Five Games I’m Psyched To See This Week
Pittsburgh at Louisville, Monday, 7 p.m.
It’s hard to imagine the Cardinals losing four in a row. Then again, it was hard to imagine them losing three in a row. Can somebody put an APB out on Peyton Siva?
Kentucky at Ole Miss, Tuesday, 9 p.m.
This an enormous game for both teams. Kentucky needs a win to bolster — or should I say, start making — its case for an at-large bid. Ole Miss needs to beat a decent team to prove its bona fides.
Dayton at Xavier, Wednesday, 9 p.m.
Full disclosure: I will be calling this game as a color analyst on the CBS Sports Network, but I’d be psyched to watch it even if I weren’t going to be there. This is one of the great rivalries in all of college basketball, but Dayton has not won at Xavier since 1981.
Michigan at Indiana, Saturday, 9 p.m.
This is the game that college basketball fans circled on their calendars back in October. Assembly Hall will be rocking for what could be a Final Four preview. I can’t wait to watch Victor Oladipo try to guard Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Miami at N.C. State, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Given the way Duke has been playing without Ryan Kelly, these are arguably the two best teams in the ACC.
A Few Minutes With … Kansas Coach Bill Self
SI.com: Are you surprised by how good you guys are?
Bill Self: I’m not surprised at how good we are, but I am surprised about our record. I don’t think we’re as good as our record indicates. I would just say we picked the right games not to be at our best. We’ve had some individuals that have played really well, but I don’t think we’ve played nearly as well as a team as we played in December, to be frank.
SI.com: So it’s fair to say that you have a lot of room to get better?
Self: Oh, yeah. We can get better perimeter play and score the ball more consistently. And I think our bench is getting ready to get good. They’re just young. (Perry) Ellis, (Jamari) Traylor and (Naadir) Tharpe have the potential to make a difference. I actually think we can be better offensively when we go to our bench.
SI.com: How would you describe Ben McLemore right now?
Self: Efficient. Getting more aggressive. Still not as aggressive as he should be. Picks his spots probably a little too much. But he’s good. He’s the most gifted athlete I’ve ever been around.
SI.com: Wow. That’s high praise.
Self: He’s just so poised. Lets the game come to him. He doesn’t run, he floats. He doesn’t squat to jump. He’s quick twitch, and he wants to be good so bad. I’ve never been around anybody who can do the things he can do. He loves to shoot it, loves to be athletic. Most guys are too lazy to love to be athletic, but he tries to jump as high as he can on every practice jump shot. He’s pretty immature when you talk about the amount of big-time ball he’s played. He didn’t play big-time AAU basketball. He didn’t do a lot of those things that other kids did, so he’s a little behind in that respect. But he’s certainly not behind from a talent standpoint.
SI.com: You have four seniors on your team, including three fifth-year seniors. That’s very unusual these days. Was that by design?
Self: No, it’s not by design. Kids came in here when they were young. Jeff Withey used to be our sixth-best post guy behind guys like Thomas Robinson, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Mario Little. Elijah Johnson played behind Sherron Collins and Tyrell Reed and Brady Morningstar. Travis [Releford] played behind Xavier Henry and Morningstar and Tyrell and whoever else we’ve had here. They’re just finally getting their opportunities to show that they’ve done the work and they’ve gotten a lot better.
SI.com: I want you to be honest here, not modest. What makes you a great coach? And don’t say having great players.
Self: I don’t know, except we haven’t altered from what we believe is most important. We try to get easy baskets, and we try not to give ‘em up. That’s been our whole philosophy ever since I started. That goes for transition, angles on the post, loose ball/rebound type plays. I’d say our biggest strength is we probably get ‘em to play hard and unselfishly.
SI.com: Which coach has influenced you the most?
Self: I would think Larry [Brown] from an X’s and O’s standpoint, but the thing I learned from Coach [Eddie] Sutton is that a lot of it isn’t that you beat somebody. A lot of it is that you don’t beat yourself. I do think there are a lot more games lost than won.
SI.com: Do you let your players on Twitter?
Self: Right now, they’re all on it, I think. I don’t know how much they use it. They’ve all been given the okay to use it as long as we don’t read anything they wouldn’t want their mother or grandmother to read, or something that would embarrass the program. As long as they do that, they have the freedom to stay on it.
SI.com: What about you? Are you on Twitter?
Self: I tweet maybe one time every four months.
SI.com: So how do you connect to the world?
Self: I’m connected primarily though my iPhone. I used to read all the papers and now I don’t have to. I read ‘em all on my phone, or sometimes in my office. But I don’t follow anybody on Twitter. I don’t do any of that stuff. If anybody’s saying anything about anything, I’d have no clue what it is. I’ve never been on Facebook, period. I wouldn’t know how to do Facebook.
SI.com: Your son, Tyler, is a freshman walk-on on your team. Have you enjoyed having him?
Self: I’ve probably enjoyed this year as much as any year, and having him around every day has a lot of do with that. It’s definitely got my batteries charged.
SI.com: Do you get on him?
Self: Oh yeah, and I enjoy doing it. I think he does, too. He loves being a part of it.
SI.com: But isn’t it awkward for him being the coach’s son at times? What if he’s in the locker room and the other guys start complaining about you?
Self: That’s not awkward for him at all. He’d be the one to say, “Guys, don’t look at me. I’ve had to live with the man for 18 years. I understand how you feel, trust me.” I don’t think he’s in there saying, “You can’t talk that way about my dad.”
This Week’s AP Ballot
(Last week’s rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Michigan (1)
2. Kansas (5)
3. Florida (7)
4. Indiana (10)
5. Michigan State (15)
6. Syracuse (2)
7. Butler (8)
8. Gonzaga (9)
9. Oregon (16)
10. Arizona (6)
11. Miami (NR)
12. Louisville (4)
13. Duke (3)
14. UCLA (25)
15. Wichita State (18)
16. Creighton (12)
17. Ohio State (22)
18. Wisconsin (21)
19. N.C. State (19)
20. Ole Miss (24)
21. Kansas State (13)
22. New Mexico (14)
23. UNLV (17)
24. San Diego State (23)
25. Georgetown (NR)
Dropped out: Minnesota (11), VCU (20)
There was a lot of blood spilled last week, so nearly every team on my ballot has a recent flaw. That includes the teams near the top. You’ll notice the teams ranked Nos. 5, 6, and 7 all lost last week. So you can expect even more subjectivity in my explanations than usual, and therefore, even more inconsistencies. Deal with it.
Yes, Michigan State fell at Indiana, but if you watched the game, you saw two very evenly-matched teams. Also, keep in mind that the Spartans won last week at Wisconsin, who knocked off Indiana in Bloomington last week.
Yes, Syracuse lost at Villanova, but it was a road game in overtime, and Villanova is pretty good. (See their win at home against Louisville.) And yes, Butler also lost last week at La Salle, but the Bulldogs did not have Rotnei Clarke in that game. On Saturday, Clarke came back for the Temple game, and Butler won. So I gave ‘em a mulligan.
I suspect that I probably dropped Duke farther than many of my fellow voters. Remember, I did not rank Duke No. 1 last week. I chose Michigan instead, which looks pretty smart in hindsight. It’s not easy deciding where to rank Duke with respect to Ryan Kelly. If we knew he was coming back soon, I’d go easy on them. If we knew he wasn’t coming back, I’d drop them even more. But since it appears he is coming back but not real soon, I leaned more towards being tough on them. Also, that wasn’t just a loss at Miami, that was a pounding. At least when teams like Louisville, Syracuse and Minnesota lost, they were relatively close games.
I also gave UCLA a mulligan for its loss at Arizona State. There are very few teams that could go into the McKale Center and dominate Arizona the way the Bruins did, and even fewer who could pull that off and win another tough road game two days later. That task was even more difficult because UCLA had to play the Sun Devils without forward Travis Wear (concussion).
Speaking of injuries, at some point Oregon will pay a price for being without freshman guard Dominic Artis (foot). It looks like he could be out for a while, but I’m not going to ding the Ducks until they lose.
N.C. State was another tricky one. The Wolfpack lost at Wake Forest, and then they walloped a mediocre North Carolina team at home. So that was a wash.
If I had to guess, I’d probably say that Minnesota is one of the 25 best teams in the country, but the Golden Gophers sure aren’t playing like it. When things are going south, and you can’t win at Northwestern, you have problems. It was also an easy call to drop VCU out of the rankings after the Rams lost twice last week at Richmond and home to La Salle. You may think I’m crazy, but VCU is not the lock for an at-large bid that many people assume. As of now, this team’s best win was on a neutral court over Memphis in November
I had a lot of really good choices for my final spot. Cincinnati didn’t play last week, so at the very least, they didn’t lose to anyone. But if I was going to rank the Bearcats, it would make more sense to rank Marquette, whom Cincy needed overtime to beat at home last week. La Salle and Villanova made strong cases, but it was hard to rank teams on the basis of one good week. I was also glad to hear that Laurence Bowers is getting close to coming back for Missouri, but until I see him on the court — and effective — I’m not giving the Tigers my vote.