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November 17, 2006

Mailbag: No need for panic at Kansas

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Just about every Kansas basketball fan woke up Thursday morning with the same thought: what happened?

The No. 3 Jayhawks' shocking 78-71 loss to Oral Roberts at home Wednesday night created all sorts of questions. How could this mega-talented squad that generated so much preseason hype lose to a small school full of players that the Jayhawks would never consider recruiting? Is Kansas that overrated, or was this a one-game fluke?

We examine all of that, along with inquiries about Louisville's Big East title hopes and Virginia Tech's NCAA Tournament hopes in this week's mailbag:

Andrew's Mailbag
How concerned should Jayhawks fans be about the loss to Oral Roberts last night? Is this a huge concern, or just a small bump in the road before the team jells?
Kyle from Kansas City, Kan.

Definitely the latter. The Jayhawks happened to run into a underrated team that got hot. Very hot.

Oral Roberts' Caleb Green, one of the best players in the mid-major ranks, was expected to have a big game. However, he far exceeded expectations. Green looked like the best player on the court. He scored 20 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, handed out eight assists and made five steals.

Green's teammate Marchello Vealy, who had never scored more than 12 points in a game, suddenly couldn't miss a 3-pointer. Vealy went 7-for-8 beyond the arc, and many of his attempts were from NBA range.

Kansas certainly didn't play well. However, I think it's important to remember this is still a very young team the roster doesn't include one senior. Three sophomores start, and they are learning to play with two newcomers - talented freshmen Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur.

The Jayhawks are going to steadily improve, they are going to have better team chemistry and they are going to capture a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Let's not forget how dominating they looked four days earlier in a season-opening 91-57 win over Northern Arizona, which isn't a cupcake either.

There are signs that Arthur - who possesses a great blend of athleticism and tremendous offensive skills - could be a special player. He came off the bench to score 12 points in his debut, then racked up a team-high 22 against Oral Roberts.

If Kansas fans should be concerned about anything it should be their lack of depth in the frontcourt. Center Sasha Kaun will probably be sidelined for at least another week with a knee injury. With C.J. Giles being kicked off the team last week, Julian Wright and Arthur are the only players left who can create any kind of inside presence.

Those guys must stay healthy and out of foul trouble in the big games for the Jayhawks to make a national title run.

Do you think Louisville has any chance of winning the Big East this year?
Timothy from Louisville, Ken.

I'm in the minority on this one. However, I think the Cardinals have a legitimate shot.

Pittsburgh is the favorite. and rightfully so. They bring back experience at just about every position. That said, we picked the Cardinals to finish second in our Big East preview.

Louisville is a deeper, more talented team than last season because of the addition of four top-100 prospects.

Freshman center Derrick Caracter, a former five-star prospect, will make a big impact immediately. Caracter has lost more than 30 pounds since stepping on campus this summer, getting down to 275. He is more agile and mobile than ever. That's scary considering he was a pretty tough player to stop when he weighed more than 300 pounds.

Also, expect breakthrough seasons from junior forward Juan Palacios and sophomore wing Terrence Williams. Palacios, who was a starter on the 2005 Final Four squad, played most of last season with an injured ankle. Palacios appears to be back to 100 percent. Williams is one of the most athletic players in the Big East and possesses all the physical tools to be a star.

Veterans like guard Brandon Jenkins and center David Padgett give the Cards some experience as well.

The team has a lot of diverse weapons, which are made more dangerous when they are under the instruction of a future Hall-of-Fame coach like Rick Pitino. After missing the NCAA Tournament last season, Pitino and Co. should be hungry to return to the Big Dance.

How will the Hokies do this year in the ACC? I am expecting an NCAA tourney bid at the least.
John from Richmond, Va.

Curbing those expectations would be a wise move.

The Hokies have the personnel to be a sleeper in the ACC, but more than likely they'll be on the NCAA Tournament bubble when the conference tournament begins.

Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon are great defenders, and they form one of the league's top backcourts. Center Coleman Collins is one of the nation's most underrated big men.

However, there is little to fear beyond that trio. The Hokies lack depth, particularly inside. Nigel Munson is their point guard of the future, but he'll be brought along slowly. Lewis Witcher probably isn't ready to contribute yet.

Not many ACC teams feature a core as strong as Dowdell, Gordon and Collins, but most have a better and deeper bench. The Hokies will be worn down and have their lack of firepower exposed during the final minutes of tight games.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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