Good 'N Plenty: Its toughness doubted, UNC shows some mettle

by | College Basketball Insider

UNC battled back vs. Kentucky at Rupp Arena, among the most hostile settings in college hoops. (Getty Images)  
UNC battled back vs. Kentucky at Rupp Arena, among the most hostile settings in college hoops. (Getty Images)  

Last week we debuted Good 'N Plenty, a weekly column that will run every Tuesday. This week we touch on yet another freshman point guard struggling, arguably the toughest team in the nation getting a huge road win, Robbie Hummel's latest injury -- and plenty more. But we lead off with North Carolina, despite coming up short, showing it's not a bunch of pansies.

There was legitimate concern about North Carolina's toughness.

Not only from me, either. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams also admitted he wanted his team to be tougher.

That's why Saturday's showing at Rupp Arena, in maybe the most hostile setting in college basketball, against the top-ranked Wildcats was critical. These guys were in a 9-3 hole right out of the gate, but battled back, controlled most of the game and had a chance to win on the final possession.

For a few minutes, it looked as though North Carolina might wilt under the adversity.

"I can't fault my team's effort -- and toughness," Williams said shortly after Anthony Davis' block of John Henson allowed Kentucky to come away with the one-point win.

"We competed for 40 minutes," UNC point guard Kendall Marshall added.

Let's face it. This North Carolina isn't full of hard-nosed intimidators. In fact, there's not one of those guys on the entire roster who flat-out scares anyone.

John Henson and Tyler Zeller aren't exactly imposing figures. Barnes is mentally tough, but he's still got the label of being a soft kid from Iowa. Marshall is a finesse guy while Dexter Strickland is one of the nicest kids I've ever come across. I'd venture to say that freshman P.J. Hairston is the one guy that might be as close to an intimidator as there is on the roster -- and he's not even in the same league as a guy like Terrence Jones.

There are "great kids" who are also tough. Tyler Hansbrough was one of them, Kentucky has one right now with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

I'm not sure you have to boast one, but it certainly helps.

Marquis Teague

Jeff Teague warned his brother it was going to be an adjustment. Now Kentucky's Marquis Teague, like so many other freshman point guards, is finding out for himself.

Derrick Rose had his bumps a few years back at Memphis. Myck Kabongo and Josiah Turner -- considered, along with Teague as the top three point guards in the freshman class, are all struggling thus far.

"He's in a system and a team where there's a lot of pressure -- and he's got great players around him," said his brother, Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague. "He's always had the ball in his hands most of the game and been dominant with the ball. Now he goes to a team with four NBA guys around him at one time, and that's difficult for a freshman to understand how to get everyone the ball."

"He's initiating the offense," said Shawn Teague, Jeff and Marquis' father. "It's an adjustment."

Jeff Teague said that Marquis was always used to just coming down and making plays in both high school and AAU ball. In high school, he didn't have much talent around him -- especially on the frontline. Now he's got to be concerned with time and score -- and pleasing certain people.

"He knows he can do more," Jeff said. "But his time will come."

Teague's numbers are solid (10.3 ppg, 4.1 apg), but he needs to cut down on his turnovers, improve his decision-making and also make shots from the perimeter. He is averaging nearly three assists per game and was 3 of 11 from the field against North Carolina -- including 0 for 4 from beyond the arc.

Jeff Teague and his father, Shawn, both agreed that it'll take some time for Marquis to acclimate himself to playing with so much talent -- and also having to play in a system, rather than just having to come down and make a play.

"I keep trying to tell him to just worry about running the team and don't worry about your individual stats," Jeff Teague said. "But young guys worry about that stuff. It's tough for him when he sees guys like Gilchrist and Anthony Davis putting up these numbers."

"He's thinking too much," added Shawn Teague.

Hummel's guilt trip

Robbie Hummel was overcome with guilt.

"I'm sick of letting everyone down again," he said following Purdue's last-second loss at Xavier on Saturday.

Hummel, who has missed the past 1 1/2 years due to a pair of torn ACLs, was writhing on pain on the sidelines in the waning moments with a full-body cramp as he was being attended to by the trainers. However, he felt fine Monday morning and felt the cramps were due to him coming down with something earlier in the week. "I didn't really eat on Friday," he said. "And I had an IV in the afternoon."

Hummel said he initially felt the camps in his left hand about four minutes into the second half, then it moved to his forearm and his calves.

"At the nine-minute mark, I was just hoping the game would end as soon as possible," Hummel said.

Not only because Purdue was up 16 points, either. The cramps proceeded to move to his feet, hands, quads, hamstrings and stomach. When Hummel went to the foul line with 54 seconds left and Purdue trailing 61-60, he didn't know what to expect.

"I was just hoping not to shoot an air ball," he said.

He made the first, missed the second -- and then limped off the court and couldn't return.

"I was able to watch the final shot," Hummel said of Tu Holloway's winner. "It was tough."

Marquette road trip

Buzz Williams loves to play mind games.

"There were none of those before the game," Marquette senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom said following the Golden Eagles win at the Kohl Center. "He was just straight business."

Everyone always talks about how difficult it is to win in Madison -- and rightfully so. The Badgers have won 97 percent of their games at home since Bo Ryan took over.

Sometimes it's just a question of toughness -- both mentally and physically -- why teams aren't able to win at the Kohl Center. Marquette usually doesn't have to worry about a lack of toughness.

"I think we feed off environments like that," Johnson-Odom said. "The crowd doesn't really affect us."

"You've got to be tough to win at the Kohl Center," he added. "But you also have to have some players."

And that's where Marquette is getting some motivation. Everyone talks about the toughness and the tenacity, but Johnson-Odom and his teammates -- and even Williams -- are using the fact that few credit the talent level on the team as added motivation.

Johnson-Odom said that it was freshman guard Derrick Wilson who spent the majority of the game on Wisconsin's All-American candidate Jordan Taylor -- and that he and Vander Blue both also took turns on Taylor. "I think he really frustrated Taylor," Johnson-Odom said.

Scout take

We'll do this each and every week -- with NBA executives giving their anonymous opinions of someone they saw recently. This week we look at a pair: Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Texas guard J'Covan Brown.

On Michael Kidd-Gilchrist:

"He's a kid that wasn't known as a shooter -- and he still needs to work on his mechanics -- but he has just about everything else. High intensity, he's always attacking, he's a great finisher, he rebounds and scraps. He absolutely provides energy for the whole team. He needs to work on his shooting mechanics, but he doesn't have a whole lot else he needs to work on. He's got to be a three-man at our level and can play for anyone, but if you put guys around him who can shoot it, he'll be more effective because it'll give him more room to drive and play his natural game. He improved his stock as much as anyone in Saturday's game. I think he's definitely a lottery guy because he's going to add lot wherever he winds up."

On J'Covan Brown:

"I'm ridiculously impressed with his point guard skills. He has big balls and reminds me of a slightly better handled Mo Williams. He reads the floor well and really competes. The problem with him is he lives on the edge emotionally. He wants it to be too much about him. I could see himself getting into the late first round."

Stock watch

Heating up:

1. Tu Holloway -- Xavier's floor leader actually struggled for much of the wins against Vandy and Purdue, but came up big when it counted. He scored 10 of the Musketeers' 16 points in overtime against Vandy and drilled a trio of 3-pointers late in the comeback against Purdue.

2. Damian Lillard -- Weber State's junior guard leads the nation in scoring -- and is averaging 31.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3 assists while shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc in his last four games.

3. Georgetown -- The Hoyas dropped one in Maui to Kansas, but have reeled off five straight since, including a win in Maui against Memphis and then a road win at Alabama.

4. Doug McDermott -- The son of Creighton coach Greg McDermott has three consecutive double-doubles for the Bluejays and is averaging 26.7 points, 11.7 boards while making 8-of-14 shots from deep in that stretch.

5. San Diego State -- The Aztecs were supposed to have a miserable year after losing Kawhi Leonard and three other starters, but Steve Fisher's team is off to an 8-2 start with the losses coming against Top 25 teams Baylor and Creighton.

Cooling down:

1. Ben Howland -- UCLA is just 2-5, with just one victory against a Division I opponent (Pepperdine), and the Reeves Nelson situation has become a mess.

2. America East -- Three teams in the league remain winless -- Binghamton, UMBC and Hartford.

3. Rhode Island -- The Rams are 1-7 overall (much to the dismay of Tom Penders), but there's hope on the horizon as transfers Billy Baron and Andre Malone both become eligible later this month.

4. Jordan Taylor -- Wisconsin's point guard struggled in the Badgers two losses this past week, shooting 33 percent from the field, 3-of-13 from deep with just six assists and five turnovers.

5. Utah State -- The Aggies are just 3-4, with the four setbacks coming to Weber State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Denver and Pacific.

Trojan adversity

It began with the murder of Ryan Francis.

"It's given me the true test of the good, bad and ugly of college basketball," long-time USC assistant Bob Cantu said of recent run of adversity that has hit the Trojans program.

Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt left early to the NBA. A year later, O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson were one-and-done. Then came the crushing blow when DeMarr DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett all declared for the NBA early and the recruiting class of Derrick Williams, Solomon Hill, Momo Jones and Noel Johnson all opted to go elsewhere amidst the NCAA investigation into Mayo, former coach Tim Floyd and runner Rodney Guillory.

Kevin O'Neill got the job and, at one point in his first season, USC was somehow in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. Then came the news that the program was hit with a postseason ban and an on-court collapse followed.

Dwight Lewis, Marcus Johnson and Mike Gerrity all graduated, yet the Trojans -- led by Nikola Vucevic -- earned a spot in the NCAA tourney. Then Vucevic left and was taken in the first round of the draft this past June,

This was supposed to be Jio Fontain's team, but he tore his ACL prior to the start of the season. Evan Smith and Curtis Washington are both done with shoulder injuries and Dewayne Dedmon appeared to be lost for a month or two with a foot injury. However, Dedmon returned this past weekend in a loss to Minnesota after the injury wasn't nearly as serious as first revealed.

"It's been crazy," admitted Cantu, now the associate head coach. "I can honestly say I've experienced everything -- having to go to a funeral, recruiting on the floor, rebuilding from nothing and going to the NCAA tournament to starting from scratch with just one returning player."

"Nothing surprises me anymore," he added.

K-State: The forgotten team

Frank Martin understands it. Sort of.

The Kansas State coach lost his top player, Jake Pullen, who has carried the Wildcats for the last couple of seasons. But Martin wasn't worried because he realized that Pullen arrived in Manhattan without any hype, so it was time for other guys to do the same.

But this team will be different. There is no bona fide star yet. It's a group that has Martin oozing with optimism -- and also one with no shortage of balance.

"We've got other guys in place we like that helped us win a lot of games," Martin said.

Heading into Thursday's matchup with his mentor, Bob Huggins and West Virginia in Wichita, K-State has five players all averaging between 8.8 and 13 points per game. Jamar Samuels has matured and leads the team in scoring, big man Thomas Gipson finally gives the team a legitimate low-post scorer -- and the team has found a way to win even though Rodney McGruder hasn't made shots.

"Jamar is trying to adjust to who he is," Martin said. "That's making him a better player. He's been a lot more consistent in his daily approach, he's put on weight and is willing to work."

Martin said that McGruder, who was known for his ability to shoot the ball, has struggled with that aspect thus far -- but has been doing everything else: Defending, passing and taking care of the ball.

"His shooting will come around," Martin said. "I'm not worried about that at all. But now he can do a lot more besides just catch-and-shoot."

Final shots

 Best wishes to New Hampshire assistant coach Ken Dempsey, who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and is scheduled for surgery next week.

 In a day and age when transfers have become rampant, Belmont coach Rick Byrd hasn't lost a player for any reason since 2003.

 Rutgers coach Mike Rice said he expects redshirt freshman Kadeem Jack to begin practicing with the team after Christmas.

 Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said he's optimistic that Khris Middleton will return this week. Middleton has been out since the first game of the season.


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