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NCAA Basketball Debrief: Do Louisville, Notre Dame And UConn Have Staying Power?

It's not the first time the Cardinals, Fighting Irish and Huskies have been undefeated entering December, but it's probably the first time they weren't expected to have an unblemished record. A quick assessment on how their seasons may pan out, plus the top and bottom 10 ten from Feast Week, and a power shift in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.

Louisville, Notre Dame and UConn all currently boast a nice round goose egg in their respective loss columns, defying conventional thinking and just about everything written by all those preseason magazines. But what if I told you that not one of these teams will hear their name called on Selection Sunday?

Okay, you called my bluff; I am not going to tell you that. Well-coached and always on the national radar, the early season success of these Big East teams isn't that wild an aberration, and all possess enough strengths to suggest their current play could continue to some degree, as they do the over achievement dance all the way to the NCAA Tournament.

But we must proceed with caution. Remember Ball State in 2001? Last season's Texas team? Just about every Clemson Tigers squad since 2003? Nothing is a guarantee, so let’s briefly look at this trio of clubs playing hot out of the gate but susceptible to a slip-up.

Louisville

If Rick Pitino didn't have that whole Karen Sypher mess, would we even have mentioned the Louisville Cardinals basketball team this summer? While John Calipari scooped up what appeared to be every elite prep star, Louisville wallowed in mediocrity. Then, at the Big East media day, Pitino told every credentialed person in the building that the Cards were going to play fast; like seven-seconds-or-less fast, like Division III Grinnell fast! Pitino recognized no standout scorer on his roster, so why not implement a gimmicky offense and see what the flip happens?

This all sounds like a blast, and the 5-0 start suggests that Pitino may be on to something, showing he's an evil genius who can modify his offensive approach and adapt to his personnel. The Cardinals are logging seven more possessions per 40-minutes, but they've yet to improve their points-per-possession figure (1.11 in 09-10; 1.13). Do you think this team can continue to play at this pace during the Big East schedule? Eh, I am not sold on that.

Additionally, I'd like to see Louisville hold a slim lead in the second half. How fast does this team try and play when they're up eight with five minutes to play? You wouldn't call a go-route in football, you'd run the ball. Louisville has to prove they can play composed and understand time and score. They don't have to worry about that during a 106-65 fast-break tutorial against Chattanooga.

Notre Dame

One of the most recognizable names in college basketball the last few years was Luke Harangody. Now he’s gone, along with his pencil-it-in 20/10 output. Big problem right? Not right now, but maybe soon. The Fighting Irish, 8-0 and winners of the Old Spice Classic down in Disney, look like a more complete team that’s not standing around watching their former star play 1-on-5. With roles defined, it’s Tim Abromaitis score, Ben Hansbrough pass and shoot, and Carleton Scott intimidate down low.

Sounds great, but let’s not forget they’ve been fortunate to play against Georgia State and Chicago State and Cal – who scored five points in a half. Don’t try telling me it was because of great defense. It’s HARD to score only five points in a half. The Irish were nearly out rebounded in that game too. Going forward, they’re never going to face a squad that’s as offensively anemic as the Golden Bears.

Pretenders now who look really good on paper, the Irish can’t be deemed contenders until going through Kentucky and Gonzaga later this month.

Connecticut

Earlier this week I articulated my disdain for everyone impulsively declaring that the UConn Huskies were back. Fresh off a summer of drama, the Hukies entered the season with junior point guard Kemba Walker, and a bunch of other guys. Well, Walker carried his team to win the Maui Invitational, and just like that, because UConn is slapped across their jerseys and they’re coached by a guy with 826 career wins, chalk it up as an egregious mistake to rate this team so low coming into the season.

Surely they're a top 10 team!

Hold the phone. Did you even consider the thought that the Huskies won the title because a very good player played outstanding? Or that this outstanding play came against one team that might be asleep at the wheel (Michigan State) and a second that might have been overrated coming into the season (Kentucky)? Walker is currently shooting 60 percent on two-point field goals, is responsible for 38 percent of the Huskies' scoring, and has been part of 53 percent of their field goals scored. Should we consider this as sustainable and a recipe for season long success? I say absolutely not, The UConn Blog says yes, but we all can agree that it’s been pretty damn fun to watch.

Who knows where these teams will be next week, next month, or in March, but I do know that preseason polls are about as useful as mammary glands on a boar hog.

Now to the week that was...

10 Up

  • Duke -  Is there a more complete team in college basketball? No, no there is not. They're so good, that Kyle Singler, the team's most recognizable player and elder statesman, may soon find himself as the third option behind Kyrie Irving and Mason Plumlee. The Blue Devils have yet to really be challenged, boasting an average scoring margin of 21-points.
  • Duke again! - Just for making my life easier as they downed Michigan State last night, allowing me to file this story without having to adjust this list.
  • Kyrie Irving!! - Am I infuriating you? While Harrison Barnes struggles to find consistency, and Josh Selby twiddles his thumbs until Dec. 18, Irving is garnering Freshman of the Year votes with ease. Of all first-year players, he's currently second in assists, and first in the unofficial statistical category of creating easy buckets.

                     

  • The Big Ten - After the Blue Devils, the talent pool may be quite shallow in the basketball-minded ACC. After losing the first 10 Challenges, the Big 10 + 1 has captured the last two in convincing fashion. It may not last, but this collection of Midwest schools will provide the most competitive intra-conference games this season.
  • UC Irvine's Darren Moore - I've never dug superhero movies, but anyone willing to get their entire torso inked up with a spider web to pay homage to, well, Spider-Man, is okay in my book. Moore isn't a sideshow either - leading his team in both scoring and rebounding. I'm starting to think that the Anteaters are a good time.

(h/t The Dagger)

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  • UNLV - Just what prevented the pundits from calling the Mountain West a two-horse race? The Rebels returned all key pieces from last year's 25-9 club, and made noise out in Anaheim by taking home the 76 Classic title against "favorite" Virginia Tech. Lon Kruger's club had already beaten Wisconsin, and non-conference games against Louisville and Kansas State loom.
  • Xavier's Tu Holloway - Remember Jordan Crawford's sidekick in last season's NCAA Tournament? While the nation has been able to see the aforementioned Kemba Walker take ownership of his team, the point guard formerly known as Terrell is carrying - literally - a depleted Musketeers squad that has no business being 5-2. Holloway leads the country in minutes played (41.5), and given his team's lack of depth, don't expect anyone to take ownership of this superlative in the near future.
  • Jimmer Fredette - A player so compelling he's forcing me to traverse to the outposts of my Comcast channel guide (because who really favorites Fox Sports West 9 and TheMtn), Fredette has twice saved the Cougars from defeat in just the past week. BYU took won the South Padre Invitational thanks to a buzzer-beating jumper (here) against South Florida and cold-blodded pull up three-pointer against Saint Mary's (below). I'd love to kill a few beers with this kid, if only Joseph Smith didn't frown upon such revelry.

                     

  • Jay Bilas - Did you know the world wide leader's top college basketball analyst was, and sort of still is, a commercial litigator? Bilas is arguably the most esteemed media man covering his sport, and likely left the general sports fan listening to Mike & Mike on Wednesday morning very impressed. He also told us about Notre Dame's breakfast buffet that adheres to NCAA rules. This very enjoyable interview lives here.


10 Down

  • California - I can see the first half recap now... "After an opening drive field goal and fluke safety caused by Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees tripped over his own two feet at the Irish two-yard line, the Golden Bears struggled mightily to move the ball for the remaining 20 minutes of the first half. Rees, meanwhile, gathered himself, passing for three second quarter touchdown passes. Looks like Cal's ball coach is going to have to refine his playbook."

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  • Appalachian State's Athletic Department - Finger pointing abounded in Cookeville, Tenn., last Tuesday, as Tennessee Tech's home opener against App. St. was delayed because the somebody forgot to schedule referees. The game was a make-up from last year's BracketBuster series, and because that game was originally to be played in Boone, N.C., it was the Mountaineers responsibility to hire refs. Because no zebras were present, fans and players were subjected to the "dizzy bat race" until a decision to postpone the game was made.
  • Trick shot videos - The bar was set last season's with Mark Titus' "Rainmaker." Now everyone feels the need to upload their sweet trick shots to YouTube. Here is the absolute final video of its kind that I'll ever provide to the masses, courtesy of wait-listed Club Tril member, Syracuse's Nick Resavy, and a trio of his minions.

          

  • Larry Drew II - North Carolina's starting point guard is drawing the ire from fans begging for freshman Kendall Marshall to supplant him. An absolutely atrocious shooter on a team that's 4-3 and failed to score more than 70 points against three BCS opponents this season, Drew either doesn't get it, or meant to pull a Derek Anderson during Tuesday's loss to Illinois.
  • Whoever is in charge of the 76 Classic - Tournament officials reported the total attendance for the three-day, 12-game tournament was 12,048 using the Anaheim Convention, which seats a comfy 9800. Couldn't they have at least given some tickets away? I'm still wondering if UNLV's wins over Virginia Tech and Murray State have yet to be acknowledged by the tournament selection committee.

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  • USC - Considering how thin the Pac 10 is, the Trojans may be off to the worst start out of all teams in the big six conferences. With losses to Bradley, Nebraska, Rider and TCU, Kevin O’Neill’s faces no sort of reprieve to close out 2010. The Trojans have Kansas, Tennessee and Texas on the peripheral.
  • Logos, corporate America infiltrating college basketball - The court used for the CBE Classic looked like a Euroleague jersey. And in a somewhat related note, TCU has joined the Big East. College sports have just gone too corporate, man. Take a look at all these stickers!

*Because I couldn't find an aerial shot anywhere, I straight up copied and pasted this image from Luke Winn's College Basketball Power Rankings.

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  • U.S News and World Report's Best Colleges for College Basketball Fans - If you're a self-proclaimed college basketball fan and need an online slideshow to help you select a school to hoot and holler for, then you're actually not a college basketball fan.
  • Alcorn State - For the second week in a row with no signs of dropping off (or moving up), the Braves have lost 35 of their last 37 games dating back to last season, and a date with Kansas State is just a few days away. These guys may be stuck here for quite a while.

It was tweeted

Bickering over who knows what, the Duke backcourt has been nothing but impressive on the court, but no NBA scouts are going to appreciate this sort of juvenile dialogue!

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The Three-Day Weekend Preview

It's a three-day weekend in these parts, and while we haven't reached the ditch-the-girlfriend-and-grab-unilateral-control-of-the-TV-remote time of the year, there's still a handful of reasonably enjoyable games to divert your attention away from football:

Thursday (all times EST)

  • UCLA vs. Kansas (ESPN2) 9 p.m.
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    Friday
    • Saint Josephs vs. Villanova (ESPNU) 8:30 p.m.
    Saturday
    • Utah State vs. Georgetown (ESPNU) Noon
    • Kentucky vs. North Carolina (CBS) 12:30 p.m.
    • Butler vs. Duke (ESPN) 3:15 p.m.
    • Alabama vs. Purdue (ESPN2) 3:30 p.m.
    • North Carolina State vs. Syracuse (ESPN2) 5:15 p.m.
    • Illinois vs. Gonzaga (ESPN) 5:15 p.m.
    Sunday
    • No noteworthy games televised, but you could watch Mean Girls for the 17th time. Or just week 13 of the NFL.