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Bouncing Around the Nation (#3): The Top 5 Edition

Bouncing Around the Nation (#3): The Top 5 Edition
Dec 19, 2005, 12:17 am
Bouncing around the nation (#3) – The top 5 edition…

Every self-respecting sports writer loves to make a good list every now and then. With a solid month of hoops now in the rearview mirror, I will just get mine all out at once. The lists are in alphabetical order, with my #1 in bold. Without any further ado…

Top 5 teams
Connecticut
Duke
Michigan State
Oklahoma
Villanova

Top 5 Mid-Majors
Bucknell
Iona
Northern Iowa
Ohio
Old Dominion

Top 5 Overrated
Arizona
Boston College
Louisville
North Carolina
Wake Forest

Top 5 Players
Ronnie Brewer, Arkansas
Randy Foye, Villanova
Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
JJ Redick, Duke
Shelden Williams, Duke

Top 5 Freshmen
Dominic James, Marquette
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
Tasmin Mitchell, LSU
Shawne Williams, Memphis
Julian Wright, Kansas

Top 5 Shooters
Taquan Dean, Louisville
Mike Gansey, West Virginia
Chris Lofton, Tennessee
JJ Redick, Duke
Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern

Top 5 Point Guards
Jose Juan Barea, Northeastern
Jordan Farmar, UCLA
Randy Foye, Villanova
Rajon Rondo, Kentucky
Darius Washington, Memphis

Top 5 Wing Athletes
Hassan Adams, Arizona
Maurice Ager, Michigan State
Rodney Carney, Memphis
Rashon Clark, Iowa State
Rudy Gay, Connecticut

Top 5 Post Athletes
LaMarcus Aldridge, Texas
Tyrus Thomas, LSU
CJ Giles, Kansas
Taj Gray, Oklahoma
Sean Williams, Boston College

Top 5 Shot Creators
Guillermo Diaz, Miami
Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
Allen Ray, Villanova
Curtis Stinson, Iowa State
Darius Washington, Memphis

Top 5 Low Block Scorers
JP Batista, Gonzaga
Marco Killingsworth, Indiana
Paul Millsap, Louisiana Tech
Leon Powe, California
Shelden Williams, Duke

Top 5 Perimeter Defenders
Corey Brewer, Florida
Dee Brown, Illinois
Kyle Lowry, Villanova
Rajon Rondo, Kentucky
DJ Strawberry, Maryland

Rumblings in the SEC East…

There are big things happening over the in the SEC East. After taking all the roster hits last spring, the SEC was supposed to be down this year. However, Florida started putting that talk on hold almost immediately with wins over Wake Forest and Syracuse in the first week of the new season. Vanderbilt recently picked up consecutive victories over Georgetown and Oregon. The nation was put on notice this week when Kentucky regained the services of Randolph Morris and then proceeded to wipe the floor with archrival Louisville. At the same time, Bruce Pearl was announcing his presence to the nation as his Tennessee squad destroyed once-#2 Texas. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is the best division in all of college basketball.

1001


The SEC is also a division with a clear-cut identity – an emphasis on pressure defense. Some of the great tacticians of the game reside here, whether we are talking about the captain of a powerhouse program like Tubby Smith, an underrated system coach like Dave Odom, or an up-and-coming star like Bruce Pearl. Many were optimistic about Pearl’s chances to turn around the Volunteer program, but nobody in their wildest dreams expected Pearl to win with this group. Last year, the Volunteers were one of the most listless, downright soft teams in the country. Throw in Billy Donovan, who has his young Gator squad buying into his pressure-oriented, push-the-tempo system, and another rising newcomer in Georgia’s Dennis Felton, and it becomes very clear that X’s and O’s are a top priority here.

When looking at individuals, SEC East players had better be prepared for battle every night.

- Kentucky has two of the best on-the-ball defenders in the nation in Rajon Rondo and Ramel Bradley, and Tubby Smith can bring in behemoth Shagari Alleyne off the bench to ensure that nobody gets anything easy around the basket.
- Corey Brewer can defend any of the perimeter positions, and his long arms are a nightmare for anybody attempting to advance the ball on Florida’s defense. Also scaring opponents for the Gators is Al Horford, whose bulk, explosiveness, and length make him one of the top post defenders in the country.
- Bruce Pearl’s three starting guards, CJ Watson, Chris Lofton, and Dane Bradshaw, are currently combining to average a stunning 7.7 steals per game.
- Dennis Felton also has himself a trio of legitimate ballhawks in Sundiata Gaines, Levi Stukes, and Mike Mercer.
- South Carolina hasn’t shown it on the defensive end thus far, but Dave Odom certainly has a group capable of succeeding within his system. There are two nasty perimeter defenders in Tre Kelly and Rocky Trice, as well as a pair of lean, athletic shot blockers in forwards Renaldo Balkman and Brandon Wallace.

How would you feel as a scoring specialist preparing to run this gauntlet? While the competition level and coaching tactics may be unparalleled, expect to see some truly ugly basketball this winter. Lots of fouls, plenty of turnovers, even more missed shots. The only think that might save a lot of games from finishing in the 40’s will be the frantic pace that the majority of contests will be played at.

All in all, it should be fun watch the SEC East continue to develop an identity as the toughest, nastiest, best-coached group of teams in the nation.

Apples Falling Far from the (Krzyzewski) Coaching Tree...

I don’t think there is any doubting that Mike Krzyzewski is the premier coach in College Basketball. Nobody teaches defense better than Coach K, and he has a perfected a system that has led to results that speak for themselves. However, as I watched Ben Howland out coach Tommy Amaker on Saturday, I couldn’t help but wonder why his former assistants haven’t had the same types of success.

With their Blue Devil background, Amaker, Quin Snyder, and Mike Brey got major head starts as recruiters. Snyder and Brey both achieved early success, and while Amaker has yet to lead the Wolverines to the NCAA tournament, he did win an NIT title. However, all three coaches have seen their programs slide in recent years.

Amaker has received a pass up until this season, as NCAA sanctions robbed him of a likely tournament berth, and injuries have decimated his program over the past two years. Nonetheless, even when his teams were healthy, the Wolverines didn’t appear to be a thriving program. Despite having NBA-level athleticism to work with at nearly every position, Amaker hasn’t been able to implement an effective offense. His guards ignore the post and fire up quick shots, and defensive effort ranges from spectacular to nonexistent on a game-to-game basis.

One couldn’t help but think “more of the same” on Saturday as Michigan appeared ready to lock up UCLA early on, but eventually fell behind as defensive effort gave way and the offense stagnated. Despite a barrage of internet articles about how Daniel Horton is playing like a true point guard, it was the same old Horton chucking up low-percentage shots from well beyond the arc against the Bruins. The fact of the matter is that a team as physically superior as Michigan shouldn’t have lost this one on their home court. Amaker has several big time recruits ready to don the Maize and Blue, but the Big Ten is ultra competitive this year. Another missed NCAA Tournament, and Amaker is going to have some serious questions to answer.

Snyder might be the most dramatic example, as he has gone from leading the Tigers to the Elite Eight in 2002 to missing the tournament entirely the past two seasons. The program has suffered due to NCAA investigations into the Ricky Clemons scandal, and failed to reach the Tournament in 2004 despite the presence of senior standouts Ricky Paulding and Arthur Johnson. While Snyder was able hold Missouri basketball together despite the NCAA violations, his talented 2005 team also flopped. Not even eventual first round pick Linas Kleiza could keep the Tigers from dipping below .500 in conference play. Snyder has put turnover-prone, directionless, downright dysfunctional basketball teams on the floor as of late.

1002


This season, Missouri has been even worse. With individual talents such as Thomas Gardner, Jimmy McKinney, and Marshall Brown dotting the roster, Snyder suffered an embarrassing loss at the hands of Sam Houston State, and near-defeats to minor schools like Northwestern State and Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Despite a newly constructed arena, interest in Missouri basketball is ebbing quickly. While there is still time for him at Missouri, things are heading in the wrong direction. It isn’t clear if he would last through another mediocre season.

Mike Brey appears to be in better shape at Notre Dame, but the program has clearly leveled off after three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2002-2004. In the last two seasons, the Fighting Irish have been members of that dreaded "last few out" category. Notre Dame was in a position to earn a bid both years, but faded down the stretch and lost the games they needed to win. A directionless offense has been a serious issue in this recent unsuccessful stretch, as the Fighting Irish guards have ignored the team’s talented big men, instead settling for low-percentage outside shots. Point guard Chris Thomas took much of the heat for this, but the Notre Dame system put him in plenty of tough situations over the years.

Brey brought in another good recruiting class this fall and will rely on talented seniors Chris Quinn and Torin Francis to get back to the big dance. The early results have been mixed once again. Notre Dame actually dropped a game in South Bend to Amaker and the Wolverines, but then bounced back with a win against Alabama. There is plenty of room in the middle of the Big East, but it isn't clear just how many teams from the middle of that pack will make the big dance. IN any case, another NIT trip for the Fighting Irish and fans are going to start getting really antsy.

It is hard to say what has caused the struggles of these former Duke assistants. What is clear is that despite integral coaching roles within Blue Devil program, these three have yet to reproduce whatever it is that makes Coach K a success on such an unparalleled level. The chemistry, intensity, attention to detail, and tactical mastery of every Duke team are noticeably absent in all three programs. Every coach faces that tough transition period after their program has gone from “hunter” to “hunted”, but Coach K’s protégés are running out of time at Michigan, Missouri, and Notre Dame.

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