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.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Gators and Bruins Look Super on Saturday

UCLA 92 Michigan 55 - the #1 ranked Bruins made quick work of the visiting Wolverines, as they led all the way en route to the blowout win. Josh Shipp led the Bruins with 18 points, Aaron Afflalo added 17, and point guard Darren Collison threw down 15 with 8 assists. Luc Mbah a Moute had 13 points and 7 steals.

Florida 86 Ohio State 60 - The two schools who will play for the NCAA Division 1 football national championship in two weeks matched up their basketball teams for a little 5-on-5 Saturday in Gainseville.

The defending national champion Gators got an early look at Ohio State's talented freshman center, Greg Oden, and considering the outcome, they weren't very impressed.

The Gators opened up a sizable lead in the opening half as Ohio State shooters were ice cold early on and were up 38-29 at the break, only to see the lead completely erased as Ohio State scored the first 9 points of the 2nd half. But with the score tied at 40, Oden fouled Joakim Noah and went to the bench with his third foul. Within four minutes, the Gators were back up by 12.

Even when Oden returned, Florida was too quick, too aggressive and too good in all aspects of the game. The Gators outshot the Buckeyes, 58 to 36%, outrebounded them 42-25 and played better defensively. Florida also hit 9 of 18 three-pointers to the Buckeyes' 7-23 effort.

The Gators expanded their lead to 23, 70-47, at the 8:32 mark when Corey Brewer converted a three-point play and Taurean Green nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing. Soon after that, with just under 8 minutes remaining, Oden picked up his 4th foul and the game disintegrated into another rout for the Gators.

While Noah and Al Horford neutralized Oden (7 points), the real story was the play of guard Taurean Green and swimgman Brewer, who tallied 24 and 18, respectively. The Ohio State outside defenders simply could not stay with the quicker, headier Florida players on the perimeter.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Updates from Thursday's Action

Updates from Thursday's Action

Washington 97 Gonzaga 77 - First, the late Wednesday game on the coast was taken handily by the Washington Huskies, who played unkind host to LSU, putting a pretty good beating on the Tigers, 88-72. The win pushed the Huskies' record to 9-1, the only loss a pretty good bashing in its own right, at Gonzaga, 97-77. Washington made short work of Big Baby Glenn Davis, holding the forward to a season low 8 points. Center Spencer Hawes dominated with 23 points and 12 rebounds, while forward Jon Brockman had 19 with 14 rebounds. Even before the real play gets started, you can pretty much cross off LSU from deep post-season consideration. They'll be lucky to get to the Sweet 16 this year.

Oklahoma St. 95 Pittsburgh 89 - The Cowboys handed Pittsburgh their second loss in a row as Aaron Gray could not carry the team in double overtime. Gray scored 24, but Oklahoma State's stars, Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry proved to be too much to handle. Boggan pumped in a season-high 30 points and pulled down 9 rebounds. Curry, who shot poorly, still finished with 20 and 12 boards. Pittsburgh, ranked as high as 3rd just a week ago, will likely fall out of the top 10 in next week's poll.

Duke 61 Gonzaga 54 - In a game marred by poor shooting (37% combined), the Blue Devils scored an important road win over Gonzaga. The Duke guards were key for Duke. Greg Paulus, the only Blue Devil who shot better than 50% (7-12), hit 4 of 6 3-pointers for 20 points, while freshman Jon Scheyer knocked down 7 of 8 free throws and tallied 14. The enigmatic Bulldogs slipped to 9-4, and have now dropped three of their last four. 11-1 Duke has now reeled off 7 straight wins.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Top 25 recaps; Arizona rallies past Memphis, 79-71

UCLA 75 Sam Houston St. 61 - Late last night. The Bruins go to 10-0 and remain #1 in the polls.

(10) Alabama 82 N.C. State 75 - Nice road win for the Crimson Tide. Richard Hendrix poured in 23 to lead the way as Alabama improved to 10-1.

Florida 88 Stetson 67 - Call this Florida win balanced. The Gators scored 44 in each half and had five players in double digits, in a tight range from Dan Werner's 10 to Walter Hodge's high of 17. 10-2 Florida is a perfect 8-0 at home.

Connecticut 88 Pepperdine 66 - The Huskies improved to 10-0 despite shooting a dreadful 3-14 on threes. They may not have much touch from the outside, but the lanky Huskies may not need it. They've scored 81 or more points in each of their last six outings.

Arizona 79 Memphis 71 - In one of tonight's featured games, the Memphis Tigers led 38-33 at the half, but fell behind as both Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey committed their 4th foul before the halfway point of the 2nd half and spent extended minutes on the bench. Arizona took command and expanded a 5-point lead to as many as 11 points. Mustafa Shakur and freshman forward Chase Budinger had key points down the stretch to help finish off the Tigers. Budinger finished with 18. Shakur led all scorers with 23. With all the hoopla over UCLA, the Wildcats appear ready to challenge them for the Pac-10 title.

(12) LSU at (17) Washington - West coast; see tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Creampuffs and cupcakes, anyone?

The string of pastries is coming to an end in a hurry as conference play gets underway in the next two weeks. The normal abundance of lopsided lollipops was evident on Tuesday night in addition to another rough night in upstate NY.

Drexel 84 (23) Syracuse 79 - Somebody needs to remind the kids at Syracuse that they're supposed to be good. Apparently, the memo didn't get to the troops at Drexel, as the Dragons dumped the Orange in the Carrier Dome with a 48-point 2nd half. For the 'Cuse, Demetrius Nichols dropped in 31, but highly-touted frosh Paul Harris was nearly invisible with 7 points on 2-5 shooting. 7-2 Drexel has won 5 straight; 9-3 Syracuse will probably drop from the Top 25 having lost their third game at home.

(6) Duke 79 Kent St 72 - the Blue Devils are young, but defense is not their strong suit. Kent St. shot 50% from the floor, but were outscored on the free throw line by 17 points. Coach K has them doing what he knows best - drawing fouls. Duke's 10-1, with the only loss to Marquette, and they've been hanging some pretty hefty scores on good teams. Obviously, more to come from Tobacco Road, but this game shouldn't have been this close.

(2) UNC 105 Florida Atlantic 52 - This is a little more like it. Tyler Hansbrough led 5 players in double figures with 20 as the Tar Heels improve to 9-1.

(20) Notre Dame 86 Portland 69 - Russell Carter had 28 and Rob Kurz 21 as the Irish won their 8th straight. With wins already over Maryland and Alabama, Notre Dame may have its most balanced team in years. Last season, the Irish lost a slew of close games. This year, they're avoiding that circumstance by blowing people away.

(3) Ohio State 75 Iowa St. 56 - Don't punch that NBA ticket for Greg Oden just yet. The Buckeyes are not yet a complete team, needing better perimeter defense and more production from the outside. In the middle they're predominant, but good transition and outside shooting can beat them. Still, they're not too bad, even though this was a 2-point game with 6 minutes left. Daequan Cook (21 points) bailed them out this time. Oden finished with 18.

(11) Kansas 94 Winston Salem 43 - a pair of sophomores, Brandon Rush and Julian Wright scored 15 each as the Jayhawks cruised to win #9 against 2 losses. This team should continue to improve as the season progresses. They already look well-prepared for conference play.

(8) Wichita St 74 Kennesaw St 65 - the Shockers shot 63% from the floor, 0-4 from 3-point range and 20-28 free throws to earn their 9th straight win without a loss. Those wins over LSU and Syracuse still look good.

(19) Marquette 80 Oakland 62 - The Golden Eagles held Oakland to 32% shooting and improved to 11-2. No flaws on this team. The Big East should again be the top conference in the nation.

Later tonight, Sam Houston at UCLA. Yawn...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pitt stunned by Badgers, 89-75

Alando Tucker scored 32 and Brian Butch added 27 as the Badgers' dynamic duo led #7 Wisconsin to an 89-75 over #2-ranked and previously undefeated Pitt. With new rankings due out Monday, the loss will certainly drop Pitt in the polls and provide a boost for the Badgers.

Tucker and Butch scored the first 10 Wisconsin points, as the Badgers raced to an early 8-point lead, setting the tone for the afternoon.

The Panthers made up the deficit to grab slim leads mid-way through the first half, but found themselves down 47-37 at the half as Tucker and Butch each poured in 20.

Pitt managed to hang around with 11 points from Ronald Ramos and 9 from center Aaron Gray. Wisconsin's 47 first-half points were the most Pitt had surrendered in a half and it was only the 3nd time the Panthers had not led at halftime this season. They were down 33-29 to Delaware before rallying for the 66-55 win November 19 and trailed Buffalo 42-35, eventually winning the December 9 game, 70-67.

Both teams shot well in the first half. Pitt was 13-25 (.52%), while the Badgers hit 17-32 (.53%). Alando and Butch shot a combined 14-19 in the half; their teammates were a dismal 3-13.

Pitt cut the lead to 7 early in the second half, but could not close the gap further. Every basket the Panthers scored was countered by the Badgers, who got points from players other than Tucker and Butch, especially Kammron Taylor, who tallied 14 for the game. Wisconsin eventually led by as many as 18 points and cruised in the latter stages.

The Panthers, concerned about leading scorer and rebounder Aaron Gray, who experienced flu-like symptoms earlier in the week, still got a complete game out of the normally-dominant center, as he scored 17 - right at his average - though he hit on only 5 of 10 shots from the floor. Gray and the Panthers were no match as they shot a mere 43% for the game, and 36% (12-33) in the second half.

The Badgers improved to 11-1, their only loss a 66-64 defeat at the hands of a solid 8-1 Missouri State squad in the semifinals of the South Padre Island Invitational on Nov. 24. Tucker, who leads all Big 10 players in scoring, improved his average to 21.2. Brian Butch's 27 was a career high.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Best of the Rest - Top 25 preview 9-25

With the season about to get underway (tonight), some of us may actually drag ourselves away from election coverage to catch the Coaches vs. Cancer Regionals from College Park, Maryland. Vermont takes on New Orleans at 6:30 and the Terps host Hampton at 8:30 EST.

Just in time (my apologies for tardiness), here are the 9-25 pre-season picks:

9. Memphis - Last season the Tigers went 33-4 and washed out in the regional finals to eventual runner-up UCLA. The Tigers lost their top three scorers to graduation or jumping to the NBA, but coach John Calipari will build around a pair of experienced forwards, Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier.

10. Alabama - 18-13 last season and won one game in the tourney before falling 62-59 to UCLA. The Crimson Tide loses top scorer Chuck Davis, but return five of the next six top scorers from 2005-06 including leading rebounder 6'10" Jermareo Davidson.

11. Duke - Losing a lot of talent with the departure of J.J. Reddick and Sheldon Williams, but coach K always fields a quality team. The Blue Devils were 32-4 last year and will vie with North Carolina for the ACC title. Judging by last year's performance, Greg Paulus should be one of the top 5 point guards in the country and Josh McRoberts should continue to develop into a steady, if not dominant, big man.

12. Washington - Gone is superstar Brandon Roy along with 2nd and 3rd leading scorers Jamaal Williams and Bobby Jones, but the Huskies may be the best in the West, featuring a balanced attack and great bench depth. Lost to UConn in a tight 98-92 score-fest in the regional semis to end last season and will be looking for more. A Final Four appearance not out of the question. The Huskies beat UCLA twice last season and play the Bruins on Dec. 31 and March 3, the latter at home and the season finale.

13. Creighton - an under-the-radar team from the Missouri Valley conference that has a number of impact players. Finished last season at 20-10 and return 5 of their top 6 scorers. Will battle with Southern Illinois and Wichita State in the regular season and that kind of fight may serve well come tournament time. Watch for center Anthony Tolliver to have a breakout season after averaging 13.2 points and 6.7 rebounds last season.

14. Texas A&M - Big 12 sleeper team went 22-9 last season and returns all of their starters. Acie Law and Joseph Jones are the big scoring threats. The team is somewhat undersized, but plays pressure defense and a three guard rotation much like Villanova last year. Under Billy Gillespie, the Aggies may be on the verge of greatness.

15. Tennessee - Went 12-4 in the SEC, and 22-8 overall last year, but were overshadowed by Florida and LSU. The Vols need to find an adequate point guard and help scoring though Chris Lofton, Major Wingate and JaJuan Smith will carry the load. The SEC is brutally tough, but Tennessee will be one of a handful of top teams headed to the tournament.

16. Georgia Tech - 11-17 last season, but may have the best recruiting class, especially with versatile 6'8" Thaddeus Young and a host of starters and role players returning. Young is a serious pro prospect and may be only around for a season or two at best. If the Yellow Jackets can avoid the injury bug, they may emerge from the long shadows cast by Duke and North Carolina.

17. Connecticut - As usual, the Huskies will reload rather than rebuild and playing in the rugged Big East give them an advantage in March. Maybe after last year's disappointment, coach Calhoun can get his troops motivated earlier in the season. The team will build around forward Jeff Adrian and fit in a lot of new recruits.

18. UCLA - Point guard Jordan Farmar skipped to the NBA, and questions still surround Aaron Afflalo's disappearing offense in the NCAAs last season. Afflalo will have to step up his play, but the program is strong with plenty of athletes to provide depth.

19. LSU - Probably going to be a little less effective down low with Tyrus Thomas gone, but Big Baby Glenn Davis will control the box and the boards. The Tigers will still be a quality squad capable of doing damage at the highest levels as they return 6 of their top 8 scorers.

20. Marquette - Finished 6th in the Big East last season, but down years are expected from West Virginia and Villanova, who graduated almost all of their starters, so the Golden Eagles should move up despite graduating leading scorer and rebounder Steve Novak.

21. Oklahoma St. - Could actually finish much higher or completely out of it, depending on how well they get through the rough Big 12 schedule. JamesOn Curry needs to emerge as a leader and get his teammates more into the flow of the offense instead of trying to do it all himself. The Cowboys have plenty of height and speed and should be vastly improved over their 17-16 record of last season.

22. Texas - Another team looking to retool, but capable of vying for the conference title. Freshman Kevin Durant is the real deal and will be one of the best new faces on the college hoops scene, but the Longhorns lost all five starters from last season and will need to get in sync early.

23. Louisville - How long will Rick Pitino languish in the lower echelons of the Big East? Not too long. This team may surprise even themselves. They lose leading scorer Taquan Dean, but back are the next 5 high scorers. David Padgett and Juan Palacios will be twin terrors on the boards and tough to defend. Brandon Jenkins needs to be more consistent at point for the Cardinals to contend.

24. Nevada - A total sleeper from the WAC, won the conference at 13-3 last season, 27-6 overall. Nick Fazekas returns with his 21.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game and almost all of last year's squad is back. Look for the Wolf Pack to move up in the polls and make loud noises in the NCAA tournament.

25. Syracuse - Jim Boeheim is still perfecting his 2-3 zone defense and the Orangemen will be competitive in the Big East, which once again may be the dominant conference in America. They lose leading scorer and point guard Gerry McNamara, but the next five return intact. Top recruit Paul Harris gives the Orange a slew of scoring options.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Top 25 Preview: 6. Pittsburgh, 7. Arizona, 8. Georgetown

6. Pitt Panthers

The Pitt Panthers have been slotted by most experts into the top 5 or 10 teams in the nation. Coach Jamie Dixon would likely agree, considering that his starting center, 7-foot, 270 pound, Aaron Gray is a candidate for both Big East and national Player of the Year honors.

Gray will be a force underneath, but the Panthers have to find a replacement for their graduated leader, guard Carl Krauser, who was a tough talker and fearless slasher on the court.

Krauser's production, 15 points per game, will be the job of Ronald Ramon and Levance Fields to pick up. Who will do the trash talking is another matter altogether.

Power forward Levon Kendall, a senior, like Gray, will provide scoring and rebounding help in the interior. Either Sam Young or Tyrell Biggs will start at the other forward position, as both received plenty of playing time last season.

Pitt finished the 2005-06 campaign at 25-6, and were ousted in the 2nd round of the tournament by Bradley, 72-66. The Panthers also lost to Syracuse in the Big East tournament finals last season.

Their schedule will include some tougher opponents early on, including a home game vs. Duquesne on December 6, and back-to-back road games at Wisconsin, Dec. 16 and Oklahoma State, on Dec. 21. Big East play gets underway Thursday, January 4 at Syracuse.

For more on Panthers' hoops see this Pitt News account.

7. Arizona Wildcats

Lute Olsen is familiar with the ups-and-downs of NCAA Tournament play, so he's not concerned about last season's 2nd round exit. The 20-13 Wildcats lost, 82-78, to Villanova, a team that was loaded with talent and eventually fell to champion Florida in the Minneapolis regional final.

The Arizona offense will rotate around Mustafa Shakur, Marcus Williams, Ivan Radenovic and Bret Brielmaier. Shakur, Williams and Radenovic all averaged double figures in scoring last season, and while Williams will be the do-it-all forward dominating the PAC-10, Radeovic will be sweeping the boards. He led the team with 6.3 per game last season.

Brielmaier has looked sensational in practice and the 6'6" forward will be called upon to pick up his scoring in the absence of Hassan Adams, who graduated and last season led the team with 17.5 ppg.

With Shakur playing point, the 2-guard spot could be a competition between Daniel Dillon, Jawann McClellan and JP Prince as they try to fill the void left by Adams. Freshman Chase Budinger will get plenty of minutes as well. Coach Olson is very high on him and he'll add speed on defense.

Arizona will be in the hunt for the PAC-10 title, with UCLA having lost Jordan Farmar to the NBA and Brandon Roy having graduated from Washington. Coach Olson believes the strength of his team will be on defense and in transition:

We will go as much up tempo as our opponents will allow us. Our goal is to score 70 percent or more from the break situation or what we call the early offense, where we’re getting into our half-court offense. We’re going to try to push the tempo based on what we do offensively and defensively. I think we’ll be more up tempo than what we’ve had here, at least that’s our goal.

A couple of key early games should offer an indication as to how good the Wildcats really are. They host Illinois on December 2nd and Memphis on December 20. Another big game is at Louisville, Dec. 5.

For coach Olson's assessment of the Wildcats, see his media day quotes.

8. Georgetown

In anticipation of key Big East matchups, none offer more intrigue than the pair of games between Georgetown and Pitt on January 13 (at Pitt) and February 24 (at Georgetown). The two powerhouses should be neck-and-neck for the Big East title, having finished with identical 10-6 marks in 2005-06.

The reason for the anticipatory hype is over the center confrontation between a pair of 7-footers, Pitt's Aaron Gray and the Hoyas' Roy Hibbert. At 7'2" Hibbert has a slight 2-inch height advantage and is probably the only center in the Big East who can handle Gray in the post.

Last season, Hibbert was sensational, hitting 59% from the field while hauling down a team-high 6.9 rebounds a game. His 11.6 ppg average was good for 2nd to teammate Jeff Green, the athletic 6'9" forward, who has the ability to take control of games.

After those two, the Hoyas lost their 3rd, 4th and 5th-high scorers from last season to graduation - Brandon Bowman, Ashanti Cook and Darrel Owens - but Jessie Sapp and Jonathan Wallace should take over the guard duties, leaving one forward position to the trio of Patrick Ewing, Jr., Sead Dizdarevic and Marc Egerson to sort out. That trio is listed at 6'10", 6'9" and 6'6", so whenever the Hoyas take the court, their front line - along with Hibbert and Green - will be huge.

Besides the conference games against Pitt, there's Syracuse, UConn, Marquette, Louisville and Villanova to contend with, plus, Georgetown has some juicy dates on their early schedule, especially a home game against Oregon on November 29 followed by a road trip to Duke on December 2.

More on the Hoyas at Fox Sports.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

College Basketball Top 25 Preview: 5. Wisconsin

Last season, the Badgers went 19-12 overall and 9-7 in the Big 10 conference, good for 4th place. A repeat performance will not be nearly enough to get Wisconsin into the top 5. That's why Alando Tucker, the 6'6" 1st team all-conference senior swingman, is going to get a lot of help from returning center Jason Chappell, point guard Kammron Taylor and a host of incoming freshmen who will add some youth to an already deep and experienced team.

The Badgers return all but one of their starters from last season. In addition to Tucker, Taylor and Chappell, junior Brian Butch led the team in rounding last season.

Marcus Landry, a sophomore forward, and junior center Greg Stiemsma, both of whom were declared academically ineligible for the second semester last year, will play the full season and are expected to add punch off the bench. Three freshman guards will be vying for playing time, with redshirt Mickey Perry probably having the best shot at significant minutes. Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon may have a more difficult time finding their way into the deep lineup.

The Badgers lost in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last season to Arizona and are aiming for a much higher seed and a better result this time around. Their depth and a sense of purpose (plus a full season from two important subs), gives them a great shot at competing until late in March 2007.

Of course, the Badgers will have to contend with Ohio State along the way. The Buckeyes are the defending Big 10 champs and won't go down easily.

The Badgers will have ample time to tune up and sort out the lineup for conference play (which begins January 6 vs. Minnesota), especially in games after Thanksgiving against Florida State (Nov. 28), Pitt (Dec. 16) and at Marquette on December 9.

Should Wisconsin win at least two of those three, the Big 10 will be on notice that this is a team poised to take home big iron in the conference. And there is no tougher small forward in the country than Tucker. If he stays healthy, the Badgers may find themselves in the Final Four.

This Wisconsin State Journal article was used in preparing this post on the Badgers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

College Basketball Top 25 Preview: 4. Kansas

More will be expected from this Kansas team now that coach Bill Self has settled into the program and the KU athletic department has accepted a 3-year probation from the NCAA.

The probation is little more than a slap on the wrist, though KU could face sanctions if it does not toe the compliance line. There will be one less scholarship awarded in 2007, but the probation is more a set of guidelines than anything else and will not affect this season's basketball program.

Self returns for his 3rd season as the Jayhawks' coach and hopes to put the onus of back-to-back first round losses in the NCAA tournament deep into the memory hole.

Self was highly successful as the head coach at Illinois, leading the team deep into the tournament from 2000 through 2002 and capturing a pair of Big 10 titles along the way. He has the goods, with this current Kansas team, to go even deeper.

The success of the Kansas program starts and ends with sophomore Brandon Rush, who led the team last year in points and rebounds at 13.5 and 5.9, respectively. But this team will not rely on a single player. While Rush is a consensus All-Big 12, the Jayhawks are very deep, having returned their top seven scorers from a year ago.

Julian Wright, a 6'8" sophomore forward, is also expected to have a break-out season after having started 15 games as a freshman. The Jayhawks are loaded with talent at every position, making them a top 5 choice in just about every preseason poll.

A big test comes November 25 at defending champion Florida, and another measuring stick game comes December 23 when Boston College comes to town.

For more insight on the Jayhawks, see this article on Kansas.com.

College Basketball Top 25 Preview: 3. Ohio State

Buckeye basketball will have a new look this season with 5 impact newcomers on the roster. In addition to Greg Oden, considered to be one of the best big men in the country (but out until January with a wrist injury), coach Thad Matta has one of the nation's best recruiting classes.

Mike Conley, a teammate with Oden at Indianapolis North High School, will start at point guard. Junior Jamar Butler will fill the 2 guard spot.

Daequan Cook and David Lightly are the other incoming freshmen and along with Othello Hunter, a forward from Hillsborough Community College who averaged 16.8 points and 11.4 rebounds last season is also expected to make an impact.

The early part of the schedule will be tough, as the team awaits Oden's return from surgery and they play through a fairly ambitious schedule with includes a game at North Carolina on November 29 and another road trip to Florida on December 23. Conference play begins January 2nd at home vs. Indiana.

The Buckeyes will be a versatile, athletic team with plenty of power in the post. They finished last season at 26-6 after being ousted from the NCAA tournament in the 2nd round.

For more insight on Ohio State, try this Akron Beacon Journal article.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

College Basketball Top 25 Preview: 2. North Carolina

The Tar Heels will lose the services of David Noel, but Roy Williams has Tyler Hansbrough returning along with three other starters and a strong freshman class that figures to be among the best in the ACC if not the nation.

Hansbrough, the 6'9" center who was a sensation last year as a freshman, led last year's team in scoring (18.9 ppg), rebounding (7.8), shooting (57%) and steals (38).

But pounding the ball down low is not exactly what coach Williams has in mind. According to this article by Eddy Landreth, CarolinaBlue.com Associate Editor, the Tar Heels head coach is going to put more emphasis on speed.

Along with Hansbrough, forward Reyshawn Terry and guards Bobby Frasor and Wes Miller return to the starting five. Frasor will likely inherit Noel's point guard position, though all of the Tar Heels had good assist numbers last season. Danny Green or Marcus Ginyard will likely be the other starter, but according to Williams' dictates, there is going to be a full rotation of 13 or 14 players in every game.

The Tar Heels will be among the most entertaining and highest-scoring teams in the nation in 2006-07.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Florida Gators preseason Preview

According to this USA Today article, the Florida Gators are eager to defend their 2005-06 national basketball championship.

The starting five all returned from last season, despite speculation that star forward/center Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer would turn pro after stellar sophomore seasons. Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, and Al Horford join Brewer and Noah as the nation's #1 starting five.

Coach Billy Donovan, who begins his 11th season as head coach, will likely be a finalist for coach of the year if the Gators just reach the Final Four again.

The quest for the repeat begins in earnest on November 10, when the Gators suit up at home against Samford. As is the usual in college hoops, the Gators won't face serious opponents until they host Kansas on November 25. Conference play (SEC) begins January 6, 2007, when the Georgia Bulldogs travel one state south.

While the Gators won the NCAA Tournament last season, they did not even win their division in the SEC. That honor went to Tennessee, with a 12-4 conference record. The Gators were 10-6 and won the SEC tournament and the automatic bid to the Big Dance.

The Vols will again provide competition in the SEC East, along with Kentucky, as coach Tubby Smith seeks to find answers after a 9-7 record in the conference. The real power may be in the SEC West, where Alabama, Arkansas and LSU also have a good number of returnees ready to go.

But all eyes will be on the Gators, who seek to win back-to-back championships for the first time since Duke did it in 1991-92. If the Gators do make it to the Final Four, they will be in familiar territory; the championships will be held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

With all five starters coming back, Florida will be the pre-season #1 in all of the polls, including ours here at Downtown Magazine. Having played together for a full season, they are a well-organized unit. Add to that Joakim Noah's substantial upside and you have the recipe for a serious run at championship #2.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Practices begin today!

Now that practice has begun on campuses across the nation, I'm back for another season of thrilling college hoops.

Last season we crowned Florida as National Champions after they ripped through the field of 64 in the tourney, culminating in their one-sided win over UCLA. With most of the players on those teams returning, they will be highly ranked and, in the case of the Bruins at least, probably favored to win their conferences (the SEC may be another story).

In coming days, I'll be posting news articles, links and team previews. With the first tip-off only a little more than 3 weeks away (November 7), there's just enough time to present previews of the top 25 teams.

Tomorrow will start with - who else - those national champs from Florida.