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January 25, 2009
Around the Rim
Toughness in Lubbock

by John Perrotto

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Pat Knight, just a little more than halfway through his first full season as a head coach, thinks his Texas Tech team lacks one ingredient: Toughness.

Yes, the apple truly doesn't fall very far from the tree.

Pat Knight is the son of Bobby Knight, who was the winningest coach in college basketball history when he abruptly resigned last February at Texas Tech. Pat Knight was promoted from top assistant to head coach. The Red Raiders are 11-8 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12 Conference this season.

"I liked the personality of this team when the season started, but our kids have all been getting into a shell and getting quiet as the season has gone on," Knight said. "Kids want to be buddies too much and you can't be like that in this game. If you get punched in the mouth, punch the guy back right in the mouth. If you get blocked out, knock the guy on his [behind].

"There is nothing wrong with being buddies with your teammates but when you cross that line, even for practice, you're fighting for something. It's a war. I'm not the only one who feels that way. Talk to a lot of coaches and they'll tell you the same thing. It's been a problem for us for the past three years.

"I made it a point to address this deficiency in our latest recruiting class. The problem is those kids won't be here until next fall. We need some toughness now."

Knight thought back to the 2005 NCAA tournament when Texas Tech trailed at halftime to Gonzaga in the second round. However, the Red Raiders' Ronald Ross and DeVaughn Giles got into a locker room scuffle and the Red Raiders proceeded to rally for a 71-69 victory.

"We were in there getting ready for the second half and we heard this huge commotion," Knight said. "Back in the shower area, Ross was grabbing Giles, who was our 6-foot-10 center, by the jersey and neck and screaming 'you're not going to ruin my senior season, by God.' Giles went out and had something like 10 points and five rebounds in the second half."

Texas Tech hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since. The Red Raiders lost to West Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen following the win over Gonzaga then were beaten by Boston College in the first round in 2007.

Knight believes Texas Tech will not get back to the NCAAs until the players begin taking ownership of the program.

"The best thing about what happened in the locker room in that Gonzaga game is we didn't have to say anything or do anything as coaches," Knight said. "There is only so much a coach can do anyway because the players get tired of hearing us. They tune us out after a while because they get tired of hearing the same voice. That's why you need an extension of the coach in the locker room."

While more media friendly, much like his father, Pat Knight likes to give brutally honest answers to question. So when asked who should emerge as Texas Tech's leader, he did not hesitate to name Mike Singletary, a 6'6", 230-pound sophomore center. Singletary has a 103.2 offensive rating and, as a sign of toughness, is 147th in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes with 5.7.

"He not only has the personality but he has the body and he's one of our main players," Knight said. "It has to be one of your best players who takes over that role of being a leader. It can't be somebody who's not playing well or the rest of the guys on the team are going to be saying, 'well, what have you done lately?'"

Somewhat surprisingly, though, when Knight was asked what team in the Big 12 he would like to model his Red Raiders after he answered Texas and pointed to the Longhorns using a smaller and quicker lineup this season, which would seemingly be the antithesis of a tough-guy team.

"I like them playing smaller basketball," Knight said. "They haven't lost anything from a rebounding standpoint and they play so hard on defense. They have better flow, can run the floor, get quicker buckets in transition and do a lot more switching on defense. I really like their style."

The Illini Bounce Back

A year after falling to 16-19 during a dissension-riddled season, Illinois has reemerged as a strong contender in the Big Ten. The Fighting Illini are 17-3 overall and 5-2 in the conference.

Illinois has used a pair of tandems to reestablish itself as a top-25 team, one inside and another outside.

The duo of senior Chester Frazier and sophomore Demetri McCarney are doing a fine job of handling point guard duties. McCarney has a 104.3 offensive rating and is 71st in the nation in assist rate (32.0). Frazier's offensive rating is 106.3 and he is 99th in assist rate (30.7).

"Demetri is a scoring point guard and Chester is a delivering and passing point guard, who also does other stuff like pick up the opponents' best offensive player on defense and lead us in the hard-play stats like diving on the floor," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "They really complement each other well. When they're both clicking, we're a pretty good team. It's a nice combination for us."

A pair of sophomore big men, 6'10", 210-pound forward Mike Davis and 7'1", 235-pound center Mike Tisdale, have become contributors in their second collegiate seasons. Davis has a 111.0 offensive rating and is 66th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage (22.7) and Tisdale has a 106.9 offensive rating and is 146th in block percentage (5.7).

"They're still young and we probably should have redshirted them last season but we didn't have that luxury," Weber said. "The minutes they got last year did help them for this year. Like most skinny young big guys, there are some games where they're pretty good and others where they disappear. The big key for us is to make sure they don't both disappear in the same game. Like the new breed of big men, they will go outside to take a shot but they've also be giving up some points in the paint, which we were lacking last season."

The Fighting Illini did live up to their name in a 63-57 loss at Michigan State last Saturday, though they bickered at various times. Davis got a stern lecture from Weber after throwing a towel with 3:45 remaining.

"You don't embarrass yourself and your program by coming to the bench and throwing your towel," Weber said. "When it doesn't go perfect, that's part of life. You can't blame other people. You've got to be a man. That's my message: Do what you're supposed to do."

The message got through loud and clear as Illinois bounced back to beat Ohio State 67-49 on Tuesday night.

Duke Climbs the Charts

In a season in which North Carolina was expected to stay in the top spot wire-to-wire, Duke looks to be in line to become the fourth team, including the third from the Atlantic Coast Conference, to take over as No. 1 in the Associated Press poll.

Wake Forest's run at No. 1 almost certainly ended with a 78-71 loss to Virginia Tech on Wednesday night and the No. 2 Blue Devils rallied to beat North Carolina State 73-56 on Tuesday night. Duke (18-1, 5-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) hammered Maryland on Saturday.

Junior guard Gerald Henderson has been leading the way for Duke recently as he has scored at least 19 points in each of the last four games. His 119.4 offensive rating is 120th in the nation.

"He has been a good player throughout his career but he is an elite level now," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

"His play is giving the whole team a big lift," Duke forward Kyle Singler said of Henderson. "When someone plays with that much assertiveness and confidence it kind of feeds down to the whole team."

Meanwhile, the fact that Duke has a chance to be the third ACC team to be ranked No. 1--a status they have already achieved in the Pomeroy Ratings and The List, which constitutes Basketball Prospectus' top 25--leads Krzyzewski to believe it is a stronger league than the Big East, which has been universally hailed as college basketball's toughest loop.

"There's something wrong in how our league is perceived," Krzyzewski said. "It just seems like people are always talking about the Big East. I don't know if it's whether [ESPN] wants a big audience for Big Monday. I think they have six or seven teams that haven't won a game in their conference. That wouldn't be the case in our league."

At the time of Krzyzewski's comments, Georgia Tech was the only winless team in the ACC while DePaul, Rutgers and Seton Hall had yet to win a Big East game.

Old Spice Classic 2009

Marquette and Xavier will headline the field for next season's Old Spice Classic, which will again be held on Thanksgiving weekend at the Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The rest of the field will include Alabama, Baylor, Creighton, Florida State, Iona and Michigan.

Games to Watch

Five games to watch in the next week according to the Pomeroy Ratings. All times Eastern:

No. 11 UCLA (14-3) at No. 19 Washington (13-4), Saturday Jan. 24, 11 p.m., FSN
No. 4 Pittsburgh (17-1) at No. 12 West Virginia (13-4), Sunday Jan. 25, 4 p.m., ESPN Regional
No. 1 Duke (17-1) at No. 13 Wake Forest (16-1), Wednesday Jan. 28, 7 p.m., ESPN
No. 4 Pittsburgh (17-1) at No. 27 Villanova (14-4), Wednesday Jan. 28, 7 p.m., ESPNU
No. 22 California (15-3) at No. 11 UCLA (14-3), Thursday Jan. 29, 10:30 p.m., FSN

John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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