Good 'N Plenty: Hoyas, sans star Whittington, among surprises

by | College Basketball Insider
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Georgetown is more dangerous without Greg Whittington, Lehigh's C.J. McCollum continues to rehab in hopes of a return -- and 15 teams who have exceeded expectations and 15 more that haven't lived up to the hype. All is this week's edition of Good 'N Plenty.

Duke hasn't been the same without Ryan Kelly. Missouri struggled without Laurence Bowers. Syracuse wasn't the same team without James Southerland and Miami lost two of its three games when Reggie Johnson was out of the lineup.

Somehow, Georgetown has been better without Greg Whittington.

Whittington was the team's second-leading scorer and best defender when he was declared academically ineligible in mid-January. It was perceived as a crushing blow for a team that was coming off two consecutive losses when the news broke that its versatile 6-foot-8 sophomore was likely done for the year.

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The Hoyas are 10-1 without Whittington. Georgetown coach John Thompson III needs his underrated point guard, Markel Starks, to be terrific just about every game now -- and he's done just that, except for a dud in the loss at South Florida on Jan. 19. That was the only setback since Whittington has been deemed ineligible. Last night it was freshman guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who erupted for 33 points in a rout over DePaul -- which tied for the second-most points in the JT3 Era.

"Despite losing a really good player in Whittington, Coach Thompson has done an incredible job utilizing their perimeter players and playing faster," said Marquette's Buzz Williams, who has played the Hoyas with and without Whittington this season. "They put more pressure on you defensively and have more guys on the court who can score."

Georgetown is now 20-4 overall and 10-3 in Big East play. The Hoyas have won eight straight for the first time since winning 10 in a row in the 2006-07 season and are tied for first with Syracuse and Marquette.

Lehigh's McCollum still playing waiting game

When Lehigh star C.J. McCollum went down in early January with a broken foot, no one gave the Mountain Hawks a chance to compete for the league title.

Brett Reed has done a tremendous job with this group since Jan. 5, and Lehigh had a chance earlier in the week to knock off Bucknell and take control of the Patriot League regular-season race. However, the Mountain Hawks were just 1-of-15 from deep and 6-of-15 from the line. Now they sit one game behind the Bison at 8-3 in league play with three games remaining.

Reed said that McCollum's status for the Patriot League tourney is still uncertain. It begins on March 6 and Reed said that his star is scheduled for an appointment with a doctor later this week to re-evaluate his situation. For now, Reed is preparing for the rest of the season as if he won't have McCollum.

"I have to approach it that way," he said. "It's too hard to move forward with the contingency of whether we will have him or not. We obviously would love to have him back, but we have to go with what we have."

Reed said different players have stepped up. Gabe Knutson has picked it up on the offensive end of late, and the team has taken on the identity of feisty Mackey McKnight.

"I couldn't be more pleased with how these guys have come together," Reed said.

Reed said there's been no reason to discuss a potential return for McCollum. That will hopefully come if his star is given the go-ahead by medical personnel in the next couple of weeks. For now, though, he continues to rehab with the hope of finishing his college career on the court.

"He's optimistic," Reed said. "And focused on returning."

Who is surpassing expectations and who isn't

Oregon and Marquette were picked in the middle of the pack prior to the start of the season and both are challenging for league titles. St. Joe's and Drexel were supposed to battle for conference championships and both have been mediocre. We take you through 15 teams that have exceeded their preseason hype and 15 more who have failed to do so:

Exceeding expectations

Oregon: The Ducks sit in first place with a 10-3 Pac-12 mark and have 21 overall wins. Dana Altman's team was chosen to finish seventh in the conference.

Marquette: Buzz Williams lost Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. The Golden Eagles were picked to finish seventh in the Big East. Right now they are in a three-way tie for first place at 10-3.

Towson: Pat Skerry's team won just a single game a year ago and was tabbed to finish 10th in the CAA. The Tigers are 15-13 overall and are in second place in the league with 10 conference wins.

Bryant: Tim O'Shea has the Bulldogs a half-game out of first place with a 9-4 NEC mark. This team was picked to finish 10th in the preseason poll.

Butler: Don't pick against Brad Stevens. In a loaded A-10, the Bulldogs were picked to finish sixth. Right now they sit at 9-3 with 22 overall victories and are just a half-game back of first place.

Southern Utah: Rookie coach Nick Robinson has led the Thunderbirds to an 8-8 mark in the Big Sky. The team sits a half-game out of third place in the league after being picked to finish 10th.

Arizona State: This was supposed to be Herb Sendek's Swan Song in Tempe. Instead, the team that was tabbed to finish 11th sits just one game out of second place.

Air Force: Give Dave Pilipovich credit. The Mountain West is loaded and his team, picked to finish last, sits in fifth -- just a game behind both UNLV and San Diego State.

Canisius: Jim Baron and his son, Billy, have keyed a huge jump. Picked ninth in the MAAC, the Golden Griffs are in third place -- just two games behind league leader Niagara.

Miami: Jim Larranga's Hurricanes were chosen behind N.C. State, Duke and UNC. Miami isn't just in first place in the ACC; it has a perfect 13-0 mark in league play.

Kansas State: Give new Wildcats coach Bruce Weber credit. Sure, he inherited a veteran team, but K-State was picked to finish fourth in the Big 12. Currently, they are tied with rival KU atop the conference.

Northeastern: This list has to include Bill Coen and the Huskies. Picked fifth, Northeastern leads the CAA with a 13-3 mark.

Wichita State: Gregg Marshall lost a ton and was supposed to be in rebuilding mode. The Shockers were selected fourth in the preseason -- and currently sit in first, a game in front of Creighton.

Florida International: Little Richard (aka Richard Pitino) has overachieved in his rookie campaign, taking an FIU team tabbed to finish last on its side of the Sun Belt and having them with a 9-8 league mark and in third.

N.C. Central: LeVelle Moton has the Eagles in second place in the MEAC, just one game behind Norfolk State, after being selected seventh in the preseason poll.

Failing to live up to the hype

Saint Joseph's: Phil Martelli's team was picked to finish first in the A-10, but currently sits tied for 10th in the league at 5-6.

South Florida: Stan Heath was coming off an NCAA tourney appearance and picked seventh in the Big East. The Bulls are dead last with a 1-13 mark.

Old Dominion: Blaine Taylor is out and ODU sits in the cellar of the CAA with a 2-13 mark. The Monarchs were picked fourth in the preseason.

North Texas: Tony Benford's rookie campaign on the sidelines has been a disaster. Picked to win the Sun Belt, his team is 10-18 overall and 5-12 in league play.

UNC-Greensboro: Wes Miller took the nation by storm when he got the job in the middle of last season on an interim basis. His team was picked to win the north division of the SoCon. Instead, it's in last place at 5-9 in conference play.

Drexel: Bruiser Flint's team lost Chris Fouch, but still that's no excuse for a team to be picked to win the CAA and now sit in seventh place.

Kentucky; Whether it was justified or not, there was no shortage of hype with this group of Wildcats. Sure, they have 18 wins and are 9-4 -- but the SEC is brutal and UK still doesn't have a resume win.

Texas: Rick Barnes' team was picked fourth in the Big 12 and is now in eight place with a 12-14 overall mark and a 4-9 league record.

Loyola Marymount: Max Good's team was picked to finish behind only Gonzaga, St. Mary's and BYU. Instead, it's looking up at everyone with just one league victory.

Portland State: Picked to finish fifth in the Big Sky, the Vikings look down on only Idaho State in the league standings.

Lamar: Pat Knight's team was chosen to finish fifth in the Southland. Instead, it's dead last with a 1-13 league mark.

Prairie View A&M: The Panthers were supposed to win the SWAC. However, they are in sixth place with a 6-8 conference record.

Tennessee: This was supposed to be an NCAA tourney team. The Vols are 15-10 and 7-6 in league play -- which puts them in seventh place.

West Virginia: Bob Huggins' team is just 13-13 overall and 6-7 in Big 12 play. That's just not good enough for a Huggins team.

Cal State Fullerton: Interim coach Andy Newman's team was picked second in the preseason. The Titans are 6-8 in Big West play -- which is good for seventh.

Jay Bilas can actually write

Jay Bilas' resume is impressive. Player, coach, lawyer, broadcaster -- and now author. Yes, ESPN's college hoops analyst has written a book. At first, when his publisher sent it my way and the title read, "Toughness," I will admit I was skeptical. Another one of these self-help, motivational books. I've read enough of them. However, I was wrong -- and I'm not just saying it because of my respect for Bilas as a broadcaster and human being. I could have opted to get through a few pages, call it a day and never mention it. Plus, the last thing I want to do is inflate Bilas' ego.

Instead, I honestly couldn't put it down. This is not just a book for coaches and players. This is a book for people. Period. It will motivate you. It'll teach you. It'll inform you -- and believe it or not, this informative and highly entertaining book is actually well-written. I learned plenty -- from how toughness is built over time and experiences, how David Henderson was the toughest player Bilas ever played with, and how mental toughness is far more important than physical toughness on the court.

The idea was hatched after Bilas wrote an article a few years back about toughness and received no shortage of support, from college coaches all the way down to middle-schoolers who were told to read the article by their summer coach. He has insight from his former coach, Mike Krzyzewski, current coaches such as Bill Self and Tom Crean, and even ex-football coach Herm Edwards. The official release date is March 5.

A couple of my favorite lines from the book: "I appreciate true toughness in any person. I'll take true toughness over talent any day. Toughness wins. Toughness prevails. But when you combine talent and true toughness, that combination can be unbeatable."

"Failing doesn't make you a failure. Failing makes you a competitor. Every competitor fails. If you lay it on the line, you will come up short at times. Failure is a part of competing, and embracing that fact is an important component of toughness. Tough people fail, but tough people are not failures. The only failures are those who give up, or give in."

Kermit has Middle Tennessee State in at-large conversation

Kermit Davis doesn't talk about an at-large bid, even though his Middle Tennessee State team is 23-4 overall and 15-1 in Sun Belt play and has been mentioned as a legitimate bubble team even if it doesn't win the league tourney.

The resume includes wins over Mississippi, Central Florida and Vanderbilt, along with four losses: at Florida, on the road against an Akron team that is 12-0 in the MAC, at Belmont and on the road against Arkansas State back on Jan. 3. He understands one more loss will likely cost his team a chance at an at-large, even though he doesn't necessarily feel it's fair.

"We tried to do what they want us to do and we played people," Davis said. "We know we don't have a huge margin for error."

Davis plays 10 guys -- and they are physical, athletic, they defend and rebound. No one cares about who scores.

"They just care about winning," he said.

Marcos Knight leads the team at 12.7 points per game, and no one else averages double-figures. Davis said he feels as though his squad, if they get into the NCAA tournament, can pull off an upset or two because of their depth, athleticism and size.

Infirmary report

 Oregon point guard Dominic Artis has missed the past seven games due to a foot injury and isn't expected to play Thursday night against Cal. He could, however, return this weekend.

 Duke's Ryan Kelly has targeted a return for the March 2 home game against Miami. "Definitely looking positive. He's been progressing well," said a source close to the situation. "Hopefully no more setbacks before then."

 Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said that veteran forward Scott Martin is 50-50 to return this season from the knee injury that has sidelined him since Jan. 21. Martin was averaging 7.9 points per game, but was shooting 46 percent from deep.

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