Fast Break: Freshmen the story this season

If it is true that last year’s Kentucky team shifted the paradigm of college basketball, so that the Calipari Way — loading up on the best freshmen and turning them loose for one year, for better or for worse — is now the way it is done, then we all will be right to ask that Calipari no longer cast himself in November as a guy with a heavy burden on his back.

Because that would be like buying a big house and then complaining about the electricity bill.

But we’re not there yet. Not quite. So we’ll let it slide when Calipari talks about starting from scratch after his team’s first exhibition game.

“This is really scratch,” he said. “This is scratch-scratch.”

Kentucky started three freshmen and two sophomores in a 32-point win over Northwood (Fla.) and a 46-point win over Transylvania, which means the Wildcats aren’t the scratchiest team in college hoops. They’re more of a representative sample of the best college basketball teams in 2012.

In Lexington, freshman center Nerlens Noel began his career with 17 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks alongside freshman guard Archie Goodwin, who had 22 points and five assists (plus five turnovers, which Cal bemoaned). The two combined for 25 points in their second outing.

No. 2 Louisville got a huge exhibition debut from a freshman too, as Montrezl Harris went for 19 points and 13 rebounds in 25 minutes.

No. 5 Michigan, No. 7 Kansas and No. 10 Florida all relied heavily on freshmen in their debuts, too. The Wolverines’ Nick Strauskas, Spike Albrecht and Glenn Robinson III, combined for 46 of their team’s 83 points in their opener. Kansas’ Perry Ellis had a combined 25 points and 12 rebounds in his first two games at Allen Fieldhouse, which were considered a bit of a letdown.

“He definitely could do better,” said freshman guard Ben McLemore, who had 28 points and 16 rebounds in the two exhibitions. “He’s a great athlete. Coach wants him to do better, and we as a team want him to do better.”

Florida’s freshmen accounted for nearly half their team’s points, too, and even got the upper classmen in trouble with coach Billy Donovan.

“I question our older guys’ commitment to defending and rebounding like we need to,” Donovan said after a 30-point win over Nebraska-Kearney. “That was the disappointing thing to me. I’d rather have the young guys out there making mistakes, really getting after it, giving all they have.”

Out west, the Pac-12 could basically be decided by freshmen. No. 12 Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski, a 7-footer, may be the conference’s biggest matchup problem, especially if UCLA freshman swingman Shabazz Muhammad isn’t cleared by the NCAA, which is investigating him for impermissible benefits.

So Calipari isn’t the only “scratch-scratch” coach in college basketball, but he might be the best at dealing with it. Even if he doesn’t act like it.

“I’m tired because I’m thinking all the time,” he said. “My whole day is ‘How do I do this?’ I’ve had more individual meetings to this point than I’ve had in the last three years because I’m having to build guys and feel guys (out) and challenge guys and some guys hug, some guys kick. I’ve got one guy that’s in my book club now. He’s getting a book every two weeks that he’s got to read and tell me what’s on it because he’s messing around academically.”

Hey, it’s your monster, Mr. Frankenstein. 

• One of the country’s most significant transfers is Arizona guard Mark Lyons, who played three years at Xavier, graduated and transferred to Arizona where he has one year of eligibility remaining. He averaged 15 points and three assists as a junior at Xavier.

• Alex Oriakhi transferred to Missouri after beginning his career at UConn, where he averaged nearly 10 points and nine rebounds in helping the Huskies win the 2011 national title. He gives the Tigers some muscle inside to help replace Ricardo Ratliffe.

• Speaking of the Tigers, they also got Keion Bell from Pepperdine, where he averaged 18.9 points in 2010-11.

• You may have heard of Rotnei Clarke when he made 13 3-pointers against Alcorn State two years ago at Arkansas. He might be the best shooter in the country, and he’s eligible to play at Butler now, where his quick release and 42-percent accuracy from beyond the arc could help open up things for the Bulldogs.


Whether you think of it as gimmick or spectacle, the line between sailing and college basketball becomes blurrier with each passing season.

The number of college basketball games played at sea has tripled since last season, when North Carolina and Michigan State played in the inaugural Carrier Classic aboard the USS Carl Vinson.

This week, Florida and Georgetown will play aboard an amphibious assault ship called the USS Bataan in Jacksonville. No. 9 Syracuse and No. 20 San Diego State meet on the USS Midway in San Diego, and No. 4 Ohio State and Marquette are playing on the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C.

Though not at sea, UConn and No. 14 Michigan State will play at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany in something called the Armed Forces Classic on Friday.

These games pose a host of logistical challenges ranging from weather concerns to meshing protocols of college basketball and the U.S. military. UNC coach Roy Williams said the headaches are well worth it.

“Other than the Final Four, winning the national championships, I enjoyed that experience more than any game I’ve ever been involved in,” Williams told the Associated Press. “There were some logistical things, there were some things that went on that were frustrating. But the game was so huge, and the feeling you got from the military people was so big, that it made all these other things seem so small … compared to the love that I had for being there in front of our military, talking to our guys and girls, and the feel that I had.”


1. Cody Zeller, Indiana
If we’ve learned anything about Cody Zeller so far, it’s that he will not hog the ball for personal glory in exhibition blowouts, and I think we can all appreciate that. Zeller played only 19 minutes in the opener and went 4 for 4.
2. Trey Burke, Michigan
Not a good start for Burke, who was suspended for the exhibition opener for doing something that ticked off coach John Beilein. However, he debuted with 16 points the next game, and nobody cares you got suspended in November if you’re awesome in January. I expect Burke will be. He stays here at No. 2.
3. Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
Last week this spot went to “one of the Kentucky guys,” and I’m sticking with that because Goodwin had 22 points and five assists in his first game.  He also had five turnovers, but John Wall also was a turnover machine, and nobody really held that against him when he came in second to Evan Turner for most of the POY awards.



The Bruins got good news last week when the NCAA cleared freshman guard Kyle Anderson after a four-month impermissible benefits investigation. They’re still waiting for an answer on Shabazz Muhammad, who is being investigated for the same reason.

Down:  Duke

The Blue Devils won two exhibition games last week, so there’s no real problem here. It’s just that they sort of got the tempo dictated to them by both Western Washington and Winston-Salem State. Against a Western Washington team that wanted to run, Duke scored 105 (but gave up 87), and against a Winston-Salem team that wanted to grind, the Blue Devils allowed just 45 points (but scored just 69 and went 1 for 17 from 3-point range).

The other way to look at that is to say Duke can play multiple styles, and you should feel free to do so, as long as you’re fine with being wrong.
Up: The Big Ten

People love making fun of the Big Ten, with its plodding style and huge Scandanavian power forwards with long names, but you can’t really laugh when the league claims three of the top five teams in the country — and that doesn’t include Michigan State (No. 14) or Wisconsin (No. 23).

Down: South Carolina

Perhaps I spoke too soon on Frank Martin last week. The Gamecocks shot 38 percent and needed a last-second layup to beat Kentucky Wesleyan.


Now that it has been a year since Lon Kruger left, it is probably time to step back and appreciate the boring and wonderful consistency that has washed over the program in recent years. The Tarkanian years, these are not. But the Rebels  have made the NCAA Tournament four of the past five years and are ranked 18th.

Down: Miami

The Hurricanes lost to a Division 2 team, St. Leo, 69-67 on Friday. This is supposed to be a Miami team that makes the NCAA Tournament, so it’s a good thing the selection committee doesn’t look at exhibition games.


1.      Big Ten
2.      ACC
3.      SEC
4.      Big East
5.      Big 12
6.      Pac-12



Although the Bluejays are ranked 16th, ahead of the likes of Wisconsin and Baylor, this is still a Missouri Valley team, and, without any exceptions I’m aware of, that means that if you make it to the Elite Eight, you’re the scrappy team that wouldn’t say die, the overachieving band of castoffs Who Don’t Have All The Talent But Play The Game The Right Way. You are a “Cinderella story.”

Colorado State

Did you know Larry Eustachy is the coach at Colorado State now? Slipped right under your nose, didn’t it? The Rams have good ingredients for making Cinderella stew. They have seven players who are in their fourth or fifth seasons and they return two senior guards who can score. Plus they have a 7-footer and a 6-10, 265-pound guy. So, you know, look out, Duke.

Middle Tennessee State

The Blue Raiders return four starters off a team that went 27-7 and won the Sun Belt last year, which is the good news. The bad news is that the starter they lost was LaRon Dendy, who averaged 15 and seven.


18.07 – The number of 3-pointers attempted per game, per team in 2011-12, which is evidence the extension of the 3-point line from 19 feet, 9 inches to 20-6 in 2008-09 has been an effective deterrent against the shot. Until that year, the number of 3’s attempted had risen or remained even every year except one since the 3-point line was instituted in 1986-87. It has gone down (slightly) every year since the line was moved back.

2 – Number of first-place votes in the AP poll for Kentucky, the least first-place votes the Wildcats have had in a poll since they had none in the poll that came out Nov. 21, 2011. Kentucky was No. 2 in that poll.


“This is the first team I’ve ever had that plays harder in practice than they did in the game.” —Ohio State coach Thad Matta, following the Buckeyes’ 12-point exhibition win over Walsh.

“Once I got switched to guard him and I heard everyone in the crowd laughing because he was so much smaller than me.” — Kentucky 7-foot forward Willie Cauley-Stein on guarding Northwood guard Tyrone Davis, who stands 5-2.


Sean Miller wins national coach of the year honors after leading Arizona to the Pac-12 championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  

Miller already has shown he can coach, but now he has a skilled 7-footer (Tarczewski), an experienced point guard who can score (Lyons) and the fruits of three excellent recruiting classes in a row to fill out a rotation. Plus, the Pac-12 is imminently winnable, particularly if Shabazz Muhammad isn’t cleared to play for UCLA.