Athlon Editors Discuss 5 Burning College Hoops Questions.
1. You're down two points in the final seconds. You can pick one player in the nation to shoot a wide open three to win the game. Who do you pick?
Mitch Light: Well, there might be better pure shooters out there (Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins and Arkansas’ Rotnei Clarke come to mind), but I will take a seasoned veteran like Jimmer Fredette from BYU. Fredette is shooting a rather ordinary 34.4 percent from three this year, but he shot 44.0 percent as a junior when he averaged 22.1 points per game.
Nathan Rush: It's a toss up between Vanderbilt's John Jenkins and Duke's Seth Curry. I probably would have been 100 percent Jenkins until the sophomore sharpshooter disappeared at the end of Vandy's 85–82 overtime loss at Mizzou — although it's hard to be disappointed by a 23-point night on 5-of-10 shooting from long range. On the other side, Curry was the go-to guy at Liberty before transferring to Duke, so he's used to the pressure. Plus, both his brother, Stephen, and father, Dell, were deadeye shooters with ice water in their veins. Still, when it comes down to an open 3-pointer, I'll go with Jenkins, who I think should take “Reggie Miller fastbreak layup” 3s or any other half-open look he gets from beyond the arc.
Braden Gall: I really wanted to pick Jimmer Fredette from BYU. He has big-game experience, is a veteran and can flat-out shoot the rock. But Vanderbilt's John Jenkins has to be the pick. The Dores’ shooting guard is averaging 19.1 points per game and has made 27 three pointers (on 7.5 attempts per game) already this season. He has a J.J. Reddick-type stroke from the outside that is simply a rare commodity. So pure.
2. What is the best team in the nation that doesn't play in a Big Six power conference?
Mitch: It’s got to be San Diego State. The Aztecs are 9-0 with wins at Gonzaga and at Cal (by 20 points) and home wins over Saint Mary’s and Wichita State. Steve Fisher’s club has a star in sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard and a host of athletic complementary players. SDSU looks to be the best team in a very strong Mountain West Conference.
Nathan: This particular San Diego State squad could probably beat some of Steve Fisher's lesser Michigan teams from the 1990s. Athletic forwards Kawhi Leonard (16.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg), Billy White (12.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Malcolm Thomas (9.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg) give the Aztecs a powerful frontline — Leonard is 6-7, 225 pounds; White is 6-8, 235 pounds; Thomas is 6-9, 220 pounds. Meanwhile, senior point guard D.J. Gay (11.3 ppg, 3.6 apg), Santa Clara transfer sharpshooter James Rahon (9.1 ppg, 14-of-26 from three) and Chase Tapley (8.4 ppg) have all the bases covered in the backcourt. San Diego State's roster is definitely loaded, but I worry about the team's 63.4 percent shooting from the free throw line. That must improve if the Aztecs hope to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Braden: Losses to Cal and Texas A&M made for a slow start for the Temple Owls, but they have bounced back with a win over Maryland and led for most of the way in a big resume win against Georgetown Thursday night. A school-best 9-0 start for San Diego State makes it a good choice as the Aztecs have wins over Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, Wichita State and Cal. BYU and Memphis are off to good starts with some okay wins, and both have some serious talent around the perimeter. However, a 9-0 UNLV team with wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech has been the most impressive. Five players are averaging at least 9.1 points per game and the Runnin' Rebs are winning by an average margin of 19.3 points. A win over Louisville on Saturday should hopefully justify my pick.
3. Which new coach is doing the best job?
Mitch: Donnie Jones has UCF off to a 7-0 start, highlighted by a 65-59 win over South Florida and a 57-54 victory over Florida and his former boss, Billy Donovan. Jones inherited a solid nucleus from Kirk Speraw, but these same players went 15-17 last season. Jones turned Marshall into a winner in three seasons in Huntington and figures to have UCF competing for C-USA titles in the near future.
Nathan: UCF's Donnie Jones could make a solid case that his team is the best in the state of Florida — following statement wins over South Florida (65–59) and Florida (57–54). If UCF takes down Miami on Dec. 18, the Sunshine State will be black and gold. Jones was Billy Donovan's right-hand man at Florida before coaching Marshall for three years. He's off to a great 7–0 start at UCF, thanks in large part to Marcus Jordan, who is averaging a team-high 16.4 points on 53.1 percent shooting from the field, 85 percent from the free throw line and 48.1 percent from downtown. If Jones' Knights keep it up, they'll be a C-USA Cinderella come March.
Braden: I will go with Donnie Jones at UCF and his 7-0 start. Yes, there are a few West Florida wins mixed in, but beating your former mentor and boss — as the Knights did when they topped the Billy-D and the Florida Gators, 57-54, last week — was especially sweet for Coach Jones.
4. Which new coach is doing the worst job?
Mitch: It’s been a rough start at for Tony Barbee at Auburn, where the Tigers are 3-4 with home losses to UNC Asheville, Samford, Campbell and Jacksonville, but he inherited arguably the weakest roster of any Big Six conference team. It’s also been a struggle for Tad Boyle at Colorado, but my answer is Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest (who came from Colorado). The Demon Deacons are 5-3 and have lost three game homes, to Stetson by 10, VCU by 21 and Winthrop by nine.
Nathan: The "Big Nasty" Corliss Williamson is off to an ugly start at Central Arkansas. Granted, there isn't must to work with, but Scottie Pippen's alma mater is 2–6 with a 40-point loss to Missouri State and an unsportsmanlike 71-point win over lowly Champion Baptist. Outgoing coach Rand Chappell went 104-104 over seven seasons and, for better or worse, Williamson brought the spotlight to Conway, Ark., due to his local celebrity status as a McDonald's All-American from Russellville (Ark.) High School; an SEC Player of the Year, 1994 national champion and NCAA Tournament MOP at Arkansas; and an 11-year NBA veteran. I fully expect Williamson, who had never had a coaching job until this year, to improve with experience. But he's off to a slow start.
Braden: Can I go with the Illinois equipment manager? If he/she is eligible? However, being neither a coach nor necessarily new, I would say the women's ball fiasco isn't exactly getting to the heart of the question. I know not much was expected of Auburn, but Tony Barbee's start — three straight losses to UNC-Ashville, Samford and Campbell — has to be one of the worst starts to a coaching career at an SEC school. Two narrow wins over Middle Tennessee and Arkansas-Pine Bluff packaged with another bad loss to Jacksonville, and I immediately accepted my scholarship offer to play back-up shooting guard for the Tigers.
5. Will Gonzaga make the NCAA Tournament if it does not win the WCC Tournament?
Mitch: My guess is no, but the Zags (4-4 at this point) still have several opportunities to pick up quality wins, beginning this weekend when they travel to Notre Dame. They still play Baylor in Dallas and host Xavier, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and Memphis (though I’m not sure beating Wake would be a quality win). Three of Gonzaga’s four losses have come against top-15-type teams in San Diego State, Kansas State and Illinois, but at some point Mark Few’s club will have to start beating good teams. The best win to date is a 66-63 neutral court victory over Marquette.
Nathan: After early season losses to San Diego State (79–76), Kansas State (81–64), Illinois (73–61) and Washington State (81–59), the 4–4 Bulldogs have plenty of ground to make up if they hope to make the Big Dance as an at-large bid. Luckily, the loaded schedule will provide plenty of opportunities, with games against Notre Dame (Dec. 11), Baylor (Dec. 18), Xavier (Dec. 22), Oklahoma State (Dec. 31), Wake Forest (Jan. 2) and Memphis (Feb. 5). Right now, however, I'd say Mark Few's Zags will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 if they don't win the WCC Tournament.
Braden: Certainly 4-4 is not what Zags fans were anticipating for the 2010-11 campaign. But the losses are great — if there is such a thing. They lost a close one to SDSU and were handled with relative ease by elite Kansas State and Illinois squads. The blowout loss at Washington State is concerning. But as usual, an incredibly difficult schedule could help rebuild the resume. Non-conference games against Xavier, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, Memphis, Baylor and Notre Dame offer plenty of opportunity to prove their tourney stock. I think with a veteran guard in Steven Gray, a dominate post man in Robert Sacre and a rising, versatile superstar in Elias Harris (who is expected back this weekend), the Bulldogs will have enough non-conference clout to earn an automatic bid should they falter in the WCC Tournament.