Whilst you were spending your Wednesday evening figuring out the best route to the various Thanksgiving meals you had available to you, I was holed up in a hotel room somewhere west of Madison, Wisconsin, watching the final of the Maui Tournament. And what I saw should impact the College Basketball rankings as much as just about anything could.
UConn went into that tournament as a glamour name, considering that they were a Final Four team in 2009, but totally missed the tournament this past March. They lost Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, and AJ Price. One of the few meaningful holdovers from that 2009 Final Four team is Kemba Walker (who didn't start many games for that team, but was a very impactful freshman).
He's started this year with a very clear statement of purpose. I say this as someone who has, at best, a grudging respect for UConn. Or, more accurately, a bit of hatred. I'm a Georgetown guy--have been since I was 6 years old, and I have just now, for example, come around on the idea that Ray Allen isn't the worst person who ever lived.
So an unranked UConn team that goes to Maui and does well does not necessarily make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but I think what they did in Maui is important, and should impact your March Madness picks right now (don't get me wrong--UConn won't be unranked come Monday. But the Big East season is brutal, and their fortunes will probably rise and fall accordingly). But here's what you need to know--if the team UConn is playing can't contain junior guard Kemba Walker, that team is in a lot of trouble.
UConn slid by a good Wichita State team. How good? Both UConn and Wichita State were unranked, but Wichita State had twice as many total votes for Top 25 inclusion last week. Walker scored 31 points, on 8-16 shooting, and 14-15 FT. Highlights here. In their next game, the Huskie Pups knocked off the #2 team in the country, Michigan State. Walker scored 30 on 10-19 FG shooting, and 6-7 from the line. In that Wednesday final, the Huskies absolutely destroyed a young, highly praised team in Kentucky (#8 in the country before they met UConn). Kemba Walker scored 29, and would have scored 30 again, had the game not been over before the fourth quarter. I'm not exaggerating there--the final score was 84-67, and it was never all that close.
Kemba Walker makes sophomore big man Alex Oriakhi more dangerous--and let's be clear--Oriakhi would be dangerous regardless. He's played two games against Top 10 teams, and in those two games, he's averaged 16.5 points and 14 rebounds.
So that's the deal for the Big East--a totally unranked team, in a conference full of ranked teams (Syracuse, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Villanova were all in the Top 25 last week, and figure to still be) has now served notice that a skilled, super fast upperclassman point guard who can shoot can take an unranked team and make them ranked and real quick like. Keep an eye on the fortunes of UConn, and regardless of what happens in the Big East, remember that they did what they did this past week.