Teams rising from the doldrums
Chapman liking what some perennial also-rans are doing
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 Jan. 28.
I've lived in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the past 18 years. During that time the Arizona State Sun Devils men's hoops program has had three different head coaches: Bill Frieder, Rob Evans and current top man Herb Sendek.
During that 18-year period ASU has had a decent run of postseason play. That is, if your measuring stick is NIT appearances. The Sun Devils have gone to the NIT five times in the past 18 years. They've been invited to the NCAA tourney just twice in the same period of time. Disappointing to say the least.
However, Sendek has always been a man of integrity and character. He inherited a team in 2006 with many issues. There were academic issues and players under scholarship who were never going to buy in to Sendek's rule book. He basically had to start from scratch.
|ARIZONA STATE THIS WEEK|
|Jan. 31: Arizona State at Washington State|
|Feb. 2: Arizona State at Washington|
|Full Season Schedule|
Sendek, like most basketball guys from Pennsylvania, is nothing if not tough. He's a fighter. Sendek recruited and had a fun couple of years with the incredibly talented James Harden. But the Sun Devils found it tough to build on the momentum Harden provided the program -- that is, until now.
Sendek's 2012-13 squad is currently 16-4 overall and 5-2 in the Pac-12 (still can't get used to this Pac-Twelve thing), which is good for a tie for third with bitter in-state rival Arizona. ASU recently captured its 16th win Saturday when it spanked a greatly improved UCLA Bruins team 78-60.
ASU's recent good fortune cannot be attributed to one player. What it's done to begin the season has truly been a team effort.
2011 Arizona high school player of the year, 5-foot-10 point guard Jahii Carson, who sat out his freshman year after being ruled ineligible just prior to the season, has been a welcome sight for ASU coaches, players and fans alike. Carson is a kid I saw play for the first time when he was at about 8 years old. I remember telling longtime friend and neighbor, Danny Ainge, after watching Carson play for the first time, "Danny, I just saw an 8-year-old kid play basketball, whom I have no doubt could handle any varsity high-school press that a team could throw at him." Jahii Carson's game has always been advanced. I for one have been anxious to see how coachable Jahii would be for Sendek and his staff. So far, reports say, so good.
Throw in senior Carrick Felix's leadership and best statistical year in his ASU career along with junior Evan Gordan -- brother of former Indiana All-American and NBA standout Eric Gordon -- and the serious emergence of the Canadian-born 7-2, 260-pound monster of a human being in Jordan Bachynski and, well, you're looking at a team which in my opinion is no fluke. And don't take my word, ask any UCLA Bruin you like about the improvement of Bachynski, who put up 22 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks in 30 minutes of play. Jordan Bachynski has become a player.
With Carson running the point and beginning to "fill his tank" by playmaking for teammates instead of, in the past, always looking for his own scoring opportunities, the Sun Devils have a real chance to do some damage in 2012-13.
Welcome to Miami; Bienvenidos a Miami.
Will Smith's lyrics have likely been spoken by many an Atlantic Coast Conference player through the years, since The U joined the conference in 2004, but most of that time it was probably said as a bit of a joke just as the Dukes and Carolinas of the world were touching down at Miami International Airport. As in, "Well, let's enjoy this weather, food, Coconut Grove, maybe South Beach for a couple of days -- oh, and also beat up on this bad Miami basketball team before heading back to the real ACC."
Well, this is now head coach Jim Larranaga's Miami U basketball program. A Miami team which embarrassed then-No. 1 Duke 90-63 last week and followed that with a 71-47 spanking of Florida State.
|MIAMI THIS WEEK|
|Jan. 30: Miami at Virginia Tech|
|Feb. 2: Miami at North Carolina State|
|Full Season Schedule|
The wins versus Duke and Florida State moved Miami's home record to 9-0. It is 15-3 overall and a sparkling 6-0 in the always extremely tough ACC. In fact, Miami's victories last week impressed so much that it jumped 11 spots in The Associated Press Poll to No. 14.
The Hurricanes have played a somewhat top-heavy home schedule to date and overall Miami's strength of schedule is No. 1 nationally.
Miami currently has fiive players scoring in double figures. It has eight averaging more than five points per game. The 'Canes are built to win now, as five of their top six scorers are all seniors. Wow. I just want to say that again. Five of Miami's top six scorers this season are seniors. I love it. Still think this team is a fluke? There is a big difference in 22- and 23-year-old minds and bodies than 18- and 19-year-old minds and bodies. This is an easy team for which to root.
Shane Larkin, the starting point guard for Miami and only underclassmen in the top six, is the son of Cincinnati Reds and MLB Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. Shane's uncle is Byron Larkin, who is arguably Xavier's all-time greatest hoops player. Byron Larkin finished his Xavier career with 2,696 points in 1988 and was the first XU player ever named to a post season All-America team. Shane appears to have inherited some kind of designer genes. And get a load of the numbers young Larkin is putting up as he leads this team: 36 minutes a game, 40 percent from the 3-point line, averaging right at 12.5 points per game. But here are the truly impressive numbers: As a 5-10 PG Larkin is getting 4.4 rebounds per game, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per contest. Now that's a playmaker.
This senior-laden team of Larranaga's is fun to watch. Reggie Johnson is now back. Johnson, with Julian Gamble and Kenny Kadji, give the 'Canes one of the best frontlines in the country.
I'm saying this Miami squad will make a lot of noise as we progress further into the ACC season and beyond.
An if you ask how I know I gots to plead the fifth.
Head coach Dana Altman and staff have the 2012-13 Oregon Ducks a-quack-a-lackin'.
The 10th-ranked Ducks just posted their 20th consecutive home win this past week, moving their overall record to 18-2 while also improving to 7-0 in the Pac-12 -- which in my opinion should still be called the Pac-10 if for nothing more than continuity's sake. Anyway, following two home wins last week Oregon jumped six spots in the polls to achieve its highest AP ranking since 2007.
|OREGON THIS WEEK|
|Jan. 30: Oregon at Stanford|
|Feb. 2: Oregon at California|
|Full Season Schedule|
Oregon's two losses this year, for me, don't do anything to dissuade me from my opinion that it is the cream of the Pac-12 in 2012-13. Sure, the Ducks lost to Texas El-Paso on the road just before Christmas, but that was a hard-fought, three-OT loss and anybody is capable of stubbing their toe a time or two in a long college basketball season. Oregon's only other loss came to No. 24 Cincinnati, which continues to prove night after night that it is a very capable team which can play with anyone in the country with the kinds of shooters and toughness head coach Mick Cronin and staff trot out on the floor for the Bearcats each night.
I look for this Ducks team to end the season, good health permitting, with one of the gaudiest records in college basketball. They are finished with Arizona and Arizona State and five of their remaining 11 regular-season games are at home in Eugene.
With five players averaging in double figures and two more at 9.4 and 8.9, this Oregon squad has one of the more balanced offensive attacks in the country. Keep an eye on this Ducks team.
When head coach Mick Cronin can suit up shooters the likes of Sean Kilpatrick, Jaquon Parker and Cashmere Wright, the Cincinnati Bearcats have a puncher's chance not only to compete with, but beat any team in the country on any given night.
I really enjoy watching Cincinnati play. Its identity is pretty well-established. It shoots a ton of 3s and if push comes to shove this team isn't backing down from anyone. The Bearcats have a team of very tough-minded basketball players. Cincinnati is athletic, quick, pesky and, with three guys on the squad who shoot the ball the way Kilpatrick, Parker and Wright do, well, it's just an enjoyable brand of basketball. And as players, Kilpatrick and Wright have to love Cronin as their coach. Heck, those two don't have a green light to shoot the ball -- their light is nearly blue it's so green! They let it fly. FGAs, baby. Get 'em up. I love it.
|CINCINNATI THIS WEEK|
|Jan. 30: Rutgers at Cincinnati|
|Feb. 2: Cincinnati at Seton Hall|
|Full Season Schedule|
With wins against current No. 10 Oregon, then-Nos. 24 Pitt and 25 Marquette, the Bearcats quietly are posting a semi-solid resume for the NCAA selection committee. However, I feel they need to show more against the really big boys such as Syracuse (a two-point loss).
There are no shortage of chances for Cincinnati to build that resume in the ridiculously tough Big East Conference. Pitt, Villanova, Georgetown, Notre Dame, UConn (twice) and Louisville all remain for the Bearcats -- not to mention what may be the best conference tourney to watch come March. If you've never made the trek to the Big Apple to check out four days of great collegiate basketball at Madison Square Garden, you should try to do so.
Cronin's Bearcats have enough ammo and toughness built-in to upset the apple cart for someone in a big way when the Big Dance begins. This team is a fun to watch.
What a job Andy Kennedy's done this season with the Ole Miss Rebels. Kennedy has this squad playing together and having fun. Confidence is a beautiful thing.
The Rebels are ranked No. 16 by the AP. That's just a few slots lower than where this team has finished in the Southeastern Conference for the past couple of decades.
|OLE MISS THIS WEEK|
|Jan. 29: Kentucky at Ole Miss|
|Jan. 26: Ole Miss at Florida|
The Rebs have not played the toughest of schedules to date, but any time you can string together 17 wins in 19 games it's an awfully impressive feat. After all, you're playing in the SEC and leading the way at 6-0, to boot.
But the waters get a little bit deeper this week for the Rebels as Tuesday night they play host to defending national champion Kentucky, a team searching for an identity other than "young and playing that way." But the Wildcats will test the Rebels as UK is athletic and a bit unpredictable. On Saturday, Ole Miss jumps straight into the deep end without a life preserver when it plays at No. 4 Florida.
Junior guard Marshall Henderson has the SEC abuzz with his league-leading 19.2 points per game as well as his brash style of play. To be honest, I kind of like what he's doing for this basketball program. Marshall, with senior power forward Murphy Holloway, give the Rebs a nice 1-2 punch. Holloway brings loads of experience along with a 240-pound frame. He's averaging nearly 15 points and 10.5 rebounds.
I really like what Kennedy's Rebels are doing right now. Talk to me in a week and I'll have a better feel for who these Rebs really are -- whether or not they're really a team built to make a deep run this season.
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