Top 10 Topics
1. North Carolina is about to lose some first-place poll votes.
The top 10 will sort itself out a little more after today's strong slate of games. The Tar Heels should improve to 11-0 by beating UC-Santa Barbara, but they have played only one game against any of the 48 teams currently receiving votes in the Associated Press poll. (That was against 21st-ranked BYU.)
As a result, the winner of today's Georgetown-Memphis battle probably will siphon some votes away from North Carolina. Texas should also get consideration if the Longhorns win tonight at No. 9 Michigan State since Texas already has the best road victory so far, at UCLA.
2. It seemed like a strange fit when . . .
Kentucky hired Billy Gillespie away from Texas A&M. Gillespie can coach, but his specialty had been bringing programs quickly up from the ashes in out-of-the-way places, at A&M and Texas El-Paso. Kentucky couldn't be more different. The Wildcats always have a certain threshold of talent but had stopped contending for the Final Four under Tubby Smith.
Gillespie is following his basic procedure, breaking UK down before the program can rise. At least he's got the first part down. The Wildcats, on a four-game losing streak for the first time since 1989-90, are 4-5 going into today's game against Tennessee Tech, and the four wins are noteworthy only for the obscurity of the opponents: Central Arkansas, Liberty, Texas Southern and Stony Brook. So far, UK hasn't been able to rebound or defend.
The bigger issue with Gillespie is that he now works in college basketball's largest fishbowl, where every one of his moves - on and off the court - will be debated for his entire tenure.
3. Dick Vitale's earned the right to be quiet . . .
Vitale had surgery Tuesday in Boston to treat lesions on his left vocal cord. The 68-year-old ESPN analyst, who had never missed an assignment in 28 years at the cable channel, said in a statement that he will be out at least until February. Suggestion to Dicky V: Take the season off if you need it. The seat will still be there for you.
4. Where in the world is . . .
Former Camden High and Louisville star Nate Johnson is in Jordan. Johnson is the star player for Zain, where his teammates include Philly native Rasheim Wright, who played quarterback and basketball at Martin Luther King High and received Jordanian citizenship earlier this year, according to Eurobasket.com. Wright, who played his college ball at Gloucester County College and at Division II District of Columbia, played in Lebanon last season.
5. Expatriate of the week.
Duke fell in overtime, 65-64, to Pittsburgh on Thursday in one of the top early games of the season. But Episcopal Academy graduate Gerald Henderson was Duke's go-to guy down the stretch. The sophomore is Duke's top scorer, averaging 13.4 points in just 23.5 minutes a game. Against Pitt, Duke scored on four straight late possessions to force OT, and Henderson was front and center for all four. He sliced through Pitt's defense twice, drove and dished off for a crucial three by Kyle Singler, then hit a contested turnaround jumper in the last minute. Henderson also had a shot at the game-winner, but his shot against double coverage in the lane fell off the rim.
One reason Henderson averages only 23.5 minutes is that his defense hasn't caught up to his offense. Against Pitt, Mike Krzyzewski substituted Henderson out for key defensive stands. But he was in there at the other end and had 17 points in 28 minutes.
6. Pitt earned its place in the top 10 . . .
By beating Duke on a three-pointer by Levance Fields with six seconds left in overtime, and freshman power forward DeJuan Blair showed he is as good as advertised. Blair grabbed 20 rebounds to go with his 15 points. For the season, Blair averages 10.1 rebounds in 23.1 minutes. By comparison, Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley leads Division I with 13.9 rebounds a game. But he's averaging 31.5 minutes, so the two are pretty even with their board work, both grabbing a rebound every 2.3 minutes.
As tough as Pitt looked in coming back to win, the Panthers had to deal with a likely career-ending knee injury to senior guard Mike Cook. The Friends' Central graduate was in excruciating pain after he went down in overtime. An MRI exam taken yesterday will determine the extent of the injury, but all signs pointed to a torn ligament.
7. Another guard from Philadelphia . . .
Antonio "Scoop" Jardine, from Neumann-Goretti High, will be asked to take a bigger role at Syracuse after junior guard Eric Devendorf, Syracuse's second-leading scorer, suffered a torn ligament and is out for the season.
8. A big question going into the season . . .
At Penn, it was who would emerge as a second consistent offensive option to go with veteran Brian Grandieri. Freshman forward Tyler Bernardini is answering that, averaging 13.7 points a game after scoring 23 points in Thursday's 67-64 victory over Elon.
9. An alert reader . . .
caught a sleepy mistake in last week's top 10, when I stupidly awarded the Atlantic Ten more victories than I should have in games against the ACC. I saw a Rhode Island loss to Boston College and a URI win over Providence and a Providence win over Boston College and somehow turned those results into a win by the A-10 over the ACC. The overall point remains the same - the A-10 is in much better position this season to grab NCAA at-large bids - but the facts didn't add up.
10. The real top 10.
1. North Carolina. 2; Memphis; 3. Texas; 4. Kansas; 5. UCLA; 6. Georgetown; 7. Pittsburgh; 8. Duke; 9. Washington State; 10. Michigan State.