Heading into Sunday’s Kansas-San Diego State game at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas had more Big 12 championships (9) than home losses (8) under Bill Self, but Steve Fisher had 103 straight wins when leading with five minutes remaining in the second half. So when the score read Aztecs 52 and Jayhawks 48 with 5:00 on the clock, I called Steve’s wife Angie to tell her I’d be over soon to celebrate the win.
Fisher continues to show over and over what a great coach he is and it’s San Diego State’s gain that nobody from a more prestigious school has come calling. His team outfought, out-hustled, and clearly outplayed Kansas in Lawrence. Few teams can say they’ve done that. 20 offensive rebounds (16 by three players) says it all as they bested the Jayhawks on the glass 51-39. Xavier Thames led the way with 16 points, and while several Kansas players had problems making one-and-one free throws, Thames calmly sank four in a row, including the final two with four seconds to go to cement a 61-57 victory. Skylar Spencer added 13 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots, while Josh Davis scored 10 and grabbed 14 boards. Did anyone notice highly touted freshman Andrew Wiggins? I didn’t.
Nice to ACC you
How about the old Big East taking over the ACC for one weekend? Notre Dame gets it done against Duke, Syracuse moves past Miami and Pitt falls behind 21-4 before beating North Carolina State in Raleigh. Pitt has started strong but hasn’t beaten a really good team. That said, at 14-1, it is hard to overlook them after Saturday’s win over a team that is usually good at home and last night’s pasting of Maryland in Pittsburgh. The way I see the ACC is this right now – Syracuse is the best and the others are still finding themselves. Duke has three losses, but get ready for them to be 17-3 by the end of the month. Coach K’s crew has this schedule coming up: Georgia Tech, at Clemson, Virginia, NC State, at Miami and Florida State. I don’t see a loss in there.
Leaders of the Pac
Guess what league has three teams in the top-10 of the RPI as of Monday? The Pac-12 is much more than just top-ranked Arizona. Colorado and Oregon had a shootout on Sunday in Boulder, where it is really, really, really hard to win these days. Askia Booker is the real deal for the Buffaloes, and he isn’t even the best player on his team. That title goes to Spencer Dinwiddie. Want more Pac-12? How about the fact the league doesn’t have a team below 150 in the RPI right now. Its worst team is Utah, who is going to beat some folks this year (ask BYU how good they are) and already almost stole one against Oregon. Let me close on this about Colorado…33-of-36 from the foul line Sunday. You want a sleeper Final Four pick? This could be it. Good guards, solid big men, a home court to gain confidence all year and a great coach.
Keeping tabs on…
With the New Year and conference play upon us, it seems appropriate to take stock of some of the teams and players I’ve mentioned this season. Penn State’s Tim Frazier is averaging 16.9 points per game along with 4.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists in 35.2 minutes a game. While these are very good numbers, it’s important to remember that they came against non-conference opponents. Frazier was held to 10 points against Illinois and just seven against Michigan State this past week. He figures to feel the wrath of Big Ten defenses from here on out… Wichita State is 15-0 overall and already 2-0 in Missouri Valley play. The Shockers have a realistic shot to run the table in the MVC (it doesn’t hurt that Creighton is now in the Big East) as they are firing on all cylinders and are a threat to make another deep run in March… TaShawn Thomas and the Houston Cougars are also playing some good basketball. The 6-8 junior is averaging 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds a game and his team won their conference home opener against #17 UConn 75-71… Another team that is playing well is #23 UMass. The Minutemen are 12-1 and guard Chaz Williams is a big part of their success. The 5-9 senior is averaging 15.5 points and 7.7 assists per game… It’s been an exciting start to the season and I suspect there will be a few more sleeper teams and players ready to bust out and make a name for themselves as we start 2014.
– Bill Frieder
Former Michigan and Arizona State head coach Bill Frieder is an analyst for WestwoodOne’s coverage of NCAA Basketball. In his weekly blog Boxed Out, Bill scours the box scores to bring you interesting stories from the world of college basketball.