Happy New Year, folks! It’s early January, and here’s one reason college basketball is so great: Alabama State won at Virginia Tech on the opening weekend of the season; two nights ago, Virginia Tech beat fourth-ranked Virginia. You just never know as conference play begins. Speaking of…
One word: Wow.
What a game between Kansas and Oklahoma Monday. Just like the rest of you, I didn’t want it to end. Kansas has a stranglehold on the Big 12 regular season that is amazing. Lon Kruger has taken five schools to the NCAA Tournament, but what is hard to believe is the first year he did it. Where were you in 1986-87? Lon was leading Kansas State to the NCAA Tournament. He did the same at Florida, Illinois, UNLV and now at Oklahoma. Monday was the first No. 1 versus No. 2 triple-overtime game in NCAA history. We might see these teams play four times this year, the final one coming in Houston. What a treat that would be.
Diamond’s not rough for Maryland
Like many, I was so impressed by Maryland freshman Diamond Stone’s 39 points against Penn State, because they needed every single one. He added 12 rebounds and got to the line an astonishing 25 times. Maryland trailed by 13 with about six minutes to go and could have easily folded to a team that is very hungry to try and take the next step. Instead the Terrapins kept battling, and that is a great sign for Mark Turgeon. They had someone take the fight to them and responded well. Being the hunted is not easy.
Remember a few years ago when the Mountain West was dominating the Pac-12? These things go in cycles. As of Monday, there were 11 Pac-12 teams in the top 100 of the RPI and 10 of them are higher than MWC leader Boise State, which sits at 74. This could be a year where the Mountain West only gets its conference tournament winner in the NCAAs, while the Pac-12 earns as many as seven or eight berths. Teams like USC and Oregon State are much improved, Arizona State won games away from home and the conference as a whole is trending up. Meanwhile, Colorado State, New Mexico and San Diego State all struggled last month.
You can trust this guy with two first names
Who is James Daniel and why are we talking about him? He entered this week as the nation’s leading scorer. Playing for the Howard Bison, Daniel is averaging 29 points per game through 14 games and already has six 30-point games. It’s a shame the guy they call “J-Byrd” wasn’t able to play when the Bison visited Purdue back in mid-December. A toe injury kept him out, so we didn’t get a chance to see him against top competition.
Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has been amazing, but remember this: Hield averaged just 7.8 points as a freshman on 39% shooting. A lot of guys transfer after that. Buddy just went to work. His 46-point effort at Kansas was amazing, but I get the feeling the best is yet to come. And if Hield can top 46 points in 54 minutes, we’re all in for something special.
Change isn’t always for the better
Remember when Minnesota decided to make a change from Tubby Smith? Tubby’s Texas Tech team beat Texas last weekend to win its tenth straight game. Texas had won 14 of its last 15 meetings with Texas Tech, but Coach Smith has them believing. Getting to 11 straight wins tonight with a victory over Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum will be difficult, but either way the Red Raiders are moving in the right direction, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise. Smith coached Minnesota to a 124-81 record and reached the NCAA Tournament three times. The current edition of the Golden Gophers are 6-9 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten. Every program is different and athletic directors have a right to make any changes they want, but fans: be really careful what you wish for.
South Carolina on our minds
How about the job Frank Martin is doing at South Carolina? The Gamecocks haven’t played a great schedule, but at this point, when you win your first 13 games for the first time since 1933-34, it isn’t time to worry about strength of schedule. Martin knew his team needed confidence. He got it by winning games and currently has five players averaging double digits; wins and a solid distribution of points leads to a happy locker room and while that doesn’t always translate to wins on the court, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
– Bill Frieder
Former Michigan and Arizona State head coach Bill Frieder is an analyst for Westwood One’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.