Blog Entry

Road Trip: Dozen things I learned

Posted on: January 18, 2012 2:23 pm
Edited on: January 19, 2012 10:01 am
 
Goodman hit up four big games in four straight days. He is now ready to sleep until Friday. (AP)

By Jeff Goodman

It feels like weeks ago I left Boston for Huntington, West Va. In fact, it was just Saturday. 

It started with the return of Donnie Jones to Marshall -- which included the Tom Herrion Show -- took a drive through Point Pleasant, West Va., home of the Mothman Prophecies, detoured and had lunch with Ohio University star point guard D.J. Cooper. Then it was onto Columbus, Ohio, where I watched the Buckeyes exact revenge on the Indiana Hoosiers, saw Kansas knock Baylor from the ranks of the unbeaten and ended the trip with a nail-biting Michigan victory over rival Michigan State. 

And yes, that was me smack dab in the middle of the Maize Rage, standing in the front row of Michigan's student section next to my nephew - a sophomore at the school. I was the only one not wearing a maize shirt -- and the only one not jumping around. I cleared it with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo beforehand -- and must admit I felt a bit awkward. However, the vantage point was clearly superior to the new media seats at Crisler. So what the hell. 

Here are my 12 Things I Learned on my travels. 

1) If this Kansas team stays healthy, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey remain out of foul trouble and Bill Self's club gets a decent draw in the NCAA tournament, the Jayhawks could make a run to the Final Four. It sounds nuts, but these guys have a stud in Thomas Robinson -- and Tyshawn Taylor is starting to look like the Tyshawn Taylor we all thought we'd see on a consistent basis. I'm not overly concerned with his abundance of turnovers; he needs to make plays for the Jayhawks, so they will continue to be higher than most. The key for KU may be the continued emergence of 7-footer Jeff Withey and consistency from guys like Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson. 

2) I'm just not buying Perry Jones III as a Top five pick in June's NBA Draft. I love his length and skill level, but he's done little to help shed the "soft" label that's been placed upon him for years. There's not much he can't do on the court, but I'd be weary of risking a top pick on a guy that just doesn't have that "it" factor. I'd go Thomas Robinson over PJ3 every day -- and twice on Sunday. 

3) Speaking of Baylor, let's not write off this team just because it got punked in Lawrence, Kansas. Last I checked, not many go into The Phog and leave with a win. The Bears X-factor has been junior college guard Pierre Jackson, who does give Scott Drew much-needed toughness, along with Quincy Acy. However, the defense against Baylor was worrisome - it reminded me of the pre-Ekpe Udoh Baylor defense. 

4) I'm not sure I've seen Tom Izzo more disappointed after a loss than he was following the setback in Ann Arbor to rival Michigan. It's probably because his team didn't play well, yet still had to a shot to win on the road against a Top 25 team. No one fared well for the Spartans. The team's veteran leader Draymond Green struggled yet again going up against Michigan (he has just 35 points in the last five games against the Wolverines) and Izzo's new guys -- Branden Dawson, Brandon Wood, etc. -- all flopped in their into to this rivalry. 

5) I know that Michigan's talent level with skyrocket next season with the addition of Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson's kid and Nick Stauskas. I've seen all three -- and they are all immediately impact guys. But the departure of seniors Zack Novak and Stu Douglass can't be overstated. Novak is the ultra-intangible guy, who brings toughness and leadership to a group of guys that sorely needs it. McGary is talented, but he'll have to learn how to play within a system -- and John Beilein has never dealt with a guy who arrives on campus with the potential expectation of leaving after one season. That'll be an interesting dynamic. 

6) Kansas coach Bill Self believes the Jayhawks will be better next season despite losing Tyshawn Taylor and almost certainly losing Thomas Robinson. I think he may need to have his head examined. However, he'll add two guys sitting out: Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor. Self and his staff feel as though McLemore can be a star and has as much NBA potential as anyone in the program right now -- and that includes Robinson. The starting lineup could look like this: Elijah Johnson (senior), Travis Relford (senior), Jeff Withey (senior), McLemore (redshirt freshman) and maybe either Traylor or freshman forward Perry Ellis. The Jayhawks will add depth with the addition of a recruiting class that includes Top 50 players Andrew White and Ellis. 

7) Marcus Jordan is a nice player, but he's not a first-team all-league guy in C-USA. In fact, he's not even the best player on his own team: That belongs to Keith Clanton. The Son of Michael couldn't make a shot in the loss to Marshall (he was 3-of-17 from the field) -- and missed the front end of a 1-1 that could have put his Central Florida team up two points with 29 seconds left. 

8) Marshall coach Tom Herrion should be nominated for an Oscar for his acting job during the game against Central Florida. Sure, Knights wing Isaiah Sykes may have jolted him when he made contact while running down the sidelines, but Herrion's entire act looked comical. He went down, clutching his chest, and I honestly thought he was having a heart attack. The lead official came over to explain the situation after looking at it multiple times on video and said Sykes, who was hit with a flagrant foul, did not intentionally attempt to strike Herrion. Marshall got a free throw -- and oh by the way, the Thundering Herd wound up winning by one point. 

9) While Herrion needs to tone it down at times, a couple things are clear: The guy can really coach and he's got enough talent on this time to be dangerous. I think it all depends on the play of senior point guard Damier Pitts.

10) Don't wait around for Tom Crean after the Hoosiers lose a game. There are certain coaches that take forever following a loss -- Jim Calhoun, Travis Ford come to mind. Crean took about 70 minutes after Indiana's beatdown in Columbus against Ohio State. Honestly, it had no bearing on me doing my job since I was writing primarily about the Buckeyes, anyway. But Crean should be smart enough to realize that 1) His players will tune him out after about the first 15 minutes 2) No one likes to be kept waiting that long. 

11) While the Buckeyes can really lock down on the perimeter with Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, I'm worried about the rest of Ohio State defensively. Sullinger needs to step it up in this department -- and Thomas needs to do the same. This is the biggest difference from last season's team, where David Lighty was a terrific, versatile defender - and Jon Diebler had turned himself into an above-average team defender. 

12) My top four venues to watch a game?  1) Allen Fieldhouse 2) Cameron Indoor Stadium 3) Rupp Arena 4) Danforth School. The atmosphere at Kansas was second-to-none, largely because of the look and feel of the venue and also the rabid fans. Kentucky fans are crazier than anywhere else, but Rupp doesn't compare to Phog Allen. As for Duke, the proximity to the court -- and the students -- are what makes it elite. As for Danforth, that's where I get to see my 8-year-old daughter knock down jumpers (or, more realistically, 7-foot set shots). 

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