Saturday, February 28, 2009

LSU Upends Kentucky; Purdue Hammers Ohio State

#18 LSU 73, Kentucky 70

Tasmin Mitchell's 3-pointer with 9.3 seconds left provided the winning margin for LSU's 10th consecutive victory, as they won at Kentucky for the first time in 20 years, leaving no doubt that they are a team to be reckoned with in the post-season.

The Tigers led by as many as 12 points in the first half, only to see Kentucky to come back to lead by 10 in the second half.

As the two SEC foes battled through a memorable contest, Bo Spencer's 3-pointer at 1:18 gave the Tigers a 69-66 lead. After the teams traded free throws, Darius Miller hit a clutch three for Kentucky to tie the game at 70, but then Mitchell hit the biggest shot of the game, his only 3-point make of the game, with 9.7 left.

Marcus Thornton led the Tigers with 23 points to go with 6 rebounds; Michell had 21 and 8 boards. Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks had 28 and 24 points, respectively, for Kentucky.

LSU has already wrapped up the SEC West and is assured an NCAA bid, but Kentucky lost for the third time in four games and is on the tournament fringe, at 8-6 and 19-10 overall.

#16 Purdue 75, Ohio State 50

In a team effeort, Purdue shot 55%, put five players in double figures, and seriously damaged Ohio State's chances of getting a NCAA invite.

The Boilermakers sent the Buckeyes to an 8-8 record in the conference and 18-9 overall. The Buckeyes need to win their remaining Big 10 games - March 3, at Iowa and March 8, against Northwestern - in order to keep their hopes alive as they have lost 4 of their last 5.

Washington Clinches PAC-10 Tie: Duke, Sooners Win

#21 Washington 83, Arizona 78

Jon Brockman scored 19 points and pulled in 9 rebounds and Isaiah Thomas tallied 19 as well, putting the Washington Huskies in an excellent position to win their first PAC-10 title in 24 years. Their win over Arizona clinched at least a tie with one game left, against Washington St. on March 7. The Huskies knocked off the Cougars back in January, 68-48.

Trailing most of the game, the Huskies ran off 10 straight points, turning a 6-point deficit into a 66-62 lead with less than 6 minutes left in the second half. The two teams traded baskets and free throws down the stretch, but the best the Wildcats could do was tie the game at 68-all. From there, the Huskies hunkered down on defense and canned key buckets and free throws as time wore down.

Jordan Hill led Arizona with 27 points on 12-18 shooting. The Huskies improved to 13-4, 22-7, while Arizona kept slim post-season hopes alive despite the loss. They are 8-8 in the PAC-10 and 18-11 overall.

#7 Duke 72, Virginia Tech 65

The Blue Devils (24-5, 10-4) continued their relentless pursuit of North Carolina in the ACC, winning on the road in Blacksburg to remain within striking distance of the Tar Heels.

Gerald Henderson was Duke's leader again. He and Kyle Singler led all scorers with 21 points each. Henerdson grabbed 6 rebounds and dished 6 assists. He has led the team in scoring in three straight wins, with 19 against St. John's and 35 in the Blue Devils' win over Wake Forest.

After a home game against Florida State on March 3, Duke closes out the regular season at North Carolina, March 7.

#3 Oklahoma 78, Texas Tech 63

Blake Griffin returned to the lineup and the Oklahoma Sooners promptly ended their 2-game skid.

The aftereffects of a concussion suffered against this same Red Raider team apparently long gone, Griffin had 14 points and 9 rebounds in the opening half and finished with 20 and 17. Griffin's older brother, Taylor, a 6'7" senior, pitched in his own double-double leading all scorers with 22 points and 10 rebounds.

The Sooners (26-3, 12-2) still have a shot at the Big 12 regular season title, though they trail Kansas by 1/2 game. The #15 Jayhawks have an important date with #11 Missouri tomorrow.

UConn Ousts Irish; ACC: Wake, Seminoles with Key Wins

#2 Connecticut 72, Notre Dame 65

Senior Jeff Adrian, playing his final home game, led the Huskies with 25 points on 11-15 shooting, past hopeful Notre Dame, whose NCAA hopes continue to fade. Adrian also packed in 9 rebounds.

Close throughout, Connecticut finally took control in the final minute, scoring the last six points after taking a 66-65 lead.

Notre Dame was clinging to faint hopes of getting an NCAA bid, having won 4 of their last five coming in. That streak was preceded, however, by a 7-game losing streak which put the Irish in serious post-season trouble.

Connecticut's win likely sealed the fate of the Irish, dropping them to 16-12 and 7-9 in the Big East. The Huskies, meanwhile, continue to march toward the regular season Big East title. They improved to 15-2 (27-2 overall), stretching their lead over 13-2 Louisville and 12-3 Marquette, who face each other on Sunday.

Pitt, also 12-3, plays at Seton Hall Saturday night.

In the ACC, #13 Wake Forest and #23 Florida State each won key games, topping Virginia and #12 Clemson respectively.

The Demon Deacons won, 70-60, on the road, while Florida State held court at home, 73-66. Both teams improved to 9-5 in the ACC, while Clemson dropped to 8-6.

Toney Douglas led the Seminoles with 23 points as Florida State likely secured an NCAA bid with the win, beating Clemson for the second time this season. Otherwise, the Seminoles are just 1-4 against ranked opponents, the sole win coming against Florida back in December.

Butler Captures Horizon; Memphis Wins 56th Straight in C-USA

The #24 Butler Bulldogs (25-4, 15-3) rallied from a 10-point deficit with under 10 minutes to go, dropping pre-season Horizon League favorite, Cleveland State, 58-56.

Willie Veasley led the Bulldogs with 16 points, earning their third straight Horizon League title. The Bulldogs will be the #1 seed when they host the league tournament, which begins on Saturday, March 7.

#5 Memphis 58, Southern Miss. 42

The Memphis Tigers (26-3, 14-0) already have the Conference-USA title, which they earned on Thursday night with a win over UAB. On Saturday, they extended the nation's longest winning streak to 20 games while winning their 56th straight conference game, easily getting by Southern Miss.

Robert Dozier led all scorers with 18 points. The Tigers have two regular season games remaining before the league tourney. After that, it's on to the big dance, probably as a #2 seed, though some believe Memphis should be a #1.

Hansbrough Sets NCAA Mark in GaTech Rout; Villanova Upset

Georgia Tech was determined not to let Ty Lawson tear them up. While the Yellow jackets successfully kept Lawson's scoring down in the early going, they couldn't stop him from passing - and finding - teammate Tyler Hansbrough, who scored 18 first half points, many off of Lawson's 7 assists.

Consequently, the #4 Tar Heels raced to a 46-33 halftime lead, going on to a thorough thrashing of Georgia Tech, 104-74.

The first half may have been the best of the season for North Carolina. While Hansbrough put up monster numbers, nine different Tar Heels scored and they committed just one foul through the first 20 minutes while shooting 46% and going 10-10 from the foul line.

Hansbrough finished with a game-high 28 points, setting an NCAA record in the process, by becoming the player with the most free throws made in a career, breaking Wake Forest's Dickie Hemric's mark of 905. Hemric's total stood for more than 50 years, but Hansbrough surpassed that mark when he made a foul shot with 14:54 to play.

Georgetown 56 Villanova 54

Georgetown (15-12, 6-10) probably isn't going to get an NCAA invitation, though they surely think they can make life in the Big East. Limiting Villanova to 29% first half shooting, the Hoyas took a 32-27 lead at the break.

Despite the poor shooting, the Wildcats never lost their poise and kept chipping away at the Hoyas' lead, getting to within 2 points at 52-50 with under five minutes to play. Both teams missed numerous shots, keeping the score the same until Cory Stokes made one of two free throws to cut the lead to one with 1:15 remaining.

Georgtown's Chris Wright made it 54-51 with 47 seconds left and the Wildcats were forced into desperation fouling. Stokes hit a three-pointer with 3 seconds left, but it was too late. Villanova lost for just the second time in their last 11 games and it was only their third loss at home this season.

Villanova fell to 21-6 and 11-5 in the Big East, eliminating them from contention for the conference title.

Friday, February 27, 2009

PAC-10: Huskies Looking Top Notch

Jon Brockman scored 21 to lead the #21 Washington Huskies to an overtime win past the #14 Arizona State Sun Devils Thursday night, 73-70

#22 UCLA struggled with Stanford, but emerged victorious, 76-71.

Cal beat USC in overtime, 81-78.

Those results left 12-4 Washington with a 1 1/2 game lead over Cal, UCLA and Arizona St., all at 10-5. Those four seem certain to receive NCAA bids. A fifth and possibly a sixth team from the conference is likely. Performance in the conference tournament will likely be the determining factor in that argument.

Big 10: Purdue Upset, Illinois Cruises

DeShawn Sims poured in 29 points and Manny Harris contributed 27, as the Mihigan Spartans upset #16 Purdue, 87-78.

#20 Illinois won at Minnesota, 52-41, holding the Gophers to 32% shooting.

#5 Memphis won their 324,678th straight Conference-USA game, extending the nation's longest win streak to in a 71-60 win over UAB. The Tigers look like the most solid #2 NCAA seed ever.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top 25, Feb. 26: Butler, Xavier Seek Conference Titles

#19 Xavier 68, St. Joseph's 54

The Xavier Musketeers continued their march toward the NCAA tournament with a convincing road win over Atlantic-10 pursuer, St. Joseph's. Xavier needs just one more win - over either Dayton (March 5) or at Richmond (March 7) to capture the A-10 regular season crown.

Derrick Brown and B.J. Raymond each scored 18 points in the win which put Xavier at 23-5 overall and 11-3 in conference play.

#24 Butler 78, Youngstown St. 57

Sophomore forward Matt Howard scored 25 points and hauled down 10 boards as Butler punished Youngstown State in Horizon League action. The Bulldogs clinched at least a tie for the league championship, and can take the title outright with a win over Cleveland State on Saturday, Feb. 28.

The Bulldogs are 14-3 in the Horizon, with Wisconsin-Green Bay a game back at 14-3. The teams split their two games this season, with each winning at home by an identical 9 points. There exists a distinct possibility that both could receive NCAA bids, as the winner of the tournament gets an automatic nod. Both teams have solid records.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Top 25 Roundup (late games): Clemson Dumped; Duke Tops Terps

Virginia Tech 80, #12 Clemson 77

Malcolm Delaney scored 26 points for the Hokies as Virginia Tech (17-10, 7-6) made its case for inclusion in the NCAA field. It was just the second win for the Hokies over a ranked opponent, though both wins came on the road. Back on Jan. 21, the Hokies stunned then-#1 Wake Forest, 78-71.

Virginia Tech's road to the tournament gets tougher, however, as their remaining ACC games are against Duke, North Carolina and Florida State.

Villanova 74 DePaul 72

The Wildcats won for the 9th time in 10 games, holding on for a Big East win over the DePaul Blue Demons. Villanova improved to 11-4 in the conference and 23-5 overall.

Michigan St. 62, Iowa 54

Tom Izzo used his entire bench, getting scoring from 9 different players, as the Spartans maintained their lead in the Big 10 at 12-3. a hame and a half better than 10-4 Purdue.

Delvin Roe scored 16 points on 6-7 shooting for Michigan State.

#7 Duke 78, Maryland 67

Duke's defenders held Greivis Vasquez to just 10 points, as the Blue Devils dampened Maryland's NCAA invitation hopes, beating the Terps,

Maryland dropped to 6-7 in the ACC (17-10 overall), while Duke moved to within a game of league leading North Carolina (10-3), at 9-4. Gerald Henderson had another solid game, leading the Blue Cevils with 19 points.

In Big 12 action, #11 Missouri cruised past Kansas State, 94-74, getting 22 points from DeMarre Carroll, who led 5 players in double figures for the Tigers. Carroll also corralled 13 boards.

#25 Texas topped Texas Tech, 87-81. A.J. Abrams scored 24 and Damion James had 20 and 12 boards.

Top 25 Roundup (early games): UConn Tops Marquette

#2 Connecticut 93, #8 Marquette 82

A.J. Price scored 38 points to lead the Huskies to a Big East win that left them alone atop the conference.

The premiere game of the evening matched the #2 Connecticut Huskies at the #8 Marquette Golden Eagles with nothing short of the Big East lead on the line. With Pitt having faltered Tuesday night at Providence, the Huskies came into the game tied with Louisville at 13-2, with Marquette a half game back at 12-2.

The Huskies established a lead in the closing minutes of the first half, taking a 43-37 lead into the break, but Marquette, comfortable on their home court, kept closing. When Wesley Matthews hit a pair of free throws at 7:53 in the second half, the Golden Eagles retook the lead, 60-59.

From there, the two teams exchanged leads back and forth, with UConn eventually grabbing a 8-point edge on a pair of Stanley Robinson three-point plays with 4:32 left in the game. Marquette cut the lead to five, but could get no closer.

Robinson scored 19 points, half of Price's total. Price was sensational, hitting 13-20 from the field, including 8-12 on 3's and a perfect 4-4 from the line.

Jerel McNeal scored 26 to lead Marquette.

At 26-2 and 14-2 in the conference, the Huskies host Notre Dame on Saturday and then get a week off before closing out the regular season in a rematch at Pitt. Winning both would give UConn the title, as they have a win over Louisville already in hand.

South Carolina 77, Kentucky 59

South Carolina punched their NCAA dance ticket on Wednesday night with a serious thumping of SEC East rival Kentucky, establishing an instant lead and hitting from everywhere on the floor in a 77-59 win.

Dominique Archie and Devan Downey led the onslaught. Archie had a perfect first half, going 5-for-5 with 2 3-pointers for 12 points. Downey tallied 10 in the opening period. Eight different Gamecocks scored, as they established a 46-28 lead at the half.

Archie scored just one more point in the second half, but Downey totaled 21 for the game, offsetting Patrick Patterson's 28 for the Wildcats.

South Carolina emerged with a one-game lead in the division, at 9-4, with Kentucky and Florida a game back at 8-5. The Gamecocks are 20-6 overall.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Missouri Valley Madness

The race for the title in the Missouri Valley Conference reached a fever pitch on Tuesday night as Creighton won their 9th straight, stopping Missouri St., 65-59.

At the same time, Northern Iowa had to go to two overtime sessions to finally dispatch Illinois State, 69-67, and remain tied with Creighton atop the standings at 13-4.

Northern Iowa eliminated the Redbirds from title contention, pushing then down to 11-6. with just one game remaining in the regular season, it sets up what should be an exciting conference tourney to determine which team gets the automatic NCAA bid.

While Creighton is almost assured of getting an invite due to their stellar 24-6 overall record. Northern Iowa may be sweating at 18-10. Illinois St. still has hopes at 22-7.

BC Drops Seminoles; LSU Takes Out Gators for 9th Straight

Boston College 72, #23 Florida State 67

The schizophrenic BC Eagles were at their multi-faceted best Tuesday night, scoring 24 points in the first half before exploding for 48 in the second, downing Florida State in the process and keeping alive hope for a ticket to the NCAA tournament.

The Eagles were led by Vermont transfer, Joe Trapani, who tallied 19 points and had 6 rebounds. Florida State's Toney Douglass equaled that output, hitting five 3-pointers and going 4-4 from the foul line.

BC improved to 8-6 in the ACC and 20-9 overall, while the Seminoles fell to 8-5 and 21-7

#18 LSU 81, Florida 75

LSU's Marcus Thornton scored 32 points to lead the Tigers to their 9th straight win, clinching the SEC West title with a signature win over Florida, one of the leaders in the SEC East. It was the sixth time this season that Thornton had scored 30 or more points in a game.

LSU is virtually assured of a solid seeding in the NCAA tourney, though the rest of the conference isn't performing at a very high level.

The 8-5 Gators dropped a half game behind South Carolina and Kentucky - both at 8-4 - in their division. LSU is 12-1 and 24-4.

Providence Problematic for #1 Pitt

Sure enough, just a day after being named the #1 team in the nation by the AP Poll, the Pitt Panthers stumbled against a Providence team fighting for an NCAA bid, losing for the first time in 8 games, 81-73.

Providence came out flying, getting 12 first-half points from Jonathan Kale as they shot 53% in the period. Pitt shot a sub-par 37% on 10-27 shooting. At the break, the Friars held a healthy 44-26 edge.

Nearing the midpoint of the second half, Pitt had cut the Friars' lead to 10 points, but consecutive fouls by DeJuan Blair over a 14-second span sent the Pitt star to the bench with four personals.

Providence quickly built its lead back to 17 points, as Sam Young valiantly fired away, but the usually-reliable swimgman could not carry the load alone. Young finished with 16 points on 7 for 18 shooting (1-for-4 from 3-point range).

The Panthers weren't helping themselves much, putting Providence in the double bonus with 5:21 to play. That's when Blair returned, but by then the Friars were still up by 14.

The Panthers could cut the gap to no closer than 5 points down the stretch as Providence snapped their own 2-game losing streak.

Five Providence players hit double figures, led by Weyinmi Efejuku's 16 points.

The Friars are now 9-7 in the conference and 17-11 overall, and suddenly have a much better shot at getting that NCAA invitation.

Eslewhere in the Big East, Syracuse got a much-needed win at St. John's, mauling the Red Storm, 87-58. Jonny Flynn led the Orangemen with 21 points to go with 8 assists.

Jayhawks Jump Sooners, Take Big 12 Lead

Defending NCAA champion Kansas Jayhawks are right back in the thick of things after knocking off #2 Oklahoma, 87-78, Monday night in Norman.

By knocking off the Sooners, Kansas took over sole possession of first place in the Big 12 standings. Oklahoma was playing without its star and potential player of the year, Blake Griffith, who was sidelined due to a concussion suffered against Texas on Sunday.

Freshman Tyshawn Taylor scored a career-high 26 points and Sherron Collins equaled him with 26 of his own to lead the Jayhawks. Cole Aldrich had no match in the low post, scoring 15 points and hauling in 20 rebounds for his 16th double-double of the season.

#15 Kansas improved to 12-1 in the conference and 23-5 overall. The Sooners have lost two straight for the first time this season and trial Kansas by one game at 11-2, followed by #11 Missouri at 10-2.

Kansas hosts Missouri on Sunday, March 1, while the Sooners expect Griffith to return for their game at Texas Tech on Saturday, Feb. 28.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Louisville Grabs Big East Share

Louisville blew past Georgetown, 76-58, likely ending the Hoyas' NCAA hopes. Georgetown is 14-12 overall and 5-10 in the Big East.

Louisville shot 70% in the first half - hitting all 6 of their 3-point attempts - and raced off to a 41-31 lead at Georgetown. Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark each had 9 points.

Clark scored a game-high 22. Terrence Willimans had 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Louisville moved into a tie for first place in the Big East with Connecticut at 13-2. Winners of five straight, the Cardinals next host #8 Marquette on Sunday, March 1.

Pittsburgh Regains #1 Status in Latest AP Poll

On the strength of their road win over the UConn Huskies last week, the Pitt Panthers (25-2, 12-2) received 69 first place votes and reclaimed the #1 ranking in the latest AP Top 25 poll.

The Panthers look like good to maintain that position into the next poll, as they play Big East underlings, Providence and Seton Hall on the 24th and 28th, though both games are on the road.

After that, the Panthers will really be put to the test as they close out the Big East regular season with home games against #8 Marquette and #2 Connecticut. If Pitt can manage four wins, they are a near-lock to be a #1 seed and possibly the #1 overall seed for the NCAA tournament, despite having to navigate through the rugged Big East tourney first.

As they say, there's still a lot of ball to be played. Pitt benefited from other top 5 teams losses. Besides UConn, Oklahoma and North Carolina also lost during the week. The Sooners checked in at #3, and the Tar Heels, #4. Memphis filled out the top 5, followed by #6 Louisville, #7 Duke, #8 Marquette, #9 Michigan State and #10 Villanova, placing four Big East teams in the top 10 for the first time since November 24.

Pittsburgh has been ranked in the top 5 all season, and held the #1 position in the January 5 and January 12 polls. Since then, Wake Forest, then Duke, held the top spot, until Connecticut took it over on February 2.

North Carolina and Oklahoma have also been highly-regarded all season, though the Sooners have not been ranked #1 yet. North Carolina was top-ranked through the first 8 weeks of the season, through December 29.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Duke Tops Wake Forest, 101-91

Gerald Henderson scored a season-high 35 points, and Jon Scheyer tossed in 30, as the Duke Blue Devils avenged an earlier 70-68 loss, and breaking out of a funk that had seen them lose four of their last seven conference games, whipping Wake Forest, 101-91.

Despite shooting 61% (36-59) for the game, the Demon Deacons found themselves trailing the Blue Devils by 11 at the break, 51-40, but stage a second half comeback.

Jeff Teague and James Johnson, who finished with 28 and 26, respectively, led the rally, cutting the advantage to 3 points on a couple of occasions and down to two with 9 1/2 minutes left, but by 5:21 left, despite their gaudy shooting percentage, they found themselves down 8 points, 88-80.

Duke was being led throughout by Henderson and Scheyer, plus 20 points from their productive bench. Duke also held a massive free throw advantage, hitting on 27 of 36 attempts, to Wake's 14 of 16.

The Deacons only began to wilt in the late stages. Gerald Henderson put a deep nail in the coffin with a three-pointer with 3:07 to go, which made the score 93-82.

Duke joined Florida State and Clemson at 8-4, in pursuit of 10-3 North Carolina, with Wake dropping to 7-5 in the conference.

Winning Ugly: #6 Michigan State Downs Wisconsin, 61-50

The brand of basketball coming out of the Big 10 these days is no thing of beauty, but the Michigan State Spartans have taken the defense-first approach to new levels ths season.

The Spartans broke open a close game in the final minutes, dispatching Wisconsin, 61-50 on Sunday afternoon in East Lansing.

Wisconsin shot a pathetic 31% for the game, but hit 7 of 21 3-pointers while Michigan St. missed on 7 of 9 attempts from beyond the arc. The Spartans' first long-range hit was timely, a Chris Allen 24-footer which gave the them a 52-47 lead with 2:40 left to play, followed by a Kalin Lucas trey at 1:57 which kept Michigan State safely ahead down the stretch.

Lucas led the way with 17 points, followed by Goran Suton with 16.

Michigan State's win ended a five-game Badger winning streak, which commenced after they had lost six in a row. Wisconsin (8-7, 17-10) hasn't beaten a ranked foe outside their conference, which puts their invitation to the field of 65 on very shaky ground.

The Spartans improved their Big 10 lead to a full game over 10-4 Purdue, as they improved to 11-3 and 21-5 overall.

While Michigan St., Purdue and Illinois all seems sure to go to the NCAA tourney, Ohio St., Penn St., Wisconsin and Minnesota are all vying for he 4th and maybe 5th invite for the Big 10.

Sunday's Best: Villanova, Illinois, Xavier, Clemson

Villanova 89 Syracuse 86

The Syracuse Orangemen were looking to avenge an earlier 102-85 loss at Villanova and reclaim their right to an NCAA bid, but, at the same time, the Wildcats were seeking to win for the 8th time in their last 9 games. The Villanove win left the Syracuse post-season plans largely in limbo.

The Wildcats led most of the first half and into the second, when Syracuse went on a 14-2 run to grab a one-point lead, but Villanova went on an 11-0 run midway through the second half to regain the edge, 68-59.

The Orange were feeling comfortable on their home floor, however, getting back ot within 3 points with under 6 minutes to play, but the Wildcats quickly rebuilt a 9-point lead. Undeterred, the Orange cut the lead to 2 points with 15.8 seconds left but misfired on four straight three-point tries after Reggie Redding made one of two free throws.

Syracuse hasn't beaten a ranked opponent since downing then-#12 Notre Dame on January 17, though they had previously beaten Florida, Kansas and Memphis. The loss leaves syracuse at 7-7 in the Big East and 19-8 overall, but they still need to prove themselves either in their season finale at Marquette on March 7 or in the Big East tournament.

Illinois 70 Ohio St. 68

The Buckeyes are another team insecure in their tournament future as they sought to upend the visiting Fighting Illini, but Illinois proved they were better than an earlier 49-67 home loss to Ohio State, as sophomore forward Mike Davis led the scoring with 20 points on 11-14 shooting while taking down 8 rebounds.

Illinois improved to 22-6 overall and 10-5 in the conference, trailing 10-3 Michigan St. and 10-4 Purdue. Ohio State drops to 7-7 in the Big 10 and 17-8 overall. The Buckeyes have lost three straight.

Clemson 81 Georgia Tech 73

Trevor Booker scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and K.C. Rivers added 19 as the Clemson Tigers improved to 22-4 and 8-4 in the ACC. They are tied with Florida State at 8-4, behind 10-3 North Carolina in the ACC standings. The Tigers will be joined by either Duke or Wake Forest (both 7-4) pending the outcome of the Duke-Wake Forest game tonight at Durham.

Xavier 71 George Washington 53

The Musketeers easily dispatched with another Atlantic-10 opponent, retaking the conference lead at 10-3 after the Dayton Flyers (9-3) were upended Saturday by St. Louis. Xavier had five players in double figures to end a stretch in which they lost three of four.

Their work still not finished, Xavier heads to St. Joseph's on Feb. 26, has a rematch with Dayton on March 5 and closes out at Richmond on March 7.

NCAA Hoops Saturday Wrap: Sooners, Bruins Fall

In the afternoon in which we saw #3 North Carolina blow a 16-point lead and lose to Maryland, a couple of other ranked teams - notably Oklahoma and UCLA - were also going down in flames while Pitt, LSU, Memphis, Washington and Kansas continued to march toward Madness.

The #2 Sooners could be forgiven for their 73-68 loss at Texas, since their All-American, Blake Griffin, left the game just 11 minutes in with a concussion. But, even without Griffin, shouldn't the Sooners have been able to handle the Longhorns, a team which had lost four of their last six games?

Oklahoma allowed A.J. Abrams to get off for 23 points - 16 in the final 8 minutes - to pull off the upset, rivaling Maryland's win over the Tar Heels. The Longhorns (7-5, 18-8) look more like the 4th Big 12 team that will receive an invite to the Big Dance, despite beating a handicapped Sooners squad.

#20 UCLA gets no such free pass in the 82-81 home loss to gritty Washington State. The Cougars (14-13, 6-9) are not, in all likelihood, going to the NCAA tournament, and the Bruins' loss demonstrates how weak the PAC-10 is this season, where arguably the best team cannot knock down a double-digit underdog on their home court.

There's some possibility that the Bruins won't be ranked after Monday. Washington and Arizona St. already have better records than they do, and unranked Cal may move into UCLA's slot. More clarity will come after the result of Sunday night's Arizona-Arizona State tilt.

There were more than a fair share of winners on Saturday's smorgasbord. #4 Pitt (which may end up as #1 on Monday night) made quick work of DePaul, winning by a 80-61 margin.

The Panthers got 20 points and 18 boards from sophomore star DeJuan Blair, who should be getting more mention in the player of the year circles. He's averaging a double double (15.8 points and 13 boards), and his Panthers have lost just twice, both on the road, at Louisville and Villanova.

Pitt should get the #1 ranking this week and very possibly will be a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Getting back to the Big 12, #11 Missouri and #15 Kansas were both victors Saturday. Missouri got 16 points and 13 rebounds from Leo Lyons in a 66-53 romp at Colorado. The Tigers may be the most dangerous team in the Midwest, having won six straight while compiling a 10-2 conference record and a 23-4 mark overall.

The Tigers play at Kansas on March 1 and host Oklahoma March 4. Those games are enormous in significance.

Kansas improved to 11-1 in the conference and tied the Sooners in the standings, knocking off Nebraska, 70-53. As usual, the Jayhawks rode their two big horses for the win. Sherron Collins led the way with 22 points; Cole Aldrich tossed in 18 with 12 boards.

#5 Memphis topped UTEP, 70-63, for their 53rd straight Conference-USA win and 18th straight win, the longest win streak in the nation. Tyreke Evans scored 25 points to lead the Tigers. Memphis can clinch the C-USA title outright with a win at UAB Thursday night.

Bringing up the rear of the standings, #22 Washington bumped off USC, 60-51; #17 Gonzaga romped, 92-58, past Pepperdine; #25 Dayton dropped a road game at St. Louis, 57-49; and #23 LSU continued to impress in the SEC, winning their 8th straight, 79-72, over Auburn.

LSU (11-1, 23-4) clinched the SEC South division with the win, and are clearly heading to the NCAA tourney. The Tigers will likely be the only SEC South division representative. Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida - all in the North - look like the other probable bid recipients.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

ACC: Vasquez Goes for 35 as Terrapins Upset Tar Heels

Maryland's Greivis Vasquez went for a season-high 35 points, as the Maryland Terrapins ended North Carolina's 10-game win streak, 88-85 on Saturday afternoon at the Comcast Center in Maryland.

The Terps struggled through a 32%-shooting first half, but rallied to close to within two points with a minute left when Eric Hayes scored on a driving layup. Then, following an empty Carolina possession, Vasquez tied the game with 11 seconds left on a running hook shot, sending the battle into overtime at 76-76.

In the extra period, Maryland grabbed a 3-point lead on a Vasquez triple, but Ty Lawson retied the game with a long-range bomb of his own, 81-81, half way through the OT.

But, it was Vasquez who responded with a big three with 1:15 left. After Ty Lawson hit a pair of free throws with 35.3 left, the Tar Heels knew they had to foul, a dangerous call against the 77% free throw shooting Terrapins. Carolina let time run down to 11.3 before fouling Hayes, who stepped up and made a pair for an 86-83 lead.

Up three, Maryland chose to foul Wayne Ellington, who dropped in two freebies at 5.9, making it a one-point game.

Vasquez was fouled on the inbounds pass at 5.4, but the ACC free throw leader calmly knocked down another two, for his game high 35 points. Carolina could not get a shot off as time ran out.

Vasquez, who had 16 in the first half, finished with 13-24 shooting, 5-10 from 3-point land, while also dishing 10 assists and grabbing 11 rebounds for the rare triple double.

Big East: Huskies, Cardinals, Golden Eagles Keep Winning

Hasheem Thabeet led the #1 Connecticut Huskies to a routine 64-50 home win over South Florida, keeping them atop the conference standings, at 13-2.

Thabeet scored a game-high 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting. Teammate Jeff Adrian huled down 14 boards to go with his 9 points.

#7 Louisville cruised to a 72-63 win at Cincinnati, for their 6th conference road win in seven tries. The Cardinals (21-5, 12-2) kept pace, second in the tight Big East race.

Terrence Williams led the scoring with 20 points. He also snatched 9 rebounds.

#10 Marquette survived a tussle at Georgetown, hitting their free throws down the stretch while maintaining a 6 to 9-point lead in a testing 78-72 win.

Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews provided most of the scoring punch for the Golden Eagles, with 22 and 21 points, respectively. Lazard Hayward added 17, with 10 rebounds.

Marquette also improved to 12-2 (23-4 overall) in the Big East. Pittsburgh looks to get to 12-2 when they host DePaul at 8:00 pm tonight.

Ryan Ayers hit 7 of 11 three-pointers and scored 28 points as unranked Notre Dame crushed Providence, 103-84. Both the Irish and Friars remain on the bubble for an NCAA bid.

SEC: Kentucky Rolls at Rupp, 77-58 over Vols

The last time Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Volunteers faced Kentucky, Jodie Meeks went off for 54 points in a 90-72 Kentucky rout, so he and his players were determined to stop Meeks when the SEC foes met at Rupp Arena on Saturday.

The Vols accomplished one goal - limiting Meeks to a pedestrian 14 points - but the rest of Kentucky's troops rose to the occasion for a dominating 77-58 win.

Tennessee put themselves into a big hole, unable to score for the first 8 minutes of the game, missing all seven shots and turning the ball over five times before finally getting on the board. By then, though, Kentucky led 15-2, and even though the Vols got to within 7 points by halftime, they just could not compete with the fired-up Wildcats, who are on a mission to take the SEC East division and finish impressively enough to snag a bid for the NCAA tournament.

Midway through the second half, the Wildcats opened up a 22-point lead, and kept the Vols at bay the rest of the way. Patrick Patterson put up a game-high 19 points on 9-12 shooting, many of them on dunks, and Darius Miller threw down 17, with a perfect 6-for-6 shooting performance, including 3 three-pointers.

The day began with 4 teams - Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida - all tied for the division lead at 7-4. By mid-afternoon, the Wildcats had earned at least a share of the top spot, as Florida and SC each played later in the day (more in subsequent posts).

The win puts Kentucky in a good spot at 19-8 and 8-4, with just four more regular season games remaining, while dropping the Vols to 16-10 and 7-5 and a likely end to their post-season hopes.

Three of those four games for Kentucky are against some of the best teams in the SEC, however. On Feb. 25, they travel to South Carolina, returning home on the 28th to host LSU and then Georgia on March 4, before finishing at Florida on the 7th.

Should the Wildcats reach the NCAAs, they will have trouble advancing very far as they are undersized inside and are often out of position on defense. They will need maximum production from Meeks the rest of the season, no matter how long it extends.

Curry Returns for Davisdon, but Butler Proves Too Tough

Stephen Curry returned from a one-game absence to for Davidson, but his sub-par shooting led to a runaway win for visiting Butler.

Curry played what was probably the worst half of his career in the opening frame against Horizon League powerhouse Butler, but nearing the break, he began to shake off the aftereffects of the sprained ankle which sidelined him in Davidson's 64-46 loss to Citadel on Thursday.

With 1:31 left in the first half, Davidson was trailing 31-23, when Garrett Butcher fouled Curry (who had hit just 1 of 10 shots from the field for a measly 3 points) and sent him to the line for a pair of free throws, which he canned.

At 1:14 remaining, Max Paulhus Gosselin added a deuce on a layup, cutting the lead to 4 points. After a Butler free throw and basket, Curry dropped in an 11-foot jumper, leaving the Wildcats down just 5 at the half, 34-29. Curry, despite the poor start, finished with 7 points at intermission, on 2-12 shooting (0-9 on 3's), and 3-3 from the foul line.

Curry regained his stroke somewhat in the second half, but by then it was too late, with Butler quickly establishing a double digit lead. The Bulldogs breezed to an unchallenged 75-63 road win. Propelled by freshman Gordon Hayward, who victimized the Wildcats with a game-high and career-high 27 points, the Bulldogs notched their 23rd win against just four losses.

Despite losing their last two conference games, Butler needs only to hold court at home against Youngstown St. and Cleveland St., Thursday, Feb 26 and Saturday, Feb 28, to capture the Horizon League regular season title.

Hayward, a 6'8" frosh, hit 6 of 12 from the field, including 4 of 7 on threes and 11-12 from the foul line. He also collected 10 boards for his fourth double-double of the season.

Curry finished with 20, but was just 6-23 from the field, hitting just 2-13 from outside the arc. 22-6 Davidson still should wrap up the Southern Conference South division, as they close out the season against three of the weakest teams in the conference, NC Greensboro, Georgia Southern and Elon.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bruins Even Score with Huskies; Zags Cruise

UCLA (20) stepped up at home and handed defeat to the PAC-10-leading, #22 Washington Huskies, 85-76, Thursday night. After the loss, Washington continues to lead the conference, but their 10-3 record is just 1/2 game better than the Bruins, Arizona State and Cal, all at 9-3.

Justin Dentmon led the Bruins with 22 points, on 9-16 shooting, including 4 of 5 from 3-point land. Jon Brockman chipped in 16 points.

Elsewhere in the conference, Cal knocked off Oregon, 78-60, for their 20th win of the season against six losses and 4th straight.

In the West Coast conference, Gonzaga buried Loyola Marymount, 91-54, improving to 20-5 overall, and 11-0 in the conference. The BUlldogs can clinch at least a tie for the WAC title with one more win or a loss by second place (8-3) Portland.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Xavier Humbled Again; Duke Wins in NY

For the third time in their last four games, the Xavier Musketeers have fallen to an Atlantic-10 foe, falling, 65-60, at Charlotte, dropping them a game behind the 10-2 Dayton Flyers in the conference standings at 9-3.

With an overall record of 21-5, there's no panic for Xavier securing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but their path to an automatic berth looked much better just 12 days ago, before road losses to Duquesne, Dayton and Charlotte.

C.J. Anderson was the only Xavier player to tally double figures, scoring 13. The Musketeers still have opportunities to get back on track with games against St. Joseph's and Dayton still remaining.

Duke Cruises Past St. John's

The Duke Blue Devils opened up an 11-point lead by halftime and coasted to a 76-69 win at St. John's.

Gerald Henerson was the game's high scorer with 19, tallying 11 from the charity stripe. Jon Scheyer had 18, Kyle Singler, 15.

Duke is 21-5 overall and 7-4 in the ACC, but trails 10-2 North Carolina for the conference lead.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Top 25 Roundup (Part 2)

#5 Memphis extended the nation's longest winning streak to 17 straight with another routine win against an overmatched Conference-USA foe, topping SMU, 90-47.

The Tigers won their 53rd straight conference game, improving to 11-0 and 23-3 overall. Shawn Taggart led five Memphis players in double figures with 19 points.

Horizon League Highjinks: Butler Loses Second Straight

#15 Butler is suddenly in danger of relinquishing their Horizon League lead. On Wednesday night, they lost their second straight in conference, losing on the road to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 63-60.

The Bulldogs face another stiff test when they play an out-of-conference game at Davidson Saturday. Butler lost to Loyola Chicago on Sunday and now, at 13-3 holds a slender edge over Wisconsin-Green Bay, at 12-4 for the top spot in the Horizon.

Wake, Tar Heels ACC Winners

In ACC action, #3 North Carolina held off NC State, 89-80, as the Wolfpack had no answer for Tyler Hansbrough, who scored a game-high 27 points on 10-16 floor shooting and 7-7 foul line effectiveness.

Wake Forest pounded Georgia Tech, 87-69, as James Johnson went off for 24 points, hitting 10 of 13 field goals.

The Demon Deacons tied Clemson and Duke at 7-3. North Carolina leads the conference at 10-2.

Louisville Tightens Big East Race

The #7 Louisville Tigers dispatched with Providence, 94-76, tying Marquette and Pitt at 11-2, a half game behind Connecticut (12-2). The Cardinals had 6 players in double figures, led by Edgar Sosa's 18 points.

Elsewhere, #23 LSU slipped by host Arkansas, 72-69, on Marcus Thornton's 26 points and #16 Kansas topped Iowa State, 72-55.

Illini Fall to Penn St.; Top 25 Wrap-up (part 1)

The Fighting Illini had won 10 straight at Assembly Hall and were 13-1 at home until their nemesis, Penn State, came to town to spoil their fun.

In one of the uglier games of this - or any - college hoops season, Penn State pulled off the upset of #18 Illinois, 38-33, in a game in which neither team shot 30% from the floor. Illinois was 15-52, 29%, going 3-17 from 3-point range, while the victors were 13-47 (28%), and 3-18 beyond the arc.

The difference was the Nittany Lions' success at the foul line, where they went 9-11. In a statistical oddity, the Illini didn't make it to the free throw line even once throughout.

Penn State's Talor Battle was the only player from either team to score in double figures. He finished with 11 points.

No Curry, No Win for Davidson

Stephan Curry, the nation's leading scorer, sat out Davidson's home tilt with the Citadel, and the Wildcats really missed him, dropping a 64-46 decision in the Southern Conference.

Curry, who is scoring at a 29 ppg clip, sprained an ankle in Davidson's win over Furman Saturday, and was missed by the Wildcats. Despite the loss, Davidson still owns a two-game edge over the Citadel in the South division of the conference. Davidson is 15-2. The Citadel is 13-4.

More Road Blues for Irish

Notre Dame lost another Big East road game, this one at West Virginia, 79-68, as Alex Ruoff scored 24 points for the improving Mountaineers. West Virginia improved to 6-6 in the conference and 17-8 overall, putting themselves in position for a possible NCAA tourney bid.

The Mountaineers beat Villanova, 93-72, on Friday and now have won three of their last four.

The Irish had halted a 7-game skid (5 on the road) with wins over Louisville and Seton hall last week, but seem to be back to their old ways on the road. Notre dame is now 5-7 in the Big East and 14-10 overall, in danger of missing out on a trip to the big dance.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Purdue Bombs Spartans, 73-54

Robbie Hummel's game isn't back to where it should be, but the Boilermakers keep winning, thanks Monday night to a #6 Michigan State team which shot just 33% for the game. #19 Purdue took care of business and the Spartans by a 73-54 tally.

Hummel scored just two points in his last outing at Iowa, and improved to 11 points against the Spartans, but all but two of his points came early. Hummel scored just two points in the second half on a pair of late free throws.

The win was Purdue's third straight following a pair of road losses, putting the 9-4 Boilermakers just a game back of 10-3 Michigan State in the Big 10. Purdue is now 20-6. Michiagan State is 20-5 overall.

Purdue took over the game early in the second half, opening up a double-digit lead on the Spartans, which stretched to as many as 22 points as the Boilermakers laid it on their conference foes.

JaJuan Johnson led the scoring with 17 points on 5 of 7 shooting and 7 of 8 from the foul line.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pitt Tops Huskies, 76-68, for 6th Straight

#4 Pittsburgh ventured into Connecticut for a tango with the #1 Huskies and emerged with an upset 76-68 win on the strength of DeJuan Blair's work in the paint and Levance Fields' long range accuracy late in the contest.

The game was close throughout, with the teams changing leads a number of times, but Blair was impressive under the iron throughout, finising with 22 points and 23 rebounds. Sam Young kept Pitt in the game throughout, registering a game high 25 points on 8-14 shooting from the field, including 4-7 on threes and 5-6 from the line.

Down the stretch, Pittsburgh's Jermaine Dixon made a 23-foot three-pointer at 4:31 in the second half, giving the Panther's a 59-58 lead. But the huskies came right back, as Jeff Adrien hit a layup at 4:09.

After a pair of Sam Young free throws the Panthers led again, 61-60.

Hasheem Thabeet hit a free throw for UConn, but Levance Fields responded a pair of three-pointers at 3:10 and 2:22, upping Pittsburgh's lead to 67-61 with 2:20 left.

Fields then hit a couple of freebies with 0:52 left and the Huskies were left with only the opportunity of desperate throws from beyond the arc.

Fields totaled 10. Jermaine Dixon scored 11 points.

The win may vault Pitt back to the top of the heap next week, though the AP Poll was released only today, so there's six more days of games prior to the next voters' decision and they'd have to leapfrog both North Carolina and Oklahoma to get to #1.

Connecticut will likely fall to no further than 6th.

The Huskies still lead the dead tight Big East standings by a half game at 12-2. Pitt improved to 11-2 and 24-2 overall. Louisville and Marquette are another half game back at 10-2.

Pittsburgh won its 6th straight and hosts Marquette on March 4 and Connecticut on March 7 to close out the regular season.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

ACC Wrap: Duke Bounced by BC; Tar Heels win 9th Straight

The Duke Blue Devils have been through rough stretches before, but the past 18 days and nights have turned the team inside out. Beginning with a January 28 loss at Wake Forest, Duke has dropped four of their last six games, culminating in Sunday night's 80-74 loss at Boston College. In between, the #6 Blue Devils lost to Clemson and arch-rival North Carolina.

Sunday's setback wasn't exactly a thing of beauty, but it was a huge win for BC, as Tyrese Rice made big plays down the stretch in a 21-point effort, aided by Vermont transfer Joe Trapani's 20.

Kyle Singler topped the scoring ladder with 25, but the absence of production from Duke's back court - Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus - was notable. Paulus had just 2 points and 2 assists in 25 minutes, while Scheyer was completely off his game, scoring 8 points on horrific 3-of-12 shooting, including 0-for-6 on three-pointers.

Duke dropped to 7-4 in ACC play and 20-5 overall. The Eagles, meanwhile, improved to 7-5 and 19-8, and now hold wins over duke and North Carolina, despite a pair of losses to Wake Forest and another to Clemson.

Tar Heels Slip Past Hurricanes

Ty Lawson made a 25-foot three-pointer with 11.2 seconds remaining and hit a pair of free throws with 2.5 left to seal a 69-65 North Carolina win at Miami.

Lawson's 21 pointed paced the Tar Heels, as they held off a determined Hurricane squad led by Jack McClinton's 35-point effort. Virtually unstoppable, McClinton hit 13 of 24 field goals, including 7-of-12 from 3-point range. McClinton's tally was a season high, eclipsing the 34 points he scored in his last game, a 78-75 loss at Duke on February 7. He scored 32 in the game just prior to that, a 79-52 thrashing of Wake Forest on February 4.

After playing three straight top-ranked teams in a row, life gets a bit easier for the Hurricanes, though not by much. They play at Florida State on Wednesday before returning home to face Boston College on Saturday. Miami is 15-9 overall, but just 4-7 in the ACC.

#3 North Carolina improved to 23-2 and 9-2 in league play. They lead the ACC by 2 games over Duke.

Clemson Stunned in OT at Virginia, 85-81

The Clemson Tigers ran into a buzz-saw in Virginia as the Cavaliers took the game into overtime and eventually prevailed, 85-81, as the Tigers missed crucial shots in the extra session.

The Tigers and Cavaliers traded leads throughout the game, which finished at a 74-all tie at the end of regulation. Virginia's Sylven Landesberg was awesome throughout the game, but especially in overtime, hitting a key layup which gave the Cavaliers an insurmountable lead late in the period.

Landesberg led the scoring parade with 23 points. Mike Scott chipped in with a double-double: 18 points and 10 rebounds. Virginia shot 53% for the game; Clemson was limited to 42% on 28 of 66 shooting.

The #12 Tigers lost for just the 4th time this season, all in the ACC. The previous losses were to conference powerhouses North Carolina, Wake Forest and Florida State. They are now 20-4 overall and 6-4 in the conference.

8-13 Virginia won just their second conference game against 8 losses.

Illinois Cruises Past Hapless Indiana, 65-52.

The last time the Illini and Hoosiers met, Illinois stormed out to a 22-1 lead, eventually winning that January 10 contest, 76-45. Since then, Indiana had lost 7 of 8, while Illinois was winning 6 of 9 for a 20-5 record and a national ranking at #22.

This time, playing at home, the Hoosiers didn't look much better through much of the game. Illinois pulled ahead 34-13 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the first half en route to a 65-52 win.

Indiana only made four field goals in the first half, and had seven shots blocked by relentless Illinois defenders. The Hoosiers finished with an 8-4 run, but still trailed 38-21 at the break, on 6-23 shooting (27%).

The Hoosiers made a game of it in the second half, executing better on offense and forcing Illinois into a number of turnovers. Indiana closed to within 6 points with 5 1/2 minutes remaining, but the Illini resisted and held on for the road win.

Though Illinois runs a 3 guard offense, their scoring leaders were their two front court starters, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis, both of whom led the scoring with 16 apiece. Tisdale's points came on 8 of 12 shooting; Davis registered a double-double, hauling down 12 rebounds.

Indiana's season is a lost one, with only one win (over Iowa) in the Big 10 and a 6-18 record overall, but it can pin its future hopes on sharp-shooting freshman, Matt Roth, who led the Hoosiers with 13 points, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range.

Illinois improved to 9-4 in the conference and 21-5 overall. They trail 10-2 Michigan State by 1 1/2 games in the Big 10 standings.

SEC Snub: LSU Wins 9th Straight But Remains Unranked

Not a single team from the SEC made the AP Top 25 poll or the second consecutive week, even though LSU has won 9 straight in the conference. At 21-4 and 9-1, the Tigers seem almost assured of making the grade on Monday, when the latest iteration of the Top 25 is released.

The Tigers received 167 votes in last week's poll, a solid #26 right behind Florida St, which made the poll for the first time since 1998. On Saturday, the Seminoles were brought back to earth by #7 Wake Forest, taking an 86-63 beating on the road.

While losing to the high-ranked Demon Deacons may not be enough to pull down Florida State (19-6, 6-4), LSU's come-from-behind, 73-66 win over Mississippi should carry more weight with the voters.

Along with the Tigers, South Carolina seems deserving of a ranking as well. The Gamecocks, at 7-3, are in a logjam with Kentucky and Florida for the East division lead, but they hold a win over Kentucky and a split with the Gators and have won 6 of their last 7 en route to an 18-5 record.

Both the Tigers and amecocks are idle until Feb. 18 (Wednesday), so it will be interesting to see if the voters decide to include the SEC in their calculus. The SEC normally places 4 or 5 teams in the NCAA tournament, so it would be stunning to see the conference shut out of the rankings in the polls leading up to the big dance.

With #21 Utah State, #24 Ohio State and #25 Florida State all suffering losses and #23 Syracuse being taken to overtime by Georgetown (4-8 in the Big East) on Saturday, will the voters find a spot for at least one SEC squad?

PAC-10 Madness: Struggling Bruins Drop Second Straight

After being bounced hard by #18 Arizona State on Thursday night, 74-67, #11 UCLA hit another speed bump when visiting the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday.

The Wildcats stormed out of the gate, opening up a 49-31 lead at the half, eventually winning 84-72, though the game was not nearly as close as the score indicated. Arizona led by as many as 25 points in the second half, even though the Bruins cut the deficit to 9 near the end of the game.

With the Bruins falling into a three-way tie for second place in the PAC-10, joined at 8-4 by Arizona State and Cal, the conference is up for grabs. Current leader, Washington, is 10-3 in conference play and 19-6 overall. They have the same overall record as both the Bruins and Cal.

Arizona is 18-8 overall and 8-5 in the conference, but is clearly the hottest team in the PAC-10, winning 7 straight after beginning conference play at 2-5 and being nearly written off as a contender.

The way they are playing, however, national ranking and a NCAA bid could be in their immediate future. If the Wildcats can continue playing well through the final five regular season games and perform well in the PAC-10 tourney (March 11-14 at the Staples Center in LA), they could even receive an automatic bid.

The task will be a daunting one for Arizona. Their next three games are all on the road: at Arizona St., Washington St. and Washington.

Pitt Rips It Up; Shoots 67% in Win over Bearcats

The Pitt Panthers set the bar high Saturday in an 85-69 home court win over Big East opponent Seton Hall.

Led by 7-for-9 shooting by both Sam Young (18 points) and DeJuan Blair (17), the Panthers shot a blistering 67% from the field, hitting 31 of 46 shots. Excluding 3-pointers (5-12), the Panthers were an astounding 26 of 34, for a 76.5% mark inside the arc.

Pitt actually had a better shooting eye from the field than the foul line (67%-61%).

The win was the 5th straight for #4 Pitt (23-2. 10-2). Despite their gaudy record, they continue to trail #1 Connecticut by a 1 1/2 games. The Huskies are 12-1 in the Big East and 24-1 overall. UConn whipped Seton Hall, 62-54 in New Jersey in preparation for hosting Pitt Monday night in a Big East showdown.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Top 25 Roundball Roundup

Here are some of the highlights from Wednesday night action:

(1) Connecticut 63, Syracuse 49 - Top-ranked Connecticut buried Syracuse, sending the Orangemen to their 6th loss in their last 8 games. The Huskies won their 12th straight, and are now 23-1 overall and 11-1 in the Big East. UConn looks to be the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tourney, though they have to navigate the remainder of their Big East schedule and the conference tournament. They have six regular season games left, two with Pitt and one with Marquette.

(2) Oklahoma 78 Baylor 63 - Blake Griffin recorded his 21st double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Oklahoma improved to 24-1.

North Carolina State 82 (7) Wake Forest 76 - Unranked NC State knocked off a serious ACC foe in the night's biggest upset. The Wolfpack improved to just 3-6 in the conference and 13-9 overall, while the Demon Deacons lost for the 4th time in their last 6, looking very vulnerable as the season progresses.

(8) Memphis 63 Tulsa 37 - Robert Dozier scored 23 points, as the Tigers humiliated Tulsa. Memphis is 21-3 and undefeated in Conference-USA at 9-0.

Dayton 71 (14) Xavier 58 - Eleven different players scored for Dayton, as the Flyers overmatched #14 Xavier and tightened the Atlantic-10 race. St. Joseph's leads the conference at 7-1, with unappreciated Dayton and Xavier tied at 8-2. Dayton already holds a 69-58 win over St. Joseph's. The Flyers are flying just beneath the national radar, but could make a good deal of noise in March.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tar Heels Gallop Past Duke, 101-87

The annual face-off between Duke and North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham was a game with meaning, as two of the top-rated teams in the country turned traded blows. Carolina pulled away late for a convincing win.

Duke, ranked #6 in the latest AP Poll, took a 52-45 lead into halftime, but the #3 Tar Heels stormed back in the second half, outscoring the Blue Devils 25-13 to start the 2nd stanza. North Carolina finally assumed the lead on a Wayne Ellington 3-pointer midway through the second half and extended their edge to 4 points on Ed Davis' short jumper.

Ellington's make was timely, being the only three made from seven he threw up. Carolina maintained their edge from there and expanded it to 78-71, when Ty Lawson hit a pair of jumpers 15 seconds apart with just over 7 minutes left. After Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough hit his only attempt at a 3-pointer at 13:58, making it 83-71, the Cameron Crazies were silenced and North Carolina had cemented their credentials as the class of the ACC.

Lawson led all scorers with 25 points on sharp 8-11 shooting and 9-9 from the free throw line. Kyle Singler led the Blue Devils with 22. Jon Scheyer had 20.

The Tar Heels had five in double figures plus Bobby Frasor with 9. Carolina improved to 22-2 overall, and first place in the ACC at 8-2. Duke dropped to 20-4 and 7-3.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Spartan Defense Clamps Down on Wolverines, 54-42

Michigan State improved to 10-2 in the Big 10 and 20-4 overall, holding Michigan to 35% shooting in a 54-42 road win.

Freshman Delvon Roe scored 14 points and had 10 boards in a season-high effort. Kalin Lucas led the Spartans with 15 points.

It was Michigan State's third straight win and also the third straight game in which their opponent has tallied 47 or fewer points. The Spartans are a perfect 18-0 when holding their opponent to 67 points or less.

Michigan St. leads Ohio State and Illinois by 2 1/2 games in the conference, seeking its first Big 10 title since 2001.

Elsewhere, #25 Florida St. shot a blistering 71% in a 48-point second half, cruising past Virginia, 58-67. #12 Clemson rolled past Boston College, 87-77.

Jodie Meeks hit a pair of free throws in the final minute and banged home a three-pointer with 9.8 seconds remaining to give Kentucky a 68-65 win over the Florida Gators in a key SEC matchup. Florida's Nick Calathes poured in 33 points but misfired on all three potentially game-tying free throws with 1 second left. Meeks led the Wildcats with 23.

Wildcats On the Prowl; Claw Marquette, 102-84

Scottie Reynolds scored 27 points and Villanova put five players in double figures as the Wildcats downed #10 Marquette, 102-84, Monday night in Philadelphia.

Villanova took the lead with minutes remaining in the first half, heading into the break up by five and were never seriously threatened after that.

Reynolds set a personal home court season high on 10 of 17 shooting, including 5 of 11 three-pointers. He previously scored 40 at Seton Hall and 31 at Providence.

Corey Fisher scored 20; Shane Clark was a perfect 6-6 from the floor (3-3 on threes) for 16, Dante Cunningham had 15 and Dwayne Anderson added 10 points for 'Nova.

Jerel McNeil and Lazar Hayward led the way for Marquette with 23 and 20, respectively.

The win was Villanova's sixth straight, improving to 8-3 in Big East play and 15-4 overall. Marquette lost for just the second time in conference play, dropping to 9-2 and 20-4.

Villanova continues on a mini-scoring streak, notching over 100 for the thrid time this season and for the second game in a row. Over their last three outings, the Wildcats have scored 97, 102 and 102.

The Golden Eagles shot 51%, but the Wildcats were better, canning 59% in one of their best outings of the season.

Missou Tops KU in Big 12 Thriller, 62-60

The pressure that Missouri applied throughout the game finally paid off in the second half as the host Tigers rallied from a 30-16 halftime deficit to defeat reigning national champion Kansas, 62-60, Monday night.

The Tigers limited the effectiveness of the Jayhawks' leading scorers - Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins - holding the duo to just 17 points. Collins was especially put off his game by the constant trapping, hitting just 4 of 13 shots, including 0-4 from three-point range. The effects of Missouri's steady defense seemed to also accompany him to the free throw line, where he hit just one of four attempts.

This was a game of statistical anomalies. The Tigers were outrebounded by Kansas, 48-28, hit just 2 of 14 3's, but countered their poor offensive play (36% from the field) with ball-hawking that resulted in 26 KU turnovers.

Missouri's DeMarre Carroll led all scorers with 22 points. Leo Lyons chipped in with 13. They were the only Tigers in double figures.

The win puts #17 Missouri in good shape for a run at the Big 12 title. Their unique defensive style - modeled after former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of hell" - generally makes life on the Mizzou court a harrowing experience for their opponents.

The win was their 4th straight and improved their conference record to 8-2. The loss was the first in the conference for Kansas, now 8-1, trailing 9-0 Oklahoma. The biggest test for the upstart Tigers, who haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2003, comes in March, when they play at Kansas on March 1 and then host Oklahoma on March 4 before closing out the season at Texas A&M on March 7.

Missouri improved to 21-4 overall, while the Jayhawks slid to 19-5. Both teams seem capable of making some late-winter noise.

Elsewhere, Sam Young scored 22 points to lead #4 Pitt over Big East rival West Virginia, 70-59. The Panthers improved to 9-2 in conference play and 22-2 overall while the Mountaineers fell to 5-6 in the Big East and 16-8 overall, putting them securely on the NCAA bid bubble.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Top 25 Breakdown: Who Fits, Who Doesn't

UConn remained #1 in today's new AP Top 25 poll, with a preponderance of #1 votes. For now, the Huskies are as good as gold for a #1 seed in the national tourney, though they'll have to survive two games with Pitt (4) and one with Marquette (8) prior to the post-season. Villanova moved up to #13 and may be better than their ranking. We'll find out tomorrow night when the Wildcats host the Golden Eagles.

Forget Syracuse. This squad simply hasn't learned the nuances of Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense. Their path to the NCAA seems impeded. Five teams from the Big East in the Top 25 may not be a stretch, though Syracuse doesn't look like the likely fifth wheel.

The SEC still didn't get a team into the rankings. Apparently, neither Florida's nor LSU's 19-4 records were good enough for the voters. It's an anomaly. One or both should be in, and possibly South Carolina as well. It's a glaring oversight by the voters.

Showing similar strength, the ACC sports 4 teams in the top 12 with Florida State sneaking in at #25 to make is 5 teams. In addition to North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and Clemson, Virginia Tech may also get a look soon though their final five games are against all those above them in the conference except Wake, including the Seminoles twice.

Staying at #2 was Oklahoma, again, as good a choice as any, though North Carolina is still an imposing presence at #3. Also from the Big 12, Kansas should be ranked higher than #16. They have the look of a team that can go deep in any tournament.

The West is a scamble, with just UCLA (11) and Arizona St. (18) making an appearance for the PAC-10 and Gonzaga (19) and Utah St. (21) the other entries. Other than the Bruins, none of these teams impress.

Butler and Memphis certainly belong. Xavier still has some sorting out to do in the A-10.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

LSU Wins 7th Straight SEC Game, Still Not Respected

Tasmin Mitchell scored 16 points and had 12 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season as the LSU Tigers improved to 19-4 (7-1 SEC) with a 76-62 home win over Alabama, losers of 17 straight SEC road games.

Marcus Thornton added 22 points on 8 of 13 shooting, hitting 5 of 5 from the foul line.

The win was the seventh straight SEC win for LSU, keeping the Tigers in first place in the West division of the conference.

Despite their solid records, both division leaders in the SEC - Florida (19-4, 6-2) and LSU - have been left off the Top 25 lists, though, with recent multiple losses being suffered by a number of teams - particularly Syracuse and Minnesota - the voters may see fit to open a spot for one or both of the SEC teams.

South Carolina, at 17-5 and 6-3 in the conference, may also garner some attention.

Both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls will be updated on Monday.

Villanova Uprising Sinks Syracuse

Dante Cunningham scored 31 points - matching a career high - as Villanova won its 5th straight in a 102-85 dismantling of the increasingly-shaky Syracuse Orangemen.

Despite a poor 3-11 shooting performance from standout Scottie Reynolds, the Wildcats got plenty of scoring and hustle from the rest of their roster with five players - including Reynolds' 10 points - in double figures.

Corey Stokes scored 16 points, Shane Clark had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Corey Fisher had 14, Both Stokes and Fisher notched three 3s.

Villanova improved to 19-4 on the season and is now 7-3 in the Big East. Their losses have come against the most solid teams in the conference: Louisville (by one point), Marquette and Connecticut. A 67-57 win at Pittsburgh on January 28 is indicative of the Wildcats' mettle.

Meanwhile, the Orangemen are slipping quickly, having lost five of their last seven, all to Big east opponents. The Villanova loss was the second time this season that Jim Boeheim's troops have given up 100 or more points. Providence beat Syracuse 100-94, also on January 28.

Syracuse is now just 6-5 in league play and seems destined to drop out of the Top 25. That would leave the Big East with just 5 ranked teams: Villanova, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Marquette, and, of course, #1 Connecticut.

While Syracuse struggles, look for Cincinnati to fill the void. On Saturday, the Bearcats dropped Georgetown in overtime, 64-62 and are 6-5 in the conference.

Another up-and-comer is West Virginia, a winner Saturday over Providence, 86-59, though the Mountaineers already have suffered defeat at the hands of UConn, Pitt, Marquette, Syracuse and Louisville. They are 5-5 in the conference and 16-7 overall.

Kansas wins 8th Straight

Cole Aldrich scored 12 points and hauled down 18 rebounds as the Kansas Jayhawks won their 8th straight game - all against Big 12 opponents - dumping Oklahoma State, 78-67, Saturday in Lawrence, Kansas.

Aldrich was almost completely unopposed on the defensive boards, as the Jayhawks outrebounded the the Cowboys, 46-33 for the game. With Aldrich dominating the middle, coach Bill Self's reigning national champions demonstrated a balanced scoring attack, with Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor each putting in 12, while guard Mario Little came off the bench to lead the attack with 13 points.

As the schedule wends its way toward conference tournaments and March Madness, the 19-4 Jayhawks seem to be coming together at an opportune time. One of just three teams in the Big 12 ranked in the Top 25, Kansas has the chance to gether momentum before facing #2 Oklahoma on Feb. 23. Kansas closes out their regular season by hosting #17 Texas, who lost Saturday to Nebraska, 58-55.

Virtually assured of an at-large bid at the very least, the 2007-08 champions should settle into the NCAA tournament with a confortable seeding anywhere from a 3 to a 5, almost assuring succession through the first two rounds.

Keep an eye on the Jayhawks. If teams don't offer match ups to Aldrich, they'll be disadvantaged every minute he's on the floor and the Jayhawk backcourt is as experienced and skilled as they come. Kansas looks like an Elite Eight team come tourney time.