Fast Break: Which team is the real No. 1?
JAN 28, 2013 11:13a ET
Frontcourt: KU center Jeff Withey is the strongest defensive force in college basketball this season. There is the mere presence of the 7-footer in the lane, and then there are the 4.3 shots per game Withey actually does block. Also, he is practically never in foul trouble, is a decent free-throw shooter and has enough post game to command a lot of double teams. The Jayhawks' other big men — Kevin Young, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor — are role players, though Ellis is one of the most talented freshmen in the country and Young is one of the nation's most active power forwards.
Ball-handlers: Michigan has Trey Burke and Kansas has Elijah Johnson. Nothing against Johnson, who occasionally looks like a first-round draft pick, but Burke is the best guard in college basketball. And Michigan's No. 2 ball-handler is Tim Hardaway Jr., who is probably about the 15th-best guard in college basketball.
Wings: The Jayhawks have a probable top-five pick playing shooting guard in Ben McLemore and, on the other wing, start fifth-year senior Travis Releford, who is one of the country's best perimeter defenders in addition to averaging 12.7 points per game and shooting 40.4 percent from the 3-point line. It would be a lot of fun to see McLemore and Michigan's Nik Stauskas in a 3-point shooting contest, though.
Bench: Kansas' bench is basically two guys, Ellis and point guard Naadir Tharpe. Both are unpredictable, though Tharpe has grown into something of a shot-maker for the Jayhawks. Michigan has just two bench guys averaging more than nine minutes per game, and neither of them would be considered a spark plug.
Coach: This shouldn't read as a knock on John Beilein, it's just that the list of active coaches better than KU's Bill Self reads like a Hall of Fame class. Also, they've met twice since Beilein took over at Michigan (once in Ann Arbor, one in Lawrence), and Kansas won both times, for whatever that's worth.
Michigan and Kansas have had two common opponents so far, Ohio State and Kansas State. Kansas won by eight at Ohio State on Dec. 29 and by four at Kansas State on Jan. 23. Michigan lost by three in Columbus on Jan. 13 and beat Kansas State by 14 on Nov. 23 in the NIT Season Tip-Off final in New York. On Feb. 12, Michigan travels to face rival Michigan State, which handed Kansas its only loss of the season on a neutral court on Nov. 13.
Michigan is a slightly better offensive team than Kansas, but the Jayhawks are better on defense and on the glass. Because of Withey, the Jayhawks have had a knack for inducing opponents to settle for 3-pointers, but when the Wolverines take a 3 it hardly can be considered settling. They shoot 40.8 percent from behind the arc as a team.
I think Michigan's A-game is better than Kansas' A-game. Although the Jayhawks are pretty good at getting opponents to play their B-minus game, I do think Michigan would be a little bit more likely to win this matchup, should we get to see it.
'Modern Family' actor has a request for K-State fans
For the past few years, Kansas State fans have been referring to their eight-sided basketball arena, Bramlage Coliseum, as the "Octagon of Doom."
This coincided with a rise in the quality of Kansas State basketball under former coach Frank Martin and, in turn, a renewed interest in what had been a dormant sport on K-State's campus. When the OOD was full, it was as intimidating a place as any. I'll never forget the way it felt and sounded in there the year Michael Beasley and Kansas State beat Kansas. It was the first time K-State had beaten KU in Bramlage, and there was a sound and a fury to it like none I had ever experienced. A sportswriter friend of mine said, "It made me feel bad inside."
About that, this is what "Modern Family" actor and noted K-State alum Eric Stonestreet (@ericstonestreet) tweeted Jan. 22: "Good game KSU. Good game. But let's lose the octagon of doom thing...."
This was because the Wildcats slipped to 2-23 in the OOD against archrival Kansas.
Kansas State is third in the Big 12 in attendance, behind Kansas and Iowa State. The past three years, the Wildcats are 14-6 at home in conference play.
There is no question K-State's two wins over KU at Bramlage were at least partially the result of great crowds. The first time, Kansas went on to win the national title. The second time, Kansas came to Manhattan ranked No. 1.
Octagon? Yes. But doom?
Stonestreet is right.
Could six schools kill the NCAA?
Six schools could kill the NCAA, and by that I mean "end its existence forever." Kill it. Those six schools are Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Indiana and UCLA.
And it probably wouldn't take all six.
The NCAA gets approximately 90 percent of its revenue from television rights fees. According to the NCAA, it was projected to get $680 million of its total $777 million in revenue in 2011-12 from the rights agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting — notably centered on the NCAA tournament. That's 87.5 percent. And that's not including the money it makes from the championship events themselves, the overwhelming majority of which comes from the NCAA tournament.
This is a commonly misunderstood relationship. Major-college football is not paying the NCAA's bills at all. The NCAA owes much of its power and, indeed, much of its very existence, to the popularity of its men's basketball tournament.
So can you imagine what would happen to the NCAA tournament if Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Indiana and UCLA decided they were going to do their own thing? You think the nation is getting all fired up to see Northern Iowa "upset" San Diego State? You think anybody is going to take Gonzaga's national title seriously when Duke and Kentucky are playing each other the same weekend?
You think other schools wouldn't want to go play in the thing that has all the blue bloods in it? It wouldn't be five years before the NCAA tournament was the NIT (which used to be the NCAA tournament, if that makes sense).
The fundamental attraction of the NCAA tournament is the big guy. You're either excited to see the little guy take on the big guy, or you're excited to see the big guy take on another big guy. Either way, without the big guy, you've got nothing.
For the time being, there is no reason these schools should want to exclude themselves from the NCAA tournament. As it is, it's a good thing for everyone involved. But if, indeed, football is driving college athletics toward super-conferences (as it appears it is), it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which the four big conferences just decide to hold their own basketball tournament.
The .GIF that keeps on giving
If you haven't seen the Marshall Henderson .GIF from Ole Miss' win over Auburn, stop whatever you're doing and WATCH THIS. (Warning: contains inappropriate gestures)
Henderson is the Fast Break's favorite kind of player. He reminds some people of Jimmer Fredette, but he reminds me of every junior college basketball player I ever saw while growing up watching juco ball in Hutchinson, Kan. Throw it up, baby. Life is short.
Henderson has transformed Ole Miss completely. It was a lifeless, swagger-anemic program last year, but Henderson is averaging 19.2 points per game, leading the Rebels into the Top 25 and to their best start in SEC play since before World War II.
They said it
"I ain't going there. You ask me to talk about the economy, I'll give you whatever you want. I'll give you my opinions on whatever. Don't make me go there because it won't be good for me, my school. Definitely my wife will be (angry) at me because you know what comes after I go there." — South Carolina coach Frank Martin on free-throw shooting, after his team blew a 13-point second-half lead in a loss to No. 22 Missouri. The Tigers went 28 for 36 from the free-throw line, while Martin's Gamecocks only had 17 attempts, making 11.
"I feel like I'm getting it from different angles. Some people just don't like the way I am. I feel that's a bunch of old-school people. They're just like, 'Oh, no. We don't like him.' Well, I'm sorry. I'm different. I've got to be different in order to be successful." — Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, to the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader.
75.8 — Percentage of Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson's field goals that are 3-pointers. He makes 35.7 percent of his 3-point attempts.
17-4 — Combined record by teams while they've held the No. 1 ranking this season.
Conference power rankings
1. Big Ten
Do I really need to explain this?
The ACC has two Final Four-caliber teams in Duke and NC State.
3. Big East
I know Louisville lost three in a row, but I also know nobody wants to see Louisville in their Elite Eight matchup.
UCLA is seriously dangerous.
5. Big 12
Can anyone other than Kansas stick in the Top 25?
I'm sorry to say this, Rebels fans, but any time Ole Miss is the second-best team in the league, it's probably not a good year in the conference.
7. Mountain West
The league deserves to be addressed, because it has several quality teams. But it's also the only league of the seven listed here that doesn't have a serious national title contender. New Mexico was the league's highest-ranked team, and it got beat 55-34 on Saturday at San Diego State. Thirty-four.
Player of the year watch
Trey Burke of Michigan is the best candidate for this award, and he'd do even better in the voting if this were the MVP. As long as Kansas is in the top three, you have to give Ben McLemore serious consideration. But his numbers aren't as good as Burke's, and his team isn't more successful.
I could throw out a lot of names here, such as Doug McDermott or Erick Green, but without a Michael Beasley or Kevin Durant in the field, this is going to be a best player, best team contest.
Ups and downs
Up: Miami (obviously)
Played Duke and Florida State last week. Won by an average of 25.5 points.
Down: Kansas State
Lost at home to Kansas and at Iowa State. Neither is an unforgivable loss on its own, but that's a bad week for a team ranked 11th.
Up: San Diego State
Beat then-No. 15 New Mexico 55-34.
I'm no Ken Pomeroy, but a three-game losing streak seems like it would be a strong predictor of NCAA tournament failure.
Quietly, the Bears are 5-1 in Big 12 play, with their only loss coming at Kansas.
Down: New Mexico
Thirty-four points. I don't know how anybody put the Lobos on their Top 25 ballot this week, but they're No. 20.
Thanks to everybody for not bringing up the fact that last week the Crystal Ball showed Duke going to Miami and beating the Hurricanes "real bad." I've sent the ball in for a good polishing.
So while it's in the shop, I'm just going to ask Siri. "Is Ole Miss going to beat Kentucky this week?"
Siri: "No one is offering a prediction on that game. The Rebels have a better record, though."