PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Vernon Carey, Duke
We may only be three weeks into college basketball season, but at this point I think that it is safe to say that Carey is better than any of us expected him to be. Through three games, he is averaging 18.3 points, 9.2 boards and 1.8 blocks in just 24 minutes. In two games last week in Madison Square Garden, Carey averaged 25.5 points, 11.0 boards and 2.5 blocks as the Blue Devils knocked off Cal and Georgetown en route to the 2K Classic title.
When Carey is playing this well, it changes what Duke is able to do offensively. He’s an absolute monster on the block, and he proved that as he carried the Blue Devils in the first half against a Georgetown team that looked like they were ready to run Duke out of New York City. We were questioning just how Duke was going to be able to score this season, and it turns out, running things through Carey is probably the answer.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears
It’s really hard not to be impressed with what Baylor was able to do this week in Myrtle Beach, and it’s not simply who they were able to beat. Other than Villanova, Baylor didn’t really beat anyone of note. What made their run so impressive was how they did it, but we’ll get into that in a minute.
1. UCONN IS BACK, BABY
This week felt like a turning point for the UConn program under Dan Hurley.
And not just because they got James GOATKnight, I mean Bouknight, back from his early season suspension.
The Huskies bounced back from an ugly home loss to St. Joseph’s by beating then-No. 15 Florida at home. Then, in a letdown spot against a solid Buffalo team, they put together a fairly easy win before taking Xavier to double-overtime and smacking around Miami like they were still mad at Jim Larranaga for 2006. Bouknight was awesome. Josh Carlton more than held his own. Akok Akok blocked everything. Tyler Polley and Brendan Adams hit big shots.
The guy that didn’t play well was Alterique Gilbert, but even that mattered. Hurley ripped into criticism of him in a press conference, putting himself on the line for a player that, to be frank, missed a couple of big shots in the Xavier loss.
Hurley told me in October that the most difficult part of this job has been teaching these kids, who lost so much with the previous coaching regime, to expect and demand winning. He had to change the culture, and the first signs of change appeared this weekend.
2. FLORIDA IS BACK, TOO
It’s time for a victory lap.
Last week, I said that Florida’s issue was simple: They weren’t making shots. They are a team that is built to play small-ball, and when you are built to play small-ball and you shoot 24 percent from three, you’re probably going to do things like go 2-2.
But when you’re built for small-ball and shoot better than 40 percent from three – like Florida did in Charleston – you do things like win the Charleston Classic.
The Gators play eight players. Four are freshmen. Three are sophomores. One is a graduate transfer. We should have known that it was going to take a little bit of time for them to gel heading into the season. The mistake wasn’t predicting they have a ceiling of a top ten team, the mistake was thinking they’d be at that ceiling from Day 1.
3. GEORGETOWN IS PROBABLY BACK
I do not think the Hoyas are back just yet.
But I do think they have the chance to be a top 25 team this season.
As I wrote on Friday night from Madison Square Garden, Georgetown has all the pieces you need for a team that will be dangerous. They have a talented playmaker at the point in James Akinjo. They have a hoss on the block in Omer Yurtseven. And they have what seems like 20 tough, aggressive, athletic wings that allow the Hoyas to create all kinds of problems defensively.
There are kinks that still need to be worked out – specifically, Yurtseven’s fouling issues and Akinjo’s ball-dominance – but for the most part, the Hoyas have the horses to make some noise when it matters. They haven’t hit their ceiling yet, but it is within reach.
4. VILLANOVA IS DEFINITELY BACK BECAUSE COLLIN GILLISPIE HAS ARRIVED
The most important player on Villanova’s roster is Collin Gillispie.
To understand why, you need to understand what Villanova is trying to do offensively. If you listened to Fran Fraschilla and Rich Hollenberg on the broadcast of the loss to Baylor, you heard them refer to Villanova’s “concepts” at least a half-dozen times. Villanova’s offensive is not built on set plays but instead built on a way to play, and while figuring out how to do it is sometimes tricky, what they are doing is really not all that complicated.
Villanona wants to create closeout situations. They want to get a touch in the paint, draw a second defender, kick the ball out and put the defense into rotation, creating a closeout. They then move the ball until they can get a clean drive or an open look. When Villanova struggles is when they are unable to get the penetration they need to draw that first help defender.
In Myrtle Beach, Gillispie was that guy. He was awesome, there’s really no other way to put it. The 27 points and six assists that he had against Baylor is the performance that people took notice of, but in the three games in South Carolina he averaged 20.3 points and 7.3 assists.
I’m not expecting him to average 20 and seven the rest of the season, but if he can be a guy that puts up 15 points and five assists, shoots 40 percent from three and initiates their offense the way he did this week, the Wildcats’ ceiling is as one of the best teams in the country.
5. BAYLOR NEVER LEFT, BUT THEY’RE THE SECOND BEST TEAM IN THE BIG 12
Heading into the season, it was fair to assume that Baylor was going to be a team built on their ability to defend, their ability to get on the glass and the fact that they had one of the biggest and best frontlines in college basketball. That’s what happens when you lose your starting guards from a team that finished second nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
But that’s not who this team is in reality.
As surprising as this may sound, in a win over Villanova in the Myrtle Beach Invitational title game, it was the Bears that had the best guards on the floor.
Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague sat out last season and they have more than lived up to expectations. Jared Butler took over in the final minutes of the Villanova game and has been the best player for Baylor this season; he’s averaging 19.3 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 52.5 percent from three. As a team, Baylor is shooting 40.6 percent from three.
They’re still really good on the glass and their defense is able to force turnovers, but the truth is that the strength of this roster is their backcourt, which has proven themselves to be one of the best in the country this season.