I consider it part of my mission to report the stories others have missed. Here are five headlines, based on the past week's events, that you won't see anywhere else.
Arizona's D Is Much Improved
Arizona's defense has been rather porous in recent years, but its performance so far this season should give Cats fans reason for hope. The team's D is almost surely better than last season, and it was downright respectable against Kansas. The Jayhawks' offensive efficiency of 98.8 was worse than it was in all but one of Kansas' performance in Lawrence last season. Arizona's defense wasn't the reason they lost that game. Some naturally criticized the Wildcat defense after its performance at home against Virginia on November 17. True, Sean Singletary and Co. abused Arizona to the tune of a 113.4 offensive efficiency. However, Singletary is going to break down the opposition often this season. That doesn't mean that Arizona gets a free pass for that game, but it's becoming clear that this will be a decidedly more balanced team than in seasons past. Yes, Chase Budinger is still too often statuesque, but as a team, Arizona is no longer a complete pushover on the defensive end.
Indiana Is The New Arizona
One thing that slipped by most fans last season was that Kelvin Sampson put together a pretty good offense in Bloomington. In fact, the Hoosiers' talents skewed more towards the offense than the defense. When you consider the talent Sampson had to work with--essentially one marginal NBA prospect in D.J. White--he deserved a lot more acclaim for the offense he put on the floor. Sampson came from Oklahoma with a reputation as being a defensive mastermind. It was a reputation that wasn't totally undeserved, but it was exaggerated. His final team in Norman was a woeful defensive club that had a very good offense. Over the past week, the Hoosiers have suffered back-to-back defensive meltdowns of sorts against Xavier and Georgia Tech. The lane is increasingly becoming a comfortable place for an opposing offense. Yet once again, it appears that their offense will be very good. At least, you'd have to expect it would be with Eric Gordon now in town. However, the early returns indicate that the defense may not be good enough to help an amazing offense become a national title contender.
Some November Games Mean Nothing
One of the criticisms of the college game is that contests in November and December mean very little. While I feel that this particular claim is overstated, there will be no more irrelevant game than Mercer's 98-81 win over USC in both team's season opener. USC has since gone undefeated, winning six in a row, including a 25-point victory over Southern Illinois, the Salukis' worst loss in 232 games. Mercer has since gone winless, losing five in a row, most recently to Georgia Southern by double digits. No doubt, even without their second-best player, Daniel Hackett, USC should have run over Mercer on that night. Anyone who suited up for Mercer that night will tell the story for the rest of their lives that they beat O.J. Mayo in his first college game. The truth is that USC lost to a mid-level team from one of the worst conferences in America...and it will mean absolutely nothing on Selection Sunday.
Some November Games Mean a Lot
The team with a lot on the line in November and December has suddenly become the Miami RedHawks. They pulled off a nifty win against Xavier in their opener when Michael Bramos was fouled attempting a 23-foot bomb with six seconds left. Since then, Miami has picked up wins against Mississippi State and South Alabama to go with a four-point loss to fully-staffed USC. Miami then built a 19-point first half lead against Dayton on Wednesday. A date at Louisville on Saturday was looking very intriguing, and still is to some extent even though that huge lead evaporated and Miami eventually fell by a point to a late 3-pointer by the Flyers. That Louisville game may be a must-win now if Miami wants to keep its name out there as a mid-major darling. The RedHawks also have games at Illinois and Kansas in December, so there are other opportunities to revive the buzz. Even if they win one of those three road tests, that last-second shot on Wednesday might prove to be very costly in mid-March.
Wofford Should Never Play Toccoa Falls
Of all the injustices in college hoops, perhaps there is no greater one than the ongoing series between Wofford against Toccoa Falls, a D-II team in the NCCAA (note the extra C). On Monday the two hooked up, with Wofford winning by a score of 85-35. This wasn't the most lopsided game a D-I team has played this season. However, on the boards it was. Wofford outrebounded Toccoa Falls 53 to 7. That's right: Toccoa Falls had a total of seven rebounds for the entire game. The one-sided nature of the game shouldn't have been a surprise. On November 21, 2005, the last time these two played, Wofford won by a score of 81-15 in a game in which Toccoa Falls made five of its 50 shot attempts and its leading scorer had three points.
Ken Pomeroy is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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