The pageantry of the non-conference schedule has come to an end and conference play is blooming like a brand new flower. And that small flower has already rocked the national scene.
In two parts, I will look at major college basketball and highlight all that is good and all that is bad. First to the teams which have been disappointing but with room to improve.
When looking at what has already taken place, everything must be taken with a "grain of salt." Strengths can only prove so much against lesser competition, but the weaknesses can show holes in a team previously thought to be solid.
Conference play is the great equalizer, everyone knows it. So UNC losing to Boston College should not be too surprising—I am most surprised it happened on UNC's home court. But what the "pre-conference season" does for fans is give us an idea of how well our favorite team matches up against cupcakes and the occasional meeting of powerhouses in the tournaments and challenges.
Or if you are Gonzaga, you stuff your non-conference schedule with tough games because there are only two teams that SHOULD give you problems in conference play. But they are having their own troubles, losing four out of their last five games.
And now, the most disappointing teams of the 2008-09 College basketball season thus far.
I really don't know what to say. No team has underperformed like the Louisville Cardinals. Was this season’s team and talent over-hyped? Or was David Padgett under-appreciated? The Cardinals are 9-3 and a 30-foot, last second shot to beat Kentucky away from 8-4.
Louisville has dominated in its nine wins, only Kentucky and Mississippi lost by less than ten. In the three games they lost however, the Cardinals shot 32 percent from the field and 28 percent from behind the arc. Nowhere near their 43 percent and 35 percent averages.
The Big East is tough and this team was expected to compete for the conference title. They still could, but not in the current form.
Solution: Steady point guard play. Maybe after his game-winning shot Sunday, Edgar Sosa has earned Rick Pitino's trust and can start dishing out assists. Two other players, both forwards, average more assists per game than Sosa; Terrance Williams with 4.7 and Earl Clark with three per game.
After years of being the tournament Cinderella, the glass slipper has been smashed to pieces this season as the Bulldogs were a Final Four pick by many of the experts. But 8-4 is not the start that shows you are now “a team to beat.”
Gonzaga is infamous for playing a difficult non-conference schedule. This season they match-up with Tennessee twice, Arizona, UConn, Washington State, and Maryland.
At moments, The ‘Zags look unstoppable. Other times, they look like a bunch a kids waiting for the teacher to tell them what to do. Mark Few needs to give direction to this offensive juggernaut and tell Austin Daye he does need to shoot EVERY TIME HE TOUCHES THE BALL. Just grab some more rebounds and block more shots. His draft status is fine.
Solution: Three-point shooting. Six players have each taken over 20 3-point shots, totaling 227 and they have made only 77 for 34 percent. Best is center/forward Josh Heytvelt at 47 percent and worst is point guard Jeremy Pargo at 26 percent.
I like Tyler Smith. His game reminds me of former Wake Forrest star Josh Howard, without the America bashing. But Smith cannot do it alone. This team needs a consistent second scorer. Wayne Chism, I am talking to you.
In a game against Marquette, Chism had one of the best performances of the season. He scored 21 points in the second half and finished with 26 points and 11 boards and was un-guardable. But against a much lesser team, Belmont, Chism only puts up six points and 12 rebounds in a Volunteer two-point victory. Wayne, you are too good.
There are six players who average nine points or more. Smith leads with 17.3 and next is Chism at 12.3. Maybe Scottie Hopson can become that person, but he needs to find shots in the offense. This team can score, but at the end of games is seems no one wants to take the shot.
Solution: Wayne Chism with a little bit more from the freshmen.
So long, Derrick Rose. Take care of yourself, Chris Douglas-Roberts. Call us soon, Joey Dorsey.
The Tigers lost too much. The team's best play-maker, best offensive player, and best banger.
Like Tennessee, Memphis cannot replace the dynamic talents that made them extremely successful last season. While Tyreke Evans is a good player—he may end up a great player—he is not yet playing at the level people were expecting.
Evans is leading the Tigers in scoring with 16.9, but at times he forces the play when the offense becomes stale. Rose was able to get to the rim against any player. Evans struggles to get much more than jumpers and he is only shooting 28 percent from distance.
As a team, they are shooting 29 percent from 3-point range. With only two players—forward Robert Dozier and guard Roburt Sallie—shooting anywhere near 40 percent. And for a team whose offense is pretty much a glorified drive and kick, The Tigers need to shoot better.
Solution: Three-point shooting mixed with a little more toughness. They miss Joey Dorsey.
*Disclaimer—Memphis lost three games. But they were to quality teams; Xavier, Gonzaga—yes I still consider them quality, and Syracuse.
I had high hopes for the Trojans. I thought they would say goodbye to O.J. Mayo and move on. But with loses to Oregon State, Seton Hall, and Missouri, I think my faith is gone.
Statistically they look good. Dwight Lewis leads the team in scoring with 16.1 ppg and Taj Gibson is averaging a double-double. They also have Daniel Hackett and DeMar DeRozan in double-figure scoring as well.
But here is a stat that might tell the story. As a team, their assist to turnover ratio is 1:1.2. Hackett alone dishes out six assists per game and then loses the ball 4.1 times a game. USC gives the ball over 16 times a game which is most in the PAC-10.
DeRozan is also shooting zero percent from three. He has taken 14 shots, just missed them all. As a team the Trojans shoot 33 percent from behind the arc. With the many missed threes and amount of turnovers, there are a lot of empty possessions.
Solution: Ball handling. There are a lot of weapons on this team, but there are useless if you can't give them the ball.
Michigan State—you give them the loss to UNC. But not to Maryland, not by 18.
UAB—has five losses against four good teams, but will still compete in C-USA.