Back in July the Phoenix Suns agreed to a sign and trade deal with the Sacramento Kings for Isaiah Thomas, in exchange the Kings received a $7 million trade exception and the draft rights to Alex Oriakhi. Oriakhi currently plays in Lithuania while Thomas is averaging nearly 15 PPG and almost 4 APG and is a contender for sixth man of the year. No one is doubting that Isaiah Thomas has been a good addition to the Suns line up but let us take a closer look at both the positive and negative impacts that he has brought to Phoenix.
Isaiah Thomas Press Conference
First we will take a look at the negative. When Thomas first came to the Suns it created a log jam at the guard position, specifically at PG his natural position. The Suns had six PGs on the rooster, Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Ish Smith, Archie Goodwin, the first-round pick Tyler Ennis, and the newly acquired Thomas. After all was said and done Phoenix waived Smith, kept the starting back-court of Bledsoe and Dragic, gave Thomas the 6th man r
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The Miller family might be on to something here. Then again, they might not.
It’s tough to get a handle on the Miller-owned Utah Jazz, who are headed for their third consecutive season without a playoff berth. Derrick Favors, at 23 years old, remains a big man any team would love to have. Athletic rookie guard Dante Exum is an intriguing piece. Rodney Hood might have quietly been a nice pickup with the No. 23 pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
But 24 games into Quin Snyder’s first season on the bench, it’s unclear whether the Jazz are on an upward trajectory. While it’s still early, the players show little understanding of basic defensive rotations, with center Enes Kanter particularly suspect. Point guard Trey Burke is shooting 36 percent from the field. Swingman Alec Burks has made strides, but has yet to develop into the star the organization has insisted for years he would be.
Then there is Gordon Hayward. Despite this summer’s hemming and hawing over whether Hayward deser
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With many key players banged up, ample opportunities exist to exploit undervalued prices.
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The week that was
This past week was an interesting week for the Brooklyn Nets. There were plenty of ups and downs and the team showed some good signs along with some really bad signs. When all was said and done the Nets ended the week splitting four games. Their week started on Sunday against the Chicago Bulls in a game that was one of those “ugly” games for the Nets. They lost by 18 and gave up 102 points. They just could not seem to find an answer for Jimmy Butler who led all scorers with 26 points or Pau Gasol who was right behind him with 25. Defense aside, the Nets also struggled offensively, getting next to nothing from their key players. Joe Johnson went 1-7 from the field for three points and Deron Williams had 10 points on 3-12 shooting. After this loss the Nets went across town to visit the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. They came away with a win, but it was still not one of their best games. It came down to the wire and the Nets did just enough to hold the Knicks off. Brooklyn got
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BEST – Derrick Rose is not quite the old, MVP D-Rose, yet. He isn’t the aggressive, fly to the basket player fans were used to seeing before his two major injuries either. This season, and especially since returning from an ankle sprain, Rose has shot an alarming amount of threes, and that’s okay.
Since returning from missing 4 games with a strained left hamstring, 39 of Derrick Rose’s 76 shots have come from 3-point range.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 4, 2014
For those of you keeping track at home, Rose is shooting an abysmal 32% from behind the arc, and you know what, he should keep shooting from there for the time being. Of course, every fan would love to see that percentage get into the 40s, but that is going to take some time.
I know what you are thinking, if he is shooting so terrible from three then why should he keep shooting?
It’s easy, why not shoot from three while he’s waiting for his confidence to come back then he can drive the lane and start shooting from mid-range agai
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Normally, a 64-55 victory over a Top 15 team would have the Louisville basketball team feeling fairly good about itself. However, the Cardinals and their fans would be forgiven if they left Tuesday’s win over Ohio State with more concerns and questions than answers.
Yes, Louisville is one of the best teams in the entire country, and the defense is simply unfair (No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings) with length and athleticism all over the court.
Still, the goal at Louisville is not to impress during the regular season as much as it is to win championships in March. After six games, there are legitimate questions about whether the Cardinals’ offense is talented enough to reach the desired championship level that is in place for this squad.
Tim Sullivan of The Courier-Journal perfectly summarized the proceedings early in the second half:
Luke Hancock and Russ Smith are no longer around to bail the Cardinals out when they need a critical shot. The offense came through with a couple critical shots after Ohio State closed the margin from 19 points to three with about a minute remaining, but the game should have never been that close.
Louisville shot 35.2 percent from the field and 16 of 28 from the free-throw line against Ohio State, but it’s not just the raw statistics that should have fans concerned. Louisville completely dominated the first half and built a 19-point lead, while the Buckeyes’ early body language certainly suggested the game was over.
There was no reason that the Cardinals should have let them back into it.
D’Angelo Russell deserves some credit for leading the Buckeyes back to within three points when fellow guard Shannon Scott turned in a dud of a performance, but if Louisville could have consistently hit even some of its open shots, this would have been a massacre throughout.
Ohio State is solid defensively, but this is not exactly the suffocating defense that we have seen in years past with Aaron Craft hounding opposing point guards. Bob Baptist of The Columbus Dispatch pointed out that the Buckeyes were particularly weak on that end early in the game:
Louisville could have gotten an open three-point look anytime it wanted just by swinging the ball a couple of times against the Buckeyes’ zone. However, it still finished a pedestrian 10 of 29 from beyond the three-point line.
While that 34.5 percent clip isn’t exactly horrible from distance, it would look a lot different without Wayne Blackshear’s 4-of-8 performance.
What’s more, the Buckeyes’ zone defense opens up the middle of the floor for plenty of offensive rebounds. Louisville grabbed 18 offensive boards and had a number of easy opportunities on putbacks but couldn’t convert on some of those chances.
Teams like Kentucky or Duke are not going to allow 18 offensive rebounds to the Cardinals later in the season, so they need to find a more consistent way to put the ball in the basket.
The scary thing is, Blackshear isn’t going to have nights like this every game. He finished with 22 points and was the best offensive player on the floor for Louisville, earning praise from Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports in the process:
Still, it was the first time all season that he topped 16 points in a game or made more than two three-pointers in one night.
Blackshear is certainly a talented player who will turn in some impressive performances throughout the season, but the Cardinals will be more reliant on Montrezl Harrell over the course of the year. Harrell is a future NBA lottery pick who has the athleticism to play above the rim and dominate on the blocks, but the guards have to get him the ball on a consistent basis.
Three Louisville players took more shots than Harrell during Tuesday’s game, which is part of the reason why Ohio State was able to string together enough stops to pull within three.
Chris Gehring of CardChronicle.com noted that the Cardinals are well aware of their offensive shortcomings in the early going this season:
The 45-point performance the last time out against Cleveland State was very alarming for Louisville, and it was only shooting 43.7 percent from the field and an abysmal 24 percent from three-point range coming into Tuesday’s game. The fact that the field-goal percentage will go down after the win probably doesn‘t sit well with Rick Pitino.
The bottom line is, Louisville may just be the best defensive team in the entire country, but the offense still has plenty of work to do. The Cardinals are going to be in every game because of their ability to get critical stops when needed and pressure opposing ball-handlers 90 feet from the basket.
They demonstrated why on Tuesday when they held Scott, who led the nation in assists coming in, to zero assists and five turnovers. Yes, Russell scored some important baskets in the second half, but he was uncomfortable and forced the issue in the first half against the dominant Cardinals’ defense.
However, if offense doesn’t drastically improve, there will be another team cutting down the nets in March in both the ACC and at the national level. There will be games when Louisville’s opponent is simply hitting shots, and the Cardinals will have to respond on the other end.
The goal for Louisville is to compete with the Kentuckys and Dukes of the world this season, and a repeat of Tuesday’s offensive effort will not be good enough to do that in late March.
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Almost 20 percent of the way through the season, the Houston Rockets are blowing up expectations, sitting on a 13-4 record. Are they actually title contenders, or are they just really good pretenders?
That question is difficult to answer for several reasons. Some of the Rockets’ sensational start is due to a soft schedule, but some of it is in spite of an array of injury issues. For those reasons, one could argue that the Rockets are either better or worse than they really are.
There is substantial reason to doubt the Rockets are for real. It’s easy to look at their schedule and consider that part of their beefy start is a result of playing against inferior competition.
The only teams they’ve beaten that currently have winning records are the Miami Heat (Nov. 4), San Antonio Spurs (Nov. 6), Dallas Mavericks (Nov. 22), Sacramento Kings (Nov. 26) and Milwaukee Bucks (Nov. 30).
The Spurs were resting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili when they played. The Kings were without Darren Collison. The games versus the Bucks and Heat were the only ones on the road. The Bucks had a losing record last season, so it remains to be seen if they’re even legitimate playoff contenders.
That means the Rockets’ lone quality win is a home game against the Mavericks, who were on the second end of a back-to-back and playing in Houston.
When they’ve played rested, quality teams, they haven’t fared well. The Golden State Warriors beat them by double-digits in Space City on Nov. 8. The Memphis Grizzlies obliterated them by 26 on Nov. 17. The Los Angeles Clippers wiped the court with them by 17 in Houston on Nov. 28.
If you’re looking to validate your pessimism, the schedule makes a good case. But such examination against any schedule would probably see similar findings. No one faces only winning, fully healthy opponents.
There are various formulas that incorporate margin of victory and strength of schedule together to establish rankings, and the Rockets are well represented in them.
In Basketball-Reference.com’s Simple Raring System (SRS), the Rockets are 10th. In TeamRankings.com’s predictive rankings, they are ninth. In John Hollinger’s power rankings, they are 11th. Average the three out, and the Rockets are 10th.
That’s enough to establish them a very good team, but in the Western Conference, very good is not enough to be called a contender. A top-10 team is merely a very good pretender. But the statistical rankings don’t account for everything.
Rockets’ Injuries Influence the Numbers
There’s another thing to factor into all this. It’s not like the Rockets have been doing everything at 100 percent, and not all the stars have aligned for them in every game. Most notably, their injury situation has impaired them.
The Rockets have been without Dwight Howard for seven games. Patrick Beverley has been absent for 10. Terrence Jones has been gone for 13. And with injuries, the impact builds exponentially, not incrementally.
As a result, they have courted eight different starting lineups and none for more than three games. They’ve been without at least two starters 10 games and had only one or no injuries just seven times.
Half their losses have come when they’ve been missing three starters. That seems fairly forgivable. In fact, that they’ve played as well as they have through injury is impressive, particularly since just losing Howard would make it excusable if they were losing more.
The Rockets are 3.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on offense, and their opponents are 10.5 points worse when he plays. That’s not making excuses; it’s showing how impressive it is that Houston doesn’t need to make one.
But this onion has many layers.
The next of these layers can be demonstrated by a crazy number: 55. That’s the most minutes the Rockets have had any single lineup (Howard, Trevor Ariza, Isaiah Canaan, James Harden and Donatas Motiejunas) together on the court this season.
Forty-five other lineups have played at least as much. The Los Angeles Lakers starting five, by comparison, have played 263 minutes together, and the Lakers have played one fewer game.
The Rockets have had no other lineup play more than 34 minutes. Their actual starting five has played just 25.
That tends to impact the numbers, in both obvious and hidden ways.
There’s a hidden blessing at work, though. The Rockets came into the season with an inexperienced bench. And if you look at just the bench numbers, Houston appears to have one of the worst second units in the league right now.
Per RealGM.com, they are 27th in rebounds, 25th in assists and 29th in scoring. That’s pretty awful all the way across the board. But bear in mind that when a starter is out, a bench player is moving up into the starting rotation.
That means the bench is getting shorter and thinner. The bench numbers get impacted even more than the starter numbers.
The hidden impact is in how much it affects chemistry. Players don’t have as much chance to learn one another’s habits and preferences when they never get on-court time together. The constantly changing lineups make it harder to develop that, especially when it’s a team like Houston with seven players who weren’t on the roster last season.
This, in part, explains why the Rockets are 29th in assist-to-turnover ratio. Many of the Rockets’ turnovers are would-be assists gone awry because the passer and receiver weren’t on the same page. Continuity will change that.
So what does all of this mean?
Ariza put it well, telling the following to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
I think every season teams go through adversity – it’s how you respond to it and how you come out of it that matters. So far, being shorthanded, we have responded well. We have come out of every game learning something, figuring out something out, figuring out what we can do through adversity and that’s a plus for us.
Statistical rankings aren’t worried about wins and losses or injuries. They are looking at point differential and strength of schedule; ergo, the statistical rankings are actually undervaluing the Rockets.
The process matters, and through the process, the Rockets are gaining experience. Their young players are logging heavier minutes than they would, and they are improving as a result.
Tarik Black is third among rookies in win shares. Kostas Papanikolaou is fifth.
Motiejunas has learned to post up players. Last year, 59.9 percent of his attempts came at the rim with a 54.5 percent success rate. This year, those numbers are 73.3 percent and 56.5 percent, respectively.
Canaan is averaging 1.3 more points per 36 minutes and attempting just .1 more field-goal attempts to do so.
All these parts are developing, and as the Rockets get healthy, the team will suddenly be deep. Canaan, Jason Terry, Papanikolaou and Black might not be terrifying, but it’s a capable second unit with room to grow.
The question is now this: Are the Rockets not as good as their record, better than their record or fairly represented by their record? Reasonably, it would seem that the weight of the injury impact at least counters the lightness of their schedule.
That being the case, the Rockets are as good as or better than their schedule, and either puts them as more than mere pretenders. I wouldn’t list them as favorites—that distinction goes to the Warriors or Spurs—but apart from those two teams, the Rockets have as good a chance as anyone in the West.
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What a different a year makes. Marreese Speights went from a struggling bench player under Mark Jackson to a sixth man of the year candidate under Steve Kerr. Why has Speights suddenly become a better player? Is it anything Kerr is doing? The answer is simple, confidence.
Last season Speights was borderline awful as he only averaged 6.4 ppg and shot .44 percent in just about 12 minutes. This season he’s playing close to the same amount of minutes (15.5) but he’s averaging 12.6 ppg and shooting over .60 percent. Not only have his numbers improved in Kerr’s offense, but he’s almost single-handedly won two games for the Warriors on their current road trip. With the Golden State Warriors playing poorly, Speights carried them to victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder and the underachieving Charlotte Hornets. In those two games Speights averaged 27.5 ppg and shot 23/38 combined.
Speights has always been an adrenaline player, meaning when he’s playing well he can carry the team like he did Friday night for
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In the past few weeks, the Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Corey Brewer was the center of many trade rumors. Most of the rumors dealt with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets, two teams that are in contention to win the NBA finals and have already expressed interest in Brewer.
Cleveland would like to get another veteran, and would like to reunite Kevin Love with Brewer, as the two of them had a number of fast break points as Love would outlet to Brewer whenever Brewer leaked out. Houston has wanted Brewer before this year, Kevin McHale is the current head coach of the Houston Rockets really likes Brewer’s game, and actually drafted Brewer in 2006 when he was the general manager of the Timberwolves.
However, Flip Saunders the coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves has said he is intent on keeping Brewer, so as of right now it appears unlikely for the Timberwolves to deal him. Even though Brewer is a veteran player that provides solid defense and is a good transition threat, I believe
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NEW YORK — Away from the fans and the media, behind the doors of locked gyms whose locations are well-guarded, the narratives of the college basketball season to come are revealed.
Usually held at a neutral site in late October, “secret scrimmages” give coaches an opportunity to assess their team against outside competition without having to deal with scrutiny from onlookers.
The NCAA discourages participants from commenting publicly about the gatherings, but after Gonzaga whipped his Texas squad in a scrimmage in Phoenix last month, Rick Barnes could hardly stay hush-hush about the Bulldogs.
“They were amazing,” the Longhorns coach said. “They looked like a team that was three-fourths of the way through its season.”
One month later, college basketball fans are saying the same thing.
Well, at least the ones who are paying attention.
While Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin are absorbing their well-deserved praise, not nearly enough people are talking about a Gonzaga unit that has won its first four games by an average of 42 points.
Mark Few’s team is good—Final Four good.
The backcourt of seniors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. may be the best in the country. Transfers Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky) and Byron Wesley (USC) have blended in seamlessly on the wing, and post players Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski are a load in the paint.
“It’s crazy how many weapons we have,” Wesley said.
Six Gonzaga players average double figures in scoring, and the Bulldogs are the only team in the nation to rank among the NCAA’s top 10 in field-goal percentage (56.1) and field-goal percentage defense (30.8).
“Everyone knows our name,” Bell Jr. said. “But I don’t think people see how hungry we are. They won’t know that until they play us. I think sometimes we get underrated a little bit.”
More than anything, it may be skepticism.
Tempting as it is to get excited about the Zags, it’s also easy to remember what happened two years ago, when Few’s squad entered the NCAA tournament as America’s No. 1-ranked team only to lose to Wichita State in the third round.
Gonzaga has won a conference title 12 of the last 13 years, but only once in the past eight seasons has it advanced to the Sweet 16.
In some ways the Zags are like the movie Gone Girl. They reel you in, build up your excitement and then let you down at the end.
The Bulldogs don’t disagree.
Pangos admitted Tuesday that the shortcomings in March have cast a shade over Gonzaga’s reputation. Gaudy as their record and victory margins may be, he and his teammates know the only way to turn their doubters into believers is to prove themselves when it matters most.
“We’ve shown we can compete with just about anyone,” Pangos said. “But in the past few years we haven’t done anything in the NCAA tournament to spark up major conversation. Teams are supposed to be peaking at the end of the year, and we haven’t done it.”
Pangos is confident that this team will be different.
Based on the Bulldogs’ performance thus far, it’s hard to disagree.
In each of its four wins, a different player has led Gonzaga in scoring. Bell Jr. and Wiltjer have combined to make 44.7 percent of their three-point attempts, Pangos has yet to commit a turnover and Sabonis leads the team in points (14.0) and rebounds (7.5) as a freshman. Sabonis’ father, Arvydas, is a Naismith Hall of Famer who played for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.
“We knew he was physically ready to contribute at this level,” Few said, “especially when it comes to rebounding and running the floor. But I wasn’t sure how well he’d be able to score the ball. He was playing in such a high league (in Lithuania) that he wasn’t given the opportunity to score much.
“He’s continued to work hard before and after practice. He’s got a real motor and plays every possession extremely hard. That’s a great gift to have.”
Few said he’s also been pleased with his team’s effort on the other end of the court. The Zags have never been known as soft, but there’s a certain snarl that exists with this team that hasn’t been there in years past.
Gonzaga’s players said the chemistry, cohesion and intensity they’ve exhibited thus far has been present since summer workouts.
“On paper, things can always look good,” Pangos said. “Then you get together and it doesn’t click. The personalities we have are all geared toward winning. It all meshes together perfectly.”
Wesley, for example, had individual success at USC but never made the NCAA tournament. Now a senior, winning is what matters. Wiltjer won an NCAA title at Kentucky in 2012, so he knows how good winning feels and wants to experience it again.
Then there are guys like Pangos and Bell Jr.
“We haven’t been to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament,” Bell Jr. said. “That’s what motivates me and Kevin the most. We’ve been here four years. We’re the veterans. We wanna see that second week.”
Bell Jr. may be setting his sights too low.
If Gonzaga keeps this up the Zags will see the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
And maybe the third and final one too.
Villanova: What a week for the Wildcats. The Big East favorites annihilated No. 14 VCU by 24 points on Monday and then squeaked by No. 19 Michigan 60-55 one day later to win the Legends Classic. A key block by forward JayVaughn Pinkston in the waning seconds keyed the victory.
Kentucky’s December schedule: The Wildcats take on Texas (Dec. 5) and North Carolina (Dec. 13) at home and then play UCLA in Chicago on Dec. 20. A road showdown with Louisville awaits one week later.
Mark Turgeon: It’s way to early too predict what will happen with Maryland, but Tuesday’s victory over No. 13 Iowa State was a huge moment for the embattled Turgeon, whose program seemed to take hit after hit during the offseason.
Stanford: Most teams take a step back after losing a pair of NBA draft picks. But Stanford is adjusting to life without Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell just fine. Led by Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Reid Travis, the Cardinal thumped UNLV and hardly looked overmatched in falling to Duke the following night at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Johnny Dawkins is doing a nice job.
Kevon Looney: The 6’9”, 220-pound UCLA forward is playing as well as any freshman in the country. Looney is averaging a double-double with 14.8 points and 12.0 rebounds to go with 2.8 assists and 1.5 blocks.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers are back to playing a tough, gritty Bob Huggins style of basketball. Juwan Staten is averaging 15.8 points and 4.2 assists for a team that improved to 5-0 with Sunday’s win over defending national champion Connecticut.
Arizona: Don’t get me wrong. I’m not down on the Wildcats. But I’m not ready to place them in the same category as Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and maybe even Gonzaga and North Carolina. I worry about their ability to score. I think this team has a high ceiling that it’s not close to reaching at this point. That should excite Arizona fans.
Dana Altman: Even though Oregon lost to Michigan and VCU in Brooklyn this week, I was impressed with Altman’s coaching. The Ducks only lost by seven points to the No. 19 Wolverines and were within six points of No. 14 VCU with less than three minutes left. Remember, other than Joseph Young, this Oregon squad basically lost everything from last season. Most people thought it’d get blown out this week, but this team plays hard. That’s a credit to Altman.
Indiana: Professional bettors in Vegas probably stay away from placing wagers on the Hoosiers—this team is impossible to predict. One week the Hoosiers are upsetting then-No. 22 SMU, and the next they’re falling at home to Eastern Washington. Freshman James Blackmon Jr. (20.2 points) has been a bright spot.
Florida’s depth: If Dorian Finney-Smith (hairline fracture in hand) and Eli Carter (foot sprain) are held out of action, the Gators will only have six scholarship players available for this week’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
Dave Rice: The UNLV coach, who entered the season on the hot seat, didn’t do himself any favors by getting waxed 89-60 by Stanford in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Friday. Stanford is a good team, but the Runnin’ Rebels looked incredibly ill-prepared and sloppy, which was a poor reflection on Rice.
Marquette: Two nights after losing to Nebraska-Omaha at home, the Golden Eagles had to come from behind to stave off the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Not the kind of start first-year coach Steve Wojciechowski envisioned.
Johnny Jones: LSU’s coach should be embarrassed. After escaping in overtime against the Big 12’s worst team (Texas Tech) at home, Jones’ Tigers lost to Old Dominion and Clemson. Those things should never happen to a team that has Top 25 talent. LSU has been the biggest disappointment of the season thus far.
Colorado: The Buffaloes—then a Top 25 team in some polls—lost 56-33 to Wyoming. I’ll type it again: Colorado scored 33 points against Wyoming. No matter what happens the rest of the season, that will be tough to forget.
Referees in the BYU-San Diego State game: Did anyone else see BYU’s Tyler Haws get thrown to the ground as he was trying to get open for a game-winning shot in Monday’s Maui Invitational quarterfinal? It happened right in front of an official, who inexplicably did nothing. I couldn’t help but chuckle when ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla said the defender “could get five to 10 years (in prison)” for what he did to Haws.
Welcome to My Radar
Providence: The Friars are 5-0 following back-to-back wins over Florida State and Notre Dame. Small forward LaDontae Henton averages 23.4 points.
Chase Fischer: BYU’s junior guard, who began his career at Wake Forest, made 10 of his 13 attempts from three-point range in Tuesday’s victory over Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. He’s now 21-of-41 from long range this season.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks, who beat SMU in Dallas on Tuesday, might be the second-best team in the SEC. Granted, that’s not saying much, but Mike Anderson’s squad will take it.
Devin Booker: Arguably the least heralded member of Kentucky’s lauded 2014 recruiting class, Booker has now made 12 of his last 17 shots from three-point range. He’s averaging 17.3 points in his last three games.
Zak Irvin: Caris Levert commanded most of the headlines during the offseason, but Irvin has been just as impressive for Michigan. The small forward is averaging a team-high 18.4 points—not bad for a sophomore.
Starting Five: Most Improved Players
Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: Through three games, the 6’9”, 280-pound Meeks is averaging 16.7 points and 11.0 rebounds, up from 7.6 and 6.1 a year ago.
Sterling Gibbs, Seton Hall: The former Texas Longhorn had 40 points in Monday’s win over Illinois State and is now averaging 22 points on the season.
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: After coming off the bench to play a key factor in last season’s Final Four run, Hayes is blossoming as a starter with averages of 15.3 points and 9.8 boards.
Charles Hankerson Jr., Wyoming: The Cowboys are off to a 4-0 start thanks, in large part, to Hankerson Jr. He’s averaging 4.8 assists (compared to 1.3 last season) and 9.0 points, up from 5.1.
Daniel Ochefu, Villanova: The forward has become a force in the paint for the undefeated Wildcats. He’s averaging 8.2 rebounds and 8.8 points.
A Dozen Words About My Top 12 Teams
1. Kentucky: Six wins have come by an average of 36.8 points. Good gosh.
2. Wisconsin: One week away from a home showdown with the Duke Blue Devils.
3. Duke: Upperclassmen Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson have played big roles thus far.
4. Gonzaga: Games against UCLA and Arizona should tell us more about the Zags
5. North Carolina: Hoping to see the Heels vs. Wisconsin in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
6. Arizona: Kansas State nearly upset Sean Miller’s Wildcats in the Maui Invitational on Tuesday.
7. Louisville: The Cardinals are becoming a trendy Final Four pick and understandably so.
8. Wichita State: Point guard Fred VanVleet ranks third in the country in steals (4.0).
9. Villanova: The defending Big East champs may actually be better than last season.
10. San Diego State: The Aztecs have shown toughness in close wins against Utah and BYU.
11. Kansas: Bill Self will get things figured out in Lawrence. He always does.
12. Texas: The loss of Isaiah Taylor (wrist) caused me to drop the Longhorns.
Winning me over: Louisville
Need to see more: Michigan State
Better than I thought: Baylor
Not as good as I thought: VCU
What the heck is wrong with: SMU
Seat warming up: Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee
Seat cooling off: Herb Sendek, Arizona State
Earning his paycheck: Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
May want to return his paycheck: Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Pesky: Texas A&M
Are they for real?: Penn State
Get well soon: Isaiah Taylor, Texas point guard
Glad you’re feeling better: Jerry Tarkanian
Press Room Chatter
My favorite places for thin-crust pizza:
- Greenville Avenue Pizza Company, Dallas
- Giordano’s, Chicago
- Secret Pizza, Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas
- Ray’s Pizza, New York City
- D’Bronx, Kansas City
Best Meals I had in New York over the past week:
- Chicken Parmigiana, Trattoria Trecolori on 47th St.
- Lamb Gyro, food truck at 53rd and 6th
- Cheese popcorn at the Barclays Center concession stand
- Lamb Gyro from a food truck sometime around at 4 a.m. on Lafayette St. in Soho
- Popcorn with Old Bay seasoning from the *Janitor’s Closest in Brooklyn
- Pigs in a Blanket from the hotel concierge lounge
*The bar probably wasn’t called “Janitor’s Closet.” I never actually saw a sign. So I just named it for what it felt like.
Old-school rap albums I’ll still be bobbing my head to in my 60s:
- No One Can Do It Better, DOC
- Straight Outta Compton, NWA
- Strictly Business, EPMD
- Follow the Leader, Eric B. and Rakim
- Bigger and Deffer, LL Cool J
Things that make me want to scream:
- New York traffic
- The College Football Playoff committee
- People who eat wings with a fork
- Radio hosts who laugh loudly on-air at things they’d never laugh at off-air
Things I’m thankful for:
- My family (dog included…sometimes) and friends
- My job
- The people who combined to donate $25,000 for Kamala The Ugandan Giant
- Wing sauce
- The Phoebe Cates pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
As you can see from list above, I had (another) terrible food experience in New York. This is particularly frustrating to me because I know there’s great food here. I just can’t seem to find anyone to go eat it with. Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t mind going to Ray’s Pizza or Carnegie Deli by myself. But one of these days I’d like to try somewhere a bit more upscale. Carmine’s, perhaps. Or maybe Patsy’s.
Whatever the case, I took a significant step Tuesday afternoon by venturing a block away from my hotel to Trattoria Trecolori, which is on 47th St. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the decision, as the chicken parmigiana was among the best I’ve ever had. Crispy on the outside yet juicy and flavorful on the inside, I scarfed down the entire meal in about five minutes and then plunged into the mound of spaghetti that came on the side. It was delicious, too. I’m not kidding here. If I would’ve had more time I would’ve ordered the exact same meal again. It was that good—and I was that hungry.
I know there are other places in New York City that are just as good or better than Trattoria Trecolori. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually try a few of them.
All stats and projections current through Tuesday, Nov. 25.
Jason King covers college sports for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR .
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