opened the door to consider others. Enter Holloway. Aside from his idiotic behavior against Cincy last week, he has proven to be a solid scorer and a big time competitor. I’ll take his handle and clutch play in the final minutes of a tight game.
SG Marcus Denmon, Missouri Have you watched this guy play? Not only is he a great outside shooter but he can really get up at the rim in a hurry. Very athletic, very dangerous beyond the arc. His shooting percentages from the field, 3 point line and free throw line are outstanding and that’s all I want him to do–shoot the hell out of the basketball to keep the defense from collapsing on Sullinger in the paint. He’ll do that. I’m salivating at the thought of him in my fast break offense.
SF Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut This was the other guy I had to have in my lineup. Forget bench. I want this dude flying all over the place on offense. I used some discretion here–some would argue he has to be a shooting guard–but I moved the 6’5 Lamb to my SF spot with the understanding that he’ll have to play a little longer than that against bigger opponents (Kidd-Gilchrist, for example). Thankfully his freakish long arms allow him to play taller than 6’5 so I’m not worried. Lamb is so smooth on offense and in transition. I have no doubt I just made my team a lot better. Love this guy. I considered Kidd-Gilchrist here b/c he’s such a warrior but I could only have one Kentucky player on my roster…
PF Jared Sullinger, Ohio State No-brainer. Great leader, great rebounder, great low post scorer. He’ll draw double teams and wreak havoc
C Anthony Davis, Kentucky Tremendous instincts on defense, already a formidable shot blocker. Shows great poise on his shot block timing. He plays 19 feet above the rim. Just throw it up and dunk it. He will absolutely devour the weakside when Sullinger is demanding quadruple teams (drama alert) in the post. With Davis I have the shot block presence to frustrate the hell out of your already frustrated team.
Kendall Marshall, North Carolina Steady the ship if Holloway goes “Cincinnati” on us. Perfect sub for that, and he’s not a prima donna so he’ll handle this role like a man.
Kris Joseph, Syracuse 49ways taught me long ago the importance of having do-it-all freakish athletes on the wing. You can’t have too many of them, so I’ll take the 6’7 Joseph for just that role.
Thomas Robinson, Kansas He’s a warrior and a beast. I’ll take him.
I’ll take John Calapari as my coach. I considered Coach K as anybody would, but I agree with Borzello here: take the guy who has proven recently to take unreal talent and get them to be unselfish. Calapari is motivated right now too, he has a lot to prove while also being in his coaching prime. With my selections I have ensured Calapari a team that can really be dangerous in half-court and full-court basketball. Holloway taking an outlet pass from Sullinger, with Lamb, Davis and Denmon flying up the court? Oh my God! A deadly Denmon 3? Lamb taking the chest pass from Holloway on the fly and flying towards the rim? Davis trailing and thunderdunking one home? This is my dream team.
6. Do you think the punishment for the Cincinnati-Xavier melee was appropriate?
Good Lord no. Cincinnati’s coach vowed to consider removing players from his roster in his post-game speech, and the outcome is 6 missed games, only one of which against a league opponent?? Why were Xavier starters in in the waning seconds, when Xavier had about a 20 point lead??? If you’re the coach you know this is your rival, emotions are high…take your starters out and prevent them from doing exactly what they ended up doing–showboating their victory on the court. I thought this was a disaster from the player and coach perspective. Six games is a joke.
7. Do you think expanding the Field of 68 to 96 or 128 teams would be good for the game?
I just love the way it is now. But money will dictate what happens. If it will be a profitable success the powers that be will make it happen regardless of what any of us think. Truth. And Seth Greenberg will rejoice.
8. Give me your round-up with Kentucky basketball up to this point.
They’re sitting pretty. They have typical Calapari-coached camaraderie, and two outstanding leaders in Darius Miller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They’ll be fine. They lost to Indiana in what had to be Assembly Hall’s most insane crowd since Bob Knight hit an innocent victim with a chair. Point guard Marquis Teague is already trending upward after a very rough start. We already know Davis is going to have ridiculous blocked shots, and Kidd-Gilchrist is going to play every posession like it’s the last one of his life. It’s up to Teague to reach his potential and for Terrence Jones to decide he likes playing basketball on a nightly basis.