Five NCAA teams that got my attention this past weekend for various reasons:
1. NORTH CAROLINA (2-2)
Those who thought the Tar Heels were overrated — cracking the AP preseason Top 10 following an NIT finish — were proven right after UNC lost twice at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic, which happened to be their first encounter with major-conference competition.
Freshman superstar Harrison Barnes had a rough weekend, averaging 8.5 points on 16 percent shooting (4-of-24) from the field against Minnesota and Vanderbilt. Barnes is a supremely talented 6-7 wing who lets the offense come to him, but UNC may need its best player to show more of a take-charge personality if they’re going to challenge for an ACC title.
The Tar Heels as a team turned the ball over 38 times in the two losses, and hit only 7-of-29 shots from three-point range; signs that they need freshman PG Kendall Marshall to settle into the college game ASAP, and that they miss Will Graves, last year’s top outside shooter who was dismissed by Roy Williams in October.
Fortunately, this isn’t college football. Two losses aren’t going to kill UNC’s season before it begins. And while the Dukies will be laughing, at least the Tar Heels have played somebody and tested themselves early in the season.
2. GEORGETOWN (5-0)
The Hoyas ran through the comp at the Charleston Classic, capped by a 17-point win over N.C. State in the title game.
Senior guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman led an experienced squad that executed like a junior version of the San Antonio Spurs, picking defenses apart with backdoor cuts, solid three-point shooting (44.3%) and unwavering patience. G’town will put that poise to the test on Nov. 30, when they’ll face a Missouri. The Tigers’ vaunted full-court press forced a school-record 34 turnovers against North Florida over the weekend.
3. SETON HALL (2-2)
First-year coach Kevin Willard, fruit from the Rick Pitino tree, was all the rage at Big East Media Day and is expected to return the Pirates to the heights of the P.J. Carlesimo heyday. But that will be a little tougher now that his best player, senior guard Jeremy Hazell, is out 4-6 weeks with a broken wrist.
Hazell, who averaged 20.4 points last season, put 24 ppg and hit 64 percent of his threes through Seton Hall’s first three games before he got hurt. The Pirates lost to Xavier in their first game without their star.
4. ILLINOIS (4-1)
The Illini bounced back from a late-night overtime loss to Texas on the 2K Sports Classic to beat a tough Maryland team in the early game at Madison Square Garden the next day.
Coach Bruce Weber has one of the best (and yet underrated) backcourts in the country: Senior Demetri McCamey (17.2 ppg, 7.4 apg) is a Deron Williams clone and maybe the best point guard in the country; sophomore Brandon Paul is a stat-stuffer who posted 12 points, 3 steals, 3 assists and 3 rebounds against Maryland; and D.J. Richardson is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Not to mention freshman wing Jereme Richmond, who is playing small forward but handles the ball well enough to take some playmaking responsibility away from McCamey and give defenses a different look.
5. CALIFORNIA (2-0)
After losing their top four scorers from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, the Bears are expected to struggle offensively. But in the process of averaging 84.5 points per game in wins over Cal State-Northridge and New Mexico, the team may have found their go-to guys in junior big man Harper Kamp (18.5 ppg) and junior guard Jorge Gutierrez (19.0 ppg). Freshman PG Gary Franklin, the replacement for Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle, hit four threes and scored 16 against New Mexico. Cal-Berkeley will see how good their revamped offense is when they face Temple’s stingy defense on Thanksgiving.
5 GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK
* Duke vs. Marquette — Monday, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
* Kansas State vs. Gonzaga — Monday, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
* UCLA vs. Villanova — Wednesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
* DePaul vs. Oklahoma State — Thursday, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
* Arizona at Kansas — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)