We’ll get to the PAC 10 in a moment, but I wanted to talk about better basketball first. Just some notes from the games over the weekend:
-Don’t know why Bob Huggins was sitting Casey Mitchell so much. If he’s suspended then don’t play him at all and if he isn’t, keep your top scorer in the game.
-Tough loss for the Illini, that makes three of their last four and four straight on the road. While Northwestern is improved, remember Illinois beat them by 25 earlier this year.
-Va Tech with a bad loss Saturday @ Boston College. It seems like they would be on the outside looking in at this point.
-Sad times in Ames. Iowa St. is now 1-8 after losing in the final minute again to Kansas St. The Cyclones have had the lead in the final minute in six of their ten losses. Everyone will see Pullen’s lay-up winner, but the big shot was the possession before that for K St. Pullen got a wide open three at the top of the key, off a poorly defended screen, to make it a one-point game.
-Big time win for Baylor, they needed it in the worst way after the loss to Oklahoma. Perry Jones is a man, 27pts for the true frosh.
-Memphis sealing the deal with two late free throws at Gonzaga. The Tigers wish that had happened two years ago. The Zags will have to win the WCC tourney to get a bid.
-Duke and NC St. lived up to what I expected, why was that game on at that time on national TV? Of course the competition during that game was Ole Miss @Arkansas, Arizona St. @Stanford, or Dayton @La Salle. Found UConn @ Seton Hall, but a woman is doing the play by play, couldn’t deal with that, so lots of flipping around.
-Seton Hall sets basketball back 60 years by scoring just three points in the final ten minutes to blow the lead against UConn.
-Florida played well, even though they choked away the lead in the second half, and knocked off the Wildcats at home. Still think at the end of the year Kentucky will be on top.
-Ohio St. and North Carolina didn’t want any dramatics on their super Sunday’s. Minnesota is in some trouble; they are without a true point guard, Ralph Sampson has looked soft on the inside in the last couple of games, and they seem to play tight in pressure situations. The Heels can say, “Drew Who,” as true frosh point guard Kendall Marshall had 16 assists in the first game since Larry Drew quit on his team and UNC blasted FSU.
Ok, we had to get here eventually. Last year this was by far the worst power conference in the nation and they aren’t that much better this year. Looking forward it’s hard to see this league getting more than two or maybe three bids and it’s already pretty clear which three teams that will be. The one other thing I don’t understand with the Pac 10 is that why did they expand with Colorado? Why not BYU? The Cougars have a more consistent football and basketball programs and they could’ve added the Holy War rivalry (BYU-Utah). The Buffs just don’t make sense.
Best Team: Arizona (19-4, 8-2)
The swoon in Oregon by Washington suddenly propels the Wildcats into this position. So no, it’s not that Arizona has been incredible; they just have one incredible player. Derrick Williams is averaging 20 PPG, 8 RPG, and has a .634 FG% and is the only one in the conversation for Pac 10 POY. The Wildcats had a nice weekend in Northern California, sweeping Stanford and Cal (crazy 3 OT game, wasn’t pretty, but was entertaining). ‘Zona now has a two game lead on Washington (the only real threat, sorry UCLA) and will get the Huskies at home February 19th.
Next in line: Washington (15-7, 7-4)
The Huskies have the talent to make a run in the tournament, but they need to tighten things up and win some games to just make the tourney. They played by far the toughest schedule out of conference by Pac 10 teams, the problem is that they didn’t get any quality wins. They return home this week, after dropping three straight on the road, to try to turn things back in the right direction.
Biggest Disappointment: Arizona St. (9-14, 1-10)
Is Herb Sendek’s job still safe? How long will it be safe with the way the Sun Devils are playing recently, losing their ninth straight game in the Pac 10 Saturday @ Stanford. Most people had Arizona St. in the upper half of the Pac 10 so a 1-10 mark and a secure place at the bottom of the standings seals the deal for them. I wouldn’t hold my breath for a turnaround anytime this year, Sendek has been clearing his bench lately looking for any kind of spark.
Next in line: Washington (15-7, 7-4)
They made it twice to the list because four losses in the conference and as we talked about earlier, the lack of a real signature win outside the league. They will be on the bubble if they continue down this path.
Biggest Surprise: Oregon (12-11, 5-6)
The record is not spectacular, but no one would’ve pictured five conference wins all year and the Ducks still have seven to play. Dana Altman should get some consideration for national coach of the year, really. They’ve done all this even though they lost their best player Michael Dunigan before the season started.
Next in line: California (13-10, 6-5)
Again the record isn’t overly impressive, however this team replaced all five starters from the championship team a year ago and weren’t thought to be any kind of threat this year. Three freshmen have been giving this team quality minutes and good production so the future looks bright in Berkeley.
Game this week
8:00 California (13-10, 6-5) @ Washington (15-7, 7-4): Big because Washington needs to turn things around in the worst way and Cal isn’t the easiest team to do that against. Really this is the only somewhat intriguing game for the next week and even calling it that is a bit of a stretch.
Big Monday tonight, a couple potential good ones starting with Pitt heading to arch rival West Virginia. Pitt will be sans Ashton Gibbs their leading scorer and that will only help WVU, who needs this one in the worst way after the weekend they had in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Kansas will host Missouri and the Tigers will be hard pressed to get their first conference road win. KU will be without standout freshman guard Josh Selby, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they still blow it open against their chief rival.
Thursday night’s game between Georgia Tech and Miami is exactly why the ACC is behind the SEC. If I had actually watched this game, I would instantly start writing letters to both schools demanding that their science departments stop everything they are doing and focus on sending messages back in time. That way they could tell everyone not to watch the display from this game. If they don’t have a science department, create one. At the 9:33 mark of the second half Miami led 50-32. From that point on the ‘Canes went 2-12 shooting (after shooting lights out all game), had nine total points, and committed 12 turnovers. Georgia Tech still found a way to lose on the road per usual (0-7 this year and 0-13 in all) 59-57. I could see Auburn and LSU having a game like that, but that’s the problem, those are the two worst teams in the SEC. NC St. and Wake Forest are below Georgia Tech in the standings.
Best Team (yawn): Duke (20-2, 7-1)
I’ll give it up to Nolen Smith he is having one hell of a season. The senior has stepped up in the absence of Kyle Irving to average 21 PPG, 5 RPG, 5.5 APG, and 1.5 SPG, can you say POY? Irving will get an MRI on his big toe that has kept him out for so long on Friday, so we’ll get a better idea if Mr. Smith needs to continue his torrid pace for the remainder of the year. I give them a pass on the St. John’s loss, what did they really have to play for there? They came back smashed the Terps in College Park when it was counting for the ACC again and their next real threat of a loss isn’t until going to Virginia Tech at the end of the month.
Next in line: North Carolina (16-5, 6-1)
The Heels have been turning it around thanks to the meagerness that is the ACC. Their only loss was at (gulp) Georgia Tech (huh?). There is reason for optimism for UNC though, they’ve got one good (could be great by season’s end) non-conference win over Kentucky, Harrison Barnes seems to be coming around (right about the time we should expect most freshman to), and in the last two games they rolled teams that they should if they are indeed back to being UNC. The schedule stiffens up fast though, as they still play Duke and Florida St. twice, starting this week.
*Note: this could all change by Sunday when UNC host Florida St. but I didn’t feel right about putting a team that lost to Auburn at second best team.
Biggest Disappointment: North Carolina St. (12-10, 2-6)
Well, Sidney Lowe is just digging his own grave. This team was picked to finish in the top-5 of the ACC because it returned three starters and added three highly regarded freshman. This season has been a non-stop struggle as they lost every meaningful non-conference game, sometimes in embarrassing fashion and since blowing out Wake at home they’ve lost 6 of seven ACC games. Oh, and by the way, they get to play at Duke on Saturday as the prep game for ESPN’s prime time game, awesome. Any coach looking for a new job next year should salivate over this one if Lowe is gone, boatloads of talent will return.
Next in line: Miami (13-9, 2-6): The U has had a rough go of it losing four straight conference games, before the win Thursday, by a combined 11 points.
Biggest Surprise: Virginia (12-10, 3-5)
Tony Bennett has this team believing they can compete and they’ve already won as many games in the ACC as many thought they may all year. Some of those wins were nice (@MN, @VT, vs. Clem) and the freshman guard duo of Harris and Harrell has developed nicely as the year has gone on. The schedule gets tougher for the Cavaliers too, but six ACC wins would be a successful season.
Next in line: Boston College (14-8, 4-4)
They’ve gotten blown out in their last three games by the top three teams of the ACC, but this veteran team had been playing stronger prior to that ugly week and a half. They do have a nice win over Texas A&M and a couple other over BCS schools, but the vets will have to step up real big down the stretch if they want to play in the post season.
12:00 Virginia Tech (15-6, 5-3) @ Boston College (14-8, 4-4): Hey, with this conference you’ve got to reach a little bit. This will free up a little of the logjam in the middle and really neither team can afford this loss in the eyes of the tournament committee.
1:00 Florida St. (16-6, 6-2) @ North Carolina (16-5, 6-1): Really a game to decide who will have the inside track on the #2 seed for the ACC tournament. As far as tournament seeding is concerned this game, even with the win over Duke, is probably more important for Florida St. The Seminoles don’t have a true road win over anyone worth mentioning, they have an awful loss at Auburn, and this is their last chance for a road win over a team with an RPI in the top 70. The Heels want to show that they are indeed a team to be reckoned with again and they have sort of a tough game after this one. If your watching Super Bowl preview shit while this is going on your either a Steeler or Packer fan, you are in fact an idiot, or you really take the no basketball until football is over rule to heart
It was a tough decision to go with the SEC over the ACC for today. The main thing is the depth (mainly in the East) of the conference barely out weighs the fact that the conference doesn’t have a dominating team. They have three or four nice teams, but no one team strikes fear in the masses. There have been some nice non-conference wins by multiple teams, but there have been some humiliating one’s too (see Auburn 0-2 vs Atlantic Sun and Big South.
Best Team: Kentucky (16-5, 4-3)
This was also difficult because Florida leads the conference and the Wildcats have struggled lately going 2-2 in their last four. Talent wise and play in the non-conference swayed the decision for me. Six players eat up the majority of the time for Kentucky, three of whom are not only freshman, but also their leading scorers. This team can score in bunches (77.5 PPG, .459 FG%, .399 3P%) and can defend (.381 OFG%), how that translates into a tournament run is anyone’s guess at this point as the youngsters will continue to develop and may or may not hit a wall (no pun intended).
Next in line: Florida (17-5, 6-2)
The Gators passed a major test early in the conference with the victory at Tennessee (a place they always struggle), but followed that up with a loss at home to lowly South Carolina. Inconsistency has plagued Billy Donovan’s teams since his back-to-back titles and this team doesn’t appear to be any different.
Biggest Disappointment: Auburn (8-13, 1-6)
It’s not like anyone thought this team would be any good what so ever, but for a major conference program to lose to the likes of teams nicknamed the Fighting Camels, Dolphins, and Blue Hose (a team that Vandy beat by 41) is humiliation for the conference. Quite possibly the worst major conference team, ever.
Next in line: Mississippi St. (11-12, 3-4)
The Bulldogs were a consensus to win the SEC West this year, however they are under .500 and sitting 3 games back of Alabama, a team that has already swept them. The Bulldogs have also lost to teams like Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee. The struggles haven’t just been confined to the court with the now infamous fight in the stands between star Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey and a twitter controversy that has hurt the program’s stability.
Biggest Surprise: Alabama (14-7, 6-1)
Only because they are the West’s only hope for a NCAA bid (they probably have to 8 or 9 more games to even be considered) and have recovered nicely in the conference after an ugly non-conference.
Next in line: Nobody. Hell, Alabama was a stretch.
4:oo Alabama (14-7, 6-1) @Tennessee (14-7, 4-2): Tennessee’s second to last SEC game without Bruce Pearl on the sidelines sees the Tide coming to town. The Vols want to keep pace with Florida and hang strong for a potential at-large bid (they have good non-conference wins for it) and a win at home would do both. ‘Bama needs victories as mentioned above, but especially needs road/neutral wins to prove that they warrant tourney discussion.
8:00 Kentucky (16-5, 4-3) @Florida (17-5, 6-2): The Wildcats can’t fall two games behind the Gators in the lose column and need to show that they are still the team to beat. The Gators still need to prove they are for real and a victory over UK would be their best win thus far in the season. Yuck, cannot believe this is the game of the week. Cannot wait for a week and we get Pitt and Nova. Have no fear, having said all that, this will probably be the game of the year in the SEC.
This conference has scene quite a shakeup from what the preseason prognosticators had thought. Texas came out of nowhere to be a national title contender; Kansas St. has taken a dump right in the middle of the court, and Kansas’ home winning streak is finally over. I gave the Big Ten and Big East the titles of frontcourt and backcourt of America so that doesn’t leave me with a whole lot more to anoint upon any of the other conferences (that’s ok, the disparity from those two conferences and the rest is significant). Although, the Big 12 could hold the most “confusing conference” title, that is if this were some sort of fucking yearbook voting.
Best Team: Texas (19-3, 7-0)
I have to adhere to the rule of winning on the road to put the Longhorns over the Jayhawks at this point. There is still something about this team that rubs me the wrong way, but they have been spectacular recently.
The Horns have won three of four on the road in convincing fashion within the league, including the now infamous win in Fog Allen and an ass blasting of arch rival A&M. Their schedule in the non-conference was much tougher than the Jayhawks and they had some nice wins (Illinois, UNC, Sparty), tough losses (Pitt, UConn), and one baffler (@USC). They should coast to the regular season title, the toughest game left on the schedule is probably @ Nebraska, then most likely get a rematch with KU in the Big 12 title game. So, what’s to question?
First off, a couple of aberrations are acceptable (especially early in the year), but any loss to a Pac 10 team has to be pondered, especially when that team isn’t spelled Washington Huskies. Second, I’m not completely sold on Jordan Hamilton. He forces a lot of shots and that caused chemistry issues last year, so it could happen again. Finally, Rick Barnes. This guy has never struck me as more as than a great recruiter without the X’s and O’s mentality (look at some of the players this guy has had), but maybe this year he recruited so well that he doesn’t have to coach them very much.
Next in line (you’ll be shocked!): Kansas (21-1, 6-1)
It is possible that the loss to Texas was one of the Jayhawks’ aberrations for the year. Close home games against UCLA, Nebraska, USC (again, how?), and road wins over Michigan (OT) and Iowa St, say that they may have had more than just that one even though the record doesn’t show it. They seem to have put the loss behind them, winning three straight, but the schedule gets considerably tougher down the stretch, which means it will be difficult to actually catch UT.
Biggest Disappointment (duh): Kansas St. (14-8, 2-5)
Another preseason top-five team (are you starting to understand how stupid those rankings are yet!?) that has not lived up to any of the expectations. They lost Denis Clemente and now Jacob Pullen is lost between playing the point and being the primary scoring threat. Curtis Kelly hasn’t stepped up like the team had hoped, former McDonald’s AA Wally Judge quit the team, and the chemistry is bad all the way across the board (92nd in the nation in assists). This all rests on the head coach. Maybe crazy eyes killer Frank Martin isn’t as good of a coach as everyone thought he was when he had Bobby Huggins’ recruits (which the best players on the team still are).
*Special note: They were the other team in the running with Michigan St. for most disappointing in the country. Things were pretty much settled in that category tonight as K St. dominated Nebraska at home and the Spartans were embarrassed @Iowa. So congrats to the Wildcats for avoiding such an astronomical embarrassment.
Next in line: Baylor (14-7, 4-4)
Started out 7-0 and the main complaint was that they hadn’t played anyone yet. Turns out those arguments were very valid. This team’s best win is probably…….Colorado, at home, really? This team had LaceDarius Dunn and Quincy Acy returning to combine with Percy Jones, a super frosh, who was supposed to be as good as Ekpe Udoh, and were supposed to at least make it to where they were a year ago. This team doesn’t look close to that team.
Biggest Surprise (not named Texas): Nebraska (15-6, 3-4)
They get a nod over Oklahoma because the Huskers didn’t lose to a Division 3 school (see Chaminade 68 OK 64). A desperate Kansas St team hammered them tonight, but Nebraska has played tough in every other game this year and can still move up in the standings. The toughest games they have left are at home so a run could be possible (of course the obvious argument is that there are no easy games on the road). The Huskers play fierce D (best in the B12) and have a solid shooting percentage (48%). We’ll see in that translates into enough wins to be NCAA tourney bound.
Next in line: Oklahoma (12-9, 4-3)
The coaches, media, really even fans didn’t think much of the Sooner basketball season before and soon after it started. Let’s go back just two weeks to Jan 18th. Before that date, they were swept in the Maui Invite (including that D3 loss), got blown out by every BCS conference team they played, and were 0-3 in the B12. Since that day they’ve won four straight (including decent wins over Colorado and Baylor at home and @Iowa St.). All of a sudden the Okie’s are tied for third! Doubt it will last, but at least Jeff Capel has temporarily gotten himself back into the good graces with the Sooner faithful.
Saturday’s Big Games
1:00 Baylor (14-7, 4-4) @ Texas A&M (17-4, 4-3): The Aggies are struggling, losing three of their last four (to be fair two of them were to Texas), but the schedule favors a strong finish down the stretch and a win at home is a good way to start that. Meanwhile, the Bears need to bounce back from their extended trip to Norman (which considering the talent disparity, should be a humiliating loss) because their schedule does not favor a strong second half surge.
3:oo Kansas (21-1, 6-1) @ Nebraska (15-6, 3-4): This was only a three point contest in Lawrence so the Huskers should have that confidence going for them, they also know they need more signature wins. The Jayhawks need to avoid looking ahead to the Big Monday match-up with rival Missouri and if they drop another game any hope of catching Texas is officially toast.
If the Big East is the backcourt of America then the Big Ten has to be the Frontcourt. Of the top seven in the conference, all get big time production from their front lines. Lets take a look.
Ohio St.: Have to start with Jared Sullinger, easily the best freshman in the country as he averages a double-double (18 PPG, 10 RPG) and shoots a ridiculous percentage from the field (.577%). The Buckeyes also have a big banger in Dallas Lauderdale (6’8”, 260 lbs.) and another, less talked about freshman, with a nice shooting touch in Deshaun Thomas (9 PPG, 4 RPG, .503 FG%, 84 FT%).
Purdue: They may only have one major impact player on the interior, but he’s a POY candidate. Jajaun Johnson not only averages great numbers (21 PPG, 8 RPG), he shoots extremely well (.511 FG%, .800 FT%), and is a workhorse for this team (35 MPG, 7 of 9 BTG 35+ MPG).
Wisconsin: Another team led by a senior big, but with a bit more depth on the front line. Jon Leuer leads the team in PPG (19) and RPG (7), but they also get good production from fellow senior Keaton Nankivil (10 PPG, 5 RPG, .530 FG%). Not only that, but they have Mike Bruesewitz who easily has the worst red fro since Kyle Broflovski. The most puzzling thing about the Badgers is with all the point production (over %58) they get from their inside players it doesn’t translate to a very good rebounding team. The Badgers rank 278th in the country in RPG!
Minnesota: A true Medusa on the inside led by the fresh face (unless your one of his former girlfriends) Trevor Mbakwe. The JC transfer averages a double-double (14 PPG, 11 RPG), is extremely explosive, and has a silly FG% (.614). Junior’s Ralph Sampson (11 PPG, 5 RPG, .474 FG%) and Colton Iverson (7 PPG, 5 RPG, .500 FG%) give the Gophs the experience and a blue-collar mentality.
Michigan St.: Even with the struggles (see below), Draymond Green (13 PPG, 9 RPG, 4 APG) has incredible versatility and Delvon Roe (7 PPG, 6 RPG, .500 FG%) continues to put up solid numbers.
Penn St.: This team is not just Tony Battle anymore. The next three top scorers for the surprise team of the league all reside in the front line. Wear and tear could be a concern for the Nittany Lions as Jeff Brooks (14 PPG, 7.5 RPG, .577 FG%), David Jackson (11 PPG, 4.5 RPG, .877 FT%), and Andrew Jones (7 PPG, 6 RPG, .553 FG%) all average over 30 MPG this season.
Illinois: Led by two seniors and a freshman this line would be big on the next level, not just the Big Ten. The 7 footer Mike Tisdale (10 PPG, 7 RPG, .818 FT%) and fellow senior Mike Davis (11 PPG, 7 RPG, .538 FG%) have been aided by the arrival of McDonalds All-American Jereme Richmond (8 PPG, 5 RPG, .514 FG%) and another 7 footer Meyers Leonard.
Best Team (duh): Ohio St. (22-0, 9-0)
The amount of talent on OSU is not just reserved to the frontcourt. The Buckeyes are one of two legitimate title contenders from the Big Ten because of their backcourt. The last remaining undefeated team in the nation has it’s own three headed threat with Buford, Lighty, and Diebler. The Bucks were unchallenged during the non-conference portion of the schedule, but things have tightened up in the Big Ten as 6 of the 9 games have been decided by 5 pts or less. An undefeated season seems unlikely (fear not Indiana fans, whom I hate) as they’re schedule only gets more difficult down the stretch.
Next in line: Ummm…. Don’t really know if they belong, but since Wisconsin (16-5, 6-3) still get OSU twice they have to be considered for the moment, but they can’t lose another game.
Biggest disappointment (duh): Michigan St. (13-8, 5-4)
Kind of funny how everyone just kept harping during the non-conference season that “MSU might be struggling but they’ll put it together by March” and then finally after a couple of losses in the conference, people realized, “maybe they just aren’t that good.” This team may have believed the early hype, thinking it would just magically happen and they wouldn’t have to work for it (how’d that work out). Whatever it is, this preseason #2 ranked team in the nation (another reason the top #25 in CBB doesn’t mean a thing) is in chaos. They’ve lost three of four and barely escaped a banged up (yet improved) Indiana team at home in O.T last weekend. Oh, and by the way, Korie Lucious, who was averaging 24+ MPG and hit the game winner in the 2nd round of the Big Dance against Maryland, was suspended for the remainder of the year. Can they turn it around? It will be tough. They have a very winnable game @ Iowa before a disgusting 6 game stretch. The NIT is seriously possible for this team.
Next in line: Really there may only be one other team in the country who is more disappointing than the Spartans so we wont disgrace the rest of the Big Ten.
Biggest surprise (not so duh): Penn St. (12-9, 5-5)
So the Lions didn’t do much in the non-conference, but they’ve had a couple nice wins within, including against MSU, Ill, and Sconey. They also scared the bejesus out of Ohio St. and Purdue on the road and have gotten some nice production from a previously thought of weakness. But it’s kind of a stretch to put any team in this category, with the exception of MSU, the Big Ten has been taking shape the way most thought it may.
Michigan St. (13-8, 5-4) @ Wisconsin (16-5, 6-3): I think we know why MSU is here, while the Badgers are now in second place and as previously stated can’t lose if they want any chance at the regular season title.
Ohio St. (22-0, 9-0) @ Minnesota (16-5, 5-4): Minnesota played the Bucks tough in Columbus falling short in a furious 2nd half comeback and they held Sullinger to a manageable 15 pts. Both teams have a game prior to this (MN @ IND Wed 5:30, OSU vs UM TH 6pm), but regardless what happens in those it should be a good one in the Barn.
The Big Ten is also sort of failing us this week, which is further proof of why they have Gameday at UF and a really crappy Thursday night lineup. I mean, Notre Dame @ Rutgers, prime time, thank the shit you believe in I’m working. Oh, and don’t give me that Michigan @ Ohio St. rivalry BS on Thursday night either, that will be a blood bath (ok, maybe I’ll DVR it).
One thing I forgot to include in the Big East wrap up to the moment was the big games coming the remainder of the week and why you should keep an eye out for at least the highlights.
Syracuse (18-4, 5-4) @ Connecticut (17-3, 5-3): Can the Orange stop the bleeding? How will the Huskies respond to their close loss at home to Louisville? This is probably a bigger game for the Huskies just because they still have a realistic shot at the conference title. The ‘Cuse will probably figure it out in time to make the tourney, but this is more than a tough place to begin.
Marquette (14-8, 5-4) @ Villanova (17-4,5-3): The Golden Eagles need a road win in the worst way. They’ve had a couple of nice home wins over Notre Dame and Syracuse, but have lost all four road games to the top competition in the league by under 5 PPG. Villanova, meanwhile, is in the same boat as UConn and can’t afford a loss if they want the top seed in NYC.
West Virginia (14-6, 5-3) @ Villanova: WVU should be 6-3 entering this game which means they will be right there in contention with the Wildcats (as long as ‘Nova holds serve vs Marquette).
Cincinnati (18-4, 5-4) @ Pittsburgh (20-2, 8-1): Both teams will have had a full week to prepare and is another example of a team trying to prove it (Cincy), versus a team trying to keep on a roll even though things have been shaken a bit (Pitt).
Connecticut (17-3, 5-3) @ Seton Hall (10-12, 4-6): No, this game isn’t good. It’s just weird for this league to have such a crappy lineup for a Saturday. No wonder Game Day and the ESPN prime time game is in the SEC. Gross.
So there is officially no more football (I don’t count the Super Bowl as a football day, that’s a holiday). Finally we can start to think about college basketball. Yes, that’s my excuse for it being the last day of January just now putting in a post, whatever I don’t answer to anyone, so screw it. Plus we are finally seeing some separation in some of the more marquee races. Let’s take a look at things from the best conference to the worst
This conference should absolutely be known as the backcourt of America. Take a look at all the talented guard duos that are in the conference:
-Pitt’s Brad Wanamaker (12.5 PPG, 5 RPG, and 5 APG) and Ashton Gibbs (16 pts, .887 FT%, .445 3P%)
-Louisville’s triple threat of Preston Knowles (15 PPG, 4 RPG, .864 FT%), Peyton Siva (11 PPG and 5 APG), and Transfer (Manhattan) Chris Smith (10 PPG, 4.5 RPG, .523 FG%, .469 3P%)
-Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough (35 MPG, 16.5 PPG, 4 APG, .411 3P%) and Scott Martin (6’ 8’’, 10 PPG, 5 RPG)
-Connecticut’s all world Kemba Walker (24 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 APG), along with Frosh pair Jeremy Lamb (10 PPG, 5 RPG) and Shabazz Napier (9 PPG, 3 APG)
-Villanova’s three-headed monster of Corey Fisher (16 PPG, 5 APG, 3 RPG), Corey Stokes (15 PPG, 4 RPG, .947 FT%, .415 3P%), Maalik Wayns (14 PPG and 5 APG)
-West Virginia’s Casey Mitchell (17 PPG, 4 RPG, .871 FT%) and Darryl Bryant (11.4 PPG, 3 RPG, 3 APG)
-Georgetown’s dynamic Austin Freeman (19 PPG, .538 FG%, .875 FT%, .472 3P%) and Chris Wright (12 PPG and 6 APG)
-Marquette’s traditionally strong rotation of Darius Johnson-Odom (16.5 PPG, 3 RPG, 3 APG), Jimmy Butler (34 MPG, 16 PPG, 6.5 RPG, .433 3P%), and Dwight Buycks (10 PPG, 4 RPG, 4 APG, .438 FT%).
Pretty damn impressive list of 8 teams who are all in or tied for being in the top 7 of the league. If you read any of my posts last season you know I like guard duos in which both can score come tourney time. So just letting you know, consider all these teams as difficult outs come March.
Best Team (thus far): Pittsburgh (20-2, 8-1 Big East)
Yes they lost to Notre Dame at home last Monday night and sneaked past Rutgers on Saturday, however they have been the dominant team of the league thus far. Four of the starters can go off on any given night (see Nasir Robinson’s 21 pt. game vs. Syracuse), they lead the nation in assists (which simply means they are very unselfish and can pass the ball well), and are third in the country in rebounding (they aren’t afraid to get physical, especially with the Cro-Magnon Gary McGhee down low). They didn’t play the most brutal of non-conference schedules and they’re best true road win was over Georgetown (who was struggling at the time), but at this point no team looks as complete. The second half of the schedule only gets more difficult for the Panthers with 6 of their final 9 against top seven teams, with half those games on the road.
Next in line: Louisville (see below), Connecticut (17-3, 5-3): Most impressive non-conference resume in the league, lead by potential POY candidate Walker, and have gotten a lot more production from the rest of the team than many thought they would.
Biggest Disappointment (right now): Syracuse (18-4, 5-4)
Just a week ago this would’ve been the Hoyas of Georgetown (17-5, 6-4), what a difference a week makes. While the Hoyas have recovered from their 1-4 start, the ‘Cuse have lost four straight after starting undefeated and a fifth straight loss seems very possible as they head to UConn tomorrow night. Losses in the Big East should be expected, however home losses to Seton Hall (what the hell was that?) and Villanova really hurt the Orange. Neither of those games were very close and throw in a road loss to unranked Marquette this team looks like it will struggle to get out of the middle of the pack if it doesn’t find some consistency soon. The biggest concern during this four game losing streak has to be that the 2-3 zone has given up an average of 81 PPG.
Next in line: Villanova (17-4, 5-3): The preseason favorites have lost 3 of 4 including a bad one @Providence and home versus Georgetown. However they could bounce back quickly. In their final ten they should be favorites in 8 of them until the final two on the road against Notre Dame and Pitt.
Biggest Surprise (at present): Louisville (17-5, 6-3)
Three of their Big East wins have been by 1 point so this could easily belong to another team, but the Cardinals have made some splashes. The loss at Georgetown was the start of a ten game stretch that is probably the most difficult for any of the contending teams in the next month. Currently in second place (some publications picked them as low as 10th) the Cardinal have gotten great results from their lone senior Knowles, strong defensive play, and willingness to spread the rock (4th in nation in assists).
Next in line: Cincinnati (18-4, 5-4): They have a strong record, but just haven’t beaten anyone of consequence in either non-conference (maybe Xavier?) or conference.
So the evening games are underway and there are a couple of good ones going down. Lets quick take a look back at some of the storylines from the first half of day 1 for all you suckers who had to work and couldn’t get the games on your computer loaded.
CBS has done a horrendous job of switching to games as they are winding down. In the first slate of games the ODU-Notre Dame game was coming down to it as there were 9.1 seconds left and Old Dominion was up by 3. Meanwhile, Florida and BYU were in the second OT with about 3 ½ minutes to go. Instead of switching to the end of the Irish game, or even going split screen (isn’t it 2010), they kept it on the Gators-Cougars. We didn’t get to see the end of the game (including Tory Jackson’s near tying three), instead they cut back to it after the play had already happened and the final score was posted. What the SHIT CBS? They again failed to go to the Murray St. upset until there was 25 seconds left, even though the lead had been going back and forth over the last minute and a half. Someone needs to get up these directors’ asses and make them realize that people like to see the end of exciting games.
UTEP played probably the worst half of basketball since UNC back in the 2008 semifinal game to Kansas. The Miners were up 6 at the half, dominating the paint, and controlling Butler’s shooting from the outside. Then the second half started and all of that changed as the Bulldogs outscored UTEP 50-26. One thing I failed to look at when I was deciding whom to pick in that game was my own advice. Butler is an experienced mid-major NCAA Tourney team and they have a point guard who can score (Mack who went for 25 and 7-9 behind the arc). That’s my bad and the Bulldogs could be a potential tough matchup for Syracuse looking down the road because of their ability to shoot from the outside.
Villanova was very lucky to escape with their win. Jay Wright has to be loving the good fortune that he received from the basketball gods today. First there were some questionable fouls called toward the end of the game that very much benefitted the Wildcats. Then, he has to be pleased with the fact that Scottie Reynolds had his worst shooting game of the season (2-15 from the field) and his team was still able to win the game. If you have ‘Nova, as I do, going to the Final Four you are sweating for the matchup against St. Mary’s, who looked really tough against Richmond.
The first four games really got this tournament started the way we remember it to be. Last year there was only one really dramatic game (Villanova-Pitt regional final) and this year all of the first four had amazing drama. ODU by one, BYU in double OT, Villanova in OT avoiding the biggest upset since George Mason over UCONN, and Murray St.’s buzzer beater made it possibly the most exciting first day ever and were just a half into the evening games! BTW, somebody wake Georgetown up.
And it begins! March Madness! The real thing finally! Let me in on a few upsets that I decided to go with before the games actually take place.
#12 UTEP over #5 Butler: Ok, for anyone who has read my blog at all this year knows how much I think Butler has been overrated. I was surprised that they received a #5 seed considering that their non-conference schedule wasn’t exactly stacked with great wins. But it’s not just my dislike for Butler (and yes, some of that is jealousy considering my alma mater is relatively the same size of school and has no where near the success of them), UTEP is a strong team. Randy Culpepper is a scoring point, Derrick Caracter is a matchup nightmare inside for the Bulldogs, and the Miners are just way more athletic than Butler. Don’t be surprised if, no matter whom UTEP gets in the second round, they will be playing next weekend.
#11 San Diego St. over #6 Tennessee: Why? I really don’t have a great answer for that except that Tennessee is inconsistent and I like teams from the Mountain West in this tourney. This one could be a big embarrassment for me, the Vols do have the talent to make a run to the Sweet 16 and beyond.
#13 Murray St. over #4 Vanderbilt: The Racers live up to their name as they are a team that likes to get out and run. As long as they can force the tempo the Racers will be able to negate A.J. Ogilvy on the inside for Vandy.
These are the three big ones for day 1. As I write this Villanova is down early to Robert Morris by 6. Of course early is the under eight timeout in the first half. They need to wake up or two of the three brackets I filled out will be completely moot.
I just caught his tournament breakdown. His bias is nothing if not consistent.
After not picking KU in ’08, then snubbing their victory to focus on the loser…and now picking Cal again in ’10, I can only conclude this is La Cosa Paisan.