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Athlon Editors Discuss 5 Burning College Hoops Questions.
1. Should Tennessee, a team with wins over Pitt and Villanova but losses to Oakland, Charlotte and USC, be ranked in the top 25?
Mitch Light: Tennessee is one of the most interesting teams in the nation. What other team has two wins that good? But what about the losses? Brutal. I will have to see what happens over the weekend, but my guess is that Tennessee will not be in the Athlon Sports top 25 on Monday. Each top 25 is a snapshot in time of the best 25 teams in the nation. And based on the Vols’ recent struggles, it is hard to say they are one of the 25 best teams at this point of the season.
Braden Gall: Top-25 polls are entirely too reactionary, and it’s why Tennessee should be ranked around 25th — right where Athlon had it in the preseason (No. 25). This is a totally different style of team than Bruce Pearl is used to coaching. They play more of a half-court, defensive-minded game and it can lead to inconsistency at times. They have a solid front line and are athletic at every position, but the Vols lack a true point guard on offense and the most talented — and veteran —guard is still wildly inconsistent.
Nathan Rush: Tennessee is arguably the most inconsistent team in the nation. And Bruce Pearl’s squad may continue to ride the up-and-down roller coaster once the coach is forced to sit out the first eight games of the SEC season. But right now, I’d say the Vols are deserving of a spot in the top 25. Wins over Pitt and Villanova overshadow losses to USC (who nearly won at Kansas), Oakland (a team led by NBA center prospect Keith Benson) and Charlotte (well, that’s just inexcusable).
2. Come up with a hypothetical trade between two high-major teams that would make sense for both teams.
Mitch: This question was a lot harder than I thought it would be. There are a lot of really good team out there, but very few have enough depth at any one position to have the luxury of making a deal. Here is my proposal: Villanova trades sophomore point guard Maalik Wayns (or senior point guard Corey Fisher) to Kansas State for big man Jamar Samuel (assuming Curtis Kelly isn’t out of action for too long). Nova is very deep in the backcourt but could use some beef up front, and K-State would love to have a true point guard to allow Jacob Pullen to slide over and play the bulk of his minutes at the 2-guard. This would also allow Frank Martin to bring freshman guard Will Spradling off the bench.
Braden: Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger for the entire Gator starting five? Wait, that wouldn’t make sense for the Buckeyes. In all seriousness, I will offer up North Carolina’s John Henson and Larry Drew for Villanova’s Maalik Wayns and Maurice Sutton. Henson and Wayns are what make the deal go. North Carolina would get a future NBA first rounder — and the first serious playmaker at the point guard position since Ty Lawson. A deep, Corey Fisher-led backcourt could survive the loss and would boast a nasty defensive front line of Henson and Mouphtaou Yarou. Sutton and Drew are quality bench options with upside who add depth and balance to the trade.
Nathan: North Carolina should trade a pair of former McDonald’s All-Americans — sophomore shooting guard Dexter Strickland and freshman point guard Kendall Marshall — for Richmond senior point guard Kevin Anderson. That way, Strickland could shoot anytime he wants, Dumfries, Va., (an hour north of Richmond) native Marshall could be a local legend and UNC could be a national title contender. Anderson (16.3 ppg, 3.7 apg, 44.9 percent from 3) would bring the ball-handling, playmaking and toughness Roy Williams’ team lacks. And even though Anderson is a senior, this is Harrison Barnes’ one-and-done year and probably Tyler Zeller’s last season in Chapel Hill.
3. Name a low-major team that could win a game (or two) in the NCAA Tournament?
Mitch: Belmont. To quote Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings: “Belmont isn’t just good for Belmont or good for their league (A-Sun). They are just good.” That was said after Vanderbilt beat the neighboring Bruins 85–76 in early December. Rick Byrd’s Belmont team has lost three games, at Vanderbilt and at Tennessee (twice). They can score inside and out and are — pardon the cliché — extremely well coached.
Braden: I am guessing that UCF and St. Mary’s don’t count? Oakland is the easy choice. They have played arguably the toughest schedule in the nation and have a great win, at Tennessee. They have an NBA big man and an extremely experienced head coach — nearly 500 wins of experience. But watch out for the Murray State Racers as well. Wins over Stanford and Western Kentucky show that they can play with some of the bigger programs, and few teams in the country can offer a backcourt tandem that rivals B.J. Jenkins and Isaiah Canaan.
Nathan: College of Charleston has an unimpressive 8–4 record — with losses at Maryland (75–74), Rhode Island (75–66), at North Carolina (74–69) and Clemson (66–59). Still, the Cougars have all the pieces in place to be a Cinderella in March if they can win the Southern Conference. First off, coach Bobby Cremins has been to the NCAA Tournament 11 times, advancing to the Sweet 16 five times and leading Georgia Tech to the Final Four in 1990. C of C also has a bona fide star in senior guard Andrew Goudelock (23.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.0 apg) and muscle down low with senior center Jeremy Simmons (6-8, 230). The Cougars’ have inside-out balance — with four players shooting better than 34 percent from three and four players averaging over five rebounds per game. Proven head coach, senior leadership, star power, rebounding and 3-point shooting? Sounds like a potential bracket buster to me.
4. Who is the best freshman point guard in the country.
Mitch: The sample size is very small (as in two games), but I think the answer has to be Kansas’ Josh Selby (though Texas’ Cory Joseph and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight have been very good). The Baltimore native is averaging 19.5 points and shooting 66.7 percent from 3-point range in his limited action. He is turning the ball over too much (3.5 per game), but keep in mind that he has played two games at this level and hasn’t had any ‘gimme’ games to pad his stats.
Braden: Kyrie Irving is the answer, but he isn’t playing basketball at the moment, so I will go with Texas’ Cory Joseph. Sure, Brandon Knight and Josh Selby are talented — and clutch — but Joseph is leading Texas in minutes (32.2 mpg) and is also the Longhorns’ second-leading scorer (11.9 ppg). He also knocked down a contested, turnaround, top of the key, game-winner in Greensboro, N.C., against North Carolina. In wins over Illinois and North Carolina, Joseph totaled 31 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a pair of steals and blocks with, most importantly, zero turnovers in 73 minutes of action. You could also argue he outplayed Kalin Lucas in a true road win over Michigan State Wednesday night — the first non-conference home loss for Tom Izzo since Dec. 3, 2003.
Nathan: The best freshman point guard in the country was Duke’s Kyrie Irving until he suffered a serious toe injury against Butler on Dec. 4. The New Jersey native was averaging 17.4 points (on incredible shooting percentages of 53.2 from the field, 89.6 from the free throw line and 45.2 from three), 5.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Irving also turned in the best single-game performance of the year so far, with 31 points (on 8-of-12 FG shooting and 13-of-16 FT shooting), six boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks in an 84–79 win over Michigan State. But it’s hard to be the best if you can’t play. So the torch has been passed to Kansas’ Josh Selby, who could not play until Dec. 18. Selby has scored 21 and 18 points against USC and Cal, respectively, in the two games he has played thus far. And he has his own highlight reel moment, draining what was essentially the game-winning 3 against USC in his debut at Allen Fieldhouse.
5. Huge Big East game on Big Monday. UConn at Pittsburgh. Who wins?
Mitch: Great matchup. I’m going with Pitt, primarily because the game is at home, where the Panthers rarely lose. Keep in mind that Pitt’s loss to Tennessee earlier this month was in Pittsburgh but not at the Peterson Events Center. UConn has been one of the big stories in the college basketball, and Kemba Walker is the early favorite for National Player of the Year honors, but this will be the Huskies’ first true road game.
Braden: The last time UConn beat Pitt was Feb. 2, 2008. The last time UConn won in Pittsburgh was Feb. 26, 2005. The Huskies’ Kemba Walker and Alex Oriahki are as good as it gets when it comes to 1-5 combos, but the Panthers are much deeper and at home. Pitt leads the nation in rebounding margin and its secondary players will control the rest of Jim Calhoun’s talented but very young squad. Pitt by 6.
Nathan: The BMOC in the Big East should have a huge night on Big Monday. UConn’s Kemba Walker (26.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.0 apg) has been nearly unstoppable and should put on the type of show he did in wins over Michigan State (30 points) and Kentucky (29 points, six assists) earlier this season. Also, 6-9, 240-pound center Alex Oriakhi (11.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.2 bpg) should be a force down low against a Pittsburgh team that is tough and talented but lacks a big of Oriakhi’s caliber. After going with the “home” team Florida over K-State last week, I’ll take the road dog Huskies this week.