Hey, I’m excited about the NFL playoffs just like everyone else. But promise me you will take time out to catch at least one college basketball game on the tube this weekend.
There are some very interesting games on the slate: West Virginia at Georgetown, Connecticut at Texas, St. John’s at Notre Dame, Kansas at Michigan, Minnesota at Ohio State, and Maryland at Duke — just to name a few.
But now, it’s time to answer your questions.
Q: I keep reading stories about the best conference and nobody seems to agree. I’ve seen Big Ten, Big East and Big 12. What do you think? I’m leaning toward the Big East.
— Amanda K., Chicago
A: I’m leaning in the same direction, Amanda. That’s a surprise because most people, myself included, thought this would be a down season for the Big East. But it’s hard not to give the edge to the Big East at this point in the season. I don’t put a lot of stock in the rankings, but the Big East has eight teams ranked — and that total doesn’t include St. John’s, the only team with a 3-0 record in the conference standings. When you consider all the talent the Big East lost from last season, it’s a tribute to the coaches, and to several key players, that the Big East is playing at such a high caliber. Kemba Walker, Marshon Brooks, Austin Freeman, Corey Stokes, Dwight Hardy, Rick Jackson, Brad Wanamker and Ben Hansbrough are just a few of the veterans who have elevated their game.
UConn, Notre Dame and Cincinnati have had surprising success and that helps the image of the Big East. Michigan State, Northwestern, and Kansas State have not played up to expectations — and that hurts their conferences. Even Kansas coach Bill Self is leaning your direction, Amanda. “The Big East is probably the premier league, at least to date,” Self said Thursday. “But [the Big 12] is right there and I’m proud of that.” He’s right. The Big 12 has five teams in the Top 25 and the quality of play has been very good. It’s pretty close to Big East stature.
Q: Who’s going to give Duke any problems in the ACC? North Carolina stinks, Florida State can’t score and everyone else has even more issues. Why is the conference this bad?
— Ken Howard, Arlington, Va.
A: I hesitate to refer to the rankings again, but the polls certainly agree with you Ken. It’s so strange to see the Top 25 with Duke at No. 1 and then no other ACC teams represented. We are not accustomed to that. North Carolina has been a disappointment, but I still think the Tar Heels are going to get better by March. Other than that, there isn’t a lot of hope. Some of the teams at the bottom of the ACC have played horrible basketball. It boils down to players. Some highly rated recruits just aren’t getting it done in the ACC. And the Midseason Top 30 released by the John Wooden Award only included five ACC players. Take away Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler of Duke, and that’s only three.
With so many young players leaving for the NBA, it gets harder and harder to rebuild — even at a traditional power such as North Carolina. “As coaches, we have to be concerned with our team and how our team is doing,” UNC coach Roy Williams said Monday. “We want the league to do well, but the bottom line is we’ve got to get in games, play well and win. We did some nice things in the Texas game but we needed to win that game. I’m sure each and every coach [in the ACC] might be able to say the same thing.”
Not Mike Krzyzewski. He’s undefeated.
Q: Ken, is anyone a better scorer than LaceDarius Dunn? He hit 10 three-pointers in one game!
— Jason Kegel, The Woodlands, Texas
A: Baylor’s senior guard certainly is one of the great scorers in the game this season. He ranks seventh in the nation with a 23.4 average. And against Morgan State this week he had 43 points and those 10 threes you referred to. I enjoy watching LaceDarius play. I really do, Jason. But he could be more efficient. I’m not too fond of a guy firing up 18 3-point attempts, like he did against Morgan State. Baylor won 89-72 but I’m not sure the Bears will be well served if Dunn is firing up 18 threes in Big 12 play. As a sophomore, Dunn averaged 7.2 3-point attempts per game. Last season that number was 7.7. In the 10 games he has played this season, Dunn is averaging 10 per game. His scoring average is up from 19.6 last season, In fact, almost all his stats have improved. Baylor coach Scott Drew is always going to let Dunn have the green light, but more importantly, he needs Dunn to be a complete player.
“I think he has really improved his passing and his ball handling,” Drew said Thursday. “The other thing is he has done a great job getting to the free-throw line. Instead of settling for the three, he’s getting contact and getting to the line, because he is a good free-throw shooter. Defensively, we’ve asked him take on a bigger role too and understand the importance of the defensive end.”
If Dunn does all that, the Bears will be better off.
Q: Why isn’t Drexel part of Philadelphia’s Big Five? Can’t they make it the Big Six, or boot La Salle, or something?
— Gene Singleton, Toledo, Ohio
A: Boot LaSalle? Really Gene? What have the Explorers done to you?
Sorry Gene, Drexel is out of luck — even though the campus is less than a mile, and only a three-minute walk, from the Penn campus. And it’s nothing against the Dragons or coach Bruiser Flint, who just happens to be a graduate of Big Five-member Saint Joseph’s. It’s just a simple matter of tradition. And it’s a very sensitive issue in Philly. The Big Five was established in 1955-56. Drexel didn’t become a Division I basketball program until 1973. I realize few things have withstood the test of time in college athletics. Business rules over tradition most of the time. But this is Philly, and the City of Brotherly Love doesn’t like to change things. There’s no new recipe in the works for cheesesteaks. They aren’t going to put luxury boxes in the Palestra. The Mummers Parade is still a big deal on New Year’s Day. And the Big Five isn’t changing. Adding another required game would be a scheduling nightmare for the schools. That’s sad for Drexel, but it is refreshing for those of us who love upholding tradition.
“It’s not a disparaging thing toward Drexel,” said Temple AD William Bradshaw, chairman of the Big Five athletic directors. “It’s just a bond that is there. We’ve been in it since the beginning and we've always stuck together. It’s a feeling of ‘Let’s stay together.’ ”
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