Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Top 25; UConn Begins its Texas Two-Step

Almost no change in my Top 25 ballot this week. Louisville and Villanova drop a bit after losing to ranked opponents on the road. Otherwise, the same 25 teams for me this week. UConn actually bumps up a spot, replacing Villanova at No. 12.

1. Arizona
2. Oklahoma State
3. Syracuse
4. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
6. Wisconsin
7. Duke
8. Louisville
9. Oregon
10. Wichita State
11. Iowa State
12. Connecticut
13. Florida
14. Kentucky
15. Villanova
16. Kansas
17. Gonzaga
18. Baylor
19. Memphis
20. San Diego State
21. North Carolina
22. Massachusetts
23. George Washington
24. Illinois
25. Toledo

And now, we embark upon the American Athletic Conference. "The American," as they're calling it. I'll be on a plane Monday at 6 a.m. down to Houston, and we'll be meeting with Kevin Ollie and some players at the team hotel tomorrow around 6:30 p.m. local time. The Huskies face Houston on New Year's Eve at 9 p.m. (8 p.m local) at Hofheinz Pavilion.

The Cougars are 8-5, with losses to Stanford, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, San Jose State and Louisiana (in OT). They haven't played since Dec. 21, a two-point win over crosstown rival Rice. They really haven't beaten anyone of any significance.

Houston is led by TaShawn Thomas, unquestionably one of the best players in the conference. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound junior forward is third in the AAC in scoring (17.4 ppg) and second in rebounding (9.3). He's shooting a whopping 64.8 percent from the floor (sixth in the nation), and is just the kind of big, physical forward that the Huskies could have real trouble stopping.

After Houston, UConn continues its Texas two-step in Dallas against SMU on Saturday. UConn (like me) won't fly home after the Houston game but will remain in Texas for the week. Classes are, after all, out of session.

The Mustangs are 10-2 and could be one of the surprise teams in the conference. Their losses came at Arkansas and against Virginia, and they have wins over Texas A&M and at Wyoming. And, of course, they are coached by Larry Brown.

The Huskies will do well to come out of this Texas tour 2-0 in league play. There would be no shame in a split: any road game is tough to win in college basketball, and while neither of these teams are powerhouses, both have enough weapons to beat UConn.

Don't know about you, but I'm kind of looking forward to this new league. New teams, new cities. No, it's not a great league, though it does have three Top 25 teams in Louisville, UConn and Memphis. A few other decent squads, as well. But it's time to move on. The days of trips to the Carrier Dome and the Joyce Center and the Pete, or visits from Georgetown, Villanova, even PC, are over, and a new -- very different -- adventure is about to unfold.

I shed a tear as the final buzzer sounded on UConn's Big East career last March 9 at Gampel against Providence. Not because I grew up a UConn fan (I didn't) or that I'm even a fan of any particular team right now (I'm not), but just because such a beautiful thing, the Big East, was gone forever, blown up for ... well, we all know the reasons.

But it's over, and it's time to move on. UConn begins a new phase in Texas this week, and we need to get on board with it, because we're never going back to those glorious days of the Big East.

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