Handing in ‘dud tickets’
Rex says even the best teams are allowed one bad game
Congratulations to the Razorbacks of Arkansas and to the Horned Frogs of TCU. Hey Florida and Kansas, what gives? Getting beat by a .500 team on the road is not the kind of response you want from your new No. 2 team in all of the land. Bad loss by the Gators. But I've always maintained that over a long college season full of practices, film sessions, travel, school work, shootarounds, training-room treatments, etc. that every good team is entitled to one "dud" of a game. Each team essentially keeps a "dud ticket" in its medicine kit. So Gators, after being beaten by so handily, by such a shaky Razorbacks team, this certainly qualifies as your dud. Hand in that ticket.
But KU ... come on. What was that? You're the No. 5 team in the country, coming off of a rare home loss to a quality squad in Oklahoma State. You've returned four core players from last season's team -- a team who was narrowly beaten in the national title game -- and you have arguably the best freshman wing player in the country. Your center may be the top defensive big man in the nation. Yet, that was your "get the train back on the tracks" performance the other night in Fort Worth? That was how you respond to a rare home loss? Losing to Okie State is one thing, but losing to 0-8 (in Big 12) TCU is, well, is that even a "thing"?
The Horned Frogs had beaten nine Division I teams this season prior to the upset of Kansas. Those nine teams currently have a combined record of 63-98. TCU, prior to the KU shocker, had beaten one DI team all season with a winning record -- the 16-7 Southern University Jaguars. Simply, this KU loss to TCU is a difficult one to explain. It's an impossible one to see coming and it leaves me asking myself questions about this Jayhawks squad. Namely, the biggest question I have about KU right now is the play of point guard Elijah Johnson. Since the senior dished-out a two-game total of 19 assists (9 vs. Temple and 10 vs. Iowa State) nine games ago, Johnson has amassed just 24 assists to go along with 28 turnovers in the eight games which have ensued.
Granted, Johnson has never been a low turnover guy, but in KU's first 12 games of the season (against lesser competition) he tallied just 31. During the past 10 games -- nine of them conference contests -- EJ has booted the ball to the other team 39 times. Bottom line, as the competition has been amped up and the stakes have risen KU's PG has struggled to find his rhythm. If KU is going to be a serious threat in March, Elijah Johnson is going to need to get back to making good decisions, or rather, senior decisions. Oh, and KU, please hand in your dud ticket.
Speaking of Okie State -- confidence is a beautiful thing and the Cowboys are exuding tons of it right now. It's amazing that when things are going well, you tend to get every break and win every close game. When things go awry, you can't get a call much less a break -- and the L's begin to pile-up. The 'Boys are going well right now. OK State repelled a tough Baylor squad in OT and won another close one down the stretch. Travis Ford's crew may be living on the edge currently, but they keep posting W's at game's end. Must be all of that clean Stillwater-living. That, or Ford's point guard Marcus Smart. I'm going to go with the latter. Smart is a winner and I'm more impressed with the guy every time I watch him. He had a nightmare of a game shooting the ball versus Baylor, going 4-for-21. That usually tells the tale for most players. That tale is "Horrible game." Not for Smart. He went 5-for-6 from the line along with eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals and no turnovers. The kid is special. Don't sleep on the Cowboys.
The deeper we get into this college basketball season and March to Madness, the fewer true contenders I'm seeing out there. Some teams are rolling -- see Michigan, Miami (Fla.), Gonzaga, Florida ('til Tuesday) and Oklahoma State. Others are in awfully shaky form and may have more questions than answers right now -- see Duke, Kansas, 'Cuse, and Louisville. But THIS is the time of year you have to love as a fan of this game.
Arizona just keeps rolling along out West. At 19-2 overall and 8-2 in the Pac-12 the picture is becoming pretty clear on the left coast -- it's U of A, UNLV, Gonzaga and the rest. I have Oregon on the outside looking in despite their solid record. I'm just not a believer in these Ducks at this point.
Butler faithful, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Rotnei Clarke has looked to be the Rotnei of old during the past two games following an awfully scary-looking neck injury that saw him miss two weeks of action. But Clarke has put up 40 points in his past two games -- 23 vs. Rhode Island on Saturday and 17 against St. Bonaventure, both wins. With Clarke healthy and back in rhythm I really like Butler's chances.
There might not be a bigger fan of Ohio State's Aaron Craft than myself. As a defender, competitor and winner this kid has everything you want in a player. Sure, his offense leaves a bit to be desired and I was initially somewhat miffed as I watched the end of the OSU vs. Michigan game on Tuesday night. I say so because Craft took two potential game-winners -- one at the end of regulation and the other at the end of overtime. But as I hit "rewind" on my DVR I noticed something a bit disconcerting, and what I saw was Big Ten leading scorer Deshaun Thomas possibly hiding from the ball in the closing seconds. "Hiding" may be a bit strong. But Thomas certainly wasn't as demonstrative or making himself as available to receive a pass as I would like my 20-points-per-game scorer to be in the waning seconds of a road OT game versus the No. 3 team in the country.
Georgetown may be the sleeper team in the Big East as the Hoyas sit at 16-4 overall and 6-3 in the best conference in the land. The Hoyas stubbed their toe a bit when they lost to a bad South Florida squad in mid-january. Since then, G-Town has reeled off four consecutive wins including back-to-back wins against two top 25 teams -- No. 24 Notre Dame and a hard-fought home victory against No. 5 Louisville. Otto Porter Jr. is a basketball player. I love this guy. He averages 14 points per game and eight rebounds. Porter shoots 51-percent from the field overall and 46-percent from beyond the arc. Porter and Greg Wittingham make up an awfully imposing front-line and with Markel Starks in the backcourt, these Hoyas are capable of beating anyone on any given night.
This next month is going to be fantastic.
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.