Rex Chapman, an All-SEC player at Kentucky in 1986-87 and ’87-88 and an NABC All-American in 1988, gives his opinion each week on five teams that impress. Team statistics are through Feb. 17.
Tubby Smith is likely coaching the best team he’s had since taking over the reigns at Minnesota in 2007. This 2012-2013 Minnesota squad is currently 18-8 overall and following the disappointing 72-51 road-loss to Iowa, the Golphers have dropped to 6-7 in the Big Ten.
Minnesota has been just what the good doctor ordered for Tubby Smith following the super run he had coaching my alma-mater, Kentucky, for a decade. Smith, one of the finest people in all of NCAA basketball, decided 10 years under the microscope that is UK basketball was enough. When Tubby landed in Minnesota, I for one, was a bit surprised. However, the move to the Big Ten and to the helm of this Golden Golphers hoops program seems to have re-energized Smith. The Gophers program was so inconsistent during the years leading up to the hiring of Smith that almost immediately, Tubby’s principles as a coach, teacher and human being began to pay dividends for the struggling program.
|MINNESOTA THIS WEEK|
|Feb. 20: Minnesota at No. 18 Ohio State|
|Full Season Schedule|
As most coaches will freely admit, “It ain’t about the X’s and O’s as much as Jimmy’s and the Joe’s.” And this staff has been able to consistently stock the Gophers roster with quality “Jimmy’s and Joe’s” since their arrival in Minneapolis.
Minnesota has a high quality point guard for the first time in awhile in the likes of Andre Hollins — whom Smith plucked-out of his old SEC stomping grounds. Hollins was the 2011 Tennessee Mr. Basketball and has provided the Golden Gophers with a steady hand running the team for the past two seasons. Hollins is having a super year for Smith, averaging 14.1 points per game, 3.1 assists per game, 3.5 rebounds per game, 1.3 steals and is shooting a rock-solid 40-percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
With Andre Hollins at the point and wings like Austin Hollins (no relation, son of Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins) and the high-flying Rodney Williams, chances are you’re going to be in nearly every ballgame you play. But when you include big bodies like those of Trevor Mbakwe and Joe Coleman, well, not only will you be competitive but expectations begin to surface.
The Gophers have been ranked as high as eighth this season. A team that appeared to be a lock for the Big Dance six weeks ago, is now on a bit of shaky ground having lost three-of-four and seven-of-10. The final five games of the regular season and conference tourney will be as big for Smith’s squad as any team in the country.
I still can’t get used to Missouri being a member of the SEC.
Frank Haith’s team, despite the 18-7 overall record and 7-5 conference record, has been one of the more disappointing teams of this season to date for me. I still have high-hopes for this team given the talent the squad possesses.
|MISSOURI THIS WEEK|
|Feb. 19: No. 5 Florida at Missouri|
|Feb. 23: Missouri at Kentucky|
|Full Season Schedule|
With players like freaky frosh Jabari Brown, veteran point guard Phil Pressey, senior wing scorer Laurence Bowers and senior transfer big-man Alex Oriakhi, this is a team that I believe should be battling Florida for tops in the SEC currently instead of sitting tied for fifth with Arkansas. Mizzou is a team who needs to find its rhythm these last three weeks of the regular season and then make a statement in its first SEC conference tournament.
This Missouri squad at one point this year was 10-1, ranked No. 7 in the country and rolling. Then came a road game at Pauley Pavilion against a young UCLA squad. I remember watching this game — a game the Tigers had all but socked away late in the second half — and thinking to myself, “Man, this team could be an awfully tough customer this year.” Well, before I knew it, Ben Howland’s team had clawed-back, forced that game into overtime and had ultimately beaten Haith’s club. At which point I said to the friend with who I was watching the game, “Ewww, this could be the kind of loss that lingers.”
Whether that loss to UCLA did in fact linger a bit and cause doubt for such a talented ball-club or the new conference foes threw this team for a loop — or possibly a combination of both, I’m not entirely sure. But I am sure that Frank the Tigers, when playing unselfishly and defending the way they are capable of defending opponents, are an awfully dangerous team and one who is talented and deep enough to play with any team in the country.
But Mizzou needs to figure out things and figure them out quickly. The aforementioned Florida Gators come to Columbia Tuesday night in what will be the final chance for the Tigers to secure a “signature” win. It will certainly be interesting to see if Missouri is capable of showing the Gators a different, tougher version of themselves than they showed Florida one month ago in Gainesville when the Tigers to an 83-52 beating at the O’Connell Center.
If Mizzou can manage to get rolling they could be dangerous. But the clock is ticking.
Every now and then a player comes along in amateur basketball who epitomizes what college basketball is all about. I believe that player plays for Randy Bennett’s St. Mary’s squad who goes by the name Matthew Dellavedova.
If you ever want to look at some remarkable stats, take a look at Dellavedova’s career numbers while wearing a St. Mary’s uniform. On the surface it would appear as though Dellavedova came to Moraga, Calif. essentially the same player he is today. However, that assessment couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure the guy has put up some roughly 1,800 points for the Gaels, but the energy, passion, experience and leadership he provides Bennett’s squad is nothing short of sensational.
|SAINT MARY’S THIS WEEK|
|Feb. 21: BYU at St. Mary’s|
|Feb. 23: Creighton at St. Mary’s|
|Full Season Schedule|
I’m a big Randy Bennett fan. The guy brings players into Moraga year in and year out. He plays a style kids want to play and they flat win basketball games. This ’12-’13 team is in the midst of another 20-win season (22-5, 11-2) and put a bit of a scare into No. 3 Gonzaga on Valentine’s Day when they led the Zags at halftime.
A bit undersized, Bennett has a deep rotation which goes nine-deep, as nine players average more than 11 minutes per game. The guards and wings shoulder most of the scoring-load for St. Mary’s as Dellavadova averages just shy of 16 points per game followed by junior guard Stephen Holt (11.9ppg) and senior Beau Levesque (10.7ppg).
Randy Bennett recruits guys who know the game and have a burning desire to get better. Matt Dellavedova is a shining example of what college basketball is all about. And if the Gaels can manage to continue their winning ways and make their way into this year’s NCAA tourney, well then, as a team who collectively shoots nearly 40-percent from behind the arc — they’ll have a punchers chance against anyone.
The job Memphis coach Josh Pastner has done since taking over from John Calipari in April 2009, I hope, serves as an example to AD’s and President’s throughout the college basketball ranks that while experience as a head coach is nice — it is not the end-all be-all.
Pastner was 31-years old when he was hired by Memphis and for the past three years, the Tigers have been a mainstay in the AP Top 25.
|MEMPHIS THIS WEEK|
|Feb. 20: Houston at No. 21 Memphis|
|Feb. 23: Southern Miss at No. 21 Memphis|
|Full Season Schedule|
Memphis is having another solid basketball season. Pastner and his staff have stocked this Tigers squad with their usual, fast, quick, rangy, explosive athletes.
Pastner’s style of play and philosophy of keeping fresh players on the floor at all times is one major key to the Tiger’s success since. This year is no different as eight players currently log greater than EIGHTEEN minutes per contest. What a luxury for any coach to be able to trust that many players with so many minutes.
Leading the way for the Memphis Tigers is junior Joe Jackson — who has certainly been steppin’ out here in 2012-13(Sorry. Couldn’t resist!) as he tops Memphis in scoring at nearly 14 points per game. Adonis Thomas and Geron Johnson both chip in with 11. Shaq Goodwin and Tarik Black grab 5.1 and 4.7 rebounds apiece for a team who has SEVEN players averaging more than three rebounds per game. That’s just unheard of. When guards rebound, more times than not, you’re going to have a team that’s extremely difficult to beat.
Pastner certainly has a tough as nails squad and one who is capable of giving any team in the country fits this post season. And I do mean ANY. This Tigers team is fearless and plays with a chip on its’ shoulder most nights. Don’t sleep on young coach Pastner and these Memphis Tigers.
Since taking over as top man for the San Diego State Aztecs in 1999 and suffering thru a 5-23 record that first year, coach Steve Fisher has completely revamped Aztec basketball and Fisher’s ball-club is on pace to achieve another 20-win season in 2012-2013 — which will run their streak of 20-win year’s to eight in a row. Now that’s “doing work”.
The Aztecs this year have been a bit of a “Jekyll and Hyde” type of team. This squad is capable of looking like world-beaters when beating up on a solid UCLA team or in barely losing (by one) to then No. 3 ranked Arizona. But they’ve lost their last two — albeit to quality foes on the road to Colorado State and a very good UNLV team.
|SAN DIEGO STATE THIS WEEK|
|Feb. 19: Wyoming at San Diego State|
|Feb. 23: Nevada at San Diego State|
|Full Season Schedule|
Fisher’s bunch is one to some degree and one who, if they can find some late season “mojo”, will be a squad nobody wants to face when the post season begins. The Aztecs are led by junior Jamaal Franklin who’s averaging just under 17 points per game and a whopping nine rebounds per to go along with three assists. Stats-wise, Franklin is having as good of a year as nearly any player in college basketball. Franklin’s back-court mate senior Chase Tapley is shouldering much of the remaining scoring load for Fisher and co chipping-in 14ppg. The Aztecs are a deep team as nine players are averaging more than 10 minutes per game.
Keep an eye on this squad because they are capable of jumping-up with a big effort at any given time. SDSU is definitely one of the teams I personally would not want to see my favorite team playing against come Selection Sunday.
Rex Chapman played at Kentucky from 1986-88. He was a two-time All-SEC selection as well as an NABC All-American in 1988 before opting for the NBA Draft. He was the No. 1 choice — eighth overall — of Charlotte and played for the Hornets (1988-92), Washington Bullets (1992-95), Miami Heat (1995-96) and Phoenix Suns (1996-2000). Follow Rex on Twitter @rexchapman