The great freshman class has gotten major notice, as it should. But this is also a sensational senior class.
Creighton forward Doug McDermott (25.3 points through Monday) is closing on 2,500 points and has a realistic chance at 3,000, with 21 regular-season games and a minimum of two postseason games remaining. If he maintains his average, he is hitting 3,000.
Syracuse forward C. J. Fair (18.1 points) is the nation’s most understated really good player. He was the preseason ACC Player of the Year and has been playing right to that prediction.
Penn State point guard Tim Frazier (18.4 points, 7.6 assists) is second in the Big Ten in scoring and second nationally in assists after missing almost all of last season with an Achilles’ tear.
Ohio State point guard and defensive whiz Aaron Craft just broke the school record for assists. His unbeaten team leads the nation in defensive efficiency.
Louisville combo guard Russ Smith scored 140 points in six NCAA games last season as his team won the national championship. He attacks on offense and defense and never lets up for a single possession.
Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier (15.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists) has really improved his shooting (50 percent overall, 57.1 percent from the arc) and continues to make plays that win games.
Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson (24.7 points) and Devon Collier (22.7 points) are the leading scoring duo in America (47.4 points).
THE UNBEATEN WILDCATS
Now that Villanova’s offense is catching up with its sensational defense, the Wildcats are crushing everybody. ‘Nova is holding teams to just 0.9 points per possession (second nationally) while scoring 1.2 points per possession. That adds up to a lot of blowouts.
The 2005-06 Wildcats (Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Kyle Lowry were first-team all Big 5) won their City Series games by a combined 83 points, breaking the Big 5 victory margin record of 2003-04 Saint Joseph’s (64), which broke the record of 2002-03 SJU (57 points).
This ‘Nova team has beaten Penn by 23, SJU by 30 and La Salle by 21. Add the scores up and it will be 74 points going into the game at Temple on Feb. 1. The Owls (2-0 Big 5) play La Salle on Jan. 18 at the Palestra (ESPN GameDay). If Temple wins, we would have a rare 3-0 vs. 3-0 for the City Series championship.
THE DREXEL DEAL
Going into Wednesday night’s game at Saint Joseph’s, Drexel already has three true road wins, that neutral-court three-OT win against Alabama, a close road loss to UCLA and a close neutral-court loss to No. 1 Arizona. It is quite an amazing early-season resume.
If the Dragons can win Wednesday (no easy task) and/or at Southern Mississippi (9-1) on Jan. 3, they will have a lot of positive evidence for the NCAA Tournament committee as they begin CAA play on Jan. 8.
THE IVY STORY
Harvard (9-1) has been every bit as good as advertised. Princeton (8-1) has been a revelation.
The Tigers have made 95 threes to just 40 for their opponents, outscoring them by an amazing 165 points from the arc. Coach Mitch Henderson clearly knows his team’s strength. The Tigers have attempted 244 threes and 230 twos.
They have 136 assists on their 214 field goals (63.6 percent, ninth nationally), four true road wins and average more points (73) after nine games than in any season in 40 years. Their only loss, 70-67 at Butler on Nov. 16, came without injured senior point guard T.J. Bray, who leads the team in scoring and assists.
On other end of the Ivy, Cornell, just four seasons after its third consecutive Ivy championship and the 2010 Sweet 16, is 0-10.
THE BRAD STEVENS SAGA
Brad Stevens’ teams won 166 games in his six seasons at Butler. No coach has won more in his first six seasons. Given the recruiting budget, the league (Horizon), those two national championship game appearances and the reality that is 21st century college basketball, you could make a pretty strong case that it was one of the best coaching jobs in college basketball history.
That is exactly why Celtics general manager Danny Ainge went after Stevens. Don’t look now, but the Celtics, without Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Rajon Rondo, are 12-14, the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the East is terrible, but the C’s have done this with a four-game losing streak, a six-game losing streak and a roster that did not look capable of winning 20 games. The NBA season is endless so much can change, but coaching is coaching and Brad Stevens is one of the bright minds in the sport at any level.
AARIC MURRAY IN TOWN
Aaric Murray, who started his career at La Salle in 2009, is finishing it at Texas Southern and will be at the Liacouras Center Wednesday night to play Temple. He is putting up some pretty good numbers (22.9 points, 6.9 rebounds), but he is not shooting particularly well. He did have 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks against Wiley on Nov. 11. Not sure what is up with Wiley, but Murray has always been capable of big numbers.
Murray played two seasons at La Salle, transferred to West Virginia when it was clear there was a disconnect at 20th and Olney, sat out a season, played a season and then was not asked back at WVU. La Salle was 27-36 in Murray’s two seasons, 50-28 since he left. WVU was 13-19 in Murray’s lone season on the court. They are 7-4 so far this season. Texas Southern is 3-7.
SCORING IS UP
After a month last season, teams were averaging 68.38 points per game. With the new rules that don’t allow on-ball defenders to be nearly as physical, teams are averaging 73.81 points after the first month of this season. Fouls are up slightly. Turnovers are down 1.5 per game. Shooting percentages are up significantly. The game looks better on the court. We’ll see how it looks once conference play starts.
THIS AND THAT
—There are five active Hall of Fame coaches. Three — Coach K (Duke), Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) — are in the ACC and will be joined by a fourth next season when Louisville and Rick Pitino enter the league. The fifth? Larry Brown, of course, who played for Dean Smith and has SMU at 8-2 as the Mustangs get set to begin play in the American.
—By the way, when Maryland leaves for the Big Ten and Louisville takes the Terps’ place, the ACC will have six original ACC members and seven former Big East members, along with Georgia Tech and Florida State for an unwieldy 15 (14 for football, no Notre Dame). Think there might be a few schools that would like to be No. 16 and get a piece of all that football cash and a chance to play in what is a great basketball conference again? What about SMU and a monopoly on those active H/F coaches? If the Atlantic Coast Conference can be in South Bend, Ind., why not Dallas?
—Colorado coach Tad Boyle is still under the radar nationally, but he shouldn’t be. His team has won 20 games for three straight seasons, the first time that has been done in school history. Colorado is 10-1, with wins over Harvard and Kansas.
—You thought conference realignment was hard to follow in the east? The WAC has had 33 different members since 1996.
—Matt Langel’s Colgate team leads the country with 11.8 threes per game.
—The Pacific-12, which looks very strong this season, is 94-23 in non-conference games.