Exceeding At Least One Analyst's Expectations
Marco Killingsworth
Marco Killingsworth
National Basketball Columnist
Posted Dec 13, 2005


Why have the North Carolina, Memphis, Indiana, Florida and Michigan basketball teams so far exceeded at least one writer's preseason expectations? That writer examines the reasons why.

A little more than a month into the college basketball season, which teams’ success (or, more specifically, degree of success) has surprised me the most?

 

I’ll touch on five of them, and why.

 

And, no, the performances of Ohio State, Illinois and Washington (the No.’s 5-7 teams in this week’s Scout.com Top 25), all unbeaten, or that of one-loss (at Wake Forest) Wisconsin, haven’t surprised me in the least.

 

Unlike other preseason prognostications, each of those four teams were ranked in the Scout.com preseason Top 25

 

None of the following were in that initial Top 25 – just another example of why rating teams before the start of a season isn’t a science at all, much less an “inexact since, at best”.

 

(records as of Dec. 12; with Scout.com Top 25 ranking)

 

*North Carolina (5-1, No. 17): The Tar Heels lost the top seven scorers, including four lottery selections in the NBA Draft, from the national championship team.

 

So why have the Tar Heels lost just once (68-64 to No. 6 Illinois), won at Kentucky (83-79) and captured their other four games by an average margin of 22 points?

 

Well, we should never lose sight of the fact that Roy Williams is one of the elite coaches of his – or any other – generation.

 

And it was expected that forward David Noel, the only returnee to see significant playing time a year ago, would have a solid senior season. And so far (14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game), he’s done just that. But the performances of juniors Reyshawn Terry (14.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg., and 2.5 assists per game) and Wes Miller (6.7 ppg) have been revelations.

 

Those who follow the national high school scene closely knew that Tyler Hansbrough (16.3 ppg and 7.5 rpg) was not only going to be the most productive freshman in the Atlantic Coast Conference but probably the leading candidate for National Freshman of the Year, as well.

 

But Marcus Ginyard (9.2 ppg), Bobby Frasor (7.0 ppg and 5.2 assists per game) and Danny Green (7.7 ppg and 3.3 rpg) have adapted to basketball life on the major college level even more rapidly than the most hard-core of Tar Heels’ boosters had a right to anticipate.

 

*Memphis (7-1, No. 9): The expectation level in Memphis has always been roof level under John Calipari but the Tigers advanced to the NCAA Tournament just twice during those five seasons.

 

Sophomore guard Darius Washington (15.4 ppg and 4.4 apg) and senior forward Rodney Carney (14.9 ppg and 4.1 rpg) are playing like the strong candidates for spots on the All-Conference USA team that they were expected to be.

 

But the Tigers have won at Alabama, handed UCLA its only loss and defeated Cincinnati on its home court. And they’re just an offensive rebound basket by Duke’s Shelden Williams (one in which Williams appears to be making contact with the ball while it’s on the rim, by the way) in Madison Square Garden away from maybe being unbeaten right now.

 

Why have they exceeded expectations (well, mine, at least)? It’s because Calipari is getting contributions from his group of freshmen that challenges those being produced by North Carolina’s first-year players.

 

Shawne Williams (16.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 2.8 apg), Chris Douglas-Roberts (11.3 ppg and 3.9 rpg), Antonio Anderson (9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg and 3.1 apg), Kareem Cooper (7.7 ppg and 3.3 rpg) and Robert Dozier (4.9 ppg and 6.4 rpg) have combined to score about 49 points per game.

 

*Indiana (5-2, No. 18): The Hoosiers’ hopes for a quick start to the season seemed to be dashed when forward D.J. White, the Big Ten Conference’s Freshman of the Year last season, suffered a broken bone in a foot during an early-November exhibition game.

 

But Coach Mike Davis’ team has a 26-point victory over Kentucky and a down-to-the-wire loss to Duke already safely etched onto its NCAA Tournament at-large bid resume, which figures to be polished even more before Big Ten Conference play since White is expected to return to action for the team’s final three non-conference games, beginning with the contest at Charlotte next Monday.

 

Why has there been so much productivity (86 points per game) minus White?

 

Well, Auburn transfer Marco Killingsworth (20.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg and 3.1 apg) has been every bit as affective – and then some – as he was advertised during his red-shirt season for the Hoosiers.

 

Guard Marshall Strickland had a disappointing junior season (when he shot .366 from the field) but is averaging 14.1 ppg and shooting .524 and seems poised to challenge for All-Big Ten honors.

 

Strickland and Killingsworth have also gotten plenty of scoring support from sophomore Robert Vaden (13.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 5.6 apg), and the perimeter is plenty deep with Roderick Wilmont (8.0 ppg and 4.2 rpg) and the likes of A.J. Ratliff (5.8 ppg).

 

And Australian freshman center Ben Allen (13.3 ppg over the past three games) gives Davis a big man who can step outside and nail 3’s (eight in those three games).

 

*Florida (9-0, No. 12): The Gators lost three players, David Lee, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson, who combined to average almost 46 points per game for last season’s 24-8 team.

 

Yet, the Gators are not only unbeaten but it seems likely that they could take a 13-0 record into their Southeastern Conference opener at the University of Georgia on Jan. 7.

 

Was it Al McGuire who once said “The best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores?”

 

Billy Donovan’s freshmen were pretty good a year ago and are really good now they are sophomores.

 

Second-year players Taurean Green, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah have combined to average 50 points per game, with frontcourt players Horford, Brewer and Noah teaming to grab nearly 19 rebounds per game.

 

And there aren’t many teams that “share” the ball with any more willingness – and success – than do the Gators. Donovan has five players who are averaging at least 2.0 assists per game.

 

*Michigan (7-0, No. 21): The Wolverines are one of the six Big Ten teams in the Scout.com Top 25 right now and one of the eight teams from the conference that would almost certainly be in the NCAA Tournament if it were to start next week.

 

They were 13-18 a year ago and only four of those wins came in conference.

 

Coach Tom Amaker’s team has played consistently well, both at home and on the road (beating Notre Dame in South Bend), and is pointing toward a game in Ann Arbor Saturday (against UCLA) that could provide it with another high-profile victory.

 

And three reasons why go by the names of Courtney Sims, Daniel Horton and Lester Abram.

 

Sims had a disappointing sophomore season but, after averaging 16.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 1.3 blocks per game, has to be rated among the elite big men in the conference.

 

Horton, a 6-3 guard who played only 13 games before being suspended for the remainder of his junior season for off-the-court reasons, is easily having the best season of his college career, averaging 15.1 ppg and 5.1 apg, while shooting .514 from the field and averaging just 2.0 turnovers per game.

 

And the Wolverines had the 6-6 Abram for three games last season before a shoulder injury kept him on the sidelines for what should have been his junior campaign.

 

He’s averaging 12.9 ppg and, like Horton, is shooting better (.527) than ever.

.

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 frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at www.FrankHoops.com



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