Before analyzing all of the teams I saw up close at the recent Diamond Head Classic, here is some "insider" insight I've picked up from various coaches while on the road ...
• Several coaches have told me that Washington freshman Abdul Gaddy is, well, just not that good. While Quincy Pondexter has finally decided to play up to his massive potential, the Huskies have not had nearly the guard depth they anticipated as Gaddy's athletic limitations make him just another freshman.
• USC coach Kevin O'Neill told me he thinks Texas guard Dogus Balbay is a first-round pick. O'Neill, who is a one-time NBA head coach and longtime assistant, said Balbay is big, strong, a great defender and leader who is not as bad a shooter as he is thought to be. "I would never tell Rick how to coach, but if he were my point guard, I would never let him come out." Which is essentially how he is coaching Mike Gerrity at the moment.
• While some Kansas State fans are down on Wally Judge, KSU head coach Frank Martin said that Judge will be fine. "We have made the mistake of holding him and other kids to this Michael Beasley-Kevin Durant standard, and that may never happen again. Meanwhile, Wally is practicing against grown men every day and learning to play around the basket at the same time. It is going to take time, but he'll be fine."
• Speaking of KSU, junior Jacob Pullen continues to gain momentum as the least-discussed great guard in the country. "He tore us up" UNLV assistant Greg Grensing said. "He is just strong and solid and they get after you. When they shoot it well, good luck."
• Penn State is kind of stuck with Talor Battle's free throw form. His jumper has a bit of a hitch that becomes pronounced at the line, but the coaching staff does not feel it is fair to Battle to try to change his stroke, even in the offseason. Battle had finals early and used the entire break to work tirelessly in the auxiliary gym with the coaching staff. Battle, who openly wept earlier this season after the last-second loss to Virginia Tech in which he missed seven free throws and a game tying layup, is shooting the ball much more fluidly since his early-season struggles.
• Arizona is struggling in Sean Miller's first season. Derrick Williams is going to be a star, but outside of that, the Wildcats play very average defense (case in point the 49 dropped by Jimmer Fredette), their shot selection is not great and they are not really recruiting well in this cycle. Miller was a rising star at Xavier, but some coaches privately believe he might not be as big of a home run choice as was first believed.
• Speaking of Fredette, Hawaii assistant and former UCLA head coach Larry Farmer told me that Fredette and BYU were far and away the best team in the Mountain West. "We played all three of the top teams, and they are all solid and well-coached, but Fredette is a pro and they are 10 points better than those other teams on a neutral court."
Reviewing the Diamond Head Classic
I was lucky enough to be part of the broadcast team at the first Diamond Head Classic and with the help of eight very different teams, I was able to draw a ton of conclusions on the upcoming conference slate based on the games in Oahu and the films I watched preparing for those games.
One thing that is obvious is that there are many ways to look at wins and losses. For this particular review, I thought that maybe the way to give a clear perspective is to be as rounded as possible. Some fans are half full, some are half empty, and generally I try to give you the hardcore truth, thus all three are provided in the breakdown of the three teams.
Ranking the teams in Oahu ...
1. USC: Went 3-0 with a dominating win over UNLV in the championship game. Since Mike Gerrity became eligible, the Trojans are unbeatens with decisive wins over Tennessee and Vegas.
Half Full -- With the Pac-10 down, Marcus Johnson (sixth-year transfer), Alex Stephenson and Gerrity in place as veteran transfers and an all-around athletic team led by Dwight Lewis, USC is far from dead in a wide-open conference race.
Half Empty -- While SC looked great, it could have lost to Western Michigan, which really had the right approach to beating the Trojans by mixing in a zone and soft man-to-man, essentially daring the men of Troy to shoot. Gerrity was terrific, but he over-dribbles, which seems to limit Lewis in the halfcourt. With no depth, limited inside scoring and very average shooting from the perimeter, USC is better than we all thought, but still limited by the personnel (and potential personnel) that left when Tim Floyd bolted.
The Skinny -- USC is old, athletic and hungry. Kevin O'Neill has a good "us against the world" vibe going with a team that is much improved with Gerrity and Leonard Washington.
2. UNLV: After throttling their first two opponents, the Runnin' Rebels were mildly competitive against USC after foul trouble exposed their ineptitude off the bench. All in all, UNLV looked the part of a very sound defensive team that needed turnovers to win.
Half full -- Both Kansas State and USC (the teams UNLV has lost to) have uniquely experienced lineups with stronger, more athletic wings and bigs that frankly no one in the Mountain West has on their roster, except San Diego State.
Half empty -- No true point guard, no inside scoring and not a ton of perimeter shooting. UNLV has racked up wins against a weak Arizona team and a vastly overrated Louisville team and no one else. While Lon Kruger is clearly a very good coach, by sitting Derrick Jasper and Chace Stanback with two fouls, he gave away any chance of beating USC.
The skinny -- UNLV is a very long and quick defensive team, but if you can avoid turnovers, keep them out of transition and get to their bench, the Rebels can be had. But there are few teams remaining on their schedule, even in a potential NCAA tourney matchup, that can constantly expose those weaknesses.
3. Saint Mary's: The Gaels went 2-1 in Hawaii. Against USC, every one of their shots was challenged and SMC was held to just 30 percent shooting in a 60-49 Trojans win.
Half full -- Despite losing Wayne Hunter (11.0 ppg) for the season, Saint Mary's can still be very good if it just makes its shots. SMC continues to look the part of an NCAA at-large possibility.
Half empty -- Patty Mills and Hunter were their only real athletes last season, therefore the offense now becomes dependant on a double-teamed Omar Samhan and long 3s off penetration. The Gaels are sound defensively, but are unable to take anyone out of what they want to do.
The skinny -- Saint Mary's is a very sound passing team with a solid inside game (Samhan) and plenty of perimeter shooting, but the Gaels are not capable of turning over legit teams and they must hit jumpers to beat you. With a decreasing amount of opportunities for nonconference wins of note, their losses to SC and Vandy put them in a tight spot.
4. Western Michigan: WMU won two of three and actually gave USC its toughest game in a 55-51 loss on the first day of games. Steve Hawkins' club has a set identity and if their shooters get looks, the Broncos can beat many teams that are the quality of USC.
Half full -- Martelle McLemore and David Kool make a very good 1-2 punch as Kool has the ultimate green light and McLemore is a deadly 3-point shooter. After a difficult year last season, WMU is cohesive and solid and will defend by making you make shots over the top.
Half empty -- There is no "run away and hide" offense and while the performance in Hawaii was solid, there is also a lingering sense of doubt in terms of their ability to win when they do not get free looks.
The skinnny -- In taking down Northeastern, Holy Cross and Charleston, WMU has beaten three teams picked to win their league in the preseason. Look for the Broncos to build some momentum in an upcoming game against a very good Sam Houston State club.
5. Hawaii: The 'Bows looked great for the first eight minutes of the tournament and Dwain Williams had a career-high 36 in their loss to Saint Mary's in the third-place game, but mainly that was because UH was without its best player, Roderick Flemings (knee contusion). With a very limited offensive group of big men, Hawaii might be picked just about right in the WAC (ninth in the preseason poll).
Half full -- Williams showed flashes and produced the type of creative scoring they need to go along with Flemings. And when Petras Balocka has his head on right, the 6-8 Lithuanian can be a terrific passer in the flex offense.
Half empty -- When pressured against UNLV, Hawaii looked lost and Flemings showed his inability to handle the basketball. Even more troubling is the up and down, almost bizarre behavior of Bolochka. He runs cold and puts his head down quicker than any player I have seen in recent memory.
The skinny -- The Stan Sherriff Center used to be a house of horrors and now is a beautiful half-empty, well-kept palace waiting for a reason to be filled. Maybe Arizona transfer Zane Johnson and Williams can get it together next year, but this team seems flawed by injuries and a mixed bag of players.
6. College of Charleston: The favorite to win the SoCon came into the DHC 3-0 in conference play, with a big win over Davidson. Andrew Goudelock put on a couple of great shows as he showed the best six-foot floater of the year, hitting six by my count in the opening loss to Hawaii.
Half full -- Goudelock and Tony White Jr., who found his stroke on the trip, form a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backcourt with Goudelock as the better mid-range scorer and White the 3-point shooter.
Half empty -- Last year's "Steph Curry stopper" Antwaine Wiggins is out for the season with a broken foot and his 6-7 frame gave the Cougars great length and athleticism, something that is lacking at the 3 without him in the lineup.
The skinny -- CofC is fun to watch and still probably the class of its league, but this is not a Cinderella team with little inside scoring and rebounding (outrebounded by nearly 15 a game).
7. Northeastern: After its early-season losses were all close, Northeastern felt like the best six-loss team in the country. With two more (albeit respectable) losses in Hawaii, all those losses are starting to pile up, although the Huskies did recover nicely by beating Santa Clara and Kent State upon returning to the mainland.
Half empty -- This is not a great shooting team, especially when Allen and Janning struggle. While Nkem Ojougboh is pretty decent inside, they badly need Manny Adako to be more consistent. Sometimes he is a no-show.
The skinny -- Northeastern has a weird mix of seniors and freshmen and little in the middle. It seems as though Bill Coen is still searching for lineup combinations that work. Frankly, Saint Mary's and Western Michigan were just better at this point in the season.
8. SMU: The 0-3 Mustangs made their first-round loss to Hawaii respectable, lost on a buzzer shot to CofC and then got bounced by Northeastern in the seventh-place game.
Half full -- The football team winning in Honolulu did wonders for the school that was ravaged by the death penalty. There are pieces that are decent with Mouhammed Faye, Paul McCoy and Derek Williams all showing signs of quality play.
Half empty -- The 'Stangs have no system, poor shot selection and the field as a whole was not even the caliber of what is an improved Conference USA>
The skinny -- While Matt Doherty has made amends with UNC, there is still a ton of work to do at SMU. With C-USA deep and balanced, the Mustangs have to find an identity quickly as they did not win a road game last season and this year they have only beaten non-D1 Occidental away from Moody Coliseum.
Doug Gottlieb is a college basketball analyst for ESPN and a contributor to ESPN.com. "The Doug Gottlieb Show" can be heard weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio and ESPNRadio.com.