There are plenty of interesting stories developing across college hoops-land. Some intriguing plots are thickening, and many of those are going unnoticed. With that in mind, here are more headlines you won't see in your morning paper anytime soon...
UNC Misses Brandan Wright Badly
Let's face it, we don't know much about the Tar Heels yet. Their schedule has been weak, and with the exception of the season opener against Davidson and last night's struggle to put away a hot-shooting Nicholls State squad, they've handled it with ease. Therefore, any stats you look at right now can't be taken too seriously.
However, I do think the lackluster numbers associated with power forward Deon Thompson are meaningful. Thompson is the Tar Heels' replacement for Brandan Wright, who left for the NBA after one season in Chapel Hill. During that season Wright provided steady scoring and solid defense, especially in the help defense department where Tyler Hansbrough lacks. Thompson has provided less of both so far. His offensive rating (93 before last night's game against Nicholls State) is significantly worse than his fellow starters despite the fact that he uses his fair share of his team's possessions. To put this in perspective, no team that got a top three seed in the NCAA Tournament last season had a starter with an offensive rating under 100. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Thompson's game is that he is rarely getting to the line. On a team which so far has gotten more scoring from inside the arc that all but seven others, Thompson has been struggling to perform against some weak competition.
Southern Illinois Won't Win the Valley
OK, so obviously I don't know that the Salukis won't win the MVC, but given a choice between picking the pre-season favorite and the field, you'd be wise to take the field. After SIU's 56-51 loss to Saint Louis on Saturday and a 57-41 loss to Western Michigan on Tuesday, it's apparent that this team is not nearly the equal of last season's Sweet Sixteen model. The Salukis have always walked a fine line in the tempo-free world. They play at such a slow pace that even our friends using points-per-game for statistical support find that they have been a great defensive team since their rise to prominence under Matt Painter in the early part of this decade. However, if their defense ever slipped--and it appears it's doing so this season--few would notice, because their snail-like pace will still result in low-scoring games. The last two seasons, Chris Lowery's club finished in the top ten nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. This season they find themselves outside the top 50. Their offense is still worse than their defense, but this is a team who won with its defense last season; the offense just coasted while the D made the key stops it needed. It appears that the Salukis don't have that luxury this season, and that makes their conference title hopes tenuous.
DeJuan Blair Is the Best Freshman in America
He's probably not, but a slim possibility exists that this headline could be written soon. At this point, it appears he's no worse than third best in this historic freshman class, behind UCLA's Kevin Love and Kansas State's Michael Beasley. Unlike Beasley, Pittsburgh's Blair has the advantage of having four other offensive weapons surrounding him most of the time, so the Blair's scoring is probably not the most impressive part of his game. However, the 6'7" Blair has been an outstanding rebounder on both ends of the court, can block shots well for his size, and currently owns an amazing steal rate--seventh in the entire country. Rate stats do Blair more justice that the per-game stats because as usual, Pitt is playing significantly slower than the average D-I team and Blair, with his 250 pounds, is having trouble staying on the floor, averaging barely more than 20 minutes per game. Considering all aspects of his game Blair deserves to be mentioned as one of the best freshmen in the nation, but he'll get a reality check tonight against Duke. A nice performance against the Blue Devils will no doubt get him that attention.
Bob Huggins Has a Lot in Common With John Beilein
West Virginia is still something of a mystery. As with Carolina, their schedule hasn't provided many tests. However, the early returns are encouraging. What's evident though, is that contrary to conventional wisdom, Bob Huggins' brand of basketball is not diametrically opposed to that of former WVU coach John Beilein. Both require their offenses to take good care of the basketball and both extend their defenses well beyond the three-point line and force a lot turnovers. There are plenty of things the two coaches do differently, but they both want to win the turnover battle in nearly every game. Currently, WVU has the 10th-best offensive turnover percentage in the nation and is 12th-best at forcing turnovers. Last season, they ranked 10th and 39th, respectively, in those categories.
There are still a lot of unknowns about the Mountaineers. It's not far-fetched to think they can compete for the Big East title nor is it crazy to think they'll end up in the middle of the conference. However, the smooth transition from Beilein to Huggins probably shouldn't be considered all that amazing giving the distinct similarities in the two coaching styles.
There was a No-Hitter Last Friday
Last Friday, Iowa lost to Drake 56-51 in large part because they never got to the free throw line. This is what I like to call the hoops version of a no-hitter. (My rationale: no shooters get "hit.") However, it's rarer than the baseball version, having occurred just 11 times in the 22,483 games played since the beginning of the 2003-04 season (through Monday). That's about once in every 2,044 games. What made Iowa's feat unusual was that they were the home team, the first time that's happened in my five years of tracking this sort of thing. It was also the second no-hitter within a week, as Albany failed to get to the line in a 58-54 loss at Saint Bonaventure on December 14.
Ken Pomeroy is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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