December 3, 2008

Mailbag: How high can Syracuse rise?

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Syracuse already is showing why it was a popular sleeper pick in the Big East.

The Orange, who weren't one of the seven Big East teams in the preseason top 25, pulled off victories over two top-25 teams in the CBE Classic in Kansas City, beating Florida 89-83 and Kansas 89-81 in overtime. That has many wondering if the Orange, who narrowly missed out on the past two NCAA tournaments, finally are done with their underachieving ways.

Should we expect the Orange to get back to the NCAA tournament? Could they be a real threat to make a postseason run this time around? We delve into those questions and more in this week's mailbag.

Orange outlook

David from New York : Assuming Syracuse can make the NCAA tournament this season, how far do you see them going? Could they challenge for a Big East title?

Syracuse had to overcome a 13-point deficit at home on Friday to beat Virginia, which lost to Liberty. But I think that was an aberration and a byproduct of fatigue. Victories over Florida and Kansas came on back-to-back days.

The Orange definitely have improved. Jonny Flynn has really taken charge of the team and is playing better than any point guard in a league that is loaded with great point guards. Flynn is one of six Big East point guards in the power rankings.

The return of injured guards Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins has boosted the backcourt depth the biggest problem last season. They are combining to average 22.7 points and 7.0 assists per game.

Big man Arinze Onuaku also has become more reliable and deserves to be mentioned as one of the nation's top centers.

I don't think Syracuse is on the level of Connecticut, Louisville or Pittsburgh, but I don't think Jim Boeheim and Co. have to worry about getting into the NCAA tournament, either. The Orange look like a real threat to get to the Sweet 16, possibly even further.

High praise

Andy from Atlanta : Do you think Ty Lawson of North Carolina could be an All-America?

Absolutely. Lawson is one of the best players in the nation and plays for what is unquestionably the best team in the nation. The Tar Heels are off to a 7-0 start and have an average margin of victory of 29.7 points.

Lawson has put up the kind of numbers that demand All-America consideration. He is dishing out 6.7 assists per game and has a remarkable 5.2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He's also averaging 16.0 points, which ranks second on the team, and shooting 54 percent.

Those numbers are going to drop some once guard Marcus Ginyard returns from a foot injury the Tar Heels are hoping he can return sometime this month and Tyler Hansbrough gets fully healthy. But as long as Lawson stays healthy, I fully expect him to be an All-America. The Tar Heels are going to remain in the national title hunt, and Lawson will be a big reason.

Under the radar

Shane from Tolland, Conn. : How come nobody is talking about Connecticut's Kemba Walker? Memphis' Tyreke Evans, UCLA's Jrue Holiday and USC's Demar DeRozan get all the publicity, but Walker has played better than all of them.

All the attention that Evans, Holiday and DeRozan are receiving has to do with preseason hype. They've been targeted as the next wave of one-and-dones and fans are eager to see if they can live up to the hype, especially considering how past one-and-dones (Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, etc.) have dominated in recent years.

You are right about Walker outplaying those guys so far. That's why Walker is ranked No. 3 among freshmen in Power Rankings while Evans sits at No. 7, Holiday No. 10 and DeRozan has dropped out of the rankings altogether.

If Walker keeps playing well, it's only a matter of time before he garners more national attention. He plays for one of the nation's top teams in the nation's best conference.

More than just Curry?

Brian from Emmaus, Pa. : So Davidson won by 30 points and Stephen Curry did not have a single point and took only three shots. Do you think it's possible for the Wildcats to do what they did last season if every team doubles Curry? Do they have depth besides Curry?

You won't see Davidson's opponents double-team Curry, at least not to the extent Loyola (Md.) did. The Greyhounds put two players on Curry even when he didn't have the ball. It's clear that strategy doesn't work.

I had serious doubts about Curry's supporting cast before the season started. The Wildcats lost three of their top four scorers, including the nation's top assist man, Jason Richards. But you can't argue with a 5-1 start, especially when the only loss came by four points at Oklahoma.

Big man Andrew Lovedale has really stepped up his game. The Nigerian is averaging a double-double 14.8 points and 10.7 rebounds.

Curry also has improved and is flourishing in his new role as a point guard. He scored 44 points at Oklahoma and has had at least 29 in three other games. It will take Curry having games like that for Davidson to make another Elite Eight run again, but he is more than capable.

Blame game

Brent from Cincinnati : As a Kentucky fan, should I be worried about the status of our program or should I realize Billy Gillispie has had only one full recruiting class and we are stuck with Tubby's MAC-level talent of recruits?

I'm tired of hearing Kentucky fans blame their problems on Tubby Smith. If it wasn't for "Tubby's MAC-level recruits," Gillispie and Kentucky would be in far bigger trouble.

The roster includes only five players the previous staff signed; one of those, guard Jodie Meeks, has been the Wildcats' best player and perhaps the best player in the SEC. Meeks is averaging 25.5 points through the first six games and the Wildcats needed nearly every one of his 37 points in their 74-72 win over Kansas State.

I believe Kentucky is in real trouble largely because of Gillispie's inability to find a point guard. Freshman DeAndre Liggins, who already has butted heads with the coach, doesn't appear ready, and junior college transfer Kevin Galloway has barely played.

With point guard position so unstable, I think the best Kentucky can hope for is to sneak into the NCAA tournament again and that's with the SEC headed for a down season.

Where is he?

Sal from parts unknown : What happened to Teeng Akol at Oklahoma State?

Akol wasn't officially ruled eligible by the NCAA until Monday, but the Cowboys don't plan on redshirting him. He is making the trip with the team to Seattle for the matchup with Washington on Thursday, which is part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for He can be reached at Got a question for Andrew's Mailbag? Click here to drop him a note.

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