I'm making my first trip to Kansas State this weekend, and after booking the trip I can confirm that the Little Apple is much more difficult to get to than the Big Apple. Best route, best I can tell, is to fly to Kansas City, then drive 130 miles west to Manhattan, where the unofficial slogan must be this: "If you can make it here (without the benefit of a private plane), you can make it anywhere ... or at least anywhere in the continental United States."
That said, I can't wait!
|With a win at Kansas State, Sherron Collins and No. 2 Kansas will take over the top spot in the country. (Getty Images)|
Let's do the Friday Look Ahead ...
Best game of the weekend: The only thing missing from Saturday's showdown between Kansas and Kansas State is Michael Beasley, who I wish was still part of this rivalry, if only because no other Wildcat will deliver a quote like the one Beasley delivered two years ago. "We're going to beat Kansas at home," he said. "We're going to beat them in their house. We're going to beat them in Africa. Wherever we play, we're going to beat them." I would've loved to have seen Kansas-Kansas State in Africa, although it's probably more difficult to get to Africa than Kansas State. Or maybe not.
Another interesting matchup: Vanderbilt is coming off a huge win at Tennessee, Kentucky off a bad loss at South Carolina, and suddenly the top-ranked (for now) Wildcats find themselves in second place in the SEC Eastern Division. A loss Saturday to Kevin Stallings' 21st-ranked Commodores, and UK will be two games back in their division. So this would be a good time for John Wall to turn back into John Wall, put on an electrifying performance and regain a strong grip on the National Player of the Year race that once seemed his to lose but now prominently features Ohio State's Evan Turner.
Yet another interesting matchup: The award for "toughest schedule of the week" probably goes to Vandy because of road games at No. 14 Tennessee and No. 1 Kentucky, but Georgetown's slate isn't much easier. The No. 7 Hoyas lost Monday at No. 4 Syracuse, and now they've got No. 8 Duke on Saturday at the Verizon Center. A split was always going to be good. But can they get the split?
Guaranteed to be a blowout: Georgia Tech will play Saturday against Kentucky State, which would be wise to film a commercial and send it to Duke, Boston College and every other ACC school. You know, something like this: "The strain of the ACC schedule can take a toll, what with games at Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida State. So when you need a break, please call. We'll let you dunk on us for a decent check. We're Kentucky State."
Guaranteed to be an upset: Northern Iowa is 18-2 overall, 9-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference and ranked 25th in the coaches poll. On Saturday, they'll lose to a Missouri State team that they've already beaten, to a Missouri State team that's 5-5 in the MVC. When it happens it'll be my seventh correct unranked-team-over-a-ranked-team pick in my past eight tries. Sportsbook.com, here I come!
Player trying to keep rolling: Last week in this spot I told you Florida could go from 0-2 in the SEC to 4-2 in the SEC if Erving Walker kept performing at a high level. I forgot to mention that it would also require a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Chandler Parsons, but whatever. The details aren't important. What's important is that Florida made it to 4-2 in the SEC, and that Erving Walker is making 70 percent of his 3-point attempts (14 of 20) in this four-game winning streak. Billy Donovan would surely welcome a similar effort Sunday at Tennessee.
Player trying to get rolling: Speaking of Tennessee, the Vols are on a two-game losing streak that coincides with Wayne Chism missing way more shots than he's making. The senior forward was a combined 5 of 19 (26.3 percent) in the losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt. With only eight scholarship players available, Chism must be better for the Vols to recover.
Three things you need to know
1. Now is around the time when the RPI becomes a useful tool for grouping teams. Thus, it's worth noting that Syracuse, Kansas, Duke, Villanova and Kansas State enter the weekend ranked first through fifth in the CBSSports.com RPI index. Among the things that might surprise you: Rhode Island is all the way up at No. 11, and the Big 12 has seven teams in the top 35.
2. If Maryland wins at Clemson the Terrapins are guaranteed to remain alone atop the ACC standings. They would be 15-5 overall, 5-1 in the league. But this is the start of a stretch during which Maryland will play four of its next six on the road. So it'll be interesting to see whether Gary Williams' team can hold it together despite the tough schedule.
3. UAB will play a huge game at Bartow Arena on Saturday. If the Blazers beat UTEP, they'll move to 19-2 overall, 7-0 in Conference USA, remain in the AP Top 25 and enter the Top 25 (and one). Beyond that, a victory would mean UAB takes an eight-game winning streak into Wednesday's game at Memphis, which has won two straight since losing to UTEP and is now 15-5 overall, 5-1 in C-USA. UTEP and Tulsa are also 5-1 in C-USA, by the way. That means there will be a four-way tie for first in the league if UTEP beats UAB, Memphis beats SMU and Tulsa beats UCF this weekend, which is at least one reason why John Calipari's departure was good for the league. C-USA is really interesting this season. Crucial games are played every week, and that wasn't the case during the past four years.
Final thought: South Carolina's Devan Downey will play his first game since the Kentucky game when the Gamecocks host Georgia on Saturday, and thousands of fans who wouldn't otherwise care will now check the box score, all because of what Downey did against Kentucky on Tuesday night. Which is fine. That's what happens when you do what Downey did, i.e., score 30 points to lead an upset of the nation's No. 1 team. But it should be noted that what Downey did Tuesday wasn't surprising to anybody who has followed his career.
No, I don't guess too many people expected him to lead a victory over Kentucky.
I know I didn't.
But the idea that he would hang points on Kentucky and dazzle viewers wasn't hard to predict. Downey is averaging 31.3 points in SEC games, and he was coming off a 36-point performance at Florida that featured, in the final 10 seconds, one of the best I'm-going-to-score-this-ball-no-matter-how-many-guys-you-run-at-me drive and layups you'll ever see. Still, Downey was kind of unknown outside of SEC and college basketball circles before the Kentucky game, and I think there are two reasons:
1. He has never played in the NCAA tournament.
2. He's small and thus not a great NBA prospect featured on mock drafts.
"That's what I think it is, too," Downey told me earlier this week by phone. "So many guys have high rankings coming out of high school, and they're on the mock drafts, and that's all people look at."
Which is true.
Willie Warren and Ed Davis get a lot of attention because they should go in the lottery of June's NBA Draft. The byproduct is that we lose focus of the fact that this is college basketball, and that you don't necessarily have to be a great NBA prospect to be a great college player. Scottie Reynolds is one example of that, Luke Harangody is another.
Yet another is Devan Downey.
And he didn't become that against Kentucky.
Somewhat overlooked, he has been fantastic for a while.