Articles By Mitch Light

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In the wake of Gary Williams’ retirement, there has been considerable debate about the quality of the Maryland job as it relates to the rest of the college basketball landscape. Like most, I believe it is one of the top 10 in the nation. I would put four at the top of the list — North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky (in no particular order) — and slot UCLA in at No. 5. After that, Maryland is in a select group that includes Texas, Ohio State and Illinois. Michigan State and UConn could easily be in the second tier, as well.

What makes Maryland such a good job? A history of sustained success, affiliation in an elite conference, fan support and an extremely fertile recruiting area.

But if Maryland is such a good job, then why have the Terps been so mediocre in recent years? Williams was one of the most respected coaches in the nation during his stops at American, Boston College, Ohio State and Maryland, but it’s a fair question to ask if the Terps underachieved during the latter years of his tenure.

The answer is yes and no, depending on how you interpret the numbers. In the nine seasons since winning the national title in 2002, Maryland compiled a 78–66 record in ACC games, an average of 8.6 wins per seasons. At first glance, that’s pretty mediocre, but consider the following: The Terps’ 78 wins rank third in the league over that stretch, behind Duke (107 wins) and North Carolina (97).

Is it fair to label a coach who has won the third most games in one of the top conferences in the nation as an underachiever? Yes, if that coach is the boss of a program that most believe is one of the 10 best in the nation. Since that title season, Maryland has only had a winning record in the ACC three times (11–5 in ’03, 10–6 in ’07, and 13–3 in ’10) and the Terps failed to make the NCAA Tournament four times. In the five seasons in which Maryland did make the tournament, it was seeded no higher than fourth.

So at no time in the past nine seasons have the Terps been regarded as a top-12 team at the conclusion of the regular season — not good for a school with the resources of Maryland.

— Mitch Light

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<p> Maryland averaged only 8.6 ACC wins since '02 title season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - 21:02
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By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)

Houston — It’s the most unlikely Final Four since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985. We have a No. 3 seed that finished in a three-way tie for ninth place in its own league (UConn), a No. 4 seed that went 2–6 on the road in its conference (Kentucky), a No. 8 seed that at one point this season lost consecutive games to Milwaukee, Valparaiso and Youngstown State (Butler), and, finally, a No. 11 seed that lost its final four conference games of the regular season, three of which were at home (VCU).

So who’s going to advance to the National Championships game on Monday night? Who knows. At this point, all we can do if offer an educated guess. Here’s mine:

Game 1 — Butler over VCU 
My first thought was to pick Butler. The Bulldogs are a seasoned group that has proven itself in the NCAA Tournament over the past two seasons. They advanced to this point by beating four very good teams — Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Florida. Those were my thoughts earlier in the week. Then, I switched over to the VCU camp. The Rams, after all, didn’t just beat some good teams to get to the Final Four — they beat them thoroughly. Any team that is good enough to beat Georgetown and Purdue by 18 points and Kansas by 10 is surely good enough to beat Butler. Right? The answer, of course, is yes, but only if this team continues to play at the same extraordinarily high level. Only if this team continues to bury the 3-point shot at such a high rate and continues to rebound the ball so effectively and continues to play defense with such tenacity. The guess here is that VCU will be unable to maintain the same level in all three phases. It’s been a magical ride for the Rams, but it will end Saturday night. I’m back with the Butler Bulldogs. 

Game 2 — Kentucky over UConn
At some point late in the season, Kentucky developed into a complete basketball team. Sure, John Calipari would prefer to have more depth and another low-post scorer would be welcomed, but this team that we all thought was flawed earlier in the season looks pretty darn good now. With Josh Harrellson producing around the basket (14.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg in the NCAA Tournament) and veteran wing players DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller playing at a high level to complement the talented freshmen, there’s not a lot this team isn’t doing well. Connecticut, however, will have the best player on the floor in junior guard Kemba Walker. The Huskies will need big a night from Walker, but he must be efficient as well. Kentucky will gladly allow Walker to score 30 points if he needs 25 shots to get his points. UConn must get production from its role players, and big man Alex Oriakhi must provide some scoring around the basket. In four NCAA games, he has scored a total of 25 points. That won’t get it done Saturday night. This figures to be a thrilling game played at a high level. Take the team with the better roster over the team with the best player.

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<p> Mitch Light offers his picks for Saturday night in Houston.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Friday, April 1, 2011 - 16:51
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1. There are four great point guards in the Final Four. Which one is your favorite?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): I don’t want to over-think this one. I’ve got to go with Kemba Walker, a first-team All-American who has been playing at an amazingly high level for the past few weeks. Joey Rodriguez at VCU, Shelvin Mack at Butler and Brandon Knight at Kentucky are all very, very good, but Walker is the best.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): As talented, and clutch, as Brandon Knight has been and as entertaining as Joey Rodriguez can be, how do you not go with Kemba Walker? The step-back buzzer beater against Pitt in the Big East Tournament was a thing of beauty. He is the best scorer of the bunch and has been simply unbeatable (12-0) in any tournament he has played in this season.

Nathan Rush: I’ve been a fan of VCU’s Joey Rodriguez since he, Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes were the state title-winning “Three Amigos” of Orlando’s Lake Howell High. Florida’s Billy Donovan snatched up Parsons and Calathes, while former Gators assistant-turned-VCU coach Anthony Grant (who is now at Alabama) was able to sign Rodriguez to the Rams. J-Rod has been as valuable as any player in this year’s NCAA Tournament — averaging 10.2 points, 7.6 assists (compared to only 2.0 turnovers), 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals over five games. It’s good to finally see Rodriguez getting the national exposure he deserves. He’s my favorite point guard in the Final Four.

2. What is more of a surprise: Butler in its second straight Final Four or VCU making the Final Four?

Mitch: Well, I am more surprised that VCU is in the Final Four, because the Rams were a No. 11 seed and had lost their last four regular-season games in the CAA. But I think Butler making it the Final Four for the second straight season is a bigger story. It is very difficult for make the Final Four once. Just ask BYU, Missouri and Alabama, three schools with over 20 trips to the NCAA Tournament without a Final Four appearance. Butler has now done it two times in a row. It’s truly one of the most amazing stories in college basketball over the past two decades.

Braden: VCU is more surprising in my mind. They have played one more game than everyone else as one of the last teams to make it into the bracket. It really isn’t a shock that a team that played for the national title last season made it back to the Final Four the following year.

Nathan: VCU making the Final Four as a controversial “First Four” at-large bid is definitely more surprising than Butler advancing to the Final Four for the second straight season. The Bulldogs lost Gordon Hayward to the NBA Draft — where he went No. 9 overall to the Jazz — but returned a brilliant coach (Brad Stevens), blue-collar big man (Matt Howard) and clutch lead guard (Shelvin Mack). The Rams, however, lost five of their last eight games before making the NCAA Tournament field of 68. Since then, Shaka Smart’s team has knocked off USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas. That’s Shaka-ing to me.

3. Name a role player who will have to step up for his team to win two games in Houston.

Mitch: Kentucky’s Josh Harrellson is one guy who will need to play well, but I will go with Butler freshman Khyle Marshall. He plays about 20 minutes, gives the Bulldogs a little bit of scoring (7.7 ppg in the NCAA Tournament) and some quality work on the boards (6.7 rpg). Marshall, who signed with Butler before last year’s amazing run to the Final Four, is the type of under-the-radar recruit who has put the Bulldogs in position to compete on a national level.

Braden: Anyone named Lamb. Whichever Lamb shows up in the Kentucky vs. UConn game will win the national title. Both UK’s Doron and UConn’s Jeremy can shoot from long range, both are solid passers and both can handle the ball.

Nathan: Kentucky freshman Doron Lamb undoubtedly will shadow Connecticut’s Kemba Walker for much of the UK-UConn showdown. And the Oak Hill product from New York City must play the type of lockdown defense he played for key stretches against North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes in the Elite Eight victory. Offensively, Lamb must continue to knock down open shots from long range — where he shot 48.1 percent (65-of-135) this year, including 62.5 percent (5-of-8) in the NCAA Tournament. Lamb must play great defense and hit big shots under pressure in order for the Cats to advance to the title game and, ultimately, cut down the nets in Houston.

4. Should the NCAA reseed the teams in the Final Four?

Mitch: No. Bad idea. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Braden: Great question. The answer to that question 99 out of 100 times is absolutely not. This would be the only year that even raises the issue. An 8 vs. 11 match-up has never happened in the Final Four and may never happen again. It’s unfortunate that the national title will be determined on Saturday in the Kentucky-UConn game, but those are the cards basketball fans — and CBS — have been dealt. The best we can hope for on Monday night is that Butler will give us another great effort.

Nathan: Absolutely not. All region champs are created equal at this time of year. Any team that wins four straight games (or five, in VCU’s case) in the Big Dance has proven it belongs. These are the four No. 1 seeds, in my opinion. Plus, reseeding could backfire. If UK and UConn were split up, they could both lose. Then, there would be a Butler-VCU title game. As it stands, at least one member of basketball royalty will be playing an underdog for the crown on Monday night in Houston.

5. Who will win it all?

Mitch: Right now, I think Kentucky is the best team. If the Cats continue to get solid play from Josh Harrellson, a perceived weakness is a strength. Kentucky is getting great play from its veteran wing players Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins, and the entire team is hitting big shots in the big moments.

Braden: The experience and will power of Kemba Walker will give the Huskies the slight edge over Kentucky. However, something tells me that this is John Calapari’s year. Every time North Carolina got to within one or two points, Brandon Knight would knock down a huge shot. These Cats can shoot the ball better than any of Cal’s past teams, and it appears the coach has finally learned that you have to run half-court sets to win a championship. Even if the banner is pulled down in three years.

Nathan: Kentucky over Butler. This is not John Calipari’s most talented collection of players but it may be the best “team” he’s ever had, not to mention the best coaching job he’s ever done. The emergence of senior junior college transfer Josh “Jorts” Harrellson — who stepped up when the NCAA suspended five-star freshman Enes Kanter for the season — has provided championship-caliber heart and soul for the Cats, while juniors DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller add athleticism and experience to a core trio of freshmen — point guard Brandon Knight, wingman Doron Lamb and forward Terrence Jones — who are playing with poise beyond their years. Butler is no easy out but if Coach Cal can avoid a repeat of his Memphis-Kansas Monday night meltdown — when he let a championship slip through his fingers — UK will raise the eighth banner in school history.

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Post date: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 - 15:46
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Path: /columns/national-notebook/four-teams-many-stories
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By Ken Davis

When Jim Calhoun embarked on his career as a NCAA Division I basketball coach at Northeastern in 1972, he was 30 years old — even younger than Butler’s Brad Stevens or VCU’s Shaka Smart as they head to the 2011 Final Four.

Fourteen seasons at Northeastern gave Calhoun an understanding of the whole mid-major, David vs. Goliath issue, but the hurdles were much different back then for the young coach from Boston.

“Making our way through, we always felt the elite were the elite and just to play them was great, never mind beating them,” said Calhoun, who is now 68 and leading Connecticut to a Final Four for the fourth time since 1999. “Now, everybody can beat everybody. I think it’s good for the sport.”

Calhoun can say that without any trepidation, because his team is still alive and just two wins away from UConn’s third national championship. The Huskies still fall on the elite side, along with Kentucky, their semifinal opponent. But Kansas, Georgetown and Purdue actually feel the pain because they all lost to VCU. And the same goes for Florida, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh, who were Butler’s big-name victims in this tournament.

Since tournament seeding began in 1979, there has never been a Final Four like this. The school banners hanging over the festivities at Reliant Stadium in Houston will have a much different look and not just because Butler and VCU have crashed the power conference party.

The absence of either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed is unprecedented. With the benefit of time, we may look back on this Final Four as the one that changed all our previous perceptions.

“The teams that play the best basketball in the tournament are the teams that have a chance to win the tournament,” Stevens said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from or how big your football program is or how much money is in your athletic department.

“It’s about a group of kids coming together, five guys playing on the court at once, hopefully believing together. … There’s no politics in this. There’s a 40-minute basketball game. That’s the beautiful thing about it.”

Calhoun says it is the cumulative effect of players leaving early for the NBA.

“This year we noticed,” Calhoun said. “I said all year there are some terrific teams. Pitt, Ohio State, Kansas … but there may not be a great team. It there’s not a great team, it opens up the field for everybody else. That’s what happened.”

Who needs further expansion? With 68-teams, better players and better coaches at all levels, the formula seems almost perfect.

Without a doubt, that is the top storyline for this Final Four. Here’s the rest of our Top 10:

Lighting A Fire
VCU has made history, going from the “First Four” to the Final Four in this first tournament with a 68-team field. No other team in history has had to win five games to reach the Final Four. And this is a team with 11 losses. The Rams were 3-5 in February. On March 1, Smart found a new way to light a fire under his team. Smart gathered his players together, took the month of February out of his desk calendar, used a lighter and set it on fire. “The guys watched it burn,” Smart said. “That was symbolic for us, putting the month of February behind us.” Said Calhoun: “I love it.”

Calipari Was Hired For This
Tubby Smith couldn’t please the fans in Big Blue Nation. The Billy Gillispie Era was a disaster and lasted two seasons. On April 1, 2009, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart introduced John Calipari as the coach of the Wildcats. His critics call him Coach Vacate because Final Four appearances with Massachusetts and Memphis have been stricken from the NCAA record book because of rules violations. But Wildcat fans love Coach Cal for taking Kentucky to the Promised Land for the first time since the Comeback Kids of 1998. “I’m young enough that I am not worried about my legacy,” Coach Cal said. “I am trying to win one more game.”

Take The Money And …
VCU athletic director Norwood Teague says he’s going to keep Smart as coach of the Rams. How much cash will that take? Smart has gotten smarter and hotter as a coaching prospect as the Rams moved on in the tournament. With his aggressive and attractive style of play, you just know a school like NC State is ready to tangle big dollars in front of Smart’s eyes. Of course, Brad Stevens signed an extension after Butler’s big season and first Final Four last year. “There are so many factors that go into it,” Stevens said. “You have to figure out what’s best for your family, are you happy where you are, do you feel empowered when you go to work, do you like the people you work with, do you like the city you live in, and everything else.”

Youth Movement
This stat worked its way through media rooms across the country over the weekend. Stevens, 34, and Smart, 33, combined are younger than Calhoun, 68. “My two sons plus my problem child [Calipari],” Calhoun said during a conference call Monday.

Cal vs. Calhoun
That “problem child” reference brings us to the prime-time coaching matchup in the semifinal round. Calipari and Calhoun are anything but strangers. They went at each other hard and strong when Calipari coached at UMass. Both were trying to mark their territory. The schools were old rivals from the Yankee Conference (and before), and the coaches hated each other. The fire doesn’t burn quite as strong any more, but there is still a feeling of dislike. They have met a few times since Cal left Amherst, most recently in Maui when UConn won. The bottom line is their personalities are so similar there’s no way they could get along. “John always has been an aggressive, incredible personality who has developed into a terrific basketball coach,” Calhoun said. Calipari said he would be shocked if Calhoun ever retires. “He’s as good as they get,” Cal said of the UConn coach.

Kemba Power
It seems fitting that UConn point guard Kemba Walker will close out his college basketball career at the Final Four. Walker began his season of dominance at the Maui Invitational in November, which now seems like a lifetime ago. He had a little shooting slump when everyone started to doubt him, then he took the young Huskies on his back for this remarkable postseason run. Five wins in five days at the Big East Tournament. Now four more wins in the NCAA, to make it nine in a row. This is UConn’s second Final Four in three years, but last season was an NIT disaster, and the cloud of the NCAA investigation into recruiting violations hung over the Huskies all season. UConn’s Final Four run is almost as amazing as that of VCU or Butler.

This isn’t Indy
Butler was the home team at the Final Four in Indianapolis last year. It was remarkable. The Final Four hadn’t seen anything like it since Danny Manning and his Miracles at Kansas won the 1988 championship in Kansas City, Mo., and Kemper Arena. But Lucas Oil Stadium was on a whole different scale. Duke had to win the national championship playing a road game. “Nothing will be like Indy. Indy was crazy,” Stevens said. “If there's 30,000 people [at open practice] they're going to try to be getting whoever else's autographs are there in Houston. It's not going to be for our guys. ... But trust me, we will play anywhere they send us and we are thrilled to go to Houston."

Get the point
Walker, named to first team Associated Press All-America team Monday, may be the star of this Final Four. But the other three teams have talented point guards who direct the traffic, call the signals and provide the leadership. Can you remember a Final Four team that didn’t have that? The Butler-VCU game will match Shelvin Mack of Butler against Joey Rodriguez of VCU. Mack wasn’t highly recruited, but he fits the Butler system perfectly. Rodriquez is a senior who never backs down. His distribution to his teammates was a key in the win over Kansas. And Walker will be going against freshman Brandon Knight, the Most Outstanding Player in the East Regional and the king of the buzzer beater in this tournament. The Kentucky media guide says Knight chose the Wildcats over UConn, Florida, Kansas, Miami and Syracuse. It should say about 300 other schools wanted him. “If I spent all my time on the kids we lost, I’d fantasize and we would have won a lot of championships because we’ve lost a lot of good players,” Calhoun said. “I’m more interested in the kids we get.”

Ratings Game
Fans say they love the Cinderella teams. But do they really? We will find out Saturday when the semifinals play out on CBS. Butler vs. VCU first and then the bluebloods, Kentucky vs. UConn. The ratings for this tournament have been off the charts so far, but will the viewers embrace this Final Four? By this time, the Cinderellas have usually turned to pumpkins. “It’s going to be fine,” Mike Aresco, CBS Sports executive vice president, told USA Today. Aresco likes Butler as a “big story” and the two young coaches. He didn’t mention Calhoun’s “problem child” but you can be sure the ratings will be high in Kentucky.

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/).

 

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Post date: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 09:48
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1. Which Sweet 16 matchup are you most looking forward to watching?

Mitch Light: There are a bunch of good ones, but I’m interested in the Duke vs. Arizona game in Anaheim. There’s star power with Arizona’s Derrick Williams and Duke’s Nolan Smith — two All-Americans — and then there is the Kyrie Irving storyline: How much of an impact will he have on the game? I think the key will be Williams vs. the Duke front line. He will need to have a monster game for Arizona to move on.

Nathan Rush: BYU-Florida will either be Jimmer Fredette’s final college contest or a repeat of last year’s first-round upset — when the Jimmer scored 37 points while leading the Cougars to a 99–92 double-overtime victory in Oklahoma City. I don’t know which one it will be, but I expect Jimmer to go out in style — the Naismith Player of the Year Award finalist is averaging 37 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds over his last four games.

Braden Gall: BYU and Florida. This Gators team is big inside, has veteran guards and an extraordinary coach. And don’t forget about the extremely versatile Chandler Parsons, the SEC Player of the Year. Jimmer-mania got the Cougars out of the first weekend — something I did not anticipate, I will admit. So I won’t miss any game with Fredette — especially since it will be his last. Patric Young is playing the best ball of his young career. The Gators have too much interior size.

2. What National Championship matchup would you most like to see?

Mitch: A Butler vs. Duke rematch would be wild, but I don’t believe that will happen. I will be boring and go with Ohio State vs. Kansas. These were the two best teams for the majority of the season, and I would love to see them play each other for a national title.

Nathan: Ohio State and Kansas are the two best teams. And since North Carolina and Duke can’t meet in the title game, I’ll go with the top two rosters. But I do wish the Tar Heels and Blue Devils could go toe-to-toe with everything on the line. Maybe one day. If so, I want Gus Johnson on the mic.

Braden: North Carolina v. Kansas would certainly have some storylines. Florida and Kentucky would too. But Duke vs. Ohio State would be my pick. I think they are the best two teams in the nation, and I would love to see them battle it out in Houston — it just won’t be in the title game.

3. Which team are you most surprised is not playing this weekend?

Mitch: Well, anytime a No. 1 seed doesn’t make it to the Sweet 16 it’s a surprise, so Pitt is one answer. But I’m more surprised that Texas will not be playing in the Sweet 16. I really thought Rick Barnes’ team was ready for deep run. This edition of the Longhorns had enough talent to win a national championship, but they simply didn’t make the smart plays in crunch time against Arizona. Major disappointment.

Nathan: Rick Barnes did it again. Every year, I take Texas too far in my bracket. I was feeling pretty good when Cory Joseph prepared to inbound the ball with a 69–67 lead over Arizona and 14.5 seconds on the clock. Then, a failed timeout call and controversial five-second violation resulted in an opportunity for Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams to make a hero play, which he did. The rest is busted bracket history. But look out for the Longhorns next year; I’ll probably pick them to make the Final Four and maybe even win it all.

Braden: I am sure Texas would get a lot of votes, but the Horns consistently underachieve in the tourney (I had Zona). My pick is Notre Dame. A veteran, defensive-minded team that can shoot the lights out? There is no way that team should have been knocked out — especially the way they were.

4. If you were an A.D. and had a job opening, which coach would be higher on your wish list: VCU’s Shaka Smart or Richmond’s Chris Mooney?

Mitch: Mooney. Smart has done a great job guiding VCU to the Sweet 16, but he’s only been a head coach for two seasons and he didn’t recruit the key players on this team. And don’t forget, VCU lost its last four CAA regular-season games when it was — we thought — playing for its NCAA Tournament life. The sample size of Mooney’s work, however, is far greater. He went 18–12 in his lone season at Air Force (2004-05) and has built Richmond into a consistent winner. The Spiders have reached the NCAA Tournament in two straight seasons — which isn’t easy to do coming out of the A-10.

Nathan: I’ll go with the “Havoc Ball” full-court defensive pressure and fast-breaking offensive style of VCU’s Shaka Smart. Like his predecessor at VCU, current Alabama coach Anthony Grant, Smart coached under two-time national champion Florida coach Billy Donovan — who is the star of Rick Pitino’s extensive coaching tree — before arriving in the Commonwealth. I’d hire Smart, a coach cut from the Donovan-Pitino mold, over Mooney, a former wedding planner with a Princeton pace. But make no mistake, neither the Rams nor Spiders would be in the Sweet 16 without their top-flight point guards — Joey Rodriguez and Kevin Anderson.

Braden: Unfortunately, we just don’t know enough about Shaka Smart. Mooney has a much longer track record and built this Spiders squad himself. He has increased his win total four years in a row, building to this tournament. And his team took advantage by making it to the second weekend. Smart certainly looks the part, but Anthony Grant deserves most of the credit for the construction of this VCU team.

5. Who will win the national title?

Mitch: I’ll stick with Ohio State, my pick before the NCAA Tournament. There are plenty of teams that can beat Ohio State, but the Buckeyes are the best team in the country when they are playing well. They’ve got the big man in the middle in Jared Sullinger and a bunch of shooters on the perimeter. They will be tough to beat.

Nathan: After watching Ohio State crush UT-San Antonio, 75–46, in the opener and stomp on George Mason’s Cinderella dreams, 98–66, there’s no reason to go against my pre-Tournament national title pick. Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes will cut down the nets in Houston on April 4.

Braden: Duke. Duke. Duke. I picked them to cut down the nets before I learned Kyrie Irving would be back. This team is just as talented as Kansas, just as physical and athletic as Ohio State and has more experience than both. Give me Coach K.

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Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 - 16:53
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Path: /columns/national-notebook/ohio-state-sweetest-16
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By Ken Davis

So, how’s your bracket holding up? Don’t want to talk about it? I understand. I’d rather not talk about mine either, but I have no credibility without full disclosure.

I filled out half a dozen and they were all about the same, with minor tweaks here and there. Two emerged as my best efforts. On one, I have nine of the Sweet 16 (Kansas, Richmond, Wisconsin, BYU, Ohio State, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and San Diego State) correct with three of my Final Four teams (Ohio State, Kansas, Duke) still alive. The other has eight from this round.

Of course, there are those who made their picks based on mascots, celebrity fans, school colors and other important factors. Those people are ahead of me. That’s OK. I hope to finish strong and make a decent showing.

We’ve made that remarkable transition from 68 teams to 16, so now it is time to regroup and evaluate these teams. We offer the Sweet 16 power ratings, based on what we expected last week at this time and how the teams performed in the first week.

1. Ohio State – The Buckeyes were more than impressive. Ohio State took the court against Texas-San Antonio and George Mason and simply took care of business. That should make Buckeye fans confident and Ohio State opponents nervous. The Buckeyes outscored their two opponents 89-47 in first-half play alone. George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said his gameplan was to stop Jared Sullinger and Jon Diebler and then pray no one else got hot. So David Lighty was 7-of-7 on threes and had 21 points. William Buford scored 18. OSU has too many weapons. Kentucky is up next. Ohio State has a big advantage in experience, but this should be a great game. With Syracuse out of this bracket, I think Ohio State is headed to the Final Four.

2. Duke – Kyrie Irving is back. If you didn’t have the Blue Devils going to the Final Four, things have changed. Duke found a way to beat Michigan despite 25 percent shooting from 3-point range. Before heading to Anaheim, the Blue Devils can work on the specific roles of Irving and Nolan Smith, who had 24 against Michigan. Not a bad problem to have at this point in the season. Mike Krzyzewski won his 900th game and he may have started a personal tour of past national championship game opponents with Michigan (1992). Arizona (2001), and possibly Connecticut (1999), are waiting in Anaheim.

3. Kansas – Everyone can start breathing again in Lawrence. The Jayhawks got past the second round on the one-year anniversary of that loss last season to Northern Iowa. The weight of that memory was obvious in victories over Boston University and Illinois. Kansas started slowly in both victories, then executed offensively and dug in defensively for outstanding performances after halftime. Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris (the “Marcus twins” as Marv Albert refers to them) have been outstanding. They helped coach Bill Self put Illinois in the deep past. As long as the Jayhawks get the ball inside first, instead of settling for quick jump shots, they will be hard to beat. The road to Houston has opened up with No. 12 Richmond, No. 11 VCU and No. 10 Florida State joining Kansas in San Antonio.

4. BYU – The Cougars “Jimmered” Gonzaga and that was rather impressive. Jimmer Fredette scored 34 points and BYU made it back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1981. The Cougars have handled the loss of Brandon Davies better than anyone could imagine. BYU defeated Florida in the first round last year. The Gators are much improved, but can anyone stop Jimmer?

5. San Diego State – The more I watch the Aztecs, the more I’m convinced they could reach the Final Four. Kawhi Leonard is a great athlete who can beat you at both ends of the floor. D.J. Gay is a true leader at the point. But Malcolm Thomas and Billy White have had eye-opening performances for Steve Fisher’s team. They deserve more respect than they will get in a regional with Duke, UConn and Arizona.

6. North Carolina – Freshman Harrison Barnes says the Tar Heels make up for a lack of experience by playing with heart. North Carolina needed a little luck and some free throws to get past a hungry Washington team. With Tyler Zeller and John Henson playing bigger roles, the Tar Heels should beat Marquette and reach the East Final against Ohio State.

7. Florida – Tiny Erving Walker has played big for the Gators. That shouldn’t be a surprise on a team coach by Billy Donovan. The Florida victory over UCLA was impressive. And Walker came through when Kenny Boynton went down with his ankle injury. Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin have the Gators back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007.

8. Butler – About a month ago it seemed the Bulldogs might not make the field after reaching the Final Four last season. Now Butler is two wins away from a return trip. The victory over Pittsburgh ranks as one of the strangest games in Tournament history. Matt Howard is one of those guys you can’t help but root for. And I’ve run out of words to describe coach Brad Stevens.

9. Connecticut – For the Huskies, this is just a Big East Tournament with days off. No kidding. UConn had to beat Big East member Cincinnati again for the right to play in the Sweet 16. That’s the earliest meeting between two teams from the same conference in NCAA Tournament history. UConn hasn’t shown any signs of being tired after that Big East run. Jim Calhoun loves going West to reach the Final Four, so the trip to Anaheim is no big deal. Oh yeah, Kemba Walker is still driving the bus.

10. Kentucky – John Calipari’s young Wildcats just keep getting better. Kentucky survived two different styles to defeat Princeton and West Virginia. Brandon Knight seems more than comfortable in postseason play. Kentucky is good enough to reach the Final Four, but Ohio State is just too big a roadblock.

11. Arizona – Can’t you just see Arizona coach Sean Miller stepping out of a dugout, walking to the mound and signaling for his closer. That’s what Derrick Williams has become for the surprising Wildcats. Williams blocks shots, grabs rebounds, makes baskets, completes three-point plays. He is Mr. Efficiency. And the Wildcats love having him on their side.

12. Florida State – The return of Chris Singleton couldn’t have come at a better time for the Seminoles. Singleton and Derwin Kitchen are the stars, but Leonard Hamilton’s team is winning with the toughest defense around. If you saw the look on the face of Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough, you understand the stifling feeling of going against Florida State right now.

13. Wisconsin – Raise your hand if you had Belmont over Wisconsin in the second round. I did. Coach Bo Ryan didn’t allow that. Then Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer sent Kansas State packing for home. Butler will be the sentimental pick over Wisconsin, but this should be a game played at a high level.

14. Marquette – Where’s Al McGuire? Marquette is playing North Carolina. Did someone turn the calendar back to 1977? Buzz Williams has done a remarkable job at Marquette. The Golden Eagles may have been the last of the Big East 11 to get into the field but they one of the last two still around (joining UConn). Great story.

15. Richmond – Coach Chris Mooney gets another week of exposure, then interviews and then he will be off to NC State or Georgia Tech or Oklahoma. He’s the best young coach around and already is in high demand. If you haven’t watched Kevin Anderson play, do so before he’s in the NBA. The Spiders may not advance but Kansas is in for a fight.

16. VCU – If you were ranking the hottest teams in the tournament, VCU would be at the top. The Rams crushed — I mean crushed —Purdue. This is what happens when a team gets hot at the right time. Of course, so many felt VCU shouldn’t have been in the tourney. Now more history will be made with the first 10 (Florida State) vs. 11 (VCU) matchup ever. The Rams took down USC, Georgetown and Purdue last week in the NCAA version of what UConn did in the Big East tourney. Coach Shaka Smart has likely found his ticket out of the Colonial. And VCU’s speedy, attacking style is hard for anyone to match.

EARLY ROUND REVIEW
It’s a good thing the NCAA is off until Thursday. I’m bleary-eye. I probably watched a dozen games start to finish in four days, but all together I think I can remember seeing parts of about 44 games.

After this week, I think HBO might be working on a miniseries about John Adams, not the former U.S. president but the NCAA coordinator of men’s basketball officials. And, I definitely, have the N-N-N-N Napa Know How. (Enough already.)

I like the move to four networks. It puts me in control and I can make the switches I want. But I’m lucky to have all four on my cable system. I feel bad for those who don’t have truTV or TNT or TBS. I know people who couldn’t watch their favorite teams. Something has to be worked out.

And I’m disappointed in Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley. They brought nothing to the table. They knew they were going to be on. Study the teams a bit more. Learn something about the players, not just the coaches who are “your friends.” Give me Seth Davis back in a prominent role. I know I can still find Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis after the game, but I can’t any more of The Jet and Sir Charles, especially Barkley’s juvenile attack on the Big East.

How many Big East teams needed to be in the Sweet 16? Eight? Four? What would prove to Barkley that it was the best conference during the regular season? I’m on my way to my 27th consecutive Final Four. I’ve never had anyone stop me right after the championship game and say, “Well that proves [the champion] plays in the best conference.”

How about this perspective: UConn and Marquette tied for ninth in the Big East. They are in the Sweet 16 and they had to beat another Big East team to get there. Sounds like a pretty tough conference to me. The Big East was the toughest. If had 11 good teams, no great teams — and that’s what most of us were saying all season.

MEMORIES AND PREDICTIONS

Best Buzzer Beater: The 3-pointer by Demonte Harper of Morehead State against Louisville.

Biggest Upsets: Morehead State over Louisville; Butler over Pittsburgh; Florida State over Notre Dame.

Biggest Disappointments: Louisville (should have reached Sweet 16); Vanderbilt (when will the Commodores get past their first game?); and Pittsburgh (why can’t the Panthers beat lower seeded teams?).

All-Sympathy Team: Nasir Robinson, Pittsburgh (for that foul against Butler); Jacob Pullen, Kansas State (for playing his heart out and not getting any support); Scoop Jardine, Syracuse (for not stepping into the backcourt to receive that inbounds pass), Venoy Overton, Washington (for that premature 3-point attempt); and Cory Joseph, Texas (five-second call against Arizona).

Regional Championships: Ohio State over North Carolina (East); Duke over San Diego State (West); Kansas over VCU (Southwest); BYU over Butler (Southeast).

 



 

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Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 09:39
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/nfl-perspective/nfl-labor-settlement-not-close
Body:

By Ralph Vacchiano

The NFL schedule for the 2011 season is still supposed to be released some time in mid-April. At the moment, though, there’s only one thing on the slate that really matters: An April 6 court date in Minneapolis.

It’s sad and unfortunate that it’s come to this, but that’s where we are with the NFL labor mess that imploded on March 11 and is now headed toward a possibly lengthy and likely ugly court fight. The NFL Players Association decertified as a union. The NFL owners followed suit by locking out the players.

There will be injunctions and motions and hearings galore before the next ball is snapped on an NFL field. The legalese will be as mind-boggling to outsiders as the terminology in the Green Bay Packers’ playbook. All that fans know for sure is that there will be no NFL football for a while because the owners and players couldn’t figure out how to divide $9 billion up.

“Regrettably, the parties haven’t achieved an overall agreement or been able to resolve strongly held competing views that separate them on core issues,” said federal mediator George Cohen after the labor talks blew up. “After reviewing the situation, it is the considered judgment of yours truly that no constructive purpose would be served by requesting them to continue mediation at this time.”

That’s the most important, rhetoric-free statement about how far the sides are from reaching an actual agreement. Everything else the two sides have said has been nothing but finger-pointing. Saints quarterback Drew Brees says the owners’ attempts to negotiate was “all a front, all a show, with no real intent to get a deal done.” Giants co-owner John Mara countered that the NFLPA wasn’t serious, that they negotiated “like they were in a hurry to get out of there on Friday and get into a Minneapolis courtroom.”

The result of nearly three weeks of mediation was pretty much nothing. They inched closer on some key issues — like a rookie wage scale, no 18-game season, and the all-important revenue split — but not nearly close enough considering they’ve been at this for two years.

That’s why George Atallah, the union spokesman, agreed with Cohen.

“The perception is that we were really, really close,” he said a few days after talks imploded. “The reality is: We really, really weren’t.”

So where does the NFL go from here? And is it possible there won’t be a 2011 season?

The answer, at this point, is they go slowly into uncharted waters. And sadly, anything is possible.

THE NEXT STEPS (in fluent legalese … or something close)

The April 6 showdown is a big one. Now that the union has decertified, it has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL — famously titled Brady v. NFL with nine NFL players and one college player as co-plaintiffs in the class-action suit. The biggest part of that suit is a request for an injunction that would block the lockout. The union needed to decertify — essentially reorganize as a “professional trade association” — to file that suit.

Chances are a decision in that suit won’t come immediately. Legal experts say it could be 2-4 weeks before Judge Susan Nelson delivers her decision. There is also the possibility — or likelihood — of an appeal after she does.

In other words, we might not know which way any of this is going until after the April 28-30 draft.

If the lockout-blocking injunction is granted, the NFL can actually resume, using the 2010 CBA rules — no salary cap or floor, six years to unrestricted free agency, etc. If it’s not, the players will be locked out indefinitely, meaning they’ll likely be forced to reform as a union and restart negotiations.

There’s also another wrinkle: The NFL has filed papers with the National Labor Relations Board trying to block the NFLPA’s effort to decertify. They claim it’s a “sham” based on the correct assumption that the NFLPA still exists and will eventually re-certify when this mess is over. If the NLRB sides with the owners, then they have no legal right to file a lockout-blocking injunction, which would also mean the lockout remains in effect.

WHAT TO EXPECT (in plain English)

Both sides seem to agree on one thing, at least privately: The only way this is going to get settled is to resume negotiations. Nobody really thinks Brady v. NFL will ever make a long and expensive trip through the legal system. The presence of it is simply about blocking the lockout and gaining leverage.

After April 6, when the lockout is either blocked or not, things will be a lot clearer. But it still seems to be most likely that the NFL will eventually temporarily re-open under the 2010 CBA rules while the two sides get together in a room somewhere and try to hammer out an agreement.

Could it last longer? Sure. There could be appeals or the lockout could be upheld. And yes, the season — or at least the start of it — could be in danger if the two sides dig in, instead of trying to find a middle ground.

Most people don’t think it will get that far. The players don’t want to lose the paychecks that start in September. The owners don’t want to lose the revenue from TV deals and games, etc. There’s too much money at stake for this to be much more than a painful offseason squabble.

At least, that’s what everyone hopes.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's Ralph Vacchiano updates the NFL CBA progress.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2011 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/michigan-tennessee-intriguing-early-matchup
Body:

1. Which first-round (or I guess we have to call it second-round) matchup interests you the most?

Mitch Light: I’m intrigued by Michigan vs. Tennessee, the 8-9 matchup in the East Region. Michigan has played extremely well over the last six weeks, with a 9–4 record in its last 13 games. Tim Hardaway Jr. has emerged as a consistent scorer, and point guard Darius Morris has done a great job running the show. This team is difficult to prepare for on both ends of the court. Tennessee has been one of the most schizophrenic teams in the nation, but the Vols do have talent. They are limited on the offensive end — Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris are the only consistent scorers — but have played very well on the defensive end. I’m picking Tennessee, but nothing would surprise me.

Nathan Rush: I’m looking forward to Washington-Georgia in the East Region’s 7-10 matchup. The Huskies are a fun team to watch, having most recently won the Pac-10 Tournament on a last-second buzzer-beater by Isaiah Thomas in overtime. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were a supposed “bubble team” that ended up getting much more respect by the Selection Committee than anyone anticipated. The Dawgs should be hungry to prove they deserve their spot, while UW looks to continue its recent run of success.

Braden Gall: I can’t wait for the UCLA-Michigan State game. Both coaches have loads of Final Four experience and talented rosters. Each plays solid defense, and both coaches have proven to be tournament wizards. Kalin Lucas is playing the best basketball of his career, so I am taking the Spartans and the Izzo March magic to move on. However, a national championship rematch is looming with the Florida Gators in the second round regardless of who wins this game.

2. Which third-round (formerly second-round) game do you most want to see?

Mitch: I think Texas vs. Arizona in a 4 vs. 5 showdown in the West would be fun to watch. Texas is my pick to make it to the Final Four from this region. I believe we will see the Longhorn team that raced out to an 11–0 start in the Big 12 — not the team that went 2–3 in its final five regular-season games. Sean Miller has done a tremendous job at Arizona, guiding the Cats to a Pac-10 title in his second season. Derrick Williams has been sensational, with his ability to crash the boards (8.1 rpg) and score around the basket and on the perimeter (.603 from 3-point range).

Nathan: Charles Barkley already has his heavily buttered popcorn ready for Arizona-Texas and so do I. These are two teams with difficult first-round matchups (Memphis and Oakland, respectively) who are capable of challenging Duke — assuming Coach K advances to his 20th Sweet 16 this season. Chuck implied that UA-UT was all but a done deal when he previewed the bracket on the NCAA Tournament selection show. If the Wildcats and Longhorns don’t play each other on the second weekend, that would be terrible.

Braden: Washington-North Carolina. Few teams finished the season as hot as the Pac-10 tourney champs did. Lorenzo Romar has a deep and experienced backcourt to go with athletic big man Matthew Bryan-Amaning in the post. North Carolina has elite NBA talents, but the Tar Heels have zero tourney experience. Look for the Huskies to pull the second-round upset — if they can get by Georgia. I would love to see the different styles in a Vanderbilt-Louisville game as well as another potential upset in an Old Dominion-Pitt meeting.

3. Name a player who needs to step up for his team to do well in the first two rounds.

Mitch: Vanderbilt forward Jeffrey Taylor must play well for the Commodores to avoid a first-round exit for the third time in their last three NCAA Tournament trips. When Taylor scores with consistency — as he did in the SEC Tournament (20.3 ppg) — John Jenkins gets more looks on the perimeter and Festus Ezeli has more room to operate in the paint.

Nathan: Jimmer Fredette has to play like Steph Curry in order for a Brandon Davies-less BYU squad to make the type of Tourney run fans were hoping for. And if anyone is capable, it’s The Jimmer, who averaged 28.5 points in 34 games this year. In the five games since Davies’ suspension, however, Fredette is averaging 35.4 points — including a 52-point night against New Mexico. The Cougars have taken a long fall from “potential No. 1 seed” to “early upset candidate” since Davies was kicked off the team. But BYU could still make an Elite Eight run — and Jimmer-mania could go out in a blaze of glory — if Fredette keeps pouring in 30, 40 or 50 points per game.

Braden: Lamont Jones, and to a lesser extent Kyle Fogg, of Arizona. A tricky first round match-up with Memphis will take patience and discipline, should Zona should move on with solid backcourt play. But facing Texas in the second round will take big games from the guards. The Horns are deep and talented on the perimeter, so if Sean Miller expects to move into the second weekend, he will need excellent games from his guards.

4. Do you have any double-digit seeds advancing to the Sweet 16?

Mitch: I do. The Belmont Bruins. I realize Belmont has emerged as a very popular pick, but I’ve been on the Bruins’ bandwagon since November. The Bruins have great depth and are tenacious on the defensive end. And please don’t use the word deliberate to describe Belmont’s offense: The Bruins average over 80 points per game.

Nathan: I don’t have any double-digit seeds advancing to the Sweet 16. I strongly considered No. 10 Michigan State in the Southeast Region. But the Gators playing in Tampa is too much of a homecourt advantage to pick against, especially with the inconsistent Spartans — who could have a tough time clawing their way past UCLA in the first round. Still, I’ll be kicking myself if Tom Izzo’s team makes another bracket-busting run in March.

Braden: Missouri could easily beat Cincy and then a worn-down UConn team to advance. The high-paced style of play could wear down a Huskies team that has played a ton of basketball in the last two weeks. Penn State and Michigan State could both pull upsets against Florida and San Diego State — who I view as the weakest two-seeds. Belmont, Richmond and Marquette could all make it to the second weekend as well.

5. For the national title, you can pick Ohio State or Kansas vs. the field. What’s your pick?

Mitch: I so like Texas, but I would have to go with the Ohio State/Kansas combo vs. the field because those are the two teams I have matching up in the national title game (with Ohio State winning).

Nathan: I’m picking Ohio State to win it all in my bracket but I’ll go with the field on this one. There are too many good teams out there with a chance to cut down the nets in Houston.

Braden: I will take the field. Duke is my pick to cut down the nets. And that was before we found out Kyrie Irving is likely to play.

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Post date: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 13:50
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/national-notebook/ken-davis-duke-will-cut-down-nets
Body:

By Ken Davis

Let’s give the NCAA Tournament committee some positive feedback. That group had a rough Selection Sunday.

At least they got the top four seeds right. And that wasn’t as easy as it might have looked. In the past two weeks, Ohio State and Kansas were the only teams that played with the obvious confidence of No. 1 seeds. They secured things by winning their conference tournaments.

Pittsburgh and Duke were wobbly but made it into the other two spots. In large part, that’s because other candidates, such as North Carolina, BYU, Notre Dame and Purdue, didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.

That’s about it for the positives.

Other than some unbalanced brackets, the committee had done its job reasonably well in recent seasons. Not so in 2011. When the post-selection debate focuses on the teams that were snubbed, that’s a pretty clear indication the committee didn’t do its job (kinda like those officials in the St. John’s-Rutgers game last week).

Once the games begin, most of us will move past the snubs, but at places such as Virginia Tech, Colorado, Harvard and Alabama, the hurt will linger all summer. It won’t feel better until everyone gets back on the court next October, and then the mission will be renewed. If you haven’t noticed, there is an obsession with making the NCAA Tournament. When you are kept out for unknown reasons, frustration turns to anger.

Virginia Tech and Colorado have the biggest gripes. And since this has become an annual thing for Tech, coach Seth Greenberg really couldn’t contain himself. Instead of going national on TV, Greenberg met with his local beat writers in his office. He voiced his concern that someone on the selection committee has an “agenda” when it comes to Virginia Tech.

That’s likely nonsense. But you cannot blame Greenberg for feeling that way. He has been told he needs to strengthen his non-conference schedule, so he did so. His Hokies beat Duke near the end of the season, but all that wasn’t enough.

“I totally wonder if someone in that room has an agenda,” Greenberg said. “The explanation was so inconsistent with the result that it was almost mind-boggling.

“I guess they even brought up our non-conference schedule. Kansas State, Purdue, Oklahoma State, UNLV, Penn State, St. Bonaventure that was supposed to be big and Mississippi State that was projected to win the SEC. I’d say that’s a pretty significant slate and challenge. So they must not have looked at it very closely. But I guess they did. I feel for these kids. Doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year ... but it’s extremely disheartening. You would hate to thing that politics would be involved, but it makes you wonder.”

It would be one thing if Gene Smith, Ohio State’s athletic director and NCAA Tournament committee chairman, offered any direct and specific explanations when asked about particular schools. But that never happens. It is chair tradition to answer questions without really answering them. They hide behind the “15 indicators” used to judge a team and then say, “That’s the way the vote turned out.”

Schools that have been left out should be provided with specific feedback and data, reasons that they missed the field. Without that, how can coaches and programs use this as a learning process?

The message sent to Colorado and Alabama was that their improvement over the course of the season didn’t matter. Both the Buffaloes and the Tide were much more successful in conference play than non-conference play. There was a time when one of the committee’s “indicators” was performance in the past 10-12 games. They say that isn’t used any more. I’m not sure it should have been dropped completely.

I watched all or part of probably 10 Colorado games on TV this season. The Buffaloes are NCAA worthy. So is Alabama, champion of the SEC West. Did you see Tommy Amaker’s face as Harvard walked off the floor after losing to Princeton in that playoff game Saturday? He probably knew right then that the NCAA committee wouldn’t take two Ivy League teams.

On the other hand, UAB evidently was rewarded for winning the Conference USA regular-season title. The Blazers got a First Four game against Clemson Tuesday at Dayton. (Don’t even get me started on Clemson’s resume.)

The winner in all this? The NIT. Alabama, Virginia Tech, Colorado and Boston College received No. 1 seeds in the NIT.

“I just feel like the way we’re playing right now, we’re one of the top 68 teams in the country,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “I know that. But we’re not in the tournament. We have to deal with it and move on. We have to make a statement in the NIT.”

Welcome to Move On Monday, the day after Selection Sunday.

STRANGE SEEDS
Florida really got a gift with a No. 2 in the Southeast. The Gators were clobbered 70-54 in the SEC championship game by Kentucky. Florida won the SEC East but still lost to Kentucky twice. The Wildcats got a No. 4 seed. That makes no sense.

Just a few weeks ago, Texas was being called the best team in college basketball. Then the Longhorns struggled a bit offensively and lost three of four (including one to Colorado). Then they lost to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament championship game and suddenly they are a No. 4 seed. That’s quite a tumble. Texas will play more like a No. 2 or No. 3.

Call this a weak tournament if you wish, but when you have Kentucky, Texas, Louisville and Wisconsin as the No. 4 seeds … well, that’s not too shabby.

BARKLEY BARKING
All the snub talk Sunday took some pressure off the Big East Conference. It was no surprise the league landed 11 teams in the field but the anticipated criticism was reduced a bit by the other distractions.

Sir Charles Barkley was about the only analyst leveling shots at the Big East. That wasn’t a surprise either, but this time his soap box was the CBS set. Joined by his TNT/TBS/NBA buddy Kenny Smith, Barkley launched his CBS invasion by continuing his complaint that one conference shouldn’t have 11 teams. (This merger will be good viewing, but I’m not sure about the commentary.)

And while everyone else was praising Kemba Walker and UConn for winning five straight games to capture the Big East tournament, Barkley was saying something about a 9-9 team not deserving the opportunity to play five games. Never did quite understand that point.

One problem the Big East has created for itself is third-round (formerly known as second-round before expansion) matchups against conference foes. But something had to give. Possible third-round games include: Marquette vs. Syracuse and Cincinnati vs. Connecticut.

“That’s a double-edge sword,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun told The Hartford Courant. “They know you; you know them. It does take away a little bit of preparation or adjustments.”

Smith said the committee didn’t struggle too much with that wrinkle.

“They have a conference scheduling format where they don’t play each other twice, some schools that only play once,” Smith said of the Big East. “When we did that bracketing, knew that we’d have rematches, we tried to match up the one plays and not the two plays. That created a slight challenge, along with all the other regular season matchups of other teams we were bracketing.

“It was a little bit more challenging than normal, but it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated it would be. It worked out very well. Actually, that question speaks to why a particular team is not always in its true seed. As you well know, teams can be moved one line. We try to avoid that when possible because we want to stay true to the integrity of the seeding process. But when you are in those scenarios, inevitably teams get moved.”

INJURY FACTORS
Georgetown guard Chris Wright has been cleared to play in the NCAA Tournament. A healthy Wright makes the Hoyas a different and better team. Wright broke his hand late in the season, and the Hoyas averaged 53 points in three games without him. The Hoyas are the No. 6 seed in the Southwest and will open against the winner of the USC vs. VCU game in the First Four. It will be interesting to see how limited Wright will be and whether he is wearing a cast.

St. John’s will be without senior forward D.J. Kennedy, who suffered a torn ACL in the loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament. Coach Steve Lavin said Kennedy will travel with the team and assist with coaching duties. The problem for the coaches will be splitting up his minutes and finding production to make up for Kennedy, who was the top rebounder and third-leading scorer for the Red Storm.

Duke guard Nolan Smith seemed to bounce back quite well from the toe injury that sidelined him temporarily during the semifinals of the ACC tournament. The big mystery continues to surround freshman guard Kyrie Irving, who told reporters Sunday that it is possible he could return to action in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Mike Krzyzewski downplayed that possibility but Irving raised eyebrows working out before ACC games Friday and Saturday. If he is cleared medically, you can bet Coach K will use him.

Florida State is still waiting on clearance for forward Chris Singleton, who has missed six games with a foot injury. He dressed and went through warm-ups in the ACC Tournament. Coach Leonard Hamilton said he never considered playing Singleton. The Seminoles are the No. 10 seed in the Southwest and play Texas A&M in the second round. They desperately need Singleton.

TOUGHEST REGIONAL
West. No. 1 Duke should still reach the Final Four. But this region is loaded with No. 2 San Diego State, No. 3 UConn, No. 4 Texas, and No. 5 Arizona. I like Duke over Texas and San Diego State over UConn in the Elite Eight. San Diego State will have a home crowd in Anaheim for the final, but Duke will prevail.

EASIEST REGIONAL
Southeast. Top-seeded Pittsburgh gets to Houston by beating Butler, Belmont and surprising UCLA, the No. 7 seed. I have UCLA beating No. 10 Michigan State, No. 2 Florida and No. 3 BYU. No. 13 Belmont is the Cinderella team of the tournament. The Bruins are going to stun No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 12 Utah State, a winner over No. 5 Kansas State.

BEST SECOND-ROUND GAMES (formerly first-round games)
East: No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 11 Marquette
West: No. 7 Temple vs. No. 10 Penn State
Southwest: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Morehead State
Southesast: No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Old Dominion

UPSET SPECIAL (5 vs. 12, of course)
Utah State over Kansas State

THIRD-ROUND GAMES WE WANT TO SEE
East: No. 7 Washington vs. No. 2 North Carolina
West: No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 4 Texas
Southwest: No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Notre Dame
Southeast: No. 3 BYU vs. No. 6 Gonzaga

FINAL FOUR PREDICTIONS
Duke over Syracuse; Kansas over Pittsburgh

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Duke over Kansas

Teaser:
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Post date: Monday, March 14, 2011 - 13:57
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/field-68-sunday-edition
Body:

Final five in: Penn State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, USC, Colorado
First five out: Alabama, Saint Mary’s Boston College, Harvard, UAB

ACC (5)
In: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech

America East (1)
In: Boston University

A-10 (3)
In: Richmond, Temple, Xavier

A-Sun (1)
In: Belmont

Big 12 (6)
In: Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M

Big East (11)
In: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

Big Sky (1)
In: Northern Colorado

Big South (1)
In: UNC Asheville

Big Ten (7)
In: Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin

Big West (1)
In: UCSB

Colonial (2)
In: George Mason, Old Dominion

Conference USA (1)
In: Memphis

Horizon (1)
In: Butler

Ivy (1)
In: Princeton

MAAC (1)
In: St. Peter’s

MAC (1)
In: Akron

MEAC (1)
In: Hampton

MVC (1)
In: Indiana State

Mountain West (3)
In: BYU, San Diego State, UNLV

Northeast (1)
In: Long Island

OVC (1)
In: Morehead State

Pac-10 (4)
In: Arizona, Washington, UCLA, USC

Patriot (1)
In: Bucknell

SEC (5)
In: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

Southern (1)
In: Woffford

Southland (1)
In: Texas-San Antonio

Summit (1)
In: Oakland

Sun Belt (1)
In: Arkansas-Little Rock

SWAC (1)
In: Alabama State

WAC (1)
In: Utah State

WCC (1)
In: Gonzaga

Teaser:
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Post date: Sunday, March 13, 2011 - 16:08
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/bracket-breakdown/hokies-are-%E2%80%A6-now
Body:

Final Five In: Saint Mary’s, Richmond, Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Alabama
First Five out: VCU, Clemson, Penn State, Colorado State, Baylor

ACC (5)
In: Boston College, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Worth a Mention: Clemson

Notes: Boston College, Virginia Tech and Clemson were each in the final pool of teams. Ultimately, Boston College and Virginia Tech sneaked into the field while Clemson (barely) missed the cut. It is very difficult to differentiate these teams. Boston College gained an advantage with its neutral site win vs. Texas A&M and road win at Virginia Tech late in the year. Virginia Tech has a win over to Duke to brag about. Clemson? It was hard to find something that stood out about the Tigers. A win over Boston College in the ACC quarters would help the cause.

America East (1)
In: Long Island

A-10 (3)
In: Richmond, Temple, Xavier
Worth a Mention: Dayton, Duquesne

Notes: Richmond is one of the final teams in the field. That win vs. Purdue in late November is the difference; without that win the Spiders would be on the outside looking in.

A-Sun (1)
In: Belmont

Big 12 (6)
In: Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M
Worth a Mention: Baylor, Nebraska

Notes: Colorado has a bad RPI (76), but it’s hard to ignore the Buffs’ quality wins — Texas, Kansas State (home and away) and Missouri. CU avoided a bad loss by beating Iowa State in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday. Baylor’s resume is highlighted by two wins vs. Texas A&M. The Bears will need to advance to the Big 12 title game — and they are capable of doing so.

Big East (11)
In: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

Notes: Marquette limped to the finish line, losing at home to Cincinnati and at Seton Hall in its final two regular-season games. The win over Providence on Tuesday did nothing but avoid a bad loss. Losing to West Virginia on Wednesday hurts, but the Eagles should still get in.

Big Sky (1)
In: Northern Colorado

Big South (1)
In: UNC Asheville

Big Ten (6)
In: Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a Mention: Penn State

Notes: Michigan beefed up its resume by completing the season sweep over Michigan State. The Wolverines can take another step forward by beating Illinois in the Big Ten quarters on Friday, but they will still be in decent shape with a loss. Michigan State cannot lose to Iowa on Thursday. That would be too much to overcome. Penn State has some good wins (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State), but they are all at home, and the Lions already have 13 losses.

Big West (1)
In: Long Beach State

Colonial (2)
In: George Mason, Old Dominion
Worth a Mention: VCU

Notes: VCU advanced to the CAA Tournament title game but lost to rival ODU. The Rams are very, very close but just missed the cut. There are some things to like — wins at Old Dominion and vs. UCLA — but there are a lot of losses (11) and some struggles down the stretch of the regular season (1–4 in final five games).

Conference USA (1)
In: UAB
Worth a Mention: Memphis, UTEP

Notes: UAB has a solid case even if it doesn’t win the C-USA Tournament. Memphis will need to get to the finals to be in the discussion for an at-large invite.

Horizon (1)
In: Butler

Ivy (1)
In: Harvard

Notes: Harvard and Princeton play on Saturday to determine the Ivy’s automatic bid.

MAAC (1)
In: St. Peter’s

MAC (1)
In: Kent State

MEAC (1)
In: Bethune-Cookman

MVC (1)
In: Indiana State
Worth a Mention: Missouri State

Notes: Missouri State doesn’t have a single win vs. a top-60 RPI team.

Mountain West (3)
In: BYU, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a Mention: Colorado State

Notes: Colorado State has floated in and out of the bracket this year. This week, the Rams are out. Bottom line: They have only one win vs. a team that is currently in the field (at UNLV).
Northeast (1)
In: Long Island

OVC (1)
In: Morehead State

Pac-10 (4)
In: Arizona, Washington, UCLA, USC
Worth a Mention: Washington State

Notes: USC is among the final teams in the field this week. The Trojans have 13 losses, but they also have some really nice wins — Texas, Arizona and UCLA at home and at Tennessee. And keep in mind, the losses to Rider, TCU, Nebraska and Bradley occurred before point guard Jio Fontan became eligible. Washington State has some good wins (two vs. Washington, Gonzaga, Baylor), but the Cougars’ RPI is 75 and they have three losses to teams ranked 130 or worse.

Patriot (1)
In: Bucknell

SEC (6)
In: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

Notes: Alabama closed the regular season with a win over Georgia, a team the Tide will likely play in the quarters of the SEC Tournament on Friday. A win would be huge for Anthony Grant’s team.

Southern (1)
In: Woffford

Southland (1)
In: McNeese State

Summit (1)
In: Oakland

Sun Belt (1)
In: Arkansas-Little Rock

SWAC (1)
In: Texas Southern

WAC (1)
In: Utah State

WCC (2)
In: Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s

Notes: The Gaels, who lost in the WCC finals to Gonzaga, will be sweating on Selection Sunday. The loss at San Diego late in the season is very troubling, but that is the Gaels’ only bad loss.

Teaser:
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Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 10:43
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/buffs-are-dangerous-bubble-team
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1. Which bubble team would scare you the most as a possible first-round opponent?

Mitch Light: I wouldn’t want to play Colorado — assuming CU gets in to the tournament. First of all, the Buffs have proven they can beat good teams, with a 91–89 victory over Texas in late February and two wins over Kansas State, which went 10–6 in the Big 12. Secondly, Colorado features some skilled players, most notably sophomore guard Alec Burks, who averaged 19.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. The Buffs aren’t great on defense, but they can score.

Braden Gall: Facing Richmond, with the sharpshooting Kevin Anderson and big man Justin Harper, would concern me. The Spiders have won eight out of nine and could beat anyone in the nation. Michigan State would also scare me as an 11- or 12-seed. I know the Spartans have played some terrible basketball this season, but they also have enough — or had at one point — talent to be a preseason top-five team. No one wants to see Tom Izzo on the other bench in March.

Nathan Rush: No team wants to see an at-large Alabama squad that plays under-your-jersey defense and is coached by Cinderella Man TKO artist Anthony Grant. Everyone remembers VCU-Duke (79–77 upset win) and VCU-Pitt (84–79 loss in OT) back in 2007, right? The Crimson Tide crested at the end of the season — going 15–4 after a 5–6 start — and will almost certainly crash down on whichever fading, overrated team that the Selection Committee “randomly” matches them with. It won’t happen, but a Brandon Davies-less BYU squad and Bama would be a nice yin-yang 4-13 first-round matchup.


2. If you were on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee and had to differentiate between some bubble teams, what would be the most important aspect of team's profile — road wins, lack of bad losses, strength of schedule, etc.?

Mitch: I’m always looking for good wins. All bubble teams are going to have some warts — that is why they are on the bubble. I can overlook some bad losses as long as a team has proven it can beat a quality opponent. Playing a tough schedule is nice, but it doesn’t mean much if you haven’t defeated any of those good teams.

Braden: This may be a cop out, but I look at the entire package. That probably pushes me closest to overall schedule. Certainly, wins are what counts, but generally speaking, a 6–9 team against the RPI top 50 is probably a better overall team than one that went 3–1. I always lean towards the eighth- and ninth-place “power” teams over second- and third-place mid-majors.

Nathan: In my opinion, the last 10 games plus the conference tournament should be weighed the most. If a team is trending in the right direction — a la George Mason in 2006 (despite Billy Packer’s strong and outspoken objections) — it has a better chance of making an NCAA Tournament run. Also, fair or not, I think the coach should be considered. All things being equal or reasonably close, any Tom Izzo team should win a head-to-head argument behind closed doors; he (and his five or so peers) have proven an ability to X-and-O or flat-out beat the heat come Tournament time.

3. Which of the Big Six conference tournaments intrigues you the most?

Mitch: I’m very interested to see what Florida can do in the SEC Tournament. There was a perception early in the league season that the Gators, with three overtime wins, were lucky to be on top of the SEC East standings. Well, after winning the division by three full games over Kentucky, nobody is throwing around the L-word anymore. The Gators, who can put five scorers on the court at the same time, are very hard to guard. If they win the SEC Tournament, they could play their way up to a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs.

Braden: Without a doubt, the Big East Tournament is a special event. The depth and talent level is unlike that of any college basketball league ever assembled. The ninth- and 10th-place teams (UConn and Villanova) in this league were both, at some point this year, in the top-10 nationally. We’ve got the son of a legend (John Thompson III), two Hall of Famers (Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim), one former ESPN analyst (Steve Lavin), the best dressed coach in hoops (Jay Wright), two more potential Hall members (Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins) and the most famous arena in all of sports. There is just nothing like MSG at this time of the year.

Nathan: Mark my words, Vanderbilt, Florida or Kentucky will make a run in the NCAAs. All three are two-faced and flawed. But the talent and coaching are undeniable. If the Commodores, Gators or Wildcats find their rhythm in the SEC Tournament, look out.

4. Do you like the format of the Big East Tournament, with the inclusion of all 16 teams and the double-byes?

Mitch: I do like it. I think it’s good that all 16 teams are invited to the Big East Tournament, and I like how teams that do well in the regular season are rewarded with a bye or a double-bye. The coaches don’t like the double-bye — they voted 16–0 last summer to get rid of it — but I think it is the best format for a 16-team tournament.

Braden: See answer to No. 3.

Nathan: I’m still thrown off by the fact that Big East basketball deserves one-third of the at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament, but Big East football (arguably) doesn’t deserve even one berth in the BCS bowls (Connecticut lost to Oklahoma, 48–20, in the Fiesta Bowl this year, FYI). Honestly, I’m fine with it. The more Madison Square Garden, the better. Double-byes, sure. Six overtimes (see: Connecticut over Syracuse, 127–117, in 2009), even better. Bring it, Big East.

5. Name a player on an automatic qualifier that you are looking forward to watching in the NCAA Tournament (and don't say Kenneth Faried of Morehead State).

Mitch: Wofford’s undersized power forward Noah Dahlman is fun to watch. The brother of former Michigan State Spartan Isaiah Dahlman is averaging 20.0 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting over 60 percent from the floor. Last year, Wofford gave Wisconsin a scare in the first round before losing 53–49, but Dahlman only scored 10 points. He will no doubt be eager to be a bigger factor this time around.

Braden: I am excited to see Nashville’s own Belmont, and its 30 wins, get a shot to knock someone off in the first round. However, with 11 players averaging double-figure minutes, it’s tough to single out one player. Indiana State’s Jake Odum, a freshman from Terre Haute, Ind., has earned the ball-handling duties in the second half of the year for the Sycamores. He is averaging nearly 12 points over the last 11 games and is leading the team in assists — with a very sound 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also plays the baseline in the ISU zone defense — which is impressive for a point guard.

Nathan: I’m looking forward to watching Oakland’s 6’11” NBA first-round prospect Keith Benson — who goes for 17.7 points, 10 rebounds and 3.7 “get that outta heres” on an average night.

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Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 10:14
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/national-notebook/conference-tournament-previews
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By Mitch Light

ACC TOURNAMENT

Favorite — North Carolina

The Tar Heels have been one of the hottest teams in the nation over the past month. This team doesn’t shoot it well from the outside (league-low .292 from three in ACC games), but there are few other weaknesses. Since Kendall Marshall was inserted as the starting point guard, North Carolina is 12–1, with the only loss coming at Duke.

Dark horse — Clemson

The Tigers, the No. 4 seed, closed the regular season with three wins in their last four games, and they played well against North Carolina — their likely opponent in the semifinals — during the regular season, losing by two at home and by 10 in Chapel Hill.

Prediction — North Carolina

Roy Williams’ club is playing just about as well as any team in the nation.

BIG 12 TOURNAMENT

Favorite — Kansas

The Jayhawks claimed their seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title by beating Missouri 70–66 in Columbia on Saturday. Kansas has been remarkably efficient on the offensive end — KU shot over 50 percent as a team and over 40 percent from three in Big 12 games — and also ranks near the top of the league in field goal defense and rebounding.

Dark horse — Kansas State

The Wildcats played their way off the NCAA Tournament bubble in the final three weeks of the season by winning their final six, highlighted by an 18-point win over then-No. 1 Kansas and a 75–70 win at Texas. Guard Jacob Pullen has averaged 25.5 points during K-State’s winning streak.

Predicted winner — Texas

The Horns showed some toughness in the win at Baylor Saturday night. This team has a ton of talent.

BIG EAST TOURNAMENT

Favorite — Pittsburgh

The Panthers won the Big East title playing Pittsburgh basketball — great defense (league opponents shot 38.7 percent), rebounding (league-best plus-7.2 margin) and efficient offense (46.4 percent shooting, third-best in the Big East). The Panthers went 9–2 in the Big East Tournament from 2006-08 but have lost their first game in each of the past two seasons.

Dark horse — St. John’s

The Red Storm won seven of their last eight games overall and for the season went 7–1 at Madison Square Garden (5–1 in Big East games). Steve Lavin’s club has the necessary experience and depth to win four games in four days.

Predicted winner — Louisville

Since Jan. 12, the third-seeded Cards are 10–5, with four of the five losses by five points or less or in OT.

BIG TEN TOURNAMENT

Favorite — Ohio State

The Buckeyes are playing great basketball at the right time of the year, winning their final four games by an average of 22.3 points. During this stretch, Ohio State is shooting an astounding 57.0 percent (41-of-72) from 3-point range.

Dark horse — Michigan

The Wolverines like to shoot from long range, but they aren’t as reliant on the 3-point shot as you might think. They averaged 8.6 made threes in their nine Big Ten wins and 7.5 made threes in their nine league losses.

Predicted winner — Ohio State

The Buckeyes are the best team. No need to overthink this one.


PAC-10 TOURNAMENT

Favorite — Arizona

Sean Miller captured the Pac-10 title in his second season as the boss in Tucson, leading the Wildcats to a 14–4 record in league play. Arizona endured a mini-slump late in the year, losing back-to-back games at USC and UCLA, but bounced back to beat both Oregon schools at home in the final weekend of the season.

Dark horse — USC

The Trojans played very well down the stretch, winning five of their final six games, including three on the road. Junior Nikola Vucevic is one of the nation’s most underrated players. He averaged 19.4 points and 10.8 boards in 18 league games.

Predicted winner — UCLA

The Bruins very quietly played solid basketball in the final two months of the season, losing only three games (at Arizona, at Cal in overtime and at Washington) since Jan. 9.

SEC TOURNAMENT

Favorite — Florida

The Gators went wire-to-wire in the wide-open SEC East and clinched the outright title by winning at Vanderbilt on the final weekend of the season. Florida won the close games early in the SEC season — three in overtime, three others by six points or less — but asserted their dominance late in the year.

Dark horse — Mississippi State

The enigmatic Bulldogs were good enough to beat Florida and win at Tennessee yet also lost at home to LSU and blew a 19-point second half lead at Auburn. Any team with Dee Bost, Ravern Johnson and Renardo Sidney is capable of winning three games in three days — or losing by 20 points in its first game.

Predicted winner — Florida

The Gators, who can put five scorers on the court at once, are hard to guard in the half court. Chandler Parsons, now healthy, is playing extremely well.

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Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 15:25
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/national-notebook/jimmer-gets-nod-player-year
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By Ken Davis

We thought about a nationally televised awards show to pass out our trophies for the 2010-11 college basketball. But the idea ran into several problems.

We believe in second chances, so we asked James Franco to be our host. Figured he could redeem himself for such a lousy outing at the Oscars. Franco just grunted and squinted when we asked. No one could tell if he was awake or not. Ann Hathaway seemed interested until we told her there would be no musical numbers. Billy Crystal had a conflict with spring training with the Yankees.

All the great arenas, like Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center, were booked. Seems most of them are hosting conference tournaments. We wanted Jimmer Fredette to pose for the statue trophy all winners would receive. But the BYU code of honor prevented that.

BYU wouldn’t even let us use the term “Jimmers,” and you’ve got to have a catch name for your awards. So we gave up and decided to keep it simple. With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, we present the 2011 Athlon Awards for excellence in college basketball.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Not sure we will ever see another battle quite like this one. Connecticut’s Kemba Walker had a field day in Maui, then remained hot until he ran into the zones and other frustration of the Big East Conference. Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger garnered quite a bit of support until JuJuan Johnson of Purdue became the Big Ten’s hottest player. Duke’s Nolan Smith rescued the Blue Devils with his play and became a very worthy candidate. Marcus Morris of Kansas deserved more consideration than he received, just based on his consistency.

But in the end, it was BYU’s Jimmer Fredette emerging as the top player and the overwhelming favorite to win. Fredette is a senior with a sweet shooting touch, playing for a top-10 team that finally got some national exposure. His numbers are as impressive as his shooting stroke. He averages 27.9 points, 4.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and shoots over 40 percent from 3-point land.

Fredette really picked up momentum with 39 points at UNLV and 47 at Utah. Then it was 42 at Colorado State and 43 against San Diego State. By the time he played 40 minutes and scored 25 in the second win over San Diego State, he was a lock for POY honors. Everyone would like to see him play a little more defense. And there are a lot of questions surrounding BYU without suspended big man Brandon Davies for the NCAA Tournament.

But 2010-11 will likely be remembered as the Year of the Jimmer.

COACH OF THE YEAR
Last week’s notebook broke down the race for Coach of the Year. In the end, strong cases could be built for Dave Rose of BYU, Matt Painter of Purdue, Bill Self of Kansas, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, or Thad Matta at Ohio State. But we are going with Mike Brey of Notre Dame.

The Irish are playing some of the best ball in the nation. Notre Dame goes into the Big East tournament with wins in 11 of the last 12 games. That’s a remarkable stretch in a conference that can chew you up and spit you out. Notre Dame closed the regular season with a home win over Villanova and a road victory at UConn. The Irish are 25-5 overall and 14-4 in the Big East — with a win at first-place Pittsburgh.

The Irish could go deep in the NCAA Tournament.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger didn’t need an adjustment period. He started his college career with two straight double-doubles and ended his freshman regular season with 22 points in a 93-65 victory over Wisconsin Sunday. When the Buckeyes lost at Wisconsin earlier in the season, Sullinger accused a Badgers fan of spitting in his face as he left the floor. So he told many people he wanted to beat Wisconsin by 50 in the regular-season finale. He almost made it. “That first loss in college, I didn’t take that too lightly,” Sullinger told the Associated Press Sunday. “I wanted to win, and I wanted to win big, too.”

Sullinger’s first year was made easier by all the experience around him at Ohio State. He averaged 17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds. He had 14 double-doubles. And the best may still be ahead.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
As a team, Syracuse ranks second in the nation in blocked shots with 208. Leading the Syracuse block party is senior Rick Jackson, who has 77 on his own stat line. Add in 38 steals and 224 defensive rebounds (out of 332 total) and the 6-9 senior from Philadelphia gets our nod as Defensive Player of the Year.

Orange fans simply know him as the anchor to Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense. The zone may not be as good as it was last season, but it’s still a big weapon, especially when Syracuse reaches the NCAA Tournament. Jackson made steady progress at Syracuse and got off to a tremendous start this season. He will say goodbye as just the fifth player in Syracuse history to reach 1,000 points, 800 rebounds and 200 blocks. The others? Roosevelt Bouie, Rony Seikaly, Derrick Coleman and John Wallace.

Boeheim says Jackson is the best “two-way player in the league when you look at defense and offense.”

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Rick Jackson was an early candidate for this award too. But we are going with Jordan Hamilton of Texas. After last season’s disastrous finish, the Longhorns needed someone to create a new mentality and a new energy within the program. Hamilton, along with freshman Tristan Thompson, set the example and set the tone. And that’s a big deal for someone like Hamilton, who actually had a selfish streak as a freshman. He often found himself sitting on the bench, searching everywhere for some confidence.

That has really changed.

Hamilton, a sophomore swingman from Los Angeles, arrived with high expectations as a freshman. His production (10.0 points, 3.7 rebounds) certainly wasn’t bad. But this year he raised those average to 18.5 and 7.6. His minutes increased from 19.9 to 32.0, his assist average went up from 1.5 to 2.2, and his 3-point percentage elevated from 36.5 to 39.8. He helped Texas rediscover the team concept.

The numbers don’t tell the whole story. Hamilton has shown so much improvement in shot selection, and his maturity has been a key to Texas’ success. Hamilton has played so well many people believe he is ready for the NBA.

Dwight Hardy of St. John’s wasn’t far behind Hamilton for this award. What he did for the Red Storm in Big East play was extraordinary.

BEST CONFERENCE
No brainer. Big East. The league likely will send 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament. End of argument.

PROJECTED TOP SEEDS
Ohio State (East), Kansas (Southwest), Pittsburgh (Southeast), Notre Dame (West).

The Buckeyes and Jayhawks are as close to a lock as you can get. Pitt really should be one of the other two. If Notre Dame gets to the championship game of the Big East Tournament, that would be a very strong resume. Duke, Purdue or North Carolina could sneak up onto the No. 1 line, but BYU may be out of the picture without Davies.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES OF THE WEEK

Monday, March 7
Colonial, Metro Atlantic, West Coast, Southern

Tuesday, March 8
Sun Belt, Horizon, Summit

Wednesday, March 9
Northeast, Big Sky

Friday, March 11
Patriot

Saturday, March 12
Conference USA, America East, Mid-Eastern, Southland, Big 12, Mid American, Big West, Mountain West, Southwestern Athletic, Western Athletic, Pac-10

Sunday, March 13
Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Atlantic 10, Big Ten

THEY SAID IT

“I'm really proud of our guys because three weeks ago we had no chance. Certainly what these guys have done is pretty remarkable. You don't get banners hung for that in Allen Fieldhouse, but it's a pretty cool deal and certainly, hopefully will springboard us into a good postseason.” — Kansas coach Bill Self, after the Jayhawks wrapped up their seventh consecutive Big 12 title.

“I love all my teammates and I was just thrilled for them to go out and get it done. It means a lot for me.” — Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough, after he fouled out with eight minutes left but the Irish still defeated Connecticut 70-67.

“It’s been a wonderful year, so far.” — North Carolina coach Roy Williams, after an 81-67 victory over Duke that gave the Tar Heels the ACC regular-season title.

“They played harder than us. It sucks to say that at this point in the year, but they really did. It’s just how we respond to it. It could be a blessing in disguise.” — Purdue’s JuJuan Johnson after the Boilermakers were upset 67-65 at Iowa.

“I can’t imagine it being any better anyplace else.” — Arizona coach Sean Miller after the Wildcats defeated Oregon 90-82 to win the outright Pac-10 title.

“I just left a locker room of a team in tears. That is not a 11-20 locker room. That is a 20-11 locker room.” — Hartford coach John Gallagher, after the Hawks season ended with a 55-49 loss to Boston University in the semifinals of the America East tournament.

NOTES

Major Bids
It’s been obvious for months that this NCAA Tournament would be dominated by the so-called BCS conferences. But consider this: If the Big 12 manages to get six teams in the field, it’s possible that 29 of the teams could represent the Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12.

Buckeyes for 3
Ohio State set Division I records by hitting 14 3-pointers in a row and 14-of-15 overall Sunday against Wisconsin. Jon Diebler, also known as “3-bler” had the only miss. But he went 7-of-8 and scored 27 points. “I apologize for missing that one,” Diebler said. “Fourteen of 15? I don’t think people do that very often,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “Either that, or I’m living in the wrong part of the country.” It certainly gives Ohio State’s future NCAA opponents a lot to think about.

A Bid for the Buffs
Here’s one vote for Colorado making the NCAA field: The Buffaloes have five wins over top-50 RPI teams, including a win at Kansas State. First-year coach Tad Boyle has done a fantastic job energizing this program. Alec Burks, Cory Higgins and Levi Knutson deserve a chance to dance.

Battle in the America East
The America East championship game Saturday will be worth watching. No. 5 seed Stony Brook will play at No. 2 Boston University. BU is on a 10-game winning streak and features conference Player of the Year John Holland. Stony Brook was favored to win the conference but had a slew of injuries. Coach Steve Pikiell, the former UConn standout, lost his best player, Tommy Brenton, before the season even started. But the Seawolves overcame everything and knocked off regular-season champion Vermont 69-47 Sunday. This will be the first championship appearance ever for Stony Brook (15-16).

Nit Bound
These teams have qualified for the NIT: Vermont (America East), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Missouri State (Missouri Valley), Fairfield (MAAC), Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt), and Coastal Carolina (Big South).

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/).

Teaser:
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Post date: Monday, March 7, 2011 - 14:02
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/bracket-breakdown/sec-champs-preparing-ncaa-run
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ACC (5)
In: Boston College, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Worth a Mention: Clemson

Notes: Boston College picked up a huge win Tuesday night, trouncing Virginia Tech 76–61 in Blacksburg. The Eagles close out the regular season with Wake Forest. They must avoid what would be a horrible loss. Virginia Tech, despite the loss at home to Boston College, is still in the field. Losing at Clemson this weekend might not bump them out, but a win would all but wrap things up. Clemson lost at Duke on Wednesday. The Tigers need to beat Virginia Tech this weekend then make a run in the ACC Tournament.

America East (1)
In: Vermont

A-10 (3)
In: Richmond, Temple, Xavier
Worth a Mention: Dayton, Duquesne

Notes: Richmond is one of the final teams in the field. That win vs. Purdue in late November is the difference; without that win the Spiders would be on the outside looking in.

A-Sun (1)
In: Belmont

Big 12 (6)
In: Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M
Worth a Mention: Baylor, Nebraska

Notes: Colorado has a bad RPI (81), but it’s hard to ignore the Buffs’ quality wins — Texas, Kansas State (home and away) and Missouri. The loss at Iowa State on Wednesday, however, will not help. Baylor’s resume is highlighted by two wins vs. Texas A&M. The Bears will need to advance to the Big 12 title game — and they are capable of doing so.

Big East (11)
In: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

Worth a Mention: None

Notes: It might not be popular with fans of other leagues, but the Big East is going to send 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Big Sky (1)
In: Northern Colorado

Big South (1)
In: Coastal Carolina

Big Ten (5)
In: Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a Mention: Michigan, Penn State

Notes: Michigan is playing well, but the Wolverines’ resume is not quite NCAA Tournament-worthy — yet. The Wolverines host Michigan State this weekend in what is shaping up to be a huge game for both teams. That win might be enough to push Michigan into the field. Penn State has some good wins (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State), but they are all at home, and the Lions already have 13 losses.

Big West (1)
In: Long Beach State

Colonial (2)
In: George Mason, Old Dominion
Worth a Mention: VCU

Notes: VCU played its way out in the final week of the season, losing to Drexel on the road and James Madison at home. George Mason and Old Dominion are both secure.

Conference USA (1)
In: UAB
Worth a Mention: Memphis, UTEP

Notes: UAB, currently in with the automatic bid, strengthened its at-large case with a buzzer-beating win at Southern Miss on Thursday night. The Blazers’ RPI climbed to 28. Memphis’ loss at East Carolina was extremely damaging.

Horizon (2)
In: Butler, Milwaukee
Worth a Mention: Cleveland State

Notes: Milwaukee is in as the league’s automatic qualifier. The Panthers won the three-way tiebreaker and host the final three rounds of the tournament. Butler’s spot is far from secure. The Bulldogs have some solid wins (two vs. Cleveland State, Washington State on a neutral court, Florida State on a neutral court), but they have three losses to teams ranked 120 or worse in the RPI.

Ivy (1)
In: Princeton

MAAC (1)
In: Fairfield

MAC (1)
In: Kent State

MEAC (1)
In: Bethune-Cookman

MVC (1)
In: Missouri State
Worth a Mention: Wichita State

Notes: Wichita State is a decent team that doesn’t have any good wins.

Mountain West (3)
In: BYU, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a Mention: Colorado State

Notes: Colorado State has floated in and out of the bracket this year. This week, the Rams are out. Bottom line: They have only one win vs. a team that is currently in the field (at UNLV). CSU has a chance to play its way in this weekend when it visits San Diego State.

Northeast (1)
In: Long Island

OVC (1)
In: Murray State

Pac-10 (4)
In: Arizona, Washington, UCLA, USC
Worth a Mention: Washington State

Notes: USC is the final team in our field this week. The Trojans have 12 losses, but they also have some really nice wins — Texas, Arizona and UCLA at home and at Tennessee. And keep in mind, the losses to Rider, TCU, Nebraska and Bradley occurred before point guard Jio Fontan became eligible. Washington State has some good wins (two vs. Washington, Gonzaga, Baylor), but the Cougars’ RPI is 72 and they have three losses to teams ranked 130 or worse.

Patriot (1)
In: Bucknell

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1. Which conference tournament outside of the Big Six leagues are you most looking forward to?

Mitch Light: I can’t wait for the West Coast Conference Tournament, primarily because I want to see Round 3 of Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga. These two teams won on each other’s home floors and ended the regular season tied atop the league standings with 11–3 records. Saint Mary’s looked like an NCAA Tournament lock a few weeks ago but has played its way back to the bubble. Gonzaga, on the other hand, has won seven straight games and now appears to be in decent shape for an at-large bid. The loser of this game — assuming these two teams meet in the finals — will be sweating on Selection Sunday.

Braden Gall: The Colonial Athletic Association. George Mason and Old Dominion have all but locked up at-large bids, so four other talented — and motivated — teams could make a push for the automatic bid. VCU, Drexel, Hofstra and James Madison all could win the conference’s automatic bid. Honorable Mention: Atlantic-10. Keep an eye on Dayton.

Nathan Rush: The Mountain West Conference Tournament will feature two top-10 teams in BYU and San Diego State as well as a UNLV team that also received top 25 votes. Even though Jimmer Fredette’s Cougars swept Kawhi Leonard’s Aztecs (for SDSU’s only two losses this season), I still want to see a third round with the conference tourney title belt on the line.


2. Who is your Big Ten Player of the Year: JaJuan Johnson or Jared Sullinger?

Mitch: JaJuan Johnson has been terrific, but Sullinger has been a dominant force on the best team in the league. The freshman from Columbus, Ohio, is averaging 17.4 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting an impressive 55.8 percent from the field. Sullinger is also shooting a respectable 71.5 percent from the line, and he leads the league with 6.9 free throw attempts per game. Johnson has made this a tough decision in recent weeks, but I’ll stick with Sullinger.

Braden: There are plenty of other worthy names (namely in Madison, Wisc.), but between those two, Sullinger is the easy pick. His team is the likely champion and he is the better player — but not by much. Sullinger might get my vote for Player of the Year nationally as well.

Nathan: I respect everything that Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson has done this season, but Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger is a no-brainer for Big Ten Player of the Year. The 6’9”, 280-pound freshman is averaging 17.4 points and 9.8 boards, while owning the paint on both ends of the floor. “Big Sully” is the best player on arguably the best team in the country. A case could be made for Sullinger as National Player of the Year; he’s definitely the BMOC in the Big Ten.

3. Which team outside of the current top 10 can make a run to the Final Four?

Mitch: I’ll go with North Carolina. The Tar Heels have played very well over the last six weeks — they’ve won 10 of their last 11 games — and have regained a bit of the swagger lost during last season’s struggles. This is not a perfect team — they don’t shoot it great from the outside and they lack depth at the point — but the Heels have some really nice pieces. Tyler Zeller is an underrated post player; John Henson is ferocious on the boards; and freshman Harrison Barnes has been a consistent scorer in ACC games.

Braden: Normally the things I look for most when picking the bracket busters are senior guard play, consistent rebounding, offensive efficiency and half-court defense. Vanderbilt does not hit all of those areas, but comes close. The Dores play sound defense, rebound well and can shoot from the outside. I love the pieces to this puzzle. They have a true deep threat (John Jenkins), an imposing big man (Festus Ezeli), an athletic wing that is impossible to match-up with (Jeff Taylor) and an upperclassman handling the point (Brad Tinsley).

Nathan: Vanderbilt has a lot to like. The Commodores have three legit NBA prospects in sharpshooter John Jenkins, who is averaging 19.5 points on 88.9 percent from the charity stripe and has made 84 3-pointers at a 41.0 percent clip; athletic wingman and lockdown defender Jeff Taylor (14.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg); and 6’11” center Festus Ezeli (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg). Also, of VU’s seven losses, three came on the road in overtime (at Mizzou, at South Carolina and at Florida) and two came in meltdowns against in-state rival Tennessee. This Vandy club is a few plays away from being viewed in an entirely different light. I’ll roll the dice on VU (since my early season long-shot pick of Texas doesn’t qualify as a “long-shot” anymore).

4. Does BYU deserve a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?

Mitch: The Cougars should no doubt be in the mix. Right now, I would put Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Kansas ahead of the Cougars on the S-Curve. The final No. 1 spot is a tough call, but I would put BYU ahead of Duke and Texas at this point. Texas would have been my fourth No. 1 seed on Monday, but that changed with the Horns’ loss at home to Kansas State. If Duke beats North Carolina on Saturday night and beats the Heels again in the ACC Tournament finals, the Devils would have to be in position for a No. 1 seed.

Braden: I do not think that BYU is one of the best four teams in the nation. But that could work out in its favor. A closer-to-home 2-seed would be a better draw than a 3,000-mile trip as a 1-seed.

Nathan: BYU does not deserve a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars have only two losses — against UCLA (86–79) at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim and at the Pit in New Mexico (86–77). But Jimmer Fredette and Co. do not have enough quality wins to justify a No. 1 seed. BYU has knocked off San Diego State twice, Arizona, Utah State, UNLV and Saint Mary’s. That doesn’t stack up with the resumes of the heavyweights from the Big Six power conferences. However, the Jimmer Nation should be rewarded with the top No. 2 seed — including a cushy low-mileage travel schedule and a chalk match-up with the weakest No. 1 seed in the Tourney.

5. Who is your National Coach of the Year?

Mitch: It’s a tough call. I will go with Notre Dame’s Mike Brey. The Fighting Irish are still in the hunt for the Big East title in the final week of the season — the year after losing Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson to graduation. Brey has a veteran group, but no one anticipated that Notre Dame would be this good and this consistent.

Braden: I want to say Steve Lavin at St. John’s, but I think his success this season is based largely on a single tube of magic hair gel (and lots of seniors). So I will go with Mark Turgeon of Texas A&M. He lost his top three scorers and his top rebounder from a year ago, and he was picked eighth in the Big 12 the preseason. Heading into the final week, the Aggies are 9–5 in the league and are in good shape to earn a first-round bye in the Big 12 Tournament.

Nathan: St. John’s has gone from a 17–16 (6–12 Big East) NIT team to a nationally ranked 19–9 (11–5 Big East) squad headed for the NCAA tourney thanks to first-year coach Steve Lavin — who is wearing Nike Air Force One sneakers to the Big Dance rather than the Gordon Gekko-inspired wannabe Pat Riley look he was famous for back at UCLA. With wins over Duke, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Connecticut, Lavin has done more than any coach in the country this season.

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By Ken Davis

March is upon us. The clock is ticking toward Selection Sunday, and Championship Week — with all those tournament trophies up for grabs — is about to commence.

Along with the madness comes awards. Fredette Frenzy has apparently resulted in the fact that Jimmer Fredette will be the National Player of the Year. That race has been such a hot topic in recent weeks, there really hasn’t been much discussion surrounding the top performance by a coach.

Honestly, there are several outstanding jobs being done this season. It’s going to be hard to pick just one Coach of the Year (in the Big East, let alone nationally). Here are eight names, in no particular order, worth considering. Out of respect, we’ve added a few honorable mentions.

Mike Brey, Notre Dame: Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson are gone, yet the Fighting Irish are 12-4 in the toughest conference in the country, one game behind Pittsburgh for first place, and the only non-conference loss was to Kentucky. Brey has an experienced team with a great understanding of Notre Dame’s system. After so many seasons on the bubble, it’s great to see Brey enjoying this level of success.

Dave Rose, BYU: The Cougars are in the discussion for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sure, Jimmer Fredette is a major reason. But BYU plays team basketball, focusing on great defense and a balanced offense (after Jimmer). If you can’t root for Dave Rose, a man who has battled pancreatic cancer and gone on with his career, there’s something wrong with you.

Steve Lavin, St. John’s: The Big East Tournament and New York City go hand-in-hand. Once upon a time a man named Lou Carnesecca owned Madison Square Garden. Now Lavin, in his rookie season, and his Red Storm have revitalized college hoops in the Big Apple. You get the feeling they aren’t done. The coaches in the Big East might vote him conference Coach of the Year just to put pressure on him next season — when he doesn’t have 10 seniors on the roster.

Matt Painter, Purdue: The season was supposed to be over before it began. Robbie Hummel’s injury meant no Final Four aspirations for the Boilermakers. Maybe that needs to be reconsidered. It turns out JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore and Lewis Jackson are pretty darned good. Purdue is playing at a high level right now, and Painter is pushing all the right buttons.

Sean Miller, Arizona: The Wildcats are coming off an extremely bad weekend, with losses to USC and UCLA on the road. But Arizona is 12-4 in the Pac-10 and tied for first with UCLA. Miller, who worked a few miracles at Xavier, has the reconstruction project ahead of schedule, and the Wildcats are headed back to the NCAA Tournament. The guy really can rally coach.

Rick Barnes, Texas: Hopefully those Longhorn fans who wanted to give up on Barnes after last season’s disappointment have snapped back to their senses. Chemistry is a tough thing to predict. Last year, Texas lost it. This year, there has been good karma from the start. It doesn’t hurt to have Jordan Hamilton on your roster either.

Anthony Grant, Alabama: The Crimson Tide got off to a horrible start, with three losses in November. But Alabama has gone 17-6, including an 11-3 record in the SEC. Grant’s team finishes the regular season at Florida and home against Georgia. Those are two big games that will determine how this season is remembered. But the future looks bright at Alabama.

Bill Self, Kansas: There’s not a lot of chatter about the job Self has done, but there should be. First, he had to replace Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry and Sherron Collins. The Morris twins are terrific players but not natural leaders, so Self has had to check their emotions (not an easy task). Josh Selby joined the team in midstream. Mario Little and Tyshawn Taylor broke rules, and Self didn’t hesitate to suspend them. Factor in injuries and the tragic circumstances surrounding Thomas Robinson, and a lot of credit for a 27-2 record must go to the head coach.

Honorable mention: Rick Pitino, Louisville; Thad Matta, Ohio State; Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt; Jim Calhoun, Connecticut; Billy Donovan, Florida; and Jim Larranaga, George Mason.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Purdue’s JuJuan Johnson made an enormous statement Sunday with 20 points, a career-high 17 rebounds, and seven blocks in a 67-47 victory over Michigan State. The statement was personal because Johnson should be a first-team All-America selection. The statement was about Purdue. “We’re really playing at a high level right now,” Johnson said. You can say that again. And the statement extended to the suffering Spartans, who lost twice to Purdue twice this season. “JaJuan Johnson is playing as well as anybody in the country,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. Earlier in the week, Johnson had 20 points and nine rebounds in a victory over Indiana.

FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
One of the signs of freshman maturity is answering the bell. Jeremy Lamb did that for Connecticut last week. Kemba Walker needs Lamb and other freshmen teammates to score and lighten the burden. Lamb was 4-for-11 in a loss to Marquette but bounced back with a 7-for-10 performance on the road against Cincinnati. Lamb had 17 points, five rebounds and two assists in a 67-59 victory at Cincy. For the week, Lamb had 25 points and 17 rebounds. The Huskies need that contribution.

 

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Monday, Feb. 28

Villanova at Notre Dame
The Irish just keep taking care of business — and suddenly first place in the Big East is within reach. A road win would be huge for Villanova.

Kansas State at Texas
Frank Martin’s team has come back to life after the Wildcats were almost declared postseason dead. But there’s a good chance Texas is mad about what happened in Colorado. It may not be a good time to visit Austin.

Tuesday, March 1

Alabama at Florida
Bama leads the SEC West. Florida leads the SEC East. Let’s get ready to rumble!

Vanderbilt at Kentucky
Vanderbilt can clinch the No. 2 seed in the SEC East with a win in Lexington.

Boston College at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech will be trying to follow up on that big win over Duke. BC is .500 in league play and very much on the NCAA bubble.

Wednesday, March 2

North Carolina at Florida State
The Tar Heels have a big week ahead playing Florida State and Duke. Could Roy’s boys be ready to make a big move?

Cincinnati at Marquette
Two 9-7 teams from the Big East, just trying to convince everyone they belong in the NCAA tournament.

Texas A&M at Kansas
Senior Night is always special at Allen Fieldhouse. This time the roses go to Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed, a couple of Kansas boys living the Jayhawk dream.

Thursday, March 3

St. John’s at Seton Hall
Steve Lavin’s team is on a remarkable six-game winning streak, and Dwight Hardy is New York’s newest star. St. John’s takes its act across the river to Jersey.

Saturday, March 5

Notre Dame at Connecticut
Ben Hansbrough and Kemba Walker on the floor together. That’s worth the price of admission right there.

Florida at Vanderbilt
The Gators took the first meeting in overtime. Now the Commodores can return the favor.

Kansas at Missouri
The Jayhawks rolled Mizzou 103-86 in Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 7. Can the Tigers put a stop to that in Columbia?

Villanova at Pittsburgh
Pitt won the first meeting, 57-54, when Brad Wanamaker stepped up with Ashton Gibbs sidelined. The Panthers are trying to hold on to first in the Big East.

Duke at North Carolina
Can the Tar Heels put two solid halves together against Duke? Maybe, since this one is in the Dean Dome.

Sunday, March 6

Kentucky at Tennessee
Will Kentucky’s road woes continue? Can Tennessee find consistency? Why is Bruce Pearl still coaching the Vols?

Wisconsin at Ohio State
They’ve already treated us once this season. Let’s see what happens with a venue change.

THEY SAID IT

“A lot of teams, down six to Duke, would have just folded up and let Duke put the game away, but we didn’t. We buckled up and got stops.” — Malcolm Delaney after Virginia Tech’s huge win over Duke Saturday night

“We’ve been working all season to make sure we get to this position. And it’s been a struggle. We definitely had times where we didn’t think we could do it. But now we’re in this position and we just have to seize the moment.” — North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, on tying Duke for first place in the ACC.

“I didn’t yell and scream [at halftime]. I probably should have. I didn’t know what to expect coming out at halftime. But our guys, they delivered.” – Colorado coach Tad Boyle after the Buffaloes overcame a 22-point deficit to beat Texas 91-89.

“We need to move on, but we need to learn from getting punched in the mouth and not responding well. The physical nature of that team, I would’ve really enjoyed it if I wasn’t coaching against it.” — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo after the Spartans were dominated at home by Purdue.

“I’m not trying to look for something good, but we responded. It’s not like we packed it in. It’s not like we took a ‘woe is me’ attitude. We fought. We scrapped. We got back in it. Are we in a position we thought we would be five days ago? No. ... But that group in there — I’ve got confidence that we’re going to figure it out.” — Georgetown coach John Thompson III, after the Hoyas lost to Syracuse in their first game without injured guard Chris Wright.

“When we’re at the Kohl Center, we don’t plan on losing. Ever.” —Wisconsin forward Jon Leuer after the Badgers completed their third unbeaten home season in 19 years under coach Bo Ryan.

“I missed a shot and he said, ‘Chris Paul wouldn’t miss that shot.’ That’s all right. I came down and made the next one. It was fun.” — UConn’s Kemba Walker, on making three straight baskets after the taunts of a Cincinnati fan Sunday as the Huskies won.


NOTES

Cheerleading 101
A Louisville cheerleader gave us a premature taste of March Madness Sunday when he couldn’t contain his excitement and almost became bigger than the game story. The cheerleader, Jordan Alcazar, jumped onto the court, grabbed the basketball and flipped it in the air toward the roof after Kyle Kuric slammed a dunk that appeared to be the final touch on an overtime victory over Pittsburgh. Officials called a delay of game technical foul, and :0.5 was left on the game clock with Louisville leading 62-57. After Ashton Gibbs hit both free throws. Pitt couldn’t manage a successful desperation shot, and Louisville won. But think of the possibilities. “All good things have to come to an end, and the male cheerleader [at Louisville] comes to an end,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said with a smile during the postgame press conference. "Hopefully he’ll learn the rules." The Louisville-Courier Journal reports that Pitino called Alcazar later and told him he “has a great story to tell his kids someday.”

Class of 2011
The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Monday announced the induction class of 2011. Two of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s greatest players — Virginia’s Ralph Sampson and North Carolina’s James Worthy — are the headliners. Joining Sampson and Worthy for enshrinement will be coaches Bob Knight and Eddie Sutton, players Cazzie Russell and Chris Mullin and contributors Joe Vancisin and Eddie Einhorn. Induction ceremonies are scheduled for Nov. 20 in Kansas City, Mo.

Quick exit
Coach moves have started already. Rod Barnes is out at Georgia State, and he will not participate in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. Barnes was 44-79 overall in four seasons.

UCLA looking strong
UCLA may emerge as the best team in the Pac-10. When Arizona lost on the road to UCLA and USC last weekend, it created a tie for first with the Bruins. And after Washington worked so hard to get back in the race, the Huskies lost to rival Washington State. UCLA has lost only twice since Jan. 9 — on the road at Arizona and Cal and both in overtime.
Ironically, Tyler Trapani, the great-grandson of legendary coach John Wooden, scored the final basket in a 71-49 win over Arizona Saturday. Trapani is a walk-on who rarely gets off the UCLA bench. Pauley Pavilion is schedule for renovation so Trapani's basket was historic. "It was kind of meant to be," said teammate Tyler Honeycutt.

Special senior night
Siena senior Ryan Rossiter closed out his home career in historic fashion. Along with a career-high 34 points, he had 11 rebounds in an 81-73 victory over Marist. Rossiter, who ranks second in the nation in rebounding (13.4 per game) behind Kenneth Faried, broke the school record for rebounds in a season that was established by Billy Harrell in 1950. Harrell had 387 boards. Rossiter now is at 388.

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/).

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ACC (4)
In: Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Worth a Mention: Boston College, Clemson

Notes: North Carolina and Duke are the only teams that are secure. Boston College’s late-season slide continued Wednesday night with a very damaging loss at home to Miami. Virginia Tech has a golden opportunity this weekend with Duke visiting Blacksburg. It’s not a must win for the Hokies, but it sure would help their cause.

America East (1)
In: Vermont

A-10 (3)
In: Richmond, Temple, Xavier
Worth a Mention: Dayton, Duquesne

Notes: Richmond is one of the final teams in the field. The Spiders should win their final three games — at Charlotte, at Saint Joe’s, home vs. Duquesne — to finish 13–3 in the A-10. The win over Purdue in late November, however, is what will eventually be the difference for this team.

A-Sun (1)
In: Belmont

Big 12 (5)
In: Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M
Worth a Mention: Baylor, Colorado, Nebraska

Notes: It was a bad five days for Baylor. First, the Bears lost at home to short-handed Texas Tech. Then, they hit the road and lost by 18 points at Missouri. Colorado deserves a real good look, but the Buffs have a bad RPI (85) and, more damaging, 11 losses. Kansas State picked up a nice win at Nebraska Wednesday night; the Wildcats are in very good shape.

Big East (11)
In: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

Worth a Mention: None

Notes: There is a lot of ant-Marquette sentiment out there, and it is tough to overlook the Eagles’ 11 losses, but keep in mind that 10 of those losses came against teams ranked in the top-30 of the RPI. They have three top-20 wins (West Virginia, Notre Dame and Syracuse), but all three came at home. Cincinnati is playing its way off the bubble (in a good way). The win at Georgetown was enormous.

Big Sky (1)
In: Montana

Big South (1)
In: Coastal Carolina

Big Ten (6)
In: Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a Mention: Michigan, Penn State

Notes: Michigan State is playing its way out of a midseason funk. The Spartans have won three of their past four games, including a key road win at Minnesota on Tuesday night. Minnesota is really struggling, losers of six of their past seven games. The Gophers aren’t likely to make the field on Selection Sunday, but they made it this week simply because their resume, at this point, is still good enough relative to their competition. Illinois has dipped below .500 in the Big Ten (7–8), but the Illini still play Iowa and Indiana at home. They have enough quality wins (four vs. top 50) to feel relatively safe at this point. Michigan would have been in the field this week had Josh Gasser’s 3-pointer at the buzzer not banked in to give Wisconsin a one-point win last night. Just a heartbreaking loss for a young team that is improving at a rapid rate.

Big West (1)
In: Long Beach State

Colonial (3)
In: George Mason, Old Dominion
Worth a Mention: Drexel, VCU

Notes: VCU played its way out last night with a loss at Drexel; it was the Rams’ third loss in their last four games. They got a nice win at Wichita State in the BracketBusters and also have a neutral court win over UCLA and a nice win at Old Dominion. The four sub-150 RPI losses (at South Florida, Georgia State and Northeastern) are a bit troubling, though.

Conference USA (1)
In: Memphis
Worth a Mention: UAB, UTEP

Notes: UAB is lacking in quality wins. The Blazers have no top-50 wins, thought they do have six against teams ranked 50-65. UTEP has lost two straight games. Memphis is in as the automatic qualifier. The Tigers will be very, very close if they don’t win the C-USA Tournament.

Horizon (1)
In: Butler, Cleveland State
Worth a Mention: Valparaiso

Notes: Butler is making a late push and sneaks in this week, but the Bulldogs are far from secure. They only have one win vs. a team from the at-large pool (Florida State), and they have too many bad losses (home vs. Evansville and Milwaukee and at Milwaukee, Wright State and Youngstown State).

Ivy (1)
In: Harvard

MAAC (1)
In: Fairfield

MAC (1)
In: Kent State

MEAC (1)
In: Bethune-Cookman

MVC (1)
In: Missouri State
Worth a Mention: Wichita State

Notes: Missouri State and Wichita State are tied atop the MVC standings with a 13–3 record, but MSU gets the automatic bid due to its win at Wichita State in January. WSU’s loss at home to VCU was a tough blow. The MVC did not fare well in the recent BracketBusters games.

Mountain West (4)
In: BYU, Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a Mention: None

Notes: Colorado State lost by eight points at BYU on Wednesday night. There’s no shame in that. The Rams have three regular-season games remaining — road games at Air Force and San Diego State sandwiched around a home game vs. Utah. They need to beat Air Force and Uah.

Northeast (1)
In: Long Island

OVC (1)
In: Morehead State

Pac-10 (3)
In: Arizona, Washington, UCLA
Worth a Mention: None

Notes: Washington State’s recent slide has taken the Cougs out of consideration.

Patriot (1)
In: Bucknell

SEC (6)
In: Alabama Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Worth a Mention: None

Notes: Tennessee picked up a bid-clinching win at Vanderbilt Tuesday night. Alabama’s RPI is still brutal (80), but the Tide have two top-25 wins and are 11-2 in the SEC. They didn’t pass the ‘eye test’ for those watching their two-point win over Auburn on Wednesday, but they had been playing very good basketball up to that point.

Southern (1)
In: College of Charleston

Southland (1)
In: McNeese State

Summit (1)
In: Oakland

Sun Belt (1)
In: Florida Atlantic

SWAC (1)
In: Texas Southern

WAC (1)
In: Utah State

WCC (2)
In: Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
Worth a Mention: None

Notes: Gonzaga has played its way back into the field, for now. The Zags, winners of five straight, can really help their case by winning at Saint Mary’s Thursday night. The Zags have a win over Xavier and wins over two teams on the bubble (Marquette and Baylor). Saint Mary’s has played its way back onto the bubble with recent losses at San Diego and at home vs. Utah State.

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1. If the season ended today, who are your five first-team All-Americans?

Mitch: I’ll go with a frontline of Jared Sullinger from Ohio State and Derrick Williams from Arizona and a three-guard look with Jimmer Fredette from BYU, Nolan Smith from Duke and Kemba Walker from Connecticut. The toughest omission is probably Purdue big man JaJuan Johnson.

Nathan: In my opinion, there are four obvious first-teamers — BYU senior Jimmer Fredette, Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger, Duke senior Nolan Smith and UConn junior Kemba Walker. After that, it’s a tough call. I’ll go with Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, who is averaging 20.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots per game. Johnson has carried the Boilermakers, who are 22–5 (11–3 Big Ten) despite losing Robbie Hummel to a preseason knee injury. Johnson’s production, leadership and heart are first-team All-America quality.

Braden: There are two ways to build an All-America team: Pick the best five players in college hoops, regardless of position, or pick one player at each of the five positions on the court. I went with the latter. Duke‘s Nolan Smith is my point guard. BYU‘s Jimmer Fredette is my shooting guard. Texas’ Jordan Hamilton will play the inside-outside wing. Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer will stretch the defense at the 4-spot. And Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger will bang down low at center. Honorable Mention: Jordan Taylor, Kemba Walker, Kyle Singler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Williams.

2. Which team most needs a big win over the next week?

Mitch: Boston College, with an RPI of 45 and an overall record of 16–10, is playing for its NCAA Tournament life. The Eagles let what would have been a Tournament-clinching road win slip away when Reggie Jackson missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds of a 48–46 loss at North Carolina on Saturday. This week, BC hosts Miami on Wednesday then travels to Virginia on Saturday. Winning both games is essential.

Nathan: Tennessee (16–11, 6–6 SEC) may already be a lost cause, having lost four of its last five games (Alabama, at Kentucky, at Florida and Georgia). But if Bruce Pearl’s Vols have any shot at making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large berth, they need to pull off an upset at Vanderbilt (Feb. 22) and/or against Kentucky (March 6), while also holding serve against Mississippi State (Feb. 26) and at South Carolina (March 3). UT has a decent resume with wins over Villanova, Pitt, Vanderbilt and Memphis, but the bubble will certainly burst if the Vols can’t win three of their last four and put together a respectable showing in the SEC Tourney.

Braden: Michigan State is starting to show signs of life after two home wins over Penn State and Illinois (and a solid road showing against the Buckeyes). But the Spartans are still on life support and are backed into a corner. Purdue, on the other hand, is riding about as high as possible after home wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State. I think MSU can win at home this week over the Boilers and continue its push back into the bracket discussion.

3. Which team has improved the most since the beginning of the season?

Mitch: Anthony Grant’s Alabama Crimson Tide. The same team that went 0–3 in the Paradise Jam with losses to Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peter’s is 10–2 in the SEC. And yes, I am aware that Alabama plays in the very weak SEC West, but you don’t win 10 of 12 games (with three of those wins vs. the SEC East) in any league unless you are playing very good basketball. JaMychal Green has been remarkably consistent since his return from an early season suspension, point guard Trevor Releford has done a very good job running the team, and underrated forward Tony Mitchell has been a beast in league play, averaging 17.8 point and 6.5 rebounds.

Nathan: North Carolina hit rock bottom with a 78–58 blowout loss at Georgia Tech on Jan. 16 in Atlanta. Since then, however, coach Roy Williams’ team has an 8–1 record — with the lone loss coming on the road at Duke (79–73) in a competitive rivalry game. During this most recent nine-game stretch, Harrison Barnes has averaged 16.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, while showing the killer instinct (game-winning 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left at Miami) and takeover ability (26 points at BC, 25 points vs. NC State) that made him the first freshman ever preseason first-team All-American. UNC may not be a national title contender, but the Tar Heels are light years ahead of the team they were struggling in the opener against Lipscomb and passively limping to a 4–3 start this year.

Braden: I will go with the Florida Gators simply because a lot of people believed they were overrated early in the season — especially after losses to UCF, Jacksonville and Ohio State. Since the overtime stunner to the Dolphins (yup, that is right), the Gators are 13–2, with road wins at Tennessee, Xavier, Georgia, South Carolina and LSU and home victories over Vandy, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. The key has been guard play; when Kenny Boynton scores in double-figures in SEC play, Florida is 9-0. When he doesn’t, the Gator are 1–2.

4. Which team from a one-bid league is most likely to win at least one game in the NCAA Tournament?

Mitch: I jumped on the Belmont bandwagon early this season and I see no reason to jump off. The Bruins, currently 17–1 in the A-Sun, have four losses this season — three to SEC schools (Tennessee twice and Vanderbilt) by single digits and one to cross-town rival Lipscomb. Rick Byrd’s team has a ton of depth and can light it up from 3-point range.

Nathan: I’ll stay on the College of Charleston bandwagon. The pride of the Southern Conference has all of the pieces in place. Coach Bobby Cremins has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience (11 trips, five Sweet 16s and 1990 Final Four), senior guard Andrew Goudelock (23.4 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.9 rpg) has proven to be a big-game player against big-time competition this year (31 points in a 91–78 win at Tennessee, 28 points at North Carolina, 27 points and 10 boards at Maryland), and the team has a dangerous inside-out combo — with four players averaging over five rebounds per game (led by 6’8”, 230-pound senior Jeremy Simmons’ 6.2) and three players shooting over 35 percent from downtown (led by Goudelock’s 96 made at a 41.7 percent clip). The Cougars (21–7, 13–2 Southern) are a team that Big Six schools should fear being paired with on Selection Sunday.

Braden: I am not allowed to go with Old Dominion because the Colonial might even get three bids, but ODU leads the nation in rebounding margin and is third in scoring defense. Those stats, along with assist-to-turnover ratio, are important numbers for me when picking my bracket. My next favorite factors are 3-point shooting (the great equalizer) and veteran backcourts. That means Murray State, with its excellent guard duo, has a real chance to make some noise in the tourney — again — as the only OVC team to make the field.

5. What game are you most looking forward to this weekend?

Mitch: Well, the BYU-San Diego State is obviously a huge game, with both teams still in play for a No. 1 seed. But I will go with Purdue’s visit to Michigan State. Purdue enjoyed a magical week, beating Wisconsin and Ohio State at home. Now, the Boilers head out of town to play rival Indiana on Wednesday before Saturday’s trip to East Lansing. Michigan State appears to be getting its act together and solidifying its spot in the NCAA Tournament — thanks in large part to a rejuvenated (and healthier) Kalin Lucas — but Tom Izzo’s club could still use a few more quality wins.

Nathan: Saturday’s triple-header on CBS — Syracuse at Georgetown (CBS, 12 p.m. ET), BYU at San Diego State (CBS, 2 p.m. ET) and Florida at Kentucky (CBS, 4 p.m. ET) — is as good as any pre-NCAA Tournament lineup this season. For my money, Jimmer Fredette’s Cougars and Kawhi Leonard’s Aztecs provide the best matchup. BYU took Round One, 71–58, in Salt Lake City; but Leonard had the flu that night. Round Two of the best in the Mountain West should be a good one.

Braden: Florida at Kentucky. The Wildcats, as I said in last week’s Burning Questions, needed to right the ship, and home tests against Mississippi State and South Carolina were just the recipe. Florida beat the Cats in Gainesville in a game that went down to the final seconds. This one should be another thriller.
 

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Post date: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 11:14
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/national-notebook/winners-losers-big-week-hoops
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By Ken Davis

So much happened in the world of college basketball this past week, the thought of highlighting just one story didn’t seem to make sense. Instead, we are going to look back — and a little ahead — by naming a few winners and losers from recent days.

WINNERS

Colonial Athletic Association – It is tempting to view ESPN’s BracketBusters series as a TV gimmick, but this February scheduling tool has become a valuable way to separate the men from the boys. The CAA came away walking like a man with George Mason, VCU and Old Dominion scoring significant victories. Remember when the question was, “Who is this year’s George Mason?” And the answer was, “Butler.” Well, this year’s George Mason should be … George Mason. Last week the Patriots (23-5, 14-2) went on the road to settle conference business with a 71-51 victory over VCU, then hit the road again for a BracketBusters win over Northern Iowa, 77-71. Let’s not compare Jim Larranaga’s team to his historic 2006 squad. Just accept the fact that the Patriots are for real again. VCU (21-8, 12-4) bounced back from consecutive loss to Old Dominion and George Mason to defeat Wichita State 68-67 — again on the road. And Old Dominion (22-6, 12-4) has won eight of its last nine, including a 74-63 win over Cleveland State in the BracketBusters. Don’t forget Hofstra (18-10, 12-4) is in the CAA too. Charles Jenkins of the Pride is one of the best players in the nation, but an 82-56 loss to Wright State hurt Hofstra. I’d love to see three CAA teams in the NCAA Tournament, but it’s more realistic to predict two will be dancing.

Derrick Williams – It isn’t often that you walk away from a game talking about a last-second, game-saving blocked shot. Arizona’s Williams gave us that moment Saturday against Washington as the Wildcats tightened their grip on first place in the Pac-10. The 6-8 sophomore forward did much more than that last week. If he wasn’t in the National Player of the Year discussion before, he should be now. Williams averaged 26 points, 9.5 rebounds and two assists as the Wildcats swept Washington State and Washington. Williams shot 57.7 percent from the field and hit 20-of-21 from the free throw line. We could go on and on, but Williams is simply a competitive beast. And that block was an emphatic way to end a game. It also may have been goaltending — but it wasn’t called. “I believe if we were at Washington, they would have called it goaltending,” Williams said. “Good thing we were home.” You’ve got to love his honesty too.

New York City – Did you hear the noise in Madison Square Garden Saturday? Did you see the smile on Lou Carnesecca’s face? St. John’s defeated No. 4 Pitt 60-59 and Steve Lavin’s team now has defeated five top-25 teams at the Garden since Jan. 3. The Garden is sold out for next month’s Big East Tournament. That’s nothing new. But there might be a retro buzz in the Big Apple. If you were there back in the days of Chris Mullin and Walter Berry, you understand what that can be like. A competitive St. John’s team makes New York a really fun place in March.

Kansas State and Nebraska – If you want to stay on the bubble and impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee, you’ve got to make headlines. K-State did that on Monday by beating rival Kansas, just hours after the Jayhawks had risen to No. 1 in the polls. Who would replace Kansas at No. 1? People were ready to vote for Texas until the Longhorns lost at Nebraska Saturday. That was a huge statement by Doc Sadler’s Cornhuskers. The Big 12 race just got real interesting again.

LOSERS

Missouri Valley – This conference is full of rising stars in the coaching profession — and some good teams. There just aren’t as many NCAA Tournament-worthy teams as in past seasons. And BracketBusters weekend wasn’t kind to the MVC. Missouri State lost to Valparaiso; Wichita State lost to VCU; Northern Iowa lost to George Mason; and Indiana State lost to Morehead State. Could it be that the Missouri Valley is a one-bid conference in 2011? Wow.

Boston College – I really wanted the Eagles to convince me they belong in the NCAA field. So, I tuned in Saturday to watch Boston College play North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Eagles didn’t score until almost eight minutes into the game. They missed 13 of their first 14 shots. They established season lows for shooting percentage (26.9) and points (46). BC made a remarkable comeback (I had stopped watching by then), but lost 48-46, dropped to 16-10 overall and 6-6 in the ACC. The Eagles have lost five of seven. Don’t forget the losses to Yale and Harvard earlier in the season. BC has home games against Miami and Wake Forest, road games against Virginia and Virginia Tech remaining. It might be a good idea to win out.

Top seeds – Ohio State recorded two road losses in eight days. Kansas lost at Kansas State after rising to No. 1 in the polls. Pittsburgh lost at St. John’s. Texas lost at Nebraska. Moral of the story: Don’t go on the road to play. Second moral of the story: Don’t count your No. 1 seeds until Selection Sunday. And that’s still 20 days away.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Kansas State’s NCAA Tournament pulse was getting weak until Jacob Pullen arrived as a one-man medical rescue unit. No one ever doubted Pullen’s scoring ability. It was leadership ability that was under scrutiny. But the senior guard came up big last week, scoring 38 points in a huge win against rival Kansas and 27 points in a victory over Oklahoma. Against Kansas, Pullen was 9-of-17 from the field (including 5-of-6 on threes) and 15-of-19 from the line. The Oklahoma performance was almost as efficient (8-of-18 field, 8-of-8 line, 3-of-6 threes). If the Wildcats make the NCAA Tournament, this will be viewed as the turning point of the season.

FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK

Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones had two double-doubles for the Wildcats last week. Against Mississippi State it was 17 points and 10 rebounds. Against South Carolina it was 19 points and 12 rebounds. Seventeen of those 22 rebounds were on the defensive end. Jones was 13-of-24 from the field and 9-of-12 from the line. Jones has his season averages up to 17.9 points and 9.1 rebounds as Kentucky prepares to play at Arkansas Wednesday.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Monday, Feb. 21

Syracuse at Villanova
Monday night comes quick for these Big East programs. Both were forced to overtime Saturday before winning: Villanova over DePaul and Syracuse over Rutgers. Back on Jan. 22, Villanova couldn’t miss from the outside and defeated the Orange 83-72 in Syracuse.

Oklahoma State at Kansas
After moving up to No. 1 in the polls and then getting embarrassed by in-state rival Kansas State, the Jayhawks settled down and crushed Colorado. The Cowboys have lost three in a row.

Tuesday, Feb. 22

Tennessee at Vanderbilt
Tennessee probably should have a spot in the NCAA Tournament but a win over Vanderbilt would tighten up the SEC East standings.

Louisville at Rutgers
Rick Pitino’s Louisville team is healthy again and dangerously hot in the Big East. Coach Mike Rice has Rutgers putting a scare into the entire conference.

Wednesday, Feb. 23

Temple at Duke
Doesn’t it feel as if Duke plays 40 non-conference games a year? This one is really late in the season, sort of a BracketBusters game for big boys.

Kansas State at Nebraska
Evidently the Cornhuskers are determined to just totally mess up the Big 12 before heading off to the Big Ten or the new Big Twelve or whatever you want to call it.

Thursday, Feb. 24

Georgia at Florida
The first time these two met, they couldn’t settle things in regulation. In fact, it took double overtime for Florida to emerge with a 104-91 victory. Erving Walker and Chandler Parsons decided things for the Gators.

West Virginia at Pittsburgh
The Panthers had some uncharacteristic breakdowns in execution on the way to a 60-59 loss to St. John’s. Coach Jamie Dixon should have those corrected in time for Round 2 of the Backyard Brawl.

Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s
The Gaels want to replace Gonzaga as West Coast champs. This is their chance. Saint Mary’s won at Gonzaga on Jan. 27 but has gone 4-3 since. Gonzaga has climbed back into the race with four straight games.

Arizona at USC
Sean Miller has led Arizona to a 23-4 record overall and the Wildcats are on top of the Pac-10 at 12-2. Now it is time to take care of business on the trip to Los Angeles.

Friday, Feb. 25

Siena at Fairfield
Stag Nation is imagining big things for Fairfield. Derek Needham and Ryan Olander have directed the Stags to a 22-5 record and first place in the MAAC.

Saturday, Feb. 26

Missouri at Kansas State
The Tigers finally got their first Big 12 road victory at Iowa State. This game in Manhattan is big as both teams jockey for their seed position in the conference tournament.

St. John’s at Villanova
Tied in the Big East standings. St. John’s and Villanova, both 9-5. Didn’t see that coming now, did you?

Seton Hall at Notre Dame
The Pirates can make life difficult for opponents any night in the Big East. But that’s a tough assignment at Notre Dame.

Duke at Virginia Tech
Take away the two losses to Virginia and Tech would be looking good in the ACC. Beating Duke would make a huge statement.

Syracuse at Georgetown
It may be impossible to predict this game. These two teams have multiple personalities.

BYU at San Diego State
Part II of the great Mountain West showdown.

Florida at Kentucky
Rupp Arena will be pumped up for Billy Donovan and the Gators.

Sunday, Feb. 27

Connecticut at Cincinnati
Cincinnati could really use a victory over the Huskies. It’s all about the NCAA resume at this point of the season, and the Bearcats are still building. Of course, so are the Huskies.

Pittsburgh at Louisville
Louisville’s matchup zone is hard to penetrate. Pitt is the best rebounding team in the nation. Which team can find the offensive efficiency to prevail?

Purdue at Michigan State
Can Michigan State make one of its patented late season runs? Or is it too late for that?

THEY SAID IT

“I just tried to get every rebound that I can.” – Temple’s Lavoy Allen, who grabbed 12 rebounds and became the schools career leader in rebounding during a 66-52 victory over Saint Joseph’s. Allen has 1,045 rebounds and passed John Baum (1,042), now the school’s radio analyst.

“We’re not playing team defense. We need five guys connected. Once we get that back, we’re going to be all right.” – Ohio State Jared Sullinger, after the Buckeyes lost at Purdue 76-63.

“It seems like we’ve got somebody who takes turns screwing up. It’s one guy this possession, another guy next possession, another guy next possession and the next thing you know, we’ve got three or four possessions where defensively we messed up or offensively we didn’t execute. I think that’s a big part of it.” – Penn State coach Ed DeChellis, after a 76-66 loss to Wisconsin.

“For the rest of my career I don’t anticipate ever going back to a tie or dress shoes every again. We’re 6-1 with sneakers that started to bring attention to a great cause. But it struck me in terms of comfort with the shoes and without the tie I’m doing a better job of teaching. Everything’s been at a higher level without a tie on.” – St. John’s coach Steve Lavin after a 60-59 upset of Pittsburgh. Lavin hasn’t gone back to a tie or dress shoes Coaches vs. Cancer weekend.

“We have to try to keep Jimmer under 43.” – San Diego point guard D.J. Gay, looking ahead to this week’s rematch with BYU and Jimmer Fredette.

“Not a lot to say. We won. That’s the bottom line.” – North Carolina coach Roy Williams after the Tar Heels held on to defeat Boston College 48-46.

NOTES

Miller Time
I don’t understand how anyone can write about National Coach of the Year candidates without including Arizona’s Sean Miller. The Pac-10 might be way down as a conference, but the Wildcats are 23-4 overall, 12-2 in the conference, and way ahead of schedule in rebuilding their program. Miller is doing a terrific job. Derrick Williams and Lamont Jones are going create headaches for opponents in the NCAA tournament.

Foul Victory
Syracuse needed overtime to defeat Rutgers 84-80 Saturday. How did the Orange do it? You might say Syracuse won it at the line (and when did you last say that?). Syracuse made 34-of-47 free throws (72.3 percent). Syracuse entered the game ranked 280th in free throw shooting at 64.9 percent. Rutgers was called for 30 fouls, while Syracuse was whistled for 18. Rutgers made 9-of-14 from the line. It’s pretty hard to win when you are outscored 34-9 at the line. The Scarlet Knights almost pulled it off.

More of Moore
E’Twaun Moore’s twisting, bending, scooping acrobatic fastbreak layup against Ohio State Sunday might have been the most amazing basket in all of college basketball this season. Moore is such an entertaining player, and now he is only the fourth player in Big Ten history with 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 350 assists in his career. The others are Penn State’s Talor Battle, Wisconsin’s Michael Finley and Michigan State’s Steve Smith. That’s darn good company.

Diebler for 3
Put Ohio State’s Jon Diebler in the Big Ten record book. Diebler passed Penn State’s Pete Lisicky (1994-1998) as the conference leader in three-pointers made Sunday. Lisicky had 331. Diebler hit No. 332 on a shot from the right corner about one minute into the second half.

Board Work
Morehead State plays Murray State on ESPNU Thursday night. Do yourself a favor and catch at least a little of the game, enough to see Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried grab a rebound. On Saturday, Faried broke Tim Duncan’s modern-era (since 1973) NCAA Division I career rebounding record. He grabbed 12 rebounds against Indiana State and now has 1,576. Duncan had 1,570 in his career. The rest of the top five since freshmen became eligible for varsity ball: Derrick Coleman, Syracuse (1,537), Malik Rose, Drexel (1,514), and Ralph Sampson, Virginia (1,511). That’s better than good company. Next year at this time Faried should be making money in the NBA.

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/).

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Post date: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 13:01
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/bracket-breakdown/jenkins-shooting-dores-bracket
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ACC (5)
In: Boston College, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Worth a Mention: Clemson

Notes: North Carolina and Duke are the only teams that are secure. Clemson dropped out despite picking up a top-50 RPI win (Boston College, 43) and losing by two points to UNC. The Tigers’ RPI is not good (72), and they only have two wins vs. top-60 teams and none vs. top-40 teams. Virginia Tech is taking care of business in a soft part of its schedule, with recent wins over NC State, Georgia Tech and Maryland. The trend should continue, with trips to Virginia and Wake Forest looming.

America East (1)
In: Vermont

A-10 (3)
In: Richmond, Temple, Xavier
Worth a Mention: Duquesne

Notes: Richmond’s RPI is not very good (70), but the Spiders have a neutral court win over Purdue in their back pocket. Duquesne has a gaudy conference record (9–2), but the Dukes’ RPI is not good (75), and they only have one top-50 RPI win.

A-Sun (1)
In: Belmont

Big 12 (7)
In: Baylor, Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M
Worth a Mention: Oklahoma State

Notes: Kansas State took a huge step in the right direction with the big win over Kansas. The Wildcats are still under .500 in league play (though that should change soon with a home date with OU coming up), but they have a solid RPI (30) and the No. 4 strength of schedule. Baylor played well before losing at Texas, 69–60, last weekend. The Bears, 6–5 in the Big 12, will be in good shape if they can win three of their final five regular-season games. Colorado was the last team in the field. The Buffs’ RPI is 91, but they have five top-50 wins. Oklahoma State dropped to 4–7 in the league with a loss at Texas on Wednesday night. With three of their final five at home, the Pokes will have a chance to play their way back in. Colorado is an interesting team: The Buffs have five top-50 wins (a ton for a bubble team) but their RPI is 89, and they have 10 losses.

Big East (11)
In: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia
Worth a Mention: None

Notes: Cincinnati’s win at home over Louisville on Wednesday night was huge. The Bearcats’ RPI is 45, and they have three top-25 wins. Marquette’s loss at home to St. John’s on Tuesday was damaging, but the Eagles managed to hold onto their spot in the field. The Eagles have three top-25 wins (all at home) and no losses outside the top-70.

Big Sky (1)
In: Montana

Big South (1)
In: Coastal Carolina

Big Ten (6)
In: Illinois, Michigan State, 4Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a Mention: Michigan, Penn State

Notes: Michigan State is showing signs of life, with an 18-point win over Penn State and a solid showing vs. Ohio State. The Spartans’ RPI is 44, and they have three top-40 wins. Michigan missed a great opportunity, losing at Illinois on Wednesday night. The Wolverines’ RPI was up to 56 and they had had own three straight in the league before the setback in Champaign. Now, with an RPI at 59 and an overall mark of 15–11, Michigan will have to get on a serious roll to get back into the at-large discussion.

Big West (1)
In: Long Beach State

Colonial (2)
In: George Mason, Old Dominion
Worth a Mention: VCU

Notes: Red-hot George Mason made a huge statement Tuesday night, beating a solid VCU team by 20 points on the road. The Patriots’ RPI is up to 22. Old Dominion hosts Cleveland State in a BracketBusters game on Sunday. The Monarchs’ profile is solid, but this is a game they probably need to win.

Conference USA (1)
In: Memphis
Worth a Mention: UAB, UTEP

Notes: Memphis’ win over UAB combined with UTEP’s loss at Southern Miss vaulted the Tigers into the top spot in the league standings and gives them the automatic bid. With an RPI of 31 and four top-40 wins, Memphis is in good shape for an at-large invite if it doesn’t win the C-USA Tournament. UAB has a very good RPI (34) but no top-50 wins.

Horizon (1)
In: Valparaiso
Worth a Mention: Butler, Cleveland State

Notes: Butler has won five in a row, and the Bulldogs’ RPI is up to 45, but this team has nine losses, including five to teams ranked 100 or worse.

Ivy (1)
In: Princeton

MAAC (1)
In: Fairfield

MAC (1)
In: Kent State

MEAC (1)
In: Hampton

MVC (1)
In: Missouri State,

Notes: Missouri State and Wichita State are tied atop the MVC standings with a 13–3 record, but MSU gets the automatic bid due to its win at Wichita State in January. WSU is a solid team that simply doesn’t have an NCAA Tournament resume.

Mountain West (4)
In: BYU, Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a Mention: New Mexico

Notes: Colorado State, which improved to 8–3 in the MWC with a win at TCU on Wednesday night, sneaks in this week. The Rams’ RPI is 38, and they have two top-50 wins, vs. Southern Miss and at UNLV. New Mexico missed an opportunity for a huge win, losing at San Diego State on Wednesday.

Northeast (1)
In: Long Island

OVC (1)
In: Murray State

Pac-10 (3)
In: Arizona, Washington, UCLA
Worth a Mention: Washington State

Notes: No change in the Pac-10 this week. Washington State’s only hope is to beat both Arizona (Thursday night) and Washington on the road.

Patriot (1)
In: Bucknell

Teaser:
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Post date: Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 13:07
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/most-underrated
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1. Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor has become the poster child for an underrated player. Who is else is getting overlooked nationally?

Mitch Light: Maryland is having a down year, so I don’t think basketball fans are paying enough attention to Jordan Williams. The Terps’ sophomore forward has been a double-double machine, averaging 17.1 points and 11.8 rebounds for Gary Williams’ club. The one knock on Williams is his free throw shooting; he’s at .562 for the season.

Braden Gall: How about the No. 1 player in all of college fantasy basketball? Providence senior wing Marshon Brooks is averaging 24.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and nearly two steals, blocks and assists per game. USC forward Nikola Vucevic (16.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg) and Iowa State guard Diante Garrett (17.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.8 apg) are two others that stand out as guys who don't get mentioned too often on the national scene.

Nathan Rush: Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried has gotten more national exposure as the season has gone on, but I’m still not sure the 6’8”, 230-pound senior is getting the publicity he deserves. Faried is averaging 17.3 points (on 63.1 percent shooting), 14.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.0 blocked shots through 27 games. The Newark, N.J., native has 20 double-doubles and five 20-plus rebound performances. And the 2010 OVC Player of the Year is not just dominating mid-major competition (15.5 ppg and 15.1 rpg in 15 league games); Faried had 20 points and 18 rebounds at Florida and 15 points, 12 rebounds and five steals two nights later at Ohio State earlier this year.

2. Last week, we addressed the most surprising team in the nation. Which team has been the biggest disappointment?

Mitch: Northwestern. This should have been the season the Wildcats (14–10, 4–9) finally made the NCAA Tournament. But it won’t happen — barring a Big Ten Tournament title. John Shurna’s bum ankle hasn’t helped the Cats, but this team has had far too many no-shows during the Big Ten season — the 88–63 loss at Illinois, the 78–46 loss at home to Wisconsin and Sunday’s 65–41 loss at Penn State.

Braden: It’s hard not to pick Athlon Sports’ preseason No. 3 team in the nation — a team that now sits at 14–10 overall. I realize that some key losses this season have killed Tom Izzo and the Spartans, and certainly Izzo has earned an off year every now and then, but there is no excuse for how Michigan State has played.

Nathan: The most disappointed fans in the land have to come from Kentucky. After “John Wall Dance”-ing as a national title contender with five first-round picks in John Calipari’s first season, the Big Blue tidal wave has come crashing down. Without 6’11”, 260-pound “Undertaker” Enes Kanter — who the NCAA ruled ineligible — the Wildcats (17–7 overall, 5–5 SEC) lack the size and depth to contend for the SEC crown. And if last year’s loaded UK squad could only advance to the Elite Eight, this season’s thin lineup — led by a stellar (but overworked) trio of freshmen in Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb — may have trouble getting to the Sweet 16. But there’s hope; Coach Cal has four McDonald’s All-Americans on their way to Lexington. If Jones, Knight and Lamb come back, the Cats’ quest for an eighth national title banner will be back on.

3. Which team needs to get its act together the most over the next two weeks?

Mitch: I’ll go with Georgia. The Dawgs, 17–7 overall and 6–4 in the SEC, are in most mock brackets this week, but their spot is far from secure. They let a big opportunity slip away last week with a loss at home to Xavier before rebounding to win at South Carolina on Saturday. They begin a huge stretch this Wednesday when Vanderbilt comes to town. After that, it’s road games at Tennessee and Florida. Mark Fox will feel a lot better about his team if the Dawgs can somehow win two of the next three.

Braden: I have been in the minority when I have said that John Calipari's teams have been overrated when it comes to tournament success. Even his Memphis team that nearly won the national title had serious flaws (and an ineligible player). Last year’s Wildcat team was bigger, more athletic and better than almost every team in the nation at the two most important positions — point guard and center — yet still didn’t reach the Final Four. This season, the Cats have lost five games in conference play already. Home games against Mississippi State, South Carolina and a road trip to Arkansas should have this team right back near the top of the SEC East. However, Kentucky fans only care about national titles, and there is no way this team — playing this way — will make any sort of run in March.

Nathan: Tennessee and Michigan State need to get it together over the next two weeks if either hopes to hear its name called on Selection Sunday. The Volunteers are the ultimate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — or is it Tony Jones and Bruce Pearl? UT has knocked off Pitt, Villanova, Vanderbilt and Memphis. But three straight losses — to Alabama, at Kentucky and at Florida — coupled with ugly early-season defeats to Oakland, Charlotte and College of Charleston have the Big Orange on the bubble for the Big Dance. Meanwhile, the Spartans have a 4–6 record — with three of those four wins coming in overtime — over their last 10 games. Tom Izzo’s run of 13 straight NCAA berths is over if MSU doesn’t get hot in a hurry.

4. Who is the best team in the country?

Mitch: I think Texas is the best team right now, even though I have Ohio State ranked No. 1 in the Athlon Sports top 25. Ohio State was No. 1 last week and lost at Wisconsin, one of the most difficult venues in the nation. Texas has three losses, but at this point of the season, you can make a very sound argument that the Horns are the best team. They are 10–0 in the Big 12, and none of the 10 games has been closer than nine points.

Braden: I was going to say Kansas, but a lackluster first half against Kansas State did them in on Monday night. Pitt is playing about as well as anyone. Ohio State only has one loss, and Texas can beat anyone. But until someone beats the champs, I will go with Duke. No one has ever led the ACC in scoring and assists in the same year, and Nolan Smith has a good chance to do it this year.

Nathan: The Duke Blue Devils are the undisputed heavyweight champions of college basketball and are the best team in the country until they are knocked out. The Dukies have it all, with a four-time title-winning coach in Mike Krzyzewski, senior leadership in point guard Nolan Smith and forward Kyle Singler, size down low in the Plumlee brothers (6’10”, 245-pound Miles and 6’10”, 230-pound Mason) and Ryan Kelly (6’11”, 235), and deadeye outside shooting in Seth Curry (41-of-96 from 3) and Andre Dawkins (48-of-112 from 3). Oh yeah, and there is a slim chance that Duke’s best player — freshman point guard Kyrie Irving (17.4 ppg, 5.1 apg) — may return in time to test his toe out in the Big Dance. No other team even comes close to the Blue Devils’ championship experience, balance and potential — they’re clearly No. 1 in my book.

5. Which game are you most looking forward to this weekend?

Mitch: Ohio State at Purdue. Both teams have tough mid-week tests — Ohio State hosts Michigan State and Purdue hosts Wisconsin — so I will be interested to see what frame of mind both of these teams are in. I expect Ohio State, coming off the loss at Wisconsin, to be refocused and ready to make a run at the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Purdue was embarrassed when these team met in Columbus in late January. You can be sure that Matt Painter will have his team ready to play.

Braden: Ohio State at Purdue on Sunday afternoon. If the Buckeyes win on the road, they likely have the Big Ten regular season title wrapped up. If Purdue wins, the race is wide open — especially with a win over Wisconsin at home on Wednesday. A special shout out to the UConn-Louisville game on Friday night: Thanks for giving this hoops dork something to do on a Friday night.

Nathan: Washington at Arizona is an intriguing matchup between two of the top three teams in the Pac-10. The Huskies crushed the Wildcats, 85–68, three weeks ago — thanks in large part to Isaiah Thomas’ 22 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and one turnover. Since then, however, UW has slumped, losing three straight — at Washington State (87–80), at Oregon State (68–56) and at Oregon (81–76). Meanwhile, Arizona is undefeated since the Jan. 20 loss in Seattle. Derrick Williams (19.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and Co. will be out for revenge in Tucson on Saturday, but there’s a reason the Dogs beat the Cats by 17 not so long ago. The rematch will be telling for both teams.

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Post date: Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 12:12
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/national-notebook/panthers-surviving-without-gibbs
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By Ken Davis

Injuries are a part of any college basketball season, but the magnifying glass comes out when top teams lose players in February. This is the time of year when coaches find themselves walking the high wire, listening to medical advice and making decisions about shutting down players — then hoping their key guys can heal and return for postseason play.

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon last week demonstrated again the qualities that make him such an outstanding coach. The Panthers remain on track to win the Big East Conference after defeating West Virginia and Villanova — both on the road — without guard Ashton Gibbs, Pitt’s leading scorer and team leader.

That’s very impressive, but don’t expect Dixon to brag. The success of Pitt’s program under Dixon is built on a philosophy of maintaining a smooth ride. There’s never any panic, the bumps in the road are absorbed without concern, and Dixon simply tells his team to “keep doing what we’re doing.”

In an extremely hostile environment for a rivalry game, Pitt got 21 points from Brad Wanamaker and 15 from Nasir Robinson to defeat Villanova 57-54. The Wildcats struggled to score against Pitt, making just three baskets in the first 14 minutes of the second half.

“That’s what we do. We defend, and we do it for 40 minutes,” Dixon said.

Gibbs injured his left knee against Cincinnati on Feb. 5 and is supposed to miss between 10 days and two weeks with the MCL problem. Pitt plays at home against South Florida on Wednesday and then travels to St. John’s on Saturday. Those two big road wins last week will give Dixon some flexibility. If Gibbs isn’t ready to return against the Red Storm, he would have five more days to rest before the Panthers have their rematch with West Virginia.

Villanova was without guard Corey Stokes against Pitt. Stokes had been slowed in recent weeks by a sprain of his big toe and a nagging hamstring injury. The toe problem, now referred to as turf toe, cut down on his time against Rutgers in the previous game. Saturday night, he entered Villanova’s Pavilion wearing a protective boot on his left foot.

Jay Wright’s team has lost four of six, and the Wildcats need a healthy Stokes (14.6 ppg) down the stretch. Villanova has games remaining against Syracuse and St. John’s before closing out the regular season with a rematch at Pitt.

Kansas is at rival Kansas State Monday night and will be without sophomore forward Thomas Robinson, who had surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear. The Jayhawks defeated Iowa State easily Saturday without Robinson, but he has been one of the most productive sixth men in the nation.

Kansas coach Bill Self has remarkable depth on this team, but freshman combo guard Josh Selby has missed the last three games because of a stress reaction in his right foot. Selby has been upgraded to “questionable” for the K-State game. “He did practice [Sunday] and moved pretty well,” Self told the Lawrence Journal World.

Senior Brady Morningstar has stepped in and done a tremendous job on both ends of the floor. Some have speculated the Jayhawks are better without Selby because he tries to go too fast and commits turnovers at times. You can bet Self is willing to play without Selby and Robinson as long as it takes for them to get healthy and ready for March Madness.

Florida State’s season took an unfortunate turn Saturday when Chris Singleton fractured his right foot. The Seminoles’ top scorer and rebounder, as well as one of the nation’s top defenders, is scheduled to have surgery Monday with the hope he can return before the end of the season. The Seminoles defeated Virginia, 63-56, improving their record 18-7 overall and 8-3 in the ACC. With that enormous win over Duke on Jan. 12, FSU appears headed to the NCAA Tournament. Leonard Hamilton will have to find others to pick up the slack with Singleton’s 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds missing from action. Xavier Gibson, who recently returned from injury, and Bernard James will be asked to step it up.

It’s not just the coaches and fans watching to see how teams react to injuries. The NCAA Tournament selection committee will be paying attention, too. When the committee convenes in Indianapolis in March it will have team performances broken down with all the injury updates.

Of course the most interesting injury situation continues to play out at Duke. Freshman phenom Kyrie Irving hasn’t played since suffering turf toe on Dec. 4. His cast came off recently. Coach Mike Krzyzewski keeps saying Irving likely won’t play again this season.

Something in my gut tells me Irving is going to work hard enough to return. It’s just a hunch. But if there’s one player who could alter March completely, it’s Kyrie Irving. Stay tuned.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK
It was the most dramatic performance of the season. Jordan Taylor put Wisconsin on his back and ignited an unthinkable rally against No. 1 Ohio State Saturday. Taylor scored eight straight points to spark a 15-0 run, and the Badgers worked their Kohl Center magic once again with a 71-67 victory over Ohio State, handing the Buckeyes their first loss of the season. Wisconsin appeared defeated, trailing by 15 points. Not in Taylor’s mind. He scored 21 of his 27 in the second half. “He made all the difference in the world,” Wisconsin teammate Jon Leuer said. Just like that, Division I basketball got the message there would be no perfect team this season. The Indiana 1975-76 squad can rest easy again. Those Hoosiers were the last team to go through a season without a loss.

FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Tim Hardaway Jr. helped Michigan to a 2-0 week with his first career double-double, against Northwestern, and a career-high 26 points against Indiana. Hardaway averaged 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and two assists in the two games. He also shot 63.6 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3-point range. Against Northwestern, he finished with 17 points and a career-high 10 rebounds.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Monday, Feb. 14

West Virginia at Syracuse
Looks as if it will be a bumpy ride to the finish line for Syracuse. The Orange lost for the sixth time in eight games Saturday when Louisville held off a late surge for a 73-69 victory. West Virginia is actually ahead of Syracuse in the Big East standings.

Kansas at Kansas State
The Jayhawks won the first meeting 90-66 in Lawrence. Kansas is the No. 1 team in the nation — expect the crowd at Bramlage Coliseum to work itself into a frenzy before tipoff.

Tuesday, Feb. 15

Mississippi State at Kentucky
Kentucky has been fine at home but can’t win conference games on the road. Both teams are 5-5- in the SEC.

George Mason at VCU
The Colonial is staging another incredible conference race this season. George Mason is first at 13-3. VCU is second at 12-3. Old Dominion and Hofstra are right behind at 11-4.

Wednesday, Feb. 16

Vanderbilt at Georgia
Florida (9-2) has taken control of the SEC East, but Vandy and Georgia are tied for second at 6-4. A road win would be huge for the Commodores.

Oklahoma State at Texas
Texas remains undefeated in the Big 12 with a 10-0 mark — including that win over Kansas.

Georgetown at Connecticut
Georgetown has won eight straight. The Hoyas have battled back and put themselves in the running for second place in the Big East. UConn needs a win over a ranked team.

Wisconsin at Purdue
The Badgers have to stay focused after that Ohio State victory. Purdue is coming off a big road win at Illinois. The winner of this one will be looking strong in the Big Ten race.

Thursday, Feb. 17

Minnesota at Penn State
February has been a cruel month to both of these teams. Are NCAA hopes running out?

Alabama at LSU
The Tide appear to be rolling to the championship of the SEC West. Winning a road game in the division would be huge for Anthony Grant’s team.

Friday, Feb. 18

Connecticut at Louisville
Last time these two met, Peyton Siva was the man in a double-overtime 79-78 victory for the Cards at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies have been struggling ever since.

VCU at Wichita State
It's BracketBusters time.

Saturday, Feb. 19

Pittsburgh at St. John’s
The Red Storm welcome another top ranked team to Madison Square Garden. So far, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke and UConn have all fallen to Steve Lavin’s team in the Big Apple. Can Dwight Hardy and Co. do it again?

Washington at Arizona
Sean Miller has worked his magic with the Wildcats. This time, Arizona will be looking to avenge an 85-68 loss at Washington on Jan. 20. That’s Arizona’s only loss since Jan 2.

Notre Dame at West Virginia
The Irish have won seven straight and have an entire week to get ready for this trip to Morgantown. Ben Hansbrough has evolved into Mike Brey’s main man at Notre Dame.

Illinois at Michigan State
Two of the most disappointing teams in the nation meet in East Lansing trying to find some momentum before March. The two have combined for a mind-boggling 19 losses.

George Mason at Northern Iowa
Turn off that funny George Mason Internet video long enough to catch this great matchup from the BracketBusters.

Utah State at Saint Mary’s
It’s another BracketBusters special. Utah State leads the WAC, and Saint Mary’s is on the way to ruling the West Coast.

Sunday, Feb. 20

Cleveland State at Old Dominion
The Horizon meets the Colonial in more BracketBusters action.

Ohio State at Purdue
Part II of Purdue’s huge week. The Buckeyes get a chance to regroup at home on Tuesday against Michigan State. Then it’s back on the road for a dangerous game against the Boilermakers.

THEY SAID IT

“We got a good, old piece of humble pie, so we’re back hungry. This team wants to get back and practice tonight — unfortunately, we can’t due to NCAA rules.” — Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger, after experiencing his first defeat as a college player, Saturday at Wisconsin.

“There’s so many people trying to get closer and closer. It’s like suffocating. It’s fun to celebrate.” — Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer after the Kohl Center stormed the floor following the victory over Ohio State.

“I want to be No. 1. I want to have that chip on our shoulder every time we go out. I want to be the one that gets everybody’s best shot because I believe we can take it.” — Kansas forward Marcus Morris, after Ohio State lost and the No. 2 Jayhawks crushed Iowa State 89-66 on Saturday.

“I don’t want to be No. 1. Enjoy No. 3 and keep climbing that mountain.” — Texas forward Jordan Hamilton, after Texas defeated Baylor 69-60. Texas is the only team to defeat Kansas this season.

“The Philly guys played like Philly guys.” — Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, referring to Philadelphia natives Brad Wanamaker and Nasir Robinson after they combined for 36 points to lift the Panthers to a 57-54 victory at Villanova.

“We missed on both guys, no doubt. They proved it tonight.” — Villanova coach Jay Wright, sharing his thoughts on Wanamaker and Robinson.

NOTES

Mother Knows Best
If John Jenkins keeps listening to his mother, Vanderbilt might have a special season in the works. Jenkins received a text message from his mother before Saturday’s game against Kentucky in Nashville. She told him he needed to score at least 25 points. He did that and more, knocking down six 3-pointers on the way to a career-high 32 points, and Vanderbilt knocked off Kentucky 81-77. Jenkins did that despite a sprained right shoulder. But before getting treatment after the game, he made sure to get in touch with his mother. “She said, ‘Mama knows best,’ after I hugged her. I said, ‘You do. You definitely do.’” The win over Kentucky completed a three-game home stand sweep for the Commodores (18-6 overall, 6-4 SEC). Vanderbilt hit 20-of-39 3-point attempts in its last two wins.

Big Storm
There was some funny dialogue in Storrs, Conn., Sunday night after UConn defeated Providence 75-57. To the surprised of everyone, sophomore Jamal Coombs-McDaniel led the Huskies with career highs of 25 points and eight rebounds. Perhaps the most impressive thing was his career-high 31 minutes. Coombs-McDaniel is accustomed to getting coach Jim Calhoun’s hook after any mistake he makes on the floor. “I’m trying to describe our relationship — storm?” Calhoun said. “Stormy is a good word.” Coombs-McDaniel agreed, but said it has been for the good. “Sulking didn’t do any good so I’m striving to continue to play and get better and get some minutes on the court.”

Pirates Step Up
When Kevin Willard was hired to coach at Seton Hall last spring, he knew restoring the image of the program involved more than just winning games. Unfortunately, behavioral issues don’t go away overnight. Senior guards Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson were dismissed Saturday “due to violation of team rules and an ongoing pattern of conduct unbecoming of a representative of Seton Hall athletics,” according to a statement released from the school. The dismissals may have triggered memories of all the incidents that led to the firing of coach Bobby Gonzalez last year, but the Pirates went out and won their fifth Big East game with a 69-64 decision over Rutgers. In the victory, Jeremy Hazell scored 19 points and became the fourth player in Seton Hall history to reach the 2,000-career point plateau.

Smith on Fire
Nolan Smith of Duke would have been Player of the Week if Jordan Taylor hadn’t performed so well in such a big game. Smith has been on a tear for the Blue Devils, and he rescued his teammates in the second half against North Carolina Wednesday night. Smith scored 22 of his career-high 34 points after halftime and the Blue Devils rallied from 43-29 down to a 79-73 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was Smith’s third 30-point game of the season and fifth straight with at least 20 points.

Marcus the Man
Marcus Morris certainly isn’t an unknown, but the Kansas junior doesn’t get mentioned much in the National Player of the Tear discussion. That’s because Kansas has so much depth and so much balance. Morris averages 16.9 points, seven rebounds and shoots 34.5 percent from 3-point range. But his overall field goal percentage is 60.9 percent, and in his last six games he is shooting an amazing 68 percent (36-of-53).

More Madness
Most exciting news of the week: Thanks to the new NCAA Tournament television contract, it sounds as if the viewing experience will be even better starting this year. The Associated Press reported that the deal with CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV “will allow for more staggered starts of games, so all those buzzer-beaters aren’t happening at the same time.” Terrific.

Stat Stuffer
Stat line of the week: If you don’t know the name Norris Cole, it’s time to get acquainted. Cole scored 41 points and grabbed 20 rebounds to carry Cleveland State to an 86-76 victory over Youngstown State Saturday. Oh yeah, Cole also had nine assists. If you hadn’t heard of Cole before, then you don’t know he is 6 foot 2. Yeah, 6-2. He averages 21.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and shoots 36.1 percent from three-point range. He’s a senior from Dayton, Ohio. Check him out. The last 40-20 game in Division I was recorded by Blake Griffin of Oklahoma on Feb. 14, 2009. Griffin had 40 and 23 against Texas Tech.


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/).

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Post date: Monday, February 14, 2011 - 12:34
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/nfl-perspective/let-labor-games-begin
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By Ralph Vacchiano

It was another thrilling finish in what has become a string of remarkable Super Bowls. Three of the last four have been decided on the final drive. There hasn’t been a real Super blowout in eight years.

There were over 100,000 people packed into Cowboys Stadium. There were another 162 million watching at least part of it across the country. It was the most watched televised event in the history of American television.

And despite all that, Super Bowl XLV could be the last taste of professional football the hungry public gets for quite a while.

Now that the confetti has been cleared and the Lombardi Trophy has been returned to Green Bay, the specter of a lockout is casting a shadow over whatever comes next. Almost everyone around the NFL believes that, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires on March 4, NFL owners will vote to lock out the players.

That means, with the lone exception of the NFL Draft on April 28-30, there will be no football — no workouts, no mini-camps, no free agent signings and no games — until a new CBA is signed.

What are the chances of that? How far apart are the sides? How long could a lockout last? And what’s causing the big divide? The details can be as confusing as they are mind-numbing to fans who want nothing more than to watch their favorite teams play. But until that happens, here’s a guide to the NFL’s current labor situation, what’s coming next, and what’s at stake:

THE SIDES

• Billionaire owners who preside over an industry that is at the height of its popularity and generates an estimated $8 billion. There are 32 of them, seemingly united in the feeling that the existing labor agreement is out of date and too costly. Their leader is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

• Millionaire players (and some worth much less) who have a history of fracturing under pressure from owners. Their new boss, NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith, is a well-connected lawyer who has vowed “war” on the owners and swears the players will remain united, no matter how long they’re kept off the field.

THE BIG ISSUES

• Money is the big one, no matter what else is mentioned. The owners want to roll back the players’ share of the revenue pie, which currently stands at 59.8 percent. The players claim that’s not a percentage of all revenue anyway and are opposed to what they believe is essentially an 18 percent pay cut across the board.

• The 18-game season might be the biggest bargaining chip on the table. NFL owners want two extra games (and two fewer preseason games) because it’s an easy way to add revenue. The players insist they want no part of two extra regular-season games, though they often qualify that by saying it’s negotiable if their pay is increased.

• A rookie salary cap of some form seems to be one issue that players and owners favor. Rookie salaries have gotten out of control, and veteran players would like to see more of that money go to them. Agents aren’t thrilled with this idea, though, since rookie contracts are the easiest pay days they have.

• Retired player benefits are on the table, though this seems to be a bigger issue among retired players. Players want more money to be diverted to future health costs and helping out players later in life. The owners seem fine with that but would prefer more of that come out of the current players’ slice of the pie.

THE TIMETABLE

Most NFL insiders seem certain a lockout is coming on March 4 even though the NFL and NFLPA finally sat down for their first formal negotiating session in two months at the Super Bowl and have committed to two more negotiating sessions in the very near future. Figure on several more happening before February is over, continuing right up until the final hours.

The problem is that, even though Goodell swears there’s a sense of urgency to strike a deal, there’s no reason for either side to have a sense of urgency. NFL owners will take an immediate financial hit even if there’s a work stoppage in March, but they’ve built a strong enough financial reserve that they won’t really feel any pinch until the games would have started in August. For the players, they might not get antsy until they start missing game checks in September.

The most optimistic league insiders believe that a settlement in July is the best-case scenario. Many think a lockout could force the regular season to be delayed.

WHAT TO EXPECT

For the next few months, expect nothing but rhetoric. The only item, other than meetings, on the NFL calendar is the draft. Without a CBA, there will be no free agency, meaning 500 potential free agents are in limbo. Contracts can’t be signed. Players won’t be allowed to work out at team facilities. The league will be virtually at a standstill.

Many players have already discussed plans to organize team workouts, and some agents may be gathering players for unofficial camps, too. That’s all they can do, though, while the league is shut down.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There will be football in 2011. Almost everyone agrees with that. The belief — the hope, perhaps — is that the players and owners understand that even with a flawed agreement they’re all getting richer. With an $8 billion pie still growing and waiting to be split, none of them are dumb enough to skip an entire season. They’re also very mindful of alienating their much-abused fans.

How it’s settled is anyone’s guess. An 18-game season seems likely. So does some sort of a roll back in the players’ percentage of the revenue, though the owners may need to throw more of their revenue into the shared pot. Players will likely still have free agency in it’s old form, starting at four years. The general free agency rules — complete with “franchise” tags — seem unlikely to change much at all.

Then, when it’s settled, expect everything to happen quickly. You might see a two-week sprint to get all the free agents signed, followed by an abbreviated training camp and a quick and condensed start to the season.

There will be football, though, at some point. That’s what everyone believes. There just may be a lot of screaming and yelling before the next ball is actually kicked off.

 

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Post date: Saturday, February 12, 2011 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/national-notebook/young-pack-will-be-back
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By Charean Williams

The good news for the Green Bay Packers is they won another Lombardi Trophy. The better news is the Packers are the second-youngest team in the league.

They could be contenders for a while.

The Packers had barely finished celebrating their latest championship — the 13th for the franchise — when they started thinking about a repeat.

“We feel very blessed in Green Bay to have a tremendous history and tradition, and that’s something that now we’re permanently part of,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That will be something that we’ll use as a strength and an outlook. I don’t look at it as pressure. I don’t feel stress from it. I embrace it. It’s something that players feed off of. We celebrate it as fine as any sports organization in the world, and we’ve added to it. So to me, our tradition and history and our ability to repeat, that’s exciting to us. That’s the next challenge.”

The Packers had 15 players on injured reserve, the most in the league. Six were starters on their opening-day depth chart. Among others, the Packers will get back running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley, whom Aaron Rodgers calls “the best tight end in the league.”

And their young players will be a year more experienced.

They have only eight players 30 or older. Rodgers is only 27.

The Packers ended the 2010 season with the title. They are the favorites for 2011 already. One online betting service has Green Bay with 7-1 odds to win Super Bowl XLVI, with the Patriots (8-1), the Steelers (10-1) and the Chargers (12-1) following.

“It’s going to be exciting,” McCarthy said of next season. “On paper, it’s a lot like this year. Coming out of training camp it was the best football team that I stood in front of. I knew we were going to have an excellent opportunity to win the Super Bowl. When you look at the returning roster next year, it’s the same type of situation.”

Ty Warren readying for next season

The Patriots missed Ty Warren more than the defensive end missed football. Warren had hip surgery Aug. 16 to repair a torn labrum, keeping him on the sidelines for a football season for the first time since he began playing football.

“I think I needed it,” Warren said. “I’ve been pushing myself a little too hard for the past couple years, and I’ve been known to overtrain. It was good for me, and I’ve been enjoying spending time with my family.”

He didn’t watch a single game start to finish. If he had, Warren would have seen the Patriots struggles up front without him.

With Warren in the training room, the Patriots were forced to move nosetackle Vince Wilfork to defensive end at times. They finished with 36 sacks.

Warren was on crutches for two months, while rehabbing in Vail, Colo., where he had his surgery. He then returned to New England for more rehab.

Warren was checked out by team doctors during the Patriots’ exit exams at the end of the season and is fully healed, he said.

Warren has played in 105 games since the Patriots picked him in the first round of the 2003 draft. But he has missed a total of 22 games the past three seasons. Warren, 30, has plans to play another couple of years before calling it quits. Now 100 percent, he thinks he can be as good as old.

“Everything is good,” said Warren, who has 496 tackles, 20.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in his career. “I’m just trying to get back in the swing of things, and start my [2011] season off a little early.”

Fourth and Short

The Saints will work on a contract extension for Drew Brees, who is due to make $7.4 million in the final year of his deal. They have a bigger decision about Reggie Bush’s future. He is due a base salary of $11.8 million next season. He said he will consider restructuring his deal to remain in New Orleans. The Saints, who were hit hard by injuries at the position in 2010, might need him back. Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory both have had ankle surgeries since the end of the season.

• Running back LaDainian Tomlinson is expected back with the Jets. He signed a two-year deal in the offseason and is scheduled to make $2.4 million in 2011. Tomlinson averaged 5.7 yards per carry in the first five games before dipping to 3.3 the rest of the way as Father Time seems to have caught up to him. Tomlinson, 31, still lead the Jets with 914 rushing yards and 51 receptions. He has said he’s willing to take a reduced role behind Shonn Greene next season.

• The Eagles had 12 rookies who started or played regularly. By the end of the year, Philadelphia had 17 rookies or second-year players on their 53-player roster and five more rookies on injured reserve.

• Jason Campbell will enter 2011 as the Raiders’ starting quarterback. He solidified his status in the final five games, and his 84.5 passer rating for the season was the team’s highest since Rich Gannon in 2002.

• Giants receiver Mario Manningham finished the season with three consecutive 100-yard games. He had 113, 132 and 101 yards, becoming the first Giants receiver with three 100-yard games in a row since Homer Jones in 1968.

• Only four teams — the Giants, Houston, Jacksonville and St. Louis — failed to score a defensive touchdown last season.

• The Cardinals are in desperate need of an outside linebacker (or two). Clark Haggans and Joey Porter, both of whom will be 34 for the start of the season, combined for only 97 tackles and 10 sacks.

• The Falcons will draft 27th. The Patriots drafted Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty with the 27th pick last season. Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, Texas cornerback Aaron Williams and Utah cornerback Brandon Burton are among the players who could be available for Atlanta.

• Dave Wannstedt, who spent six seasons as head coach at the University of Pittsburgh, will have his hands full in Buffalo. The Bills ranked last against the run, 28th in points allowed and 24th in yardage allowed. Buffalo does have the No. 3 overall pick.

• Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who played in only six games before going on injured reserve, is expected to become a free agent. Jonathan Stewart, who had 770 yards in 14 games, is ready to become the starter, and Mike Goodson showed promising flashes as a backup.

• The Bears’ best offensive lineman, Olin Kreutz, is scheduled to become a free agent. But Kreutz is 34. Chicago allowed Jay Cutler to be sacked an NFL-high 52 times, so the Bears have some improving to do on their line, whether they get a new center or not.

• Carson Palmer, who has asked Cincinnati to trade him, is 46-51 as the Bengals’ starter, including 21-31 over the past four seasons.

• The Browns would like to find Peyton Hillis a capable backup. He rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns but failed to score in the final five games. He fumbled eight times. The Browns figured out that his 270 carries were too much.

• After going 4-5 as the starter in place of Tony Romo, Jon Kitna will return as the Cowboys’ backup quarterback.

• Colts receiver Reggie Wayne took his receiver teammates with him to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Wayne’s five Pro Bowls are three shy of former teammate Marvin Harrison and one less than Hall of Famer Raymond Berry.

• Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew missed the final two games with a knee injury. He revealed after the season that it was bone-on-bone, which will require about four months recovery time. It raises a question about whether he can be as effective as he was the past two seasons — rushing for 1,391 yards in 2009 and 1,324 in 14 games in 2010.

• The Chiefs are expected to move on without receiver Chris Chambers, who was a healthy scratch for the playoff game. Chambers had only 22 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown this season.

• After ranking 30th in total defense and surrendering 427 points, the Texans are expected to use at least three of their top five picks on defensive players, including the first round. They are hoping to get a third-round compensatory pick for cornerback Dunta Robinson, who signed with the Falcons as a free agent in 2010.

• Champ Bailey turns 33 next season, but as a free agent, he still likely will command a big contract. The Broncos aren’t likely to franchise Bailey as it would cost them a cap hit of roughly $15 million.

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Post date: Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 16:58

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