Men's hoops: Double dribbles

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 19, 2008

Georgetown center Roy Hibbert contemplated a jump to the NBA after last season's Final Four run, opting to return for his senior year to develop his game.

So how has that worked for him?

Last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. His numbers remain solid but are down a bit, to 12.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks entering the No. 5-ranked Hoyas' game today against Notre Dame.

"I've said this over and over again, a lot of people pick up the stat sheet and make an evaluation, and you can't do that based on how we play here and I don't think you can do that in general, " Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. "One thing that's happening this year - and we knew it would happen, it's not a surprise - he's getting a lot more attention this year; there's always two, three bodies around him, and that didn't happen in the past."

Not with do-everything forward Jeff Green around. He was taken fifth in last June's NBA draft. Instead, Thompson said Hibbert is smartly picking when to shoot and when to pass. Here's a stat to consider: Hibbert's assists are up to 1.9 from 1.1.

"It's natural in many ways to want to see this great progression every year in numbers, " Thompson said. "We haven't seen that in Roy's numbers, but his play, his overall feel, his overall talent level and understanding have improved significantly."

He said it

"I have to stop talking about it. I'm afraid that I've made it a mental crutch for our team."

Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss coach, on his team's free-throw shooting woes 65.8 percent

It's Tubby time

Few pundits expected Minnesota to finish in the top half of the Big Ten this season, not after last year's woeful 9-22 (3-13) record.

But coach Tubby Smith, who left storied Kentucky and a closet full of blue ties and blazers for Minneapolis and a wardrobe that's more maroon and gold, has revitalized the Golden Gophers (12-4, 2-2).

"The winning attitude is coming, " Smith said.

While his team has undeniably benefited from a soft early-season schedule, it showed the kind of grit, especially defensively, that has long been the hallmark of Smith's teams in a hard-fought 65-60 loss to No. 9 Indiana on Thursday. A raucous crowd at Minnesota wore gold T-shirts proclaiming, "It's Tubby Time."

"We've learned we better play together, we better execute the fundamentals and come with the proper energy and proper attitude or we're going to have a tough time, " said Smith, whose Gophers play host to No. 11 Michigan State (15-2, 3-1) on Sunday.

That Minnesota is getting that comes as no surprise to folks who know Smith best.

"He's a competitor, " said Georgia State coach Rod Barnes, who spent a number of years at Ole Miss going head to head against his good friend. "Yeah, he probably wants to show some people who think he had success just because he was at Kentucky. But what about at Georgia? What about at Tulsa? He's been successful everywhere he's been. He changed shirts and changed schools, but he's still the same person and same coach."

Poll vaulting

The streaking Arizona State Sun Devils cracked the AP Top 25 this week at No. 22, their first appearance in the poll since 1995. Their current players were in elementary school at the time.

"I think it certainly indicates that we're making some progress, " said coach Herb Sendek, in his second year in Tempe after 10 seasons at North Carolina State.

The Sun Devils (14-2, 4-0) won their 10th straight game Thursday, a 99-90 double-overtime thriller at California. That's their longest winning streak since they won 11 during the 1980-81 season. None of their players wasborn then.

Remember, the Sun Devils were 8-22 overall and 2-16 in the Pac-10 last season. But Sendek stressed that the ranking is a mere snapshot of what his team had accomplished so far, and his players realize that "we still have an enormous amount of work to do."


Road to perfection

North Carolina (18-0), Memphis (16-0) and Kansas (17-0) are the lone undefeated teams and although it's just the midpoint of the season, we couldn't resist wondering if any could stay perfect entering the postseason. Here's our take:

Team, Our odds, Toughest hurdle, Up next

Memphis, 2-1, Tennessee (Feb. 23), Southern Miss, 9 tonight

Kansas, 8-1, at Texas A&M (March 8), at Missouri, 8 tonight

UNC, 10-1, at Duke (March 8), Maryland, 3:30 today

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.