Conference call, Minutes-style
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (Bruce Weber bobblehead sold separately):
February is coming, and with it the irresistible temptation to frame every hoops conversation around March. That's understandable, but first The Minutes requests a review of who has thrived and who took a dive during the first month of play in the nation's eight best conferences:
Better Than Advertised: The expansion teams, Virginia Tech and Miami, are a combined 8-6 in league play and 24-12 overall. (And don't look now, but 2005-06 member Boston College is merely undefeated.) All the Tobacco Road whiners who said the Big East interlopers would hurt basketball? The Minutes can't hear you anymore.
Worse Than Advertised: Georgia Tech got back on the beam with a 102-101 overtime victory over Wake Forest, but the Yellow Jackets are 3-3 in league play and must still play Duke twice and at Wake. They badly need a healthy B.J. Elder in the lineup.
Coach of the Year (so far): Seth Greenberg (2) of Virginia Tech edges out Miami's Frank Haith and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. Honk if you thought the Hokies could lose a 22-point, nine-rebound guy (Bryant Matthews) from a 15-14 team and get better upon joining the nation's toughest conference.
Freshman of the Year (so far): North Carolina specimen Marvin Williams (3) averages 10.7 points and 6.7 rebounds. Imagine what those numbers might be if he'd ever played more than 24 minutes in a game this season.
Best Game To Come: North Carolina at Duke, Feb. 9. Just a wild guess -- Vitale will be there.
Better Than Advertised: Texas A&M. Sure, the Aggies are 0-4 on the road so far in conference. But they're 3-1 at home, including an upset of hated rival Texas -- just the fourth time ever that A&M has beaten a Top 10 team and the first time in 23 years.
Player of the Year (so far): Kansas' Wayne Simien (4) by a whisker over Oklahoma State's Joey Graham. Simien (18.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in league play) and Graham (18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds in league play) are statistically inseparable. But Simien's team is 5-0 and Graham's is 4-2, so the Jayhawk gets the nod for now.
Coach of the Year (so far): This has to go to first-year A&M coach Billy Gillispie (5), but special commendation goes to Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson for doing what he does so well -- plugging in a couple junior-college guys (Taj Gray and Terrell Everett this year) and keeping his program in title contention.
Freshman of the Year (so far): Texas point guard Daniel Gibson (6) is averaging 13.9 points, 4.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game. And without P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge, he's just about the only thing keeping the depleted Longhorns afloat.
Best Game To Come: Kansas at Oklahoma, Feb. 21. There's no return game in Lawrence, so the conference title could be on the line.
Better Than Advertised: Boston College, ya think? Not even the omniscient Minutes could foresee the Eagles rolling along at 18-0.
Worse Than Advertised: The senior seasons of Ryan Gomes and Chris Thomas. Notre Dame is just 4-3 in league play with a 62 RPI, and Thomas is shooting a career-low 35 percent from the field. Friars forward Gomes once again has lovely numbers (19.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game) but that hasn't deterred an 0-6 league start. Providence has lost all six of those games by single digits, but four have been at home.
Player of the Year (so far): The league with the best collection of big men in America has been raided by a slender sophomore wing forward, Boston College's Jared Dudley (7). It might sound ludicrous to tout him over Syracuse's Hakim Warrick, teammate Craig Smith, Gomes, Pittsburgh's Chevy Troutman and UConn's Josh Boone, but check the kid's numbers in league games -- 20.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 51 percent shooting from the field and 79 percent shooting from the line. He's more versatile than Warrick and better across the board than Smith or Gomes.
Coach of the Year (so far): The Minutes will go out on a limb and plug BC's Al Skinner (8), who brings a refreshingly calm presence to the sidelines. (Honorable mention to John Thompson III for making Georgetown relevant again.)
Freshman of the Year (so far): Rudy Gay came in with the biggest name, but Georgetown's Jeff Green (9) has shown the most game. The 6-foot-8 Green is all over the stat sheet, ranking among the league leaders in scoring (13.9), rebounds (6.9), assists (3.8) and field-goal percentage (47.7).
Best Game To Come: Syracuse at Boston College, Feb. 19. With no return game to the 'Cuse, a whole lot could be on the line in Conte Forum.
Better Than Advertised: Minnesota only returned one starter from last season, yet it has already won more league games (four) than all of last year (three). That's helped turn down the heat on coach Dan Monson -- for now.
Worse Than Advertised: Nobody expected Purdue to send Gene Keady out with a Big Ten title -- but neither did anyone expect the Boilermakers to be a pathetic 1-6 in league play right now and 5-13 overall. While this season underscores the fact that it's time for Keady to retire, it's still a sad way for a guy with 500 wins to leave.
Player of the Year (so far): Take your pick from the Illinois backcourt. Speedy Dee Brown provides the heart for the undefeated Illini and assertive Deron Williams is the brains -- but this year Luther Head (10) has been the soul. The senior's numbers have jumped up across the board from last year, and he's been capable of guarding the other team's top perimeter player. He's the biggest reason Illinois has gone from a Final Four contender to a Final Four favorite.
Coach of the Year (so far): Bruce Weber (11) of Illinois was supposed to have the best team in the league -- but being 21-0 goes beyond anyone's expectations. Yeah, he's coaching Bill Self's recruits, but the Kansas coach himSelf couldn't do any better than this.
Freshman of the Year (so far): In conference play, Indiana has gone from relying on Bracey Wright's jumper to finding a nice counterbalance inside from D.J. White (12). The long-armed power forward is averaging 15.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots in Big Ten games and is shooting a remarkable 66 percent from the field.
Best Game To Come: Illinois at Michigan State on Tuesday should be a battle supreme, and it might be the Big Ten's best shot at stopping the Illini from joining the legendary Indiana teams from the mid-'70s among the league's great regular-season unbeatens.
Better Than Advertised: Nobody, really. The league color scheme is as red and black as everyone thought it would be. Louisville and Cincinnati are on top at 6-1. There are four solid chasers at 5-2. Everyone else is sub-.500.
Worse Than Advertised: Memphis has had a miserable season to date. It's 12-9 overall and has been racked by controversy and turmoil. Even with the flunk-out of forward Sean Banks, it has the talent to win the league -- and at 5-2, it's in the race. But Memphis plays five of its first eight conference games at home. The last half features two games with Louisville, a trip to Charlotte and a home game against Cincinnati.
Player of the Year (so far): Louisville's Francisco Garcia (13) started slowly this season, but he's been playing beautiful basketball as the Cardinals have taken off of late. The junior is starting to grasp the leadership role -- when to take charge, when to rely on teammates, when to drive, when to shoot the 3. He ranks among the C-USA leaders in virtually everything and might be the most versatile player in the nation.
Coach of the Year (so far): Rick Pitino (14) kept Louisville from splintering during an injury-filled first eight weeks. Now that he's got a healthy team and a newfound bench, the Cardinals have won seven straight by an average margin of 33 points.
Freshman of the Year (so far): Memphis point guard Darius Washington (15) edges Louisville forward Juan Diego Palacios. The super-quick Washington's learning curve is in large part responsible for the Tigers' improved play in recent games. He's averaging 14.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.1 steals for Memphis.
Best Game To Come: If Cincinnati at Louisville on Wednesday can approximate Round 1 -- the Cardinals came back from 17 down in Cincy to win 69-66 -- it will be a classic.
Better Than Advertised: Illinois State was 10-19 last season and won just four league games. This year the Redbirds are 14-6 overall and 6-4 in league play, including a win at perennial MoVal heavyweight Creighton.
Worse Than Advertised: Speaking of Creighton, the Blue Jays are just 5-5 in league play. The five losses are by a combined 22 points, so it might simply be a matter of a relatively new cast learning what it takes to win.
Player of the Year (so far): Southern Illinois guard Darren Brooks (16) is on his third college coach, but it doesn't matter who's drawing up the plays -- he's still the one finishing them. The rugged 6-3 senior leads his 16-5 team in scoring (14.7), rebounds (5.1), assists (4.5) and steals (3.0) and gets it all done from 19 feet and in (he's made just two 3-pointers in conference play).
Coach of the Year (so far): Mark Turgeon (17) of Wichita State had the preseason favorite last year but finished 12-6, well behind Southern Illinois. This year his Shockers are taking care of business -- they're 16-2 overall, 9-1 in the league and packing a No. 20 RPI.
Freshman of the Year (so far): This is a league built on upperclassmen and peppered with junior-college transfers, so the pickings are fairly slim. Northern Iowa widebody Eric Coleman (18) is averaging 11.1 points and 6.6 rebounds and has started all year. His numbers have tailed off in league games, and he could get a fight from Bradley's Jeremy Crouch or Creighton's Dane Watts for FOY honors before it's all over.
Best Game To Come: Wichita State knocked off Southern Illinois at home earlier. The return game in Carbondale is set for Feb. 26, with the regular-season title and tournament No. 1 seed potentially on the line.
Better Than Advertised: Washington State hasn't had a winning Pac-10 record since 1994-95 and hadn't beaten Arizona in 19 years. At 4-5, the Cougars are still iffy on reaching .500 in the league, but their victory in Tucson last week is the shocker of the year in this conference.
Worse Than Advertised: Oregon is just 3-6 in the league and has lost four straight. The Ducks' enjoyable offensive flow of the past few seasons has officially vacated the premises, replaced by a unit that, during league games, is last in Pac-10 in field-goal percentage, assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Player of the Year (so far): Arizona State's Ike Diogu (19) is so dominant that the Sun Devils' midpack status is rendered moot in selecting the league's best player. In conference games, Diogu is second in scoring (20.4), first in rebounds (9.3), first in blocks (3.3) and first in minutes (37). That's good enough to make him the choice over anyone from front-runners Arizona or Washington.
Coach of the Year (so far): Washington State is 11-16 in Pac-10 games under Dick Bennett (20). That might not sound like much until you consider that the Cougars were 20-106 in the seven years before he arrived in Pullman. Give that man a raise.
Freshman of the Year (so far): UCLA's Jordan Farmar (21) edges out Oregon's Malik Hairston. They've both been instant-impact types, but the Bruins are playing slightly better than the Ducks with Farmar (13 points, five assists) running the point.
Best Game To Come: Arizona at Washington on Feb. 24. If you like a hot tempo, this is the series for you. The winner has scored at least 88 in each of the last five meetings -- and the loser has scored at least 82. Arizona won 91-82 in Tucson last week.
Worse Than Advertised: When 2004 SEC player of the year Lawrence Roberts announced he was coming back to school, Mississippi State was supposed to be a Top 15 team at the worst, perhaps even a Top 10 squad. Instead, guard Winsome Frazier broke his foot and the Bulldogs reacted as if they'd just lost Michael Jordan. They're 2-3 without Frazier, including a 49-point defrocking at Alabama.
Player of the Year (so far): Roberts is still putting up POY-worthy numbers (18.6 points, 11 rebounds), but The Minutes gives the nod to Alabama's Kennedy Winston (23). The junior has continued to mature and is averaging 19.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists in league play. The formerly indiscriminate gunner has learned a little shot selection, too. He's made 12 of his last 15 3-point attempts.
Coach of the Year (so far): The last undefeated team in league play? It's Kentucky, naturally. Tubby Smith (24) has kept the Wildcats where they always are despite losing four key seniors from last year and working four freshmen into his rotation this year.
Freshman of the Year (so far): He's awesome, baby! LSU's Glen "Big Baby" Davis (25) is packing 15.3 points and 11.5 rebounds a game into the stat sheet in conference play. The extremely wide body is also averaging a whopping five offensive rebounds per game. He edges point guards Ronald Steele of Alabama and Rajon Rondo of Kentucky and Florida swingman Corey Brewer.
Best Game To Come: Kentucky at Alabama, Feb. 26. The Wildcats have lost two of their last three in Tuscaloosa.
Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon (26), who orchestrated the Panthers' second consecutive 17-point comeback against a high-level Big East opponent. First it was a rally in Storrs to shock Connecticut, then it was a comeback at home to beat No. 4 Syracuse. Now if he can just get his guys to answer the opening bell. ...
Virginia's Pete Gillen (27) saw his Cavaliers give up 110 points at home in a 34-point loss to North Carolina, intensifying the calls for change in Charlottesville. At 1-7 in ACC play, Virginia is well on its way to a fourth straight losing league record.
Virginia's defense (28) is on the verge of record-settingly bad. It has surrendered at least 79 points in every ACC game and is averaging giving up 84.6 in eight league games. Clemson set the record for most points allowed in a 16-game ACC season in 2002, at 85.4. Time to bend your knees and slap the floor, Cavaliers.
Heading into February, 10 teams remain unbeaten in their leagues -- an unusually high number. (Last year only three teams went through their conference schedules undefeated -- Austin Peay in the Ohio Valley, St. Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 and Gonzaga in the WCC.)
The Minutes examines the unbeatens and appraises their abilities to go remain perfect:
Vermont (29): The Catamounts are clearly the class of the America East but have two legitimate challenges left -- at Boston U. on Feb. 12 and at Maine in the regular-season finale on Feb. 27. Vermont needed a game-winning basket with six seconds left to beat the Black Bears at home earlier this year.
Unbeaten chances: Pretty good.
Boston College (30): The Eagles are the surprise of the season so far, but in the Big East there are plenty of opportunities left for defeat. The most realistic -- on the road at Notre Dame on Feb. 8 and Villanova on Feb. 23, and at home against Syracuse on Feb. 19 and Pittsburgh on Feb. 28.
Unbeaten chances: Very slim.
Kansas (31): The Jayhawks might have gotten their wakeup call at Villanova, but that doesn't mean they won't be susceptible at Oklahoma on Feb. 21, at Oklahoma State on Feb. 27 or even at Missouri on March 6. The Tigers have won six of the last 11 meetings in Columbia.
Unbeaten chances: Not great.
Illinois (32): The mighty Illini are much the best in the Big Ten but should face the ultimate hostile atmosphere and quality opponent in East Lansing on Tuesday. And even if they survive that, they still have a couple other threats out there -- at home against Wisconsin on Feb. 12 and at Iowa, which took Illinois into overtime in the first meeting, on Feb. 19.
Unbeaten chances: Still less than 50-50. The pressure rises with each victory.
Pacific (33): At 10-0, the Tigers own the Big West. Toughest game left should be at Utah State on Feb. 12.
Unbeaten chances: Good, despite an 18-game league schedule.
Penn (34): Yeah, the Quakers are all of 2-0 in the late-starting Ivy League. With two games remaining against Princeton (on Feb. 8 and March 8), look for that to change.
Unbeaten chances: Nil.
Missouri-Kansas City (35): Respect the Kangaroos, bro. They're 8-0 in the Mid-Continent and have already beaten primary rivals Oral Roberts, Valparaiso and IUPUI on the road.
Unbeaten chances: Strong.
Utah (36): New coach Ray Giacoletti kept everyone in the fold -- most notably stud big man Andrew Bogut -- and has the Utes 5-0 in the Mountain West. A game at underachieving UNLV on Feb. 7 could be trouble, as could the visit to stylistically problematic Air Force on Feb. 19.
Unbeaten chances: Fair. This isn't a great year in the MWC.
Monmouth (37): The Hawks won the Northeast Conference last year and are 7-0 this year. Toughest games left should be against the league's St. Francises -- at St. Francis of Pennsylvania on Feb. 10 and at St. Francis of New York on Feb. 28.
Unbeaten chances: Nobody gets through the NEC unscathed. As far as we know.
Kentucky (38): The Wildcats are the only SEC school to have run the table in that league in the last 50 years and have done it twice, in 1996 and again in 2003. These 'Cats have three tough road games left: at Vanderbilt on Feb. 5, at Alabama on Feb. 26 and at Florida on March 6.
Unbeaten chances: There's a loss out there (maybe two) somewhere for Kentucky, even in a bad SEC.
... Former Arkansas mad bomber Al Dillard (39). The most shameless outside shooter The Minutes has ever seen once canned 12 3s in a game and was known to jack them up from the Hog snout on Arkansas' home court -- roughly 35 feet from the basket. Anyone with information on Dillard's whereabouts, please apprise.
The Minutes never made contact with last week's subject, former Alabama guard James "Hollywood" Robinson, but was informed by a former teammate that Robinson has been living a vivid life. He's played ball in several locales internationally (Russia most notably) and was recently with the Las Vegas Rattlers of the ABA. Hollywood has also reportedly started his own record label, Da Dirty South Records, and owns a women's lingerie shop in Las Vegas.
When hungry in Champaign, The Minutes recommends the steak sandwich at Guido's (40), a classy downtown joint. And don't forget the Cajun seasoning, which is spicy enough to make you forget you're in the Midwest.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com
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