|Nate Wolters is averaging 21.5 points and six assists per game for South Dakota State. (US Presswire)|
We started a new feature that will run every Tuesday called Good 'N Plenty. It'll be loaded with info from around the country. Here's the latest installment -- which touches on a team that's flying under the radar, a coach that expects to add a couple of starters soon, where John Riek is these days, a mid-major star and also our weekly Scout's Take focuses on Memphis' pro prospects.
I'm not sure I've seen a Top 20 team get less ink and fanfare than Georgetown.
Could the 2011-12 Hoyas be more formidable despite the departure of star guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman?
"I don't know about that," said the final remaining link of the perimeter trio, senior Jason Clark. "But I think we're hungrier."
Clark certainly is, following consecutive first-round exits in the NCAA tournament to VCU and Ohio University.
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"I don't want to go out like that again," he said.
Clark is an ideal representative for this year's team, one that continues to fly under-the-radar. That's the way he's been throughout his entire career, first in the shadow of Wright and Freeman -- and now just underrated. He leads the team in scoring at 15.5 points, but this group is different than it's been the last few years -- when the entire offense ran through three guys on the perimeter. Hollis Thompson (14.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg) can really shoot the ball, big man Henry Sims (12.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) has found some swagger, Nate Lubick brings toughness and intangibles to the table and sophomore point guard Markel Starks is still learning.
"We're deeper," Clark said."Henry has been huge for us. His confidence wasn't where it needed to be in the past, whether it was playing time or whatever. The talent's always been there -- and now he's playing as well as any big man in the country."
Georgetown hasn't played a schedule on par with Michigan State, Xavier or Gonzaga thus far, but the Hoyas have played three teams that were in the Top 25 at one point in time. There was the loss to Kansas in Maui, a close win over Memphis and the win at Alabama.
"I know a lot of people didn't expect us to do much this year," Clark said. "They are writing us off."
Thursday is another opportunity to prove itself as a legitimate contender when Memphis comes to the Verizon Center for a rematch.
"It'll be a good test," Clark said. "To show we really deserved to win that first game."
|Don't count Terps out|
Mark Turgeon is on the verge of doing something no other coach in America will do. He'll add two starters in the next 10 days.
Maryland's coach said that point guard Pe'Shon Howard will return Friday against Radford -- and that 7-foot-1 import Alex Len becomes eligible on Dec. 28.
Turgeon said that Howard, a projected starter who will allow Terrell Stoglin to slide over and play off the ball for much of the time, has practiced well thus far. "What a difference he makes," Turgeon admitted. "He's a point guard and also gives us depth. Right now it's hard to pull guys when they make mistakes."
Len will miss the Radford game before making his college debut against Albany. While somewhat of a mystery man, Len has been practicing with the first team in an effort to improve -- and could start from Day 1 for the Terps.
"He has really good hands, is every bit of 7-1 and is long," Turgeon said. "He's got a nice touch and a good feel for the game -- and he's gotten a lot tougher."
He'll also have three games under his belt before ACC play gets under way.
The more I think about this Maryland team, there's no reason they can't make a run somewhere in the top half of the league. After Duke and Carolina, it's fairly wide open. Sure, Florida State has no shortage of players and both Virginia and Virginia Tech have more talent than Maryland, but the Terps have a star in Stoglin -- and now he won't have to do it all for Turgeon.
|Knight's in Columbus|
Pat Knight said underneath the hard exterior, his dad is excited about returning to Ohio State on Tuesday night.
Bob Knight, who played for the Buckeyes from 1959-62, will be honored on a night when his son takes his Lamar team into Columbus.
"They had been trying to get him to come out so they could honor him, but it just never worked with his schedule," Pat Knight said. "But this worked out. I asked my dad and he was jacked. He loves Ohio State and this will be neat for him. He's really excited."
Pat Knight left the plans on how to honor his father to Thad Matta and Ohio State. Bob flew with the Lamar team from Houston, went to Ohio State and Lamar's practice on Monday and then went to dinner with his son. Pat said it was the first time he'd seen his father in-person since May -- when they went on a fishing trip together.
"I'm not sure where they have him sitting for the game," Pat said. "But he'd better be rooting for me."
As for Pat, he's far more comfortable at Lamar than he was at Texas Tech.
"Coming in as the head coach is just different," Pat said. "It was hard at Texas Tech because I realize my first head job shouldn't have been in the Big 12. I didn't deserve it."
Lamar is a spot in which basketball is what matters. At Texas Tech, it was all about football.
"Everywhere you go, people talk about basketball," he said. "And I don't need a big school. It's a blue-collar place, which suits me. The players all have a chip on their shoulder and want to work. It's totally different coaching these guys up."
|John Riek re-surfaces|
Just five years ago, John Riek was considered a future lottery pick.
Now the Sudanese native and 7-footer is a junior at Tennessee Temple University, averaging six points and five rebounds at an NAIA school down in Chattanooga, Tenn.
"We're taking it slow with John and trying to get him healthy," Tennessee Temple coach Randy Lee said. "There are times when he looks like an NBA player and other times when his legs don't allow him to do much."
Riek went for 17 points and 14 boards in a loss to Murray State early in the season, but there have been other games when he's barely played and finished with two points.
"We're trying to groom him to have a great year next season," Lee said. "This year we just want to get his confidence back and get him healthy."
Remember, this is the same kid who dominated LeBron James Camp back in 2007. But numerous knee injuries -- and getting bad advice from those around him -- derailed any shot of an NBA career. He spent the last two seasons down at Mississippi State, where he played a grand total of 109 minutes before transferring.
"John's goal is just to play a year or two overseas, make a little bit of money and then go back to the Sudan and help his family and his people," Lee said. "That sums him up. He's a terrific kid."
|Nate the great|
South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy says it's because he always looks as though he's playing in second gear, or maybe due to the fact that almost never shows any emotion.
But the reason Nate Wolters doesn't get the pub he deserves is because he plays at South Dakota State.
My colleague, Matt Norlander, voted for the junior guard point as one of his Top 50 players in the country back in the preseason -- and I'll admit, I went nuts. I had seen a little of Wolters on tape, but proceeded to watch two straight hours of Synergy and while I was impressed, I was not ready to anoint him as one of the nation's best 50 players.
Well, Matty Numbers (that's how I affectionately refer to Norlander due to his love and affection for The Stats) may be able to make a case these days. Wolters is averaging 21.5 points, 6 assists and 5.1 rebounds -- and went for 34 points, seven assists, five rebounds without a single turnover in Sunday's win at Washington.
"He fools so many people," Nagy told me hours after the win over the Huskies. "But he's athletic enough to play against anyone."
Washington's athletic and talented guard Tony Wroten was given the assignment. Then it was Abdul Gaddy who got a crack at Wolters. It didn't matter, though. The 6-foot-3 Wolters did his best Steve Nash impression, making shots from all over the court and also setting his team up for open looks.
Nagy said that Wolters, who hails from Minnesota, only had one Division 1 offer entering his senior year of high school -- from South Dakota State, which had just made the transition from the DII ranks.
Wolters has been the key component as to why South Dakota State has become a viable contender in the Summit League. The Jackrabbits won just six games in 2007-08, their first year in Division 1. Then it was a steady climb with eight wins the following season, 13 victories in 2008-09, 14 in Wolters' freshman season and 19 a year ago.
Nagy said that not a single NBA team has been out to Frost Arena in Brookings, South Dakota. But he said he got a couple texts from NBA guys that were in Seattle on Sunday about Wolters.
Nagy said he wouldn't change a thing with Wolters on the court. He can shoot it, pass, gets to the basket and is a more-than-capable defender. However, he'd like him to be vocal.
"He doesn't say two words," Nagy said. "He's so unassuming, Too quiet. He's so ho-hum, it's unbelievable."
Except on the court, Wolters has been anything but ho-hum.
"Look at the stats," Nagy said. "The numbers don't lie."
John Shurna doesn't mind the question, but he knows it's inevitable.
"Can you guys finally get to the NCAA tournament this year," they ask.
And Northwestern's senior forward, who has become a veteran of this, usually answers in the same manner.
"We need to take it one game at a time," he said.
Northwestern has taken it one at a time, and gotten off to a 10-1 start in doing so, with the only setback coming against a Top 10 team in Baylor. But Shurna and his teammates realize this next stretch should ultimately determine whether this Wildcats team can make history. It begins Thursday at Creighton and includes a brutal beginning to the Big Ten slate that starts in Columbus on Dec. 28.
While Shurna, one of the nation's top shooters (I somehow left him off my list of Top 50 shooters) and underrated players, tries not to get ahead of himself and let himself think about the possibility of making the NCAA tournament, he also realizes what it would mean for the school. The program has won 57 games in Shurna's three years at Evanston and has made a trio of NIT appearances.
"It would be awesome," he said of the thought of getting to the Big Dance. "I couldn't even describe it. But like I said, we can't look that far ahead. We need to focus on the next game."
While the Wildcats are still learning to play without point guard Juice Thompson, who has been replaced this season by freshman Dave Sobolewski, Shurna said that this team may be different than the last three.
"We've overcome some adversity and won close games," he said. "I think that will help us in Big Ten play."
|ACC 18-game late was inevitable|
Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg was surprised that the ACC decided to go from a 16 games to an 18-game schedule next year regardless of whether Syracuse and Pittsburgh are entering the conference.
But he said it was inevitable.
Greenberg said that the league's television partner, ESPN, may have been ultimately responsible for why it changed.
"We have an obligation to be a good partner," Greenberg said. "They aren't giving us millions of dollars because they like us? It's a business."
Greenberg said he expects many teams in his league to scale back their non-conference slate with the addition of two league games. He mentioned the 18 league games, plus an exempt tournament (four games), the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and then a made-for-TV game puts teams at 24.
Greenberg said he's already locked into non-conference games against Oklahoma State and BYU next season in addition to an exempt event in Las Vegas in which the Hokies play two games in Las Vegas and a pair in Blacksburg. That's 24 and he also has a commitment to play Rhode Island. That leaves about seven games to schedule.
"It's very hard because if you want your team to establish an identity, also," Greenberg said. "So you have to be careful with who you play in those final seven or so games."
Each week we talk to an NBA executive and get their thoughts (off-the-record) on a particular college player. This week we speak to someone who has seen Memphis play multiple times already:
On Adonis Thomas: "He's definitely the best NBA prospect on that team. He's got a great body, terrific balance and a good presence about him. I'm a little disappointed that he hasn't taken off yet, but he's still young -- and only about 10 games into his career. He's almost too humble and shy -- and I'd like to see him be more assertive. But he's a kid that really has it all. ... One thing he'll need to improve is being quicker with his intention. He isn't the only one on his team, but he holds the ball and it allows the defense to recover. He needs to get the ball, move it and move himself. But I really love him. He can shoot it from mid-range, rebounds, dunks on people. Everything is there; he just needs to show it."
On Will Barton: "He's not going to be able to do what he does in the NBA. He can't dominate the ball like he does now, he doesn't handle it that well -- and I'm not sure who he can guard in our league. They say you are what you can guard -- and he's just so physically weak, that I'm not sure who he can guard."
On Chris Crawford: "He shoots it much better than I thought and he can really make plays. His biggest issue is that he's not quick with the ball, but I think he can be a combo guard in the NBA."
On Joe Jackson: He's not an NBA guy at this time, but he's still got a chance because of his speed. He's a two-guard in a point guard's body."
|Running out the clock|
- George Mason coach Paul Hewitt gets Andre Cornelius back after a 10-game suspension Wednesday against Duquesne.
- The Cousy Award put out a list of 60 candidates earlier in the week and had a few troubling omissions: Phil Pressey, Matthew Dellevadova and Nate Wolters.
- Florida guard Kenny Boynton is shooting 50 percent from the field and 47 percent from beyond the arc this season, a huge improvement over his numbers in his first two seasons in Gainesville. Boynton shot 38 percent overall and 29 percent from 3-point range his freshman season and 39 percent overall and 33 percent from beyond the arc as a sophomore.