Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Top 25 Not Representing the Best

On Monday, the AP and USA Today each released their updated Top 25 (also shown below in the margin). While they may have it right from 1-5, after that, it's really a guessing game, and as you get towards the bottom of the list, it's outright hilarious due to the inclusion of Alabama and Arizona.

The Crimson Tide has been beaten repeatedly in conference games, and Arizona was a 28-point home loser to North Carolina on Saturday after losing 4 of 6 conference games. Their inclusion brings the value of the entire poll into question.

In any case, they got a few things right. Vanderbilt, Texas and Stanford were included in this week's poll (replacing LSU, Indiana and USC), but Georgetown, Georgia and Virginia didn't get in. Heck, Virginia and Georgia only got 11 votes apiece.

Good thing there's a tournament at the end of the year so we're able to determine which teams really are contenders and which are pretenders (and from the looks of it, there are plenty of the latter).

There were only three Top 25 games on Monday night, so here are the highlights:

Butler 71 Illinois-Chicago 45 - The Flames were snuffed out by #13 Butler, limited to just 30% shooting on the night. The Bulldogs avenged a Jan. 10, 73-67 overtime loss at Ill-Chicago, improving to 20-2 on the season and 8-1 in the Horizon League. Junior forward Pete Campbell matched his season high with 17 in just 25 minutes on the floor.

Kansas 76 Nebraska 56 - #6 Kansas used a 27-0 first half run to humble Nebraska in front of 12,000+ disappointed Cornhusker fans. Brandon Rush continued his scoring assault with 20 points, leading all scorers. Rush is averaging 16.4 in Big 12 play.

Pittsburgh 65 Villanova 59 - The Pitt Panthers also proved to be road-worthy, winning on their cross-state rivals' floor in Philadelphia. Levance Fields lit up the Wildcats with 20 points and the Panthers hit on 8 of 19 3-point attempts. #7 Pitt improved to 20-3 overall and 8-1 in the Big East, increasing their lead over Marquette (6-2) to a game and a half. Pitt gets a deserved rest, as their next game isn't until Feb. 7, at West Virginia. Marquette will try to keep pace, hosting Providence on Saturday.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Road Wins, Close Games Reveal Quality

UCLA, LSU latest victims in Top 25

The Top 25 took a beating this weekend and it will be interesting to see which teams get dumped wholesale. My list of teams that should not be represented in the Top 25 includes Indiana, LSU, Clemson, Arizona, Air Force and Alabama.

Replacing them in random spots would be Georgetown, Virginia, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Texas, and Stanford. I figure any team capable of beating the #3 team (UCLA), as Stanford did last night, deserves some props. And that's where today's coverage begins...

Stanford 75 UCLA 68 - The #3 UCLA Bruins blew a 12-point halftime lead, giving up 50 2nd half points to the Cardinal, as Stanford notched its third win over a ranked team in the last four tries.

Stanford's outstanding sophomore forward, Lawrence Hill, scored 22 points and classmate Anthony Goods rained down 20 more, hitting 4 of 7 from beyond the 3-point line. It was somewhat of an off-shooting night for UCLA, though much of that could be attributed to Stanford's defense. The Bruins shot just 43% and hit only 5 of 16 (31%) threes.

Stanford beat then #22 Washington State, 71-68, on January 13, and this week took care of both sides of Los Angeles, beating USC, 61-50 on Thursday and finishing the task with their win over the Bruins. The Cardinal improved to 14-5. All three of the recent wins over ranked teams were on the Cardinal home court. Sandwiched in between was a 66-59 loss at Oregon, who now is tied with UCLA at 7-2 atop the Pac-10.

Georgia 57 LSU 54 - LSU was the other Top 25 team to lose on the road Sunday. The #21 Tigers fell victim to a last-second three-pointer by Levi Stukes, who led the Bulldogs with 16. The loss was the third straight for the Tigers. They previously were defeated by Arkansas and the streaking Vanderbilt Commodores.

Meanwhile, Georgia has won four of its last five, and is tied with Kentucky and Vandy for 2nd place in the SEC East at 5-2, all chasing Florida and their 6-0 conference record.

Wisconsin 57 Iowa 46 - Alando Tucker scored nearly half his team's points - 27 - leading the Badgers to their 21st win and an impressive 7-0 in Big 10 play. Tucker was phenomenal, hitting 11-14 shots from the field, including 2 of 5 3-pointers. The rest of the team was only 9-29 as the Hawkeyes harassed shooters all day but could not stop the determined Tucker. Wisconsin has won 17 straight and next plays at Indiana on Jan. 31.

Virginia 64 Clemson 63 - J. R. Reynolds led all scorers with 18 points and the Cavaliers stunned #19 Clemson at home. Virginia scored the final 15 points of the game, overcoming a seemingly insurmountable 16-point lead when Jason Cain scored his only basket of the game on a tip-in with 15.5 seconds remaining. The Tigers, who less than 4 weeks ago were 17-0, have dropped 4 of their last 5 since then.

Other Top 25 winners included #10 Duke, who held serve at home over Boston College, 75-61. The win was Duke's fifth straight.

Road winners were #15 Marquette at South Florida, 70-68, and #24 Virginia Tech, which delivered a 73-65 win at Georgia Tech.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Alabama, Arizona lose again

Tide has lost 4 of last 6; Wildcats 5 of 7

What does it say about the state of the current poll that the #12 team has lost 4 conference games already and the #17 team just lost at home by 28 points?

Well, it means the polls are going to see some changes on Monday, and also that they shouldn't be used as a reliable guide to which teams are really the best, especially after the top 5 or 6.

There were no Top 25 games on Friday night, and a slew of them on Saturday.

In the essence of time, I'll just recap quickly:

Unranked Arkansas beat #12 Alabama for the second time this season, 63-57, this time on the Tide's home hardwood. #4 North Carolina calmly executed its offense and the #17 Arizona Wildcats, 92-64, in Arizona.

BYU grounded #16 Air Force, 61-52, in Provo, UT.

#20 Washington State lost at home in overtime to #7 Oregon, 77-74.

Saturday's Top #25 home winners:

#5 Ohio St. 66 Michigan St. 64
#6 Texas A&M 70 Oklahoma 61
#8 Kansas 97 Colorado 74
#11 Memphis 67 Southern Miss 64
#9 Pittsburgh72 St. John's 46
#13 Oklahoma St. 62 Iowa St. 50
#18 Nevada 79 Utah St. 62
#22 Notre Dame 66 Villanova 63
#23 Indiana 76 Michigan 61

Road winners:

#1 Florida 91 Auburn 66
#14 Butler 68 Detroit 58
#21 USC 76 California 73

Friday, January 26, 2007

Unrest in the West

Pac-10 produces not one, but two upsets

College basketball is probably as competitive as it has ever been. Not a single day goes by that there isn't an upset in the Top 25 ranks. while that could be due to poor choices by the poll voters, it's more likely that home courts rule and college players just aren't well-prepared for the rigors of the road.

Thursday night produced a couple of upsets, both in the Pac-10 and both against hostile home crowds.

Stanford 65 USC 50 - This one maybe wasn't as surprising as one might think. Stanford has a solid history of Pac-10 hoops play and this year's squad had already knocked off Washington St. and played Oregon close on the road.

7-foot freshman Brook Lopez and his twin brother Robin, were overpowering inside, boosting the Cardinal to an early lead which they would not give up. Brook Lopez scored 18 points, pulled down 11 rebounds, and blocked a school-record 12 shots. Brother Robin added 6, 4 and 3 blocks.

The #25 Trojans were apparently not well-prepared for the twins or the rest of the Stanford onslaught. They shot only 28% and were outrebounded 45-33.

Stanford hosts #3 UCLA this Sunday. Look out above!

Washington 89 Oregon 77 - Maybe the Huskies were just tired of losing. Maybe they were simply homesick. Whatever it was, the Huskies made #7 Oregon the unwitting victim.

Coming off a three straight road losses, Washington returned home on fire. They shot 53% (Oregon shot 55%) and made good at the foul line with regularity (19-26) to improve to 12-1 at home. Of their 7 losses, only a 96-87 defeat by Arizona occurred on their home floor.

The Huskies may be predominant at home, but they have another three-game road stretch late in the season - Feb. 17 at Pittsburgh, Feb. 22 at Oregon St. and Feb. 24 at Oregon - which could keep them out of the NCAA Tourney if they don't soon discover some secret to winning on the road.

UCLA 63 California 46 - With a little help from their Northern neighbors, the #3 Bruins took over sole control of first place in the contentious Pac-10. While Washington was waxing Oregon, the Bruins coolly disposed of Cal and built some confidence on the road. UCLA shot an even 50% from the floor while limiting the Golden Bears to just 37%. Arron Afflalo paced the Bruins with 25 points, including all 9 of UCLA's free throws (others were 0 for 6). It was Afflalo's 6th 20-or-better performance of the season.

Washington St. 70 Oregon St. 55 - The #20 Huskies improved to 6-2 in the Pac-10 and 17-3 overall with a ho-hum home win over hapless Oregon State (1-7 Pac-10). Washington State's only conference blemishes are a pair of 3-point road losses to UCLA and Stanford.

Duke 68 Clemson 66 - The #10 Blue Devils got a double-double from Josh McRoberts (17 points, 12 rebounds) and survived on a last second shot by soph David McClure to hand #19 Clemson their 3rd loss in their last 4 games. Duke nearly blew an 11-point halftime lead, and could not contain the Tigers' Vernon Hamilton, who finished with 21 points and had tied the game with 5 points in the final 6 seconds.

Duke has now won four straight ACC games after losing their first two in conference.

Butler 70 Chicago-Loyola 66 - A. J. Graves scored 26 as the #14 Butler Bulldogs got a key road win over a Horizon Conference foe. Butler is 6-1 in conference and 18-2 overall.

Nevada 84 Louisiana Tech 67 - Ramon Sessions threw down 21 points and Nick Fazekas added 13 as the #18 Wolf Pack blew by Louisiana Tech in the 2nd half. After playing to a 37-all tie at the half, Nevada outscored the Bulldogs 47-30 for their 18th win against just 2 losses.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fear the Commodores!

Vanderbilt has knocked off four ranked SEC teams

Vanderbilt 64 LSU 53 - They're not flashy. They haven't been ranked yet this season. But the Vanderbilt Commodores are ripping through the SEC and raising eyebrows around the country. Last night the Commodores improved to 14-6 and 4-2 in the SEC, knocking off #21 LSU with a combination of swarming defense and timely shooting.

Beginning on January 10 with an 82-81 road win over then-#16 Tennessee, the Commodores have gone 4-1, including wins over Alabama, and road wins at Kentucky and LSU. Their only loss during the span was at Georgia (85-73), another SEC surprise.

On Wednesday in Baton Rouge, Vanderbilt outhustled the Tigers to an early 16-3 lead and never looked back. Frustrating LSU's Big Daddy Glen Davis into a 5-15 shooting performance, the Vanderbilt defense held the Tigers to 32% shooting overall. Vandy's top three scorers - Derrick Byars, Shan Foster and Dan Cage - led the scoring. Byars had 18, Foster and Cage scored 14 apiece and the trio nailed 9 of their team's 10 3-pointers.

The Commodores next hit the court on January 27 at home against Mississippi. They get their shot at #1 Florida (currently leading the Commodores by 1 1/2 games in the SEC East at 5-0) on the 31st in Gainesville.

Texas Tech 70 Texas A&M 68 - Bobby Knight added another win to his resume last night, but this one was particularly satisfying. Knight is college basketball's all-time leader in wins, now has his team tied for the Big 12 lead with Kansas, A&M and Texas, all at 4-1.

The Red Raiders knocked off Kansas, 69-64, on Saturday and made it two in a row against Top 10 teams on Wednesday night.

It wasn't as though the #6 Aggies were going to make it easy. Leading scorer Acie Law poured in 26 points on 9-15 shooting and the Aggies outshot Tech, 53-50%, but the Red Raiders popped from beyond the arc, hitting 10 of 19 3-pointers. They also frequented the foul line and made good on 22 of 29 free throws, especially Martin Zeno, who led the team with 22 points, including 13-14 from the line. Tech's leading scorer, Jarrius Jackson, had 14. Senior forward Jon Plefka hit 6 of 8 shots for 17 points.

Florida 70 Mississippi St. 67 - The #1 Gators survived a scare on the road, but managed to escape with their 11th straight win and remain undefeated in the SEC at 5-0. Corey Brewer scored 20 for the Gators who didn't shoot particularly well (42%), but made 23 of 35 free throws.

Wisconsin 71 Michigan 58 - The #2 ranked Badgers continued their roll though the miserably weak Big 10, improving to 6-0 in the conference and 20-1 (best record in the nation) overall. The win was their 16th in a row and a new school record, since a 66-64 loss at Missouri St. November 24. Alando Tucker and Brian Butch each had 16 points as coach Bo Ryan emptied the bench as Wisconsin was never threatened by the Wolverines.

North Carolina 88 Wake Forest 60 - The #4 Tar Heels put four players into double figures and coasted to an easy win at overmatched Wake Forest. The youthful North Carolina squad was led by freshman guard Wayne Ellison who hit 8 of 12 shots for a game-high 18 points. The Heels improved to 5-1 in the ACC, but still trail 6-1 (and unranked) Boston College by half a game. Wake Forest fell to 1-6 in conference play.

Ohio State 59 Northwestern 50 - The #5 Buckeyes got 18 points from Ivan Harris on the outside and 17 from Greg Oden inside in a well-managed road win over the Wildcats. Both players were sharp, as Harris hit 7 of 9 shots and Oden 6 of 7.

The Buckeyes continue to chase #2 Wisconsin in the Big 10, who handed them their only conference loss. Ohio State will play both Purdue and Michigan State twice between now and Feb. 10 plus a home game against Michigan on Feb. 6. They'll have to wait until the second-last game of the season on Feb. 25 to get the Badgers again, though this time the Buckeyes will have home court advantage.

Kansas 82 Baylor 56 - The Jayhawks rebounded from their loss to Texas Tech with an easy win at Baylor. #8 Kansas built a 42-18 lead at the half and coasted home from there with Brandon Rush leading the way with 18 points.

Pittsburgh 67 Cincinnati 51 - #9 Pittsburgh also got back on the winning track with a road win, mangling the Bearcats with 61% shooting, including 12-19 from 3-point range (63%).

Memphis 71 Tulsa 59 - The #11 Memphis Tigers are quietly tearing through Conference-USA and everybody's getting into the act. The Tigers had seven different scorers with 7 or more points in Wednesday's home win. Though they shot only 40% from the field, Tulsa was held to just 35%.

Memphis hasn't played a meaningful game since a 79-71 loss at Arizona, and considering the way the Wildcats have been playing of late, questions linger over just how good coach Calipari's squad is. The Tigers have won 8 straight and all 6 of their conference games by at least 10 points and they won't see another ranked team all season unless Gonzaga (whom they play on Feb. 17) goes on a tear. The soft schedule makes for a grand record but often an early exit in March.

Marquette 89 Seton Hall 76 - #15 Marquette quickly answered any questions about a let-down following Sunday's win at Pitt by blitzing the Pirates with 43 first-half points to take a commanding 13-point lead. Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal each had 22 points as the Golden Eagles won their 5th straight Big East contest after dropping their first two. Despite having beaten Pitt, they still trail the 6-1 Panthers by a full game in the wide-open Big East.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Alabama #12? Give Us a Break!

Auburn 81 Alabama 57
It was already pretty bad that Alabama was still in the Top 25 this Monday. But ranking them at 12 was a bit unrealistic. The Tide had lost already at Arkansas and Vanderbilt by an average of 24 points, and then barely got by Georgia (78-76) at home on Saturday. Those performances should have given voters a clue that the Crimson Tide was not exactly rolling along.

So, the massive egg laid by Alabama last night in Auburn should seal their fate. This is, however, the same group of voters who watched Arizona lose three straight and four of five, and only drop them down to #17, so really, what can we expect except more mindless rankings in weeks to come.

In their game against Auburn, the Tide shot a sub-par 38%, including just 5-19 (26%) from beyond the arc. Not only that, but Auburn was allowed to shoot 58% from the field. Alabama actually had the lead by a point at the half, but the meltdown in the 2nd half was catastrophic, as they were outscored 46-21.

Let's see. They can't shoot and they can't defend. Top 25 material? I think not.

St. John's 71 Notre Dame 68 - Notre Dame has had problems on the road and they continued at the one venue that really matters in the Big East, Madison Square Garden.

The Garden hosts the Big East Tournament but it's also home court for the Red Storm, who have now won 2 straight there, having beaten Syracuse 64-60 on Sunday. St.
John's didn't do anything special in the win over the Irish, they just did everything a little bit better than the other guys - a formula for success no matter what sport you're playing. Of course, when the other guys only shoot 36% from the floor and 60% at the foul line, as Notre Dame did, you don't have to play that well.

Senior forward Lamont Hamilton did most of the damage for St. John's, leading his team with 23 points while pulling down 12 rebounds. Notre Dame's Russell Carter did his best, pouring in 32 points on 10-20 shooting (4-9 3s), but it simply was not enough. Besides his stats, the rest of the team was 12-42, with Rob Kurz leading the brick-fest at 1-8. Yes, the Big East is a tough conference, especially when shots aren't falling.

In other Top 25 action, #16 Air Force buzzed TCU, 72-39, #23 Indiana seems destined to be kicked into the "also receiving votes" category after losing at Illinois, 51-43. Virginia Tech's Zabian Dowdell hit 15-18 free throws en route to 30 points and a 92-85 road win at Miami. Dowdell, a senior guard, has scored in double figures in every game this season except a 63-62 loss at George Washington, when he tallied only 6 points. Dowdell is averaging 21.5 in ACC games and his 18 ppg overall is good for 4th in the conference.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cowboys rope Sooners

Oklahoma St. 66 Oklahoma 61 - The Cowboys got only 25 points from their tandem of JamesOn Curry and Mario Boggan, but Byron Eaton pumped in a season-high 17 points to lead the #12 team in the nation to a victory of their in-state rivals.

As usual, the bedlam game wasn't a thing of beauty as Oklahoma shot only 38%. Oklahoma State wasn't much better at 42%, but hitting 27 of 38 free throws provided more than the margin of victory. For a team ranked so high, the Cowboys have no solid scoring threats beyond Curry and Boggan and if one of them is cold, the team struggles for points. In their three losses, the team averaged only 61 points, all on the road.

Tuesday night Top 25 games feature Notre Dame, Alabama, Indiana, Air Force and Virginia Tech. Recaps, highlights and insights tomorrow.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Need Tickets? Big Daddy Has Them

Occasionally, even the most home-bound fans get the urge to turn off the TV, get off the couch and venture out for a live game.

There's nothing quite like taking in all the sights and sounds of a big time sporting event. But first you have to get tickets, and if it's a big game - like the Super Bowl or the NCAA Final Four - they're likely to be hard to find.

While finding great seats for a game may be a problem for some, those of us who have a big daddy, like Big Daddy Tickets, always get the best seats at the right prices.

I visited the site just today and not only does Big Daddy Tickets have Super Bowl tickets, but they have multiple tickets all over the stadium. If you're really ready to splurge, they even have luxury suites for you and 23 of your best friends available.

While I was there, I figured it's never too early to get a look at Final Four Tickets. Not only was I able to find tickets to the Final Four in the Georgia Dome, they also had packages for hotel and tickets. I was impressed with the ample available selection.

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The site is feature-rich, easy to use and the ticket supply is large and up-to-date. When it's time to get out to a game or event, your best bet is to visit your Big Daddy.

Marquette marches on, drops Panthers at Pitt

Recaps of Sunday's Top 25 games

Marquette 77 Pittsburgh 74 OT - Proving yet again that anything is possible in the Big East, #24 Marquette traveled to Pittsburgh on Sunday and upset the #6 Panthers, ending Pitt's unbeaten streak in the conference at five.

The win was the 4th straight Big East win for the Golden Eagles - after dropping their first two, to Providence and Syracuse - and third over a ranked opponent. Marquette won at Connecticut, 73-69 on Jan. 10 and then beat West Virginia, 81-63, at home.

Marquette is now tied with Notre Dame and Syracuse at 4-2, one game back of the 5-1 Panthers.

Sparkplug point guard Dominic James ignited the Golden Eagles with 23 points, including 7-8 free throws, many of them crucial down the stretch in regulation. Marquette led by as many as 11 in the second half, but could not keep the Panthers from tying the game late. Pitts' star center, Aaron Gray was somewhat contained, scoring just 16 points in 35 minutes.

Virginia Tech 67 Maryland 64 - Virginia Tech needed to get back on the winning track, and they did so, even though it took an extra five minutes on the court. The Hokies followed up wins against Duke and North Carolina with a flop at Florida State, dropping an 82-73 decision to the Seminoles on Wednesday.

The Hokies were pressed into overtime by the feisty Maryland Terrapins, probably the best team in the nation with a 1-4 conference record. The game was certainly not a beauty contest, as both teams shot less than 40%, but once again, senior guard Zabian Dowdell turned in a solid effort, hitting 8-13 from the floor for 19 points.

Notre Dame 82 South Florida 58 - The #20 Fighting Irish were comfortable on their home court, where they have lost just once this season, and made quick work of the 10-10 (1-5, conference) Bulls. Rob Kurz had 21 points and 10 boards in 30 minutes and Colin Falls connected for 3 treys in his 14-point effort.

The Irish built a 42-26 lead at halftime and cruised from there. The Irish play Tuesday at St. John's.

The only Top 25 team in action on Monday is #12 Oklahoma State, hosting in-state rival Oklahoma for their annual bedlam event.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Top 25 will be reshuffled on Monday

Teams fall all around in Saturday action.

Saturday saw a blizzard of Top 25 activity, with most of the top teams holding their own and a fair share of upsets. The biggest losers were LSU, Kansas, Arizona, Texas and Nevada. First the upsets:

Texas Tech 69 Kansas 64 - Brandon Rush was held to just 10 points on 4-16 shooting as Bobby Knight's Red Raiders knocked off the #5 Jayhawks in Lubbock. Tech improved to 14-5 and hosts tough Texas A&M on Wednesday.

Arkansas 72 LSU 52 - The Razorbacks mauled #16 LSU in Little Rock, limiting the Tigers to just 35% from the field. Glen Davis had 16 points, Terry Martin scored 10 and the two were the only LSU players to reach double figures. Arkansas had five players in double figures, shot 50% as a team - including 8-20 from behind the arc - and recorded 9 steals.

New Mexico State 80 Nevada 73 - The Aggies played unkind host to #15 Nevada, scoring 47 2nd-half points in a wild West shootout. While the Aggies shot only 39% to Nevada's 50%, they hit 28-34 free throws and dominated the glass, hauling down 45 rebounds to the Wolf Pack's 32. Senior forward Justin Hawkins was everywhere for the Aggies, scoring 29 points on 12-19 shooting, and pulling down 11 rebounds (9 offensive).

Vanderbilt 72 Kentucky 67 - The Commodores continued their impressive run in the SEC, this time knocking off a ranked opponent on the road. Vandy has now beaten three ranked teams - Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky - in the last two weeks, but still must face LSU and Florida on the road the next two Wednesdays. #25 Kentucky lost for only the 4th time this season, but has yet to face a ranked opponent in the SEC. Look out below... here comes Tubby!

Villanova 76 Texas 69 - covered yesterday... see below.

And now for the winners...

Florida 79 Mississippi 70 - Joakim Noah has an efficient afternoon, hitting 9-10 from the field and leading all scorers with 24 points. The #1 Gators built a 45-26 lead at the half and despite playing a sloppy 2nd half, cruised at home for their 10th straight win.

Wisconsin 71 Illinois 64 - The #2 Badgers toughed out another road win behind their two bulls, Kammron Taylor and Alando Tucker, who scored 20 and 17, respectively. The Badgers have now won 15 in a row and face only unranked opponents for their next 9 games until February 25, when they visit Ohio State. Wisconsin is now 19-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big 10. Despite the knocks on the conference, Wisconsin hasn't ducked anyone. They have quality wins over Florida St., Ohio St., Georgia, Pittsburgh and Marquette.

UCLA 73 Arizona 69 - Arron Afflalo scored 22 points and the Bruins held the #11 Wildcats to 39% shooting, sending Arizona to their 3rd straight loss and 4th in five games. It was a tough week for Lute Olson's troops, with losses to Oregon, USC and the Bruins in a span of 7 days. While one could blame the scheduling gods for their downfall, losing all three of these games, plus a 77-73 loss at Washington St. on Jan. 6, cannot be discounted. The PAC-10 may be the toughest conference in the country and Arizona just can't cut it. If they Wildcats aren't bumped completely out of the top 25 as they should, look for a fall to at least 22 or 23.

Ohio State 82 Iowa 63 - Greg Oden finally is getting his groove on. The freshman phenom hit 12 of 13 shots, hit all five of his free throws, hauled down 10 boards and finished with a season-high 29 points. The #7 Buckeyes continue to chase Wisconsin in the Big 10.

Texas A&M 67 Oklahoma St. 49 - This one was no contest as JamesOn Curry scored 20 of the Cowboys' 49 points. Mario Boggan was the only other OKST player in double figures with 11. Acie Law had 16 to pace the balanced Aggies attack. The #8 Aggies improved to 16-2 (4-0 conference), while #11 Oklahoma St. dropped to 16-3 (2-2).

In the ACC, #4 North Carolina topped Georgia Tech, 77-61; #19 Clemson clobbered Boston College, 74-54; #14 Duke mauled NC State, 79-56; Virginia Tech

Elsewhere, #9 Oregon continued winning with a 92-84 home win over Cal; a pair of SEC squeakers saw Tennessee outlast South Carolina, 64-61 and #10 Alabama bested Georgia on a last-second shot by Ronald Steele, 78-76.

#13 Air Force topped San Diego St., 56-51; #17 Memphis invaded East Carolina for a 61-44 win; #18 Butler beat Wisconsin Green Bay, 80-59;

Sunday's Top 25 games include South Florida at #20 Notre Dame, #24 Marquette at #6 Pittsburgh, Maryland at #23 Virginia Tech.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Longhorns, Wildcats Have Impact Freshmen

Villanova 76 Texas 69 - Since Villanova coach Jay Wright instructed Scott Reynolds to shoot more, the freshman has responded with a couple of brilliant performances, the latest a 26-point performance which led the Wildcats to an important home win over #21 Texas.

Earlier in the week, Reynolds poured in 27 as the Wildcats shot down #20 Notre Dame, 102-87.

With all the hype surrounding Texas freshmen Kevin Durant, Reynolds and Texas point guard D. J. Augustin proved to be the underclassmen of the day. Following his 37-point explosion in a triple-overtime loss at Oklahoma State on Tuesday, Durant scored only 12 and was limited to a single point in the second half. Augustin topped the Texas scoring chart with 25, but it was not enough as Reynolds shot 6-14, including 2 treys and deposited 12 of 13 free throws. The Wildcats were without leading scorer Curtis Sumpter, who sat out with a leg bruise but is expected back soon.

Villanova is unranked and has a 2-3 record in Big East play, but if Reynolds continues his torrid scoring, the youthful Wildcats may be trouble come March. Texas has already proven that they can hang in with anyone.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Oregon, UCLA winners; Arizona falls at USC

One upset out West, but maybe USC should be ranked.

USC 80 Arizona 73 - USC handed Arizona their 3rd loss in 4 games as Nick Young erupted for 30 points, hitting 13 of 19 from the field. The Trojans improved to 14-5 and 4-2 in the conference and now have wins over 4 teams which were ranked when they played them - Wichita State, Washington, Oregon and Arizona. USC has dropped decisions to UCLA (65-64) and Washington St. (58-55) in conference and an early loss to Kansas, but they are coming together at the right time.

As for Lute Olsen's Wildcats, their conference play is leaving much to be desired. The losses to Washington St., Oregon and USC - all in the past two weeks - came at the end of a 12-game win streak and they head to UCLA on Saturday. A win might keep them in the Top 25, but no matter what, they won't be at #11 where they are now.

And speaking of rankings, maybe the Washington St. Cougars deserve some votes. At 15-3, they already hold wins over Gonzaga, Arizona and USC, with losses to UCLA (55-52), Utah and Stanford, all road games. They're looking pretty serious right now.

Oregon 66 Stanford 59 - Aaron Brooks shot just 4-13, but hit all ten of his free throws and the Ducks tallied 30-37 from the line. The Ducks keep rolling along, the only hiccup in their 17-1 record an 84-82 loss to USC. #9 Oregon survived despite shooting only 31% from the field. It may have been ugly, but it still counts as a conference win.

UCLA 60 Arizona St. 50 - The Bruins turned up the defensive heat and held the Sun Devils to just 13 2nd-half points, reversing a 37-34 halftime deficit. Darren Collison led the way with 16 points to boost the #3 Bruins to 16-1 and a tie with Oregon at 5-1 atop the PAC-10 standings.

In other Top 25 games, #14 Duke routed Wake Forest, 62-40. It was the best defensive effort of the season for the Blue Devils who have won two straight since dropping a pair to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.

Nick Fazekas had 20 points and 10 boards as the #18 Nevada Wolf Pack improved to 17-1 with an 85-75 win over Fresno State. The win kept Nevada undefeated in 10 home games this season and ran their win streak to 10 overall.

There are no Top 25 teams in action Friday night. The Best matchup is 12-5 Georgetown at 11-6 Seton Hall.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bottom Fallout: Five Losers

At the bottom of the Top 25, Wednesday was a disaster. Five teams lost in conference, but the biggest flop was in Nashville.

Vanderbilt 94 Alabama 73 - Junior Forward Shan Foster led the way with 27 points, including 5 3-pointers, as Vandy put a real hurt on #10 Crimson Tide. The 12-6 (2-2 SEC) Commodores are a real enigma, with wins over 'Bama, Tennessee and Georgia Tech, but losses to no-names such as Appalachian State and Furman. They do know how to dish, however, as they produced 27 assists in the win last night and have six players on the roster averaging more than 2 assists per game. Yes, they can dish the rock, but can they finish the dance? Vandy better be dandy for the rest of January with road games at Kentucky, LSU and Florida scheduled.

Auburn 83 Tennessee 80 - The Vols let this one slip away. Leading by 14 points with 10 minutes left, they allowed Auburn to chip away and win it on the foul line in the closing seconds. #22 Tennessee is now 1-2 in conference and their chances of staying ranked - after losing to Ohio State and now here on the road - are slim. Look for a Big East team (Syracuse) to take their spot on Monday.

Villanova 102 Notre Dame 87 - The 20th-ranked Irish fell behind early and could never get any closer than 7, as the Wildcats just kept hitting from everywhere. Villanova shot 57% and the two teams combined for 25 3-pointers (15 by Notre Dame). Scottie Reynolds topped the scoring chart with 27, going 8-12 from the floor. Villanova also outrebounded the Irish, 40-26. The loss dropped Notre Dame to 3-2 in the Big East with both losses coming on the road. No defense, no rebounding... sounds like a quick exit is in store for Notre Dame if they keep playing that brand of hoops.

North Carolina 77 Clemson 55 - This wasn't really a surprise as the #4 Tar Heels rebounded off their loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday. Carolina solved their shooting woes, hitting 31-60 from the floor while cutting down on 3-point attempts. They shot 8 and made 3. The Tar Heels have to cut down on the turnovers, however. Despite their 17 assists, the 22 turnovers don't look good. Still, an ACC road win is big. Watch the name Trevor Booker. Clemson's 6'7" frosh swatted 8 shots.

Florida State 82 Virginia Tech 73 - OK, the ACC is upside-down. After beating Duke and North Carolina in succession, the Hokies went South for their first conference loss. How do you shoot 56% and lose? Send the opposition to the foul line 34 times. That's what happened, and the Seminoles only missed 3 times on their home hardwood. The Hokies had their chances, but hit only 17-26 charity tosses. Plus, actually guarding senior Al Thornton or soph Toney Douglas might have helped. The duo scored 27 and 22, respectively and together accounted for 19 of Florida State's 31 made free throws.

The Seminoles are a team to watch, though. They now have a win in the ACC (1-3), but this is the team that beat Florida 70-66 in December, but also has losses to Pitt, Wisconsin, Clemson, North Carolina and Georgia Tech - some quality teams, and all but the Clemson loss were on the road. These guys could put a run together, do some damage in the ACC tournament and conceivably make life miserable for a few foes in the big dance. Keep an eye out for them.

Winners on Wednesday: #2 Wisconsin, 69-64 over Purdue; #7 Ohio State, 73-41 over Northwestern; #16 LSU, 62-55 over Mississippi; #18 Butler, 67-39 over Youngstown State. All Top 25 wins were on home courts except #4 North Carolina's win at Clemson.

Thursday action will be late, as most games are out on the coast. Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and Nevada play. #14 Duke is home for Wake Forest.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Longhorns take Cowboys to the Limit; Air Force Grounded

It took three overtimes, but Oklahoma State held court at home and finally beat Texas, 105-103. Mario Boggan, who set career marks with 37 points and 20 rebounds, hit a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left, lifting the Cowboys to their 16th win against just 2 losses.

The win was big for Oklahoma State, as their last game was a monstrosity of a loss at Kansas, 87-57, in which Boggan and his wingman, JamesOn Curry, were largely held in check. Texas fell to 13-4 and suffered their first loss in the Big 12. Freshman Kevin Durant matched Boggan's 37 points, hauled down 12 rebounds and blocked 4 shots in the losing effort.

Both teams appear ready for a significant run in the post-season, though they still have to catch 5th-ranked Kansas (16-2, 3-0).

Pittsburgh 63 Connecticut 54 - The Panthers continued to roll through the Big East, taking down UConn last night in Pittsburgh. Aaron Gray had 22 points and 19 rebounds over the Huskies' underclassmen. UConn fell to 2-3 against Big East opponents. Pitt leads the conference at 5-0 and 17-2 overall.

Utah 85 Air Force 79 - As I ruminated yesterday, Air Force probably doesn't belong in the Top 25 and it didn't take long for the Utes to prove me right. Maybe there's unbelievable parity in the Mountain West, or maybe the conference as a whole is weak, but Utah entered the game in last place with an 0-4 record and 5-12 mark overall.

Air Force's previous other loss was at Duke, 71-56, and they ran off 13 straight after that, beating Texas Tech and Wake Forest along the way. A couple more losses to teams under .500, though, might just convince poll voters that they don't belong.

Among Top 25 games tonight, #20 Notre Dame visits Villanova, #18 Butler hosts Youngstown St., #2 Wisconsin hosts Purdue while #7 Ohio State continues to chase the Badger with a home game against Northwestern.

In the SEC, #22 Tennessee is at Auburn, #16 LSU hosts Mississippi and #10 Alabama is at Vanderbilt. LSU and 'Bama will both be tested. The Vols should roll over the 11-7 Tigers.

ACC games feature #23 Virginia Tech at Florida State and the big game of the night has #4 North Carolina as #19 Clemson.

Recaps and more tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Border War: Kansas Holds at Home

Kansas 80 Missouri 77 - Despite hitting only 5 of 14 from the floor, Brandon Rush did just enough to keep the Jayhawks' record in the Big 12 perfect. The 6'6" sophomore scored 16 to complement Sherron Collins' 23, and send the Missouri Tigers home with their 4th straight conference loss. The Jayhawks moved up to #5 in the latest AP poll and are tied with Texas A& M and Texas atop the Big 12 at 3-0.

The Longhorns can improve to 4-0 tonight if they can win on the road against #11 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are still smarting from their 87-57 loss at Kansas on January 10. Their Saturday game at Nebraska was postponed due to the ice storm that ravaged much of the Midwest. Texas has won five straight (13-3 overall) on the strength of play from freshman Kevin Durant, who is averaging 23.7 points and 11 rebounds per game - both team highs. Point guard D.J. Augustin is averaging 6.7 assists per contest, and has a 2-1 assist-turnover ratio. This game should be a true indicator of the real power in the Big 12.

In the Big East, the Pitt Panthers should handle the UConn Huskies and improve to 4-0 in conference play. Coach Calhoun's kids are all underclassmen and will get a baptism of fire this season in one of the toughest conferences in the nation.

The Panthers are on cruise control, especially after the much-anticipated matchup of power centers Aaron Gray and Georgetown's Roy Hibbert failed to materialize. Both centers had 11 points, Hibbert grabbed 2 boards and Gray hauled down only 4. Pitt forward Mike Cook - who finished with 18 points - helped the Panthers build a big, early lead and coast to a 74-69 win. Pitt has won 6 straight after a pair of road losses to Wisconsin and Oklahoma State in which the Panthers allowed 89 and 95 points respectively. Other than those games, the most points scored against Pitt this season is 69, by Georgetown in their most recent win. Pitt is 16-2 and ranked #6 in this week's AP Poll.

In other Top 25 action tonight, #13 Air Force is at Utah, #17 Memphis hosts UAB and #25 Kentucky is at South Carolina.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Top 25: The Big Least

Only three teams from the Big East are ranked. Syracuse, Providence overlooked.

Not that it means anything at this point of the season, but the Top 25 released today (see our sidebar - we update every Monday) is somewhat of a joke. Florida deserves to have the #1 spot again, since they're simply crushing people in the SEC, though Arkansas - also not ranked - deserves a real look. They played the Gators tough this past week and beat Alabama the week before, but also lost at Mississippi on Saturday by a deuce, so at 12-5, maybe they aren't ready for ranking.

On the other hand, Alabama got pumped up to #10 with a home win over LSU (overrated). The Razorbacks play LSU this Saturday. Stay tuned.

The real travesty is the lack of Big East teams in the Top 25. Now, the Big East is the largest conference in the country with 16 teams, so they should be more than 3 teams representing. To say that Pitt is #6 and the next best team in the conference is Notre Dame, all the way down at #20, is kind of silly, really. Syracuse (3-1 conference, 14-4 overall) and Providence (2-1, 12-4) come to mind, since they both beat #24 Marquette.

A couple of teams that probably won't be in the Top 25 a few weeks from now but are getting the nod based on the suspect vagueries of the AP Poll: Kentucky, Butler, Air Force, and probably Duke, which lost to a pair of Techs, Virginia and Georgia over the past 10 days. They're just in there on reputation, not actual ability.

Well, like I said at the start, the rankings are pretty meaningless right now.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tar Heels Trumped; Gators should retake #1 spot on Monday

Saturday's Top 25 action produced a number of expected wins, but in the ACC, Maryland ensured that there were no more undefeated teams by topping Clemson, 92-87 and one very big upset of top-ranked North Carolina by Virginia Tech, which improved to 13-4 overall and 3-0 in conference with a 94-88 win.

Clemson entered the Comcast Center in College Park, MD with a 17-0 record and the claim of being the only Division 1 team without a loss, but left on the short end of the score as the Terrapins shot 63% from the field and knocked down 25 of 31 free throws. Junior forward James Mays led the scoring with 23, but it was not enough to overcome the red-hot home cooking by Maryland. The Terps improved to 15-3 and will likely re-emerge into the Top 25.

In Blacksburg, VA, the North Carolina Tar Heels were victimized by their own poor shooting and the Hokies defense and will probably fall in tomorrow's rankings as #2 Florida continued to roll through the SEC. North Carolina shot just 44% from the floor, including 8-26 3-pointers. The Hokies took control early in the first half and held the Tar Heels at bay the rest of the way. Virginia Tech, paced by senior guard Zabian Dowdell's 23 points, hit 27-38 free throws to the Tar Heels' 16-29.

Ohio State 68 Tennessee 66 - Chris Lofton had 23 points for the Volunteers, but he and Ramar Smith missed key front ends of 1-and-1 free throw situations with less than 30 seconds left in the game and #5 Ohio State improved to 14-3. Center Greg Oden was unstoppable inside, scoring 24 for the Buckeyes on 9-13 shooting plus 6-6 free throws. Other than the foul shooting, the Vols' backcourt completely overwhelmed Ohio State's, but Oden stayed out of foul trouble and was the go-to guy all afternoon.

With the win, Ohio State should cruise through the rest of the month, with home games against Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State and road tilts at Northwestern and Purdue.

Syracuse 75 Villanova 64 - Demetris Nichols took over midway through the first half and guided the Orangemen to their 3rd Big East victory against one loss. Nichols finished with 23 points, while teammates Darryl Watkins and Terrence Roberts dominated the interior with 28 points between them.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

College Hoops Previews for Saturday

Last Saturday, while awaiting the NFL playoffs, I thought I might catch some college hoops as a warm-up. CBS, in their infinite wisdom, trotted out a triple header of women's college basketball, so they lost my vote and I skipped over to ESPN channels.

Today, CBS figured out that nobody likes women's hoops, and is airing a regional men's game at 1:00. I'll get Villanova at Syracuse, so that's where I'll start.

The winner of this game should crack Monday's Top 25, and I'd expect that team to be Syracuse. The Orange have won 2 of 3 Big East games. Their only conference loss was to Pitt, and one of the wins was on the road at Marquette. The Wildcats are a shadow of the team they were last season and may not even make the NCAA tournament.

Currently, there are only 4 Big East teams in the Top 25 and UConn doesn't deserve to be there. The 'Cuse and Providence should be ranked, and eventually Georgetown, along with Pitt, W. Virginia and Notre Dame. Should there be 6 Big East teams in the Top 25? I think so. If the ACC, SEC, Pac-10 and Big 12 each get 4 in - and that may be a stretch - those five conferences would total 22 of the Top 25 at most. There are only 2 Top 25 teams in the Big 10 - Wisconsin and Ohio State, and there are a couple of deserving small conference schools which deserve notice.

Getting back to previews, #5 Ohio State hosts #16 Tennessee in a big game fro both schools. The Buckeyes are coming off a loss at Wisconsin; Tennessee lost to Vanderbilt on Wednesday, 82-81, and they need this game. The Vols are smaller and quicker and guard Chris Lofton should provide plenty of offense from the 2-spot. Greg Odom ought to have a big day inside for Ohio St., but he's fast becoming a head case, getting into early foul trouble and disappearing from the offense too often. Ohio State is favored by 10, but the Vols have a great shot at winning this one.

In the Big 12, #6 Kansas is at Iowa State, and the Jayhawks look like the class of the Big 12, and the Cyclones probably aren't close to being able to hand with them. After all, Iowa State lost to to Northern Iowa, Drake, Bradley, Iowa and Ohio State already, so they would really have to shoot lights out to beat Kansas. Ain't gonna happen.

#1 North Carolina better be careful against Virginia Tech today. The Hokies already have a win over Duke and their 4 losses have been by a total of 10 points. The Tar Heels didn't shoot well against Virginia Thursday night, and if they aren't sharp, they'll have their hands full in this big road test. Undefeated and #17-ranked Clemson travels to Maryland and that' a very tough place to play. Oddly, the Terps are favored by 4, despite losses to Boston College, Notre Dame and Miami (FL). They are at home and, as stated, it's a tough venue for ACC opponents. The key for the Tigers is forward James Mays. Clemson is 28-0 with him in the starting lineup and he's starting today. Good luck to Clemson as they seek to set a school record for consecutive wins (18) today. Even if they lose, shouldn't they be ranked higher? They look pretty darn good.

Later tonight (9:00 Eastern), two of the best big men in the nation go head-to-head when Georgetown visits #7 Pitt. The Panthers' Aaron Gray will get to know Roy Hibbert, the Georgetown center. Gray leads Pitt in points (14.9) and rebounds (10.2), while Hibbert has yet to demonstrate dominance, averaging only 11.7 points and 6.1 boards).

Tomorrow: recaps and player profiles.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Carolina, Kansas are Cruising

With conference wins on Wednesday night, the North Carolina Tar Heels (currently ranked #1) and Kansas Jayhawks (#6 and certain to move up) look like locks for at least the Elite 8 come tournament time.

Carolina looked a little shaky at times in their 79-69 win over Virginia, but they were up against a motivated team and will be virtually every game from here on out. The Tar Heels will continue their improvement under coach Roy Williams and got a boost of sorts when Duke fell to Georgia Tech, 74-63.

The Blue Devils don't seem to have quite the depth to go deep in the tourney, though the Yellow Jackets, despite road losses at Miami, Vanderbilt and Clemson, may be the sleeper in the ACC.

As far as the Big 12 is concerned, Kansas left little doubt about where they expected to be at season's end, whipping up on rival Oklahoma State, 87-57, in their conference opener.

Kansan Brandon Rush, a big-time scoring guard with an impeccable pedigree, led the way with 18 in the game. The two-headed monster of JamesOn Curry and Mario Boggan only totaled 20 between them. Boggan was especially ghastly, hitting only 4 of 16 from the field. You can pretty much write off the Cowboys for the tournament as they simply do not have the talent nor the motivation to move through the field.

Speaking of teams that don't have it, the Connecticut Huskies may not even make it to the Big Dance this season. They're very young, starting all underclassmen for coach Jim Calhoun. On Wednesday, the second-longest current home win streak (31 straight) came to an end when Marquette dumped the Huskies 73-69. It wasn't very pretty. UConn shot only 32% and the schedule gets more demanding from here on out.

#12 Butler was upset by Illinois-Chicago, 73-69, while #7 Pittsburgh took out DePaul, 59-49.

On Thursday night, the Pac-10 was the focus, and the top teams came through with wins. #10 Arizona topped Oregon State, 83-72. #20 Oregon survived on the road 60-55 over Arizona State. #22 Washington State also won away from home, topping Cal, 73-56.

In the same time zone, but different conference (WAC), #19 Nevada was a winner at San Jose State, 72-63.

With no Top 25 teams in action on Friday, I'll be bummin', but promise to be back tomorrow morning with some previews.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tuesday night recaps: Florida, Wisconsin stay sharp

Florida 79 Arkansas 72 - The Gators just keep winning. After capturing the NCAA football championship Monday night, Florida's #2-ranked basketball team held down a feisty bunch from Arkansas. While the Gators have lost only one home game this season, the Razorbacks proved a worthy opponent.

The game could have gone Arkansas' way had they been able to shoot better from behind the three-point line. The Razorbacks didn't hit a trey until midway through the second half and finished a paltry 2-15 (.133) on threes. Florida's free throw shooting down the stretch exposed a vulnerability as well. Both Taurean Green and Joakim Noah missed key freebies late in the game, but Arkansas was never able to cut the lead - which was never more than 9 - to less than 5 points. Green led the Gators with 17 points, while Darian Townes paced all scorers with 18.

The game was very physical, with a total of 45 fouls called on the two teams. Two Arkansas players fouled out, while Florida's Al Horford (10 points) was saddled with 4. A couple of three-pointers by Arkansas could have made the difference and the Razorbacks, now considered a force in the SEC after their upset of Alabama over the weekend, will seek a return to the SEC championship in March as they do not play the Gators again during the regular season.

Wisconsin 72 Ohio State 69 - The highly-anticipated matchup between the two best teams in the Big 10 lived to its billing as a tight, tactile struggle. Ohio State center Greg Oden picked up his 2nd personal foul just 12 minutes into the game and Wisconsin leading 19-13. But with their big man on the bench, senior forward Ivan Harris picked up the Buckeyes, cutting the Wisconsin lead to 31-28 at the half. Alando Ticker, the Badgers' 2nd leading scorer, put up only 7 points in the half on 3-9 shooting.

In the second half, Harris, who had hit 3 of 6 3-pointers in the first half, kept firing, but Kammron Taylor (25 points for the game) and Tucker responded and opened up a 6-point lead at the second TV timeout of the half, 47-41. Meanwhile, Oden had picked up his third foul and was spending extended minutes on the bench. While the Ohio State offense sputtered, Wisconsin went on a 10-0 run to lead 57-41.

Even when Oden was in the game, he was largely ineffective, going 0-4 from the floor with just 2 points on free throws when he picked up personal #4 (an offensive foul) with 7:57 remaining.

But the Badgers could not capitalize on the big man's foul trouble as they continually missed 3-pointers and committed fouls, allowing the Buckeyes to close to within 8 with 3:24 left. Tucker, however, scored a crucial bucket inside to hoist the lead back to 10 with just over 2 minutes left. Forced to foul down the stretch, Ohio State closed to within 2 on a pair of Ron Lewis 3-pointers and two Oden dunks, but the clock and Kammron Taylor's 5 of 8 free throws in the final minute sealed the Wisconsin victory.

Wisconsin improved to 40-2 in conference games under coach Bo Ryan. Alando Tucker picked up his game in the second half, scoring 10 points on 5-8 shooting. Greg Oden finished with 10 for the Buckeyes.

Elsewhere, #17 Clemson ran their record to 17-0 with an 87-76 win over NC State. #22 Notre Dame handed #21 West Virginia their first Big East loss, 61-58. #14 Alabama got back on track with a 71-61 home win over #13 LSU. Air Force, ranked 18th nationally, rallied for 41 second half points to overwhelm New Mexico, 65-57.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Villanova slays Georgetown's giants

With potentially one of the best front lines in college basketball, the Georgetown Hoyas can't seem to translate their height advantage into meaningful wins.

Last night, the Villanova Wildcats tore up the Hoyas at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, ending Georgetown's 7-game winning streak. Down by as many as 9 points in the second half, the Wildcats pressed full court and wore out the Hoyas, producing 22 turnovers and a 56-52 win.

The Wildcats earned the win by limiting ball access to Georgetown's 7'2" center, Roy Hibbert, who didn't attempt a shot from the field and finished with 2 points (2 of 6 from the foul line). Jeff Green, the Hoyas other inside force, was held to just 7 points.

Meanwhile, Villanova rallied, holding the Hoyas scoreless for a 6 minute stretch in the second half. Even more remarkable, Villanova outrebounded the Hoyas, 31-27. The surprising win was the first in Big East play for Villanova after dropping their first two to West Virginia and DePaul.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Big East Imbalance

With 16 teams, the Big East is big, really big. a slew of other conferences have 12 teams, many of them split into two divisions, and the Atlantic 10 has 14, the second most behind the Big East.

What's intriguing about the Big East is that it is just one big party. No divisions, and the unbalanced schedule (some teams will play each other twice, others once, some, not at all) make for interesting comparisons in and out of the conference.

Take Pitt for example. Through their 16-game conference schedule, the Panthers play home-and-away games with Georgetown, Marquette and West Virginia. Notre Dame and Rutgers are not on the schedule. The other 10 teams will play the Panthers once.

That makes the Panthers' itinerary a bit more daunting than, say, that of South Florida, which has to play Louisville, DePaul and Notre Dame twice each while skipping over Georgetown and Villanova.

The unbalanced schedule makes comparisons difficult, if not impossible. Teams with relatively weak-strong schedules could end up with similar conference records, though one team could be nationally ranked with the other just a blip on the NCAA radar. Of course, the great equalizer is the annual bash in NYC known as the Big East Tournament, where the weak and the strong each have equal chances on a neutral site.

What the Big East and their cockeyed schedule does is create havoc for the NCAA tournament committee, which has to weigh all these schedules and then decide if the biggest conference gets 6, 7 or 8 teams into the Big Dance.

An indication of how the balances may tip in the conference came just last night as Syracuse burst into Marquette and dumped the Golden Eagles, 70-58. The loss was the second straight conference defeat for 15th-ranked Marquette. They took it on the chin in Providence, 74-59, on Thursday and are 0-2 in the Big East (not to be confused with Big Easy).

Upcoming for the Golden Eagles are Wednesday, 1/10 at (18) Connecticut, Saturday, 1/13 vs. (25) West Virginia, Monday, 1/15 at Louisville and Sun, Jan 21 at (10) Pittsburgh. Hoo-boy. If Marquette finds its way back into the Top 25 ever again this season, it will be a mean feat.

In other action from Sunday, North Carolina rolled past Florida State, 84-58. with UCLA's loss to Oregon, the Tar Heels could find themselves ranked #1 later today.

#9 Kansas improved to 13-2 with a non-conference win over South Carolina, 70-54. The Jayhawks open Big 12 play on Wednesday (1/10) against #12 Oklahoma State.

#19 Tennessee opened their SEC schedule with a 92-84 win over Miss. St. The 13-2 Vols have a date with Ohio State this Saturday in Columbus. The game will offer the Buckeyes a chance for redemption against the SEC after their earlier trip to Florida ended up as a 86-60 blowout for the Gators. Should be interesting.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

#1 No More - Ducks drown Bruins

Oregon 68 UCLA 66 - The Ducks parlayed an early lead into a huge victory, handing the #1 UCLA Bruins their first loss of the season. The Bruins trailed nearly the entire game, but brought it to within 64-61 with less than three minutes when Aaron Afflalo hit a 3-pointer and tied the game at 66 on Darren Collison's 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining.. But Aaron Brooks, who led all scorers with 25 points, hit a jumper with 12 seconds left and UCLA could not score as time wore down. Maarty Leunen added 18 for the Ducks who improved to 14-1.

Ohio State 62 Illinois 44 - The Buckeyes are leaving little doubt about their plans to dominate the Big Ten. After opening conference play with a 74-67 home win over Indiana, Ohio State punished the Illini despite an 0-5 1st half performance from center Greg Oden. While the Buckeyes shot only 35%, it was more than enough, as Illinois shot only 23%. Oden finished with only 7 points, but four other Buckeyes scored in double figures.

Arkansas 88 Alabama 61 - The Crimson Tide wasn't exactly rolling as the Razorbacks stunned Alabama in another SEC opener. Arkansas opened a 26-6 lead nearing the middle of the first half and extended that to 44-20 by halftime. It didn't get any better for Alabama in the second stanza as Arkansas pulled away, leading at one point by as many as 36 points. Arkansas owned the interior, scoring repeatedly on layups and short jumpers. Three Arkansas players - Patrick Beverly, Sonny Weems and Gary Ervin - each tallied 18.

Conference Play Underway

The heart of the college basketball season began in earnest this week as conference play kicked off across the nation. With over 150 games scheduled in the first week of the year, here are some of the highlights from Saturday:

Florida 67 Georgia 51 - The #3 ranked Gators scored 42 second half points and turned around a one-point Bulldog halftime lead. Florida was not particularly sharp, but their defense was the story as they held the Bulldogs to 39% shooting and only committed 12 personal fouls. Georgia was unable to convert from the charity stripe, missing all five of their attempts. Corey Brewer led the Gators with 19 points.

Georgetown 66 Notre Dame 48 - The Hoyas unceremoniously ended Notre Dame's 12-game winning streak, as they capitalized on poor shooting by the Irish to take an early lead and were never headed. Nearing midway in the first half, Notre Dame had only hit 1 of 11 from the field and were trailing by as many as 16. Roy Hibbert hit 8 of 9 shots from the floor and finished with 19. The 48 points scored by the Irish was easily their lowest point total of the season, their previous low being 69 in a loss to Butler. Notre Dame shot just 31% (16-51), including 4-23 from three-point range. Georgetown extended their win streak to seven.

The Hoyas were unranked going into the game, though after the impressive win over #17 Notre Dame, should reappear in the top 25 next week.

Virginia Tech 69 Duke 67 OT - The #5-ranked Blue Devils opened ACC play in a most uncharacteristic manner, dropping their home opener to the upstart Hokies. Duke had entered the game 13-1, including wins over Gonzaga and Georgetown. The Hokies had lost 4 of their 5 road games this season, but none by more than 5 points. Losses at George Washington and Marshall were by 1 point apiece. The win upped Virginia Tech's record to 11-4. Zabian Dowdell led the Hokies with 20 points.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A New Year and a Good Knight

It took a little longer than Bobby Knight might have liked, but Monday afternoon the Texas Tech - and formerly Indiana and Army - coach finally got the win that pushed his career total past North Carolina's legendary Dean Smith.

The Red Raiders beat New Mexico 70-68, for Knight's 880th college basketball Division 1 win against 354 losses, a winning percentage of 71%. Knight, who is 65, is not even considering retirement, so a run at 1000 wins is possible. At 20 wins per season (below his average), it would take Knight just six years to surpass that milestone.

The next marks for Knight, besides getting his Texas Tech team through the grueling Big 12 conference schedule and into the NCAA tournament in March, are the 925 wins recorded both by Tennessee Volunteers women's coach Pat Summitt and by Harry Statham of NAIA McKendree College, who holds the record for the most men's wins at a 4-year college.

Knight won the NCAA national championship three times as coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, in 1976, 1981 and 1987, and coached the 1984 Olympic team to the Gold Medal.

While some may decry Knight's methods as too harsh or too demanding, nobody can deny the results.