Ky.'s strength in numbers is key to March

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Reminiscent of the anarchy in the college basketball polls a year ago, Kentucky lasted two weeks -- and a scant two games -- atop the AP rankings this season.

Most folks in Lexington expected the Wildcats to stay there all year, of course. Coach Rick Pitino was not one of them, though. Pitino did not harbor visions of a wire-to-wire run for the 'Cats, and freely said so.

Holding on to No. 1 at this point was not a priority with Pitino. What is a priority is building a framework in which he provides enough playing time to keep all his players reasonably contented.

It figures to be the toughest part of his job this season. Indeed, it was an interesting juxtaposition that saw Kentucky, with that bottomless bench, lose last week to Massachusetts, which has marvelous Marcus Camby and virtually no bench.

"In November, trying to mesh 10 players is not as good as trying to mesh seven players," Pitino said. "But late in the season, it'll be a positive for us. Right now, it's not necessarily a positive."

Four days after the loss, Pitino inserted Anthony Epps, perhaps the team's most effective point guard, into the lineup and Kentucky beat Indiana, 89-82.

Symbolic of how a player can get lost amid all that talent is Mark Pope. The 6-foot-10 senior center scored 26 points in the Tip-Off Classic against Maryland, came back with five against UMass and, in a reserve role, was scoreless against Indiana.

Eventually, that situation will cause problems. But whether it'll be enough to sidetrack Kentucky from a Final Four appearance is the question.

Measuring Marbury

Before Stephon Marbury ever played a game for Georgia Tech, Yellow Jackets coach Bobby Cremins was bemoaning the high level of expectation placed on his prize point guard.

"Marbury's very good, [but] the expectations are a joke," Cremins said. "I think in the long term he'll be able to live up to the expectations, but the short term, I don't think anybody can. It'd be like me having to win every game, and I would hate to have that expectation under me. Unless I had five superstars."

How's Marbury measuring up? Through six games, he's averaging 18 points, 5.7 assists, 3.7 turnovers and 2.8 steals. He scored 26 against Michigan and was named to the all-tourney team for the Preseason NIT.

Deacons' misdirection

With Randolph Childress in the NBA, Wake Forest coach Dave Odom is struggling to rebuild his backcourt. "Our front line has played up to what we hoped it would," Odom said. "Our backcourt is in transition, in transit, a little in flux. I'm not sure which way we're going to go there."

Tony Rutland inherits Childress' point-guard spot, and any of four players -- Rusty LaRue, Steven Goolsby, Joseph Amonett or Armond Wilson -- will play No. 2 guard. That job ultimately may go to Jerry Braswell, who is on suspension through the first semester because he failed to meet Odom's academic requirements (but did satisfy the NCAA's).

Crunch time

Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso, the Ironmen of UMass' backcourt, missed just 16 minutes combined in their first three games. Padilla played 115 of 120 possible minutes, and Travieso 109 of 120. . . . Duke's Trajan Langdon, sidelined by a mysterious knee injury that developed over the summer, will redshirt. His off-guard position has been filled capably by Chris Collins. . . . While North Carolina State waits for the return of its suspended backcourt of Ishua Benjamin and C. C. Harrison (both academic casualties), 6-1 freshman Ivan Wagner from San Antonio has turned a few heads. An afterthought in the Wolfpack's recruiting, Wagner scored 29 and 17 points in his first two games to earn a spot in the rotation.

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