Doug Gottlieb was in Hawaii covering the Diamond Head Classic. Here are his closing thoughts on each team that played in the tournament.
The Dawgs consistently played elite team defense, and by the second half of their semifinal, their shooting came around. Overall, Butler showed newfound versatility with Andrew Smith, allowing Matt Howard to play the 4 and flex him back to the 5 spot when Khyle Marshall came in. First Shelvin Mack found his jumper, then Zach Hahn did as well, and Chase Stigall continued to spread the floor by hitting corner 3s. The Bulldogs made more than nine 3s in each game and are now 44-1 with 27 straight wins under coach Brad Stevens when they hit at least nine.
Washington State head coach Ken Bone echoed the sentiments of the other head coaches I spoke to about the Bulldogs: "Butler is the most physical team I have seen all year. Even more than Kansas State, as they are aggressive on every cut and every post-up, and you do not get a true appreciation for it on tape."
What you might have missed: Butler scrimmaged on Christmas Eve, which allowed Hahn and others to get more game-type shots and for the team to get after it for a shorter time. Credit Stevens with pushing all the right buttons, as his team practiced at a high level every day on Oahu and is in phenomenal shape to play as hard and as physically as it does.
"Last year we were 8-4, and every practice just kept getting more intense and focused," Stevens said. "We were not good at all early, but the guys just brought it to a higher level every day. This team has started to do the same thing. Now, I do not know if it will continue, but that is why we are so much better than we were early."
Not all work: On the off day, about 10 Bulldogs took in an Oahu sunset from the infinity pool at the Sheraton Hotel. I was impressed that the coaches allowed the players to enjoy some of their time on the island.
The Cougs impressed everyone with their guard play, depth and defense, although they went dry on a 15-0 run that led to their loss to Butler in the final. Klay Thompson put himself on the national player of the year map with an outstanding tournament. Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore hit some huge shots for Wazzu, making it seem like one of three favorites (along with Arizona and Washington) in the Pac-10.
"We took Aden thinking we might lose Klay to the draft, but with them both we can really put up some points," Bone said. "Faisal and Reggie [Moore, who came back from a wrist injury] have a lot of toughness and guts, and that is probably our biggest strength."
What you might have missed: Wazzu is much better this season, but not just because of Thompson's maturity and Aden's scoring. The Cougars' bigs are plentiful and can stretch the floor with jump shooting. Bone, a former UW assistant who took Portland State to the Big Dance, wants to extend more defensively, but his personnel has him playing more help-oriented man and zone.
Another team's assistant who scouted the Cougars knew they'd be in the finals. "DeAngelo Casto is a warrior down low, and Thompson has unreal range and confidence," he said.
Thompson is a stud, and he had all the NBA scouts believing he'll be a pro after the first two games. His jumper has always been tight, but now he puts it on the floor and can score at the low block as well.
One thought heading into a big week for Washington State is that it starts with a more defensive-oriented lineup with Marcus Capers at the small forward spot, only to get Aden in off the bench and go to a three-guard look. Bone might want to tinker with Casto at the 5, Capers at an undersized 4 and the three guards when their offense gets stagnant. Capers has value, but it sometimes gets wasted in a half-court game.
Not all work: The team took in Hanauma Bay for some snorkeling on the off day. "You know we are programmed to only want to win games, but I just think that this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal," Bone said. "We were in the water for an hour and 15 minutes, and the guys had a blast."
Their offense was more miss than hit, but the Seminoles grabbed a third-place showing, and Chris Singleton may have made himself a lot of money come draft time, showing off his catch-and-shoot jumper.
Coach Leonard Hamilton said, "I am playing too many guys, but it is because no one has really separated from the pack. We need to get Jon Kreft and Bernard James minutes because they are so inexperienced, but we are better with Chris at the 4, and Terrance Shannon is really starting to play well.
FSU is far better small with Luke Loucks and Derwin Kitchen in along with Michael Snaer and/or Deividas Dulkys in a three-guard lineup. Kitchen is a solid scorer but not a point guard, and Loucks is better with bigger minutes, as he does not try to hit home run passes when he plays more. James is a great story and, if he learns to go over his right shoulder, will be a valuable weapon in league play.
What you might have missed: Hamilton jumped on Singleton during the semifinals. Singleton was at first defensive until Hamilton told the players, "You all won't say it, but I will: Start playing and stop trying to impress the scouts." Singleton played his best ball of the tourney and had 28 points in the loss to Butler.
"Coach Ham only does that once or twice a year, but it and Chris' reaction was impressive," an FSU assistant said.
Xavier Gibson tore his MCL and sprained his ACL when Butler's Ronald Nored fell on his knee in the semifinals. Gibson, a talented scorer down low for FSU, also broke his hand two plays before and only realized it at the hospital when it became swollen. It was not all bad for Gibson, as flight attendants bumped him to first class thanks to his injuries, causing several other Noles to develop limps.
The Bears have lost three of four after being ranked sixth in the country. They look the part of a top-15 team but really struggle to consistently attack a zone defense, which everyone plays against them.
But what is really hurting Baylor is its bench: Nolan Dennis is not good enough to help; J'mison Morgan looks better after losing weight but has no real offensive game; Fred Ellis is tough but a nonathlete who is not a great shooter. The Bears may want to try to play man more often, as that appears to be a better fit than the zone they used last season, and may want to press. A.J. Walton is strong and quick on the ball, Dennis may be better in a full-court game, and their length will become more of a strength.
What you might have missed: Walton is playing huge minutes with Stargell Love out, but what hurts Baylor even more than Walton's inconsistent decision-making is that, when he drives, LaceDarius Dunn does not get back defensively. The Bears rebound with four, sometimes five players on offense, and that leaves their back end open too often.
"Every team they played except Gonzaga has zoned them because their zone stuff is fairly bland, and Perry Jones cannot play against a zone," said one assistant who scouted Baylor.
Quincy Acy is just tenacious on the glass, and you can see Jones improving his aggressiveness, but the team gets selfish in tight spots. Dunn, who one opposing player told me "drives as hard as anyone we have ever played and has a nice spin move if you get in his way," will get antsy when his team forgets about him.
The Warriors went 2-1 and have a totally different energy as a program under first-year head coach Gib Arnold. Hawaii can really shoot the ball with Hiram Thompson, Bo Barnes and Zane Johnson, who hit 14 3s in three games. But the Warriors need a break-you-down point guard in the future to take the next step. Josten Thomas is an undersized 4 who can score in bunches but has some holes in his game. In the meantime, the Stan Sheriff Center is getting back to being a tough place to play.
What you might have missed: Thomas had the dunk of the tourney over 7-foot-3 Utah center David Foster. He was really disappointed that his dunk did not make the "SportsCenter" Top 10. "It would have been OK, I guess, had three reverse layups not gotten in ahead of my dunk," he said.
Hawaii was without Bill Amis the entire tourney. Its ability to compete for somewhere between third and fifth place in the WAC depends mostly on his health. But the gutsiest effort goes to Thompson, who played in Hawaii's two wins with back issues. Thompson is a steadying force and is as smart as a whip in drawing fouls.
Not all work: Arnold, who may be the only Division I head coach who surfs regularly, took his team to the Outrigger Canoe Club for a special Christmas Eve brunch and canoe ride. The waves were not big and the players bailed, but Arnold has become a fixture in the community after barely six months on the job.
Well, that trip did not go so well. First of all, the entire planning of a trip that takes a team to the Bahamas for a game, back through Atlanta to Vegas, to Honolulu, back to Vegas for another game with Saint Mary's and then home is too much for a college team. In addition to the Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey fight, the Bulldogs had no juice in the second half against Washington State, and despite the win over San Diego, they were never really "right."
What you might not know: Rick Stansbury has been doing P90X with Sidney every morning to get him to lose weight. It has worked, and Sidney was down under 270 after being over 300 pounds when they started the workouts together. Stansbury has thought and continues to believe that Sidney has never had anyone care about him and discipline him at the same time. The question is, can he save Sidney and Mississippi State's team at the same time?
"This never would have happened if Dee [Bost] was here," one MSU source said. "He is not just our point guard, which we do not have, he is our best player and our leader off the floor, and Sid is a little in awe of him."
One NBA scout told me five minutes before the fight, "We would not take him, and he will never get guaranteed money, but after watching the San Diego game, someone will give him a shot." After the fight, the same scout texted me, "He is now the LeGarrette Blount of college hoops," referring to this incident after the Oregon-Boise State football game last season.
What is interesting is that NBA players JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche apparently got into it this past weekend as well and were suspended a game. Now, neither McGee nor Blatche has the recent baggage of Sidney, who had just been suspended for a blowup during Mississippi State's first practice on the island, but teammates do fight, just usually not in the stands on national television.
"That was a first," said a player on another team. "That was crazy. I cannot believe that just happened."
San Diego was the least talented team in the field, but the team plays hard and got its first Division I win of the season over Utah. The Toreros now travel to N.C. State for a New Year's Day game against the Wolfpack before starting WCC play with Pepperdine.
What you might not know: Billy Grier seemed upbeat despite the team's lack of success. One insider told me, "He has a great AD and contract; Billy isn't going anywhere." Granted, Grier's early success made him a red-hot commodity, but he needs to get a bounce-back kid or two and infuse the program with a game-changer at some point.
The eighth-winningest program of all time failed to garner a win in Hawaii. After losing his top three scorers (two transferred out and Luka Drca graduated), Jim Boylen feels that he finally has a program that is full of his type of guys. The problem is that his type of guys do not appear to have the skill to compete in the MWC. The San Diego game was very early, and it was after a day off, but still, that was a horrific loss.
What you might have missed: Jiggy Watkins is a tank driving to the basket, but he is not a good perimeter shooter or passer. J.J. O'Brien looked totally lost and had trouble at both ends of the floor. Utah plays very hard, and David Foster is a terrific shot-blocker, but I do not see the makings of a postseason team.
Jason Washburn needs to stay out of foul trouble, and Chris Hines has to shoot the ball better. Also, O'Brien needs to drop 15 pounds and change his body. He has skill as a point forward type, but right now he cannot get by anyone and is not a good shooter, either.