When Trey Burke mentioned his Michigan team's youth and inexperience to me the other night, I brushed it off because it's a familiar line. Everyone says it -- especially coaches. But the Wolverines are young and inexperienced. In fact, the team that currently sits at No. 1 in the nation is almost on par in terms of overall experience with the Kentucky team that cut down the nets a year ago.
Yet no one is talking about it.
Both teams had four freshmen. Kentucky had Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiljter. Michigan has Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Spike Albrecht. Darius Miller was a senior and both Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb were sophomores. Michigan has redshirt junior big man Jordan Morgan, sophomore point guard Trey Burke and junior wing Tim Hardaway Jr. The major difference, though, is that Michigan's top player (Burke) isn't a freshman.
This Michigan club is clearly the most inexperienced of any that rank in the Top 15 in the nation. I took a look at the top seven players in each of the current Top 15 in the AP Poll -- and where they stood in terms of college experience. The following is the total number of years of experience for their seven-man rotation.
To put it into perspective, Kentucky registered a 12 a year ago.
- Miami: 29
- Florida: 25
- Gonzaga: 24
- Wichita State: 24
- Kansas: 24
- Oregon: 21
- Duke: 20
- Ohio State: 20
- Indiana: 19
- Louisville: 19
- Butler: 19
- Arizona: 18
- Syracuse: 17
- Michigan State: 16
- Michigan: 13
Jayhawks nearly flawless
Kansas is two possessions away from being undefeated.
The Jayhawks have reeled off 18 consecutive victories since the loss on Nov. 13 down in Atlanta to Michigan State -- and Bill Self's team has done it largely on behalf of its stingy defense. Self has one of the top interior defenders and shot blockers in the nation in Jeff Withey, but he also has one of the better perimeter defenders in the country with fellow veteran Travis Releford.
"At times, it's been a labor to score," Self said. "We've won games in the 60s, 70s and 80s."
Elijah Johnson hasn't lived up to the expectations, and has struggled shooting the ball, but this Jayhawks team has had different guys step up. Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points, while Withey and Releford both add about 13 per contest. Self admits his team has been fortunate to some degree. His players have made plays with the game on the line.
Self's concern, after losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, was toughness.
"We don't have any assassins," Self said. "But we have enough confident kids."
Self doesn't have any illusions about running through the Big 12 without a blemish. The Jayhawks have won their first seven league games, and Self almost feels as though this group may need a setback soon.
"A little bit," he said. "This is a unique bunch of guys, and I'm hoping they learn lessons through winning. But we're going to get beat."
Key subtractions, additions
• It appears as though Georgetown's Greg Whittington is done for the season.
The versatile 6-foot-8 sophomore's chances of returning were put at 1 percent, according to one source, due to academic issues. The Hoyas have managed to go 6-1 since Whittington's "indefinite suspension," and knocked off Notre Dame in South Bend and Louisville at home. However, this is a significant blow to JT3's team. Whittington was the team's top defender and averaged 13 points per game.
• There remains optimism in the Duke camp that Ryan Kelly could return in the next 2-3 weeks. Kelly has missed the last five games after aggravating a foot injury. The Blue Devils are 3-2 without him in the lineup.
• Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said that veteran forward Scott Martin won't return for at least another week, and he could miss the remainder of the year. Brey opted to go big, inserting Maine native Tom Knight alongside Jack Cooley. Knight had 10 points and four boards in 33 minutes in the win over Villanova on Wednesday night. The 6-foot-8 Martin was averaging 7.9 points and 5.9 rebounds.
• Oregon starting point guard Dominic Artis will likely miss at least two more games with a foot injury. Dana Altman said the injury will likely cause him to miss anywhere from three to five games overall.
Patience pays off
What do Kelly Olynyk, Travis Relford, Jerian Grant and C.J. Wilcox all have in common? They all redshirted. Not due to academic issues, injuries or suspensions. They did it because it made sense.
Grant (Notre Dame) and Wilcox (Washington) both sat out their freshman campaigns in college while Releford opted to take a redshirt as a sophomore and Olynyk did it last season after playing sparingly his first two years in Spokane.
It's worked out for each player.
Releford is now a key cog for a Kansas team that could cut down the nets come April. He's averaging 12.9 points and has developed one of most versatile players in the nation. The 7-foot Olynyk has turned into the 'Zags top player, averaging 18.2 points and seven boards per game. Wilcox is also putting up 19 points per contest for the Huskies as a redshirt junior while Grant has been tremendous for the Irish this season, averaging 12.8 points and 5.4 assists.
More kids should understand there's no rush.
These are four players who have clearly benefited by sitting, watching and working on their games. Slowing the process down and focusing on what's important -- which is developing and working on your skills.
Coach of the Year race
1. Bill Self, Kansas: He did an amazing job last season showing everyone he wasn't just a recruiter, leading the Jayhawks to the national title game. Now he has this team at No. 2 in the nation with just a single loss.
2. Brad Stevens, Butler: Boy Wonder lost a key player in the preseason when Crishawn Hopkins was booted from the team, but Stevens has managed to make it work. His Bulldogs have taken down Indiana, Gonzaga, Marquette and North Carolina. Don't ever doubt him. Ever.
3. Dana Altman, Oregon: Who is in first place in the Pac-12? No, it's not Arizona or UCLA. It's the Ducks -- who have already beaten both the Wildcats and the Bruins (on the road). Altman can coach. No, really, really coach.
4. Jim Larranaga, Miami: Played the first three without Durand Scott and was without big man Reggie Johnson for eight games. The Canes are all alone in first place in the ACC and brutalized Duke by nearly 30 a week or so ago.
5. Buzz Williams, Marquette: We all felt as though this program would take a major dip after losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Yet somehow Williams has the Golden Eagles at 15-4 and 6-1 in league play.
Here are five more mid-major guys who deserve some pub:
• Bill Coen, Northeastern: It's the most difficult job in the CAA, and Coen has the Huskies at 8-1 in league play. Coen can coach -- and also recruit (he got Jared Dudley and Craig Smith to Boston College).
• Tim O'Shea, Bryant: We'll start with two former BC assistants. O'Shea won just one game in 2009-10 and two a year ago. Bryant is 13-6 and tied for first place in the NEC with a 6-2 league mark.
• Michael White, Louisiana Tech: His team was picked fourth in the league by the coaches, but White -- a former Ole Miss assistant and son of Duke athletic director Kevin White -- has the Bulldogs at 18-3 and 9-0 in the WAC. He won't be in Ruston, La., for long.
• Donnie Tyndall, Southern Miss: I hope Tyndall doesn't take offense to being put in the mid-major category, but that's what Conference USA is this season. However, Tyndall -- in his first season after coming from Morehead -- has done a tremendous job. The Golden Eagles are 17-4 overall and 6-0 in league play.
• Billy Donlon, Wright State: His top player, Julius Mays, bolted for Kentucky and it looked bleak. His team was picked to finish dead last in the league, but Wright State is 14-7 overall and 5-3 in conference play.
Odum literally comes from nowhere
Indiana State star Jake Odum didn't have anything. There weren't any Division II teams interested, no D-3 teams.
Odum grew up a mile or so away from the Indiana State campus in Terre Haute. He was a late-bloomer at South Vigo High and wasn't even offered a scholarship by former Sycamores head coach Kevin McKenna, whose son was a high school teammate of Odum's. Finally, McKenna and the staff decided to offer Odum a walk-on spot for the first season.
"I said OK," Odum said. "I didn't have any other options."
Odum redshirted as a freshman and was given a scholarship after one became available. He was skinny, maybe 6-foot-2 and 150 pounds. Odum says his frame, along with playing for a low-profile summer program, were the primary reasons why he was overlooked. Current Indiana State coach Greg Lansing adds in the fact, with a smile, that "he couldn't shoot it at all."
"All he did was dribble around and shoot layups," Lansing said.
Now Odum has grown a couple inches, added a few pounds (he's up to a whopping 175) and has Indiana State, despite losing most of its starters from last year's team, to a 14-7 mark and a 7-3 mark in Missouri Valley play. The Sycamores have knocked off three NCAA tourney teams: Miami (without Reggie Johnson), Ole Miss and Wichita State on the road.
"His best asset is his will to win," Lansing said of his junior floor leader. "He's tough and sets others up. He makes the right plays and gets the ball to the right guy."
Southeast Missouri State has landed Auburn transfer Josh Langford. ... Texas sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo is two weeks away from serving his NCAA-imposed 23-game suspension. It'll be too little, too late, though, as Rick Barnes' team is 9-11 overall and 1-6 in Big 12 play. ... Virginia Tech senior guard Erick Green leads the nation in scoring (25.5) and has been terrific this season. He just doesn't have enough help. If the Hokies had Dorian Finney-Smith and Montrezl Harrell, they would be a lock NCAA tourney team. ... The best 3-point shooter in the nation, statistically, is Central Florida's Kasey Wilson at 55 percent. However, Memphis' Joe Jackson has been as good as just about anyone -- especially after he was moved off the ball by Josh Pastner. Jackson is shooting 53 percent overall from deep and is 20-of-33 (61 percent) from beyond the arc since mid-December. ... I've never been interested in the block shots race -- until this season. Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel has the lead with 94 in 20 games, but St. John's frosh Chris Obekpa is right behind -- with 96 in 21 contests. Jeff Withey (Kansas) and Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State) both have 86 in 20 games. ... Florida's average margin of victory in its first seven SEC games (all wins) is 31.1 points. The level of competition has been poor, but still -- that's impressive. ... It's remarkable what BYU's Tyler Haws has done this season after two years away from the game while on a Mission. Haws is averaging 20.5 points while shooting 39 percent from deep and 89 percent from the line. ... Just one remains: Grambling State is the lone winless team left in the D-1 ranks at 0-18. The team played its first 11 games on the road this season.