ACC (6) In: Boston College, Duke, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia Tech Worth a Mention: Maryland Notes: It was a great eight-day period for Florida State, with home wins over Duke and NC State and a road win at Miami. This little run has cancelled out the bad loss at Auburn. Miami is one of the last teams in the bracket. That win over West Virginia in early December was huge (even though the Mountaineers lost at Marshall Wednesday night). Maryland's loss at home to Virginia Tech on Thursday will not help the Terps down the line.
America East (1) In: Maine
A-10 (2) In: Temple, Xavier Worth a Mention: Dayton, Duquesne, Rhode Island, Richmond Notes: Xavier has won three straight in the A-10, and the Muskies need to keep winning because their non-conference resume isn’t strong. They beat three Big Six conference teams, but those wins were against Iowa, Seton Hall and Wake Forest — three of the weakest in the nation from the power leagues. Duquesne isn’t really close to making the field, but the Dukes are off to a 4–0 start in the league. Dayton had what looked like a nice win early in the season, beating Ole Miss in Oxford, but the Rebels are 0–4 in the SEC. Richmond has wins over Purdue, Arizona State and VCU, but also lost to Iona, Bucknell and Rhode Island (at home).
A-Sun (1) In: Belmont
Big 12 (7) In: Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M Worth a Mention: Baylor Notes: Baylor has a ton of talent but has yet to beat a team with a top-100 RPI. Colorado was among the last teams in. The Buffs have some nice wins (Missouri, at Kansas State) but lost at San Francisco and at Harvard. Oklahoma State got a boost with Alabama’s win over Kentucky this week (the Pokes beat the Tide in December) but then took a hit the next night when Missouri State lost at Indiana State.
Big East (11) In: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia Worth a Mention: None Notes: The Big East goes 11 deep this week, and Marquette is really the only team worth debating. The Golden Eagles’ RPI is 70 due to a very poor non-conference slate. They are lacking in good wins, but they have lost closely to some good teams — Duke (five points), Gonzaga (three), Wisconsin (five), Vanderbilt (one), Louisville (one). This team passes the “eye test.”
Big Sky (1) In: Northern Colorado
Big South (1) In: Coastal Carolina
Big Ten (6) In: Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin Worth a Mention: Northwestern, Penn State Notes: Penn State has two nice wins (Michigan State and Illinois at home) and two close losses on the road against very good teams (three points at Ohio State, one point at Purdue), but the Nittany Lions need to win more games to make up for the loss at home to Maine in December. Northwestern has one win vs. a top-100 RPI team, Michigan (No. 83).
Big West (1) In: Long Beach
Colonial (1) In: Old Dominion Worth a Mention: James Madison, VCU Notes: James Madison had a great opportunity Wednesday night, but lost a six-point game at ODU. VCU gets its chance at ODU this weekend. A road win over the Monarchs could put the Rams into the field next week.
Conference USA (1) In: UCF Worth a Mention: Memphis, UAB, Southern Miss Notes: UAB is close. The Blazers won at Arkansas and beat VCU at home, but neither of those are currently in the bracket. Southern Miss played its way out (for now) by losing a big lead at home to Memphis Wednesday night. Memphis has a long way to go, but that win at USM was a good place to start. UCF is sliding down the bracket, thanks to a three-game losing streak. Those wins over Florida and Miami will only carry this team so far.
Horizon (2) In: Butler, Cleveland State Worth a Mention: Valparaiso Notes: Butler has some bad losses (Evansville, Milwaukee by 20), but also has done some good things, beating Florida State and Washington State in Hawaii and pounding Cleveland State by 23.
Ivy (1) In: Harvard
MAAC (1) In: Iona
MAC (1) In: Ball State
MEAC (1) In: Bethune-Cookman
MVC (1) In: Missouri State Worth a Mention: Wichita State Notes: Wichita State’s loss at home to Northern Iowa on Wednesday night was a tough blow. This team’s other three losses are to UConn in Hawaii, at San Diego State and at home to Missouri State.
Mountain West (3) In: BYU, San Diego State, UNLV Worth a Mention: Colorado State Notes: Colorado State’s huge win at UNLV on Wednesday night was impressive, but the Rams still need a few more quality wins to offset losses to Sam Houston and Hampton.
Northeast (1) In: Long Island
OVC (1) In: Austin Peay
Pac-10 (3) In: Arizona, Washington, Washington State Worth a Mention: UCLA Notes: Washington State’s spot is far from secure. The Cougars have wins over Mississippi State and Baylor, two teams with plenty of talent but two teams that have underachieved. The win over Gonzaga was big. UCLA has one good win: vs. BYU. The Bruins need to go on a big run in league play.
Patriot (1) In: Bucknell
SEC (5) In: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt Worth a Mention: South Carolina Notes: The five teams in the field are pretty secure at this point. South Carolina is sneaking its way into the discussion. The Gamecocks are 3–1 in the league, highlighted by an overtime win over Vanderbilt and a win at Florida.
1. What team has been the biggest surprise this season?
Braden Gall: The Texas A&M Aggies. We knew the coach was good. We knew they would play hard. But A&M lost its top three scorers and its top rebounder from last season and is sitting at 16–1 overall and 3–0 to start the Big 12. Wins over Missouri, Temple, Washington and Arkansas already give this team a nice resume, and the two-point loss to Boston College has turned into “good loss.” We will learn a lot about this team in the next two weeks as Mark Turgeon’s bunch faces Texas (twice), Kansas State and Nebraska over a 12-day period.
Mitch Light: I think it has to be UConn. With only one proven commodity (guard Kemba Walker) back from a team that went 7–11 in the Big East, the Huskies were expected to finish in the middle of the pack in the league. Even after the hot start — the Maui Invitational championship — many were still doubting this team. But Walker & Co. made a huge statement a few weeks ago by winning at Texas. After the win over Villanova on Monday, UConn is 15–2 overall and 4–2 in the Big East. The Huskies now have wins over Wichita State, Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas and Villanova.
Nathan Rush: I expected Ohio State to be the second or third best team in the Big Ten and a solid Sweet 16-type of squad — not a conference bully and national title contender. But freshman Jared Sullinger (17.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg, .593 shooting) has put together the type of rookie year not seen since Greg Oden was patrolling the paint in Columbus. If “Big Sully” keeps it up, he could have the Buckeyes playing in the national title game just like Oden did back in 2007.
2. If you were an Athletic Director and you had to hire a basketball coach, who would be your top three candidates.
Braden: One letter would top my list: K. Mike Krzyzewski would be my first phone call — no questions asked. Arguably the best tournament coach in the nation, Tom Izzo, would be my second call. Hall of Fame names like Boeheim, Calhoun, either Williams (Roy or Gary), Donovan and Ryan would all be in the mix, but I will go slightly off the beaten path and take Matt Painter of Purdue. He is much younger than the others and still has a lot to prove. In five short years at Purdue, Painter has become one of the nation’s best.
Mitch: I’d have to factor in age, since I want a coach for the long term, so my top candidate might be a surprise — Thad Matta. He is a tremendous recruiter who has proven himself in three stops as a head coach — Butler, Xavier and Ohio State. I’d also have to have Tom Izzo on the list for what he has done at Michigan State. Bill Self at Kansas and Coach K at Duke would obviously be great choices as well, but for No. 3 on my list, I will go with Jay Wright at Villanova. Like Matta, he is a great recruiter who has done well at more than one school. He went 122–85 in seven seasons (30–12 in his final two) at Hofstra before moving on to Villanova in ‘01-02.
Nathan: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo would be the first coach I’d call. After six Final Fours in 15 seasons, including the 2000 NCAA title, Izzo has proven his ability to maximize the talent on his roster in any given season and thrive under the do-or-die pressure of March. After Izzo, it’s a toss-up between Kentucky’s John Calipari and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Coach Cal and Coach K are polar opposites stylistically, but they are undeniably two of the best in the business at recruiting and managing elite talent.
3. Which result from this past weekend surprised you the most?
Braden: I’ll go with Georgia Tech beating North Carolina. If the Jackets normally played up to their potential this would not be shocking considering the issues the Heels have had over the last 12-to-16 months. However, this Paul Hewitt-coached Tech team (now 8–8) had no business beating Roy Williams’ bunch by 20 points — even at home (although, most of the crowd was actually wearing blue).
Mitch: I was very surprised by South Carolina’s 72–69 win at Florida on Saturday. The Gamecocks opened up SEC play with a big overtime win over Vanderbilt but then struggled mightily in a loss at Alabama. This is a very young team that I figured would have a lot of trouble winning on the road. Florida was 2–0 in the SEC after its big win at Tennessee last Tuesday. The Gators had a great opportunity to jump out to a 3–0 record in the wide-open SEC East. Didn’t happen.
Nathan: Tennessee’s 67–64 come-from-behind win over Vanderbilt may not have been the most surprising final score for those who didn’t watch the game. But the way that the Volunteers beat the Commodores was the most shocking result of the weekend. With associate head coach Tony Jones wearing the orange blazer for suspended coach Bruce Pearl — and Pat Summitt cheering on courtside — the Vols rallied from 17 points down to defeat their in-state rivals from Nashville. After starting 0–2 in SEC play (losing at Arkansas and in overtime to Florida), UT pulled off a stunner against Vandy, a team that also let a 14-point lead slip away at South Carolina in the SEC opener.
4. Which team needs to get its act together in the next week or two?
Braden: It might be piling on, but Georgetown needs to get some work done in Big East play. The Hoyas righted the ship with a win over lowly Rutgers this weekend, but had started 1–4 in the Big East prior to the win on Saturday. Losses to St. John’s, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Pitt have put pressure on the Hoyas to win now.Mitch: Northwestern is good enough to be an NCAA Tournament team, but the Wildcats don’t have an NCAA Tournament resume. They dropped to 2–4 in the Big Ten with an overtime loss at Michigan State on Saturday. They need to start winning games — and beating good teams. After hosting Michigan and SIU Edwardsville this week, they play Wisconsin at home and travel to Minnesota next week. If the Cats takes care of business at home and can find a way to steal a win at Minnesota, we can then start talking about the NCAA Tournament once again.
Mitch: Northwestern is good enough to be an NCAA Tournament team, but the Wildcats don’t have an NCAA Tournament resume. They dropped to 2–4 in the Big Ten with an overtime loss at Michigan State on Saturday. They need to start winning games — and beating good teams. After hosting Michigan and SIU Edwardsville this week, they play Wisconsin at home and travel to Minnesota next week. If the Cats takes care of business at home and can find a way to steal a win at Minnesota, we can then start talking about the NCAA Tournament once again.
Nathan: North Carolina appears to be back in trouble — if the Tar Heels were ever off the bubble — after an embarrassing 78–58 loss at Georgia Tech on Sunday. An underachieving Yellow Jackets team thoroughly dominated the Heels, who shot 27.6 percent (16-of-58) from the field and 16.7 percent (2-of-12) from downtown in Atlanta. If UNC can’t bounce back against Clemson (Jan. 18), at Miami (Jan. 26), NC State (Jan. 29), at BC (Feb. 1) and Florida State (Feb. 6), Roy Williams may have his second straight NIT ticket punched before heading to Cameron Indoor to face Duke (Feb. 9) for the first time this year.
5. There are some great freshmen and some great seniors. Who is the best sophomore in the country?
Braden: Wow, there are too many to count, and there is no Blake Griffin in this group. I will go with Maryland’s Jordan Williams, who has been a machine on the glass all season. His 12.1 rebounds per game rank third nationally and first among all power conference teams. He is also averaging 18.1 points, 1.4 blocks and is shooting 56 percent from the floor. I can’t, however, answer this questions without at least mentioning Jordan Hamilton, Derrick Williams and Alec Burks.
Mitch: Derrick Williams at Arizona is having a monster sophomore season. The forward who originally committed to USC leads the Cats in scoring (19.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg) and is shooting .658 from the field and .770 from the line. He is a legitimate Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate.
Nathan: My favorite sophomore is Miami point guard Durand Scott — although Arizona big man Derrick Williams is a beast, Vanderbilt sharpshooter John Jenkins is one of the top marksmen in the country and UCF heir to His Airness, Marcus Jordan, has nearly doubled his production while leading the Knights to a 14–2 start. But Scott has an all-around game that continues to improve and an intangible winning edge. The 6’3”, 200-pound New York City product — who won a state title as a high school senior at Rice and played for the AAU power New York Gauchos — is averaging 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists on ultra-efficient shooting percentages (45.8 from the field, 87.1 from the free throw line and 43.8 from three).
During those crazy summer days of 2010, realignment rumors threatened to blow up the Big 12 as we know it. In the end, the Texas Longhorns put an end to that speculation by sticking with the membership and keeping the league together — minus Nebraska and Colorado.
The Cornhuskers and Buffaloes are committed to their escape plan. The old Big Eight partners have decided to bail out after this season. Nebraska will join the Big Ten and Colorado is headed for the mountains and surf of the Pac-10.
There is no doubt the Big 12 will feel a greater sense of loss as a football conference. From a basketball perspective, the reaction was an overwhelming sense of “Good riddance.” Neither program has brought much to the basketball table — especially in recent seasons — so who will miss them?
But guess what? It appears the Huskers and Buffs want to make a little noise as they head for the exit ramp.
Colorado travels to Lincoln, Neb., to play the Cornhuskers Tuesday. It’s not a game that will catch the fancy of the entire nation. But the Heartland will take notice. Just look at the Big 12 standings. Colorado (14-4 overall) is tied for first place with Texas A&M with a 3-0 conference record. Kansas, which plays at Baylor Monday night, and Texas are 2-0. Behind Baylor (2-1) is a logjam of five teams at 1-2, including Missouri, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas State — and Nebraska (13-4 overall).
The Cornhuskers nearly rocked the college basketball world Saturday when they almost took the Rock Chalk out of Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks had to battle back from a 10-point deficit early in the second half to defeat the Cornhuskers, 63-60, in Nebraska’s last visit to Lawrence — at least as a Big 12 member. Kansas remained undefeated this season and extended its home winning streak to 69 games, but the Huskers made a statement.
“I can tell you this, as long as I’m coaching here — I’ll be a spectator probably the next time there’s a game here,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. “I don’t like it that much.”
College presidents, commissioners and athletic directors make their realignment decisions with money in mind. They give very little thought — if any — to the traditions that are being destroyed. They give no thought to the emotions of coaches and players. It was obvious Saturday’s trip to historic Allen Fieldhouse meant something to Nebraska. Football coach Bo Pelini even attended the game.
The Jayhawks didn’t play their best game, but credit the Cornhuskers for making it close. Nebraska won the battle of the boards, 39-31, and played tough defense — especially on the interior. Sophomore forward Brandon Ubel grew up in nearby Overland Park, Kan., and attended games at Allen Fieldhouse. Like the other Huskers, he was hungry for Nebraska’s first victory there since 1999.
“I really wanted to get that win,” Ubel told the Lawrence Journal-World. “We were so close. … The fact that I’m not going to be able to come back here and give it another go is one of the more disappointing things.”
The emotions will be even stronger for Colorado coach Tad Boyle on Feb. 19 when the Buffaloes make their final appearance at Allen Fieldhouse. Boyle is a 1985 graduate of Kansas and played point guard for the Jayhawks. He is excited about the move to the Pac-10, but knows he will only get one chance to coach against KU in a conference game.
Boyle is a native of Greeley, Colo., and after building a program from scratch at Northern Colorado, he got the Colorado job when Jeff Bzdelik left for Wake Forest. With a new practice facility opening in April, Boyle is excited about Colorado’s future.
“This is not a stepping stone job for Tad Boyle,” he said during an interview last summer. “It’s a destination job for me. … This is where I want to be.”
The Colorado players are flourishing in Boyle’s system. Sophomore guard Alec Burks is averaging 19.7 points and is one of the most underrated players in the nation. But Burks isn’t a one-man show. Cory Higgins (16.6 ppg), Marcus Relphorde (12.0 ppg) and Levi Knutson (11.6 ppg) are all averaging in double figures scoring for CU.
Burks had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 75-71 win over Oklahoma State Saturday. Colorado is 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 1996-97, when they opened 6-0 and went on to the NCAA tournament.
“You have to give Colorado credit,” OSU coach Travis Ford told The Boulder Daily Camera. “They have come a long way. They’re not the team of the past. They are a very good basketball team.”
And their timing couldn’t have been better.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Jimmer Fredette is the talk of college basketball, especially after scoring 47 points in BYU’s 104-79 victory over Utah last Tuesday. So how could we possibly deny him the Player of the Week award, even if he gets it for the second consecutive week? If you haven’t seen the highlights, Fredette was 16-of-28 from the field, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range, and 9-of-9 from the free throw line. So just when you thought Kemba Walker was going to walk away with Player of the Year honors, you might want to reconsider. Fredette took over the national scoring lead that night with a 26.1-point average. “I just felt good right from the beginning,” Fredette said.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Terrence Jones scored 35 points against Auburn last Tuesday night and then apologized to teammate Doron Lamb. Why the apology? Jones had just broken the Kentucky freshman scoring record set by Lamb last month when he scored 32 against Winthrop. Jones came off the bench and demonstrated his versatility by scoring from points all over the floor. “I just wanted to do the little things on defense, run the floor hard and shoot it when I was open,” Jones said.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Monday, Jan. 17
Villanova at Connecticut
This has developed into one of the best rivalries in the Big East. Why should it be any different with Kemba Walker, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes on the floor? This is the start of a great Martin Luther King Day schedule on the ESPN networks.
Kansas State at Missouri
Curtis Kelly is back for K-State. Missouri’s grueling overtime loss to Texas A&M dropped the Tigers’ conference record to 1-2 — same as the Wildcats.
Syracuse at Pittsburgh
Coach Jim Boeheim’s leading scorer, Kris Joseph, won’t be healthy enough to play. In fact, he won’t even make the trip. That makes the task at Pitt even tougher. The Cuse might suffer its first loss.
Kansas at Baylor
The Ferrell Center will be amped up to greet the Jayhawks. But Kansas hasn’t lost in Waco since 2001.
Tuesday, Jan. 18
Colorado at Nebraska
For all the traditionalists out there, this is a slice of history. This is the next to last Big 12 game between these two. Both have shown remarkable improvement in conference play.
Michigan State at Illinois
Two overtime victories last week put the Spartans back in contention in the Big Ten. Now can they pick up a big win on the road?
Wednesday, Jan. 19
Duke at North Carolina State
The Blue Devils got off to such a smooth start, but last week was full of speed bumps. The trip over to Raleigh is always interesting.
Cincinnati at Notre Dame
The Irish will be glad to be home at the Joyce Center for this one. Notre Dame’s most recent road trip resulted in losses at Marquette and St. John’s.
Texas A&M at Texas
Mark Turgeon’s Aggies have been a huge surprise. The winner of this game emerges as the strongest contender to Kansas in the Big 12.
Thursday, Jan. 20
Virginia Tech at Maryland
Both of these teams have fallen below expectations, but you get the impression they aren’t far from busting out. This is a big ACC game.
Saturday, Jan. 22
Villanova at Syracuse
Syracuse hopes to have guard Kris Joseph healthy and back in the lineup for this game. Either one of these teams could win the Big East.
Ohio State at Illinois
With two big home games this week, the Illini could make a big difference in the Big Ten standings.
Kansas State at Texas A&M
You better make yourself familiar with Khris Middleton. He is a rising star at Texas A&M, a team that is quietly starting to make a lot of noise.
Kentucky at South Carolina
The Gamecocks love to cause trouble for Kentucky. Led by freshman guard Bruce Ellington, South Carolina is dangerous at home.
Iowa State at Missouri
Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones lost back-to-back Big 12 games to Nebraska and Kansas, but bounced back to beat Baylor.
Tennessee at Connecticut
The Vols take a break from the SEC and that earns coach Bruce Pearl a “Get Out Of Jail” card.
Texas at Kansas
This is the rivalry that has defined the Big 12 Conference. The Jayhawks will be shooting for their 70th consecutive home court victory.
Sunday, Jan. 23
Wisconsin at Northwestern
If John Shurna doesn't score, Northwestern finds itself in big trouble. Michigan State held Shurna to six points and the Spartans won in OT.
THEY SAID IT
“I have failed this team. I’ve got to do a better job of making us see how well we can play.” — Kansas State coach Frank Martin, after deciding to show his team video of wins over Gonzaga and Virginia Tech earlier this season.
“Look at anybody’s next six games in this league. It is by far the best league in the country. Everybody watches it because it’s drama and it’s playing out again.” — Notre Dame coach Mike Brey after his team lost to St. John’s 72-54.
“They’re kind of similar to a Big Ten team. It kind of reminded me of Minnesota. It wasn’t anything I haven’t seen before.” — Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, after a 68-64 loss to West Virginia in Morgantown.
“It’s someone’s girlfriend. (Reading) ‘Meet me at Jake’s … Is there a Jake here? …. (puts down the phone) I shouldn’t be getting messages on that. I told them not to call me on someone else’s phone.” — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, reading a text message from a reporter’s buzzing cell phone at the press conference following the Blue Devils’ loss at Florida State.
“When he starts to shoot from 40 feet out you know he’s feeling something. You kind of wanted to keep giving him the ball.” — BYU’s Jackson Emery, commenting on Jimmer Fredette’s 47-point performance in a 104-79 victory over Utah.
“If that does happen, the thing that excites me the most is that’s the second time we’ve been there in a few years. I think it’s great for the program. I don’t know how many schools can say that they’ve been in that position. We’re definitely one of them.” — Ohio State coach Thad Matta on the possibility of rising to the No. 1 spot in the polls. Ohio State ended the 2006-07 regular season as the No. 1 team.
• Guard Jeremy Hazell is playing again at Seton Hall and somehow that just seems like a miracle. We’ve been updating you on the preseason first-team All-Big East selection since November. He went into the season as the centerpiece of everything the Pirates wanted to do, but a wrist injury immediately ripped him from the lineup. The uncertainty of his return upset Hazell deeply. Then on Christmas Day, Hazell was shot, hit by a bullet as he fled armed robbers in Harlem. Suddenly a wrist injury didn’t seem so serious. Hazell could have lost his life. But rather remarkably, there he was last Wednesday, scoring 23 points in a victory over DePaul. We’ve seen comeback stories before, but maybe nothing like this. “I was just happy to get back with my team,” he said. “When they told me I could play, there was no holding back.”
• Reggie Moore, starting point guard at Washington State, has been suspended indefinitely. Coach Ken Bone made the decision and Moore was in street clothes when the Cougars defeated Stanford Saturday. According to the Associated Press, Moore received two misdemeanor citations last month involving marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He was cited after a Dec. 11 search of a dorm room. Bone told the rest of the team about the suspension as they were getting off the bus at Maples Pavilion.
• Again, if you’ve been paying attention to this space, we predicted the first loss of the season for UCF would come against Southern Miss. The Knights did lose there 86-69. But it wasn’t the first loss for UCF. That came a week ago Saturday at Houston. So now UCF has lost two in a row and everyone is casting doubt over that 14-0 start. Southern Miss, under the direction of former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy, scored its first home victory over a ranked team since 1986. There’s a lot to think about there. Most important, UCF might not be as impressive as originally thought.
• The soap opera at Memphis has gotten out of hand. Now coach Josh Pastner has suspended Wesley Witherspoon. There’s no doubt Witherspoon, a veteran with outstanding athletic ability, is a major key to the Tigers. But Pastner had little choice. Reportedly, Witherspoon mimicked an assistant coach by getting on the team bus’ loudspeakers and doing an impression of the coach — after a loss at SMU. It was supposed to be comical. But maybe Witherspoon should think about growing up a bit before he hurts his team again.
• Kansas State junior center Freddy Asprilla, who transferred to the Wildcats from Florida International and had started 13 games, has left the team. Coach Frank Martin called it a “mutual decision.” Martin offered no further explanation, other than to say he expected Asprilla to pursue pro opportunities in Colombia. “I found out last night,” Martin said before Saturday’s game against Texas Tech. “I don’t know what to tell you.” It’s just one more distraction for the Wildcats.
• Oregon’s new Matthew Knight Arena cost $227 million. It looks like a terrific building and I’m sure it tailored to the fan in every way possible — except actually watching the game. That court has to go. The idea is to pay tribute to the “Tall Firs,” that 1939 national championship team. My first impression? Someone spilled paint all over the floor. The more I watched on TV, the more problems I — and others — noticed. The lighting creates a horrible glare. The mid-court line is barely visible, even with a camera close up. Let’s hope there’s a new court in there by next season — if not sooner.
1. It’s obviously early, but which team really needs a big win this weekend?
Mitch Light: I’ll go with Wisconsin, which hosts Illinois. The Badgers let what would have been a great win on the road slip away in East Lansing on Tuesday night. Instead of a 3–1 Big Ten record, the Badgers are 2–2 with two wins at home and two losses on the road. UW lost at Illinois, 69–61, a few weeks ago due in large part to some poor outside shooting. The Badgers got some good looks at the basket but only shot .350 from the field, including .286 from three. If Bo Ryan’s club plans on hanging around in the league race, winning at home this weekend would be a very good idea.
Braden Gall: The Tennessee Vols have lost six out of nine — to some really bad opponents — and have started 0–2 in league play. A second straight home loss to in-state rival Vanderbilt would push the Vols record to 0–3 in SEC play and 10–7 overall. That would be almost insurmountable. If Tennessee cannot figure out how to play with consistency, instead of playing down to its opponents, Big Orange nation will be at home this March.
Nathan Rush: If K-State’s Jacob Pullen “won’t play in the NIT” during his “last go around” in Manhattan, then the Wildcats better win at home against Texas Tech on Saturday before hitting the road at Missouri for a quick turnaround Monday matchup. A preseason top-10 pick by many, K-State has early losses to Duke, Florida, UNLV, Oklahoma State and Colorado. It’s not quite do-or-die time, but when a star player is in panic mode about the NIT in January, one or two conference wins will go a long way.
2. Which coach from a Big Six power conference is on the hottest seat right now?
Mitch: Since I spend far too much time wondering how Georgia Tech can struggle so much under Paul Hewitt, I will go in a different direction on this one. How about Pat Knight at Texas Tech? Knight called this a “make-or-break” season for him; well, the Red Raiders are 8–9 overall and 0–2 in the Big 12 (with both games at home).
Braden: In our weekly pick on Paul Hewitt segment, I will buck the trend and ignore the atrocious play at Georgia Tech and say Pat Knight at Texas Tech. There are only nine power conference teams currently under .500; the Red Raiders are one of those teams, and they have lost to the one with the worst record (South Florida at 6–12). Also, Texas Tech is 3–5 vs. teams from Texas this season, with losses to TCU, North Texas, UTEP, Baylor and Texas. Knight is a pathetic 11–33 in Big 12 play, and the overall mark of 45–51 isn’t what Tech signed up for when they hired someone named Knight.
Nathan: Even Oregon State coach Craig Robinson’s POTUS brother-in-law Barack Obama or his First Lady sister Michelle’s new best friend Oprah don’t have the power to save him. The Beavers have lost to Seattle, Texas Southern, Utah Valley, Colorado, Montana, George Washington, Washington State, Washington and UCLA. But Robinson’s squad does have wins over Arizona, Arizona State, Texas-Pan American, Howard, Charlotte and Texas-Arlington — so maybe those coaches deserve to be fired first. What OSU needs is a 6’2 lanky lefty shooter with 1979 Punahou (Hawaii) High School state championship experience. If only “Barry O’Bomber” didn’t have so much going on right now...
3. Ohio State has emerged as the best team in the Big Ten. Whose next?
Mitch: I really like the talent level at Illinois, but Purdue has been very impressive (despite the loss at Minnesota Thursday night). The Boilermakers don’t really have any great wins, but they have been consistent on both ends of the court. Purdue ranks No. 4 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. This team is capable of winning the Big Ten.
Braden: It is a boring answer, but 15¬–2 Purdue is probably the second best team the Big Ten. The Boilers have two elite players in guard E’Twaun Moore and center JaJuan Johnson. They have a head coach who has transitioned from green rookie to grizzled Big Ten vet in a quick five years. And the injury to Robbie Hummel has opened the door for younger players to develop — eight Boilermakers are averaging over 17 minutes per game. Keep an eye on Michigan State, however, as the improbable comeback against Wisconsin this week could springboard the Spartans into another great Big Ten season.
Nathan: I will go down with the Michigan State ship as long as Tom Izzo is its captain. The 64–61 overtime win over Wisconsin was a good bounce-back following a 66–62 loss at Penn State. Other than being haunted by the ghost of JoePa, Sparty has respectable defeats to UConn, Duke, Syracuse and Texas. But Izzo’s club has NCAA Tournament experience, an inside-out game and toughness. When it comes time to dance in March, Izzo’s team may even outlast Ohio State.
4. Who is your favorite college hoops color commentator.
Mitch: Before this season, I would have said Jay Bilas, but I want to throw Dan Dakich into the mix. The former head coach at Bowling Green and interim coach at Indiana has been terrific on ESPN’s Big Ten telecasts. He knows that league so well, and he does a great job explaining the Xs and Os.
Braden: Jay Bilas is the best in the business. He delivers original, timely commentary no matter the situation. There are no clichés or over-the-top antics. He states his case succinctly and with eloquence — like the lawyer that he is. If you want the antics or clichés, there is none better than Bill Raftery. Onions!
Nathan: CBS and Big Ten Network play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson is more “colorful” than any color commentator in the business. I think he could call a game by himself. But if I have to go with a former coach or player — (and who’s to say Gus doesn’t “rise and fire” a “big time J” or “get buckets” in an “unbelievable” style worthy of an “ohhhhh” reaction?) — I’ll still cop out. Give me former color man and current Saint Louis Billikens coach Rick Majerus — or if I really can hand-pick who has the microphone, NBA legend Hubie Brown. Both are basketball brainiacs who have seen it all and provide insightful observations and legitimate strategic suggestions.
5. Name a player who isn’t well known that has impressed you over the pat few weeks.
Mitch: I’m going to go back to Purdue and talk about guard Ryne Smith. Smith scored in double-figures just once during nonconference play (11 points vs. Austin Peay) but scored 13 or more in each of the Boilermakers’ first four Big Ten games. In last Sunday’s 75–52 win over Iowa, Smith scored 18 points and added three assists and three rebounds. He struggled last night against Minnesota (three points in 25 minutes), but Smith has emerged as another threat on a very good Purdue club.
Braden: His play has not necessary translated into big wins just yet, but Michigan’s Darius Morris has been outstanding. He is leading the Big Ten in assists at 7.3 — which is good for fourth nationally. He is also leading the Maize and Blue in scoring at 15.4 points per game and does an excellent job on the glass for a point guard (3.5 boards per game). Once he learns to cut back on the turnovers (3.6 per game in conference play), Morris will take his place among the league’s best.
Nathan: If you don’t already know about South Carolina freshman point guard Bruce Ellington, that won’t be the case for much longer. The state championship winning quarterback — who was a Mr. Football finalist also-ran to current Gamecock running back Marcus Lattimore — has been hot and cold; but when he’s hot he’s nearly unstoppable. In his first season as a basketball-only athlete, Ellington has shown flashes of Devan Downey potential. The sky is the limit for Ellington, who scored 22 points (hitting 6-of-10 from three) with seven boards, four assists and two steals during an 83–75 come-from-behind overtime win over Vanderbilt last Saturday.
Saturday was one of those upsetting days in college basketball — at least upsetting for ranked teams. Not sure if you were counting, but seven ranked teams lost to unranked teams.
Based on those results, it seems safe to predict some wild and crazy conference races this season. The conference tournaments should be full of pressure too because the more losses that build up on those NCAA resumes, the more pressure there is when the bubble starts shrinking and the selection committee gathers in Indianapolis to make its decisions.
Just to top off the weekend wildness, No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Kansas all appeared vulnerable on Sunday. All three ultimately remained undefeated. But Duke, playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium, trailed Maryland early in the second half. Ohio State held on for a 67-64 home victory over Minnesota. Kansas struggled against Michigan’s zone, lost a big lead in the second half, and had to go overtime to defeat the Wolverines.
Kentucky should still be the favorite in the SEC, despite Saturday’s loss to a good Georgia team in Athens. UCF was due to pick up that first loss soon, but no one really thought it would come against Houston. Missouri’s 89-76 loss at Colorado qualifies as a huge upset, especially given Missouri’s high-level of play recently, but we will excuse the Tigers in an early conference road game.
But there are four teams that seem to be caught in a disturbing trend. We are talking about four teams that were Top 15 selections in the preseason polls. All four lost again Saturday, so we’re going to lump them together, call them our Fuzzy Four, and ask “What’s wrong with these guys?”
Michigan State: I’ve been lucky enough to be around Tom Izzo and his program for some big regular-season games, early season tournaments, the NCAA Tournament, and the Final Four. I’ve never seen Izzo as dumbfounded as he was Dec. 7 at Madison Square Garden when Syracuse crushed the Spartans. Michigan State teams normally take the battle to the opponent. Syracuse out-worked, out-played and out-smarted the Spartans in that game. And things haven’t gotten much better for Izzo’s crew. The Spartans lost 66-62 at Penn State Saturday. Point guard Kalin Lucas wasn’t at full strength against Syracuse, but the big thing was the way Michigan State let Syracuse attack the boards and dominate. Izzo leaned against a wall outside his team’s locker room and looked like a man without any answers. Most people thought the Spartans were headed back to the Final Four this season. Instead, they are 10-5 overall, 2-1 in the conference, no longer the favorite to win the Big Ten and sliding toward a lower seed in the NCAA Tournament. Izzo called the Penn State defeat “one of the most disappointing losses of my career. … We had one of our best weeks of practice.” Things are very fuzzy for Izzo right now.
Georgetown: The Hoyas are 1-3 in Big East games, including a road loss to St. John’s last week and Saturday’s 65-59 home loss to West Virginia. Chris Wright and Austin Freeman are seniors. Jason Clark is a junior. The Hoyas should be using their experience to beat opponents. Maturity appeared to be on their side during the nonconference schedule. Now they can’t shoot, and turnovers are torturing coach John Thompson III (18 against West Virginia, 13 against St. John’s). Wright says team confidence and morale are down. The Hoyas are good enough to pull out of this. The question is how long will it take?
Kansas State: The preseason rankings for the Wildcats were an insult to guard Denis Clemente. The tandem of Jacob Pullen and Clemente made K-State special last season. Pullen is still a talented college player, but he is Robin without Batman. The Wildcats shouldn’t have been favored to win the Big 12 and they shouldn’t have been thrust into a Final Four forecast. Clemente was a leader. Obviously, we now know this team lacks leadership. Pullen is back from his suspension. Curtis Kelly will be back soon. But don’t expect Kelly to show a sudden burst of maturity. It’s not in his makeup. The Wildcats are still a factor in the Big 12 but at 12-4 and 0-1 after Saturday’s 76-62 loss at Oklahoma State, I think the bar has been lowered considerably. When you turn the ball over 21 times and commit 31 personal fouls, your chances of winning are reduced. K-State has to learn that.
Tennessee: The Vols are in serious trouble. They’ve lost five of their last eight. Coach Bruce Pearl just started his eight-game suspension for SEC action, and the Vols responded with a 68-65 loss at Arkansas. In the game before that, the Razorbacks had lost 79-46 to Texas. You do the math (not sure what number you come up with, but it is bad for Tennessee). The Vols continue to get pumped up for ranked teams and then don’t turn it on against other opponents. Emotion can be a good thing, but it can also backfire. Pearl has hurt his team. He should have been fired for lying to the NCAA. Then the Vols could have regrouped and moved on. Instead, this bad environment hangs over them every time they play. That’s Pearl’s fault. And it’s the fault of a weak administration that didn’t want to dismiss a popular coach. Now the program pays the price.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds says Jimmer Fredette is “just uncanny. You can play him tough and he still gets his points. The minute you relax on him he makes shots. He is just a terrific player.” Those were Reynolds’ words after Fredette scored 22 points to lead No. 15 BYU to a 76-66 victory Saturday. Earlier in the week, Fredette scored 39 points on the road as BYU handled UNLV 89-77. It’s all just further proof that Fredette is a first-team All-America choice. In the two games, Fredette was 18-of-39 from the field, 15-of-17 from the free throw line and 10-of-21 from 3-point range. Add in nine rebounds and seven assists and you’ve got a Player of the Week performance that stood out above some other fine solo efforts.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Kemba Walker hit the winning shot for UConn against Texas on Saturday. And while Dick Vitale screamed about the need for UConn to keep the ball out of the hands of Jordan Hamilton with 2.4 seconds remaining in overtime, freshman Shabazz Napier made a stellar defensive play. On the live telecast, Napier got little credit, and that’s just wrong. J’Covan Brown’s inbound pass went to Cory Joseph, and Napier swiped at the ball. Joseph lost control just long enough that the final play was disrupted. Joseph could only manage an air-ball, and the Huskies won. Napier has played tough defense all season, and he had 15 points off the bench against the Longhorns and 18 earlier in the week against Notre Dame. In those two road games, he was 10-of-16 from the field and 7-of-7 from the line.
GAMES OF THE WEEK Monday, Jan. 10 Notre Dame at Marquette
If you aren’t interested in Auburn playing Oregon for the BCS championship, then this is your top alternative. Not all that attractive, but you can understand where the ESPN programming people are coming from on this one. Big Monday gets going next week.
Tuesday, Jan. 11 Wisconsin at Michigan State
This is pretty close to desperation time for Michigan State. Tom Izzo’s team needs to prove itself at home.
Florida at Tennessee
I want to know where Bruce Pearl is and what he is doing during Tennessee games as he serves his SEC suspension. At Arkansas, he supposedly watched from a hotel banquet room and then was picked up by the team bus on the way to the airport.
Wednesday, Jan. 12 Pittsburgh at Georgetown
When Pitt comes to town, you had better be on top of your game. Georgetown has been committing too many turnovers. That’s a bad mix unless the Hoyas take better care of the ball.
Syracuse at St. John’s
There should be a big crowd in Madison Square Garden for this game. Syracuse has a big following in the Big Apple. And Steve Lavin’s squad is waking up the city.
Duke at Florida State
The Blue Devils historically have had problems in Tallahassee. The Seminoles play tough defense but rank 205th in the nation in field goal percentage.
Kansas at Iowa State
Fred Hoiberg’s return to Ames was going very well until Saturday when Nebraska beat Iowa State 63-62. The Mayor will be looking to re-create the old days of Hilton Magic against the Jayhawks.
Thursday, Jan. 13 Purdue at Minnesota
The Boilermakers are 14-1 — even without Robbie Hummel. Better be careful not to forget about Purdue.
Providence at West Virginia
Someone has to be in last place in the Big East, but the Friars don’t play like your average basement dweller.
Virginia Tech at North Carolina
Both teams started the season thinking they would challenge Duke in the ACC. Both team have four losses overall.
Friday, Jan. 14 Butler at Detroit
Can the Titans knock off Butler and take control of the Horizon? We will find out.
Saturday, Jan. 15 Vanderbilt at Tennessee
With Bruce Pearl still in the SEC jail, this is a big opportunity for Vanderbilt, which swept the Vols last season.
Cincinnati at Syracuse
This won’t be a battle of unbeaten teams after all. Cincinnati’s loss at Villanova changed that. The Bearcats are still trying to prove themselves.
Missouri at Texas A&M
Khris Middleton and David Loubeau have the Aggies in the hunt for the Big 12 championship. This is a battle of two ranked teams.
Maryland at Villanova
When these two get together it kinda feels like a conference game. What conference? I don’t know, maybe the Big Atlantic Coast?
Sunday, Jan. 16 Providence at South Florida
Not convinced that the Big East is tough? Check out these two teams from the bottom of the standings.
Purdue at West Virginia
A gift for mid-January: Big Ten vs. Big East. Bring your shoulder pads. Someone might need stitches — and that’s just the crowd at Morgantown.
THEY SAID IT
“These guys are learning so much, learning how to play hard, together and unselfish. The biggest part of all that is learning how to win. It doesn’t just happen.” — Auburn coach Tony Barbee, after a 65-60 victory over Florida State that evened the Tigers’ record at 7-7.
“This is harder than I thought it would be. I don’t have any impassioned speech for the guys. I want to keep things as normal as possible. I haven’t even brought it up.” — Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl after a team shoot-around on Friday, the day before his eight-game SEC suspension began at Arkansas.
“The main thing when you see them huffing and putting like that is keep sprinting harder up and down, rim to rim.” — Colorado forward Austin Dufault, on breaking the Missouri press in a big 89-76 victory for the Buffaloes.
“For him to go around about 10 dudes and make that floater, it was a momentum change.” — Washington’s Isaiah Thomas on Venoy Overton’s runner as time expired in the first half, a basket that gave the Huskies a 40-39 halftime lead over Oregon State.
“Kemba Walker is Kemba Walker and he’s going to make a play.” — UConn coach Jim Calhoun after Walker and the Huskies rallied to defeat Texas 82-81 in Austin on Saturday.
• The Washington Huskies are 4-0 and on top of the Pac-10 standings despite the horrible news that point guard Abdul Gaddy tore his ACL in practice Tuesday and will be lost for the season. With Gaddy and Isaiah Thomas together, the Huskies had one of the best starting backcourts in the nation. Gaddy had worked hard in the offseason and the improvement from a rather routine freshman season had been obvious. Gaddy had started 41 games in his career. It’s a major blow to his personal improvement. Coach Lorenzo Romar has a few options in the backcourt. Venoy Overton is a senior who is battling several injuries but capable of making things happen. Freshman Terrence Ross may benefit the most, at least in terms of minutes and opportunity. Ross had 14 points in 16 minutes as Washington defeated Oregon State 103-72 Saturday.
• Not sure what all the uproar is about in the case of Enes Kanter. Did anyone actually think the NCAA would reverse itself in a case involving $33,000 in impermissible benefits? You can be sure Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn’t the only NCAA coach interested in a 6-11 center who might turn out to be a top 10 NBA Draft. But reasonable coaches dropped their pursuit when they investigated the circumstances. I disagree with those who complain about the inconsistency in NCAA penalties. Every case is different, and that means every ruling will be different. Calipari now says his job is to prepare Kanter for the NBA Draft. Wasn’t that always the case?
• In case you missed it: St. Bonaventure defeated Charlotte 92-88 in triple-overtime Saturday in Olean, N.Y. The Bonnies hit 9-of-10 free throws in the third OT. Charlotte was 8-of-9 — for the entire game. St. Bonaventure’s game total was 31-of-42 from the line. Two Bonnies logged 55 minutes, including forward Andrew Nicholson, who led all scorers with 34 points.
• Baylor coach Scott Drew wants senior guard LaceDarius Dunn to be a more complete player. But every once in a while the gunner in Dunn is going to burst out. Dunn scored a career-high 43 points and hit 10 3-pointers in an 89-72 victory over Morgan State.
• Colorado sophomore Alec Burks must have taken a lot of satisfaction from the 36-point memo he sent to Missouri in Saturday’s Big 12 opener for the Buffaloes. Burks, a 6-6 guard, is from Grandview, Mo., but the Tigers didn’t offer him a scholarship. Now Burks is emerging as a Big 12 star, averaging 20.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and shooting 35.5 percent from 3-point range. He scored 56 points in two games last week. The final schools on Burks’ recruiting list included Kansas State, Missouri State, Santa Clara and Wichita State. “How about Alec Burks?” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said in his postgame radio interview. “You always wonder about those when they’re from your home state. They want to make sure you know.”
• It was a difficult weekend to concentrate on sports. Games don’t mean much in the aftermath of a senseless event such as the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an attack that left six innocent people dead in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday. Athletic officials at Arizona and Stanford showed tremendous understanding of the entire situation and handled the postponement of their game with dignity and class. The game was played Sunday — not Saturday — in Tucson. Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said it was “an easy decision” and I suppose it was. But we’ve seen mistakes made in past situations. A community such as Tucson revolves around its campus activities. The compassion and understanding shown by the athletic directors, coaches and players should be held up as a positive example across the country.
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken's web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).