The Duke Blue Devils struggled for
a while before finally dispensing with Boston University in their season opener
on Nov. 14.
And Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s
team had plenty of rocky moments before knocking off Drexel and Memphis in
Madison Square Garden, Indiana in Bloomington and Virginia Tech (my goodness!)
in an Atlantic Coast Conference opener in Durham Sunday night.
All of which, coupled with the
impressive starts by Connecticut, Texas and Villanova, has made a lot of folks
look upon the Blue Devils’ No. 1 ranking as strictly being the product of the
near-consensus support the team had for the top spot in the summer and
Saturday afternoon in The
Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., Duke will have the ideal
opportunity to justify its rating – in as much, anyway, as early-December
ratings really mean anything in the overall scheme of things in the
The Blue Devils and Texas (third in
the Scout.com Top 25 but second in the Associated Press version of the ratings)
hook up in a matchup that we could get a rematch of in Indianapolis on the first
weekend of April.
The television broadcast could be
worthy of copying from your TiVo hard drive to a DVD for repeating viewings,
Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts will certainly hold their own under the backboards with the
Longhorns’ LaMarcus Aldridge and Brad Buckman or P.J. Tucker.
But the Blue Devils will need
another strong front-court presence to match up with either Buckman or Tucker
(when they’re not assigned to Williams or McRoberts) in order to keep Texas from
a potential big rebounding edge.
This is just a hunch but look for
Krzyzewski to give 6-foot-10 freshman Eric Boateng his first extended
action of the season Saturday.
*UCLA is 0-2 (losing to Kentucky
and Boston College) in John R. Wooden Classic games under Coach Ben Howland and the going isn’t going to get any easier in Anaheim, Calif., for
the Bruins in the 12th edition of the event Saturday.
The Bruins are 6-1 (the only loss
coming to Memphis in Madison Square Garden) but haven’t played particularly
well, in large part because of an extraordinary number of injuries – and
sophomore forward Josh Shipp is still sidelined after undergoing hip
surgery in September.
But even the presence of Shipp
wouldn’t do much with Howland’s biggest concern about his team’s game with
unbeaten Nevada Saturday: How are the Bruins going to guard 6-10 junior Nick Fazekas, who is playing like someone who will rate first- or second-team
All-America honors come March?
It would be one thing if Coach
Mark Fox just had Fazekas run to the low post on each possession. But
Fazekas does nearly as much damage from the perimeter for the Wolf Pack as he
does in the low post.
In the first game of the
double-header, Washington – fresh off its 99-95 victory over Gonzaga in Seattle
Sunday night – takes on the University of New Mexico Lobos.
The Huskies, playing their first
game outside of Seattle, are 7-0 and could be 14-0 (and 3-0 in the Pacific 10
Conference) when they are next in Southern California again for Jan. 12 and 14
games with USC and UCLA, respectively.
*Illinois (which faces the
University of Oregon Ducks in Portland Saturday) has gotten off to a
somewhat-surprising 9-0 start.
But it’s only surprising in that
senior Dee Brown, a consensus preseason first-team All-America and last
season’s Big Ten Player of the Year, hasn’t gotten off to the kind of start most
figured the team would have needed to be unbeaten at this point.
Brown is shooting .339 on the
field, including .279 on 3’s, after finishing at .499 and .434 last season. And
he’s got the poorest assist/turnover ratio (4.8/3.7) of his Illinois
So why is Bruce Weber’s team
unbeaten and responsible for the only defeats inflicted upon Wichita State,
Rutgers, North Carolina and Xavier?
Well, the Illini are defending
(opponents are shooting .412) and rebounding (7.8 more per game than the
opposition) as well as ever. And Brown, despite numbers that no doubt will
improve as the season progresses, is displaying solid leadership and making
“plays” when his team needs them the most.
Here are two others: James Augustine (the other returning starter from the Big Ten championship and
national runner-up 2003-04 season) is having a tremendous senior season,
shooting .625 from the field and averaging 15.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per
game. I’m be surprised if he isn’t a late first-round selection in the NBA Draft
And guard Jamar Smith, who
came into the season with next to zero “freshmen to watch” hype, is putting on
jump-shooting displays every time he steps onto the floor. He is shooting .556
on 3’s and is 14 of 20 beyond the arc over the past four games.
The Big Ten has been as good as any
conference in the country so far. And get fired up for this Jan. 5 conference
opener: Michigan State at Illinois.
An April inductee into the USBWA
Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s National Basketball Expert
and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be
reached at email@example.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at