College Basketball's Top 10 Questions Entering the Weekend

Tom BaerCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2010

College Basketball's Top 10 Questions Entering the Weekend

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    ESPN and other sports networks obsess over fantasy stats, Heisman trophies, Monday Night Football and the Hot Stove League

    Lost in all the Cam Newton/Tom Brady/Cliff Lee hoopla is college basketball, which is once again set for a stellar season.

    While this coming hoops weekend, on paper, seems rather, um, blah, with only one ranked-versus-ranked game on the docket (Kansas State-Florida), stories nonetheless abound in the college hardwood universe.

    What's with Gonzaga? Is Central Florida for real? Can Carolina regain national respectability? And so on.

    Even with few headline matchups on Saturday and Sunday, a number of games might extract answers to the top 10 questions entering this weekend's play.

10. Who the H*** Is Oakland?

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    The Oakland Golden Grizzlies, responsible for several nervous breakdowns in Knoxville on Tuesday, didn't luck into a 89-82 victory over No. 7 and previously undefeated Tennessee.

    In fact, the Grizz are capable of hanging with the country's elite, as witnessed by closer-than-expected losses to ranked adversaries Illinois (74-63) and Michigan State (77-76) in the two games prior to the school's signature victory over Smokey.

    Sure, West Virginia and Purdue dominated Oakland earlier in the season, but two respectable losses to Big Ten powerhouses and a major upset against a Top 10 team in the past three games has the Grizzlies thinking postseason.

    Don't be surprised if Oakland plunders the Summit League and transforms into Cinderella come March.

9. Is Central Florida for Real?

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    Central Florida (8-0) appears to be no joke.

    While the Knights have mostly smashed college basketball riffraff, UCF did defeat Florida in an in-state rivalry to receive some street cred.

    UCF, which received Top 25 votes, has a chance to continue its jousting start when it faces Miami (FL) on Saturday.

    Perhaps the game versus the Hurricanes might help answer this question: Is UCF for real or just another shark feeding on college basketball's guppies?

8. Will Jimmer Fredette Light Up Another Pac-10 Opponent?

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    BYU's Jimmer Fredette (23.7 points per game), last seen dismantling Arizona by scoring 33 points, has the 10-0 Cougars ranked 18th and climbing.

    This Saturday, Fredette and his mates take on another Pac-10 foe, UCLA, in the John Wooden Classic.

    With another victory over a BCS conference team, the Cougars could move closer to a Top 10 spot.

    If that occurs, perhaps the nation will realize that JF and BYU are legitimate title contenders, not some pre-conference fluke.

7. San Diego State: Final Four Crasher?

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    Does San Diego State have Final Four potential?

    Such a question has little to do with the upcoming weekend, so this particular slide strays from the article's thesis a bit.

    Nevertheless, SDSU's play in November and December propels the team squarely into the spotlight as one of the major 2010-2011 college basketball stories.

    The Aztecs, 10-0 and ranked No. 10, have beaten Gonzaga, Wichita State and California.

    Moreover, 6'7" sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard (16.3 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game) will press BYU's Jimmer Fredette for Conference Player of the Year.

    In January, February and March, don't expect laughable matchups, as is the case with many "lower" mid-major conferences. The Mountain West, with BYU, New Mexico and UNLV, among others, is no lightweight.

    A 30-plus win season is quite possible.

    A Final Four is as well.

6. Rick Pitino + Puerto Rico = Huh?

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    According to the Associated Press and other sources, Rick Pitino is in "advanced" discussions to coach the Puerto Rican national team in pre-Olympic qualifying in Argentina this summer.


    Major programs often travel abroad to bask in new cultures and play international competition.

    If not overseas, intense college coaches like Pitino spend the summer prepping for the start of practice in October.

    Perhaps Pitino has yet another coaching itch he must scratch. That's fine.

    But how will the head man's summer departure affect Louisville?

5. Jared Sullinger: The Nation's Best Big?

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    After a 40-point, 13-rebound outburst against IUPUI last week, Jared Sullinger just might have secured his position as the nation's best big man. 

    Sullinger, who averages 18 points and nine rebounds while shooting 60 percent, keeps improving, which is bad news for the Big Ten.

    Ohio State's (8-0, No. 2) Saturday game against a decent South Carolina squad gives Sullinger another chance to prove that the only interior players better than the 6'9" freshman compete in the NBA.

4. Will the Real Gonzaga Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Gonzaga, once ranked 12th, has dropped three straight and sits at 4-5.

    Three of the team's wins—Southern, IUPUI and Eastern Washington—are against cream puffs.

    Against stiffer competition, the Bulldogs have won only once (Marquette) while losing to San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois, Washington State and Notre Dame.

    The Zags have the opportunity to right the ship by beating an upper-class squad when it travels to Dallas on Saturday to face No. 9 Baylor.

    Preseason All-American Elias Harris, in a tsunami of a sophomore slump—14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a freshman; 10.4 and 4.3 this season—must dry off and live up to his reputation for GU to reserve its usual spot in the NCAA tournament. 

    Harris' and Gonzaga's postseason push starts Saturday in The Lone Star State.

3. Can Florida Defeat a Quality Opponent Outside the State?

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Florida's 7-2 record and No. 24 ranking is similar to the girl across the bar: good from afar, unattractive up close.

    The Gators' seven victims in 2010-2011: UNC-Wilmington, North Carolina A&T, Morehead State, Florida Atlantic, Florida State, American and Kent State.

    While the win over a solid FSU contingent is impressive, Florida has fallen to Ohio State and Central Florida, its two other quality opponents.

    Given UF's schedule, perhaps it's too soon to label the team as overrated.

    But a victory this Saturday against No. 6 Kansas State would silence the critics and perhaps reveal the true Florida Gators.

2. Can UNC Fight Its Way Back into the Top 25?

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    With three consecutive victories, North Carolina (7-3) is stating its case for Top 25 reinstatement.

    Carolina, a roller coaster team if there ever was one, has ebbed and flowed with freshman Harrison Barnes, whose spectacular talent has yet to translate onto the court (35 percent on field goals, 29 percent on three pointers).

    Saturday's game versus No. 25 Texas in Greensboro provides the Tar Heels a chance to jump back into the Top 25 melee, and Barnes a chance to finally demonstrate that he's a player with unlimited upside.

1. How Will Kansas Freshman Josh Selby Fare in His First College Game?

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    Josh Selby, billed as the country's No. 1 recruit by many experts, makes his college debut on Saturday when No. 3 Kansas (9-0) battles USC.

    The 6'2" Selby, who missed the Jayhawks first nine games for accepting "impermissible benefits," is expected to come off the bench against the Trojans.

    Don't expect KU's most talented player (with due respect to Marcus Morris) to warm the pine for long.

    With the suspension behind him, Selby might push Kansas ahead of Duke as the nation's best team, especially now that Kyrie Irving is sidelined.

    Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!