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Good 'N Plenty: From Harrow mystery to Wildcat bigs, UK has issues

by | College Basketball Insider
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The season is less than a week old and I've already seen a handful of Top 25 teams.

Top 10 observations from opening week

1. Not sure what to make of the Ryan Harrow situation. The line coming out of Kentucky is that he remains out with the flu, but no one truly knows. Teammate Jon Hood, when asked how Harrow looks, answered this way: "I haven't been around him because of the mystery." What is becoming increasingly worrisome are the questions regarding his mental toughness. Harrow virtually has one season to be The Guy in Lexington, with the Harrison Twins set to arrive in 2013. He sat out all of last season after transferring from NC State. If I were Harrow, I'd do everything I could to get on the court, especially in a huge early-season matchup against Duke in front of more than 20,000. But Harrow didn't even make the trip. There are those who question whether Harrow is talented enough, but I'm not in that group. Instead, I remain skeptical whether he can handle the pressure of following in the footsteps of John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague.

2. My No. 1 rule in November: Avoid making judgments about teams. I kept repeating that to myself while watching Wisconsin get blitzed by Florida in Gainesville. Remember, this is a Bo Ryan team that was supposed to have Josh Gasser running the point as recently as a week ago. But Gasser is out for the season, and that means Wisconsin's going to take a while to find itself and its stingy defense. Gasser wasn't just the heir apparent to Jordan Taylor at point guard; he was also the clear-cut leader and the team's top perimeter defender. The Badgers may take a little bit of a hit this year, but they'll still be dancing come March.

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3. Have to give Kenny Boynton credit. While I have never been a huge fan of Boynton's game, I'll give Florida's senior guard his due: He's come a long way from his high school/AAU days, when he'd launch 30-plus shots on a regular basis. Boynton has both bought into defending and reeled in the number of ill-advised shots he takes. Boynton, who was running the point against Wisconsin with Scottie Wilbekin (suspended) out of the lineup, only took nine field-goal attempts the entire game. More importantly, only two of those shots would fall into the "poor shot selection" category.

4. Duke is more fun to watch this season. Why? Because one player isn't dominating the ball, as was the case a year ago with Austin Rivers. Coach Mike Krzyzewski could eventually have four different guys who lead the team in scoring in successive games. Mason Plumlee is still the star of this team, but Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon will all need to be consistent for the Blue Devils to win the ACC. Coach K also said he is hopeful the youngest Plumlee, Marshall, will return for the Battle of Atlantis in the Bahamas next week.

5. Michigan State has most of the pieces in place to go deep in the NCAA tournament. Obviously, the Spartans have one of the elite coaches in Tom Izzo; they have a scoring point guard in Keith Appling, who has proven he can make big shots (see: Kansas game); and they have a couple of young, talented wings in Brendan Dawson and Gary Harris, a veteran big man in Derrick Nix and role guys with Denzell Valentine, Russell Byrd, Travis Trice and Alex Gauna. The player who could take the Spartans to a different level, though, is junior forward Adreian Payne. He's an X-Factor. If the light goes on with the 6-foot-10 forward, watch out. He's that talented. Payne's biggest issue remains the lack of a killer instinct.

6. Let's let Michigan State AD Mark Hollis come up with the next innovative idea to open the college hoops campaign. Everyone else should just stay out of the way. Remember, Hollis was the one who devised the plan to play on the aircraft carrier last season in San Diego and it went off without a hitch. This year he took the team to Germany, where it played UConn on an Air Force base. Don't copy Hollis; just let him do his thing.

7. Ben McLemore may not have the mentality to be the primary scoring option at Kansas. But in order for Bill Self and Kansas to have a shot of being one of the elite teams in the nation again, the redshirt freshman will have to become increasingly more confident as the season wears on. McLemore had his moments against Michigan State, but wasn't assertive enough in the second half as the Spartans made their run. The good sign is that McLemore had a team-high 18 shots on Thursday night vs. Chattanooga in a scare for the Jayhawks. McLemore and Elijah Johnson will have to carry the offensive load for KU.

8. John Calipari may have trouble playing long and talented big men Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein together. Neither is much of a threat on the offensive end, and both are guys who love to go after the ball on the other end of the floor. That means, while they will get their share of block shots, they'll also be giving up plenty of easy opportunities underneath the basket. Just ask Josh Hairston, who converted a couple of huge hoops for the Blue Devils. Having both of them in the game also disrupts the spacing on the offensive end, clogging the lane and making it more difficult for guys like Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin to operate.

9. Where have the great leaders gone? I don't think I saw a single leader among the six teams. That's one of the key reasons why I picked Louisville to cut down the nets come April. The Cardinals have Peyton Siva. Kentucky is obviously young, Michigan State had one of the best in Draymond Green, Kansas doesn't have one, neither does Florida and Duke does it via its three seniors.

10. The Champions Classic doesn't just need to continue; it needs to expand. The third and final year of the event comes next season in Chicago. Why not try to add in four more elite programs to the current group of Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Kansas? Grab one of either Arizona or UCLA from the Pac-12, take Louisville from the Big East and two more -- maybe even UNLV and Gonzaga. I'm not certain of the specifics, but four games in that environment would be phenomenal. I'm greedy, but the bottom line is that this event needs to continue beyond 2013.

Tucson revival

I understand Sean Miller took Arizona to within a bucket of the Final Four two seasons ago, but Arizona didn't truly return until this season.

This is a team built for success. That team was fortunate. Derrick Williams carried them, but the talent level wasn't even close to what it is now. Remember, that group had MoMo Jones as its second leading scorer. He'd be fortunate to crack the rotation this year in Tucson. All you need to do is watch this team to realize it can stack up against just about anyone.

My colleague, Gary Parrish, poked fun at me for having Arizona too high in our Preseason Top 25 (and one), but I honestly think we may have had the Wildcats too low.

Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, for the most part, has played under control. Is he ever going to be a pass-first point guard? No, but he can initiate the offense, score the ball and also brings much needed toughness to Tucson. The young, heralded frontline of Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski has been solid thus far, but Miller has the luxury of bringing them along at his pace. That's because he finally boasts quality depth.

The freshmen frontcourt trio combined for 24 points and 18 rebounds in 67 minutes in the 72-51 win over UTEP. Lyons led the team with 17 points and veteran wing Solomon Hill was the only other player in double figures with 10. This team has plenty of wings with Hill, Kevin Parrom and Nick Johnson, the aforementioned big men (we didn't even list reserve big man Angelo Chol) and a solid backup point guard in Jordin Mayes.

Here's all you need to know about the talent level in Tucson: Freshman Gabe York, a top-50 kid coming out of high school, is 10th in the rotation.

Stock Watch

Rising

1. Alex Len: Maryland's 7-foot Ukrainian was already highly regarded by NBA folks, but his performance against Nerlens Noel last Friday night in Brooklyn not only helped his professional stock, but also showed he'll be a producer and not just a potential guy. He's extremely skilled for someone his size and as his stock rises, so will Maryland's win total.

2. Kevin Ollie: Connecticut's temporary coach (he has a one-year deal from the school) began his head coaching career in style with a victory over Tom Izzo and Michigan State in Germany. It doesn't get much better than that. Then Ollie donated $100,000 of his salary for the UConn Basketball Development Center. It's going to be difficult for athletic director Warde Manuel to go in a different direction.

3. Gonzaga: How about those 'Zags? I picked them to go to the Final Four this season (which has never happened in the history of the school) and while I love Mark Few's group, I can't say I saw the blasting of West Virginia coming. Gonzaga has a terrific young backcourt that now has a year of experience and no shortage of quality big men.

4. Isaiah Sykes: Most haven't even heard of him, but he's Central Florida's best player right now -- not Keith Clanton. Knights coach Donnie Jones has moved him to the point full-time and he's excelled thus far. In two games, the 6-foot-5 junior from Detroit is averaging 24.5 points, 7.5 assists and 7.5 boards per game.

5. Glenn Robinson III: The Big Dog's kid hasn't wasted any time showing he'll be Michigan's most productive freshman this year. Through three games, the 6-foot-7 forward is putting up 13.3 points and seven boards.

Dropping

1. Saint Louis: Some considered this a Top 25 team a few months ago. We were one of them, but without Rick Majerus, who remains hospitalized, and Kwamain Mitchell (injured), the Billikens are just mediocre. They proved that with a home loss to Santa Clara.

2. North Texas: Rookie coach Tony Benford lost his debut and there was no shame in a 20-point setback at Creighton, but then came the loss to Division II Alabama-Huntsville. Benford has one of the nation's top players in Tony Mitchell and should start to turn it around.

3. Georgia: Mark Fox was confident in this team. He's got Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and some other pieces, but the Bulldogs have already lost to Youngstown State and Southern Miss -- and both came in Athens.

4. Washington: I honestly thought this team would be different now that Tony Wroten was gone. Maybe it will be, but the Huskies lost at home to Albany. I still think U-Dub will be fine, but I said that last year and it never quite worked out that way.

5. Drexel: I slated Bruiser Flint's group as one of the elite mid-majors in the nation this year. He has two studs in Damion Lee and Frantz Massenat, but the Dragons are 0-2 after losing to Kent State on the road and then against Illinois State in Philly.

Double Dribbles

  • One of the nation's top high school players, Aaron Gordon (Drew Gordon's younger brother), cut his list to Washington, Arizona and Kentucky. Gordon could be a difference-maker in the Blake Griffin mold.
  • I thought UMass would challenge for the A-10 title, but after watching near losses to Harvard at home and Providence down in Puerto Rico, it's clear the Minutemen have a way to go before they should be put in the class of elite A-10 teams. Although the league has taken a hit thus far in non-league play, with Saint Louis losing to Santa Clara, VCU dropping one to Wichita State and Dayton coming up short to Colorado. Butler was also slated to be a top-6 team in the league, but the Bulldogs lost to fellow league member Xavier.
  • I'm not sure I've been more impressed with a point guard that went 3-for-14 and had seven turnovers than I was with Villanova freshman Ryan Arcidiacono. Jay Wright's team was a mess last season, but Arch (I can't keep spelling that name) will help change the culture on the Main Line. He's tough, is a born leader and was critical in the Wildcats win over Purdue.
  • Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe has started slow after returning from his torn ACL. In three games, he's averaging less than 13 minutes per contest and has scored a total of 15 points with a dozen rebounds.
  • Don't look now, but SMU's Larry Brown is 2-0 in his latest coaching gig.
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