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Archive for January 2010

Conference Breakdown

So with January winding down, it’s time to look at who is emerging as the favorites and contenders for conference titles across the nation.

Big East

Favorite:  Syracuse

Contenders:  Villanova, Pittsburg, West Virginia, Georgetown

Currently the Wildcats are sitting atop the conference with a 7-0 mark, but they have yet to get to the meat in their schedule.  Nova still has to travel to every other team on the list and still play UConn and West Virginia at home.  Pittsburg has had the most impressive start of any of the conference leaders with big wins at UConn and Syracuse, but they’ve lost momentum in the last week losing to Georgetown at home and then at Seton Hall.

I included the Hoyas on the list, even though they have three losses in conference, mainly because they’ve played the toughest part of their conference slate.  Georgetown is the only three-loss team that I think will have a chance to run the table in conference to take the title.  They can avenge their two losses to Nova and Syracuse at home and their toughest remaining road games are W.V and Louisville.  Neither of the other two three-loss teams (Louisville and Notre Dame) deserves consideration because they simply lack consistency and talent.

By the time the Orange head to Cincinnati they should be on a nine-game win streak and should be 5-0 away from the Carrier Dome.  They still have to go to Georgetown, but after last nights thrashing of the Hoyas (out-scoring them 73-42 after the slow start) it’s hard to imagine them dropping that game.  The ‘Cuse are among a handful of teams that are serious contenders for the National Title.

I love watching the Big East.  There isn’t a more exciting league out there.  These teams all have unbelievable talent, but at the same they buy into their coaches system.  The league is so big that there are bound to be a few dogs, DePaul, Rutgers, South Florida, but the good outweighs the bad by leaps and bounds.

ACC

Favorite: Duke

Contenders:  Umm…..everyone?

The Blue Devils are favorites simply because of the abundance of options they look like the most complete team.  They do struggle with teams that have athletic powerful bigs even though they are bigger this year than in years past.  That being said, they took it to Clemson in the second half Saturday night to complete their sweep of the Tigers, who have one of the most talented players in the paint in Trevor Booker.  They still get three games with the two teams sitting a game in front of them, can avenge one of their losses when they get Georgia Tech at home in a couple weeks, and still get arch rival UNC twice (which this years seems like a good thing).

No other teams really jump off the page as a dominant team, but they all have a chance.  Everyone knows about UNC’s backcourt problems, but if they can patch that up, they are just a game back in the loss column of the Devils so could still turn it around to compete for the title.  The current leaders (Maryland and Virginia) still have six conference road games each and the aforementioned meetings with the Blue Devils.  Wake Forest is a dark horse because of their own talent in the backcourt, but they too have been inconsistent.  This conference is a mystery wrapped in an enigma place in a riddle.

I’m glad I’m not a fan of Clemson or Georgia Tech.  Those schools always seem to have so much talent and then are up and down for the majority of the year before being bounced from the NCAA’s earlier than their supposed to.  Wake could be placed into that class.  Florida St.  Maryland.  Hell even Duke.  The league is just a consistent disappointment.  UNC made their run last year and will probably do so again a couple years from now, but the rest of the league seems to be stuck in the just above mediocre stage.  They have the talent, but just can’t make the runs.

I also have to go back and wonder why Boston College and Miami left the Big East?  If they saw how it has affected their sports teams would they still have made that jump?  It probably still makes more sense that Miami did it, but Boston College eliminated some excellent rivalries by switching and have yet to develop any good ones now.  At this point, I would say the switch has been a failure.

Big Ten

Favorite:  Michigan State

Contenders:  Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio St.

The Spartans have bounced back from their slow non-conference start to dominate early play in the Big Ten.  They’ve only knocked off Wisconsin as far as contenders are concerned and still have trips to Madison, as well as two games with Purdue and one with Ohio St.  With those games remaining on the docket, it’s obvious that they are a tentative favorite.  They’ve gotten much better play from the backcourt though, particularly Kalin Lucas, have got a great balance in scoring and remain one of the deeper teams of the league.

Wisconsin’s title chance will be determined in the next week as they go to Purdue on Thursday and then get Sparty at home next Tuesday.  If they get swept they can pretty much write off any chance of the regular season title, but if they do the sweeping they would fast become the favorites.  If the most likely scenario occurs, the Badgers split, then they would have to run the table, which will be difficult with road games at Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota.

Purdue has fallen on some hard times losing three of their last five.  They did pull off a nice road win in Illinois and beat a Manny Harris-less Michigan team at home.  They get a week at home before heading on the road for 3 of 4 including Ohio St and Michigan St.  This has got to be an extremely frustrating season for the Boilers after the way the nonconference schedule went.

Ohio St. is the team that may be the biggest threat to Michigan St. for the top seed in the Big Ten Tourney.  Other than their road game at Michigan St. they will face their toughest remaining tests on their home floor.  Even if they can’t run the table, they have the talent to take the automatic bid from the league come the tournament.  Might as well etch Evan Turner in as Big Ten POY now.

How great is it that the Big Ten network has Gus Johnson doing games for them.  He makes games that aren’t that entertaining really exciting.  I watched Penn St. at Wisconsin last weekend and even though the Badgers made a huge run to come back and take the game in OT, the play in the Big Ten just isn’t as entertaining as other conferences.  With Gus doing the game however, it felt like a sweet sixteen matchup.  Sometimes I think human cloning would be a good thing.  I would’ve watched Iowa at Indiana had clone Gus been doing the game.

Big 12

Favorite:  Kansas

Contender:  Texas

Realistically Texas is the only team that may be able to snatch the title from KU.  K St. could’ve been on the list if not for that loss at home to Okie St.  They would have to run the table and hope that Texas not only beats KU in Austin, and loses another game along the way.  Way too many circumstances for the Wildcats to hold out much hope.  Texas will only get one crack at KU and is already a game back of them in the loss column.  They have the talent to run the table; it’s just a matter of whether or not they can rebound from the rough last week they had.

Meanwhile, the Jayhawks are cruising along at 5-0 with a huge game coming over the weekend.  They stomped Missouri as they should’ve and have only been tested in one game so far in the Big 12 (Baylor) in which Collins again showed why he is the unquestioned leader of a team of future NBAers.  Do not be shocked if the Jayhawks lose at K St. this weekend (I’m actually expecting it) making the February 8th matchup in Austin the game everyone expected it to be, a Big 12 regular season title game.

When talking about doing an unbelievable job when given a coaching job for the first time in a major conference who has done a better job than Scott Drew?  Murder, cover-up, disqualification, and suspension all preceded Drew’s entry into the Baylor program.  Drew took over a job where previous coaching careers went to die and that was before the worst scandal in college basketball history.  The Bears are a legitimate top-25 team and are very athletic.  I may head to the game on Saturday between the Longhorns and Bears and, as KU can attest, the Horns better not take the green and gold lightly.

SEC

Favorite:  Kentucky

Contenders:  None

Vandy may also be undefeated in the conference, but they still have to play the Wildcats twice and 3 of their next four will be on the road.  Kentucky has the talent to dominate every game they play, but they have gone cold shooting the ball sometimes this season.  The best thing about this team though, is even when they get into those funks, they find a way to win the game.  The toughest test they may have left will be in the Lane Kiffin-less Knoxville, where the Vols will try to have another inspired effort in knocking off the second number one team to come calling.

I’m not sure what it is about Kentucky, but I hate them.  I hate the fact that they believe themselves to be so high and mighty.  I hate that Ashley Judd shows up go their games now that Gillespie is no longer the coach and they’re good again.  Can you say bandwagon?  I hate that they stole Callipari from Memphis and he left that program under investigation just as he had done to UMass in the 90’s.  I hate the fact that those rednecks were incredibly racist in the past when their team lost to Texas Western and now pretend that they were never banning anyone and embrace their black athletes as long as it means they’ll win basketball games.  Am I jealous of their success?  Indeed I am.

MWC

Favorite:  BYU

Contenders:  New Mexico, UNLV

The Mormons are two games up in the loss column over both the Lobos and the Rebels.  The biggest game thus far in the conference is Wednesday night when BYU heads to Albuquerque and I can’t find it anywhere on the television schedule.  The Pack obviously need this game more than BYU if they are to stay in the race for the conference, but if BYU upends the Lobos in the Pit then they can probably be ready for the top seed come conference tourney time.  They have already beat UNLV at home and their trip to Vegas looks like the only game that may trip them up.  Of course the other Mormon school, Utah, is no gimmie given the rivalry that exists there.

UNLV has already won at the Pit but lost a tough one at home to the Utes over a week ago.  The Rebels will have to hold serve at home against New Mexico and avenge the losses to the Utah schools to have a chance to catch BYU.

A #10 ranking in the Coaches Poll is entirely too high for the Cougars.  A ranking that high would mean that the coaches think they are worth a #3 seed.  No offense, but no way.  They may be 20-1 but they haven’t beaten anyone and the loss was to Utah St.  This league does have three tournament teams, but none should be higher than a 5 come Selection Sunday.

Pac 10

Favorite: Uh…Cal…..or…Arizona St…….how about…….Arizona?

Contenders:  Everyone but the Oregons

Goo.  You knew we would get this one eventually and yes; I’m saving the worst for last.  Ok, we’ll try to figure this one out.  Well, the Golden Bears did just sweep the only two non-contenders so that’s something or maybe not, and of course they were both home games.  Now they have a four game road trip south first to the Arizona schools then to L.A.  Arizona St. had a four game win streak snapped at home to their hated in-state rival Wildcats where they were embarrassed.  They’ll be at home this weekend to take on the two Bay schools before heading north for a weekend in the Apple state.  Arizona is another bi-polar team who will beat-up a talented Washington team and then lose to the bottom feeding Beavers.  They also get the schools from the Bay and who knows what will be the fallout from the weekend.  If things hold to form than everyone will split over the weekend.

That brings us to the LA schools who are also 4-3 in the conference.  USC has, of course, banned itself from postseason play so I’ll be rooting for them to take the conference title and the committee can just keep the Pac 10 out of the tournament.  UCLA will take a trip up to Oregon to take on the bottom-feeders of the conference this weekend and a sweep there would make the Bruins over .500 overall for the first time since they were 2-1.  Ugh.

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Last 4 In: San Diego St., Richmond, Cincinnati, Mississippi St.
Next 4 In: Louisville, Clemson, Dayton, Charlotte
Bubble Out: St Mary’s, Wichita St., Seton Hall, Northeastern, Florida, Notre Dame, William & Mary, Northwestern

Conference (Conference Rank, # of teams)
A10 (7; 6): Rhode Island, Temple, Dayton, Richmond, Xavier, Charlotte
ACC (3; 6): Duke, Clemson, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Florida St., Maryland
AmEast (27; 1): Maine
Atlantic Sun (24; 1): Campbell
Big Ten (5; 4): Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan St., Ohio St.
Big 12 (1; 8): Texas, Kansas St., Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma St., Baylor, Missouri
Big East (2; 8): West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati
Big Sky (17; 1): Weber St.
Big South (26; 1): Coastal Carolina
Big West (19; 1): Pacific
CAA (12; 1): Old Dominion
Conf USA (11; 1): UAB
Great West (33; 0):
Horizon (13; 1): Butler
Independent (31: 0):
Ivy (20; 1): Cornell
MAAC (15; 1): Siena
MAC (16; 1): Central Michigan
MEAC (29; 1): Morgan St.
MVC (9; 1): Northern Iowa
MWC (6; 4): New Mexico, UNLV, BYU, San Diego St.
NE (30; 1): Quinnipiac
Ohio Valley (21; 1): Murray St.
Pac-10 (8; 1): California
Patriot (28; 1): Lehigh
SEC (4; 5): Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Mississippi St.
Southern (18; 1): College of Charleston
Southland (25; 1): Sam Houston St.
Summit (22; 1): Oakland
Sun Belt (23; 1): Arkansas St.
SWAC (32; 1): Texas Southern
WAC (10; 1): Louisiana Tech
West Coast (14; 1): Gonzaga

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Last 4 In: Xavier, Missouri, California, Notre Dame
Next 4 In: Baylor, Richmond, Vanderbilt, Louisville
Bubble Out: San Diego St., Mississippi, Mississippi St., Marshall, Va Tech, Cincinnati, Wichita St., Missouri St.

Conference (Conference Rank, # of teams)
A10 (6; 5): Rhode Island, Temple, Dayton, Richmond, Xavier
ACC (3; 7): Miami FL, Duke, Clemson, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Florida St.
AmEast (27; 1): Vermont
Atlantic Sun (26; 1): Belmont
Big Ten (5; 4): Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan St., Minnesota
Big 12 (2; 8): Texas, Kansas St., Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma St., Baylor, Missouri
Big East (1; 8): West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Notre Dame
Big Sky (17; 1): Northern Colorado
Big South (24; 1): Coastal Carolina
Big West (20; 1): Pacific
CAA (11; 2): William & Mary, Old Dominion
Conf USA (10; 1): UAB
Great West (32; 0):
Horizon (13; 1): Butler
Independent (33: 0):
Ivy (21; 1): Cornell
MAAC (16; 1): Siena
MAC (15; 1): Akron
MEAC (28; 1): Morgan St.
MVC (9; 1): Northern Iowa
MWC (7; 3): New Mexico, UNLV, BYU
NE (30; 1): Sacred Heart
Ohio Valley (19; 1): Murray St.
Pac-10 (8; 2): California, Washington
Patriot (29; 1): Army
SEC (4; 3): Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Southern (18; 1): Western Carolina
Southland (25; 1): Texas-San Antonio
Summit (23; 1): Oakland
Sun Belt (22; 1): Denver
SWAC (31; 1): Prairie View A&M
WAC (12; 1): Louisiana Tech
West Coast (14; 2): St. Mary’s, Gonzaga

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Jan/10

12

Ranked teams tumbling

Ok, I’ll take the heat for it.  KU goes down three days after I said that an under-manned Tennessee team had no shot.  Sorry Gusto, no 40-0 for the Jayhawks this year and a different Big 12 team is, for now, #1.  There were a number of surprising scores from over the weekend, so lets take a look.

#15 Tennessee 76 #1 Kansas 68

No Tyler Smith.  No experienced depth in the backcourt.  No problem.  The Volunteers shocked the undisputed top team in the country, handing the Hawks their first loss of the season.  It was hard to watch this game, mainly because the NFL playoffs were airing on another network, but I had to.   Tennessee was in turmoil coming in, but give credit to Bruce Pearl for getting his team to focus in and shut down the high-powered foes from Lawrence holding them to 17 points below their season average.

Defense won this game for the Orange (as it normally does in games against teams who are superior talent-wise) as they held the Jayhawks to 13% below their season average shooting percentage, including 17% below their 3-point shooting average.  Serron Collins finished with 22 points, but shot just 7-20 from the field going just 2-10 from behind the arc.  Xavier Henry again disappeared in a big game, going for just 10pts (6pts below his season average) in taking just 7 shots.

Bill Self may have to face some tough questions about this one, mainly why they didn’t get the ball inside more and relied on the outside shooting so much.  The trio of Aldrich and the Morris twins only got twelve shot attempts the entire game. Twelve!  KU had a huge size advantage inside, but failed to get the ball to the wide bodies in the paint on a regular basis.  A lot of credit for that can go to the Volunteers denying the entry pass, but with the talent that Kansas has I can’t imagine that they couldn’t create passing angles to get it there.

No team comes into the season with a stated goal of going undefeated, so all of Kansas’ goals can still be obtained.  A huge win for Tennessee, but they will have to continually give this type of effort in an improved SEC and in games which wont hold such a lime light, which will not be easy.  The pollsters are over-reacting to this.  The Vols were not a top ten team with all the suspended players and certainly aren’t moving forward.

Notre Dame 70  #8 West Virginia 68

No one saw this coming.  Notre Dame may have come into the day ten games over .500, but they didn’t have a signature win to their credit.  They have one now.  The game came down to the wire because of a ferocious comeback by the Mountaineers.  The Irish were up by 20 at the half and WVU was another De’Sean Butler buzzer beating shot away from taking this upset away.

This win was great for Notre Dame considering the only other shot at a decent win was a game against UCONN (L 82-70).  It should help them carry some momentum toward getting an at-large bid and was a nice start to a brutal five game stretch in which 1-4 looked like a probability.

For West Virginia, it’s not time to hit the panic button but they obviously are not playing up to the form they were in earlier in the season.  The hole they dug themselves shows that they weren’t ready to play, which speaks directly to the coach.  The comeback should give them some confidence moving forward which is a good thing considering the huge home game with Syracuse looming Saturday.

Scatter thoughts on other top 25 upsets from the weekend

Arizona 87 #24 Washington 70:  This just proves what I was saying in my “yuck” post last week, that the Pac 10 is real bad.  After Washington’s embarrassing weekend in the desert the conference is left with no ranked teams and the serious prospect of only getting the automatic qualifier into the tournament.

Missouri 74 #11 Kansas St. 68:  Not a surprise as Columbia is a scary place to play for any team to travel to.  The Cats should get back on track with a home game against A&M and a road trip to Colorado before welcoming the new number 1 Longhorns.

#17 Wisconsin 73 #4 Purdue 66:  Another one that isn’t a shocker because of the Kohl Center’s presence (just ask Duke).  Purdue remains the favorite for the Big Ten in my opinion, it’s doubtful that any team will win in Madison this year.  For Sconnie they will face two tough ones on the road with a rejuvenated Northwestern and a desperate Ohio St.

UNLV 74 #15 New Mexico 62:  The shimmer has worn off of the Lobos.  My first Sweet Sixteen has a few duds on it and team Alford can qualify as one of those.  After racing to a 14-1 start they’ve dropped their first two MWC games by double digits.  For the Rebels, they have a big home game versus SDSU Wednesday and should compete for the conference title to the end.

#20 Georgia Tech 71 #5 Duke 67:  The Devils really struggled shooting in this game, getting no production from one of their stars Kyle Singler (9pts-5rebs in 38 min.).  Jon Scheyer went for 25 but shot under 50% from the field including just 3-13 from behind the arc.  Duke struggled with the size of the Yellow Jackets and that could be their Achilles going throughout the season.

Mississippi St. 80 #14 Ole Miss 75:  A really tough loss for the improved Rebels at home to their in-state rival.  They can look at a lack of aggression as a big reason that they lost this game as they went to the charity stripe 20 less times than the Bulldogs.  The loss looks even more daunting as the next 4 of 5 will be conference road games for Ole Miss.

Maryland 77 #18 Florida St. 68:  The road in the ACC is just not a kind place no matter where you are playing.  The Seminoles have to be happy that their next three are going to be at home.  The ACC really is an enigma going forward, any number of teams could finish on top.

Monday night’s game between #4 Villanova and Louisville was incredibly entertaining, but at the same time disturbing.  The refs decided to call 66 fouls.  Sixty-Six.  There were 94 free throws taken.  Ninety-four.  The Big East needs to sit-down and hold a serious bitch-out session of John Cahill, Michael Stephens, and Karl Hess (the refs), because they ruined that game.

Why do refs think that they need to control things at that kind of extreme level?  How can they not know how frustrating this makes fans, players, and coaches?  Yes the game was extremely physical, but in this case the refs have to adapt to the game that is presented.  They needed to have a meeting with the coaches to stress the fact that the physicality of the game was out of control and needed to be toned down.  Instead, the refs just continued to blow their whistles.  While they needed to keep the game civil, they didn’t have to be the main story behind it.

Even the broadcasters were annoyed with what was taking place.  At one point Jay Bilas quipped, “This game will have to be finished with freshman managers.”  As it turns out he was wrong, but it was amazing that only two players fouled out of the game.  The ESPN double-header would’ve been a 1 and a half header had the Bedlam game not gone to overtime.  They didn’t get to the second game until there was under 7 minutes left in the first half.

The refs took away from the focus of what was a very good game (other than the 44 turnovers).  ‘Nova came back from 17 down late in the first half.  They were lead by their phenomenal All-American Scottie Reynolds who went for 36pts shooting 9-10 from the field including 5-5 behind the arc.  The big question for the Cardinals (other than how to stop Reynolds, which every team has to wonder) is why they weren’t getting the ball into Samardo Samuels more.  The sophomore went for 21pts, but was only 4-4 from the field while going 13-13 from the line.  He was regularly open in the paint and the Cardinal guards couldn’t or wouldn’t send him the entry pass.  I don’t know why Rick Pitino didn’t scream at his team to send the ball Samuels’ way, baffling.

The Big East’s biggest surprise has to be the Pittsburgh Panthers.  After a shocking loss to Indiana at home by ten earlier in the year the Panthers have rattled off six straight wins including huge wins on the road against conference foes Syracuse and Cincinnati.  The most brutal three game stretch of any team possibly in the country concludes Wednesday with a game at UConn.  Pittsburgh’s schedule doesn’t get easier just because they get to go home, Louisville and Georgetown are next on the docket and then they head to Seton Hall.  If they can get through all of this with even just one loss, this team could be top ten worthy.

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Jan/10

7

Yuck

What is the most annoying sound in the world (world of college basketball)?  Right now, other than Dickie V, it’s someone trying to continue to make the claim that the Pac 10 is still a power conference.  The league is garbage.  The only team that is ranked is Washington (#24 in AP and #22 in Coaches) and I don’t know how this is possible with the loss to Oregon at home last weekend.  Three of the traditional powers of the conference are .500 or worse and have some really bad losses.

One has to start with UCLA who is 7-8 overall including losses to Cal St. Fullerton and Long Beach St.  Those two teams are currently in the bottom half of the Big West Conference standings.  Getting into conference play has been a bit kinder to the Bruins (which further proves that the league is crap).  They split with the Arizona schools at home last week and started their weekend in the Bay with an OT win over previous conference favorite Cal.  The fighting Wooden’s have been humbled this season by Kansas, Portland, and Mississippi St. by an average of 22pts per game.

Next we go to Arizona where the Wildcats are plugging along at 7-7 and are in major jeopardy of having their streak of 400 straight NCAA tourney’s snapped.  They’ll have to win the conference tournament to get in.  The Wildcats have lost to every decent team they have run in to and their best win is a two point home win over NC St.  To be fair they have a new coach after the Lute Olson fiasco of fence sitting (Seriously this guy waffled more than Brett Favre and Bobby Bowden combined, why wasn’t this made a bigger deal? Why did he get a pass?).

We finish with the educational institution of Stanford, which is also sitting at 7-7.  The Cardinal don’t have a signature win (their best showing was an OT loss to Kentucky) unless you think a five point win in Mexico over possibly the worst ACC team in Virginia counts, which I don’t.  They just got a one point win over USC who had recently found out that this season will all be for not.  Landry Fields has been the one bright spot, consistently tearing it up for them, averaging 23-9-3 this season.

Ok, so the traditional powers might be struggling, but that means other teams have stepped it up, right?  Um, no.  The non-conference record for the PAC 10 against other power conferences is 8-24.  Throw in the MWC and the WCC and the record doesn’t improve, staying 16 under .500 at 20-36.  The PAC 10 has a losing record to the little brother WCC (6-7).   They are 1-15 versus the current top 25 coaches poll (the lone win was the ineligible USC’s victory over Tennessee at home).  According to the latest rankings on this site, 2 teams will make the tournament (would be three if, again, USC were eligible).  That seems very optimistic to me, but to be fair it was done before Cal’s home loss to the Bruins.

The Pac 10 is not a power conference, if you try to argue such you must be taking crazy pills.   Let’s move on from bad to stupid.

Ok, so you attend a major University in which you are getting free education because you play a game really well.  This past fall some classmates, who are also getting free education for playing a different game, are dismissed from school because they are going to pretend to be gangsta pulling an air pistol on people near campus then cruising away in their getaway hybrid while smoking some green leaf.  But this doesn’t make you stop and think, “I probably shouldn’t roll around town with my glock with the altered serial numbers smoking it up with some teammates.”  Forget crazy pills, the four Volunteers must have been taking moron pills.

Tennessee’s hopes for a conference title, run in the NCAA Tourney, or chance at beating Kansas this weekend all went down the tubes when four players who all averaged over 15 minutes a game were suspended indefinitely.  Two of them, Tyler Smith and Cameron Tatum, were top four scorers for the Vols.

The Big Red of Cornell certainly scared the pants off Jayhawk nation the other night.  Lucky for KU they still have Sherron Collins, the senior picked up the slack of his younger teammates by going for 33 including 13-14 from the line.  Rock Chalk dominated in their first road game against a quality opponent and a little let down would be expected and Cornell, being a lot better than most used to think, almost took advantage.  This is a game the Jayhawks used to lose and it’s nice to see the top team come through in a tough spot.

Ohio St. must be happy that Evan Turner came back Wednesday night against Indiana, even if it was in limited fashion.  Turner played 20 minutes, scoring 8 points while adding 5 assistants and 4 rebounds, but the big score was him playing  3 weeks before team doctors thought.  It couldn’t have come at a better time (although they probably would’ve beaten Indiana at home without him) since the Bucks had just lost two games in bad fashion at Wisconsin and Michigan.  It will be interesting to see how effective he will be in the next few games and how long it will take him to get back to full strength.  Either way, he’ll have a huge impact on the remainder of the Big Ten season.

Finally, we get to what was perceived as a monumental upset with College of Charleston taking down the defending champs in OT.  Was it though?  North Carolina is obviously not the same team as a year ago, they’ve struggled finding consistent play in the backcourt and were missing Marcus Ginyard and Will Graves.  The last point was enjoyed most by the Cougars guard Andrew Goudelock who went for 24pts including a game tying three with just 2 seconds left.  Sure CoC was just 7-6 entering the contest, but better teams have lost to worse.

Ok, I suppose that’s enough negativity today.  Coming soon a look at the conference leaders emerging.

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1) Conference season is just kicking off. The non-conference season has given us a good idea as to how many teams each conference will get. Now we will begin to see movement within those conferences.
2) The Great West conference does not get an automatic bid this year (this is a correction to a previous post). No teams from this conference will get an at-large bid, therefor it opens another spot for a bubble team.
3) USC has just imposed self-sanctions that include no post-season play this year. This will be corrected in future posts.
4) Big Wins: Baylor at Alabama, Okla St. at Stanford, William & Mary at Maryland
5) Tough Losses: Florida vs. Richmond
6) Bad Losses: Florida vs. S Alabama, South Carolina at Wofford

Last 4 In: Alabama, Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma St.
Next 4 In: Richmond, Tennessee, VA Commonwealth, Florida St.
Bubble Out: Mississippi St., Vanderbilt, Minnesota, Illinois, Cincinnati, BYU, Old Dominion, Maryland

Conference (Conference Rank, # of teams)

A10 (7; 5): Rhode Island, Temple, Dayton, Richmond, Xavier
ACC (3; 6): Miami FL, Duke, Clemson, North Carolina, Maryland, Wake Forest
AmEast (27; 1): Vermont
Atlantic Sun (25; 1): Belmont
Big Ten (5; 3): Purdue, Wisconsin, Northwestern
Big 12 (2; 7): Texas, Kansas St., Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma St., Baylor
Big East (1; 7): West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, Connecticut, St John’s, Pittsburgh, Louisville
Big Sky (17; 1): Northern Colorado
Big South (22; 1): Coastal Carolina
Big West (20; 1): Pacific
CAA (11; 2): VA Commonwealth, William & Mary
Conf USA (10; 1): UAB
Great West (33; 0):
Horizon (13; 2): Loyola Chi., Butler
Independent (31: 0):
Ivy (23; 1): Cornell
MAAC (18; 1): Fairfield
MAC (15; 1): Akron
MEAC (29; 1): Morgan St.
MVC (9; 2): Missouri St., Northern Iowa
MWC (8; 2): New Mexico, UNLV
NE (32; 1): Sacred Heart
Ohio Valley (19; 1): Murray St.
Pac-10 (6; 3): California, USC, Washington
Patriot (30; 1): Army
SEC (4; 5): Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi St.
Southern (16; 1): Western Carolina
Southland (26; 1): Stephen F. Austin
Summit (21; 1): IUPUI
Sun Belt (24; 1): Denver
SWAC (28; 1): Texas Southern
WAC (14; 1): Louisiana Tech
West Coast (12; 2): St. Mary’s, Gonzaga

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Rumors of Coaching Changes Fly – Pastner to UTenn, Pearl to UK, Calipari to Louisville, and Pitino to Memphis… New Border State Conference to be announced?

In a tawdry, but increasingly familiar game of musical coaching chairs following recruiting improprieties have arisen. Anonymous sources in several border state cities report a flurry of rumors of coaching changes coming on the heels of a group of UTenn players reputedly being arrested on felony drug and gun charges recently.

Sources of known reliability close to UK and UTenn report UK and UTenn could be entering a bidding war for Bruce Pearl. His ability to attract long, athletic players capable of arrest on felony drug and gun charges particularly appeals to UK, which reputedly wants to take the next step toward an illegitimate national championship, after taking the first step last year by hiring Coach Calipari, reputedly to land explosive, ball screen creators with help from SAT test-taking surrogates. There is no word yet on whether UK will agree to rename the University of Kentucky, as Bruce Pearl University, but sources close to the negotiations indicate that doing so is part of the incentive package being offered to Pearl.

Current UK Coach John Calipari is, of course, impacted by these negotiations. Calipari has reputedly simultaneously entered negotiations to jump from UK to Louisville to double his salary to $10M/year and depart UK before possible recruiting improprieties at UK regarding SAT test surrogates (that he reputedly will not be held responsible for) reduce future scholarships at UK.

Calipari’s reputed attempt to jump to Louisville is potentially feasible, only because Louisville head coach Rick Pitino is now reputedly in secret discussions with Memphis to assume head coaching duties there to escape the on-going stigma of marital infidelities made public some time ago in Louisville, regarding Pitino. Sources close to Memphis officials suggest that they feel Pitino’s mid life crisis and related infidelity could play extremely well with Memphis’ middle aged boosters after less than a year of the so very young and squeaky clean Josh Pastner.

Perhaps not surprisingly, and to come full circle on this daisy chain of coaching change, Memphis head coach Josh Pastner is reputedly (again according to anonymous sources) in secret negotiations with UTenn to replace Bruce Pearl, who reputedly started the entire process when some of his long, athletic players were reputed to have been arrested on felony drug and gun charges. Sources in Knoxville, TN, suggest UTenn officials hope that Pastner’s youth could energize UTenn’s booster base and give UTenn a recruiting connection with Pastner’s father, a reputed broker of long, athletic basketball talent in Houston, TX. Sources near UTenn indicate possible consensus that there is enough long, athletic talent capable of arrest on felony drug and gun charges to take UTenn to the next level.

On a related note, sources also report that UTenn, UK, Louisville and Memphis are in secret negotiations with each other and with NCAA officials regarding starting a new border state conference to be called “The Big Rogue Conference.” The NCAA is reputedly weighing the costs and benefits to college basketball of designating a specific conference where rogue programs are permitted to break any rules they wish.

Developing…
(Note: The preceding post – both parts and the whole – are fictional and are a satire of the current situation unfolding at UTenn regarding four of its players that reputedly have been suspended for the arrest of felony drug and gun charges. The sources are fictional. The rumors are fictional. Anyone misconstruing any of the above as true has been notified to the contrary.)

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Sports fanatics thrive off moments, players, and teams, even to tears in the scarily extreme cases, yet we remain hungry for more. Having just turned the corner on the first decade of the 21st millennia it seems necessary that we take a look back on what a great ten years of college basketball we have just experienced.

The game appears to have evolved more so in this last decade than any other era but fortunately there is always one constant, the debate over who was the best. There has been no shortage of excellence and milestones and here is this one man panel’s assessment of the best. Please comment or offer your own insights.

Best Program

Kansas
When judging on overall excellence the Jayhawks leave little to nitpick about. Under Williams and then Self the program simply maintained quality and never dipped, unless you count two first round tourney losses. They have one national title, three final fours, second in wins for the decade, seven conference titles, and unlike UNC and Florida they danced every March, never experiencing a down year.

Runner Ups

UNC
It is hard to make a case against this program and the success they have seen, especially after they brought their own Williams back to right the ship. They have two national titles, four final fours, and five ACC titles. If it was not for the Doherty Disaster that occurred early on they could have taken the honor. Finishing 8-20 is too much of a black eye to overcome.

MSU
They took the first national title of the decade and have not had a hiccup since. They also have four final fours and three conference championships to add to the resume. The Spartans can also boast while they may have had a few off years they managed to make the tourney every year.

Best Coach

‘Ol Roy Boy – KU and UNC
By far the easiest call here. This coach lead five teams to final fours and two titles between the two programs. While exuding excellence behind the reigns at KU he was finally able to take it to the next level at UNC. While he inherited an immensely talented team at UNC he was also able to start recruiting east of the Mississippi, something that never happened at KU for some reason. It is hard to argue that another coach is better able to recruit, develop, and plan for games than Ol’ Roy. No need to look further than how quickly he rebuilt the Tar Heels. He also gets style points for coaching such a fun and up tempo game.

Runner Ups

The Izzone – MSU
The man reached four final fours and won one national title game. Ever a model of consistency he made the tourney every year and spread his final four appearances out enough so anyone who wore green danced at least three weekends in their career. He also moved MSU from a good program to elite status in relatively short order.

The Few, The Proud – The Zags
Probably the most underappreciated coach in the game is Mark Few. He has consistently lead the Zags to the tourney throughout the decade and is every coaches nightmare of a possible early match up come March. Americans love an underdog and no teams resembles Cinderella better than the Zags, in no small part as a result of their coach.

Self – Tulsa, Illini, and KU
It was tough to peg Self over Coach K but my differentiator comes down to, “what have you done for me lately?” Duke was brilliant the first half but has fallen off and under achieved the second half. Self has lead three teams to elite eights. In four years he moved Tulsa from a bottom feeder to 32 wins and nearly a final four in 2000. The Illini program he left Bruce Dub nearly won a title. Now he has reinvented KU bringing a title back to Larryville and currently has them as a near unanimous numero uno in the polls.

Best Player

Psycho T – UNC 2005-9
Not much room to debate here, just look at his decorations. The only four time first team All-American ever he also lead the Tar Heels to a national title. He also happens to be the ACC all time leading scorer. You will also be hard pressed to find any weaknesses in his game. He was a great on the ball and team defender. On offense he was a great scorer whether in iso or taking feeds, and he could also pass like few big men can. He probably had the best motor leading his great teams by example.

Runner Ups

JJ Redick – Duke 2002-6
I am not sure there was a player who was more hated (I have to plead guilty here) than this kid. For some unfortunate reason both opposing fans and players absolutely tormented him on any road stop. The guy could hit the trifecta from anywhere on the court. If there was a harder worker than Hansbrough it would have to be Redick. Defenses built entire game plans to stop him and failed miserably.

Jay Will – Duke 1999-2002
One of the best offensive players we have ever seen. At times he was absolutely unguardable. He was brilliant in iso and off the screen. He was also a phenomenal distributor when running the point and rarely turned the ball over. JW played sound and fundamental basketball and was also a premier defender in the ACC. Unrelated he also graduated in three years with a 4.0.

Steph Curry – Davidson 2006-9
Who really heard of Davidson before he put the school on his shoulders and was a shot away from making the ‘08 final four? There was not another player who willed his team to victory this decade like Curry. I will never forget the day that I played hooky and got to watch him push past the Zags that special Friday afternoon with his mom crying in the stands during their second half comeback. That elite eight run will go down as one of the most memorable we have ever seen.

Best Game

KU 75, Memphis 68 in OT – 2008 National Title Game
This may be the most difficult to defend when strictly talking about an individual game but what put this into elite status was that it was for all the marbles, plus it was arguably the greatest championship game ever played. Who really saw the drama unfolding the way it did with KU down nine and two minutes left in regulation? Sherronotron Collins picking stud of the night Roses’ pocket and draining the trinity to cut it to three with twenty seconds left? Then there was the new “shot heard ‘round the world” when Sherronotron handed the ball off to Super Mario Chalmers who drained the game tying trey with two seconds left which pushed the game to OT. KU was in the driver seat from there and clipped the nets at the Alamo taking home its first national championship in twenty years.

Runner Ups

‘Cuse 127, UConn 117 in 6 OT – 2009 Big East Tourney
Not sure whether to call this basketball at its greatest it has ever been or just a freak show but it left me dragging at work the next day staying up hours past my bedtime. If I was exhausted I can only imagine how the kids who played in this game felt. 244 points scored in what looked like eight suspense filled halves. Those that saw should still have this fresh in their memory and will not soon forget the performances of Flynn, Price, and Devendorf.

Zags 109, MSU 106 in 3 OT – 2005 Maui Invitational
Not sure whether to call this an epic game or simply a slugfest but another I was fortunate enough to watch. I don’t recall ever watching a player, let alone three in Morrison, Ager, and Downtown Brown play at such a ridiculously high level during fall semester. Watching these teams match shot for shot over the final twenty minutes felt like neither team lost, just the Zags got credit for the win.

Okey St 105, Texas 103 – 2002 Conference Play
This game was as good as it gets for a conference rivalry match. This game was not at the same level as the others above but was an absolute pleasure to watch because two players put their team on their shoulders and refused to fall in this game of chicken. Sr. Boggan made a case that experience can trump raw ability when he made the game winning three in the third OT taking down the most talented frosh of the decade in Durant and the Longhorns.

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Technically everyday is the end of a ten-year period, but this is when the numbers look the nicest so it’s looked at as the end of a decade.  This is used as an excuse to make a bunch of lists and save any real analysis of what is currently happening in the sport being covered.  Well that sounds like fun.  Here is a list that can’t be proved, and will give no real perspective to what will happen as we enter 2010.  At the very least they can be debated.

Top Ten Championship Teams

1.  ’05 North Carolina (33-4)

Defeated Illinois 75-70 to give Roy Williams his first National Championship.  The only team with four lottery picks in one year (Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashard McCants, and Marvin Williams) couldn’t be stopped.  This Heels squad was arrogant and had plenty of swagger, rightfully so.

2.  ’01 Duke (35-4)

Defeated Arizona 82-72 to win the title and solidify Coach K as the best coach of our era.  Stacked roster included Jay Williams, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy, Chris Duhon, and Carlos Boozer, all future NBAers.  Three of the four losses were by a combined 5pts with the only bad loss coming at Maryland by 11.  They had an unbelievable comeback in the semifinal versus that same Terps team, rallying from 22 down to advance.

3.  ’07 Florida (35-5)

Defeated Ohio St. 84-75 to become first repeat Champion since ’91-’92 Duke.  Led by three lottery picks; Johkim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer.  Five losses may seem like too many, but as the defending champ they got everyone’s best shot and still rolled to the title.  It’s hard to see a defending champ at three, but the talent of the teams above trumps a two time run.

4.  ’ 08 Kansas (37-3)

The best record among our teams of the decade and they won their first Championship since ’88 beating Memphis in one of the most exciting finals of the span.  Jayhawk fans were disappointed when Brandon Rush tore his ACL the year prior, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Rush, forced to return because of the injury hurting is draft position, combined with Mario Chalmers, Sharron Collins, Darrell Arthur, and a slew of others dominated the next team on the list in the semifinals.

5.  ‘09 North Carolina (34-4)

Defeated Michigan St. 89-72 and were never really challenged on their way to their second title of the decade.  Led by first round picks Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansborough, and Wayne Ellington.  Not only did they annihilate MSU in the title game, it was the second time smacking them around in the Spartan’s backyard at Ford Field.

6.  ’02 Maryland (29-4)

Beat Indiana 64-52 to win a title that could’ve been their second straight had they not choked the year before in the semifinals versus Duke.  One of the deeper teams on the list led by Jaun Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox, Byron Mouton, and Steve Blake.  Unexpectedly, Blake has gone on to have the most successful pro career of all the members on that team.

7.  ’04 Connecticut (33-6)

Defeated Georgia Tech 82-73 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate to give Jim Calhoun his second national title.  Led by versatile guards Taliek Brown, Rashad Anderson, and Ben Gordon, this team also had a fantastic front line with Emeka Okafor, Charlie Villanueva, and Josh Boone.  While the championship game wasn’t close, they had to rally from 8 down in the final four minutes in the semifinals against a strong Duke team.

8.  ’03 Syracuse (30-5)

The Carmelo Anthony’s won the most exciting championship game of the decade, topping Kansas 81-78.  Hakeem Warrick’s block of Michael Lee’s potential tying three-pointer, with less than a second to go, stopped the furious Jayhawk comeback in the second half.  Along with Anthony and Warrick, the Orange also had Gerry McNamara hitting threes for them as a frosh.  Anthony is still the most impactful freshman, in my opinion, to ever play considering the way he carried the team to this kind of height.

9.  ‘06 Florida (33-6)

The first title team snuck up on some people destroying UCLA 73-57 in the final, winning Florida’s first basketball title.  Led by the same group as above they were only tested once in their title round in a second round matchup with Georgetown.  This team inexplicably lost three games in a row during the regular season, so it wasn’t surprising the Billy Donavan’s team was an afterthought going into the post season.

10.  ’00 Michigan St. (32-7)

Knocked off Florida 89-76 to win Sparty’s first Championship since Magic was running the show.  The first team of the decade was led by a trio of Flint, MI products in Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell, and Morris Peterson, who came together at the end of the year to make a run.  One of the feel good stories of college basketball in recent memory, with the hometown kids, who came from nothing to win it all.

The best team to not win it all?  This is a tough one with ’05 Illinois and ’03 Kansas competing for that illustrious prize.  The Jayhawks were a veteran team led by Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich while going 30-8.  They beat #1 seed Arizona in the regional finals, avenging an earlier loss in the season, and sent Dwyane Wade and Marquette home in embarrassing fashion.  The Illini, meanwhile, went an astounding 37-2 behind Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Roger Powell Jr.  Their only regular season loss came in the finale at Ohio St by 1 and if not for the huge hole they dug for themselves late in the first half and early in the second they would probably be on the list above.  They were able to come back and tie the championship, but were never able to regain the lead.  In the end, the ’03 Kansas team was really good, but the ‘05 Illini team was great, and were probably a better team than half of the champions listed above.

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