• Jan. 31 | 10 p.m. PT
Nice night for hoops
There were 12 Top 25 games, a surprising result in Colonial, Winthrop outran the nation’s highest scoring team, the Mo Valley got tougher, Michigan and UConn took another step back, while Louisville and Tennessee got a couple of key wins.
Oh yeah, and Texas’ Kevin Durant was amazing yet again.
I’ve already fawned over the 6-10 freshman, but it’s worth saying again that NBA teams should think twice before automatically making Greg Oden the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. (Ahem. If they both declare.)
Durant outscored Texas Tech in the second half of the ’Horns’ win on Wednesday and finished with 37 points (tying a career-high) and a career best 23 rebounds. He was 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, had three steals and his 1.17 PPWS remains solid for someone playing all 40 minutes. He’s a machine.
• Ohio State’s Greg Oden didn’t fill up the box score like Durant, but still managed to dominate Purdue. The Boilermakers were helpless inside — which hasn’t always been the case this year against the Buckeyes.
• Wisconsin lost for the first time in 18 games, but I’m not sure you could call it an upset. OK, so we did, but hear me out. Indiana has been good all season, it just hasn’t gotten much love in polls. (Evidenced by their short stay last week.) But the Hoosiers are ranked 20th in RPI, and are rated even higher by kempom.com, because their perimeter defense is excellent and have been better than expected offensively (there has been plenty of debate about what makes them good other places).
• As for No. 1 ranked Florida, the Gators turned it on when they needed to against Vanderbilt. Are they more scary than UNC?
• Hm. Maybe not. Will anyone complain if that’s the title game?
• This is a game the Hokies should have won if they want to be an ACC power..
• VMI can run, but Winthrop did it one better — by making 58 percent of its shots.
• I know I said this was a surprise, but on second thought, it was probably just a tough road loss for VCU.
• Louisville is a quiet 16-6. But beating Cincy doesn’t do anything for the RPI (66th). A win over ’Nova would help.
• Tennessee really isn’t a bubble team — the committee usually takes into account when a team doesn’t have a star player; Chris Lofton has missed three straight with a bum ankle — but beating Georgia makes Bruce Pearl breathe a little easier.
• Jan. 31 | 11:45 a.m. PT
What would Fennis say?
Things were going well for Wyoming’s Brandon Ewing.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard was leading the Mountain West Conference in scoring (20.4 ppg, among the tops in the country) and has been the main reason the Cowboys went from an also-ran (12-17 last season) to a good squad this year.
OK, so maybe my interest in the Cowboys (I grew up in nearby Cheyenne, Wyo.) is making me stretch that last sentence a little bit. The Pokes are respectable, but unless they win the MWC tourney, they’re NIT-bound. Still, my buddy Mooch remained optimistic about them and they are a pretty fun team to watch.
Then came the final 71 seconds of a frustrating loss to New Mexico.
The Cowboys lost 91-83, but it ended with a melee that was basically this: Ewing become entangled with New Mexico’s Jamaal Smith, benches cleared, Wyoming’s Brad Jones entered the fray, Smith threw a punch at Jones and all three were tossed. Watch video here.
For a detailed rundown, the Albuquerque Tribune offers this:
Smith and Ewing ended up on the floor near the basket and made contact when trying to get up. Jones, who was aggressively helping Ewing, pushed Lobos guard J.R. Giddens, prompting Smith to jump on Jones and throw a punch. At some time during the mess, Wyoming forward Taylor drop-kicked Smith. Coach Ritchie McKay and assistant Brad Soucie had to physically restrain Smith seconds later. Lead official David Hall also grabbed Smith to pull him away from the action. Ewing and Wyoming coach Steve McClain declined to comment about the fight. McClain argued with a Lobos fan on his way up The Pit's tunnel, and later said “real class place this is.”
(That last part about McClain will make my friends laugh. He’s not high on their list, nor mine.)
Mostly, the incident makes me a little nostalgic for the days of Fennis Dembo and Eric Leckner when the Pokes stunned UCLA to reach the 1987 Sweet 16. In 2002, Cheyenne native Marc Bailey led a Cowboys team that served as a bracket buster when they beat Gonzaga in the first round and gave Arizona all it could handle.
Wyoming fans are a patient bunch. Like most non-hoops factories, they relish the years of success and hope for the best when it comes to postseason appearances (nada since the 2003 NIT).
I’m hoping Tuesday night’s mess doesn’t serve as a step toward another disappointment.
• Jan. 29 | 8 p.m. PT
Score, Gary, score
Towson’s Gary Neal made his mark in the record books on Monday.
Neal, a 6-4 senior guard, scored 21 points in a win over James Madison to become the third player in D-I history to score 1,000 points at two schools. The other two? Kenny Battle (Northern Illinois and University of Illinois) and Jon Manning (Oklahoma City and North Texas State).
Neal surpassed the 2,000-point mark last week when he dropped 36 on Delaware State and followed that with 29 in a loss to Hofstra before hitting the milestone against the Dukes. He’s the 425th player to reach 2,000 points (according to the NCAA record book), but he sure did it the hard way.
Neal scored 1,041 points at La Salle before transferring to Towson, where he averaged 26.1 ppg last season in 17 games. He’s scoring 25.9 ppg this season, good for 5th in the nation. (He shoots plenty, taking nearly 40 percent of his team’s shots, but is an effective scorer, too. His 1.17 PPWS is better than Trey Johnson, the nation’s leading scorer and Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker.)
Neal could end his career with about 2,300 points, or just shy of guys like Elgin Baylor and Bill Bradley. Not bad for a guy who spent his time playing in the A-10 and Colonial Athletic League.
• These games may not grab the attention of most sports fans, but the college hoops junkies out there love the matchups for BracketBuster Saturday. I particularly like Winthrop at Missouri State and Holy Cross at Hofstra.
• As promised, Ken Davis’ NCAA tourney projections are up. Check back every Monday for more.
• Almost forgot about the Iona update: Gaels now 0-21.
• Jan. 28 | 4:50 p.m. PT
Should he stay or should he go?
And yes, the “he” is Greg Oden.
After another big night by the Ohio State freshman center — 19 points, six rebounds, 3 blocks in a win over Michigan State — NBA scouts are salivating more than ever. Oden’s still atop the draft board of DraftExpress.com, NBAdraft.net, insidehoops.com and collegehoopsnet.com, which is to be expected for a 7-footer who can run the floor.
(The debate about who’s No. 1, Oden or Texas’ Kevin Durant is gaining some attention, though Oden is still the pick by most people. Durant is recognized as a supreme talent, but Oden’s size remains the biggest factor.)
The conventional wisdom is that Oden and Durant are both leaving for the NBA after their freshmen seasons. Durant hasn’t said so yet and Oden has maintained all along that he hasn’t “proven anything yet” and wants to stay in school until “I can take over a game myself.”
The resounding feeling around Columbus is that Buckeye fans should enjoy watching Oden while they can. After all, he’d be passing up way too much money by staying in school.
To all that, I say hogwash.
Stay in school if you want. The money will be there whenever you’re ready.
Last season, no player’s stock was higher than Florida’s Joakim Noah, but he returned for his junior season. He passed up about $4.5 million this season (that’s No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani’s salary) and must wait at least another season before he gets started toward an NBA max contract.
(Gotta be in the NBA at least three seasons to get a max deal, which is about $13 million a season right now. It’s also the reason why a lot of “talented” prospects declare for the draft and are happy to sit on the bench because they’re working their way toward the really big money — because $4 million a year isn’t cutting it.)
So why did Noah stay? After all, he already won a title and likely won’t be drafted before Oden or Durant, if they both come out. But — gasp! — he liked his teammates and the Florida atmosphere so much that he wanted to come back.
It’s really hurting him, too. The Gators are atop the polls and must be considered the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament at this point.
Could it be that Noah simply enjoys school, much the same way USC quarterback Matt Leinart did? Leinart enjoyed college too much to leave. Noah is doing the same.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay a kid for another year before becoming a pro. Being a pro athlete is a grind. It’s not like being a coal miner, sure, but it’s not easy, either. The season’s twice as long as in college. You’re on the road, and if you’re a minor, the hotel room is your second home. You practice more, the expectations are greater, and the fans — male and female — won’t worship you the way college fans did.
Maybe those reasons aren’t enough to stay. Maybe the money is too big of a draw.
But I know that staying a place where you’re thriving and leaving simply because people expect you to is ridiculous. Listen to Oden and don’t be surprised if he likes school too much to leave. It’s happened before.
And college hoops fans would love him for it.
• Fran Dunphy didn’t win in his return to the Palestra, but it provide John Feinstein with plenty of material.
• Jan. 27 | 5:15 p.m. PT
What would Ray Charles say about Iona?
He’d be singing this.
Iona, just a year after winning 23 games and making the NCAA Tournament, is the last winless team in college hoops. They’re 0-20 after a loss to Loyola (Maryland) on Saturday. But it’s not that the Gaels have been bad; their last six losses have all been by 10 points or less, including three in OT.
As CSTV’s Bryan Graham writes, Iona just can’t catch a break.
During a Jan. 23 loss to Fairfield, a junior named Mamadou Diakhate — who had attempted just one three-pointer in his career — buried a three with 2.6 seconds remaining in regulation, which led to a 70-67 OT loss.
Iona coach Jeff Ruland, A Gaels legend and former NBA All-Star, has vowed the team won’t end the season winless.
“The kids are working hard and we're going to break through soon,” he said. “It’ll kind of get the pressure off and open up the floodgates.”
There’s little reason to doubt Ruland. In his nine years at the school, the Gaels had averaged 17 victories a season. Even more reassuring? If Iona doesn’t beat Canisius, Siena, Rider or Marist in the next five games, it gets back-to-back games against St. Peter’s, which is 3-16 overall and losers of 12 straight games.
• What to make of North Carolina’s demolition of Arizona? The Heels are the nation’s deepest team, excellent on defense and relentless on offense. And, when the Wildcats only hit 1-of-23 attempts from beyond the arc AND lose Marcus Williams, things are gonna go bad. Arizona is still; a Sweet 16 team, but the Heels remain the best candidate to challenge Florida for the national title.
• If ’Bama isn’t careful, it’s going to end up like LSU, fighting for an NCAA Tournament berth.
• Jan. 24 | 9 p.m. PT
Hitting the skids
Just doesn’t happen in Durham.
Duke hasn’t lost three straight games in more than 10 years, not since the Devils finished the 1995-96 season 18-13. This column from The Durham Herald-Sun’s John Dascenzo gives up the details.
As the Devils prepare for Clemson Thursday night, they’re working on a three-game win streak, the kind of streak they’re used to in Durham.
The more I think about a stretch without three consecutive losses, the more impressive it becomes, regardless of how many home games Duke plays in a season or what its non-conference schedule looks like. It puts the Devils among the most consistent teams in any sport, let alone college hoops.
Maybe more amazing is that Duke has only lost two consecutive games eight times in that span. That’s one of the reasons the Devils have been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament eight of the last nine years. (It also explains how a team posts a 320-54 record since that ’95-96 season, including this season’s 16-3 start. That’s right, 320-54, an 83 percent win percentage and nearly 30 wins a season. Also, they posted fewer than 6 losses 7 of those seasons. Good God.)
That kind of win percentage also makes their two-game “skids” more noticeable when they happen, like this year’s stretch against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech or last year’s regular-season “skid” to Florida State and UNC.
Duke probably won’t make the Final Four this season — still not enough offensive punch, though the defense remains top notch — but even the haters have to marvel at this kind of streak.
Well, maybe not. After all, people love to hate the Devils.
• The better No. 25 USC does this season, the more acclaim Tim Floyd will continue to receive. Then again, this seems like a harsh way to open a column: We shook hands and I told him, “I had no idea until today, in looking at your record, just how bad an NBA coach you had been.”
• Washington State is staying “humble” amid its best season in 20 years. But I’ll say this: the Cougars beat Oregon on Saturday, gloat a little bit. You’ll have earned it.
• Not to be overly harsh, but I’m guessing losing one player isn’t the problem for Minnesota.
• This coach saw the writing on the wall, eh? Never too late to hit the books.
• Jan. 23 | 7:55 p.m. PT
Oregon’s cause for concern?
As Missouri Valley teams will attest, playing on the road in conference is never an easy task. (Every Mo Valley squad has lost at least three road games except Northern Iowa. Nothing’s ever easy on the road, but MVC teams hold court like few others.)
Which brings me to Oregon.
The No. 7 Ducks (18-1) have been one of the season’s surprises (though I would argue the Ducks was due for a year like this considering their talent; Aaron Brooks is a senior and Malik Hairston is a junior which makes me wonder why they’re struggled the last two years).
Yet when they travel to Washington on Thursday, they’ll be without point guard Aaron Brooks, who will be suspended for punching/elbowing Huskies guard Ryan Appleby in the Pac-10 tournament last season. (Brooks won’t even be allowed in the gym. For his part, Appleby says he hasn’t thought about the incident.) That takes away 18.2 points, 4.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds a game — and on the bright side, nearly three turnovers.
So how important is Brooks?
He’s being mentioned alongside Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker, Florida’s Joakim Noah and Nevada’s Nick Fazekas as the nation’s top player. He’s been on our Wooden Watch since it started. Brooks takes the clutch shots, dictates the pace of the game and is the Ducks’ leader. Coach Ernie Kent is downplaying it, but it’ll be key.
“Somebody’s going to have to grow to overcome Aaron Brooks. My first guess is that it will be Chamberlain [Uguchi],” Kent told the Oregonian.
The thing is, the Ducks shouldn’t need Brooks to beat the Huskies — who are probably NIT bound — but he’d be a huge help on the road.
Home teams in the Pac-10 win about 60 percent of the time (this post from kenpom.com shows the conference to be one of the rare power conferences that don’t hold court as often as others like the SEC and Big Ten). That’s not a slam dunk, but it’s enough to make you think twice about Oregon’s chances without a player like Brooks.
An optimist would say it’ll help them figure out other players they’ll need come March. I don’t think you want to disrupt your team’s rhythm at this point of the season, but we’ll find out Thursday.
• Jan. 21 | 11:45 p.m. PT
Selection Sunday nears
And a lot of fans are getting nervous. Especially Husky fans.
Washington has been sliding for some time now, having lost six of its last seven games. Its lone quality win over LSU was a month ago and unless it starts soon with wins over Oregon and Oregon State this week, it’ll be NIT bound.
Our college basketball expert, Ken Davis, watched UConn lose to Pitt last week and wondered the Huskies were headed for the NIT then. A loss to Indiana on Saturday hurt the Huskies’ chances even more. On various sites right now, the Huskies are one of those teams fighting for a berth. Joe Lunardi has ’em as one of the last eight out. Same with Bracketology 101 and the Bracketboard.
The other Huskies aren’t even on the radar.
It’s still too early to count either team out, but it’s time to start focusing on those debates. Starting next week, our college hoops expert, Ken Davis, will start projecting our top seeds, so be sure to check on that.
Until then, here’s some other schools that can’t relax for the next 48 days. (RPI courtesy kenpom.com.)
The Eagles’ first game without shot blocker Sean Williams was a disaster. They’re 13-5 and 39th in RPI, but only have two wins against the RPI top 50 (Michigan State and Maryland). And they figure to keep struggling without Williams.
The ’Noles (14-5) own quality wins over Florida and Virginia Tech, but have played seven games against teams with an RPI in the bottom 200. Seven games remaining against teams in the top 50 should allow to boost the résumé, though.
With Glen Davis leading the way, the Tigers (13-5) figure to be locks, right? Sites have them anywhere from a four seed to an eight. Well, at this rate, they need to hope Texas A&M keeps its high RPI because that they’re only decent win. LSU’s RPI isn’t in the top 50, and unless they get a win against Florida, Tennessee, Alabama or Kentucky, forget another win over an RPI top 25 team. LSU could finish with just 17 wins before the SEC tournament, which wouldn’t be enough.
Tough to figure the Terps (15-5). They’ve beaten Illinois, Michigan State and most notably, Clemson, but have lost to Miami and Virginia, both of whom are outside the top 90 in RPI. Like FSU, they have plenty of tough games left (2 against both Duke and UNC).
At 16-4, the Wolverines have the wins, but Illinois and Purdue are the most impressive among those. They play Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio State in their next four games — one win would be nice, two would just about do it provided they don’t collapse down the stretch. Michigan is 38th in the RPI and figures to end with about 20 wins. Tommy Amaker may keep his job.
Cardinal aren’t impressive to watch, even with their freshmen stars, the Lopez twins. Still, at 12-5 with an RPI at 37, you have to pay attention to a middle of the pack Pac-10 team, because they could rack up some more big wins. (The other Pac-10 dreamer, Cal, has a worse résumé. Ignore the Bears.) Right now, Stanford has quality wins over Washington State (I know, that still sounds weird) and the next team to watch, Texas Tech.
Bobby Knight’s squad got a big boost by beating Kansas on Saturday. The Red Raiders (14-5, 25th in RPI, quality wins against Arkansas and K-State) are another team that will finish with about 20 victories, some decent wins and keep their high RPI.
Mountaineers (54th in RPI) have 13 wins against D-I schools (NCAA seeding committee only considers wins against D-I teams) and only two wins against RPI top 100. They need to clean up against the Big East schools remaining on their schedule like Rutgers, Seton Hall and Cincinnati because games against UCLA, Pitt (twice) and Georgetown remain. West Virginia probably ends up with about 20 wins, counting Big East tournament, but one needs to be against an RPI top 50 team.
Those are some of the biggest names. Worried about your team? Send me an e-mail and we’ll go over this some more later this week.
• Jan. 17 | 7:50 p.m. PT
Game of the year?
It will be hard to top Oklahoma State’s win over Texas Tuesday night.
For the typical game story, click here . For a detailed rundown of the action, including what made it so great (for those who didn’t stick around work for an extra hour like me to watch the three overtimes), try the March Madness All Season blog.
Jeff does a great job detailing the good stuff, including Mario Boggan outshining Kevin Durant, the OT drama, Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton’s spell and the sheer back-and-forth nature of the game.
The things I’d add? The implications of the game on the Big 12 race (Cowboys get a chance to stay with Kansas) and in the NCAA Tournament seeding (where Durant will likely become a household name) and seeing Byron Eaton hit that fall-out-of-bounds shot was still one of the more ridiculous things I’ll see this year.
Other thoughts? The Daily Oklahoman said Gallagher-Iba Arena had “never seen anything like this.” Sutton is a first-year coach, but saying it “was the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” means something when you’ve been on your dad’s staff for the classic against Arizona in the NCAA Tournament two years ago. Texas coach Rick Barnes wasn’t too mad after watching a “Hell of a game.”
And after seeing the afternoon ESPN programs all talking about Durant as the possible No. 1 pick in the NBA draft makes me think I’m onto something.
• Now here’s some sweet news for hoops fans: The Big 12 and Pac-10 have finalized plans for a challenge of their own for the next four years, starting in the 2007-08 season. Ten games in four days, plus Kansas vs. Arizona before the whole thing gets started is a hoops heaven for us viewers.
• No more Sean Williams for Boston College? Wow. If you block five shots a game, you need to seriously screw up to get booted.
• Is Clemson headed for the middle of the ACC pack? Or is North Carolina just that good?
• Jan. 16 | 8:15 p.m. PT
Overstepping its bounds
The NCAA needs to listen to its coaches on this one.
In a couple of stories Tuesday in USA Today and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, women’s college basketball coaches react to the NCAA’s Committee on Women’s Athletics and its recommendation that male practice players for female teams be banned.
For those who didn’t click on the links, at least click here to reach the CWA’s statement. Last month, the committee issued a statement that said women’s teams using male practice players to prepare for games “violates the spirit of gender equity and Title IX. ... any inclusion of male practice players results in diminished participation opportunities for female student-athletes.” (Title IX being the law that demands gender equity in education, usually referenced in sports.)
But it’s a stupid statement. Just ask the coaches.
Typically, male practice players are accomplished high school players who still want to play but can’t make the men’s team. So they spend their afternoon playing against the women’s teams to provide opponents who are often bigger, faster and stronger. Plus, the men learn the opposing team’s offense which saves the women’s second-teamers from having to do so.
In seeking ways to make their women play harder, coaches have found that using me forces their players to be more aggressive and tougher.
“I’m all for women. Hell, I am one. But this is political correctness gone awry,” says Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie.
“If there are coaches out there keeping their second five on the sideline watching for two hours while their first five or six are playing, then that coach is not going to be any good. That’s a coach’s issue. You can’t legislate stupidity,” says UConn coach Geno Auriemma.
Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer credits using males at practice as “the most important element to the continued growth of women’s basketball players.”
And nearly every program uses them. Tennessee’s Pat Summitt is credited with popularizing the use of male players in the ’70s. Title squad used males throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
It comes down to this: Athletes want to win. This isn’t about men trying to take the place of women’s athletes (especially when they’re volunteering to help the teams), but about helping teams be the best basketball they can be. This isn’t like using illegal substances. This is simply using every tool at their disposal.
• Another game, another win for Kentucky. That’s 11 straight.
• The Washington Post’s John Feinstein gets to write on one of his favorite subjects: A mid-major school thriving.
• If you don’t know the story of UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, check out this USA Today article. The big guy was plagued by foul trouble in the Huskies’ loss to Pitt, though. (The Panthers vs. Huskies is the “Beast of Big East Rivalries” — but we already knew that.
• Jan. 15 | 10:30 p.m. PT
Who’s No. 1?
In the NBA draft, that is.
The more Texas freshman Kevin Durant plays, the more he seems like a guy who could supplant Ohio State’s Greg Oden as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Others like Florida’s Joakim Noah, UNC’s Brandan Wright, UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet and Washington’s Spencer Hawes (yes, the draft figures to be dominated by big men if every top prospect declares) could go in the top five, but the consensus has always been that Oden is the one you want.
Going through mock drafts at DraftExpress.com, NBAdraft.net, insidehoops.com and collegehoopsnet.com reaffirms as much. In all four, Oden is No. 1, Durant is No. 2, Noah is No. 3 and it’s a mix of the other guys rounding out the top five. (Check out this Washington Post article for more on the dynamic freshmen. Click here to vote on the best one.)
But it keeps coming back to Durant. When he torched Oklahoma for 28 points and 13 rebounds in the ’Horns’ win, it prompted this remark from Sooners coach Jeff Capel.
“They have arguably the best player in college basketball,” Capel said. “He can score every way imaginable. He makes it look effortless. He doesn't break a sweat.”
If you haven’t yet, watch Durant play. He’s exactly what Capel says.
He’s a 6-foot-9 forward who handles the ball like a guard, makes 50 percent of his field-goal attempts, 38 percent of his 3s and attacks the rim, all of which results in his 23.7 ppg and 11 rebounds a game. It seems like he’s already a lock for freshman of the year and will probably gain votes for player of the year, too.
Now don’t get me wrong. Oden, who’s been no slouch himself this season (going for nearly 15 points and 10 boards a game) would be a dynamite No. 1 pick thanks to his shot-blocking skills and rebounding ability. But his offensive game won’t be NBA ready for another few years, if ever. For some stat talk, Durant’s PPWS (points per weighted shot, or how effciently a player scores), on the season is 1.22. Oden’s is 1.22. Anything 1.15 or higher is great. That’s fairly remarkable considering Durant is the No. 1 option for Texas and has taken 230 more shots than Oden.
The rest of the season will be a better indicator, starting with Tuesday’s game against Oklahoma State and Saturday’s trip to Villanova. For now, keep an open mind on who’s No. 1. I’m not so sure it won’t be Durant.
• Wichita State has now won back-to-back games for the first time since it started the season 9-0. The Shockers have a four-game stretch that should help them vault back into contention for the Missouri Valley title.
• Jan. 14 | 11 p.m. PT
Reader reaction, with props to Virginia Tech
Before I get to the e-mails, a quick thought on Oregon’s win at Arizona.
The Ducks beat their second Top 10 in eight days (No. 1 UCLA went down on Jan. 6) and were again impressive with their offensive weapons (four players combined for 74 points) and poise down the stretch, spurred by point guard Aaron Brooks.
If the Pac-10 is the country’s top conference and Oregon has already beaten UCLA and Arizona, then where does that leave Oregon? Certainly higher than its No. 15 ranking. (Then again, where does that leave USC, the lone conference team to beat the Ducks? And Washington State? It beat USC...)
And even with Oregon’s stellar eight-day run against Top 10 teams, what about Virginia Tech? For that, we’ll turn to the readers.
When was the last time that a NCAA team accomplished what Virginia Tech has done in the last week? They (an unranked team) beat two top 5 ranked teams. Duke was ranked number 5 when they were beaten and UNC was ranked number 1. Virginia Tech was unranked on both occasions.
— George W. Haney, Ruckersville, Va.
Excellent question, George.
For starters, teams just don’t play two teams ranked in the Top 5 that often — let alone come away with two wins. For instance, even when Syracuse beat No. 1 UConn last season, it couldn’t hold off No. 4 Villanova. But that doesn’t mean a nice pair of wins hasn’t happened before.
But if you disregard the NCAA Tournament (since the rankings go all nutty in March), there’s a couple of recent notable occurrences.
In the 2003-04 season, Louisville beat No. 1 Florida on Dec. 13, and held off No. 2 Kentucky two weeks later. It was the only week the Gators were ranked No. 1 that year, but it’s still two wins vs. two Top 5 teams — but not in the same span the Hokies managed.
Kansas has specialized in this kind of thing, though. The 2001-02 Jayhawks beat No. 6 Oklahoma State on Jan. 15 and No. 5 Oklahoma three days later. The ’94-95 squad beat top-ranked UMass on Dec. 3 and No. 6 Florida four days later. Pretty close to the Hokies’ feat. And in Roy Williams’ first year as coach (’89-90), KU beat No. 2 LSU and 11 days later beat No. 1 UNLV.
Going back further into the ’80s, the 1985-86 Duke squad was ranked No. 1 when it beat UNC (No. 3) and Georgia Tech (No. 6) in a six-day span. Dean Smith’s first national championship team was No. 1 when it beat a pair of No. 2s (Kentucky and Virginia) in the ’81-82 season.
Anyway, it was a long answer to an interesting question. If I missed any recent instances, send ’em along. I only had time for so much research Sunday night.
Onto more e-mails, these pertaining to the “Surprise, surprise” post.
By the way you wrote your article, I guess you expected Air Force to be ranked in both polls and to have a sole loss to Duke? How can the AFA NOT be a major surprise this season? How many teams really want to play them? I ask you to name a MORE disciplined team who truly BETTER defines the word "team."
— Brian, Sacramento, Calif.
The Falcons do count as one of the surprise teams. I omitted them because I’d covered them plenty in previous posts. But the deserved a mention. Same with the next team.
Yo Mike, What about the West Virginia Mountaineers? They have beaten some quality teams like UConn, Villanova, and NC State. Their only losses have come to quality teams like Arkansas and Notre Dame. How about some love?
— Adam Smith, Pittsburgh
Other readers either took issue with my assessment of the Wisconsin-Ohio State game, or agreed with me. Take a guess which is which.
I agree Mike. I watched the game and thought that O.S. did not take advantage of having a 7 ft. center. He was not used the way he should have been. I coached H.S. basketball for 30 yrs in Phil. Pa. 521 wins 140 losses.
— Jim Wilkinson, San Diego
Hey DUMB---! You just might want to wait to crown Wisconsin until they actually have to play some talent on the road. Yeah, they beat the Buckeyes on their home court by three points. Don't tell me it was a dud. I guess they play all 40 minutes to determine a winner. When they get to Columbus in late February, they will be like every other top team in the Big Ten with a couple of road losses. A little premature for your pronounced coronation at this point in the season.
— Pat Smith, Columbus, Ohio
Finally, thanks to Kenny M. for a topic that does deserve some coverage.
You should do a story on the BIG FIVE rivalries in Philadelphia. Especially if you get to go to the Palestra!
— Kenny M.
For those who didn’t know, the Big Five are La Salle, Penn, St. Joe’s, Temple and Villanova. My only question is, what about Drexel? Some consider the Dragons to be the best team in Philly this season.
• Jan. 12 | 10 a.m. PT
If you haven’t yet, check out Ken Davis’ column on the biggest surprise teams and players of the season. As usual, he doesn’t skimp on the details of what’s behind fast starts from Clemson, Oklahoma State and Butler and goes over what the Cowboys and Bulldogs ran into this week.
The other teams I’d add? Oregon (15-1), Washington State (15-2), Missouri State (13-3) and UNLV (14-4).
The Ducks struggled on the road at Tempe on Thursday, but still got the win. (Perhaps they were looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown against Arizona?) They’ve relied heavily on Aaron Brooks lately, but that should change now that Malik Hairston is back in the lineup.
The Cougars have cemented their role as the team no one wants to play, thanks to their slow-it-down offense and freakishly stiff defense. Then again, after beating Cal Thursday by 17 on the road, Washington State may have shown itself to be more than a slow-it-down kind of team.
Missouri State is the only team to beat Wisconsin, which should’ve been more news at the time, but fellow Missouri Valley member Wichita State was making a run at the Top 10 at the time. Now, the Bears are in a four-way tie for the conference lead and are among the country’s most efficient teams.
UNLV had an early loss to UC-Santa Barbara, but went a roll after that, coming up just short against Arizona, then beating Nevada, Minnesota, Texas Tech and at Houston. Back-to-back losses to Wyoming and Air Force aren’t as bad as they seem — that high-altitude road swing is tough on any team. The Rebels don’t turn the ball over, produce plenty of steals and blocks and are fairly efficient offensively. It also helps to have a coach like Lon Kruger, who has taken a team to the Final Four and spent time in the NBA.
The surprise players are harder to cover since there’s so many more guys to focus on. I like these three.
Tennessee’s Chris Lofton isn’t a surprise — he was All-SEC last season — but the way he’s carried the Vols this year thanks to his ridiculous shooting is a little surprising. You’d think opponents would double-team him on every play.
Finally, even my buddy Mooch, avowed Cowboys optimist, wasn’t expecting Wyoming’s sophomore guard Brandon Ewing to be among the top scorers in the country. Of course, it helps when you play nearly every minute of every game.
• Jan. 10 | Noon, PT
Badgers vs. Buckeyes
Heck, if the Badgers could’ve hit a few more free throws down the stretch, they could’ve enjoyed a well-earned victory. Instead, No. 5 Ohio State gave itself some confidence for the rematch on Feb. 25 in Columbus.
“We were in this situation a couple weeks ago at Florida and we couldn’t respond,” OSU coach Thad Matta said afterward. “I like the fact that our guys fought back and put us in the position to have a chance to win the game. But we’ve got to find ways and be more consistent with our play and understand the value of every possession, and I think we can do that.”
What Matta should be doing is working on his team’s shot selection.
The Buckeyes opened the game with three straight misses from three-point range and rarely passed up any chance at jacking up a 3. Sure, they hit 46 percent from beyond the arc (hitting 12-of-26 attempts), but that just encourages a team to shoot often.
And why would you do that when Greg Oden is inside? The OSU freshman center had foul trouble Tuesday, but he took just six shots, two in the final 37 seconds. Oden’s right hand (his dominant hand) still isn’t 100 percent, but the guy makes 60 percent of his field-goal attempts. It’s stupid not to get him the ball and force the defense to collapse on Oden — which would make the OSU shooters’ lives a little easier.
The Badgers’ defense was collapsing on Oden often, but the OSU offense has to be more patient in the future or they’ll never get much from the 7-footer. Wisconsin isn’t the last team who will focus on stopping Oden.
The biggest culprit of this scattershot offense hasn’t been the freshmen, either. Mike Conley Jr. is focused on running the offense, Daequan Cook is the team’s lone guy who makes over 50 percent of his 3-point attempts and David Lighty doesn’t get enough playing time yet to noticeably influence the offense.
As blogger John Gasaway writes, it’s senior Ron Lewis who’s mostly to blame (Gasaway also takes Lewis to task defensively; I would just like him to shoot a little less and pass a little more, preferably to the big guy). Part of the problem was Lewis’ other-worldly game against UNC, when he scored 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting, including 6-of-8 beyond the arc. He hasn’t been the same guy since.
Still, Matta is right when he sees the bright side in a game like this. His freshmen will only get better playing a road game like that (Wisconsin is 40-2 at home under coach Bo Ryan).
And, so I don’t ignore Wisconsin (I just can’t get over the way Ohio State kept jacking up shots; it also shows that a team like that, even without Oden, would never be out of a game thanks to the 3.), they got a boost knowing they didn’t need Alando Tucker to be amazing (just good with 17 points) and that Kammron Taylor (25 points, 12-of-16 from the stripe) and Marcus Landry (10 points, four blocks) are just getting better.
And they’ll have to. As Tom Oates from the Wisconsin State Journal writes, “It’s a long season.”
• Jan. 9 | 7:30 p.m. PT
It’s all about respect
Especially if you’re a Florida Gator.
When the Gators streaked to the NCAA title last season, all Joakim Noah and Taurean Green could talk about was how they didn’t get any respect from the media (scroll down). Well, it wasn’t enough for the football team to dismantle Ohio State last night and revel in the BCS title and a sweep in the two major men’s sports.
Instead, their players played the “no respect” card. Even coach Urban Meyer got in on the act, using the people who picked against Florida to motivate the Gators. “I’d like to thank all those people. Our pregame speech was easy,” he said.
Is this tiresome to anyone else?
Yes Ohio State was favored in the BCS title game. That’s what happens when a team is 12-0. After that game, it’s easy to rip people who said the Buckeyes would roll.
Yet, why wouldn’t you just say you believed in your team? It was good enough for Texas last year when it beat a USC team trying to make it mark as one of the best ever. It’s understandable that coaches would use it to motivate their team, but it’s ridiculous to think the whole world was against you.
OK, so most of that “no respect” talk is hyperbole and fans use this kind of thing all the time in smack talk. It’s all over our message boards and is what’s always behind the “overrated” chants of upsets.
But can this be the end of it? Some people out there — like me, ESPN’s Lee Corso and a host of other people who have watched the Gators play defense this year — thought Florida would win. Even Ohio State graduate Kirk Herbstreit thought it would be a close game.
So lay off the “no respect”. You’re getting plenty now.
• Jan. 8 | 7:30 p.m. PT
This and that
If you’re like me, it’s gotten harder to follow all the mid-major action now that conference play has begun. Face it, most of the great games from here on out feature teams in those BCS leagues.
So I turn to The Mid-Majority for some help.
And everything is clear again. (Northern Iowa will be ranked soon.)
• UConn coach Jim Calhoun wants his team to be tougher. Does tougher equal better? Wednesday’s game against Marquette may provide an answer.
• North Carolina sits atop the AP and coaches’ polls, but we’ve known how good the Heels are for some time — especially their freshmen. The Herald-Sun (Durham) says point guard Ty Lawson could be the best UNC has ever seen at that age. My question is: How long do he, Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright stay in school?
• Dave Odom hasn’t been great at South Carolina, but he’s gonna be with ’em for a while longer.
• It’s nice to see that Duquesne can focus on just playing basketball, despite the offseason shooting. Not long after stunning Boston College, coach Ron Everhart even gets to administer some tough love.
• Life in Cincinnati after Bob Huggins still a chore: Mick Cronin also trying the tough love route.
• Jan. 7 | 4 p.m. PT
Powerful Pac-10, perfect Tigers, pitiful Devils
Too much alliteration? I’m torn.
Everyone is jumping on the Pac-10 bandwagon — except for the L.A. Times’ Bill Plaschke who probably hurt himself getting off the Bruins’ wagon. After its conference RPI overtook the ACC last week, it was nice that a slate of games provided some proof of that RPI.
(Shameless plug: our hoops expert, Ken Davis, already knew all of this.)
But onto the games.
Oregon’s win over UCLA showed the Ducks can respond after a tough loss just days earlier and offers a glimpse of Ernie Kent refusing to invest too much in the win (Kent has his eye on the big picture).
Arizona — my pick as the league’s best team — went into Pullman and lost in OT to Washington State. Last year, the Cougars were a team that didn’t win much, but was nasty to play against. This season, they’re winning, too. As for the Wildcats, they remain supremely talented, but their shot selection stinks.
That means along with Washington and USC, the conference is likely to receive six bids to the Big Dance.
Blogger Yoni Cohen maintains seven could happen, but I’m skeptical. Having seven teams among the top 59 in RPI is nice, but Cal isn’t good enough and Washington may fall by the wayside unless Justin Dentmon improves.
(Random thought on the Trojans: It’s good to see Tim Floyd have some success after that Bulls debacle. My cousin Terry maintained he was always the best Xs and Os coach in the Big 12/Big 8 when he was there, even better than Roy Williams and Eddie Sutton.)
• To follow on yesterday's post on Clemson’s 16-0 start, here’s a sampling from area papers. I’m guessing the Tigers are going to get plenty of attention this week, especially with two trying road games. Such is your fate when you’re the onliest team. (Not my pun.)
The Post and Courier (Charleston) says the Tigers have answered ‘The Question’ for this year. (Though coach Oliver Purnell maintains they answered it last year and it just carried over to this season.)
The buzz on a 16-0 team? The ACC’s worst free-throw shooting team finally had a good day.
• Some may have expected Duke to roll against Virginia Tech, if nothing else because of who the Devils are. Others chalked it up to the Hokies getting a miracle of their own (after losing last year’s game on a last-second heave from Sean Dockery).
But some are ready to throw Duke point guard Greg Paulus under the bus (kenpom.com offers the perfect illustration), while the Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy says the Devils simply are not a top 5 team and probably won’t be by season’s end.
Then again, Duke will likely win 25 games, be a No. 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament make it to the Sweet 16, again. They’re kinda like death and taxes that way.
• Jan. 6 | 5:20 p.m. PT
And then there was one
Bravo, Tigers. Bravo.
Sure, that could apply to anyone, but I’m talking about these Tigers.
After No. 1 UCLA lost its first game of the season to No. 16 Oregon — another fabulously entertaining Pac-10 game — that left No. 23 Clemson as the nation’s lone unbeaten team.
The Tigers needed a last-second lay-up to beat Georgia Tech, but at 16-0, it’s the school’s best start in 20 years and, as you know, makes them the only perfect team around.
Enjoy it while it lasts, though. Life’s tough in the ACC.
Clemson had long been targeted as a fraudulent unbeaten team thanks to its soft schedule (it started last season 11-0), but knew the start of ACC play would be the best indicator for how good it really was. Early wins over Mississippi State, Minnesota and South Carolina weren’t impressive, but a road win at Florida State was a nice start as was Saturday’s victory.
If Clemson grabs a road win at North Carolina State on Jan. 9, it probably won’t escape without a loss after a trip to Maryland, home games against UNC and Boston College, then a trip to Duke.
But applaud the Tigers for a fine start. It’ll probably ensure a trip to the NCAA Tournament, which would be their first since 1998.
• Jan. 4 | 6:15 p.m. PT
Nearly 24 hours later
And I’m still trying to figure out what happened to Gonzaga last night.
The Zags have beaten UNC, Texas and Washington this season, but were hammered at Virginia, mostly because they can’t play any defense. They’ve always struggled against quick guards, but this was something new.
Gonzaga trailed 60-26 at halftime and never figured out how to stop the Cavs’ Sean Singletary, who scored a career-high 37 points, 21 of which came on three-pointers. The Zags made it close at the end, but it was without the help of second-leading scorer Josh Heytvelt. His 16 points a game sat on the bench for most of the second half.
Now, all that said, Virginia has emerged as one of those teams whose guards can get hot and beat anyone, evidenced by its season-opening win over Arizona. But this was Gonzaga’s fourth straight loss, the previous three to ranked teams. Gonzaga is usually the team that stuns those ranked teams, then rolls through its West Coast Conference schedule.
Now, at 9-6 overall and struggling to improve on defense and maintain its offensive consistency, the Bulldogs have work to do during their conference season if they want to be a single-digit seed for the Big Dance. If nothing else, another conference crown would go a long way to helping the rest of us figure out Gonzaga.
And they’re not the only perplexing team this season. All of the following teams except for DePaul have an RPI lower than 58 and all of them were slated to be NCAA Tournament bound.
Creighton (8-4, with losses to Dayton, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nebraska) has yet to resemble a mid-major team who will make splash in the Big Dance. The Jays don’t force the issue offensively, but maybe they should start. Not many teams have a shooter like Nate Funk. At this rate, they’re chasing Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Wichita State for Missouri Valley honors.
Boston College (9-4) hasn’t held leads throughout this season, but Yale proved to be a nice remedy for that ailment. The Eagles have one of the nation’s premier do-it-all players in senior forward Jared Dudley and a shot-blocker extroadinaire in Sean Williams (nearly 6 blocks a game!), but don’t get enough consistency at point guard. They’ve beaten Maryland and Michigan State, but that loss to Duquesne (Dudley didn’t play) hurts that bottom line.
DePaul (9-6) can look great (beating Kansas), good (against Cal and Wake) or poor (in losses to Bradley, Northwestern, UAB and St. John’s. The Demons should be playing for a bye in the Big East Tournament, but I’m not so sure they’re going to get out of the first day at this rate.
Rick Pitino looked like he’d turned the Cardinals (10-5) into a perennial contender with that run to the 2004 Final Four. But they were NIT-bound last season and may be headed that way again this year. His players have struggled (David Padgett has been a bust), are not able to carry the team (Juan Palacios still looks like a role player) or just too young (Terrence Williams and Edgar Sosa look promising). Right now, the Cardinals don’t have any quality wins, are ranked 119th in the RPI and look like a typical young team that will struggle in conference play — even in a down Big East.
How happy is Indiana that Steve Alford didn’t want that job? Iowa seems like it’s still recovering from last season’s NCAA Tournament loss to Northwestern State. The Hawkeyes (8-6, 139th in RPI) have one decent win and that was over in-state rival Iowa State. They can’t beat other major teams like Villanova, Arizona State, Virginia Tech, and the two in-state losses to Northern Iowa (acceptable) and Drake (unacceptable) can’t be good for Alford’s squad. Iowa is getting great games from Adam Haluska, but that’s about it.
Wake Forest may be getting anxious with Skip Prosser. The Deacs missed the Big Dance last season — with All-ACC players like Justin Gray and Eric Williams — and started off this season 5-0. But after losses to Air Force, Georgia, DePaul, Virginia Tech and South Florida, Wake is headed for another season in the ACC’s basement.
Need some strange mid-majors?
Penn (6-6, misses Fran Dunphy’s guidance), Illinois-Chicago (good talent for a Horizon team, but 7-8 right now), Hofstra (the team that beat George Mason twice last year is an unimpressive 9-4) and Rice (Morris Almond and his 31.4 ppg should make a team better than 6-6).
• Jan. 3 | 10 a.m. PT
Was Indiana good or Ohio State bad?
It may not be fair, but that’s the big question from the Buckeyes’ 74-67 win Tuesday night in Columbus. The Hoosiers looked great and it made Ohio State look bad in some spots — like perimeter defense — but probably improved the Buckeyes overall.
Indiana dictated the pace, hit 12-of-22 shots from three-point land and had Ohio State’s star freshman center Greg Oden in foul trouble for much of the second half.
Still, that didn’t prevent Oden from scoring a career-high 21 points — he made 9-of-10 free-throw attempts, all with his left hand because his dominant right hand is still in a cast from surgery — and from forcing Indiana star forward D.J. White into an awful offensive performance. White finished with 11 points, making just 3-of-14 attempts from the field, even though Oden had just four blocks.
Oden said after the game that he “was a little nervous. It was a big, physical game, and Coach (Thad Matta) told us it would be really tough,” which looked like it was true. The big fella played well, but did look like a freshman who was adjusting to his first conference game.
It also prompted the Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz to wonder what Indiana’s fortunes would be like if they had managed to keep the homegrown talent, Oden and Conley.
The other relevant stats? The Buckeyes attempted 24 more free throws and their other freshmen, guards Mike Conley Jr. (9 points, 10 assists) and Daequan Cook (12 points) continue to play like upperclassmen. The Columbus Dispatch’s Bob Hunter says the freshmen better get used to this kind of game, especially if they expect to make a run for the national title.
The game came down to this: Indiana needs more than just White offensively, but even when their shooters came up big last night, the Hoosiers still didn’t have enough. Maybe things will be different in Bloomington (read: foul shots), and when A.J. Ratliff returns from an injured wrist.
And, as John Gasaway writes in his Big Ten Wonk blog, the Buckeyes still aren’t the best team in the Big Ten — but Oden doesn’t have full use of his right hand and if Ohio State isn’t hitting from outside, they’re vulnerable.
All of which makes their Jan. 9 showdown against Wisconsin in Madison all the more intriguing.
• Duke throttled Temple to improve to 13-1. Still not sure if they’ll beat UNC for the ACC title, but Coach K’s team just keeps winning games, again.
• I expected Winthrop give Texas A&M a tighter game than this. Check back in March to see what this means for your bracket.
• Mike Anderson is making sure the Big 12 must once against pay attention to Missouri.
• Jan. 1 | 6:30 p.m. PT
Hitting the links
Going through the college hoops stories of the day while watching some college football. (What? It’s New Year’s Day. A person’s supposed to watch football New Year’s Day.)
Anyway, have fun clicking.
• The swell for Wisconsin's Alando Tucker as the nation's top player continues to grow. The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy wrote a little bit about Tucker a couple of week ago, but he’s had a couple more big games since then, including a nice road win at Georgia. If Wisconsin keeps up its torrid start (14-1), the support for Tucker will only grow. Still, he’ll have to hold off Purdue’s Carl Landry and Ohio State’s Greg Oden in the Big Ten player of the year race, and compete with Nevada’s Nick Fazekas and UCLA’s Arron Afflalo for the national race.
• After getting thumped by UCLA on Sunday and USC on Thursday, Washington dropped to 10-3. What’s with the Huskies? They miss Brandon Roy. (Who wouldn’t?)
• Wednesday’s gonna be a fun day in Cincinnati. Huggins is back in town!
• Alabama posted some decent wins over Southern Miss and N.C. State, but with that lone loss to Notre Dame, I was reserving judgment. After they handled Oklahoma on Monday, maybe it’s time to consider the Tide serious contenders. Any team with Ronald Steele and Jermareo Davidson is dangerous. (Can’t wait to see Davidson’s sky hook in action.)
• Creighton is now slightly less disappointing this season.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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