With two games under the belt, it seems like a good time to take a closer look at the basketball team. I was able to attend the first game, but missed the second because of work. (Note: it only appears I missed an ass kicking. Those are fun, though).
For the preview, I’m going to break the team down into three categories: the sure things, the unknowns, and the X-factor.
The Sure Things:
Darris Nichols: Although the senior point guard hasn’t done a whole lot thus far, I’m not concerned -- he’s been through it all. Once conference play starts, I expect Nichols to begin asserting himself as the "man." Also, while he didn’t get mentioned at all in the preseason pub, look for Nichols to be there in the end. He’s that good.
Alex Ruoff: OK, let me first say, I’ve never been a Ruoff fan. For a supposed "shooter," he’s very inconsistent. And for a glue guy, he would make quite a few mistakes that bothered me. With that said, I was pretty impressed in the first game. It looks like he bulked up some this off season and so far, he's looked like a different player. Time will tell, but he should be a solid player going forward.
Coach Bob Huggins: Here’s what he know for sure: the guy wins a boat load of games. He gets his players to play hard and when they don’t, he let’s them know it. To top it all off, he’s a wildly entertaining guy. I can’t wait for the games to pick up at the Coliseum -- it will be fun.
Da’Sean Butler: Butler looks like the same player to me as last year. If he were a half step quicker, he could be a great player. Instead, he’s a really, really good one and their ain’t nothing wrong with that. I see he and Nichols leading the team in scoring this year.
Jamie Smalligan: As the lone big body on the team, a lot rests on his shoulders. He HAS to avoid foul trouble this year...all the while maintaining a presence underneath. Not an easy task. However, he’s looked pretty good in the first game. BUT, what happens when he goes up against Hibbert and Caracter? Oh good lord...let’s just move on.
Wellington Smith: I like Wellington’s game. A lot, actually. Very smooth. With getting limited playing time last year, it will be interesting to see how Smith does in his new sixth man role. Just a hunch, but I think he will be fine.
Joe Mazzulla: Like Ruoff, I was not a fan of his game. He can’t really shoot and only plays well when he’s playing at top speed. Just one catch, he seemed to make a lot of foolish decisions even then. I dunno, maybe he can be a spark off the bench, especially if Huggins gets them out in transition more.
Jacob Green: I had to include him on this list, because he will be getting minutes. However, it’s a pretty blank slate here. Which kinda resembles Jacob’s game, which is never a good thing.
John Flowers and Will Thomas: The two freshmen. Each look like they have some talent and could play some this year, especially Flowers.
Joe Alexander (Jumpman): I think by this point we’ve all pretty much made up our mind about Alexander. He’s an unreal athlete, but not much of a basketball player. And in the first game, that pretty much still held true. However, since the team lacks height and size, the team will need Alexander to do a whole lot. Here’s the problem: when things aren't going well for Alexander, he seemed to lose focus and would become frustrated. Last year, I blamed Beilein and how he handled Alexander. Now the ball is in Huggins court -- can he make it happen? I’m not sure, but I hope so. One thing working in Huggins favor is he has coached a lot of talented players (whereas Beilein really had not. Those are the facts). If this team is going to be good and by that I mean go to the NCAA’s, they will need Alexander. Let’s hope he’s ready to answer the bell.
Alright, I just babbled a whole bunch, so let’s get to the heart of the matter. What do I see this team doing? Well, like the first game, it will be filled with some up and down moments. The highs will give us a glimpse of what Huggins can, while the lows will have people pinning for Beilien back -- except me. When it’s all said and done, I think this team will get into the Big Dance, but lose in the first round.
From there, it will be only the beginning. Because after that, the sky is the limit.