Conference play is in full swing, and there are huge games just about every night. Here are some thoughts on what is going on in the college basketball world.
• How much longer will the Georgia Tech faithful put up with the poor product that Paul Hewitt keeps putting on the floor? Hewitt brings in top-flight talent on an annual basis, but the Yellow Jackets continue to underachieve. Thursday night, Tech was blown out at Clemson, 87–62, to drop to 7–8 overall and 0–2 in league play. In his 10 full seasons in Atlanta, Hewitt has guided the Jackets to one winning ACC season.
• John Calipari is thriving at Kentucky, but both of his former schools — UMass and Memphis — are struggling. After jumping out to a 7–0 start, UMass has lost six of its last eight to drop to 9–6. Each of the Minutemen’s last two losses has been by 29 points — at Central Connecticut State and at Xavier. Meanwhile, Memphis is 12–4, but the Tigers have played very poorly over the past six weeks. They were alarmingly uncompetitive in a 20-point loss at Tennessee last week, and this past Wednesday, they did the unthinkable — lose to SMU. Josh Pastner’s team is painfully young, but the Tigers are simply not playing good basketball.
• Belmont will win at least one game in the NCAA Tournament this season. The Bruins are 14–3 overall, with two losses to Tennessee in Knoxville (by nine points and by one point) and a loss at Vanderbilt (by nine points). They have won their other 14 games by an average of 23.1 points. There aren’t any marquee wins in that group, but Belmont beat Jacksonville earlier this week by 31 points — the same Jacksonville team that won in Gainesville earlier this season. Rick Byrd’s team is very deep, shoots the ball well from the outside and has a couple of post players — Scott Saunders and Mick Hedgepeth —who know how to score on the low block. Belmont’s RPI is currently a respectable No. 91, and the Bruins are No. 41 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.
• Staying in Nashville — the home of Athlon Sports — Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli has to be among the most improved players in the country. The fourth-year junior, who backed up A.J. Ogilvy the past two seasons, is averaging 12.9 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting .613 from the floor in 21.5 minutes of action. In Wednesday’s win over Georgia, the Nigerian native scored 18 points with 10 rebounds and almost single-handedly fouled out the Dawgs’ front line. Starting center Jeremy Price fouled out in 12 minutes and his backup, Chris Barnes, had four fouls in 11 minutes. Before arriving at Vanderbilt, Ezeli’s basketball experience amounted to a summer of AAU ball in California.
• Dan Dakich has been tremendous as a color commentator on ESPN’s Big Ten games. The former head coach at Bowling Green and interim boss at Indiana is right up there with Jay Bilas as the best in the business. He knows the league very well, and he is great at explaining the game.
• The most shocking aspect of Duke’s loss to Florida State Wednesday night? The fact that nine days earlier, that same FSU club lost to Auburn, arguably the worst SEC team in the past two decades.
• There are already four teams that are 6–0 in league play — Belmont (A-Sun), Missouri State (Missouri Valley), Oakland (Summit) and Austin Peay (OVC).