Some thoughts from a week spent in Los Angeles, Lawrence, Ames, College Park, Clemson and Chapel Hill:
Things are very tough at Kansas. First, the Jayhawks lost starting forward Archie Marshall to a possible career-ending knee injury. Then, last Tuesday, they lost starting center Marvin Branch to academic ineligibility. With them gone, Danny Manning is back to being double- and triple-teamed every time he so much as looks at the basketball.
"We're back where we were a year ago," Coach Larry Brown said after his team lost at Iowa State. "We either have to use freshmen or go with a small lineup and get killed on the boards. It's been a very discouraging season."
Kansas began the season with Final Four hopes. Now, it will be hard-pressed to stay afloat in the Big Eight, which may have as much depth as any league in the country this season. Look for five teams -- Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas (the Jayhawks are still 12-4) -- to make the NCAA tournament.
The bright spot for Brown has been Coolidge graduate Milton Newton, who has stepped into Marshall's spot and responded with a career-high 21 points against Missouri and a career-high 12 rebounds against Iowa State. "Milt's waited four years for a chance," Brown said. "He's never complained, threatened to transfer or whined. He's waited for his chance. I'm glad to see him take advantage of it."
If you really love college basketball, one place you have to go is Ames, Iowa. Yes, Ames. To start with, Iowa State has a very good team, led by one of the most underrated players in the nation -- Jeff Grayer -- and the most improved scorer in the country -- Lafester Rhodes. They also have a terrific place to play, Hilton Coliseum.
But the best part of any Iowa State game is Coach Johnny Orr's entrance. As he walks through the tunnel to the court, the band strikes up the theme from "The Tonight Show," everyone yells, "Heeeeere's Johnny!" and he walks onto the floor to thunderous cheers. Maybe someday the Cyclones can get Ed McMahon to fly in to introduce Orr. Now that would be spectacular.
It's nice to see the fans back in Cole Field House. No, it isn't the same without Lefty, but with the players he left behind and the addition of Brian Williams and Rudy Archer, Maryland has as deep and talented a team as any in the ACC.
It's also nice to see Keith Gatlin back and contributing. Gatlin made some mistakes in the last 18 months and was bounced around by a lot of people. For a while it looked as if his college career was over. Now, he's playing well where once it did not seem he was welcome.
North Carolina Coach Dean Smith spent a lot of time the past week telling people there is nothing to the rumors that J.R. Reid might pass up his last two years of college. Smith said he would advise any of his players who could be chosen among the first three draft picks to turn pro early.
Well, that would fit Reid. Ask any pro scout if Reid would go in the top three. "He would be either first or second, depending on the team," said Portland scout Brad Greenberg. "Danny Manning might go ahead of him, but that's it. If Dean's serious about that top three bit, then the kid is gone."
Smith probably isn't serious. Saturday night he backed even further away from his earlier comment, saying that in the past he had given the "go if you're in the top three" advice to juniors like James Worthy and Michael Jordan. Reid is a sophomore.
Smith won't quell the stories by continuing to let agents in his locker room. Thursday in College Park, ProServ's David Falk was a welcome guest in the Tar Heels' locker room. Guess who he made sure to say hello to?
The gap between the top five teams in the ACC and the bottom three is as wide as it has been since the early 1970s. Clemson, Virginia and Wake Forest will be hard-pressed to beat the top five at all this season, although the Tigers do have one of the best young talents in the conference in 6-foot-10 sophomore Elden Campbell.
Campbell has one problem, according to Coach Cliff Ellis: he doesn't like to eat. "All he wants is cereal," Ellis said. "I keep telling him that he has a chance to be a great player if he'll build up his body but that he can't do it just eating cereal. He needs some bulk on him and he isn't going to get it this way."
As for Virginia, the Cavaliers have serious problems. Not only are they 8-8 and getting blown out by good teams -- Saturday's 25-point loss to North Carolina equaled the worst ACC loss in Terry Holland's 14 seasons as coach -- but their two best players, John Johnson and Mel Kennedy, are seniors.
Finally: After the Georgetown-Pittsburgh debacle 12 days ago, Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt responded to those who called for him to take leaguewide action against brawling by saying the league just plays hard-nosed basketball and that the next fight probably wouldn't be for two years.
Not quite. Saturday, it was Georgetown and Boston College in another fight.The Upset Pick
The Upset Pick could have predicted the two greatest upsets in sports history, North Carolina over Maryland and the Redskins over the Vikings, but opted for Seton Hall over St. John's. The result: a one-point loss. The Pick is 4-7 and will try to recover this week by taking two road teams: Wichita State over Kansas State, and Iowa over Illinois.