One-third in the books
January 1, 2006
By Jason Johnson
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New Year’s marks the end of what is the first third of the college basketball season. While some schools scheduled the cupcakes in November and December (Connecticut, Clemson), other programs used the early games to test their talent (Gonzaga, Tennessee).
Some players have lived up to expectations (Greg Paulus, Chris Lofton) while others have failed to perform up to their talent levels (Rodney Stuckey, Eric Devendorf). Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned in the opening segment of the season.
1) Florida is still the best team in the nation. The Gators have two losses on their schedule (one in OT to Kansas) but this past Saturday, Florida played with the emotion reminiscent of last seasons NCAA National Championship run. The 86-60 dismantling of Ohio State in front of a record O’Connell Center crowd was enough to impress and remind everyone which team is this seasons “team to beat.”
2) Duke doesn’t miss J.J. Redick and Sheldon Williams. The Blue Devils are 11-1 and four of the five names in the starting lineup are NBA prospects. Point guard Greg Paulus is the glue that holds this team together and forward Josh McRoberts improves each and every game. Freshman Guard Jon Scheyer shoots 41 oercent from behind the arc and it’s almost scary how he reminds the Duke faithful of Redick.
3) Freshman are impacting college basketball in a big way. See my article on this later this week.
4) The mid-major schools are a new force to be reckoned with. Butler has knocked off Notre Dame, Tennessee, Gonzaga, and Purdue. Wichita State took out LSU and Syracuse, both on the road. Air Force is 11-1 with their only loss coming to Duke.
There are countless mid-major schools who have posted notable upsets this season including DePaul (Kansas) and Missouri State (Wisconsin). The list goes on and on and while we’re about through with non-conference play, expect a few more as the season moves along. These mid major have nothing to lose and everything to gain when playing against the big boys and every young college player wants to remember what it was like to pull off the improbable.
5) The major conferences show parity. Unlike college football, you just can’t debate who the top BCS conference is, it’s not possible. In my top-25 rankings, the first five schools are all from different conferences.
That’s one each from the Pac-10, Big 12, SEC, Big Ten, and ACC. Incredible as it is, it’s the power Big East that doesn’t make my top-25 until number 14.
Top 10 impact players:
1. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (18.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG)
2. Chris Lofton, Tennessee (22.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG)
3. Nick Fazekas, Nevada (20.9 PPG., 12.6 RPG)
4. Alando Tucker, Wisconsin (20.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG)
5. Darren Collison, UCLA (13.0 PPG, 6.2 APG)
6. Taurean Green, Florida (13.6 PPG, 4.1 APG)
7. Mustafa Shakur, Arizona (13.4 PPG, 7.4 APG, 4.4 RPG)
8. Bradon Rush, Kansas (13.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
9. Mario Boggan (21.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG)
10. Jared Dudley, Boston College (18.8 PPG, 9.0 RPG)
Top 5 upsets:
1. DePaul over Kansas
2. Missouri State over Wisconsin
3. Butler over Gonzaga
4. Wichita State over LSU
5. Florida State over Florida