I don't need to look at the magnetic schedules on my refrigerator door to realize it's Week 3 of the college football season — my e-mail inbox is sending me all the signs I need.
It's flooded with questions from fans of the most tradition-rich basketball schools. I'm talking about the fans who are already counting down the days until Midnight Madness (it's 30 in case you were wondering).
Who's the best sophomore on the very young, but very talented roster at Kansas? Could Roy Williams start three freshmen at North Carolina? Will Kentucky's Randolph Morris and Joe Crawford live up to all the hype surrounding them before they arrived in Lexington?
We tackle all those questions and more in this week's mailbag.
I know that Brandon Rush is a great basketball
player, but could Mario Chalmers be better? He showed he could
score last year and he plays better defense. Also, what is the actual
skill level of Julian Wright. His averages didn't amaze from
high school, and he looks uncoordinated out on the floor. Sometimes
though he just makes his opponents look silly. — Jajuan from Lawrence, Kan.
Chalmers can and will be a better college player. I didn't feel that way when
the two originally arrived in Lawrence, but Chalmers showed last season
that he has a much better feel for the game. More importantly, he can
do a lot more with the ball in and out of his hands.
The versatile guard from Alaska beat defenders off the dribble,
something Rush is working on, and scored from just about every spot on
the court. Chalmers finished in double figures in 12 of KU's final 13
games last season. The sophomore, who is an underrated passer, also got
his teammates involved.
As you mentioned, Chalmers is a superb defender. He led the Big 12 in
steals per game (2.7), a rare achievement for a freshman in any
conference. He has extremely quick hands, which often create turnovers
and ignite fast breaks.
Rush does have more long-term potential because of his size and
extraordinary athleticism. The 6-1 Chalmers will be a tweener at the
next level unless he proves he can play point guard full time.
Wright probably has the biggest upside of the trio. He's more raw, but
he's very athletic, long and already possesses a solid mid-range
jumper. Expect a breakout year for the former five-star recruit. If he
can start putting the ball on the floor he'll emerge as a star.
I know that Brandan Wright and Tywon Lawson
will come in and start right away but, will Wayne Ellington
start at the two guard for UNC? Or will Roy Williams keep
Bobby Frasor or Wes Miller in the starting lineup? — Dionne from Millville, N.C.
Ellington will win the starting job. It might not happen by the season
opener, but he'll be one of the five Tar Heels on the court for tipoff
by the time the ACC schedule starts.
Being a starter at UNC, especially in the backcourt, won't make that
much of a difference in terms of minutes. Coach Williams knows depth
will be his biggest weapon, and he'll try to take advantage by using a
steady rotation of at least 10 players.
Frasor will be a strong part of that mix. Williams loves his basketball
IQ and unselfishness. Same goes for the versatile Danny Green,
who can play just about every role imaginable. Marcus Ginyard,
the team's top perimeter defender, will also see plenty of action.
Look for each of those guys, along with Ellington, to average around 20
minutes per game.
Do you think Randolph Morris and Joe
Crawford will ever become the superstars they were in high school? — Jimmy Smith from Louisville
That's asking for a little too much. Morris used to win one-on-one
battles with Dwight Howard, and Crawford was ranked ahead of players
like Marvin Williams (No. 2 pick in 2005 NBA draft) and Glen Davis
(Reigning SEC Player of the Year) back in their high school days.
Still, I expect improvement from both, particularly Morris. He scored
in double figures in 10 of his last 11 games last season and Tubby
Smith seems determined to run the offense through his big guy. Not
having to sit out the first 14 games (NCAA suspension) should allow him
to hit his stride a little sooner this season.
Oliver Purnell is starting to
make some strides in making Clemson's program more competitive in the
ACC. Do you see them winning an ACC championship under him or returning
to the level they were at under Rick Barnes? — William Matthews from Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Getting back to the glory days of Barnes is a stretch, but an NCAA
Tournament berth - which would be a huge step - is within their reach.
Veteran Vernon Hamilton (12.0 ppg) is one of the top point
guards in the league and shooting guard Cliff Hammonds and
power forward James Mays have the physical tools to emerge
among the league's top players.
Getting Mays, who missed the entire second half of last season with
academic problems, back should provide a huge lift. He's a major force
on the boards and can help replace some of the large inside presence
that Akin Akingbala created.
Purnell has the program moving in the right direction. However, this is
the pivotal season where they must come up with more than another NIT
trip. Otherwise, he'll be on the hot seat when the 2007-08 season rolls