The boss says pick a winner. No, pick 3 winners, teams that could win the championship of college basketball. If I have to I can pick 5 and talk about how wide open it is in college basketball. I’m not thinking wide open. I can only think Duke. One contender, 64 pretenders.
The Blue Devils were so ferocious on defense against Michigan State on Wednesday night they made the Spartans center Paul Davis look useless. The kid had a glassed-over look in his eyes that said, “I can’t play.” When you do that to a really good player, your team is something special.
What else did I see in Duke? The 3 is back in the holster. Thank goodness. The Blue Devils look like they share it a lot more and look inside. They have some balance.
Duke played for 40 minutes against Michigan State and was dominant. There will be nights the Blue Devils can’t play 40 minutes because these are kids, but there won’t be many of those nights.
Purdue, of course. The Boilermakers beat Duke.
Gene Keady is one of the best coaches in the game and he has seniors and a physical, defensive-minded team that will fight every possession. There also are people questioning Keady’s fitness for the job. Bad move. Purdue is going to strike back for the comb-over coach.
Michigan State? The Spartans will regroup. Tom Izzo will work on Davis and get him back. This club has a lot of talent and it can certainly board.
The one issue is point guard play against pressure from good teams. MSU was awful against Kansas and worse against Duke getting into an offense and lost both games.
Speaking of Kansas, the Jayhawks still look dangerous the year after Roy Williams.
Connecticut will be hard to handle once it is healthy.
Arizona looks thin, North Carolina isn’t ready — yet — and the Big East outside of UConn is lacking, though look out for Providence. There’s 3.
After that, yeah boss, it’s wide open.
Q: Could Illinois have made Bill Self fulfill his contract and not allowed him to go to Kansas? I believe that his departure will hurt Illinois.
— R. Johnson, Decatur, Ill.
A: The last thing a program needs to do is force a coach to stay. Even when most contracts for top coaches have at least four years on them at any point, the paper seems useless. If a guy wants to go, he goes.
And, besides, Kansas had to pay Illinois $500,000 in a buyout to get Self. Illinois also doesn’t have to pay Self the $550,000 for staying through the life of the contract.
Self did pretty good for himself at Kansas. A five-year deal at $1.1 million per. It’s not quite the overall money Roy Williams got, but it’s more than Illinois.
What’s interesting is that Roy Williams’ contract at Kansas did not have a buyout clause, Self’s does. What you’re seeing with some schools is that buyouts are becoming more common. Mike Shula, for instance, has a $1 million buyout clause as Alabama’s head football coach.
What coaches make the most? Kentucky’s Tubby Smith has an eight-year deal that could pay as much as $2.5 million per year. Louisville’s Rick Pitino comes in around $2.1 million. Mike Krzyzewski at Duke goes for $1.5 to 1.65 million.
Q: Who would win if Duke was to play Kentucky? Who is the better coach, Coach K or Tubby Smith?
— Richard Sturt, Lexington, Kentucky
A: Duke has better talent, there’s no question about that. The Blue Devils defense is extraordinary. These guys don’t just contest every shot, they contest nearly every pass.
Chris Duhon has control of this team and sets a tone with his aggressive — sometimes overly aggressive — defense. Michigan State couldn’t get into anything and one of the reasons was Duhon was a demon on defense.
What’s going to be interesting is how the Blue Devils get wired on offense. I think the gunner, J.J. Redick hoists too many shots and gets ahead of the game. The more Duke shares the ball on offense and gets away from all the 3s like last year, the better off it is. I think Luol Deng on the block, even though he is 6-foot-6, is going to be a problem for the opposing offenses all season. He has arms that let him play like a 6-foot-9 player, he scoots into open spots near the glass and controls the ball with one hand.
Kentucky has veteran savvy, but not near the talent of Duke. In a matchup with Duke’s overplaying defense, UK guards Gerald Fitch and Cliff Hawkins are the two guys who can beat the over-play by going around it or going backdoor. Chuck Hayes is leader of a team that is going to win on sweat and defense. Fitch can shoot outside, but who else is a steady threat? That’s what Kentucky needs to find.
As far as coaching, I’m not picking between the two. The two best in college basketball for my money.
Q: Where do you think Indiana University will finish this year in the Big Ten?
— Emery L. Williams, Asheville, N.C.
A: Not among the top six in the conference, perhaps top seven, after what I saw against Wake Forest. That was a whipping. Granted, Wake Forest is very good and played at home, but the Hoosiers had no response to that beating.
If you strive to be a contender in your league, you refuse to get hammered like that.
IU kept letting the Deacons get to the rim. It happened again and again. Indiana's 6-foot-11 George Leach didn’t play and he can block some shots. Yet somebody should have taken one for the team against the Wake Forest behemoth Eric Williams (275 pounds).
And the turnovers; 22 for the game. Indiana is projected as a team likely to land in the NIT. We’ll see what happens when Leach comes back from his knee injury around Christmas. But right now the prediction looks right on.
Q: Can Ben Howland get UCLA back to an elite level? If so, how long will it take?
— Steve Garfield, Camarillo, Calif.
A: You mean the level of the Wooden Bruins? Forget it.
To the level of Jim Harrick? That’s possible.
Harrick had a .723 winning percentage and won a national championship. Howland can do that, but first things first. He has to win a Pac-10 title. Steve Lavin, had a .696 winning percentage and took his team to the Sweet 16 five times in seven seasons, but the Bruins have not won a Pac-10 championship since 1997. UCLA has to reestablish itself in its own conference, then the region, then think about a national title.
What Howland needs to do is deal with Arizona and Lute Olson. The Wildcats are the barometer in the west and UCLA has to get to the level of Arizona. The Bruins could have a shot this season because Olson’s bench looks pretty thin.
The other thing Howland has to do is get Pauley Pavilion’s seating capacity increased. There has been an update in technology in the arena and the renovated and expanded Acosta Athletic Training Facility is a plus for recruiting, but to get more seats in historic Pauley would be significant.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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