Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Mean Green, Golden Eagles, Wright St. Raiders are In

Punch the dance ticket for Wright St., the winner of the Horizon League championship, and the Mean Green North Texas, who prevailed over Arkansas St. to capture the Sun Belt title. Open wide for Oral Roberts, winners of the Mid-Continent conference championship on Tuesday night.

The list of schools with automatic bids has now swelled to 12.

Wright St. 60 #19 Butler 55 - Followers of the Horizon League saw this one coming. The Butler Bulldogs, who had been ranked in the Top 25 most of the season, hit only 7-23 (30%) from beyond the arc and Wright State's Raiders rode senior Dashaun Wood's 29 points to the tournament championship. Wood was 9-15 from the field including 6 threes.

The Raiders and Bulldogs tied for the regular season lead at 13-3, though Wright State won their most recent meeting, 77-65, after being battered by the Bulldogs back in January, 73-42. Since that low point, Wright State has won 12 of 14 and roll into the NCAA Tournament with a full head of steam.

Butler, which finished 27-6, still may be chosen with an at-large bid, though their 4-4 record to close out the season will not likely impress the selection committee.

North Texas 83 Arkansas St. 75 - Led by Calvin Watson's 6 3-pointers and 24 points, the Mean Green held off a rugged Arkansas St. squad to capture the Sun Belt crown. North Texas had five players in double figures as they shot 53% for the game but didn't help themselves from the foul line, converting only 17 of 30 attempts (57%).

The unlikeliest of winners, North Texas (23-10, 10-8) finished 3rd in the Sun Belt West, but by luck of the draw and other upsets, didn't have to face either of the two teams with the best conference records, South Alabama or Western Kentucky. They beat LA-Monroe and Middle Tennessee St. to advance to the final, where they made the most of their opportunity. North Texas will be riding a five-game win streak into the tournament.

Oral Roberts 71 Oakland 67 - Caleb Green scored 28 points on 11-19 shooting to lead the Golden Eagles over the Golden Grizzlies in the Mid-Continent tournament championship. The effort lifted Green to the all time career scoring leader in the conference and got Oral Roberts into the Big Dance with a 23-10 record (12-2, conference). Oral Roberts had trailed by 9 at the half, but a big 2nd half defensive effort - limiting Oakland to just 22 points - proved decisive.

The Golden Eagles have big-time aspirations even though they will be a 14-16 seed. In just their 2nd game of the season, way back on November 15, they strolled into Kansas and won, 78-71, over the mighty Jayhawks, a likely #1 seed. The loss was one of only 4 on the season for Kansas.Sports Training Products

On Wednesday, the majors get into the act, with the Big East and PAC-10 tournaments headlining events. The Atlantic 10 conference also gets underway in Atlantic City, along with Conference USA, the Big West and Mid-American also in their opening rounds.

The Mountain West, WAC, Big Sky and Mid-Eastern are already through the opening rounds.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Gonzaga, VCU, Niagara qualify for NCAA Tournament

Minor and mid-major conference tournaments are all the rage this week, with a number already completed, some still ongoing and three more crowning champions last night.

Gonzaga 77 Santa Clara 68 - Gonzaga, a fixture in the Big Dance for many years, captured their 8th West Coast Conference (WCC) in the last nine years, earing them an automatic bid to March Madness. Derek Raivio scored a season-high 28 points for the Bulldogs, who will likely earn a 6 or 7 seed on Selection Sunday (March 11).

Gonzaga has had great success in the NCAA tournament and is widely recognized as one of the teams that popularized the term "Cinderella" when it comes to tourney jargon. The "Zags" - as they are commonly referred-to - routinely upset higher-ranked teams as the field of 64 is whittled down over the first weekend. They typically get through the first two rounds, but have gone as far as an Elite 8, never reaching the Final Four.

Expect some excitement from the Zags again this year. The 23-10 record is somewhat deceiving because of the tough non-conference schedule. Gonzaga played at North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Butler, Stanford and Washington State and hosted games against Duke, Washington, Memphis and Nevada. Of those, they only beat North Carolina, Texas, Stanford and Washington, which alone is saying something. The 7 non-conference losses are to teams which will likely to be playing next week, and if there's anything such as a quality loss, circle the losing - 78-77 - effort on Feb. 17 against Memphis, which currently has won 19 straight.

If nothing else, Gonzaga is battle-tested.

Niagara 83 Siena 79 - Tyrone Lewis scored a career-high 24 points as Niagara took home the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) championship, and with it a trip to the field of 65. The 22-11 Purple Eagles won their 11th straight game and will be in the NCAA Tournament for the 2nd time in three years.Sports Training Products

Niagara got the automatic bid despite starting out the season 1-6, with losses to teams like Valparaiso, Akron and St. John's. But they went about business in the MAAC with a 13-5 record, and then knocked off Rider, Loyola and Siena on consecutive nights to earn the title.

The Purple Eagles didn't play a ranked team this season, but non-conference wins over Central Michigan and Duquesne offer a glimpse of what they have as a team - not much. They will likely be a 15 or 16 seed and match up against some team like Kansas, Georgetown or UCLA in the opening round.

VCU 65 George Mason 59 - With a name that's not at all common around college basketball circles, Virginia Commonwealth University won the Colonial Atlantic conference tournament, snatching the automatic bid from last season's Cinderella, George Mason.

In 2006, the Patriots ran all the way to the Final Four before losing to Florida, 73-58. This season, George Mason will not go to the Big Dance, having posted a 18-15 record and finishing 8-8 in the conference.

The 27-6 VCU Rams will move on, however. After going through their conference schedule with a 16-2 record, they knocked off Georgia State and Drexel before last night's championship victory. The Rams won 10 straight from Jan. 3-29, and are likely to be a 16 seed.

Along with these three there are now 9 teams that have earned automatic bids, including Penn (Ivy League), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley), Winthrop (Big South), Creighton (MVC) and Davidson (Southern).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Madness Underway: Big Conferences Finish Regular Seasons

With all conferences now finished with their regular seasons (except for a Big 12 makeup game - Ok. St. at Nebraska), tournaments to determine automatic bids are underway in some smaller conferences with the majors to begin on Wednesday as we creep closer to Selection Sunday.

Recaps from Sunday, March 3:

#5 Florida 85 Kentucky 72 - After a halftime tie at 43, the Gators got their game on in the second half and ripped the Wildcats by 13, to end the regular season on a winning note. Florida's big men got the job done inside, as Joakim Noah and Al Horford scored 17 and 14, both of them grabbed 10 rebounds. Taurean Green also threw in 17 points in the home win.

The rebounding edge for Florida - 35-23 - was enhanced as Kentucky's Randolph Morris was saddled with fouls and saw just 18 minutes of floor time. The Gators finished at 13-3, atop the SEC East and 26-5 overall. Kentucky ended at 9-7, 4th in the SEC East and 20-10 overall. Florida will get a bye in the opening round of the SEC tournament.Sports Training Products

#8 North Carolina 86 #14 Duke 72 - The Tar Heels captured a share of the ACC championship with Virginia, finishing the season 11-5 as Virginia Tech lost to Clemson and Boston College was unceremoniously dispatched at Georgia Tech and finished in a tie for 3rd place. Duke finished an uncharacteristic 6th in the ACC at 8-8, ties with Georgia Tech.

Tyler Hansbrough had a monster game for North Carolina, leading all scorers with 26 points while also hauling down 17 rebounds. Hansbrough missed the final seconds of the game as he was hacked on his nose by Duke's Gerald Henderson, and left the floor bleeding profusely. Henderson was called for a flagrant foul, ejected and suspended for Duke's next game. Henderson scored 16 for the Blue Devils, who were swept for the first time in 11 years by North Carolina. The Tar Heels will be the #1 seed in the ACC tournament.

Creighton 67 #11 Southern Illinois 61 - The Creighton Bluejays rose to the occasion and captured the Missouri Valley Conference championship. Ranked as high as 10th in some preseason polls, the Bluejays dropped out of the Top 25 early on, following losses at Nebraska, Dayton, Fresno St. and Hawaii. They finished the regular season in the MVC at 13-5, behind the 15-3 Salukis, but swept their tournament games to grab the NCAA Tournament automatic bid.

Southern Illinois will no doubt get an at-large bid. Yesterday's loss ended a 13-game win streak. The Salukis are 27-6 overall and may be joined from the MVC by Missouri State (12-6, 22-10).

#16 Louisville 86 Seton Hall 71 - Rick Pitino has the Louisville Cardinals ready for the Big Dance. On Sunday, the Cardinals won their 6th straight and grabbed a share of 2nd place in the Big East with Pitt at 12-4. Freshman guard Edgar Sosa led the way with 18 points. David Padgett and Terrence Williams each added 15 points as the Cardinals played their third straight game without starting forward Juan Palacios who has been suffering from back spasms.

Clemson 75 #21 Virginia Tech 74 - Despite playing at home and Zabian Dowdell's 25 points, the Virginia Tech Hokies were denied by Clemson and win and a share of first place in the ACC. The Hokies will have to settle for a 3rd place tie with Boston College, who also lost on Sunday.

Mississippi St. 91 Alabama 67 - The Bulldogs won at home, putting 6 players in double figures as they dismantled the Crimson Tide and earned a share of the SEC West title with Mississippi. Both teams finished conference play at 8-8. Alabama ended their regular season at 7-9 and will likely not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Georgia Tech 74 Boston College 60 - Boston College turned the ball over 20 times and the Georgia Tech took advantage at home to finish up ACC play at 8-8 and deny the Eagles a share of first place. The Yellow Jackets got points from 9 different players as they improved to 20-10 overall and kept hopes alive for a ticket to the Big Dance. Should the Yellow Jackets win two games in the conference tourney, they should receive an at-large bid. They open with Wake Forest on Thursday night.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Life is Tough on the Road

College hoops is one sport where being at home matters. It was never more evident than yesterday, as a horde of ranked and quality teams hit the road and either lost or failed to cover spreads.

But, with conference regular seasons ending today, the unusually huge demands made on road teams will suddenly fly out the window. As the action shifts to neutral sites for conference tourneys and the Big Dance, that advantage/disadvantage disappears. The real quality will finally begin to step forward.Sports Training Products

Villanova 78 Syracuse 75 - With their season on the line, the wildcats scratched out a regular season-ending home win over stubborn Syracuse. The Wildcats led by 10 with 2 minutes left, but turnovers, missed free throws and some big baskets by Demetris Nichols and Eric Devendorf (career high 33 points) made the game a close call to the final buzzer. Syracuse ended their Big East campaign at 10-6, Villanova, 9-7. Both teams have 21-9 records overall and their NCAA Tournament fate will likely be decided in the Big East tourney which starts on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Washington 61 #2 UCLA 51 - The Huskies led the entire game, at one point by 16, and completed their weekend sweep of the PAC-10's Southern California contingent. On Thursday, Washington humbled USC. With an 8-10 mark in the conference, Washington has slim hopes of making the NCAA Tournament field, though they may qualify if they fare well in the PAC-10 tourney next week.

#1 Ohio St. 65 Michigan 61 - Greg Oden played only 23 minutes due to foul trouble, but the Buckeyes surged late, scoring the last 10 points of the game to overcome a tough home team at Michigan. Oden finished with 16 points, as did senior guard Ron Lewis. Ohio State had already secured the Big Ten regular season title.

#20 Marquette 75 #12 Pittsburgh 71 - Pittsburgh had their chance, but host Marquette denied them a share of the Big East championship, as Georgetown won their final game to finish conference play at 13-3. Freshman David Cubillan and sophomore Wesley Matthews scored 20 points apiece as the Golden Eagles - who led by as many as 17 - held off a late rally by the Panthers. The loss was the 2nd straight on the road for Pitt, which seems to have lost some of its spark.

#10 Nevada 69 New Mexico St. 65 - The Nevada Wolf Pack scored 41 2nd half points and rallied past the determined Aggies for their final regular season home win. Marcelus Kemp had 32 for the victors to go with Nick Fazekas' 22. Nevada had already clinched the WAC title.

#17 Oregon 70 Oregon St. 49 - Overcoming mid-season struggles, the Oregon Ducks finished their regular season with their 3rd straight win, an 11-7 record in the PAC-10 (tied for 3rd with Arizona and USC) and a 23-7 mark overall.

#13 Washington St. 88 #23 USC 86 2OT - Aron Baynes scored a career-high 25 points as the Washington St. Cougars finished their regular season with a thrilling home win and 2nd place in the PAC-10 standings at 13-5.

#22 Notre Dame 73 Rutgers 66 - The Fighting Irish squeezed by Rutgers for only their 3rd road win in conference play against five losses. Notre Dame's Colin Falls was the game's high scorer with 22 points. The Irish finished their Big East campaign at 11-5, good for 4th place and a first-round bye in the Big East tourney.

#6 Memphis 64 SMU 61 - The Memphis Tigers completed an undefeated season in Conference-USA at 16-0, winning their 9th straight road game and extending the nation's longest winning streak to 19 straight. Only Memphis and Big South champion Winthrop concluded their conference schedules unblemished.

#24 Maryland 79 NC State 59 - The Terps won their 7th straight to close out their ACC campaign at 10-6 and 24-7 overall.

Wake Forest 78, Virginia 72 - The Cavaliers had a shot at winning the ACC title outright, but failed on the road to Wake Forest, which won only its 5th conference game. Boston College, North Carolina and Virginia Tech all have a chance to share the crown with wins today.

Creighton 75 Missouri St. 58 - Nate Funk scored a game high 33 points and Nick Porter added a double-double with 19 points and 13 boards as the Bluejays advanced to the Missouri Valley Conference finals against Southern Illinois today. Funk was 10-15 from the field and a perfect 10-10 from the foul line.

#11 Southern Ill. 53, Bradley 51 - Jamaal Tatum scored 20 points and the game-winner to lead the Salukis to their 13th straight win and a spot in the MVC finals today against Creighton.

Conference Tournament Champions:

Davidson 72 College of Charleston 65 - Davidson finished up a 29-4 regular season with a 17-1 record in the Southern conference by winning three straight tournament games. Stephen Curry, son of former NBA standout Dell Curry, scored 29 points as the Wildcats secured their spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Belmont 94 East Tennessee St.. 67 - Andy Wicke and Andrew Preston each scored 18 points as the Bruins made won their 2nd consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference tournament and automatic NCAA bid. Belmont heads to the tourney with a 23-9 record overall and 14-4 in conference.

Winthrop 84 VMI 81 - The Winthrop Eagles (28-4, 14-0) will represent the Big South in the NCAA Tournament for the 7th time in the last 9 years.

Eastern Kentucky 63 Austin Peay 62 - The Colonels upended #1 seed Austin Peay to capture the Ohio Valley championship and NCAA automatic bid.

Sunday's Conference Championships

Big Sky: Montana vs. Portland St.
Missouri Valley: Creighton vs. Southern Illinois

Today's Picks:

Kentucky at #4 Florida (-10) - The Gators have struggled, dropping 3 of their last 4. Kentucky will be seeking to impress the NCAA selection committee for a higher seeding. The Gators won 64-61 at Kentucky on Feb. 10. Take the Wildcats and the points.

Alabama at Mississippi State (-6) - Who dat? The Miss. St. Bulldogs or Alabama can gain a share of the SEC West title (with Mississippi) with a win. "Bama's struggled all year, but they are still tied with the Bulldogs at 7-8 in the conference and beat the Bulldogs 80-79 at home. This one should go right to the buzzer, so roll with the Crimson Tide.

Boston College at Georgia Tech (-6) - BC can earn a share of the ACC title with a win. Georgia Tech can keep slim tournament hopes alive. BC should win it outright.

#14 Duke at #8 North Carolina (-10) - With all the history - and coach K - associated with this game, I'd be very suspect to not go with the Blue Devils and the points. The Tar Heels aren't as formidable as many think, nor are the Devils as bad. In their first meeting on February 7, North Carolina won at Duke, 79-73. 10 is a good number of points to take in a rivalry game, though NC should win the game.

Clemson at #21 Virginia Tech (-6) - Even though Clemson is 6-9 and Tech 10-5 in the ACC, this is a pretty even matchup. Clemson will probably fail late, but will make Tech earn every point. Clemson may upset.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Early returns: Kansas, Georgetown, Wisconsin close with wins

#3 Kansas 90 #15 Texas 86 - Kansas won the Big 12 title outright with a nail-biter over Texas. So much for the KU defense, however. Texas' three leading scorers - led by all-world frosh Kevin Durant's 32 points - nearly pulled of the upset in the Jayhawks' house, combining for 69 points.

Durant started off hot, scoring 12 of the Longhorns' first 18 points and finished the first half with 25 points, hitting 5 of 5 3-pointers as Texas raced to a 54-42 lead. Kansas went on a 17-4 run to start the second half, and regained the lead at 59-58. Kansas grabbed a 69-65 lead on Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer, then, Durant, driving the lane, twisted his left ankle and writhed briefly on the floor in pain, but left under his own power, noticeably limping.

Without their star, Texas was not able to stay with the swarming Jayhawks who rolled to an 81-72 lead. Durant returned with just over 7 minutes remaining, but the Longhorns were struggling, hitting only 1 of 10 3-pointers in the 2nd half until Durant hit a long 3 with under 30 seconds remaining, cutting the lead to 5. Following a Kansas turnover, Abrams hit a 3 to cut it to 2 at 88-86 with 23 seconds left. After a Jayhawks free throw, Augustin's attempt for a tying 3-pointer was blocked by Julian Wright. The Jayhawks' Russell Robinson hit another free throw for the winning margin.

A.J. Abrams and D.J. Augustin scored 18 and 19 respectively for the Longhorns. Mario Chalmers led the Jayhawks with 21.

#9 Georgetown 59 Connecticut 46 - Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green may be the most dangerous frontcourt tandem in college hoops. The dynamic duo scored 18 and 14 respectively, boosting the Hoyas to at least a share of the Big East crown, pending the late-night Pitt-Marquette game result. Hibbert notched his 6th double-double with 12 rebounds. The Hoyas will get a first-round bye in the upcoming Big East tournament.

#4 Wisconsin 52 Michigan St. 50 - Alando Tucker was the only Badger in double figures, but his 26 points led Wisconsin to a tough road win in their final regular season game. The badgers finished up at 27-4 and 13-3 in the conference, good enough only for 2nd place behind Ohio State. The Badgers will be no worse than a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Madness Begins: Conference Tourneys Underway

Some of the lesser conferences already have tournaments underway, vying for the right to represent in the NCAA Tournament. Major conferences still have regular season games going this weekend, some of which will determine titles.

With a full slate on tap for today, I'll be giving some picks and pointers, plus recaps from Friday night.

Most eyes are focused on the Missouri Valley, where the Salukis of Southern Illinois are expected to get to the title game and win it. But the MVC may be sending 3 or 4 teams to the Big Dance, so whichever team comes out on top, it will be battle-tested.

Quarterfinal action from the MVC:

Bradley 51 Northern Iowa 48 - Bradley moved on to play Southern Illinois on Saturday in the semifinals.

#11 Southern Illinois 71 Drake 59 - The Salukis won their 12th straight game, propelled by Matt Shaw and Jamaal Tatum. Each scored 19 points to move Southern Ill. into the semis against Bradley.

Creighton 59 Indiana St. 38 - Creighton's defense did the trick, holding the Sycamores to just 23% shooting. The #2 seed in the MVC tourney will play Missouri St. on Saturday in one semifinal.

Missouri St. 67 Wichita St. 64 - Last season, the Shockers made an impressive run in the NCAA tourney. This year, they couldn't even get through their own conference. The Missouri St. Bears pulled out a close win to advance to Saturday's semifinal game against Creighton.

Saturday's Picks (all times Eastern):

12:00 pm - #15 Texas 22-7 at #3 Kansas (-9.5) - Texas can tie the Jayhawks (and possibly Texas A&M if they win at Missouri) for first in the Big 12 and a share of the conference championship with a win, but the linesmakers don't foresee a close game. I beg to differ. KU is riding a 7-game win streak, but the Longhorns have won 6 straight. Kansas plays tough defense and have only lost twice at home. The Longhorns aren't the greatest on the road, but they've developed as the season progressed and are a legitimate threat to win this. Take the points and enjoy what may be a classic.

1:00 pm - Virginia (-4) at Wake Forest - The Cavaliers can wrap up the ACC championship with a win and Wake Forest hasn't put up much resistance this season, winning only 4 times in the ACC and tied for last place with Miami. Though the Demon Deacons have won their last 2 home games, they were against Clemson and Miami. Virginia should roll to an easy win.

2:00 pm - Syracuse at Villanova (-6) - A sucker line if there ever was one. The Orange are seeking higher NCAA seeding and already beat the Wildcats at the Dome earlier this year. Villanova is in a must-win situation, but they haven't been competitive lately against the top teams in the Big East. Syracuse knows what's riding here and should win this one.

2:30 pm - Bradley vs. Southern Illinois (no line) - I'd make Southern Ill. a 3 to 5 point favorite here and take them over Bradley, though it will be a close game. These two met twice already this season. Bradley won at home, 48-46, but the Salukis were on the tail end of a three-game road trip back then in January. Southern Ill. returned the favor, 60-50 on their home hardwood on Feb. 7. The Salukis should handle them.

4:00 pm - #1 Ohio St. (-4.5) at Michigan - Ohio State can wrap up the Big 10 championship with a win here, but the Wolverines are 6-1 at home in the Big 10 this season. The Buckeyes are riding a 13-game win streak and have had nearly a week off since their big win over Wisconsin. This one is not likely to be close as the Buckeyes roll towards a #1 seeding in the NCAA tourney.Sports Training Products

5:00 pm - Loyola Chicago vs. #18 Butler (no line) - If they make Butler a favorite of 5 or more, take the points. Loyola beat them less than two weeks ago and even though the Bulldogs are ranked and shared the Horizon League title with Wright St., they may be a bit overrated. We're going to find out.

7:00 pm - #23 USC at #13 Washington St. (-5) - The Cougars should handle the Trojans here. USC was dumped badly at Washington on Thursday and don't do well on the road. They've lost 3 off their last 4 road games while Washington St. is 6-2 at home in PAC-10 play. The Cougars may run the Trojans right off the court.

9:00 pm - #12) Pittsburgh at #20 Marquette (-2) - A loss by the Panthers could cost them the Big East championship if Georgetown beats UConn today. Don't count on it. Marquette has lost 4 of their last 5 and look mighty vulnerable even at home.

10:00 pm - New Mexico St. at #10 Nevada (-10) - Nevada has already wrapped up the WAC title, so this game has less meaning for them and the Aggies will want to make a statement to the selection committee. New Mexico St. beat the Wolf pack back on Jan. 20, 73-80, but this will be on the Wolf Pack's home court. Nevada should win this, but it could be an upset and will likely be close. It is, after all, March 3rd, and the madness has begun.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Virginia Takes Top Spot in ACC

Virginia 69 #21 Virginia Tech 56While North Carolina was being stung by the Yellow Jackets at Georgia Tech, the Virginia Cavaliers stepped up, avenged an earlier loss and grabbed 1st place in the ACC with a win over in-state rival Virginia Tech, 69-56. The 11-4 Cavaliers can win the title outright with a win over the conference's weakest team, 4-11 Wake Forest, on Saturday. It would mark Virginia's first ACC championship since 1995.

Spending most of the season in relatively unranked obscurity, Virginia, led by Sean Singletary's 17 points, hammered the visiting Hokies with 10 3-pointers (10-16, 63%), while Virginia Tech struggled from beyond the arc, hitting only 2 of 15 attempts (13%). The win was payback for a Feb. 10, 84-57 thumping by Tech which ended a 7-game Virginia win streak.

Georgia Tech 84 #8 North Carolina 77 - With an NCAA invitation possibly hanging in the balance, Georgia Tech lured the ACC's top team to Atlanta and ambushed them, handing the (24-6, 10-5) Tar Heels their second consecutive road loss.

Thaddeus Young scored a career-high 25 points, helped by Javaris Crittenton's 11 assists. Hitting key free throws as time wore down, the Yellow Jackets held on to a 49-42 halftime lead, allowing North Carolina to get no closer than 4 points in the second half. Tech's Javaris Crittenton and Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough both recorded double-doubles. Crittendon scored 13 points with 11 rebounds, while Hansbrough tallied 16 and 10.

The Tar Heels host Duke in their season finale on Sunday as Georgia Tech closes out at home with Boston College the same day. A Yellow Jacket win and a Duke loss would tie those two at 8-8 in the conference, leaving success or failure in the ACC tournament as the final arbiter for an NCAA bid. Nothing's being taken for granted at North Carolina, however. The Tar Heels have lost 3 of their last 5.Sports Training Products

#6 Memphis 78 UTEP 67 - The 26-3 Tigers got one step closer to completing an undefeated conference run with another easy road win in the watered-down Conference-USA. At 15-0 in C-USA, Memphis closes out their regular season Saturday night at cellar-dweller SMU, which has won only 3 conference games.

The easy conference schedule may be injurious to Memphis garnering a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. With only one win over a ranked team - an 80-63 win over Kentucky back in November - the selection committee may not look kindly at the Tigers' 18-game win streak (19 if they win at SMU). A #1 seed is probably not in the equation, though a #2 would be a distinct possibility. The overall depth in the 10-12 top teams nationally may send Memphis into March Madness as a #3 seed, however.

#2 UCLA 53 #13 Washington St. 45 - The 2nd-ranked Bruins wrapped up their 2nd consecutive PAC-10 title with a road win over their closest conference rival. As usual, the Bruins did it more with defense than offense, holding the Cougars to 38% shooting, including 1-10 from 3-point range. UCLA didn't fare much better from behind the arc, hitting only 2 of 13 of their attempts. The Bruins did force 14 turnovers and only committed 10 fouls. UCLA improved to 15-2 in the PAC-10 and 26-3 overall with only a Saturday date at Washington left in their regular season schedule.

The Bruins are in position to be the #1 seed in the Western region of the NCAA Tournament. Washington St. fell to 12-5 and 23-6, and will likely end up as a 3 or 4 seed.

Washington 85 #23 USC 70 - Southern Cal just didn't look like a tournament team last night as Washington rolled to a win at home. Against the Trojans' soft defense, the Huskies managed to shoot 52%, dropping in 10 of their 18 3-point attempts. USC struggled from beyond the arc, hitting only 5-18 (28%). Nick Young racked up 26 points for the Bruins, but his effort was hardly enough to derail the host Huskies.

USC can still help themselves out with a win at Washington in their season finale. Considered a good bet to reach the field of 65, the Trojans have 6 wins over ranked teams already in their pocket, though 2 each were against Arizona and Oregon. Washington St. won their first meeting, at USC, 58-55, on December 30.

Utah St. 79 #10 Nevada 77 (OT) - The Nevada Wolf Pack had already clinched the WAC title before this game started, but the strain of overtime in their 3rd straight road game in 8 days finally did them in. Nick Fazekas scored 20 with 10 rebounds for his 18th double-double of the season, while extending his streak of of double figure scoring to 29 - every game this season.

The Wolf Pack returns home on Saturday to close out the season with New Mexico St., their closest conference pursuer. The game may have more meaning for future seeding, as both teams are locked into their 1-2 positions in the WAC.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Don't Mess With Texas... or Maryland

Longhorns down Aggies in double OT, keep Big 12 hopes alive; Terps complete sweep of Duke

#15 Texas 98 #7 Texas A&M 96 (2OT) - The Aggies' Acie Law hit a pair of 3-pointers - forcing overtime and, later, double OT - and scored 33 points in all, but it wasn't enough as Kevin Durant and the Longhorns had the last word in the 2nd extra session on their home court. The Texas freshman hit key free throws down the stretch, finishing with 30 points and 16 rebounds and possibly the biggest win of his brief yet spectacular college career. Teammates D. J. Augustin scored 25 and Damian James had 22.

The win moved Texas into position to claim a share of the Big 12 championship if they can win their final regular season game Saturday at Kansas. If that happens, the conference would likely end up in a three-way tie should Texas A&M finish their season at home vs. Missouri with a win. Both A&M and the Longhorns are 12-3. Kansas is 13-2. Regardless of which of them takes the title, all three will be high seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. One of them will surely be a #1 seed, with the other two likely to be seeded #2 in different brackets.
Sports Training Products
#24 Maryland 85 #14 Duke 77 - The Maryland Terrapins have made a late-season statement and should be included in the March Madness field of 65. After knocking off North Carolina on Sunday, the Terps took a trip down Tobacco Road to Durham and took care of business against the Blue Devils.

Led by senior guard Mike Jones, who scored 25 points, the Terps completed a season sweep of Duke (they also did it in the 2004-05 season). Their first win over the Blue Devils came back on February 11 at College Park and launched Maryland on what has now become a 6-game winning streak. The Terps are now 9-6 in ACC play and 23-7 overall. Looking like one of the more dangerous teams in the nation, they close out the regular season at home against NC State on Saturday.

For Duke, the loss may prove to be devastating as they prepare for their final ACC game at North Carolina on Sunday. A loss there and any loss in the ACC tournament would put the Blue Devils in an uncomfortable spot - on the NCAA bubble - a place to which they are unaccustomed. Consider, in that scenario, Duke would have 10 losses, but, wins over Georgetown, BC, Gonzaga and Clemson working in their favor. Unfortunately, a 3-6 record in their last 9 conference games would not impress the selection committee. It is conceivable, maybe believable, that the Blue Devils would be passed over for the Big Dance.

#19 Vanderbilt 99 South Carolina 90 (OT) - The Commodores kept rolling along last night with a shoot-out overtime win at South Carolina. Shan Foster scored a season-high 33 points and teammate Derrick Byars dropped in 18 - including a key pair of 3s in overtime - as Vandy secured their hold on 2nd place in the SEC East at 10-5. They have just one conference game remaining, at home vs. Arkansas on Saturday.

The win was the 20th of the season for the Commodores and also earned them a first round bye in next week's SEC tournament.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Gators Drop Another One

Tennessee 86 #5 Florida 76On Saturday, the Florida Gators lost to lowly LSU. Last night in Knoxville, evidence that the reigning national champions were in the throes of a late-season slump surfaced as they lost an important game to surging Tennessee.Sports Training Products Against LSU, the Gators couldn't find any offense. Against the Vols, they disregarded defense, allowing Tennessee to hit 58% of their shots, open a 19-point lead at the half and hold off a Florida rally late in the game. Florida has also lost their shooting touch from beyond the arc. They hit only 6 of 21 attempts last night after a 2.17 performance at LSU.

Chris Lofton led the Vols with 21 points, but the bigger story was the lack of production from some of the Gators' leading scorers, Joakim Noah in particular. Against the Vols, Noah scored a mere 8 points, following his 4 point game at LSU. Taurean Green scored just 6 at LSU and 9 last night. Lee Humphrey had 5 points against LSU and 9 against the Vols. Those three players average 36 points per game combined. Over the last two losses, 20.5.

Whatever is ailing the Gators, it became Tennessee's gain as the Volunteers improved to 9-6 in the SEC East and 21-9 overall, having won 6 of their last 7. Both teams close out the regular season on Saturday. Tennessee is at Georgia, while the Gators host Kentucky.

The SEC Men's Basketball Tournament begins Thursday, March 8 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and concludes on Sunday, March 11.

#12 Pittsburgh 80 West Virginia 66 - The Pitt Panthers regrouped after their weekend loss at Georgetown and took care of business at home with a decisive win over the Mountaineers. Pitt regained a share of first place as Georgetown lost at Syracuse on Monday. West Virginia, however, saw their hopes of getting an invitation to the NCAA Tournament slipping away as they lost for the 3rd time in their last 4 outings. The Mountaineers fell into a tie with DePaul at 8-7, good for 7th place in the conference. West Va. has only a one quality win on their resume (UCLA), so they'll have to win their season finale against Cincinnati and perform well in next week's Big East Tournament.

BYU 62 #25 Air Force 58 - The BYU Cougars ended Air Force's 30-game home win streak and clinched at least a tie for the Mountain West championship. The Cougars can win the title outright with a win in their final regular season game, at home - where they own the nation's longest home win streak, 30 straight - against Utah. At 12-3, BYU currently leads UNLV by 1/2-game. The Runnin' Rebels, winners of 9 of their last 11, play at New Mexico on Wednesday and close out the regular season hosting Colorado St. on Saturday.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Syracuse Stops Georgetown Streak

Syracuse 72 #12 Georgetown 58 - The rivalry between these two schools just got a little more interesting last night at the Carrier Dome in upstate New York. Syracuse needed a big win to help convince some of the doubters on the NCAA tournament selection committee and they got it with a win over the Hoyas, ending Georgetown's win streak at 11. The Orangemen deployed Jim Boeheim's zone defense to perfection, shutting down the Hoyas inside and out. Some of the numbers were downright embarrassing: Jeff Green, 3-13; Jessie Sapp, 2-12; DaJuan Summers, 1-10. Georgetown shot 30% from the field, including 6-25 (24%) from 3-point land. Demetris Nichols led the scoring parade with 22 points, joining 3 other Orangemen in double figures. Syracuse also forced 19 Georgetown turnovers.

Just two days after Georgetown toppled Pitt from the top slot in the Big East standings, they find themselves even with the Panthers in the loss column again. The Hoyas have one Big East game remaining - vs. UConn on Saturday - while the Panthers close out conference play at home vs. West Virginia tonight and at Marquette on Saturday.

Syracuse moved into a tie with Notre Dame for 4th place at 10-5. The Orange finish Big east play at Villanova on Saturday. While the win over the Hoyas probably clinched a spot in the Big Dance for the 'Cuse, the upcoming Big East tournament will be about gaining better seeding. The Big East may be sending as many as 8 teams into the March Madness fray.

#6 Kansas 67 Oklahoma 65 - Julian Wright and Mario Chalmers scored 18 points each as the Jayhawks improved to 13-2 in the conference. The Jayhawks blew a 17-point lead but rallied late for the road win over the Sooners. The win allowed Kansas to briefly grab a 1/2-game lead over Texas A&M atop the Big 12 standings. They have only one game remaining, but it's a big one, at home against Texas (11-3) on Saturday. The 12-2 Aggies play at Texas on Wednesday and finish up at home with Missouri.

If Texas wins both of their remaining games and A&M beats Missouri, the three teams could end up tied for the conference title at 13-3. All of this makes for an interesting week in the Big 12, which is likely to get three or four NCAA tournament bids at best. With the Aggies, Longhorns and Jayhawks already locked in, only Texas Tech or Kansas State are worthy of consideration.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ohio State Stakes Its Claim

Sunday's battle between #1 Wisconsin and #2 Ohio State resulted in a 1-point win for the Buckeyes. Being that the game was played on Ohio State's home court, the win was not surprising. It's tough to win on the road, but Ohio State's win could literally not have been by any smaller margin. So, Ohio State's #1 ranking should include an asterisk with the note, "at home."

#2 Ohio St. 49 #1 Wisconsin 48 - The Buckeyes captured the Big Ten title with a win over their closest rival and a 14-1 record with just one conference game remaining and a 2-game lead over the Badgers (12-3). Mike Conley Jr. hit the game-winner for Ohio State with 4 seconds left and Kammron Taylor's desperate jumper at the buzzer was swatted away by Greg Oden and Ron Lewis. Ohio State still has some unfinished business at Michigan, but the result of the game won't change the standings. The Buckeyes are likely to be named #1 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls later today.

Maryland 89 #5 North Carolina 87 - Just when everyone had counted Gary Williams and the Maryland Terrapins out, they go nose-to-nose with the Tar Heels and pull out a surprise win. Senior guard D. J. Strawberry lit it up with 27 points and led the host Terps into a tie for 5th place in the ACC with Duke at 8-6. The Tar Heels' loss also produced a three-way tie for 1st place in the conference with Virginia Tech and Virginia, all at 10-4. It will all shake out in the coming week. Most of the contenders have 2 games left, except 10-5 Boston College, which closes out the regular season on Sunday, March 4 at Georgia Tech.

#7 Memphis 77 Houston 64 - The Tigers extended the nation's longest winning streak to 17 with another home win. Ho-hum. Conference-USA. No big deal.

#17 Vanderbilt 67 Kentucky 65 - Derrick Byars scored 26 points and Shan Foster chipped in 21 to lead the Commodores to their 9th SEC win against just 5 losses. The effort solidified Vanderbilt's position for an at-large bid to March Madness. Vandy has just two conference games left, at South Carolina and at home against Arkansas. Winning either should be enough to get to the field of 65.

Meanwhile, Kentucky dropped into a three-way tie for 3rd place in the SEC East with Tennessee and Georgia. The Wildcats could be the odd team out as they host Georgia on Wednesday and close out the season at Florida on Sunday. They could also win them both or split and get an invitation to the Big Dance.

#18 Duke 67 St. John's 50 - The Blue Devils won on the road in a rare non-conference tilt, holding St. John's to just 10 points in the first half and have a tough week ahead. On Wednesday, they host Maryland and close out the regular season at North Carolina. Tournament invitations are on the line for 22-7 Duke.

#20 Louisville 76 Connecticut 69 - The Cardinals spread the scoring out among 10 players and cruised to their 5th straight win and 6th Big East road win. Louisville is now a solid 3rd in the Big East standings at 11-4 and play patsy Seton Hall (4-10 Big East) on Sunday to end their regular season.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Florida Falters, Bruins, Irish Complete Perfect Home Seasons

Plenty of Top 25 action from Saturday, including the Florida Gators being bumped off by a hungry bunch of Tigers from LSU.

LSU 66 #3 Florida 56 - The Gators played possibly their worst game of the season, hitting only 2-17 3-pointers (12%) and 12-22 from the foul line. The Gators have some cause for concern having lost their last two road games (lost at Vandy 83-70) with a big game at Tennessee on Tuesday and home vs. Kentucky on March 4 to close out the regular season. They've already clinched the SEC East title, but don't seem to be playing their best right now.

The 56 points against the Tigers was their lowest output of the season. Joakim Noah, their most visible star, was not even a factor worth considering with 4 points and just 3 rebounds. Florida's problems seem to be more mental than anything else. The pressure of heading towards the NCAA as the defending champions may be wearing on this team at just the wrong time.

Top 25 Home Winners

#4 UCLA 75 Stanford 61 - Arron Afflalo scored 20 points as the Bruins cruised by Stanford en route to completing an undefeated season at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA also clinched at least a share of the PAC-10 title at 14-2. They close out with games at Washington and Washington State.

#6 Kansas 89 Iowa St. 52 - The Jayhawks got everybody into the act with 6 players in double figures. Darrell Arthur recorded his second straight double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Kansas remains tied atop the Big 12 with Texas A&M at 12-2.

#8 Texas A&M 97 Baylor 87 Acie Law scored 31 points and the 4 other starters also finished in double figures, accounting for all but two of the Aggies' output. The win kept A&M in a tie with Kansas for top honors in the Big 12.

#12 Georgetown 61 #10 Pittsburgh 53 - The Hoyas won their 11th straight game and took over first place in the Big East by upending the Panthers. Jonathan Wallace led all scorers with 17 points. Jeff Green added 14 and Roy Hibbert 12 for Georgetown. In a turnover-filled game (Pitt-13, Hoyas-14), Georgetown's defense prevailed, holding a hobbled Aaron Gray to just 10 points and the Panthers to 33% shooting. The 22-5 Hoyas (12-2 Big East) can clinch at least a tie for the conference title with a win at Syracuse on Monday or at home vs. UConn on Sat., March 3.

#13 Southern Illinois 76 Evansville 69 - The Salukis' Randal Falker scored a season-high 30 points as Southern Ill. clinched the Missouri Valley conf. title with their 11th straight win.

#15 Butler 56 Detroit 36 - The Bulldogs laid claim to a share of the Horizon League championship with a dominating defensive win, holding Detroit to just 27% shooting.

#23 Oregon 93 Washington 85 - The Ducks continued to make their case for inclusion in the field of 65 for March Madness with their second straight win as Aaron Brooks pumped in 30 points on 10-14 shooting, including 4-7 3's. After having lost three straight the Ducks needed a couple more wins and at 22-7 look like a certain at-large pick with just one more game, at home vs. Oregon St., on the regular season schedule. They hold wins over Arizona, Georgetown, UCLA and Washington St. (twice) and are in 4th place in the PAC-10 at 10-7.

#24 Virginia 75 Georgia Tech 69 - JR Reynolds scored 25 and Sean Singletary had 24, as the Cavaliers punched their ticket to the Big Dance and likely ended Georgia Tech's hope of getting an invitation. The win kept Virginia in a tie for 2nd in the ACC with Va. Tech at 10-4, while dropping the Yellow Jackets to 6-8 in the conference. The remaining games for the Cavaliers are at home vs. the Hokies and at Wake Forest, Thursday and Saturday.

Top 25 Road Winners

#9 Washington St. 58 Oregon St. 54 - The Cougars got back on the winning track, squeaking by the Beavers and remaining in 2nd place in the PAC-10 at 12-4.

#11 Nevada 95 Boise St. 81 - Nick Fazekas scored 28 points and all five starters scored in double figures as the Wolf Pack clinched the WAC championship. At 13-1 with two games remaining, 2nd place New Mexico State cannot catch them. The two top teams end the regular season at Nevada on March 3.

#19 Texas 68 Oklahoma 58 - Kevin Durant scored 32 points and plucked down 11 rebounds in an easy road win for the Longhorns. At 11-3, the Longhorns are just a game behind Kansas and A&M in the Big 12 standings and host A&M on Wednesday before closing out the regular season at Kansas on Saturday. The Longhorns have won 5 straight.

Top 25 Losers

Notre Dame 85 Marquette 73 - The Irish completed an undefeated home season as Luke Harangody scored a career high 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Notre Dame dealt the Golden Eagles their 4th loss in their last 5 games. Marquette, which looked to be a certain Tournament invite just a few weeks ago is now on shaky ground, but likely will still get in. They are 9-6 in the Big East and 22-8 overall, and they host Pittsburgh on Saturday to end the regular season. A loss there and an early exit in the Big East tournament could spell disaster.

TCU 71 #14 Air Force 66 - The Falcons were grounded for the second straight time, both on the road, and have fallen to 3rd place in the Mountain West behind BYU and UNLV. They host BYU on Tuesday to end their regular season.

San Diego St. 86 #21 BYU 74 - The Aztecs clawed their way to a win over the league-leading Cougars and into 4th place in the Mountain West. BYU remained in first place at 11-3.

Auburn 86 #25 Alabama 77 - This game was the end of the line for the Crimson Tide. Arch-rival Auburn shot 54% and slammed the NCAA Tournament door on Alabama in the process. The Tide, ranked as high as 10th nationally during the season, dropped their second straight and 4th in their last five games. They are now at 6-8 in the SEC West and play Miss. St. and Mississippi to close their regular season campaign. Both of those teams are 7-7 and hungry for a ticket to the tourney. While Alabama is 19-9, their performance down the stretch has been a complete flop. Count them completely O-U-T.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Who Won't Be Dancing

With no games of meaning last night, today brings an opportunity to present the teams that won't be invited to the NCAA Tournament, which begins with Selection Sunday on March 11 and ends with the National Championship Game on Monday, April 2.

There are 65 teams invited, two of which will play for the final spot in the seedings on Tuesday, March 13. Actual 1st round games get underway on Thursday and Friday, March 15 and 16.

While there are plenty of shoo-ins, a number of teams have already played poorly enough as to eliminate themselves.

In the ACC, which will probably send 5 or 6 teams to the tourney, Wake Forest, NC State and Miami are already out with conference records well under .500. The big surprise is Clemson, which started the season 17-0, but since has gone 2-8. At 5-8 in the conference, the only way they can make the tournament is to win the ACC tourney, and that's just not going to happen.

The other ACC teams which are not going to be invited will be Maryland or Georgia Tech and possibly both. The Terps play North Carolina tomorrow, then visit Duke and close the regular season with NC State. If they win just one of those games, they'll finish 8-8, not good enough. A win over Duke is possible, as Maryland just did that 2 weeks ago.

That the Yellow Jackets won't get a bid is more likely. They are 6-7 and play at Virginia today, then host North Carolina and Boston College. A loss today just about seals their fate. Even winning two of their remaining three won't likely be enough.

In the Big East, which could send as many as 8 teams, the bottom of the conference - St. John's, Seton Hall, South Florida, Rutgers, Cincinnati - are already beyond consideration. After that it gets a little dicey. Connecticut (6-7, 17-10) doesn't look like a Final 64 kind of team. It will be the first time in many years that the Huskies haven't made it to the tourney.

Villanova (6-7, 18-9) also may not get the job done, and DePaul (7-7, 16-12) already has too many losses to be considered. Right now, Providence (7-6 17-9) is on the outside looking in. They host Syracuse today in a critical game for both teams. If the Friars win, it may be the end of the line for the 'Cuse. A loss by Providence would likely eliminate them.

In the Big 10, count Iowa out. The Hawkeyes' 12 losses already have them eliminated. Besides, they've lost to all 4 Top 25 teams they've played (Alabama, Ohio St., Wisconsin twice). After Ohio State and Wisconsin, only Indiana looks like a legitimate invitee. Michigan, Michigan St. Illinois all have a shot, while Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State are already out.

The Big 12 has three teams sure to go - Texas, Texas A&M and Kansas. After that Kansas St., Texas Tech (and what's a NCAA tournament without Bobby Knight?) and Missouri are on the bubble. Missouri is the one likely not to make the list. Oklahoma St. has played themselves right out of it. At 5-7 in the conference, stick a fork in them. Iowa St., Nebraska, Colorado and Baylor are at the bottom, thus, out.

In the PAC-10, don't expect any sympathy for Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats (8-7, 17-9). Unless they reach the conference finals, they're out. Oregon has played itself into a bubble position, and may not get an invite, though I wouldn't bet against it. UCLA, Washington St., USC and Stanford are all going, while Washington, Cal, Oregon St. and Arizona St. are staying home.

The SEC is probably the toughest to figure, but Alabama's loss to Tennessee the other night was critical. Tennessee will get a bid; Alabama will not. Expect 6 teams from this conference - Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi and Mississippi St. - unless Alabama comes alive in the conference tourney. Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Auburn and Arkansas stay home.

One other interesting conference to watch is Conference-USA, where Memphis has blitzed the opposition, which has been diminished by teams going to the Big East or elsewhere. Besides the Tigers, only UCF (20-7) and Southern Miss. (17-9) have less than 10 losses and even they look like 11-14 seeds at best. Memphis may get a #2, but they haven't beaten anybody good in a long time except Gonzaga.

Speaking of the Zags, they are 9-3 in the West Coast Conference, right behind 10-2 Santa Clara. One of those two will likely win the conference tournament, and both may get bids. Nobody else is even close to getting a whiff of March Madness.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Duck Soup: Oregon downs Washington St.

#23 Oregon 64 #9 Washington St. 59 - The Ducks proved they weren't actually dead, just flying erratically. After losing 6 of their previous 8 games, Oregon came through with an important home win, one which will likely lead to an invitation to March Madness. With just two games remaining in the regular season, the 21-7 Ducks look like a lock to make the field of 65 despite their sub-par 9-7 PAC-10 record.

Loyola Chicago 75 #15 Butler 71 - With Wright St. losing, Butler had an opportunity to claim sole possession of first place in the Horizon League, but failed to seal the deal at home against a feisty Loyola squad which shot 53% to Butler's 44%. The 15th-ranked Bulldogs have just one conference game left - this Saturday against Detroit and trial Wright St. by 1/2 game. They will have to win the Horizon League tournament to be guaranteed a bid to the NCAA Tournament, though their selection as an at-large team is very likely considering their 25-5 record.

#4 UCLA 85 California 75 - Josh Shipp hit 9 of 12 shots and scored 22 points to lead the Bruins to their 19th straight home win and a 2-game lead in the PAC-10 standings. While the Bruins were winning, their closest pursuer, Washington St., was losing at Oregon. The Bruins are 13-2, the Cougars, 11-4.

#5 Memphis 99 Rice 63 - The Tigers shot 55% and clinched the Conference-USA title while extending the nation's longest winning streak to 16 games. Memphis is looking like a #2 seed for sure.

#11 Nevada 84 Idaho 68 - Nick Fazekas scored 21 points and hauled in 14 rebounds as Nevada won their 8th straight game. The visiting Wolf Pack shot 62% and hit all 16 of their free throws.

#18 Duke 71 Clemson 66 - This was a very important road game for the Blue Devils and they managed to come away with a win, though better shooting by Clemson could have easily altered the result. The Tigers shot 47% on their home court, but hit just 9-18 free throws while the Blue Devils were knocking down 16-22. Duke also hit 52% of their shots from the field, including 7-14 3-pointers.

Duke improved to 8-6 in the ACC, while Clemson fell to 5-8 and probably out of the NCAA Tournament field.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Slippery Slope in the SEC

Three ranked teams from the SEC hit the hardwood on Wednesday night. Funny thing, only one of them won.

The SEC has turned into the basketball version of Little League. There's one big kid (Florida) who always hits home runs, but the rest of the league is full of kids and teams who look like champs one day and the next, they're distracted by the cheerleaders. Nothing happens like it's supposed to, the unexpected becomes the new normal. So it was last night...

#3 Florida 63 South Carolina 49 - The Gators got back on the winning side of the scoreboard (and how dumb do the voters look for dropping them to #3?) at home last night as Al Horford scored 20 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. To nobody's surprise, the win clinched the SEC East for the Gators who are now 25-3 and 12-1 in the conference with just 3 games remaining.

Mississippi St. 83 #17 Vanderbilt 70 - Jamont Gordon pulled off the rare triple-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to help keep the Bulldogs in a first-place tie with rival Mississippi in the SEC West. Charles Rhodes pumped in 23 for the host Bulldogs.

Both are 7-6 and lead Alabama by 1 game in the standings. After starting off conference play at 3-6, the Bulldogs have won 4 straight with games at Arkansas and Georgia before returning home to face Alabama to close out the regular season.

Tennessee 69 #25 Alabama 66 - It took 81 shots and an overtime session, but Tennessee defended their turf and sent Alabama home losers of their 7th SEC game. Chris Lofton scored 20 for the Vols, who shot only 35% but took 26 more shots than Alabama due to the Crimson Tides' 26 turnovers.

Tennessee recorded an astonishing 18 steals as they improved their post-season chances by getting over the .500 mark. At 7-6, the Vols have just 3 games remaining - at Arkansas, home vs. Florida and at Georgia - in the regular season.

It's still an uphill battle for the Vols, and they'll likely have to do well in the SEC tourney to continue playing in March.

As for the Tide, the loss was their 3rd in their last four games and dropped them to 6-7, behind both Miss. and Miss. St. in the SEC West. They'll have a chance to save their season as they host Auburn and Miss. before heading to Miss. St. to end their regular season.

Top 25 Home Winners

#2 Ohio State 68 Penn St. 60 - Greg Oden, OSU: 17 points, 14 rebounds.

#5 North Carolina 83 NC State 64 - Brandan Wright scored 24 and Tyler Hansbrough added 20 as the Tar Heels claimed sole possession of first place in the ACC at 10-3.

#20 Louisville 72 St. John's 48 - The streaking Cardinals blew past the Red Storm, recording their 4th straight win and continued to hold 3rd place in the Big East at 10-4. With just games at Connecticut and at home vs. Seton Hall remaining, Louisville looks like a lock for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. They are 20-8 overall.

#21 BYU 76 Colorado St. 67 - The Cougars won their 8th straight and 30th straight at home, securing their hold on first place in the Mountain West at 11-2. They hold a 1 1/2 game advantage over Air Force and UNLV, both at 10-4. Keena Young led all scoring with 24 points as BYU improved to 21-6.

Top 25 Road Winners

#8 Texas A&M 66 Oklahoma St. 46 - Acie Law scored 19 points and the Aggies' defense held the Cowboys' Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry to a combined 13 points in the blowout. Oklahoma State's top scoring duo were 6-24 from the floor.

The win kept Texas A&M in a tie for first place in the Big 12 with Kansas at 11-2, while the Cowboys slumped to 5-7 and likely ended any hopes of making the March Madness field of 65 with their 5th loss in their last 6 games.

#12 Georgetown 75 Cincinnati 65 - The Hoyas won their 10th straight to remain tied for first in the Big East with Pitt at 11-2. Jeff Green scored 21 points as Georgetown shot 54%.

#13 Southern Illinois 58 Indiana St. 50 - The Salukis overcame a poor shooting night with stellar defense en route to their 10th win in a row and the Missouri Valley title. With a two-game lead over Creighton and one game left, the 11-3 Salukis clinched the championship and will receive a solid seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

Top 25 Losers

Miami (FL) 68 #24 Virginia 60 - The Cavaliers gave up first place in the ACC, but still look like a solid choice for post-season play. A road loss to 4-9 Miami isn't going to look good on their resume, but their 9-4 conference record, with wins over Duke, Clemson and Maryland (twice), should be enough to get them into the March Madness field.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Spartan Slaughter: Badgers Besieged

It certainly didn't take long for the Top 25 to get back to business as usual, which, this season means knocking off the high and mighty. On Monday, the Wisconsin Badgers were crowned the #1 team in the nation (yes, I said before the poll came out that Florida should have remained #1). On Tuesday night, Wisconsin suffered the fate of many a road team - they were beaten by a fired-up Michigan State squad which denied every scoring opportunity and ran Wisconsin off the court.

Not to be outdone, Providence and UNLV scored upsets over ranked teams as well.

#1 Michigan St. 64 Wisconsin 55 - Wisconsin's Alando Tucker was 6-15 from the floor, scoring 16 points, but running mates Kammron Taylor and Brian Butch might have done better sitting this one out. Taylor was a pathetic 0-6 in 39 minutes and finished with just a pair of free throws for 2 points. Butch was 1-4 and 1-2 from the charity stripe for a measly 2 points.

Meanwhile, the Spartans were making March Madness noise a week early. Junior guard Drew Neitzel was unstoppable, filling it up with 28 points on 10-17 shooting including 6-11 3-pointers. The Spartans held Wisconsin to 36% shooting (19-52) and outrebounded them badly, 41-24. Obviously, the kids at Michigan State didn't think much of the Badgers' #1 ranking and suddenly, at 20-8 and 7-6 in the Big 10, look likely to get an invitation come March.

UNLV 60 #14 Air Force 50 - Come on now. The Falcons fell into a tie for second place with UNLV at 10-4, behind 10-2 BYU in the Mountain West. All three of these teams may get an invite, but only the winner of the conference tournament is guaranteed entry. Air Force shot just 30% as the host Rebels shut down their suspect offense.

It was the 4th time this season the Falcons have been held to 56 points or less - all losses - and they haven't played a ranked team this season. Top 25 material? Hardly. At least UNLV played some ranked teams and beat 2 of them in 4 tries. BYU, finally ranked this week at #21, may not be much better than the Falcons. The only ranked teams they've played are UCLA and Air Force, and while they beat the Falcons, the 82-69 loss to UCLA isn't very heartening.

My point is that the Mountain West should get just one invitation because whichever team emerges from this mediocre conference looks very much like a first round victim.

#19 Texas 80 Texas Tech 51 - Kevin Durant had an off night, scoring only 16 with just 8 rebounds, but 4 other Longhorns scored in double figures while the Red Raiders were hitting just 29% of their shots (20% on 3's). The win was one of the easier home games for the Longhorns who still have a shot at the Big 12 title. They play at Oklahoma on Saturday, but then close out the season hosting Texas A&M on Feb. 28 and at Kansas on March 3. The Longhorns trail A&M by 1/2 game and Kansas by 1 game.

Providence 64 #22 West Virginia 61 - The Providence Friars kept their Big Dance hopes alive by rallying at home to upset the Mountaineers. Sophomore guard
Weyinmi Efejuku (yeah, remember the name) dropped in 24 points, including 4-7 from beyond the arc while his teammates ruled the boards, holding a 41-33 rebound advantage over the hops-challenged Mountaineers.

Providence improved to 7-6 in Big East play and 17-9 overall. They're floating on the NCAA bubble right now, but may be finding their best stride at the right time. Their last three losses have all been on the road, by 7 to Marquette, by 4 at Pitt and by 3 at Notre Dame. If they win 2 of their final 3 conference games and make some noise in the Big East tourney, a ticket to the dance could be in the offing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Four Games, No Upsets

It's been a while since I've been able to report Top 25 games without at least one upset. Last night, 4 Top 25 teams hit the hardwood and none of them lost. This could be an indication that the Top 25 is solidifying and that teams are beginning to focus more as February and regular season schedules wind down.

#10 Pittsburgh 71 Seton Hall 68 - The Panthers survived a scare at Seton Hall by shooting 55% from the field and outlasting the Pirates. Playing without leading scorer and rebounder Aaron Gray, Levance Fields picked up the slack with 15 points. Levon Kendall added 14 on 6 of 8 shooting.

Gray should be available for the Panthers' next game, at Georgetown on Saturday. The Hoyas trail Pitt by 1/2 game in the Big East. The Panthers' remaining regular season schedule is daunting. After Georgetown, they host #22 West Virginia before closing out the season at #16 Marquette.

#6 Kansas 71 Kansas St. 62 - Sherron Collins scored 20 points and Darell Arthur chipped in with 13 points and 12 rebounds. The Jayhawks earned at least a temporary 1/2 game lead over Texas A&M with the win. Kansas ends the regular season against Iowa St., at Oklahoma and hosts #19 Texas on March 3.

#16 Marquette 80 Villanova 67 - The Golden Eagles, losers of 3 straight Big East games, got back on the winning track at home as Lazar Haywood and Dominic James each scored 18 points. Villanova turned the ball over 17 times and fell to 6-7 in the conference. Even though they are 18-9 overall, the loss pushed the Wildcats to the brink in terms of tournament invitations.

While the Big East could conceivably send as many as 8 teams into March Madness, the Wildcats now need to win their remaining games (Rutgers, at Connecticut, Syracuse) and make a solid showing in the Big East tournament. That final game against the Orangemen will be critical as it could determine who goes and who stays home. Syracuse is 8-5 in conference, 19-8 overall and handled the Wildcats back on January 13, winning at the Carrier Dome 75-64.

#15 Butler 68 Wisconsin Green Bay 58 - A.J. Graves scored 20 points to lead the Bulldogs on the road. Butler continues to trail unranked Wright State by 1/2 game, with two games remaining. The 13-2 Wright State Raiders have just one regular season game left, at Youngstown State on Thursday. Should both teams win out, they would share the Horizon League title, splitting the two games against each other and the automatic bid would go to the winner of the conference tournament.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Who will be #1?

After Vanderbilt stunned Florida on Friday, the top spots in the AP and USA Today Polls are up for grabs. #3 Wisconsin would be the likely choice since they already have a win over #2 Ohio State, with Florida falling no further than #3. Besides that, the Badgers have the best record in the nation - 26-2 - and Ohio State was severely beaten by Florida back in December, 86-60.

On the other hand, since Florida already trashed Ohio State, why not keep them at #1? Everybody loses once in a while, and Florida's loss to Vandy was on the road and ended a 17-game winning streak. So, despite the one bad game, the Gators are still as good, and arguably better than Ohio State. Furthermore, last week's voting was unanimous. All first place votes went to Florida in both polls.

Personally, I'd move Nevada way up and forgive some of the losses by North Carolina, Kansas and Texas A&M. My Top Ten would look like: Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Pitt, Texas A&M, UCLA, Ohio State, Nevada, Kansas, Georgetown.

The long and short is that it doesn't really matter much right now. In three weeks the NCAA Tournament gets underway and we'll really see who's got what it takes to claim the crown.

Just two games from last night to report:

#2 Ohio St. 85 Minnesota 67 - Apparently, Greg Oden is good enough to play half a game and still put up impressive numbers. On the road against the Golden Gophers, Oden played just 21 minutes but led the team in scoring with 19 points and pulled down 9 rebounds for good measure. Ohio State has won 11 in a row and may be ranked #1 for the first time since John Havlicek was wearing the crimson and white - 45 years ago.

Arizona St. 68 #22 USC 58 - After 14 straight Pac-10 losses, the Sun Devils victimized USC. Trailing 26-21 at the half, Arizona State blazed away for 47 2nd half points to post their first win since December 21. The Sun Devil's home crowd was more shocked than ecstatic.

For USC, losing a game like this certainly doesn't help their post-season chances. They're 19-8 overall and 9-5 in the conference with three games remaining. The Trojans host Cal on Saturday, then close out the regular season with a pair of road games - at Washington and #10 Washington St. Losing any of those games coupled with an early exit from the Pac-10 tourney could spell N-I-T for USC. The Trojans may not need worry, however, as Arizona and Oregon have imploded and are already on the bubble for invitations to the the March Madness Big Dance.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Vanderbilt Upsets #1 Florida

Vanderbilt 83 #1 Florida 70 - In a season witness to more than the usual share of ups and downs in the Top 25, this one rates as a real shocker. The Gators hit the floor in Nashville sporting the nation's longest winning streak - 17 games - but as Vanderbilt fans rushed onto the court as time expired they found themselves on the short end of their worst loss of the season.

The loss was only the 3rd of the season for Florida, which had previously dropped a 2-point decision to Kansas and lost 70-66 at Florida State. For the Commodores, it was their 6th win over a ranked opponent against only 2 losses and improved their SEC record to 8-4, good for 2nd place in the SEC East behind the 11-1 Gators.

Shan Foster and Derrick Byars each scored 24 points for Vanderbilt, which sizzled at 57% shooting from the field. Despite hitting 18 free throws to Vandy's 9 and shooting a respectable 44% from the floor, the Gators could not overcome 20 turnovers and Vanderbilt's speed and sharp passing which resulted in 21 assists.

Joakim Noah led the Gators with 15 points and Al Horford scored 13 and pulled down 11 rebounds, but only Corey Brewer joined them in double figures, with 13.

With the win and their outstanding record against ranked teams, the Commodores seem assured of a spot in the field of 65 in March.

Top 25 Home Winners

#3 Wisconsin 75 Penn St. 49 - Wis: Alando Tucker, 22 pts.; Kammron Taylor, 18.

#7 Pittsburgh 65 Washington 61 - Aaron Gray grabbed 10 rebounds but scored only 5 points as the Panthers pulled out a tough win against the testy Huskies. Washington's Spencer Hawes recorded his 2nd double-double of the year with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

#9 Kansas 92 Nebraska 39 - The Jayhawks scored 56 points in the second half while holding Nebraska to 17, and ran away to their most lopsided win of the season. All 13 players for Kansas scored in the blowout. The 53-point trouncing was the 2nd-largest margin of victory in Big 12 history, eclipsed only by a 102-46 win by Kansas over Nebraska in 1958.

#11 Nevada 79 Northern Iowa 64 - The Wolf Pack hit 9-18 3-pointers and pulled away in the second half to improve to 24-2.

#17 Air Force 67 Colorado St. 58 - The Falcons still trail BYU by 1/2-game in the Mountain West conference at 10-3. BYU is 10-2.

#23 West Virginia 81 Seton Hall 71 - Seton Hall shot just 15% on 3-pointers (3-20) and the Mountaineers pulled away late. The win put West Virginia in a 3-way tie for 4th place in the Big East with Marquette and Syracuse at 8-5.

#25 Alabama 72 #20 Kentucky 61 - Up-and-down Alabama aided their cause with an important home victory over the Wildcats. The win evened Alabama's SEC record at 6-6, tied for 1st in the SEC West with Mississippi and Mississippi St.

Top 25 Road Winners

#4 North Carolina 77 #22 Boston College. 72 - The Tar Heels regained a tie for 1st place in the ACC with 9-3 Virginia, handing BC their second straight home loss and dropping them to 4th in the conference standings at 9-4. Both teams shot 52% for the game, but the Tar Heels hit 16-20 free throws to BC's 11-21, which provided the margin of victory.

#5 UCLA 81 #19 Arizona 66 - Josh Shipp threw down 24 points as the Bruins crushed Arizona, possibly sealing the fate of the Wildcats' postseason hopes. The loss dropped Arizona to 8-7 in the Pac-10 and 17-9 overall.

#6 Texas A&M 56 Oklahoma 49 - Joseph Jones and Acie Law each scored 21 points as the Aggies continued their roll through the Big 12 and remain in a tie with Kansas at 12-2 for first place. The Aggies' next stop is at #18 Oklahoma St. on Wednesday.

#8 Memphis 78 Gonzaga 77 - The Tigers scraped by upset-minded Gonzaga and extended their winning streak to 15 games. By virtue of Florida's loss to Vanderbilt, Memphis now claims the longest current win streak in the nation. Joey Dorsey scored 15 and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead Memphis.

#14 Georgetown 58 Villanova 55 - The Hoyas avenged a 56-52 loss at Villanova earlier in the year to keep pace with 10-2 Pittsburgh for 1st place in the Big East. Jeff Green led the way with 19 points, 9 rebounds and 8 blocked shots. The Hoyas recorded 14 blocks overall, playing without Roy Hibbert, who sat much of the game with foul trouble and scored only 4 points. The streaking Hoyas have won 9 in a row while Villanova fell to 6-6 in the conference.

#16 Southern Illinois 68 Butler 64 - The Salukis proved too tough for host Butler, hitting 7-15 treys and crashing the boards for a 33-24 edge. The non-conference game provided a good look at two of the better mid-major teams that likely will be competing in March. It was only the second game against a ranked opponent all season for Southern Illinois, but their record is perfect, having bested then-#16 Wichita State on January 1. The Salukis have won 9 straight.

Top 25 Losers (besides those already mentioned)

Louisville 61 #12 Marquette 59 - Louisville won on the road and continued its rise through the Big East standings with a third straight win, reaching 3rd place in the conference at 9-4 while knocking Marquette back to 4th. The Golden Eagles have lost three straight.

Stanford 88 #15 Oregon 69 - Oregon continued its spectacular collapse, losing for the 6th time in their last 8 games. The Ducks fell into a tie with Arizona at 8-7 in the Pac-10. Just a month ago they were in first place. Brook Lopez scored 24 for the Cardinal as they improved to 9-5 and 4th place in the conference.

Missouri 75 #18 Oklahoma St. 64 - Once again, Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry got little support from their teammates and the Cowboys got whipped at home. Oklahoma State's star duo had 16 apiece, shooting a combined 12-26. The rest of the team shot 8-23, including only 1-7 3-pointers. It was the 4th loss in the Cowboys' last 5 games and sunk them to 7th place in the Big 12 at 5-6.

Michigan 58 #24 Indiana 55 - In another in a long series of ugly Big 10 games, Indiana shot just 38% from the field and hit only 6-21 threes and 11-18 from the foul line. Despite the loss, Indiana remained in 3rd place at 7-5, as Iowa dropped to 7-6. Behind them Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois are all 6-6. Behind 12-1 Wisconsin and 11-1 Ohio State, mediocrity reigns supreme in the conference.

Of all the major conferences, the Big 10 should send the fewest number of teams to the Big Dance in March. Five could get bids, but no more than 3 are deserving.

Friday, February 16, 2007

PAC-10 Wide Open: Arizona, Oregon Lose Again

Thursday night saw only 4 games involving Top 25 teams, but, despite the light schedule, 3 of the 5 teams in action managed to lose. #5 UCLA and #22 USC were the two teams which escaped the upset bug, and, in the case of USC, helped secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

#5 UCLA 67 Arizona St. 61 - The Bruins kept the Sun Devils winless in conference play, though the game was closer than expected. Arizona State has dropped all 14 of their PAC-10 contests this season. Arron Afflalo scored 24 and Darren Collison returned to the lineup to throw down 18.

California 63 #15 Oregon 61 - The continuing slide of Oregon's basketball program hit another bump on the way down, losing on the road once more. The loss was the 5th in Oregon's last 7 games and dropped the Ducks into a 5th place tie in the conference standings with Arizona. Both teams are 8-6.

#22 USC 80 #19 Arizona 75 Both Nick Young and Lodrick Stewart dropped in 26 points and Arizona's woes continued while the Trojans now appear destined to dance in March. USC improved to 9-4 in PAC-10 play, while the Wildcats fell to 8-6 and 17-8 overall. With just 4 more games in the regular season, Arizona has their work cut out for them. They host UCLA on Saturday, and then close out with 3 straight road games at Arizona St., Cal and Stanford.

The Wildcats will likely be faced with the unwelcome task of having to win or at least reach the finals of the PAC-10 tournament to receive serious consideration by the NCAA selection committee.

Meanwhile, the win did wonders for USC. At 9-4 and 19-7 overall, the Trojans have five regular season games left, but only two against quality opposition. They play Stanford on Thursday and close out the season at #10 Washington St. The Trojans may indeed have punched their own ticket last night.

Purdue 81 #24 Indiana 68 - If the Hoosiers intend to keep playing through March, they'll have to do better than this. While Indiana remained in 3rd place in the Big 10 standings, Iowa, Purdue and Illinois are close. Wins down the stretch and a solid performance in the conference tournament will determine which teams - besides Ohio State and Wisconsin - make it to the Big Dance. Any of the four teams chasing the two leaders could win out and make a positive impression.

David Teague poured in 32 points for the Boilermakers and teammate Carl Landry scored 22 and hauled down 11 boards, his 3rd double-double of the season.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bye, Bye 'Bama

#1 Florida likely put #25 Alabama out of the Top 25 for good last night, handing the Crimson Tide a 76-67 whipping in Gainesville.

Florida extended its nation's-longest winning streak to 17 straight and seem destined to win the SEC East with ease and enter the NCAA tournament as a #1 seed.

Alabama, on the contrary, will be lucky to get an invitation to the Big Dance unless they step up their play considerably. The loss was the second straight for "Bama, dropping them to 2nd place in the wobbly SEC West at 5-6. They trail 6-5 Mississippi, which is unranked.

Alabama's next two games are critical. They play at Kentucky on Saturday and then host red-hot Tennessee on Wednesday, Feb. 17. Both teams have better conference records and a pair of defeats would preclude a winning conference record for the Tide and probably have them watching the tourney on TV.

Top 25 Quick Update

Due to heavy snows yesterday - and digging out today - time is a little short so, I'll just recap briefly the Top 25 events from Wednesday night.

There were two upsets of note:

Duke 78 #21 Boston College 70 - Duke ended a four-game losing streak by beating the ACC-leading Eagles in Boston and putting the conference title up for grabs. 9-3 BC has a 1/2-game lead over North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech, all at 8-3. Duke evened their conference record at 6-6.

DePaul 72 #14 Marquette 67 - Lowly DePaul (6-6, 15-11) won at home, sending Marquette to their second straight loss. With just four games left on their schedule, the Big East crown seems out of reach for the Golden Eagles, though their 21-6 record should provide enough of a cushion for a decent seeding in the national tourney.

Home winners:

#17 Air Force 69 Utah 43 - The Falcons continue to trail unranked BYU by a game in the Mountain West.

#11 Nevada 68 San Jose St. 60 - Another double-double for Nick Fazekas (20 points, 10 rebounds). Is the Wolf Pack as good as their ranking? We'll find out in late February. Their final 3 games are against the teams closest to them in the WAC - New Mexico St., Utah St. and Boise St. Currently, Nevada leads them by 2, 3, and 4 games respectively.

Road winners:

#2 Ohio State 64 Penn St. 62 - Greg Oden, 15 points, 10 rebounds

#3 Wisconsin 75 Minnesota 62 - Alando Tucker, 29 points, 9 rebounds

#8 Memphis 69 Tulsa 52 - Tigers lead Conference USA at 12-0 and have won 14 straight.

#9 Kansas 75 Colorado 46 - Colorado: 27% shooting, 17 turnovers. Jayhawks are tied with Texas A&M for first place in the Big 12 at 9-2.

#10 Washington St. 65 Washington 61 - 11-3 Cougars tied with 10-2 UCLA for top honors in Pac-10. Cougars final four games: at Oregon, at Oregon St., UCLA, USC.

Quick Test Post

Testing the RSS feed for pickup.

Will wait 30 minutes before pinging Feedburner.

Then, Success.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


This is only a test to see if my RSS feed works. Probably not. Not holding out much hope.

Tumbling Down: Carolina, Texas A&M, Kentucky Fall

This has been the season for upsets and last night was no different with three Top 25 teams going down. Results and recaps:

Virginia Tech 81 North Carolina 80 - Zabian Dowdell clicked for 33 points to help the Hokies take down #4 North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dowdell created matchup problems all night long for the Tar Hells, who sent the senior guard to the line 19 times. Dowdell knocked down 17, free throws to go with his 7-15 shooting from the floor with a pair of treys. Forward Deron Washington picked a good time to go for his 3rd double-double of the season, snatching 14 rebounds to go with his 12 points.

The win moved Virginia Tech into a tie for 2nd place in the ACC with the Tar Heels at 8-3. Both trail 9-2 Boston College. Tech virtually guaranteed themselves a trip to the NCAA tournament by winning on the road against a top 5 team. While Carolina has lost only four times this season, the Hokies have now beaten them twice, the first time on January 13 at Blacksburg, by a 94-78 tally when the Tar Heels were ranked #1.

Texas Tech 77 Texas A&M 75 - Bobby Knight's Red Raiders refuse to be forgotten, delivering another stellar road performance against the #6 Aggies last night. Jarrius Jackson, who had the game-winner, poured in 31 points while his backcourt mate, Martin Zeno added 19 and dished out 6 assists.

Both teams shot over 50% in the Texas shoot-out which once again created some tension atop the Big 12 standings. While Tech is only 5-6 in conference play, the Aggies still lead at 9-2, though only by a 1/2 game over 8-2 Kansas and one game over 8-3 Texas.

Tennessee 89 Kentucky 85 - Everyone knows that if Chris Lofton is on the floor, the Vols are a threat and the junior guard delighted the home crowd with 23 points and Tennessee's 3rd straight win after he missed four straight games due to injury.

#20 Kentucky shot 56% to Tennessee's 49% and controlled the boards, 39-27, but the Volunteers defense forced 19 turnovers and stole one away. The Vols improved to 6-5 in the conference, just a game behind 7-4 Kentucky with Vanderbilt sandwiched in between at 6-4. Everyone in the SEC East is chasing top-ranked Florida, which has virtually clinched the division at 10-0 with just 6 games remaining.

Butler 79 Florida Gulf Coast 65 - #13 Butler got back on the winning track after their loss at Wright State on Sunday, recording their 22nd straight home win in a non-conference romp.

Southern Illinois 51 Missouri St. 47 - Randal Falker recorded his 7th double-double of the season with 20 points and 12 rebounds for the #16 Salukis. With back-to-back wins over their top two Missouri Valley opponents, Southern Illinois is poised to win the conference. After a non-conference tilt at #13 Butler on Saturday, the Salukis conclude the regular season at Indiana St. and at home vs. Evansville.

With Southern Ill. looking like the automatic bid, the Missouri Valley could send four teams to the tourney. Creighton and Missouri St. look like naturals, while Wichita St., Bradley and Northern Iowa may have a shot, especially if one emerges from the conference tournament in good form.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Beast of the East: Georgetown or Pittsburgh?

A new AP poll out Monday put the Big East in focus, placing Pittsburgh at #7, Marquette #12, Georgetown #14 and West Virginia climbing up to #23 on the heels of their upset over UCLA on Saturday.

Well, as soon as the poll (see sidebar below) was released, the Big East showed once again that no poll can contain the diversity of talent and overall competition in what's shaping up to be the best top to bottom conference in the nation. Results and recaps follow.

Georgetown 71 West Virginia 53 - Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green continue to demolish the competition in the Big East. Last night, Hibbert scored 20 points and Green had 15 as the Hoyas shut down the visiting Mountaineers, holding them to 38% shooting for the game. The superiority on the interior was evident from the rebounding stats: Georgetown 35, West Va. 19

The #14 Hoyas are on a significant roll. With their smashing win over #23 West Virginia, they've grabbed 8 straight wins and have surged to within a half game of conference leader, Pitt. With just five games remaining, Georgetown will try to avenge a 74-69 defeat at Pitt from Jan. 13 when the Panthers come calling Feb. 24. That game could determine who wins the Big East and gets the automatic tournament bid.

The same day the Mountaineers reach the Top 25, they suffer their worst loss of the season, equaling the 18-point defeat at Marquette, 63-81, on Jan 13. Ironic, isn't it?

Louisville 66 Pittsburgh 53 - David Padgett was the only Cardinal in double figures (16), but it was enough to upset the Big East-leading Pitt Panthers on their home floor. Louisville's scrappy defense forced 19 turnovers and limited Aaron Gray to just 12 points. While Gray earned his 12th double-double with 10 rebounds, he was the only Panther to shoot better than 50% from the field (5-8).

It was likely the biggest win of the season for Rick Pitino's kids, and it couldn't have come at a better time. With the focus on quality wins down the stretch, the Cardinals road win over #7 Pitt surely will make the right impression on the NCAA Tournament committee. Louisville improves to 4th place in the rugged Big East at 8-4, (18-8 overall), but there's still work to be done, as they travel to Marquette on Saturday. A win there would virtually assure the Cardinals of a turn at the Big Dance.

Texas 83 Oklahoma St. 54 - Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry have tried to carry the Cowboys this season, but the team's dependence on the two stars has begun to show some strain. Boggan and Curry scored 28 points combined, but shot just 38% from the field. Meanwhile, the Longhorns were throwing it down at a 56% clip, including 8-15 from behind the arc.

Freshman sensation Kevin Durant had 21 points and 12 rebounds for his 15th double-double (he's averaging 25 and 11.6) of the season. He's scored in double figures in all 25 games, but the quirky Longhorns still trail Texas A&M by 2 games in the Big 12 standings at 8-3. Kansas is second at 8-2 and the Aggies are 9-1.

#17 Oklahoma St. dropped to 5-5 and 19-6 overall.

Duke, which has dropped out of the Top 25 for the first time in 11 years, has lost 4 in a row, but one wonders how much resentment is directed at coach K by the voters, who continued to keep Alabama and Arizona in the Top 25 despite similar slipups in the past.

I can't believe I'm actually defending coach K (no, I can't spell his name) and the Duke program, but while the Devils may not be a dominant squad this season, I'd still take them against half of the teams ranked 15-25 and especially against the likes of Alabama and Arizona. [rant] The AP poll may be a lot of things, but one thing it certainly is not is unbiased. [/rant]

Monday, February 12, 2007

Duke Dumps 4th Straight; #25 Stanford Also Loses

Maryland 72 #16 Duke 60 - The Maryland Terrapins are a tough beat at home, where they have a 15-3 record this season. They proved to be impossible for the visiting Duke Blue Devils as Duke's losing streak reached panic stage at 4 straight.

The loss dropped Duke to an unfamiliar place in the ACC standings - tied for 6th with Florida State, which lost last night at home, 68-67 to conference leader Boston College, now 9-2. Duke and Florida St. are both 5-6, Maryland still trails both of them at 4-6.

At 18-7, both Duke and Maryland are sitting on the proverbial tournament bubble. While both may reach 20 wins, 10 losses is also within range, and that's a number the committee always considers.

Could Duke miss being invited? It's a good possibility. Their remaining games are at Boston College, Georgia Tech, at Clemson, at St. John's, Maryland, at North Carolina. There's probably little chance of them sweeping these games. The best they can hope for is probably a split on the four road games and winning both home tilts.

That would put the Blue Devils at 22-9 with the ACC tournament ahead. Unless they win that, there's the 10th loss. Additionally, if they lose early in the ACC tourney, they're probably NIT material.

There are a bevy of quality teams which will finish with fewer than 10 losses, even though that's not necessarily a magic number. 11 or 12 losses almost certainly knocks a team out, so Duke and Maryland and a bunch of other ACC teams - Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia Tech - currently have 7 or 8 losses. It's beginning to get very interesting.

Washington 64 #25 Stanford 52 - Stanford's twin 7-foot freshmen forwards, Brook and Robin Lopez, got a little lesson in positioning from Washington's forwards, Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman. While the twins had 13 points and 7 rebounds between them, the Huskies' duo piled up 32 and 17. Hawes' 18 and Brockman's 14 propelled Washington to their 4th win in their last five games.

However, the Huskies are getting a little bit of a late start to challenge for any Pac-10 honors. They are 7th, at 6-7 and 16-8 overall. With 4 of their remaining 5 games against ranked opponents, the Huskies would do well to get an invitation to the Big Dance.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Road Warriors: Florida Prevails, Bruins Can't Climb over Mountaineers

#1 Florida and #2 UCLA took their respective shows on the road on Saturday, but only the Gators proved to be worthy warriors. Florida survived at Kentucky to win their 16th straight after the #2 UCLA Bruins were upset by West Virginia.

Florida 64 Kentucky 61 - Tubby's troops seem to be rounding into form at just about the right time. Ranked #20 in the nation, the Kentucky Wildcats pushed Florida to the limit on Saturday at Rupp Arena. Randall Morris scored 18 with 9 boards and Ramel Bradley led the Wildcats with 20. Bradley has scored 20 or more in each of his last four games. The Wildcats could not overcome the #1 Gators, however, even though they held Joakim Noah to his second-lowest score of the season - 6 points. Noah was plagued with foul trouble and played only 21 minutes.

It's likely that the Wildcats aren't as good as this score might indicate. Being at home and not having to deal with Noah for almost half the game made this one tighter than it should have been. Kentucky may also have hurt themselves more than the Gators. Both teams went to the foul line 21 times. Kentucky made only 12, Florida 13. When it comes to crunch time in March, neither of those foul-shooting performances are going to get it done.

West Virginia 70 UCLA 65 - Playing without point guard Darren Collison, The #2 UCLA Bruins managed to cut into a 19-point lead and make a close game of it late. Unranked West Virginia scrambled on defense, forcing 15 Bruin turnovers and held on valiantly down the stretch. Alex Ruoff led the Mountaineers with 17 points; the Bruins' Arron Afflalo scored 27 for UCLA.

The Pac-10 - Big East matchup pointed up the relative strengths of the conferences to a degree. While the Bruins were without Collison and on the road, the Mountaineers still won and are unranked and tied for 4th in the Big East standings. The Bruins lead their conference at 10-2.

Top 25 road winners:

#6 Texas A&M 66 Nebraska 55 - Josh Carter equaled his season-high with 26 points, Aggies are now 4-1 on the road in Big 12 action.

#9 Kansas 92, Missouri 74 - Julian Wright blasted off with a season-high 33 points and completed his 4th double-double of the season with 12 rebounds, including 8 offensive boards.

#15 Air Force 60 New Mexico 51 - The Falcons rallied from a 4-point halftime deficit and cruised to a relatively easy win, though they still trail BYU (unranked, why?) by a game in the Mountain West.
#24 Arizona 77 #13 Oregon 74 - the fast-sinking Ducks fell at home to the already fallen Wildcats in the always-exciting-but-never-inspiring Pac-10. Chase Budinger scored 30 for Arizona.

Top 25 home winners:

#3 Ohio St. 63 Purdue 56 - Banged up Greg Oden played only 21 minutes but still managed 14 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. If Oden makes it through the season, he'll be in the top 3 in the NBA draft.

#4 Wisconsin 74 Iowa 62 - Alando Tucker, 21 points, 7 rebounds. Ho-hum, just another day at the office. Iowa (14-11, 6-5 Big 10) looking very bubbly.

#5 North Carolina 104 Wake Forest 67 - 14 different players scored for the Tar Heels as they topped the century mark for the 7th time this season. Randall Terry led with 23.

#7 Pittsburgh 74 Providence 68 - Aaron Gray, 22 points, 7 rebounds. 15-8 Friars still looking like March dancers.

#8 Memphis 95 Tulane 51 - It doesn't get much easier than this.

#14 Washington St. 59 California 46 - Daven Harmeling scored 26 points, including 5-7 3-pointers. The Cougars may be the stealth team of the tournament unless they overtake UCLA for the Pac-10 title. 21-4 overall, with 3 of those losses by 3 points apiece to UCLA, Stanford and Oregon.

#17 Oklahoma St. 93 Texas Tech 91 2 OT - Mario Boggan 35 points, 14 rebounds. Texas Tech drops to 15-10 and is squarely on the bubble. OK St. has struggled against lesser opponents and should make an early exit from the tourney.

#21 Southern Illinois 72 Creighton 68 - Big win for the Salukis over one of the better teams in their conference. The win actually was for first place in the Missouri Valley. Southern Ill. now 12-3, Creighton 11-4. Watch out for 10-5 Missouri State. Matt Shaw, 25 points for the winners.

#22 Georgetown 76, #11 Marquette 58 - The Hoyas are playing as well as any team in the nation. Jeff Green had 25 points and 5 rebounds; Roy Hibbert 23 and 11. For Hibbert, his 5th double-double and 3rd in his last 4 games. Georgetown has won 7 straight and with the win took over sole possession of 2nd place in the Big East at 8-2. Marquette misfired badly from beyond the arc: 4-21 (19%).

Top 25 Losers (not already mentioned):

Wright St. 77 #10 Butler 65 - The boys from Wright State may have taken some umbrage at Butler rising to #10 in the polls and took it out on the visiting Bulldogs. Not only that, but the Raiders took a 1/2-game lead in the Horizon league, avenging a 73-42 thrashing at Butler earlier in the year. The league winner gets an automatic invite to the tournament and this win makes the case for Wright St. if they finish tied or second. Wright State has won 7 straight and has only 3 games left to play.

Mississippi 75 #18 Alabama 69 - The Rebels were unkind hosts, sending the Crimson Tide to their 5th SEC loss and tying them for the SEC West lead at 5-5. The contentious SEC may send as many as 7 teams to the tournament, especially now that Tennessee has Chris Lofton healthy again.

Tennessee 84 #23 Vanderbilt 57 - Freshman forward Wayne Chism recorded his third double-double of the season, with 17 points and 12 rebounds as the Vols ran roughshod over the visiting Commodores. Chris Lofton scored 16 in 26 minutes. It was Lofton's 2nd game back after missing four straight. The Vols are playing well at the right time. They've beaten LSU and Vandy since Lofton returned to the lineup after losing 3 of 4 without him. Look for the Vols to possibly replace Alabama in the Top 25 this week.