Four pleasant surprises in college basketball this season
A handful of the other best come-through performances around the country, contrasted with the expectations put on them by coaches and writers.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Even in the era of your incredibly shrinking newspaper, you're aware that Washington is putting together a notable basketball season, a team picked fifth by the league's media last fall with a chance to do four places better.
Today, we give you a handful of the other best come-through performances around the country, contrasted with the expectations put on them by coaches and writers.
Missouri: The Tigers look like the mother of achievers against the forecasts, this week climbing to a No. 10 national ranking. Big 12 coaches figured them for seventh, but at 22-4 and 9-2 in the league, they're in a much pricier neighborhood.
This is the program that dismissed Quin Snyder three years ago and named Mike Anderson of Alabama-Birmingham. It's a typical Anderson team — he's a scion of the Nolan Richardson tree — which means Mizzou scores almost 83 points a game (and has a 17-point average margin of victory), leads the Big 12 in assists and steals and has a gaudy 1.5 assist-turnover ratio.
This week, Anderson called 6-8 scoring leader DeMarre Carroll and 6-3 junior guard J.T. Tiller "the heart and soul of our basketball team."
Carroll began college at Vanderbilt, but left after the 2006 season to play for his uncle, Anderson. Carroll is from Birmingham, and he joined Anderson's son Michael, a Tigers reserve, in relocating to Mizzou.
"He and my son are the same age," said Anderson. "They'd grown up in camps with Nolan Richardson at Arkansas. DeMarre was a familiar sight on the UAB campus."
Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team recently lost by two to the Tigers, says they "have a chance to do some serious damage" in the NCAA tournament.
It was Anderson's UAB outfit that thwarted Lorenzo Romar's first NCAA team at Washington in a 2004 opening-round screamer, 102-100. The pace would probably be similar if they matched up again.
But be careful what you wish for. In early December, Missouri beat Cal by 27.
Florida State: The Seminoles were chosen 10th in the ACC, probably because they perennially seemed to sidle up to the NCAA bubble and then fall off it after beating an ACC power or two. They haven't been to the tournament since 1998.
It doesn't appear senior guard Toney Douglas, who trails only Tyler Hansbrough in ACC scoring at 20.3 a game, is going to let that happen this year. Entering Wednesday night, State (20-6) was one of five teams in a four-loss knot behind North Carolina, owing in large part to Douglas' transfer from Auburn to FSU a couple of years ago.
Illinois: Since their march to the 2005 NCAA final, the Illini have mostly been quiet, and they were positively unobtrusive Wednesday night in a 38-33 snore-fest of a loss to Penn State. But, picked sixth in the Big Ten, they're 21-6, getting it done with nobody in the league's top 15 in scoring. They're No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (56.4).
Clemson: It's not that getting picked fifth in the ACC is an affront. But Clemson is 13th-ranked, 21-4 and has a dangerous, deep-into-March sort of look to it. The athletic chops show up in its league leadership in blocked shots and steals, and 6-7, 240-pound junior Trevor Booker averages 15 points and 9.1 rebounds.
A few others surprising pleasantly: Penn State (19-8), picked seventh in the Big Ten; Kansas State (18-8), forecast eighth in the Big 12; Northern Iowa, chosen sixth but leading the Missouri Valley; Weber State, atop the Big Sky after a fifth-place prognostication; and of course, Cal, only a game in the loss column behind Washington after Pac-10 media saw the Bears in eighth.
It's not easy earning notice in the anonymity of the West Coast Conference — at least if you're not at Gonzaga — but Santa Clara's 6-11 center John Bryant is hard to miss.
Dick Davey, the former Santa Clara coach, saw Bryant as a high-schooler in nearby San Pablo and remembers a prospect with "great hands and a great touch."
And also big, prohibitively big. Davey recalls him weighing 355 when he entered school, 315 after his freshman year and 293 a year later.
Now Bryant averages 18 points a game and 13.8 rebounds.
He's had four 20-20 games this year, including one against Stanford. With Saint Mary's Patty Mills out and no obvious stickout from Gonzaga, Bryant might break an eight-year hold on Zags winning WCC player of the year.
"This kid has become a hell of a player," said Davey, now a Stanford assistant. "He may not get drafted, but I know one thing: He's going to play a lot of years for somebody."
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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