Big East making noise in early going
Notre Dame ran through Georgia and Cal before beating Wisconsin on Sunday to win the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
UConn pulled upsets over two ranked teams — Michigan State and Kentucky — and returned from Hawaii with the Maui Invitational crown.
Pittsburgh claimed the Coaches vs. Cancer title, Syracuse earned the Legends Classic championship, Georgetown won the Charleston Classic and St. John’s defeated Arizona State for the Great Alaska Shootout crown.
The Big East isn’t dead — even though Villanova came up short against Tennessee at Madison Square Garden on Friday.
In fact, with the surprising early season success of UConn, Notre Dame and even Louisville, it could wind up being right there with the Big Ten as the best league in America this season.
As for the Big Ten …
Can we agree that Purdue may not be a legit Top 25 team right now? The Boilermakers have two elite players in E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, but Matt Painter can ill-afford an off-game from either — as was the case in the loss to Richmond over the weekend.
Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois should all be consistent Top 25 teams, but the Big East has seven legitimate Top 25 teams at this point — and Cincinnati, St. John’s, Louisville and Marquette aren’t all that far off, either.
I’m not saying the Big East will definitely be the best league in the country at the end of the season, but let’s not hand it to the Big Ten.
Not just yet, anyway.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Tennessee — With all the drama swirling around the Volunteer program in the offseason, we’re giving the Vols the nod over another program, UConn, that’s also had its share of issues lately. Bruce Pearl’s team went into Madison Square Garden and knocked off VCU and then-No. 6 Villanova to claim the Preseason NIT title. Freshman Tobias Harris is a difference maker, but it was the defensive effort in shutting down ’Nova’s guard trio that was key in the 10-point win against the Wildcats on Friday night.
STUD (PLAYER OF WEEK): Kemba Walker — UConn’s junior point guard has clearly been the nation’s top player thus far. He averaged 30 points a game out in Maui and led the Huskies to a pair of upset wins against Top 10 teams in Michigan State and Kentucky. Walker was virtually unstoppable with 31 against the Spartans and followed that up with 30 in the title game against John Calipari’s Wildcats.
SHOWCASE PERFORMANCE: Mason Plumlee — His 25-point, dozen-rebound effort against Marquette was eye-opening. Not in the fact that people didn’t think he had it in him, but it just reminded everyone how many weapons Duke truly has. Plumlee did work in the post, blocked shots and displayed flashes of the player who could be an All-American if he sticks around Durham for another year or two.
DUD: Temple — The Owls lost in Orlando to a California team many expect to finish at or near the bottom of the Pac-10 and also fell short against Texas A&M. The Owls’ lengthy layoff contributed to the loss to the Golden Bears — which gets me thinking whether this team will have success similar to the kind enjoyed by a team that was a fixture in the Top 25 a year ago.
WORST LOSS: Alabama — The Crimson Tide lost to St. Peters down in the Virgin Islands. And if that wasn’t bad enough, St. Peter’s is playing without its top player, Wesley Jenkins. The trip to St. Thomas resulted in three losses — to Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peter’s — for Anthon Grant’s club.
WEEK TO FORGET: Oklahoma — This will wind up being a season that Jeff Capel and his staff would like to erase from their memory. It didn’t start all that poorly out in Maui for the Sooners — who were competitive in a loss to Kentucky. But then came a shellacking at the hands of a mediocre Virginia team before the Sooners were sent packing by host (and Division II) Chaminade.
MID-MAJOR TEAM OF THE WEEK: Hampton — The Pirates won a trio of games — all on the road — in the past week. First it was a victory over America East preseason favorite Boston University, then a win in D.C. against George Washington and finally a victory at High Point. Darrion Pellum leads the team in scoring at 19 per contest.
SHOCKER: Butler — Even without starting point guard Ronald Nored, the Bulldogs coming up short against an Evansville team expected to finish at the bottom of the Missouri Valley was stunning — especially since it came at Hinkle Fieldhouse, where Butler had won 17 straight.
1) Baylor senior guard LaceDarius Dunn, a potential All-American who was suspended for the first three games, canned seven 3-pointers and finished with 24 points in his season debut, a win against Lipscomb on Monday night.
2) Kansas State senior forward Curtis Kelly was benched for the first three games of the year by Wildcats coach Frank Martin. Kelly returned and didn’t do much in a win against Gonzaga, but had 19 points and six boards in a loss to Duke.
3) Georgia star big man Trey Thompkins returned after missing the first three games with an ankle sprain. Thompkins scored 13 points and grabbed 10 boards in his return — a loss to Notre Dame. He averaged 14.7 points and 7.3 boards as the Bulldogs went 1-2 in Orlando.
WELCOME HOME: Duke senior Kyle Singler returned home to Oregon and tied his career high with 30 points against the Ducks and his younger brother, E.J. The Blue Devils had no problem taking care of an undermanned Oregon squad.
WEEK’S TOP MATCHUPS:
1) Michigan State at Duke, Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET — The Spartans lost to UConn, but are still capable of hanging with top-ranked team and posing a legitimate threat.
2) Kentucky at North Carolina, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET — Both teams are young and unproven, but both programs are also among the elite in the history of college hoops.
3) Butler vs. Duke, Saturday at 3:15 p.m. ET — The rematch of the national title game just doesn’t have the same sizzle without Brian Zoubek, I mean Gordon Hayward. The Bulldogs may still be a Top 25 team, but it would be a shocker if they could get revenge on the Blue Devils in New Jersey.
4) Georgetown at Missouri, Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET — A pair of Top 25 teams who have completely different styles.
5) Ohio State at Florida State, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET — The Buckeyes have already gone into the Sunshine State and come away with a big win. Can Thad Matta & Co., do it again — this time against an underrated Florida State team?
6) Purdue at Virginia Tech, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET — I’m still not quite sold on the Boilermakers without Robbie Hummel as a top 10 team. Sure, they have two of the nation’s best in Moore and Johnson, but Painter needs guys to step up. This will be a quality test.