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.

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.