Observations: Stanford, Rick Barnes and a big one in Lawrence
Jon Rothstein looks back at another telling week in college basketball, while keying in on those games that interest him this weekend.
Check out below for five observations from the past week in college hoops, and five games I'll be watching this weekend.
Five observations from the week...
1. Stanford may have found its niche in the second half of its win against UConn on Wednesday night.
Johnny Dawkins and the Cardinal desperately needed a marquee victory and they got it in Hartford against the Huskies. Stanford has changed its lineup a bit since last season and now uses a three-big approach with Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell, and Stefan Nastic on the floor at the same time. That trio was the major difference in the second half against UConn as Dawkins went to a 2-3 zone in hopes of slowing down the dribble penetration ability of Shabazz Napier. It worked. The Cardinal held the Huskies to 13 points in the second half and completely neutralized their perimeter. Don't be surprised if Stanford uses more zone moving forward if the matchups against their given opponent allows it. With Huestis, Powell, and Nastic, the Cardinal start three players over 6-7 and their first perimeter sub -- 6-10 forward John Gage -- is a long-range specialist that struggles in man-to-man situations defensively.
2. It's time to start acknowledging the job Rick Barnes is doing at Texas.
And some people, including my colleague Gary Parrish, already have. The Longhorns lost five rotation players -- Myck Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis, Jaylen Bond, and Ioannis Papapetrou -- from last year's team that went 16-18, but Barnes has shown early that less sometimes truly is more. Texas is 10-1 after Wednesday night's 86-83 win at North Carolina and has a wave of momentum heading into Saturday's game (CBS, 4 PM ET) against Michigan State in Austin. The Longhorns don't have the brand names they've had in the past but Barnes has three strong veterans in Javan Felix, Jonathan Holmes, and Demarcus Holland that have completely bought in from the first day of practice. Meanwhile freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor has learned quickly on the fly at the most important position on the floor, and looks like one of the Big 12's top newcomers. The bottom line is this -- Texas has guys who want to be in Austin and not somewhere else. Those are the types of players Barnes coached when he led the Longhorns to 14 straight NCAA Tournaments. With the way things are going, it looks like this team may be headed in that direction once again.
3. UCLA could struggle against teams with legitimate size.
The Bruins have the ability to be explosive offensively but rebounding the ball against teams with traditional front lines could be a problem in the Pac-12. UCLA's primary frontcourt players -- David and Travis Wear -- are more in the mold of skilled big men who can extend the defense and Tony Parker doesn't seem like he's ready yet to be a major contributor statistically. The Bruins were at their best in the loss to Duke on Thursday night when they went small and while that opens up the floor on offense, it limits UCLA's ability to control the backboard. This could be an ongoing theme when this team gets into league play.
4. Iowa State's Dustin Hogue is one of the nation's most underrated players.
The Cyclones are 8-0 heading into the Diamondhead Classic in Hawaii and Hogue is a major reason why. The 6-6 forward has blended in seamlessly at Iowa State, and is averaging a double-double (12.6 points, 11.1 rebounds per game) while shooting an impressive 43.8 percent from three-point range. One of the underrated things about Fred Hoiberg's team early on? The chemistry among Hogue, Melvin Ejim, and Georges Niang up front. Hogue's relentlessness along with Ejim's seasoning and Niang's poise make this team an awfully difficult club to match up with.
5. Rysheed Jordan is beginning to come into his own for St. John's
The 6-4 freshman has a combined 23 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists in the Red Storm's last two games and is starting to show flashes of the potential he displayed when he was on the AAU circuit. A lead guard with great size at 6-4, Jordan has an uncanny ability to get to the foul line and keep the defense on its heels with regularity. His progression will be a major factor in determining whether or not St. John's is able to finish in the top half of the Big East and reach the NCAA Tournament.
Five games I'll be watching this weekend...
Georgetown at Kansas, Saturday
The Hoyas haven't had the cachet and mystique that the Jayhawks have enjoyed early in the season, but they're significantly more experienced than Kansas. Georgetown has three veteran guards in Markel Starks, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, and Jabril Trawick who won't be intimated by Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Another thing to keep in mind? Georgetown could use a quality non-conference win. This team lost early in the season against Oregon and a win on Saturday at a place like Kansas would do wonders for the entire Big East.
UMass vs. Florida State, Saturday
Could this be the first defeat of the season for the upstart Minutemen? It depends on which Seminoles team shows up. Florida State has looked like an ACC contender at times this season but also has shown signs of being just average. The Seminoles beat a solid Charlotte team by 44 points on Tuesday night and will be out for blood against a UMass team that looks like it could be the Atlantic 10's best.
BYU at Oregon, Saturday
If you love offense, this game is for you. Oregon has become must see TV because of the way it scores the ball, and is currently averaging 89.0 points per game. BYU, meanwhile, also tries to push the ball on every occasion and scored 112 points earlier in the season when itplayed at Stanford. A key piece to watch in this game? Cougars' freshman big man Eric Mika. The Ducks don't normally play with a true center and the pace of the game may force Mika to play against a more skilled opponent than he's used to up front.
Oklahoma State vs. Colorado, Saturday
Give Tad Boyle credit. The Buffaloes' coach has played a terrific non-conference schedule and has already faced Baylor, Harvard, and Kansas. Now Colorado gets the Cowboys and Oklahoma State in Las Vegas in what should be a terrific showdown between two elite guards in the Cowboys' Marcus Smart and the Buffaloes' Spencer Dinwiddie. I'm certain Colorado is again an NCAA Tournament team, but can it really compete for a Pac-12 title? This game will be a good barometer.
Cal at Creighton, Sunday
The Bears are better than their 8-3 record because they lost two games in Maui with Richard Solomon out of the lineup. Mike Montgomery's team is again good enough to reach the NCAA Tournament but will they be able to handle the Bluejays' frontcourt tandem of Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge? No baseline combo in America stretches the defense like McDermott and Wragge and Solomon and David Kravish will have to be at their best defensively, especially guarding at the three-point line. Expect Montgomery to mix and match different defenders with Creighton's frontcourt, which has been known to expose teams with traditional post players.
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