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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

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Post date: Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 13:07
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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
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/bracket-breakdown/hoyas-making-move
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ACC (6)
In: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Worth a Mention: Maryland, Miami

Notes: North Carolina and Duke are the only teams that are secure. Clemson, which has won four of its last five, sneaks in this week. The Tigers have seven losses, but five have come by six points or less. Virginia Tech, as usual, is the definition of a bubble team. The Hokies (5–4 ACC, RPI 68) have a chance to get on a roll in the ACC. The next two are at home, vs. Georgia Tech and Maryland, and then they travel to Virginia and Wake Forest. Boston College is sliding down the bracket, with four losses in five games. Also, Texas A&M’s recent struggles have not helped BC; A&M is the only top-60 team the Eagles have defeated.

America East (1)
In: Vermont

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

Notes: Richmond’s RPI is not very good (74), but the Spiders have a neutral court win over Purdue in their back pocket. Duquesne’s hopes took a huge hit with last weekend’s loss to Saint Bonaventure. The Dukes have a chance to make amends when Xavier visits this weekend.

A-Sun (1)
In: Belmont

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

Notes: Seven teams are in this week, but Baylor, K-State and Oklahoma State still have plenty of work to do. Baylor made a big climb in the past week, with a huge overtime win at Texas A&M followed up by a victory at home vs. Nebraska. The Bears still have two games vs. Texas and trips to Missouri and Oklahoma State. Kansas State has a very good RPI (31) but no wins vs. RPI top-60 teams. The Cats don’t, however, have many bad losses. The defeat at home to Colorado is the only loss against a team outside the RPI top 50.

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Post date: Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 11:43
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
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1. Will Alabama make the NCAA Tournament?

Mitch Light: Never thought I would say this after the Tide lost to Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peter’s in a four-day stretch in November at the Paradise Jam, but yes, the Tide will make the NCAA Tournament. It won’t be easy, though. With an RPI in the mid-90s heading into Thursday’s game at Vanderbilt, Alabama (currently 15–7 and 7–1) needs to win at least 12 games in league play — assuming it doesn’t win the SEC Tournament. The Tide only have two top-90 wins, but one was vs. Kentucky (No. 11) and the other was at Tennessee (No. 21). They still have three games vs. top-40 opponents — at Vanderbilt, at Florida and vs. Georgia. If the Tide can somehow win two of those three, they should be in decent shape, especially with the field now at 68 teams.

Nathan Rush: After starting the season 5–6, Anthony Grant’s Crimson Tide have gone 10–1 since — losing on the road at Arkansas (70–65). During that stretch, Alabama’s defense has looked like a Nick Saban scheme. Anchored by 6’8” pivot JaMychal Green and athletic wingman Tony Mitchell, Bama is in a position to play its way into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. And once the Tide rolls into March, the 44-year-old Grant has proven he can pull off an upset or two.

Braden Gall: Let’s say Bama loses at Vandy, Ole Miss and Florida. We would actually have to ask ourselves if a 12–4 SEC record is good enough? The Tide have two should-be huge wins, at Tennessee and over Kentucky, but those two teams have combined for 14 losses. How can you put a team into the tourney with loses to Iowa, Seton Hall, Providence and St. Peter’s? The other non-conference tests — Oklahoma State, Purdue — resulted in losses, too. They have to finish at least 13–3 in a league that might actually be worse than last year’s Pac-10 (I am only kidding, sort of).

2. What team impressed you the most last week?

Mitch: I’ll go with Kansas, which won by 20 at Nebraska on Saturday and then pounded a good Missouri team, 103–86, in an offensive clinic Monday night in Lawrence. Playing without freshman Josh Selby, the Jayhawks shot a sparkling 60.7 percent from the field (and 57.9 percent from three) against Mizzou. After struggling a bit with some closer-than-expected wins last month, Kansas has been playing as well as any team in the country over the past few weeks.

Nathan: Florida made a statement last week with wins over Vanderbilt (65–61, OT) and Kentucky (70–68) at the O’Dome. Billy Donovan’s teams have been a disappointment since winning back-to-back national titles in 2006 and ‘07, but this year’s club is starting to show signs of life. With senior point-forward Chandler Parsons, streak-shooting combo guards Ervin Walker and Kenny Boynton, and plenty of size — Vernon Macklin (6’10”, 245), Alex Tyus (6’8”, 220) and Patric Young (6’9”, 245) — down low, “Billy the Kid” has all the pieces in place for another NCAA run.

Braden: Wisconsin. Both wins were at home, but a nine-point win over Purdue and a 26-point drubbing of rival Michigan State is about as good as it gets. The Badgers get Ohio State at home on Saturday, and the Buckeyes had their own great week with wins over the school from up North and at Minnesota. The Buckeyes made the trip into the Barn look way too easy. (Honorable Mention: Syracuse, UCLA, Alabama, Oregon).


3. What first year coach has done the best job?

Mitch: Dana Altman at Oregon. The long-time Creighton coach (and one-time K-State boss) inherited a depleted roster from Ernie Kent. The Ducks went 7–11 in the Pac-10 last season and were expected by many — including Athlon Sports — to finish in last place in the league. But Altman has coaxed a 5–6 Pac-10 record from this group heading into Thursday’s game at UCLA. The Ducks have won four of their last five, highlighted by a sweep of Washington State and Washington, two probable NCAA Tournament teams.

Nathan: It’s been an up and down season for St. John’s first-year coach Steve Lavin — with impressive wins over Duke, Notre Dame and Georgetown, but ugly losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham. Still, I love seeing Lavin coaching the Red Storm. Lavin’s team has gotten better as the year has progressed, and if he can recruit New York City like he did the L.A. area back in the day, St. John’s could become a Big East contender in the near future.

Braden: O Donnie, Donnie, where for art thou Donnie? Donnie Jones at UCF was the easy choice after a 14–0 start. But he now sits at 1–7 in C-USA play. Therefore, it is tough not to go with Steve Lavin at St. John’s. The Red Storm missed a chance at a another quality non-conference win with the seven-point loss at UCLA. But with wins over Notre Dame, Georgetown, Northwestern and West Virginia, Lavin has St. John’s poised for its first NCAA berth since 2002.


4. Do you have a problem with 11 teams from the Big East making the NCAA Tournament?

Mitch: Not at all. The goal of the Selection Committee is to select the best 37 teams in the country for the at-large invitations. It shouldn’t matter one bit where those teams come from. As recently as two seasons ago, seven of the 11 Big Ten teams (or 63.6 percent) made the Tournament. If 11 Big East teams make it this season, that is 68.7 percent of the league — more than the Big Ten percentage, but not by much.

Nathan: I have no problem with 11 Big East teams making the NCAA Tournament this year. Big East teams are tougher and more battle-tested than any in the country, after playing well-coached clubs with loaded rosters — like Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Syracuse, Louisville and Villanova, just to name a few (or seven) — all season.

Braden: Absolutely not. It is the question that members of the Selection Committee have to ask themselves every year: Do they want the best 37 at-large teams to compete for the championship? Or do they want to reward teams (like 2005-06 Air Force) for having great seasons in lesser leagues? If 10 (not including the Big East tourney champ) of the best 37 at-large teams hail from one league, so be it.

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

Mitch: Ohio State takes its undefeated record the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin is an unthinkable 75–6 in Big Ten games under Bo Ryan. Wisconsin is flying a bit under the radar, but this team is playing very well. The defense, as usual, has been outstanding (none of UW’s last five opponents has scored more than 60 points), and the offense has been remarkably efficient. Jordan Taylor is playing the point guard position as well as anyone in the nation. This should be a great ballgame. Go with the Badgers!

Nathan: This may be the best weekend lineup all season, with Ohio State at Wisconsin, Pittsburgh at Villanova, Syracuse at Louisville and Kentucky at Vanderbilt. But the Cats and Commodores are who I want to see play. Both of these clubs have been wildly inconsistent but have shown flashes of Elite Eight (maybe Final Four?) potential. This is a pivotal game for both John Calipari and Kevin Stallings. Kentucky needs to prove it can win in a hostile environment — which Memorial Gymnasium certainly is — and Vanderbilt must find some “killer instinct” to be considered a legit threat come Tournament time.

Braden: The nation’s No. 1 team, off to arguably its best start in school history with arguably the best player in the nation, will do battle with the winningest coach in Big Ten history. Ohio State has never won at the Kohl Center and that is all Wisconsin does there. Bo Ryan is 149–11 overall and 75–6 in Big Ten play over nine-plus years in Madison. Something has to give.

Teaser:
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Post date: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/national-notebook/marshall-plan-working-unc
Body:

By Ken Davis

The online message boards focusing on North Carolina basketball became very active Friday when news broke that point guard Larry Drew had walked away from the Tar Heels without explanation.

“Quitter. Loser. Crybaby.”

Strong words were used to characterize Drew. Let’s hope Drew gave this decision a lot of thought, because no matter what he has been through — and it’s only right to mention he unfairly shouldered a lot of blame the last two seasons — the way he left Chapel Hill will always be viewed as a defining moment in his life. It’s the way he did it that angered people. He walked away from his college team 18 days after losing his starting job. And he did it at a time when Carolina was entering the toughest stretch of its schedule.

More important, he didn’t bother to personally tell coach Roy Williams or his teammates. Guard Justin Watts was Drew’s roommate and he had no idea Drew was planning to leave. Williams found out Friday morning when he returned a call to Drew’s father, Larry Sr., the coach of the Atlanta Hawks.

That’s not only bizarre and awkward. It’s wrong. The way the Drew family handled this situation was more than insulting to Williams, even though the North Carolina coach has gone out of his way not to publicly admonish his former player.

“We had a long discussion, most of which should be kept private,” Williams said of his conversation with Larry, Sr. “Basically there was no arbitrating, no trying to see if we could rectify anything.

“I was shocked. I was disappointed.”

As the surprise surrounding Drew’s decision started to wear off, there were basically two conclusions for North Carolina fans to consider. One would leave them wondering how much Drew’s departure would hurt, at a time when the Tar Heels seemed to be pulling their season together. The other possibility is that North Carolina might become a better team, a more close-knit bunch without an unhappy teammate in the locker room.

Freshman Kendall Marshall at least provided some temporary diversion on Sunday. Marshall, the player who took Drew’s starting job, scored nine points and had 16 assists to lead the Tar Heels past Florida State, 89-69. A Tar Heel player hadn’t had that many assists since Raymond Felton’s 18 against George Mason in December 2003.

“I won’t say it was a statement because we had a lot of great players play great tonight,” Marshall told reporters. “But as a point guard of this team, I do sort of feel like the leader and I have to lead by example.”

It’s a tough spot for Marshall. Not as tough as the one Drew faced when he tried to replace Ty Lawson, but still difficult. Wednesday night the Tar Heels face Duke, and this one is in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Cameron Crazies will be ready and waiting for North Carolina’s new floor leader.

Drew’s departure puts pressure on Marshall and also on Dexter Strickland, who will see time at both guard spots. That’s the extent of Carolina’s depth at point guard. Williams will have to adjust his rotation again, but the initial response from the Tar Heels indicated they are moving on — without Drew.

Duke is 8-1 in the ACC. North Carolina is 7-1 and has won five straight since that embarrassing 78-58 loss at Georgia Tech. Just when you thought the Duke-UNC rivalry was cooling off, a soap opera breaks out.

These developments will make things very interesting again. Marshall now has a starring role and many eyes will be focused on him. Do you think Larry Drew, wherever he is, will be watching on TV?

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is now doubling as Ben Hansbrough’s publicist, pushing his player for Big East and National Player of the Year honors. Hey, you can’t blame Brey. Hansbrough comes from quality award stock. His brother Tyler, who starred at North Carolina a few years back, grabbed a few trophies in his time. “I mean, we are in the top 10, and he has driven us into that position and we are in the hunt for the league title. … Some people say, ‘Let’s see what he does next game.’ Well he did it again.” Brey was talking about Hansbrough’s 25 points, six rebounds, five assists and one steal in a 76-69 win over Rutgers. Prior to that game, against DePaul, Hansbrough had 24 points, three rebounds, three assists and one steal. That’s a nice week of work.

FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK

North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall. See above. “We hadn’t seen him play,” Florida State’s Chris Singleton said of Marshall. “We underestimated him, and he showed us what he’s capable of doing.”

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Tuesday, Feb. 8
Indiana at Purdue
The Hoosiers may be last in the Big Ten but they’ve gone 2-2 in their last four games and the two losses came by a total of two points. Purdue has lost two of its last three.

Tennessee at Kentucky
Bruce Pearl returns to the bench for SEC action. Will that be good or bad for the Vols? Kentucky will just be glad to be back home after losing at Ole Miss and at Florida last week.

Wednesday, Feb. 9
Georgetown at Syracuse
Austin Freeman and Rick Jackson each have found their groove. And these two teams have busted out of their Big East slumps. The Carrier Dome fans can’t wait for the Hoyas to visit.

Louisville at Notre Dame
Last week Louisville occupied second place in the Big East. This week is Notre Dame’s turn. Mike Brey’s team has won five straight.

North Carolina at Duke
Hate to tell Austin Rivers this, but North Carolina vs. Duke is a rivalry. Coach K must love the extra pressure from one of his signees, who’s still in high school.

Texas A&M at Colorado
Colorado coach Tad Boyle and Aggies coach Mark Turgeon are old buddies from the Kansas basketball program. But this will be the only time they face off before the Buffs head to the Pac 10.

Thursday, Feb. 10
Connecticut at St. John’s
UConn is 6-4 in the Big East. St. John’s is 5-5. Every game counts in the Big East.

Alabama at Vanderbilt
Bama has been the surprise of the SEC, but the trip to Memorial Gym will be very tough. Vanderbilt hasn’t lost to Alabama in Nashville since 1990.

Illinois at Minnesota
Illinois dropped out of the rankings after a 71-70 loss to Northwestern. Minnesota has lost three in a row.

Friday, Feb. 11
Yale at Harvard
Friday nights are for sorting out the Ivy League standings.

Saturday, Feb. 12
Syracuse at Louisville
Choose your defensive weapon. Syracuse likes the 2-3 zone. Louisville coach Rick Pitino will press and use the matchup zone. The team that figures out how to score wins.

Ohio State at Wisconsin
This might be the biggest obstacle between Ohio State and an unbeaten regular season. There’s no doubt the Badgers will be bringing their A game.

Pittsburgh at Villanova
It’s still one of the best rivalries in the Big East. Pitt will be shorthanded but the Panthers won’t be short of energy.

Kentucky at Vanderbilt
The Wildcats and Commodores begin the week with identical records. This is the first of two meetings before the end of the regular season, so it will carry a lot of weight in the SEC.

Sunday, Feb. 13
Arizona at Arizona State
Sean Miller is getting it done at Arizona. First place vs. last place in the Pac-10. But, hey, it’s still a rivalry game.

Purdue at Illinois
Illinois has lost five times since Jan. 11. With two games against ranked opponents this week, the season might be in the balance for the Illini.

THEY SAID IT

“The more you play this game, you start to understand this is a game of runs. Tech made a good run, coach called a timeout to get us settled down and we came out and responded real good.” — Texas guard J’Covan Brown, after the Longhorns defeated Texas Tech 76-60.

“What people don’t realize is he don’t want to pass the ball. He don’t want to get no assists. He wants to shoot the ball every single time. If you think he wants to pass it, then you’re wrong.” — UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis, speaking his mind on BYU star Jimmer Fredette, before a 78-64 loss to the Cougars.

“At this point, it doesn’t matter what he says. I was just worried about getting the victory.” — Fredette, after scoring 29 points (and adding seven assists) against UNLV and becoming the Mountain West Conference’s career scoring leader.

“It feels good. It’s a big-time win. These are the kind of games you dream about as a child.” — Florida’s Chandler Parsons, after the Gators defeated Kentucky 70-68 Saturday.

“Last time in Lincoln, and I love playing here. You won’t be coming back, so it’s good to get a last win here.” — Kansas guard Brady Morningstar, who scored 19 points and helped the Jayhawks to an 86-66 victory over Nebraska in the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The Cornhuskers head to the Big Ten next season.

“I’m not going to talk about any calls like that. I said something to the refs. But I very rarely … I think I’ve gotten, you know … I don’t get into that. It’s not going to change. It’s over.” — Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, who became so enraged after a call during a loss to Xavier that he pounded his hand on the scorer’s table and damaged a laptop computer.


NOTES

Gibbs Out at Pitt
Good teams often face difficult challenges during the course of a season, and Pittsburgh will be tested the next couple of weeks with junior point guard Ashton Gibbs sidelined by a MCL injury. Gibbs scored 25 points against Cincinnati Saturday, but the injury wasn’t diagnosed until the following day. The timing of an injury is never good, especially in the Big East. But Pitt goes to West Virginia and Villanova this week. Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker may form the best starting backcourt duo in the country. Wanamaker is so versatile that he can handle the point at times. Junior Travon Woodall will have his minutes increased and will likely start at the point. Gilbert Brown will have to step up his game as well. You can’t replace the 16.3 points, 3.1 assists, and Gibbs’ shooting (46.3 from three, 89.7 from the line), but Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is a master at making adjustments. And you can be sure Dixon will let Gibbs get the rest he needs to come back at 100 percent.

Tweet Problems
College coaches and players continue to struggle with acts of ill-advised social media postings. Last Thursday, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury banned his team from using Twitter. That came after Ravern Johnson was suspended from Saturday’s game against LSU because of “inappropriate tweets” following a loss to Alabama on Wednesday. Johnson was critical of his offensive role in the game, and then his account was deleted. Players need to understand they can’t embarrass their coach or their team with inappropriate tweets. Coaches need to address these issues at the start of the season, and establish what is OK and what isn’t. There was nothing wrong with penalizing Johnson. A team-wide ban of Twitter in reaction to one player’s post isn’t fair.

Gates Closed
Anyone who has watched Cincinnati play knows the importance of power forward Yancy Gates. The 6-9 junior was suspended indefinitely by coach Mick Cronin, and the Bearcats lost to Pitt 71-59 Saturday. Bill Koch of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the suspension was the result of an attitude issue demonstrated in practice last week. “We don’t have a lot of rules,” Cronin told The News Record, the Cincinnati student paper. “Play hard, be a good guy, be committed to the team [and] be coachable. It’s really not negotiable. I believe the squeaky wheel should not get the oil.”

Board Man
Morehead State is 17-8 overall and 9-4 in the Ohio Valley Conference. You just hope the Eagles can work their way into the NCAA Tournament field, one way or the other. Why? Because it is always nice to see a talented individual such as Kenneth Faried command the national stage — even if just for one game. The 6-8 senior from Newark, N.J., leads the nation in rebounding with an average of 14.2 per game. Thursday against Jacksonville State, Faried had 21 points and 20 rebounds. Against Tennessee State, just eight days prior, he had 23 points and 23 rebounds. Faried has had five 20-20 games in his career and has become just the fifth player since 1975 to reach 1,500 rebounds in his career. He’s closing in on Tim Duncan, whose 1,570 rebounds are the most since 1973.

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: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/national-notebook/right-qb-right-time
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By Charean Williams

Brett who?

It didn’t take Aaron Rodgers long to make Packers fans forget Brett Favre. With a Super Bowl victory, Rodgers can do what Favre did only once in 16 seasons in Green Bay.

For all of his games and all of his greatness, Favre’s Super Bowl record was only 1-1.

Rodgers has validated the Packers’ decision to move on without Favre after the 2007 season. This season, Rodgers not only won his first playoff game but three of them in getting Green Bay to the Super Bowl.

“Aaron Rodgers, in my opinion, is just going lights out,” Packers Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr said. “Unbelievable how he’s played this year. He may be beyond that [next] level. He may have gone up a couple of levels.”

Rodgers completed 49-of-63 passes for 546 yards with six touchdowns, no interceptions and a 134.5 passer rating in the Packers’ first two playoff games. He was only 17-of-30 for 244 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 55.4 passer rating against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game, but the Packers found a way to win.

“I wanted to be here [in the Super Bowl],” Rodgers said. “I think one of the advantages of waiting [under Favre instead of starting right away] is when I was ready to play, we were coming off an NFC Championship season. Obviously, we struggled that next year, in my first season starting. But we had the pieces in place, and we’ve added to that to give us an opportunity to be here.”

Adams makes an impression

Flozell Adams has played in 198 games, 194 as a starter. Yet, he has never played in a Super Bowl.

While many of the Steelers already have won a Super Bowl, or two, Adams is working on his first.

“It was a goal of mine to make the Super Bowl no matter what team I was with,” Adams said. “Fortunately, it’s happened to me this year. Going through all the years, you get totally disappointed, and you’re the one sitting at home watching the playoffs on TV. Watching other guys that you beat, just makes you want to work harder.”

Adams was a fixture at left tackle for 12 seasons in Dallas. But they released him before the start of the 2010 season. He signed with the Steelers and moved to right tackle.

He has made an impression on his Steelers teammates.

The Steelers’ offensive linemen honored Adams by wearing his Michigan State jersey on the team charter to DFW on Monday.

“Flozell is a joy to be around,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “It might sound funny, because he doesn’t always have a great disposition, but we enjoy that about him, too.”

The Steelers can win their seventh title at Cowboys Stadium. It would be special, but more special for Adams.

“It would be for Flozell Adams,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I want it for him. I think it would be awesome. I know that Steelers fans and people are a little extra excited because of the old traditions and rivalries and the teams before, but for me, it’s about trying to win one for him at Cowboys Stadium.”

It’s the beard

It’s no secret why the Steelers are here. It has nothing to do with their defense, or their running game or Big Ben. It’s the beard.

Brett Keisel’s beard has taken on a life of its own.

The Pro Bowl defensive end started letting it grow in June. He vowed not to cut it until the Steelers were eliminated. They’re still playing, and Keisel’s beard is an estimated four inches long now.

“It’s special,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I really don’t know what else to say about it. The beard has its own Twitter page. It’s got a Myspace page. It’s got a Facebook page, and it’s got its own T-shirt, so I mean, it’s its own entity. He hides everything in there. We go hunting and he hides his decoys in there.”

Keisel’s wife, Sarah, bought him a razor for Christmas. The beard will go after the Super Bowl, he hopes with some sort of fund-raiser for charity.

But he and the Steelers need the beard for one more game.

“The beard is why we’re here,” Keisel said. “It’s unleashed Super Bowl powers on our whole team, and hopefully it can win us one more.”

Kuhn wants another one

Fullback John Kuhn never wears his Super Bowl ring. The only Packers’ player with a ring, Kuhn keeps it in a safe at home.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Kuhn said. “It’s very valuable and important to me and precious, but I want to earn one on the field.”

When the Steelers won Super Bowl XL to end the 2005 season, Kuhn watched from the sideline. He was on Pittsburgh’s practice squad but still was awarded a ring.

He signed with the Packers in 2007 and now has a chance to beat his old team.

“I’m just thankful to be here with the Packers playing in the Super Bowl,” said Kuhn, who had six touchdowns this season. “The fact that it’s the Steelers [makes it even better]. It could be anybody, and it would be just as big, but I like the fact that we’re going against them. That’s just like a little added bonus.”

Remember Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown was hardly a household name before the postseason started. Inactive for most of the first half of the season, Brown had only 16 catches for 167 yards during the regular season. (He did return a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown against the Titans in Week 2.)

But the rookie has made a name for himself in the postseason.

He had a 58-yard reception on third-and-19 with less than two minutes remaining to set up the Steelers’ game-winning touchdown against the Ravens in the divisional round. In the AFC Championship Game, his 14-yard catch after the two-minute warning allowed the Steelers to run out the clock on the Jets.

“I always knew I was capable,” said Brown, a sixth-round pick from Central Michigan. “I try to prepare my mind for every phase of the game. Take my mind through every circumstance and every situation that I could be part of. I am thankful for the opportunity that came just in time.”

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 4, 2011 - 10:04
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/bracket-breakdown/bracket-breakdown-feb-3-edition
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ACC (5)
In: Boston College, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Worth a Mention: Clemson, Maryland, Miami

Notes: No change in the ACC this week. Virginia boosted its profile with a win Wednesday night at NC State. The Hokies are now 5–3 in the ACC. Maryland missed a great opportunity to pick up a much-needed quality win, losing at home to Duke. Clemson’s loss to Virginia was damaging.

America East (1)
In: Vermont

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

Notes: Richmond took a hit with a lopsided loss at home to Xavier over the weekend, but the Spiders bounced back to beat Saint Joe’s on Wednesday. Duquesne picked up its 11th straight win Wednesday (84–59 over George Washington). There isn’t much to like about their non-conference profile, but they only have one loss to teams outside the top 50. They are very close.

A-Sun (1)
In: Belmont

Big 12 (5)
In: Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M
Worth a Mention: Baylor, Colorado, Kansas State
Notes: Baylor’s shaky resume took a turn for the worse with a loss at Oklahoma on Wednesday afternoon. The Bears have no wins vs. top-50 RPI foes and only one true road win, at Texas Tech. Kansas State beat Nebraska Wednesday night to improve to 3–5 in the Big 12, but the Wildcats have eight losses, and they don’t have any wins vs. top-60 RPI opponents. Oklahoma State played its way in (for now) with a big win over Missouri on Wednesday.

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

Notes: Marquette keeps improving its once-shaky resume. The Golden Eagles did lose at Villanova Wednesday, but they knocked off Syracuse on Saturday. Cincinnati’s loss at home over the weekend to West Virginia was a setback, but the Bearcats are still in decent shape.

Big Sky (1)
In: Montana

Big South (1)
In: Coastal Carolina
 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 3, 2011 - 11:07
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/nfl-perspective/big-ben-still-has-plenty-prove
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By Ralph Vacchiano

DALLAS — Ben Roethlisberger, with two Super Bowl rings at the tender age of 28, is already on the fast tract to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A third ring would make the vote a mere formality when his name finally comes up.

And yes, he is back, whether you like it or not. The NFL says he can play, no matter what happened in that dingy Georgia barroom last April. There wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute him anyway, so the law says he is a free man.

But just because he took advantage of his second chance — or lucky break, depending on your perspective — and returned from his brief suspension at the beginning of the season to lead the Steelers to Super Bowl XLV doesn’t mean that Roethlisberger is a changed man. It doesn’t mean that he’s a better man, either. People may tell stories of redemption throughout this week and proclaim him healed and changed.

The only thing we know about Roethlisberger for sure, though, is he’s a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback. He can’t really change his life and perception off of the field just by what he does on it.

That’s the danger this week, of course, as thousands of media descend on Texas eager to tell Roethlisberger’s story again. They’ll start with the seedy details — maybe — which include the gripping account by a young woman who told police she was trapped in that barroom in Milledgeville, Ga. while Roethlisberger forced her to have sex, all allegedly of course. Then they’ll move on to the six-game suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that was eventually reduced to four.

After that, the story will go, the arrow only pointed up. Roethlisberger stayed out of trouble, changed his personality, even won an award from the Pittsburgh media for his cooperation this year. With his cleansed soul, he led the Steelers to the NFC North championship, the AFC championship and maybe soon the NFL championship, too.

Here’s the thing, though: Until more time has passed, until he proves otherwise in some meaningful, non-football way, he’s still that lout who was accused of rape, the knucklehead who rode motorcycles without a helmet, who reportedly acted like a jerk around his adopted hometown. Yes, he’s innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But the NFL found something disturbing enough about his behavior that Goodell slammed him with a fairly hefty suspension. The Steelers owners were so distressed that they publicly rebuked him and, according to reports, considered trading their franchise, Hall of Fame-bound quarterback, too.

Those are the facts that we know — that and the fact that he returned from all that to play the quarterback position very well. That’s all we know, no matter how many times the words “changed” and “redeemed” are suddenly and inappropriately thrown around.

What’s really different, other than that he’s regained his ability to throw the ball? How do any of us really know he’s not still capable of the unspeakable crimes he was alleged to have committed? Based on what? Because he’s still a good quarterback? Because he’s the leader of a Super Bowl team?

Or because Roethlisberger says so?

“I think you always go through changes in life,” Roethlisberger said this week. “When you’re faced with challenges in life, you find ways to try to overcome them. Just like when there are doubters and naysayers that challenged me in a football sense, it challenges me to rise above. So in the same way as me being a better person, people saying ‘You can’t do it’, it makes me want to rise to the occasion and be the best I can be.”

Good for him if he’s telling the truth, and more power to him, too. Everyone deserves a second chance, and again nobody but he, his alleged victim and several of his silent bodyguards really know the truth of what happened when he was celebrating his 28th birthday. If the victim wouldn’t prosecute and the Georgia District Attorney couldn’t prosecute, it’s not the job of any of us to do it for them.

But it will take a lot more than a few thousand yards, an arm full of touchdown passes, and a trip to Super Bowl XLV to really, truly prove that Roethlisberger isn’t what everyone thought he was. He’ll need more than the game to prove he’s a better man.

“People ask you ‘What do you want on your obituary, your tombstone?’” Roethlisberger said. “And I think, you want somebody to say ‘He’s a good person, a God-fearing person that was loyal to his family and put family first — family and God first — and enjoyed the way that he played the game of football, enjoyed football and just lived every day like it was his last.’”

Give him the latter half of that eulogy. A lot of people enjoy the way he plays and he certainly seems to love life.

But spare the world the stories of redemption and a soul that’s been saved, even if he is the one holding the Lombardi Trophy when this season is over. Football players may be treated like gods, but the sport isn’t all-powerful. Roethlisberger may be a better player, but it’ll take more than a few pinpoint passes to truly prove that he’s a better man.

Teaser:
<p> One thing we know about Roethlisberger, he’s a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - 11:23
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/red-storm-rising
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1. What team had the best weekend in college basketball?

Mitch Light: I’ll go with St. John’s, which beat Duke with surprising ease at Madison Square Garden. It was obviously a big win for the '10-11 Red Storm, who are looking for wins to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. But this was significant for big-picture reasons, as well. Nothing catches the attention of the New York City basketball community like a lopsided win over Duke, and this one victory did more to make St. John’s relevant in the Big Apple than the Johnnies' 11 previous wins combined.

Braden Gall: A one-point, double-overtime thriller at UConn will get the nod from me every time. But Louisville got beat on Monday by the team who had the best extended weekend in the nation, Georgetown. After a 1-4 start in Big East play, the Hoyas pummeled St. John’s (no laughing matter these days) early in the week before beating Villanova on the road on Saturday. They followed that up on Monday with a three-point home win over one of the hottest teams in the nation, Louisville. JT3 had his team right back in the heart of the Big East race in a matter of days.

Nathan Rush: St. John’s took down Duke and played in front of a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden — both for the first time since Marcus Hatten dropped 29 on Coach K’s club, including a “walk-off” free throw to clinch the win at the Mecca in 2003. The Red Storm did not need a last-second freebie this time, however, as first-year coach Steve Lavin earned a signature win, 93–78, with a rowdy crowd of 19,353 at MSG cheering on an upset of the No. 3-ranked Blue Devils.

2. Name a player or two who has really stepped up his game since the beginning of conference play.

Mitch: Marquette junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom has been terrific in Big East games, averaging 19.9 points while shooting 44.4 percent from 3-point range. DJO has been solid all season for Buzz Williams’ club, but he has been producing at a higher level in league play. Five of his six 20-point games this season have come against conference opponents, highlighted by his 29-point effort in a win at Rutgers.

Braden: I will go with Georgia Tech’s Iman Shumpert. In the 12 games prior to the New Year, Shumpert averaged a solid 14.7 points per game. The Jackets lost to Kennesaw State, Northwestern, Georgia, Siena and Syracuse. Since the calendar changeover (seven ACC games and Charlotte), Shumpert is scoring at a 19.2-point clip, averaging 3.0 steals per game, and he added a triple-double in the win over Virginia Tech last week.

Nathan: I don’t know if anyone has been staying up to watch late night Mountain West games, but BYU has this kid named Jimmer Fredette. In seven MWC games, Jimmer is averaging 35.1 points, 4.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds, while shooting 49.0 percent from the field, 88.1 percent from the free throw line and 54.1 percent from downtown (33-of-61). The Cougars are carrying a 6–1 record in conference play, losing at New Mexico in a game where Jimmer had 32 points, seven assists, five boards and three steels. Jimmer-mania has lived up to the hype.

3. How worried should Syracuse fans be?

Mitch: It’s not time to panic, but Syracuse fans have to be concerned. The defense has been the issue for Jim Boeheim’s club. In its five Big East wins, Syracuse allowed 59.8 points per game; in the four-game losing streak, that number has ballooned to 80.8 points per game. Each of the past three opponents has shot at least 50 percent vs. the Orange — something that did not happen once in their first 19 games. Fixing this defense is the top priority if Syracuse plans on making a move in March.

Braden: An eight-point loss to Pitt on the road is nothing to be worried about. A six-point loss on the road to Marquette is understandable. Even the nine-point home loss to Villanova isn’t that alarming. But a 22-point home whipping at the hands of a 10–12 Seton Hall squad (even with Jeremy Hazell) is totally inexcusable. And with UConn, Louisville and Georgetown coming up, life isn’t getting any easier. That said, even if the Cuse loses to every ranked opponent it plays from here on out, it would finish 9-9 in Big East play. Whatever doesn’t kill you in February, makes you stronger in March, so I am not worried. A loss to South Florida or Rutgers. and I will change my tune.

Nathan: After an 18–0 start, Syracuse has dropped four straight — at Pitt (74–66), Villanova (83–72), Seton Hall (90–68) and at Marquette (76–70). And with a trip to Connecticut (Feb. 2), two games with Georgetown (Feb. 9 and Feb. 26), a visit to Louisville (Feb. 12) and roadie to Villanova (Feb. 21) still remaining, the Orange need to bounce back in a hurry. But with 35-year veteran coach Jim Boeheim on the sideline, no one needs to jump off the Carrier Dome yet. The Cuse will be dancing in March; they just don’t want to be doing the 7-10 shuffle when the brackets come out.

4. Name an under-the-radar team that no one is talking about. Can be from any league.

Mitch: I’ll go with Colorado State. San Diego State and BYU are stealing the headlines in the Mountain West Conference, but the Rams are 15–6 overall and 5–2 in league play with a visit from San Diego State looming on Wednesday night. Tim Miles, in his fourth season at CSU after a successful run at North Dakota State, has guided the Rams to wins over Ole Miss, Southern Miss, UNLV and Utah so far this season. With an RPI in the 40s, Colorado State should remain  in the discussion for an at-large invite to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.

Braden: Has an 18–4 Arizona team ever been under the radar? After a 7-2 start in Pac-10 play, which includes a 2-2 road record, the ship appears to be righted in Tucson. Forward Derrick Williams is the quietest 20-and-8 guy in the nation. After a 25-year tourney streak was snapped last season, Sean Miller has the Wildcats quickly back on the winning side of the ledger.

Nathan: Georgia is deceptively good, better than the 14–6 overall record and 3–4 mark in the SEC indicates. The Dawgs have lost to Kentucky at Rupp Arena (66–60), in double-overtime to Florida (104–91) following a near-halfcourt heave by Erving Walker, to Tennessee (59–57) on a leaning buzzer-beater by Brian Williams, at Vanderbilt (73–66), Temple (65–58) and in double-overtime to Notre Dame (89–83). But with skilled big man Trey Thompkins (17.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Olympic high-jumper Travis Leslie (14.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and transfer combo guard Gerald Robinson (13.7 ppg, 4.2 apg) leading the way, UGA is capable of making a late-season run in the SEC.

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

Mitch: I think Marquette’s trip to Villanova will be very interesting. The Wildcats jumped out to a 5–1 start in the Big East but have since lost two straight, at Providence and at home to Georgetown. Marquette finally won a close game, beating Syracuse over the weekend, 76–70, in Milwaukee. Both teams are perimeter-oriented and both teams are very athletic. Marquette has leaned on the 3-point shot a bit more than expected (16.6 attempts per game in Big East play), but the Golden Eagles are making them at a high rate (.430). Villanova also shoots it well from the arc (.422), but that was expected to be a team strength entering the season. This one should be highly entertaining.

Braden: Big Ten Sunday. Ohio State travels — and will likely put its unbeaten record on the line — to The Barn in Minneapolis. Tubby Smith has a resilient bunch that posted four straight wins (including a victory Purdue) after a three-point heartbreaker to the Buckeyes in Columbus. Additionally, two of the league’s best floor generals will go at it once again when Tom Izzo and Michigan State travel to face Bo Ryan and Wisconsin on the same day. The Spartans rallied from nine down in the final minutes to force overtime (and a win) a month ago. Expect both home teams to play very well.

Nathan: Saturday night’s Kentucky at Florida (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) is a game that features two high-profile coaches (UK’s John Calipari and UF’s Billy Donovan) with rosters loaded with NBA talent but lacking experience and consistency. I’m interested to see how freshman phenoms Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb handle the Swamp after losing close calls on the road at North Carolina (75–73), Georgia (77–70) and Alabama (68–66) earlier this season.

Teaser:
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Post date: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - 11:36
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/national-notebook/rebuilding-year-going-well-louisville
Body:

By Ken Davis

I can’t get these words out of my head. Louisville coach Rick Pitino actually told me this during an interview in early September: “We know we’re rebuilding somewhat, and I think when you’re at this level, you hope it’s rebuilding by February and not the following year.”

Pitino knows his basketball. That’s no surprise. The amazing thing was the feel he had for his players — and this team — more than a month before official practices began. Lucky guess? I don’t think so. Pitino is one of the best at knowing how to bring a team along and how to prepare for the most important segment of the season.

The Cardinals actually got there quicker than he anticipated. Louisville is 6-2 in January and wraps up the month tonight at Georgetown. But after dramatic victories over West Virginia and Connecticut last week, the Cardinals are serious players in the Big East race. That 79-78 win in double overtime at UConn Saturday elevated Louisville (17-4, 6-2) into sole possession of second place behind Pittsburgh (20-2, 8-1).

This is a team the Big East coaches picked to finish tied for eighth in the preseason poll. Actually, it’s not even that team. The Cardinals have had so many injuries it takes almost a full page of Louisville’s pregame notes to chronicle them all.

Pitino has told his team not to look at the big picture.

“I remember one speech at the beginning of the year, and I told [the players], ‘Look, no matter what happens, this is our bridge year. So everybody stay positive. No matter what happens,’” Pitino said Saturday. “Then we lost [Jared] Swopshire. I said, ‘You gotta stay positive.’ Seven concussions. ‘You gotta stay positive.’

“Then we lost Rak [Rakeem Buckles] and normally a doctor says six to eight weeks, normally it’s four weeks. Now it’s 10 weeks. … We were just trying to survive this season. We really were.”

Swopshire, Louisville’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, has missed the entire season since injuring his groin in August. Buckles broke his left index finger in practice on Dec. 30 and hasn’t returned. Against the Huskies, freshman center Gorgui Dieng didn’t play because of a neck strain suffered against West Virginia.

Dieng has blocked 44 shots in 19 games. But the Huskies didn’t take advantage of his absence. Instead of getting into the lane and attacking the rim, UConn settled for jump shots — and that is not the strength of the Huskies. Pitino had his team playing zone defense but still jumping out in man-to-man coverage to challenge shots. Shabazz Napier (23), Jeremy Lamb (21) and Kemba Walker (20) combined for 64 points, but Walker, the National Player of the Year candidate, was 7-of-23 from the field.

For Louisville, center Terrence Jennings had 16 points and 10 rebounds. He called it his best game of the season. Guard Preston Knowles kept the Cardinals in the game early with three baskets from 3-point range and 15 points. But when Louisville trailed by nine in the second half, it was point guard Peyton Siva who took over.

Remember that name. During that interview in September, Pitino called Siva “the key to the team.” Against UConn, the former McDonald’s All-American attacked the rim and scored 19 points. Four times he beat the UConn defense up top, got into the lane and scored on either a layup or dunk.

“This team, everybody has heart and everybody is stepping up,” Siva said. “This is just a good win for us on the road. We’ve just got to keep building off this and be a humble team. That’s what Coach P has been preaching to us. We’re a reflection of our coach and we’re going to keep on grinding to the end.”

Pitino has this team ready for February. Between now and March 2, the Cardinals have five more home games. They are 14-2 at home, including a 4-0 mark in Big East games.

And you might want to mark Feb. 27 on your calendar. That’s when Pittsburgh visits the KFC Yum! Center. There could be quite a bit at stake.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

The qualifications for this award are pretty standard. High point totals, lot of rebounds, double-doubles, triple-doubles, winning shots … you get the idea. This time we are going with pure emotion, a story that tugged at our heart, and put basketball and life in perspective. Kansas sophomore Thomas Robinson buried his 43-year-old mother Lisa on Thursday in Washington, D.C. She died of an apparent heart attack the previous Friday night. Robinson played the day after her death, as Texas snapped KU’s 69-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse. But as the Jayhawks won at Colorado on Tuesday, Robinson was back home dealing with funeral arrangements and trying to cope with so many things a young man and college student shouldn’t have to face. Most important was securing the future of his sister, Jayla, who is 7. It had been Jayla who called Thomas to tell him their mother was dead.

Robinson was back on the floor Saturday night when Kansas routed rival Kansas State 90-66. Robinson scored 17 points and had nine rebounds in 20 minutes. But the love in Allen Fieldhouse was more important and really quite overwhelming. More than 16,000 fans essentially put their arms around Robinson, gave him an ovation every time he checked in and out of the game. They tried hard to will every shot he took into the basket. He did finish 7-of-11 and scored three consecutive baskets in the second half. The effort was heroic in every sense of the word.

“I played tonight because I cannot sit around too long,” Robinson said. “I knew my mother wouldn’t want me to sit around crying about it forever.” Nobody would have blamed him. He also lost his grandmother and grandfather within the past month. How does a young man get through that type of tragedy? “This past month has really opened my eyes to how amazing this place is,” he said. “It is beyond words to describe how I feel and the love that I have for the University of Kansas and the fans.” We all learned a lot this week from the man known as T-Rob. He has many tough decisions ahead. We sincerely hope he finds the help he needs every step of the way.

FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK

Harrison Barnes. Remember that name? We certainly thought we’d be writing about the North Carolina freshman more than we have. He was a preseason first-team All-America pick by the Associated Press and from that moment his development seemed a little stunted. People became impatient, and that really wasn’t fair. Barnes is coming on now. His 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left defeated Miami. Then he racked up a season-high 25 points in a win over NC State. As he grows up, the Tar Heels are maturing as a team. They’ve won eight of their last nine. By the time March rolls around, North Carolina might be a more dangerous team out of the ACC than Duke. Wouldn’t that be something?

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Monday, Jan. 31

Louisville at Georgetown
Slightly overlooked in that double-OT victory over UConn was the 16-point, 10-rebound performance by Louisville forward Terrence Jennings. Both were career highs. The Cardinals need him. After three straight losses, Georgetown has won four in a row.

Texas at Texas A&M
These two met on Jan. 19 when the Longhorns won at home ,81-60. This time the site is Reed Arena, but Texas has not lost since Jan. 8 when UConn got out of Austin with an 82-81 overtime win.

Tuesday, Feb. 1

Purdue at Wisconsin
Ohio State sits atop the Big Ten standings. If the Buckeyes look over their shoulders, they will see the Boilermakers and then the Badgers. This is a big one as the teams jockey for position.

Vanderbilt at Florida
The Commodores had a bad loss Saturday against Arkansas. Florida is leading the SEC East with a 5-2 record.

North Carolina at Boston College
The Tar Heels play the first of three interesting games. Next is Florida State at Chapel Hill, followed by the annual visit to Durham to take on Duke.

Wednesday, Feb. 2

Syracuse at Connecticut
Not long ago, both of these teams were undefeated. Now Syracuse has lost four consecutive and UConn is coming off its first loss at home. February begins with a bang in Hartford.

Duke at Maryland
Fact: Duke’s 15-point loss to St. John’s Sunday was the largest margin of defeat against an unranked opponent over the last 15 seasons for the Blue Devils. Fact: That was a tough break for Maryland, but the Terps will still be thinking upset.

Marquette at Villanova
Villanova is 5-3 in the Big East. Marquette is 5-4. Anything could happen.

Thursday, Feb. 3

Michigan at Ohio State
The Buckeyes are the only undefeated team left in college basketball. That makes Ohio State a big story every time the Buckeyes take the floor.

Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s
Saint Mary’s took a big step with that win at Gonzaga, then slipped back with a loss at Portland. The Gaels are still in first in the West Coast standings.

Friday, Feb. 4

Harvard at Princeton
A showdown of Ivy undefeated teams. Keith Wright leads Harvard in scoring, while Princeton’s balanced attack is led by Ian Hummer.

Saturday, Feb. 5

UNLV at BYU
The Rebels would like a little payback. BYU beat UNLV 89-77 in the first meeting of Mountain West rivals.

Kentucky at Florida
The Rowdy Reptiles can’t wait for Kentucky to visit. Billy Donovan’s Gators hold a slim lead in the SEC East, but John Calipari’s young guns can change that.

St. John’s at UCLA
The Big Apple loves Steve Lavin and the Red Storm after that big win over Duke. Wonder what type of reception Lavin will get back in his old stomping grounding at UCLA? Ben Howland’s Bruins need some helping building their NCAA resume. Storylines everywhere.

Sunday, Feb. 6

Ohio State at Minnesota
Coach Tubby Smith is juggling lineups, trying to keep the Gophers in the Big Ten race with point guard Al Nolen injured. Everyone is gunning for Thad Matta’s team.

Michigan State at Wisconsin
Hard to believe the Spartans have eight losses overall.

THEY SAID IT

“I’m sure there are a lot of people that feel really good about winning up here.” — Michigan coach John Beilein, after a 61-57 victory at Michigan State. It was Michigan’s first win in East Lansing since 1997 and first win over Michigan State in either football or men’s basketball in 1,181 days.

“There were a few years back where people were used to these kinds of wins. And we’ll get it back, but to get it tonight and get it this way is really important.” — Indiana coach Tom Crean after the Hoosiers defeated Illinois 52-49.

“It’s not an Xs and Os thing today. I felt we were not ready to compete, we had blank expressions on our faces and guys weren’t talking and that’s my responsibility. Our program didn’t do well today, and that is all our responsibilities.” — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after the Blue Devils lost to St. John’s 93-78 at Madison Square Garden Sunday.

“He had some unfinished business,” — TJ Fredette, on the decision by his brother, Jimmer, to return to BYU for his senior season.

“It’s about winning plays, understanding what you have to do in winning games like this. Somebody has to be our Ashton Gibbs and hit a shot like that. It’s winning time in the Big East — you have to have somebody come up and take charge.” — Rutgers coach Mike Rice, after a 65-62 loss to Gibbs and the Pittsburgh Panthers.

“Isaiah Thomas, it’s not even close, there’s not one player in the country who’s more disrespected across the nation than him. Not one. It’s not even close. If he’s not one of the top four or five point guards in the country, then I’m going to tell you I want to invite these guys who vote to come and watch film.” — Arizona coach Sean Miller, after Washington’s Thomas scored 22 points, had 10 assists and six rebounds in an 85-68 victory over Arizona.

“Man did I really mess up this time … off 2 the gym I go!” — A tweet from Michigan State guard Korie Lucious. Later in the day it was announced Lucious had been dismissed from the team because of conduct detrimental to the program.


NOTES

ACC Woes
Duke didn’t just lose to St. John’s Sunday, the Blue Devils got manhandled by an unranked Big East team. St. John’s is under-.500 in conference play and carried a three-game losing streak into Madison Square Garden. That will undoubtedly launch more criticism of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Even when Duke was ranked No. 1, the ACC was being ripped for not having more ranked teams and for a conference RPI that has consistently No. 4 or No. 5.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton has heard enough. “I think those are ignorant people making those assessments,” Hamilton said last week. “And I’m almost getting sick and tired of people asking the question [about the strength of the league]. Because other than being fashionable to make a statement, then someone needs to give me some statistics to bear out that those statements are true.”

Hamilton’s team went out and backed him up at Clemson Saturday with just an awful performance. This is the same FSU team that handed Duke its first loss. But the Seminoles trailed 22-6 with 12 minutes left in the first half. When Clemson missed its last 14 shots of the half, Florida State could only manage six more points and trailed 27-18 at the break. The Seminoles were stuck on 18 for almost the first five minutes of the second half. Leading scorer Chris Singleton scored just two points in the first 35 minutes of the game and finished with eight. “There are moral victories and I guess there are moral losses,” Hamilton said. Whatever that means.

Jimmer Rising, Kemba Falling?
There was some high drama in the Jimmer and Kemba Show last week. BYU’s Jimmer Fredette has captured the national imagination much the same way UConn’s Kemba Walker excited everyone in November at the Maui Invitational. In a rare spotlight game for the Mountain West Conference, Fredette scored 43 points as the Cougars handed San Diego State its first loss of the season. Walker, meanwhile, is having trouble adjusting to the different defensive sets he is seeing in Big East play. He is getting doubled, bumped and can’t find the space he had in earlier games this season. Walker has shot 32.4 percent from the field his last four games. In the press conference after UConn’s loss to Louisville, coach Jim Calhoun was asked about Walker’s inability to get open. “I don’t want to talk about Kemba. Next question.” Asked later if Calhoun had expressed dissatisfaction toward him, Walker said, ‘No.” It will interesting to see how the Player of the Year voting is impacted.

Hot Knight
Just when it looked as if Pat Knight’s job was in jeopardy at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders have caught fire. Mike Singletary had 33 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in a 92-83 win at Iowa State. Tech hosts Kansas Tuesday night.

Big Game for Tu
How about the line submitted by Tu Holloway of Xavier? Holloway had 33 points (career high), seven rebounds, and five assists as Xavier defeated Richmond 85-62. Oh yeah, he also was 17-of-17 from the free throw line. Holloway, a 6-0 junior, is averaging 21.1 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds for the Musketeers.

Big Burn
Coaching strategy of the week: That goes to Mike Brey of Notre Dame. Brey went to his “burn” offense at Pittsburgh, slowed the game to a crawl, and came away with a huge 56-51 win over the Panthers at Petersen Events Center. That’s very impressive.

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, January 31, 2011 - 13:17
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/bracket-breakdown/smith-and-devils-are-no-1-seed
Body:

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

Notes: Miami lost a great opportunity on Wednesday night, losing at home to North Carolina. Virginia Tech’s resume took a hit with a 15-point loss at Georgia Tech on Tuesday night; the Hokies really need to beat Miami at home this weekend. They currently have two wins vs. teams in this week’s bracket — vs. Oklahoma State and Florida State.

America East (1)
In: Maine

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

Notes: Richmond, the preseason pick to win the league, picked up a big win at Dayton on Tuesday night. The Spiders have a few troubling losses (at Iona, vs. Bucknell), but they also have a win over Purdue — something most bubble teams can’t match. Duquesne is 6–0 in the league but has no good non-conference wins.

A-Sun (1)
In: Belmont

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

Notes: Colorado has lost three in a row after its 3–0 start. No shame in losing to Kansas at home, but the losses at Nebraska (who is decent) and Oklahoma are damaging. There’s not much to like or dislike about Oklahoma State’s resume. Kansas State is off to a slow start in league play (2–4), but the Wildcats do have wins over Virginia Tech, Gonzaga and Washington State.

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

Notes: Just like last week, Marquette is the only team on the bubble. The Golden Eagles are a good team that has lost a bunch of close games to good teams. They have two good wins (Notre Dame, West Virginia), but both were at home. At some point, Marquette will have to break through with a road win.

Big Sky (1)
In: Northern Colorado

Big South (1)
In: Coastal Carolina

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

Notes: No change in the Big Ten this week. Northwestern missed two more opportunities to pick up quality wins, losing at home to Wisconsin and at Minnesota. Penn State was among the final teams out this week. The Lions have a huge week, hosting Wisconsin on Saturday and traveling to struggling Illinois on Tuesday.

Big West (1)
In: Long Beach

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

Notes: VCU is 7–1 in the league and has a solid win over UCLA in New York in its back pocket. The Rams cannot afford many, if any, bad losses in the CAA. Old Dominion has a stronger non-conference profile (wins over Clemson, Xavier, Richmond and Dayton) but already has three league losses — at Delaware, at Drexel, vs. VCU.

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

Notes: Memphis has made a big jump in the past few weeks, thanks to home wins over Marshall and UCF sandwiched around two quality road wins, at Southern Miss and UAB. UCF has plummeted from solidly in the field to not even on the bubble.

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

Notes: Butler was among the final teams out of the field. The Bulldogs have wins over Florida State, Washington State and Cleveland State but lost to Evansville and were swept by Milwaukee. They have a huge game at Valparaiso this weekend.

Ivy (1)
In: Harvard

MAAC (1)
In: Fairfield

MAC (1)
In: Ball State

MEAC (1)
In: Bethune-Cookman

MVC (2)
In: Missouri State, Wichita State

Note: Wichita State was one of the last teams in the bracket. The Shockers don’t have any bad losses, but they don’t really have any wins that jump off the page, either. Their regular-season finale at Missouri State could be huge.

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

Notes: Colorado State is still hanging around, with its mid-50s RPI, but the Rams will need to pick up a few more big wins in the league. Beating UNLV on the road was great, but there is still more work to be done.

Northeast (1)
In: Long Island

OVC (1)
In: Austin Peay

Pac-10 (4)
In: Arizona, Washington, UCLA, Washington State
Worth a Mention: None

Notes: UCLA and Washington are far from secure. UCLA has a decent RPI (48), a good win over Washington State and a really good win over BYU. Wazzu was the last team in; the Cougs win over Gonzaga isn’t looking quite as impressive of late.

Patriot (1)
In: Bucknell

SEC (5)
In: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Worth a Mention: South Carolina

Notes: No change this week in the SEC. All five teams are in pretty good shape. South Carolina missed an opportunity for another big win, losing at home by nine points to Kentucky.

Southern (1)
In: College of Charleston

Southland (1)
In: McNeese State

Summit (1)
In: Oakland

Sun Belt (1)
In: Florida Atlantic

SWAC (1)
In: Jackson State

WAC (1)
In: Utah State

WCC (1)
In: Saint Mary’s
Worth a Mention: Gonzaga

Notes: Gonzaga slid out of the bracket, thanks to back-to-back-to-back losses at Santa Clara and San Francisco and at home to Saint Mary’s.

Teaser:
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Post date: Friday, January 28, 2011 - 11:17
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/national-notebook/driver-relishes-packers-playoff-run
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By Charean Williams

Donald Driver couldn’t wait for this day, but he didn’t have a choice. It took the Packers receiver 35 years, 12 NFL seasons and 188 NFL games to make his first Super Bowl, a game he has dreamed about playing in since he was a kid.

“It’s been a long road, but I’m here now,” Driver said. “I’m excited. … We’re going to my [adopted] hometown [of Dallas], and we’re going to enjoy the moment.”

Driver has been to three Pro Bowls. He has seven 1,000-yard seasons. He has a team record 698 catches.

He has been a big part of the Packers for a long time.

“It feels great just to be in the same room with that guy,” Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. “Obviously, I gave him a huge hug [after the NFC title game]. He was tearing up, which he should be. The opportunity doesn’t come too often, and for us to have this opportunity to bring back the Lombardi Trophy, it says a lot about our team, our resilience and our ability to fight against adversity.”

It wasn’t Driver’s best season, though it turned out that way. He caught only 51 passes for 565 yards and four touchdowns. He had no 100-yard games, and last week in the NFC title game victory over the Bears, Driver had only one catch for nine yards.

“Sometimes people feel like you have to go out there and have an amazing season to get to where you want to go,” Driver said. “I had a great season. I don’t complain about my season. Sometimes you’ve got to step into a certain role, and you’ve got to play it. I played my role, and the good thing is that playing that role got me to where I want to go. I’m going to the Super Bowl.”

Clark makes his mark

Steelers safety Ryan Clark doesn’t have a shampoo commercial. He has never been to the Pro Bowl. But he no longer is in Troy Polamalu’s shadow.

“He’s really been out of Troy’s shadow for about three years,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “He plays great ball every week, but of course, Troy makes so many great plays you’re going to notice him.”

Clark left his mark in the Steelers’ 31-24 victory over the Ravens in the divisional round. He had an interception and a forced fumble, along with five tackles, two for loss, and two defensed passes. His turnovers, which came during a 6:15 span of the third quarter, set up Steelers’ touchdown drives of 23 and 25 yards.

“Ryan doesn’t get a lot of notoriety outside of our locker room, because he plays with some great players like Troy Polamalu and others,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “If you ask anybody in our locker room and you watch us work at practice at our facility, this guy is a leader. He is respected by his teammates. That’s why it was so important that we got him back here when he was a free agent last off-season.

“We just love Ryan Clark.”

Though Clark started 36 consecutive games at free safety for LSU, Mel Kiper had Clark rated as only the 38th best safety in his draft class. Roy Williams was first, Ed Reed second and Chris Hope, the safety Clark replaced in Pittsburgh five years ago, was 10th.

Clark measured only 5-11 and weighed only 183 pounds. Though he ran a 4.48 at LSU’s Pro Day, he had been timed in 4.74 the previous spring.

He signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent.

“You’re not going to measure what I do in measurables,” Clark said. “It’s not going to be a situation where he’s really big; he’s really fast.”

Clark played two seasons with the Giants and two with the Redskins before finding his home alongside Polamalu, who Clark calls “the best safety in the NFL.” When he became a free agent during the 2010 off-season, Clark re-signed with the Steelers.

He is content with his role.

“To know my value, you have to be a guy inside the organization,” said Clark, who had a career-high 90 tackles and two interceptions in the regular season and made four tackles in the AFC title game. “I’m not going to make the flashy plays and do the things that you really see. It’s about the chemistry and the camaraderie you build with your teammates, and the things you can bring to the team.

“I guess luckily for me, though, is they [saw my value]. I had an opportunity to be a free agent, and I was able to come back. This is why I came back.”

Fourth and short

• With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck choosing to stay in school, the Panthers missed out on the top college prospect. But the best defensive player will enter the draft, and Auburn tackle Nick Fairley is considered a strong candidate for the Panthers with the No. 1 overall pick. Other options include Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. It doesn’t seem likely the Panthers would draft a quarterback with the top pick.

• Fullback John Kuhn is the only Green Bay player with a Super Bowl ring. He was on the Steelers’ practice squad as an undrafted rookie in the 2005 season.

• The Eagles have 15 players who will be free agents, including quarterback Michael Vick, safety Quintin Mikell and kicker David Akers. The only certainty is that Vick will return. The Eagles will either re-sign him or franchise him.

• Redskins co-captain London Fletcher led his team in tackles for a 12th consecutive season. He had 136. Fletcher turns 36 in May, but he isn’t considering retirement.

• Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said signing coach Lovie Smith to a contract extension is an offseason priority. Smith’s contract expires after the 2011 season.

• The Bengals maintain that they are not trading quarterback Carson Palmer, but if they change their minds, the NFC West is a likely destination. The 49ers are in the market for a quarterback, and Palmer’s wife is from the Bay Area. Palmer played for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at USC, and Matt Hasselbeck’s future is uncertain as he is a free agent. The Cardinals also could be in the market for a veteran quarterback.

• New coach Pat Shurmur will have to convince the Browns they can win. Cleveland has lost at least 10 games in seven of the past eight years.

• The Cowboys have no interest in even entertaining offers for rookie receiver Dez Bryant despite a published report. Bryant had an injury-plagued rookie season but was the team’s best playmaker with eight total touchdowns in 12 games.

• Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had right shoulder surgery last week and is expected to be ready for training camp. The second-year player injured his shoulder in the season opener, returned on Halloween and then was re-injured against the Jets on Nov. 7. He has finished his first two seasons on injured reserve and has missed more games (19) than he has played (13).

• The Lions will be in the market for outside linebackers. Julian Peterson and his $8 million contract will not return; Zach Follett ended last season with a serious neck injury; and Landon Johnson is an unrestricted free agent with a history of concussions.

• Texans fans want Bob McNair to pay whatever it takes to sign either Nnamdi Asomugha or Champ Bailey, both of whom are free agents. It’s doubtful, though, that the Texans will pay the money it would take for Asomugha.

• The Colts face a big decision on strong safety Bob Sanders, a former Defensive Player of the Year. Sanders, who has missed 64 of 112 regular-season games because of injury, has a $5.5 million base salary in 2011.

• The Jaguars still owe coach Jack Del Rio $10 million on the last two years of his contract. Owner Wayne Weaver has it set up that he could start over with a new staff next year if the Jaguars don’t win this season. He would have to pay off the final $5 million of Del Rio’s contract, but most of the assistant coaches’ contracts expire after the 2011 season.

• Despite three interceptions and a 20.4 passer rating in the Chiefs’ playoff loss, Matt Cassel is still the team’s quarterback of the present and the future. He will collect a $7.5 million option bonus in March. Cassel’s backup, Brodie Croyle, will be a free agent and likely will find a new home.

• Tom Brady has played in 19 playoff games. Only Tedy Bruschi (22) and Troy Brown (20) have played in more playoff games for the Patriots.

• Saints guard Jahri Evans made the Pro Bowl and was voted to the AP All-Pro team. He did not deserve either after leading the league with nine holding penalties, eight of them accepted.

• The final four teams all ranked in the top 10 in total defense. Pittsburgh was second, the Jets third, Green Bay fifth and Chicago ninth.

• The Falcons could have three of their starting offensive linemen — Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo — become free agents of some classification, depending on the new collective bargaining agreement.

• The Ravens will look for a speed receiver and upgrades to the offensive line after falling from 13th in total offense last season to 22nd this season.

• The Ravens have 17 players scheduled to become free agents. Fullback Le’Ron McClain, a two-time Pro Bowler, is one free agent who doesn’t expect to return next season.

• The Bills went 0-9 against teams that made the playoffs in 2010, and they were outscored 273-140 in those nine games.

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<p> It took the Driver 35 years, 12 NFL seasons and 188 NFL games to make his first Super Bowl appearance.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 28, 2011 - 10:06
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/joseph-and-horns-make-statement
Body:

1. Which team had the most impressive win of the weekend?

Nathan Rush: Texas’ unbelievable come-from-behind win at Kansas was easily the biggest victory of the weekend. The Longhorns ended the Jayhawks’ 69-game home winning streak at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. UT also ended its own 0–7 slide at KU with the improbable 74–63 triumph. Kansas jumped out to a 10–0 lead, led by as many as 15 points in the first half and took a 35–23 edge over Texas into the break. In the second half, however, the Horns rocked the Hawks and chalked up a 51–28 tally over the final 20 minutes, taking a 45–44 lead with just over 10 minutes to play before cruising to an 11-point statement win. Rick Barnes’ team was my early-season Final Four sleeper (in one of these columns) when the Horns were barely hanging on to a top-25 spot. After this weekend’s win in Lawrence, it will take Bevo to pull the burnt orange bandwagon.

Mitch Light: Wisconsin. The Badgers completely dominated a decent Northwestern team in Evanston, racing out to a 20-point lead in the first half and eventually winning by 32. Wisconsin shot 55.4 percent from the field, had 22 assists on 31 field goals and only committed three turnovers. On the other end of the court, the Badgers held Northwestern to a season-low 46 points. Bo Ryan’s club was great in every facet of the game.

Braden Gall: Since I think Duke and Kansas are the top two teams in the nation — no offense, Ohio State — I would have to say Texas’ win over the Jayhawks was easily the most impressive win. Allen Fieldhouse was rockin’ after an 18–3 KU start, but the resiliency and hard work of the Burnt Orange youngsters brought Kansas’ 69-game home winning streak to an end. There is something different about this Texas team. Ohio State’s road win over Illinois was also impressive but would have been the equivalent of Kansas winning at Texas — not vice versa.

2. Which team had the most troubling loss?

Nathan: Arkansas suffered a 32-point beatdown at the hands of Florida. Granted, these aren’t Corliss Williamson’s Razorbacks and no one expects them to be. But these aren’t Joakim Noah’s Gators, either. Before devouring the Hogs, coach Billy Donovan’s young team appeared toothless during an ugly 45–40 win at Auburn — a team that has established itself as easily the worst in the SEC. Maybe the lopsided loss says less about Arkansas’ ineptitude and more about Florida’s enormous unrealized potential. Still, a 39–17 halftime deficit and 75–43 final margin against an unranked conference foe is something to be ashamed of.

Mitch: I subscribe to the theory that there is no such thing as a bad road loss in conference play, but Louisville let one get away Saturday in Providence. When you play in a league as loaded as the Big East, you simply have to beat the bad teams in the league — and Providence entered the weekend with an 0–6 mark in the conference. Louisville missed an opportunity to improve to 5–1 in the Big East.

Braden: I have to give an honorary vote to Clemson for losing its 55th straight game to North Carolina in Chapel Hill. That is more than eight decades of frustration. But my real vote goes to St. John’s, which suffered a tough loss to Cincinnati. A Yancy Gates 3-pointer with eight seconds left took a quality home win over a likely NCAA Tournament team away from the Red Storm and gave Mick Cronin’s group a solid resume road win. This is a game that St. John’s, now 11–7 overall and 4–4 in the Big East, might look back on when Selection Sunday rolls around.

3. Will Gonzaga’s run of 10-straight regular-season WCC titles going to end?

Nathan: The Zags’ run of 10-straight West Coast Conference regular season titles has come to an end. Granted, coach Mark Few’s team has not yet been mathematically eliminated. But following back-to-back losses at Santa Clara (85–71) and at San Francisco (96–91, OT), Gonzaga is 3–2 in WCC play (13–7 overall) and looking up at a powerful Saint Mary’s club that is 5–0 in the WCC (17–3 overall). The Bulldogs do have two chances to take down the Gaels (at home on Thursday and at SMC on Feb. 24), but the odds are against an 11th consecutive West Coast crown. Just don’t tell Adam Morrison; he can get pretty emotional.

Mitch: We will know a lot more later this week after the Zags host Saint Mary’s, but I do believe this is the year that Gonzaga’s streak ends. They are already two games behind SMC in the loss column and are coming off their first two-game WCC losing streak since 2000. This team has some talent, but it’s not nearly as skilled as some of Mark Few’s team from years past.

Braden: After seeing Saint Mary’s in person over the weekend (they lost by 19 to Vanderbilt), I am inclined to say no. But Gonzaga has a ton of work to do — and it starts on Thursday. The Zags still have the most talented roster in the league but already trail the Gaels by two games in the loss column. The battle between these two on Thursday in Spokane will go a long way in determining the Bulldogs’ WCC fate. What amounts to a four-game lead in the league would be insurmountable.



4. San Diego State visits BYU on Wednesday in one of the biggest MWC games in years. Who wins?

Nathan: With all due respect to the great Jimmer Fredette — who has taken the Danny Ainge school of shot taking and making to a new level while establishing himself as a legit National Player of the Year candidate — San Diego State is a better team than BYU. The Aztecs will have to account for Fredette and battle a tough crowd at the Marriott Center, but coach Steve Fisher, Kawhi Leonard (15.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg) and Co. will improve to 21–0 overall and 6–0 in the Mountain West after their top-10 showdown on Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.

Mitch: Can’t wait for this one. I think San Diego State is the better team, but I will go with the home team. Expect a wild atmosphere at the Marriott Center and expect a big game from Jimmer Fredette, one of the most exciting players in the nation. 


Braden: Is 39–1 good? These two have combined for one loss thus far in 2010-11, with BYU losing to UCLA by seven points. BYU has owned this series of late — especially at home. The Cougars have won seven of the last 10 (and five straight) regular-season meetings and haven’t lost at home to SDSU since Jan. 8, 2005. I also think they have the best player on the floor in Jimmer Fredette. The nation’s leading scorer has averaged 29 points per game with 14 boards and 14 assists in his last three against the Aztecs. Fredette went a combined 9-of-16 from behind the arc in last season’s series sweep by BYU. Give me the Cougs at home.


5. Who’s the best freshman in the country on a team not in one of the Big Six leagues?

Nathan: Unlike other Ohio basketball stars, Dayton point guard Juwan Staten decided to stay close to home when it came time to sign his name on the dotted line. After playing alongside Kentucky’s Doron Lamb, Connecticut’s Roscoe Smith and Syracuse’s Baye Moussa Keita last season at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, Staten chose to take his talents to southwest Ohio for his collegiate career. Now, the 6’0”, 189-pound passer is leading the Atlantic 10 in assists (6.6 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.74-to-1) while also averaging 9.2 points for a Flyers club that is very much in the A-10 hunt.

Mitch: Memphis has a bunch of good-looking freshmen, but Detroit’s Ray McCallum has been the best of those playing outside the power conferences. McCallum turned down some big-time offers (UCLA, Arizona, Florida) to play for his dad at Detroit and is averaging 14.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Trey Zeigler, another touted recruit who chose to play for his dad, is putting up better numbers (17.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg) at Central Michigan, but the Chips are 5–13 overall.

Braden: The most talented non-Big Six freshman is probably Detroit guard Ray McCallum. Coached by his father, Ray Sr., McCallum has the Titans in the thick of the Horizon race by leading his team in scoring (14.4 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg) and is second on the team in rebounding (4.7 rpg).

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Post date: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 11:56
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/nfl-perspective/playoff-success-defines-quarterback
Body:

By Ralph Vacchiano

Aaron Rodgers was Jay Cutler once. Maybe not quite as hated, certainly not by other players, but there was a time when nobody was sure what or who he really was.

It was in the summer of 2008, while the city of Green Bay — the state of Wisconsin, really — was still mourning the “retirement” of legend Brett Favre. Packers fans were sure their hero was being pushed out for the new, golden-boy quarterback. They weren’t convinced he was the real deal.

And he really ticked them off when he said this to Sports Illustrated about his relationship with those fickle fans:

“I don’t feel I need to sell myself to the fans,” Rodgers said then. “They need to get on board now or keep their mouths shut.”

You know what the difference is between Rodgers then and now? It’s the same as the difference now between Rodgers and Cutler. Wins. Performance. Success. That’s everything in the NFL, especially when it comes to how someone — particularly a quarterback — is perceived.

For Rodgers, that was just his cocky nature.

Cutler? He’s apparently a wimp.

“I think any young quarterback who gets this opportunity, there is a ladder that you have to climb,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, after his quarterback, Rodgers, helped his team beat the Bears 21-14 in the NFC championship game on Sunday. “You have to first show that you belong as a starter. You have to win big games. He is a 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown-a-year quarterback. He is definitely in the upper echelon as far as the way he plays statistically.

“The next step is to win playoff games. He has accomplished that now. Now he gets the challenge to be a Super Bowl champion. To me, it’s the process and the progress of a young, talented, special individual who has taken full advantage of his opportunities.”

Left unsaid by McCarthy is that Cutler hasn’t. He has a big arm, was a first-round draft pick, had a 4,000-yard season and was thought of highly enough that the Bears traded their own quarterback (Kyle Orton), two first-round picks and a third-round pick to get him. He’s even won a big game or two, too.

None of that, though, has shielded Cutler from some stinging, personal criticism. It started two weeks ago when a national columnist did a hit-and-run attack on his personality, sparking a week-long debate in Chicago about how aloof and prickly Cutler was (or wasn’t).

Then the worst came on Sunday when he committed the apparently unforgivable crime of leaving the NFC Championship Game with an injured knee. Never mind that, against doctors ordered, he tried to play one last series. Never mind that sitting out wasn’t his call. Never mind that it was later revealed he had a Grade II sprain of his MCL — an injury that normally sidelines players for 3-4 weeks.

All anyone could see was that he was able to walk and pedal a bike on the sidelines, but he wasn’t able to play.

The criticism didn’t just come from boozed up fans, either, or anonymous punks on the internet. Via Twitter, like a plague, it came from NFL players like Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Cardinals lineman Darnell Dockett and safety Kerry Rhodes. And it came from former NFL players-turned-analysts like Deion Sanders and Mark Schlereth.

Worst of all, it came before the game was over, before any of those “experts” watching from home knew the extent of the injury, before it was revealed Cutler had a badly sprained MCL.

From Jones-Drew: “All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee. … I played the whole season on one…”

From Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel: “If he was my teammate I would be looking at him sideways”

From former Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks: “HEY there is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart”

And on and on and on the assault went, until it was relayed to Cutler’s teammates in the Bears’ locker room after the game.

“Bleep them,” said Bears center Olin Kruetz. “It’s bleeping stupid. I could see (his knee) wiggling when he was walking back in the huddle.”

It didn’t matter, though, because of one undeniable fact: Cutler isn’t perceived as a winner. In the same circumstances, Tom Brady would never have drawn such fire. Neither would Peyton Manning. Everyone would’ve even forgiven Rodgers had he sat out, too.

Why? Because Rodgers has done what Cutler hasn’t. He carried the Packers through the first two rounds of the playoffs, first out-dueling Michael Vick in Philadelphia and then lighting up the top-seeded Falcons for 366 yards and 48 points in Atlanta. He was even on fire in the first half of the NFC championship game.

Cutler? The lone postseason win of his NFL career came one week earlier against the 8-10 Seattle Seahawks. He was outstanding in the game and, for a few days, everyone forgave him for being somewhat petulant and boring. They did that because he won.

Once he was a loser again, all bets were off.

So Rodgers will sit at a Super Bowl podium all next week and no one will remember how whiny he seemed nearly three years ago. Cutler’s rebound likely won’t be so quick. Even though his coach and teammates had his back, too many ignorant fellow players and voices already labeled him a quitter. At this point, the only way to make that a footnote in his history is if he leads the Bears to the Super Bowl next year.

Just ask Rodgers how big a deal that is for a reputation. It seems that Vince Lombardi was right. Winning is everything … at least as far as perception is concerned.
 

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Post date: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 10:21
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/national-notebook/calhoun-leaning-talented-freshmen
Body:

By Ken Davis

The puppies are growing up.

We’re talking about the freshmen at Connecticut. And, when you consider all the ramifications, it might be one of the biggest stories of the college basketball season.

Everything UConn does offensively still runs through Kemba Walker, who took the nation by storm and established himself as a national player of the year frontrunner with his electric performance at the Maui Invitational. But Walker no longer is a one-man band, and the Huskies confirmed that during huge victories last week over Villanova and Tennessee.

Sophomore center Alex Oriakhi had back-to-back double-doubles in those games — a welcome sight for the Huskies. But even more significant has been the emergence of freshmen Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith. Lamb is a smooth shooting guard who combined for 30 points in the two victories. He has emerged a third offensive threat for the Huskies. Smith turned in stunning defensive performances on Villanova’s Corey Stokes and Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson. He also scored 12 in the 72-61 victory over the Vols.

If gives the Huskies a totally different look. UConn played with tremendous confidence. The young Huskies didn’t panic when they fell behind. Against Tennessee, Walker, Lamb, Oriakhi and Smith combined for 56 points on 21-for-41 (51 percent) shooting. Take out Walker’s 6-for-17 stats and the other three shot 63 percent.

The bottom line is the Huskies are 16-2 and no one expected that —especially not the Big East coaches who selected UConn to finish 10th in the conference’s preseason poll. UConn coach Jim Calhoun said on Big East media day he might have picked them lower than that.

The victory over Tennessee wrapped up UConn’s non-conference schedule. The Huskies went 12-0, and they have wins over Wichita State, Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas, Villanova and Tennessee. Depending on which RPI model you trust the most, the Huskies are either No. 3 (CollegeRPI.com) or No. 1 (ESPN’s Inside RPI).

There’s a lot of basketball to be played, but it would take a major collapse for the Huskies to miss the NCAA Tournament field. And after last season — when Calhoun had to take a leave of absence, the Huskies closed out the season on the bubble, and ultimately settled for a trip to the NIT one season after reaching the Final Four — this feels like a lot of fun for UConn Nation.

“Given the competition we face, I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Calhoun said after the Tennessee victory Saturday. “What we saw in Maui still wasn’t a true test of who we were. It was an idea that we had some things in us — Kemba particularly — that could make us a pretty good basketball team.

“Out of the 18 games played, [the game against Tennessee] was far and away the best team effort against a quality opponent. I don’t think it’s even close.”

UConn’s recruiting effort was a bit disjointed, and the freshman class came together relatively late. Calhoun said all along that liked his players, but the sudden maturation of this team is remarkable. Calhoun is begging Lamb to score. and what freshman wouldn’t enjoy hearing that? Smith’s teammates are calling him “Defensive Coordinator” because his role as the shut down guy has become crystal clear.

“I think the [freshman] label is gone,” Smith said. “We’re getting a lot of confidence in each other and in ourselves. Every little thing we do, every inch we step, everything we do in the weight room, and just everything builds our confidence.”

Freshman Shabazz Napier came off the bench against Tennessee to run the offense. He handed out four assists and gave Walker a chance to play off the ball. UConn even got six points, five rebounds and a block from reserve center Charles Okwandu, a senior who has struggled throughout his UConn career. Calhoun has stayed with him, and if Okwandu could make contributions consistently it would be enormous.

Calhoun has won two national championships, is in the Hall of Fame, and the critics said he should have retired last year. But this may be one of his best coaching efforts yet. If you want to make a short list of National Coach of the Year candidates this early in the season, he has to be included.

“Our chemistry is great,” Walker said. “We do everything together, and it just translates onto the court. [The freshmen] are growing up fast. Their confidence is really high right now. Hopefully we can keep them that way.

“I think [Calhoun] is letting them grow up. I think he has let them play through mistakes. That’s been the biggest difference this year. He’s not really yelling at them. He’s talking to them in a soft voice and giving them confidence when they do make mistakes. We need everybody to contribute in some type of way and if their confidence goes down, it’s going to be bad.”

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Texas made the biggest impact in college basketball last week, defeating Texas A&M and Kansas to take control of the Big 12. Jordan Hamilton didn’t have his most productive game Saturday — at least in terms of scoring. But there’s no doubt Hamilton had his fingerprints all over the sweep that left Texas with a 16-3 record overall and a 4-0 mark in conference play. Against A&M, Hamilton was 10-of-14 from the field, hit all four 3-point shots he took, scored 27 points and had eight rebounds. Against Kansas, Hamilton didn’t shoot quite as well (5- of-13), but he had 17 points and nine rebounds. The sophomore swingman has made tremendous improvement since his freshman year, taking his scoring average from 10.0 to 19.5 and his rebounding average from 3.7 to 7.2.

FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK

Jared Sullinger, of course. No. 1 Ohio State is at the top in large part because of Sullinger. He showed that again Saturday with 27 points, 16 rebounds, one assist and three blocks in a 73-68 win over Illinois in Champaign. He also went 13-of-15 from the free throw line. “Pride, heart and composure,” he told the Associated Press after the game. “Those three things — we really showed a lot of composure.” Earlier in the week, Sullinger had 13 points and nine rebounds in a 70-48 destruction of Iowa.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Tuesday, Jan. 25

Purdue at Ohio State
This might be the game of the year in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have emerged as the top team in the nation. Purdue is second in the Big Ten, and a win for the Boilermakers could alter the complexion of the season.

UConn at Marquette
Marquette needs a big win to help its NCAA Tournament resume. The Golden Eagles missed recent opportunities against Louisville and Notre Dame. UConn is playing well, but the Huskies will be going against a hungry team.

Wednesday, Jan. 26

Texas at Oklahoma State
The Longhorns took control of the Big 12 with a huge win at Kansas Saturday. This will be an emotional game for the Cowboys, one day before the 10th anniversary of that tragic plane crash that killed 10 members of the OSU program.

San Diego State at BYU
This is the first of two meetings between the top teams in the Mountain West, and both are in the Top 10. The Marriott Center crowd will be pulling for Jimmer Fredette and the rest of the Cougars. Kawhi Leonard, D.J. Gay and Malcolm Thomas are having outstanding seasons for the undefeated Aztecs. (A friendly tip: If you can get CBS College Sports Network, you can actually watch this game.)

Thursday, Jan. 27

Michigan at Michigan State
The visitors are 1-5 in the Big Ten. The home team is 4-3. Tough times for hoop fans in the state of Michigan.

Boston College at Duke
Boston College is 4-2 in the ACC, but the Eagles are 0-2 against Ivy League teams.

Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga
Will a power shift take place in the West Coast Conference this season? Saint Mary’s is 5-0 and 17-3 overall. Gonzaga is 3-2 and 13-7 overall. This would be a huge win for Saint Mary’s.

Saturday, Jan. 29

Georgetown at Villanova
The Hoyas are another mystery team this season. They’ve won two in a row, but beating Rutgers and Seton Hall doesn’t qualify as turning the corner. Villanova’s win at Syracuse Saturday was a big-time bounce back from the loss at UConn.

Louisville at Connecticut
Can Louisville disrupt the Huskies with pressure? Or is Kemba Walker too fast for the Cardinals?

Kansas State at Kansas
ESPN GameDay returns to Lawrence for the Kansas Sesquicentennial. (That’s the 150th anniversary of statehood for Kansas, in case you don’t know that big word.) The Jayhawks also will retire the jersey of Wayne Simien, an All-American in 2005 who played in two Final Fours.

Missouri at Texas
The Longhorns face another difficult challenge at home. Marcus Denmon and the Tigers have won three of their last four.

Sunday, Jan. 30

Duke at St. John’s
Steve Lavin has a roster loaded with seniors, and the program is trying to bring some magic back to Madison Square Garden. Beating Duke would help with that goal.

Northern Iowa at Missouri State
Missouri State begins the week in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bears play Drake and then have this contest against the Panthers, the Cinderella of last year’s NCAA tourney.

THEY SAID IT

“We are inconsistent because our best player, Scotty Hopson is inconsistent. Not his effort, not his attitude, not his ability. It’s just … there are times … I mean, UConn is not going to beat some of the better teams on their schedule on the road unless Kemba Walker has a good game.” —Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl after the Vols lost to UConn, 72-61, in Hartford Saturday. Hopson scored 13 points on 5-of- 13 shooting with five turnovers.

“We just played stupid, to be honest with you. We made a ton of turnovers and it kind of snowballed from there.” — Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson after the Cyclones committed 19 turnovers and went 4 for 22 from three-point range in an 87-54 loss to Missouri Saturday.

“I felt like Jared was pretty good today. That was a joke. He was awesome.” — Ohio State coach Thad Matta during his deadpan routine with reporters Saturday. Freshman Jared Sullinger had 27 points and 16 rebounds in a 73-68 win over Illinois.

"I’m really proud of those kids. Everybody talked about how poorly they played at Georgia Tech. My radio call [show] last night stunk; everybody was talking about how they were Carolina fans for nine million years and how bad we are; I don’t give a damn how long you’re a Carolina fan — those are kids in the locker room, and they played their buns off tonight. I can remember working for Coach [Dean] Smith, and we go down to Clemson, and we got beat 93-76, and I thought the world was going to end. … But I didn’t have anybody calling up the TV show, talking about my team. Don’t call me next week and say how good we are; keep your damn phone calls to yourself.” — North Carolina coach Roy Williams.

“First of all I want to apologize for my language at the end of the game. I got caught up in the emotion of the game, but that’s no excuse. Sometimes you don’t realize that what you’re saying on national TV. The [Big Blue Nation] deserves better and so do my players.” — Kentucky coach John Calipari on Twitter after ESPN cameras caught him cursing at Terrence Jones after the Wildcats lost at Alabama Tuesday.

“We had a pretty good practice yesterday and looked crisp and sharp. Then you come out and just never stop them. They got the shots no matter what defense we were playing. We never made them feel uncomfortable. Each time down the court, it seemed they were in control.” — Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, after Sunday’s 78-46 loss to Wisconsin.

NOTES

• A fellow reporter asked me the other day about the parental selection of a name for BYU’s senior point guard. What were the Fredette’s thinking when they named him Jimmer? Since I wasn’t involved in the process, I didn’t have an answer. Then I came across the explanation in a Q and A exchange Fredette participated in for The Sporting News. “It’s basically from my mom,” the National Player of the Year candidate said. “She has a lot of Jameses and Jims in her family, and James is my real name. But she decided she wanted to make it unique, so she added the extra ‘m’ and ‘er’ to the end and started to call me Jimmer from birth. She wanted everybody to call me that.” Jimmer says he really likes the name. I’ve no problem with it. If he isn’t calling attention to himself with his game — and he does that every time he takes the floor — then the name is an added touch. It’s certainly better than going by Jimmy, isn’t it?

• Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser had the first triple-double in school history during a 78-46 victory over Northwestern. And the freshman knew exactly what he needed to reach that milestone. “Towards the last couple of minutes I had an idea that I was close and wanted just to get one more [assist] at the end,” he told the Associated Press. “Fortunately Brett [Valentyn] knocked it down. He missed one before that and told me he was going to get another.” Gasser got that final assist with three minutes left and finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

• There’s something sad here, and you just hope the situation doesn’t get worse. Reserve forward Dan Jennings dressed for West Virginia Sunday but he didn’t play. And during the second half of the victory over South Florida, Jennings walked away from the bench and didn’t return. Coach Bob Huggins said it was “unexcused, inexcusable” and “never to be seen again, I guess. … I know, he started a couple of games, but he’s a non-entity. It isn’t like we lost Kevin Jones. I know, you guys [in the media] have to write about it, but it’s a sidebar. Isn’t that what you call it?” Maybe Huggins has a career as an assignment editor ahead of him. On the other hand, Jennings has probably worn the WVU uniform for the last time. Back in November, his name was actually spelled wrong on the back of his jersey. It showed up as JENINNGS. Jennings had a difficult childhood, bouncing back and forth from his biological mother to several foster homes in the New York City area. In November he wrote a speech entitled “Looking for the Light” that was presented at a Morgantown middle school and also at WVU. The speech began: “Did you ever have one of those days when nothing goes your way and you want to give up? Well, I had a whole childhood of those days.” What happened Sunday is a mystery at this point. The 6-8 sophomore was averaging 2.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in 14 games this season and started four times.

• Kansas sophomore Thomas Robinson will not be with the Jayhawks Tuesday when they play at Colorado. Robinson’s mother, Lisa, 37, died of an apparent heart attack late Friday night, just hours before Texas ended Kansas’ 69-game home winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse. Robinson played in Saturday’s game and informed coach Bill Self of his decision to return to Washington, D.C., Monday morning. “He wants to go home to be with his sister,” Self told the Lawrence Journal-World. “The bottom line is Thomas needs to do what he needs to do, and we’re all here to support him.” Lisa Robinson had lost her mother and father in recent weeks. “Thomas lost his grandmother at the very end of December,” Self said. “He lost his grandfather on Sunday and lost his mother on Friday night. For him to even be out there [Saturday] is remarkable.” Robinson learned of his mother’s death when his 9-year-old sister called him.

• Indiana’s backcourt has been hit hard by injuries. Verdell Jones III, who started 17 games this season, is out indefinitely with inflammation in his right knee. That news came just eight days after sophomore Maurice Creek injured his right knee in a win over Michigan. Creek had surgery last Thursday to repair the stress fracture and he is out indefinitely as well.


 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - 09:41
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/national-notebook/all-he-does-win-games
Body:

By Charean Williams

Where there’s Big Ben, there’s a way.

Somehow, someway Ben Roethlisberger manages to find a way to win in the postseason. In his seventh season, Roethlisberger already has won two Super Bowls and has a chance for a third. Roethlisberger is 9-2 in the postseason, giving him a better postseason winning percentage than Joe Montana (.696) and as many postseason victories as Bart Starr. Only seven quarterbacks in NFL history have more postseason wins than Roethlisberger: Montana (16), Terry Bradshaw (14), Tom Brady (14), John Elway (14), Brett Favre (13), Troy Aikman (11) and Roger Staubach (11).

“He may not be Brady or all those other guys, but you can’t knock the guy for what he has done,” Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. “History shows he is a proven winner in the playoffs.”

The Steelers are in the conference title game for the fourth time in seven years. They have won a record six Super Bowls, with two of those coming in the past five seasons. It was Roethlisberger’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left that gave the Steelers a 27-23 victory over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

He did it again last week, too.

The Steelers were tied with the Ravens 24-24 and faced a 3rd-and-19 at their own 38 with 2:07 left in regulation. The Steelers could have played defense, calling for a run that, based on how their defense had played in the second half, likely would have resulted in overtime. Instead, Roethlisberger talked offensive coordinator Bruce Arians into sending rookie Antonio Brown deep. The 58-yard completion set up the game-winning touchdown, a 2-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall with 1:33 remaining.

It was just another big play by a quarterback who is quickly becoming known as big-time.

“He’s a special quarterback, and he’s done that his whole career,” tight end Heath Miller said. “He’s never mentioned among the top quarterbacks for some reason. I don’t know why that’s the case. He just gets the job done. He brings his team home victorious.”

Williams is getting his due

Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews are the faces of the Packers defense, but Tramon Williams is the heart of it. Though his peers failed to recognize him with a deserved Pro Bowl berth, he has proved in the playoffs that he is one of the league’s top cornerbacks.

“He is having a Pro Bowl season,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “When these playoffs and the Super Bowl are completed, everybody in the country is going to know who Tramon Williams is. That’s the type of level that he’s playing at. He’s been very consistent. He’s making the big plays when the opportunity presents itself. Tramon’s playing great.”

Williams played just as well in the regular season as he is playing now. He allowed 40 catches for 533 yards and three touchdowns, according to STATS, Inc., with 23 pass breakups and six interceptions.

His teammate, Woodson, Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel and Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall were selected for the NFC. Hall gave up the third-most receptions in the league this season (70) and the second-most touchdowns (nine), while Woodson had four pass interference penalties, three defensive holding penalties and a league-leading four illegal contact penalties.

Williams is showing Pro Bowl voters why they were wrong.
He intercepted Michael Vick’s pass in the end zone in the waning seconds to secure the Packers’ victory over the Eagles in the wild card round. And he twice intercepted Atlanta’s Matt Ryan last week, with a 70-yard return for a touchdown on the last play of the first half.

“I don’t think I could have sat up there and told you I was capable of this,” Williams said. “I’ve always been a smaller kid going up against bigger guys, but I was always athletic. … It’s what you work for to be great and pretty much be the best. You sit back and watch other guys make plays and do things and get all the attention, and as a competitor, somewhere deep down inside, you want to do the same things those guys are doing.”

Fourth and short

• Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt will hire his third defensive coordinator in his four years with the team. He fired Clancy Pendergast after the 2008 season and let Bill Davis go earlier this month.

• The Cardinals will try to get a contract extension worked out with receiver Larry Fitzgerald. That was expected after they traded Anquan Boldin to the Ravens last year. Fitzgerald’s contract expires after the 2011 season, and he already was the league’s highest-paid receiver. His deal could affect the future of receiver Steve Breaston, who will be a free agent. The Cardinals will have to decide whether to try to bring back Breaston or go with Andre Roberts and Early Doucet.

• Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has one year left on his contract and sounds as if he will return for a 15th NFL season. The Falcons want him back, even though he turns 35 in February. Gonzalez made the Pro Bowl, started all 16 games for the 11th time in 14 seasons and caught 70 passes.

• Ed Reed turns 33 in September and had hip surgery before last season. But he is expected to return to the Ravens for a 10th season. He led the NFL with eight interceptions despite playing in only 10 games, making him the franchise leader with 54.

• The Bills lost their final two games against division rivals New England and the New York Jets by a combined 72-10 with 13 turnovers and no offensive touchdowns.

• The Bills aren’t hiding their interest in Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Buffalo, which has the third overall choice, plans to play multiple fronts next year after failing to make a smooth transition to the 3-4 defense in Chan Gailey’s first season as head coach.

• Ron Rivera, 49, becomes the first minority head coach of the Panthers and the first Latino coach in the NFL since Tom Flores.

• The Panthers planned to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall draft pick. But with Luck staying in school, the Panthers have to find a Plan B. Jimmy Clausen, a second-round pick in 2010, threw three touchdowns in 10 starts and had the league’s worst passer rating at 58.4.

• The Packers and the Bears have met only once before in the playoffs. That was 69 years ago, a 33-14 victory by the Bears in a semifinal game on their way to the 1941 championship.

• Bears returner Devin Hester returned five punts for 128 yards against the Packers this season, an average of 25.6 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown in Week 3.

• Running back Cedric Benson, who was critical of the playcalling for most of the season, is not expected to return to Cincinnati. The Bengals also could lose Chad Ochocinco. They have picked up the option on his contract, paying him $6 million in base salary in 2011, but the receiver has voiced doubts about whether he can co-exist with coach Marvin Lewis following his critical comments late in the season. Cincinnati could end up with three different starters at the four skill positions, with Terrell Owens also not expected to return.

• The Bengals offense has finished 20th or worst the past three seasons.

• The Broncos are expected to trade Kyle Orton to allow Tim Tebow to take over the starting quarterback job. Brady Quinn is expected to remain as Tebow’s backup.

• The Lions won games with three different quarterbacks. Starter Matthew Stafford played in only three games because of injuries to his right shoulder. Detroit, which put 18 players on injured reserve this season, had three different starting running backs, five middle linebackers and five right cornerbacks. It even finished the season with a backup kicker.

• Gary Kubiak is on his third defensive coordinator in five seasons as head coach. He gave Richard Smith and then Frank Bush a chance to be defensive coordinators for the first time. Both were fired. This time, he hired Wade Phillips, who is switching the Texans to a 3-4 scheme.

• The Colts had 18 players on injured reserve. They used 72 players during the season.

• Patriots quarterback Tom Brady now has lost his past three postseason games.

• The Saints ranked fourth in total defense and sixth in total offense. It was the first time in franchise history that the Saints have ranked in the top 10 on both sides of the ball. Their defensive ranking was the lowest since they were fourth in 1997.

• The Giants allowed 42 passing plays of 20-plus yards. Of those, 21.4 percent went for at least 30 yards.

• This marks the third consecutive AFC Championship Game that Rex Ryan has been a part of. He was the Ravens defensive coordinator two years ago when they lost to the Steelers, and Indianapolis beat Ryan’s Jets last season.

• Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was sacked a league-high 19 times against the blitz. He fumbled nine times and all six of his interceptions came in his last seven starts.

• The Eagles allowed 33 touchdowns in 43 red zone visits by opponents. That 76.7 success rate by the opposition was the league’s worst since the 1988 Houston Oilers.

• The Steelers were 7-1 on the road this season and just 5-3 at home during the regular season. They are 1-2 in championship games at Heinz Field and only 1-3 in their past four title games at home. In their history, the Steelers are only 5-5 in AFC Championship Games played in Pittsburgh.

• The Chiefs are the only one of the eight division winners who had a losing record within their division. Kansas City went 2-4 against AFC West teams.

• The Chiefs have 23 players without contracts for 2011, including outside linebacker Tamba Hali.

• Quarterback Chad Pennington said he will attempt to come back from the fourth major injury to his throwing arm. He was named the Dolphins’ starter in Week 9 but was injured on his second snap.

• The Chargers, who have a long list of free agents, are expected to let running back Darren Sproles leave. He has earned $14 million the past two seasons, but he had only 267 rushing yards, 520 receiving yards this season while fumbling three times.

• David Carr is the only 49ers’ quarterback under contract for 2011. Alex Smith and Troy Smith are scheduled to be free agents and are not expected to return to San Francisco. Practice squad quarterback Nate Davis was signed to a future contract by the Seahawks last week.

• The Seahawks have 27 potential free agents. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, 35, tops the list. He has indicated his desire to remain in Seattle.

• The Bucs started 10 rookies, the most by a winning team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Running back LeGarrette Blount led all rookies in rushing with 1,007 yards, and receiver Mike Williams led all rookie receivers with 65 receptions for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. Williams is the first rookie to have double-digit touchdown receptions since Randy Moss in 1998.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, January 21, 2011 - 09:51
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/bracket-breakdown/hamilton-horns-are-3-seed
Body:

 

ACC (6)
In: Boston College, Duke, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Worth a Mention: Maryland
Notes: It was a great eight-day period for Florida State, with home wins over Duke and NC State and a road win at Miami. This little run has cancelled out the bad loss at Auburn. Miami is one of the last teams in the bracket. That win over West Virginia in early December was huge (even though the Mountaineers lost at Marshall Wednesday night). Maryland's loss at home to Virginia Tech on Thursday will not help the Terps down the line.

America East (1)
In: Maine

A-10 (2)
In: Temple, Xavier
Worth a Mention: Dayton, Duquesne, Rhode Island, Richmond
Notes: Xavier has won three straight in the A-10, and the Muskies need to keep winning because their non-conference resume isn’t strong. They beat three Big Six conference teams, but those wins were against Iowa, Seton Hall and Wake Forest — three of the weakest in the nation from the power leagues. Duquesne isn’t really close to making the field, but the Dukes are off to a 4–0 start in the league. Dayton had what looked like a nice win early in the season, beating Ole Miss in Oxford, but the Rebels are 0–4 in the SEC. Richmond has wins over Purdue, Arizona State and VCU, but also lost to Iona, Bucknell and Rhode Island (at home).

A-Sun (1)
In: Belmont

Big 12 (7)
In: Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M
Worth a Mention: Baylor
Notes: Baylor has a ton of talent but has yet to beat a team with a top-100 RPI. Colorado was among the last teams in. The Buffs have some nice wins (Missouri, at Kansas State) but lost at San Francisco and at Harvard. Oklahoma State got a boost with Alabama’s win over Kentucky this week (the Pokes beat the Tide in December) but then took a hit the next night when Missouri State lost at Indiana State.

Big East (11)
In: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia
Worth a Mention: None
Notes: The Big East goes 11 deep this week, and Marquette is really the only team worth debating. The Golden Eagles’ RPI is 70 due to a very poor non-conference slate. They are lacking in good wins, but they have lost closely to some good teams — Duke (five points), Gonzaga (three), Wisconsin (five), Vanderbilt (one), Louisville (one). This team passes the “eye test.”

Big Sky (1)
In: Northern Colorado

Big South (1)
In: Coastal Carolina

Big Ten (6)
In: Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a Mention: Northwestern, Penn State
Notes: Penn State has two nice wins (Michigan State and Illinois at home) and two close losses on the road against very good teams (three points at Ohio State, one point at Purdue), but the Nittany Lions need to win more games to make up for the loss at home to Maine in December. Northwestern has one win vs. a top-100 RPI team, Michigan (No. 83).

Big West (1)
In: Long Beach

Colonial (1)
In: Old Dominion
Worth a Mention: James Madison, VCU
Notes: James Madison had a great opportunity Wednesday night, but lost a six-point game at ODU. VCU gets its chance at ODU this weekend. A road win over the Monarchs could put the Rams into the field next week.

Conference USA (1)
In: UCF
Worth a Mention: Memphis, UAB, Southern Miss
Notes: UAB is close. The Blazers won at Arkansas and beat VCU at home, but neither of those are currently in the bracket. Southern Miss played its way out (for now) by losing a big lead at home to Memphis Wednesday night. Memphis has a long way to go, but that win at USM was a good place to start. UCF is sliding down the bracket, thanks to a three-game losing streak. Those wins over Florida and Miami will only carry this team so far.

Horizon (2)
In: Butler, Cleveland State
Worth a Mention: Valparaiso
Notes: Butler has some bad losses (Evansville, Milwaukee by 20), but also has done some good things, beating Florida State and Washington State in Hawaii and pounding Cleveland State by 23.

Ivy (1)
In: Harvard

MAAC (1)
In: Iona

MAC (1)
In: Ball State

MEAC (1)
In: Bethune-Cookman

MVC (1)
In: Missouri State
Worth a Mention: Wichita State
Notes: Wichita State’s loss at home to Northern Iowa on Wednesday night was a tough blow. This team’s other three losses are to UConn in Hawaii, at San Diego State and at home to Missouri State.

Mountain West (3)
In: BYU, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a Mention: Colorado State
Notes: Colorado State’s huge win at UNLV on Wednesday night was impressive, but the Rams still need a few more quality wins to offset losses to Sam Houston and Hampton.

Northeast (1)
In: Long Island

OVC (1)
In: Austin Peay

Pac-10 (3)
In: Arizona, Washington, Washington State
Worth a Mention: UCLA
Notes: Washington State’s spot is far from secure. The Cougars have wins over Mississippi State and Baylor, two teams with plenty of talent but two teams that have underachieved. The win over Gonzaga was big. UCLA has one good win: vs. BYU. The Bruins need to go on a big run in league play.

Patriot (1)
In: Bucknell

SEC (5)
In: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Worth a Mention: South Carolina
Notes: The five teams in the field are pretty secure at this point. South Carolina is sneaking its way into the discussion. The Gamecocks are 3–1 in the league, highlighted by an overtime win over Vanderbilt and a win at Florida.

Southern (1)
In: College of Charleston

Southland (1)
In: McNeese State

Summit (1)
In: Oakland

Sun Belt (1)
In: FAU

SWAC (1)
In: Texas Southern

WAC (1)
In: Utah State

WCC (2)
In: Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 16:17
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/nfl-perspective/dynasty-over-think-again
Body:

By Ralph Vacchiano

When the house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East early in The Wizard of Oz, everybody knew what that meant. She was dead and there was lots of singing and dancing (at least until her evil sister showed up).

There were similar feelings on Sunday, when the trash-talking Jets took out years of frustration and hostility on the NFL’s Evil Empire. Suddenly, everyone pointed out that Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since Jan. 20, 2008. Finally, the revelers said, after 10 long years their dynasty was dead.

But is it really?

Not quite.

Even though their ring fingers are collecting a little bit of dust, it’s not as if the Patriots have suddenly become the Jets — not these Jets, of course, but the “same-old Jets” who have gone 41 years without even appearing in the Super Bowl. Sure, the Jets beat them 28-21 in the AFC Divisional playoffs on Sunday, marking the second straight year the Pats were bounced from the playoffs without a win.

But a dynasty over? They were 14-2 this year. They still have the NFL’s best quarterback, and he’s still only 33. They still have the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. They still have Belichick’s brain, too.

Yes, a dynasty is all about championships, not near-misses, and it’s now been six long years since the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXIX. But with all that on their resume, plus a few likely additions in free agency and the draft, isn’t it all-but certain the Patriots will be among the favorites to win the championship next year?

Of course they will be, because they always are. Just look at what they’ve done in the five years since they won their last Super Bowl:

• In 2005 they went 10-6 and won the AFC East for the fourth straight year. They won a playoff game, too, before getting knocked off in Denver in the second round.

• In 2006 they went 12-4 and won the AFC East for the fifth straight year and advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game. In fact, they had a 21-3 lead in that game in Indianapolis and led by three with 3:49 remaining. It took a last-minute drive by Peyton Manning and a very late interception by Brady to knock the Pats off, 38-31.

• In 2007, all they did was become the first NFL team to ever go 16-0 in the regular season, and they did it with an offense that scored more points than any team in NFL history. Then they even took a 14-10 lead in Super Bowl XLII with 2:39 remaining before losing to the Giants on arguably the most dramatic, incredible, Super Bowl-winning drive of all time. And don’t forget, the Giants needed the all-time greatest Super Bowl play — Eli Manning’s daring escape from a sure sack, followed by David Tyree’s one-handed helmet catch — to do it.

• In 2008, after losing Brady to a torn ACL and MCL in the season opener, they missed the playoffs. But not by much. Behind backup Matt Cassel, who wasn’t even a starter in college, they went 11-5, making them just the second 11-5 team to miss the NFL playoffs. Ever.

• In 2009 they went 10-6 and won the AFC East for the seventh time in the last eight years. But they lost in the first-round of the playoffs to the Baltimore Ravens

• In 2010 they snuck up on everyone by going 14-2, winning the AFC East for the eighth time in the last nine years by three full games over a Jets team that got most of the national publicity. Then they lost to the Jets in one of the greatest games that franchise has ever played.

That’s not just a pretty good run of success. That’s a run that maybe only the Pittsburgh Steelers — with two Super Bowl title and four trips to the playoffs — have equaled in that same span. They may not have a championship to show for their efforts, but in almost every week of all of those years, they were the team to beat.

Maybe they do have some flaws that the Jets exposed, but what team doesn’t? And the hallmark of the Belichick era in New England has been the Patriots’ ability to constantly reinvent themselves. The only constants, really, throughout the era have been Belichick and Brady. Players, coaches, coordinators, and even the general managers have changed.

The results, though, really haven’t.

So maybe one day we’ll all look back on the Patriot dynasty and realize that it did only last from 2001 to 2004. Maybe it ended at the end of the 2007 season, when Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the corner of the end zone in Glendale, Ariz., with just 35 seconds left in Super Bowl XLII.

Or maybe the Patriots, Belichick and Brady have another championship or two left in them. Since no one — or at least no one with any football sense — expects them to experience the rapid decline that most dynasties do, you have to count New England among the 2011 contenders. Certainly no one can rule them out of Super Bowl XLVI.

In other words, that “Ding Dong” you hear may not be the sound of people dancing around the Patriots’ body. It might turn out to be the sound of the Patriots standing at the door to another championship instead.
 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/aggies-among-biggest-surprises
Body:

1. What team has been the biggest surprise this season?

Braden Gall: The Texas A&M Aggies. We knew the coach was good. We knew they would play hard. But A&M lost its top three scorers and its top rebounder from last season and is sitting at 16–1 overall and 3–0 to start the Big 12. Wins over Missouri, Temple, Washington and Arkansas already give this team a nice resume, and the two-point loss to Boston College has turned into “good loss.” We will learn a lot about this team in the next two weeks as Mark Turgeon’s bunch faces Texas (twice), Kansas State and Nebraska over a 12-day period.

Mitch Light: I think it has to be UConn. With only one proven commodity (guard Kemba Walker) back from a team that went 7–11 in the Big East, the Huskies were expected to finish in the middle of the pack in the league. Even after the hot start — the Maui Invitational championship — many were still doubting this team. But Walker & Co. made a huge statement a few weeks ago by winning at Texas. After the win over Villanova on Monday, UConn is 15–2 overall and 4–2 in the Big East. The Huskies now have wins over Wichita State, Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas and Villanova.

Nathan Rush: I expected Ohio State to be the second or third best team in the Big Ten and a solid Sweet 16-type of squad — not a conference bully and national title contender. But freshman Jared Sullinger (17.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg, .593 shooting) has put together the type of rookie year not seen since Greg Oden was patrolling the paint in Columbus. If “Big Sully” keeps it up, he could have the Buckeyes playing in the national title game just like Oden did back in 2007.


2. If you were an Athletic Director and you had to hire a basketball coach, who would be your top three candidates.

Braden: One letter would top my list: K. Mike Krzyzewski would be my first phone call — no questions asked. Arguably the best tournament coach in the nation, Tom Izzo, would be my second call. Hall of Fame names like Boeheim, Calhoun, either Williams (Roy or Gary), Donovan and Ryan would all be in the mix, but I will go slightly off the beaten path and take Matt Painter of Purdue. He is much younger than the others and still has a lot to prove. In five short years at Purdue, Painter has become one of the nation’s best.

Mitch: I’d have to factor in age, since I want a coach for the long term, so my top candidate might be a surprise — Thad Matta. He is a tremendous recruiter who has proven himself in three stops as a head coach — Butler, Xavier and Ohio State. I’d also have to have Tom Izzo on the list for what he has done at Michigan State. Bill Self at Kansas and Coach K at Duke would obviously be great choices as well, but for No. 3 on my list, I will go with Jay Wright at Villanova. Like Matta, he is a great recruiter who has done well at more than one school. He went 122–85 in seven seasons (30–12 in his final two) at Hofstra before moving on to Villanova in ‘01-02.

Nathan: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo would be the first coach I’d call. After six Final Fours in 15 seasons, including the 2000 NCAA title, Izzo has proven his ability to maximize the talent on his roster in any given season and thrive under the do-or-die pressure of March. After Izzo, it’s a toss-up between Kentucky’s John Calipari and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Coach Cal and Coach K are polar opposites stylistically, but they are undeniably two of the best in the business at recruiting and managing elite talent.

3. Which result from this past weekend surprised you the most?

Braden: I’ll go with Georgia Tech beating North Carolina. If the Jackets normally played up to their potential this would not be shocking considering the issues the Heels have had over the last 12-to-16 months. However, this Paul Hewitt-coached Tech team (now 8–8) had no business beating Roy Williams’ bunch by 20 points — even at home (although, most of the crowd was actually wearing blue).

Mitch: I was very surprised by South Carolina’s 72–69 win at Florida on Saturday. The Gamecocks opened up SEC play with a big overtime win over Vanderbilt but then struggled mightily in a loss at Alabama. This is a very young team that I figured would have a lot of trouble winning on the road. Florida was 2–0 in the SEC after its big win at Tennessee last Tuesday. The Gators had a great opportunity to jump out to a 3–0 record in the wide-open SEC East. Didn’t happen.

Nathan: Tennessee’s 67–64 come-from-behind win over Vanderbilt may not have been the most surprising final score for those who didn’t watch the game. But the way that the Volunteers beat the Commodores was the most shocking result of the weekend. With associate head coach Tony Jones wearing the orange blazer for suspended coach Bruce Pearl — and Pat Summitt cheering on courtside — the Vols rallied from 17 points down to defeat their in-state rivals from Nashville. After starting 0–2 in SEC play (losing at Arkansas and in overtime to Florida), UT pulled off a stunner against Vandy, a team that also let a 14-point lead slip away at South Carolina in the SEC opener.

4. Which team needs to get its act together in the next week or two?

Braden: It might be piling on, but Georgetown needs to get some work done in Big East play. The Hoyas righted the ship with a win over lowly Rutgers this weekend, but had started 1–4 in the Big East prior to the win on Saturday. Losses to St. John’s, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Pitt have put pressure on the Hoyas to win now.Mitch: Northwestern is good enough to be an NCAA Tournament team, but the Wildcats don’t have an NCAA Tournament resume. They dropped to 2–4 in the Big Ten with an overtime loss at Michigan State on Saturday. They need to start winning games — and beating good teams. After hosting Michigan and SIU Edwardsville this week, they play Wisconsin at home and travel to Minnesota next week. If the Cats takes care of business at home and can find a way to steal a win at Minnesota, we can then start talking about the NCAA Tournament once again.

Mitch: Northwestern is good enough to be an NCAA Tournament team, but the Wildcats don’t have an NCAA Tournament resume. They dropped to 2–4 in the Big Ten with an overtime loss at Michigan State on Saturday. They need to start winning games — and beating good teams. After hosting Michigan and SIU Edwardsville this week, they play Wisconsin at home and travel to Minnesota next week. If the Cats takes care of business at home and can find a way to steal a win at Minnesota, we can then start talking about the NCAA Tournament once again.

Nathan: North Carolina appears to be back in trouble — if the Tar Heels were ever off the bubble — after an embarrassing 78–58 loss at Georgia Tech on Sunday. An underachieving Yellow Jackets team thoroughly dominated the Heels, who shot 27.6 percent (16-of-58) from the field and 16.7 percent (2-of-12) from downtown in Atlanta. If UNC can’t bounce back against Clemson (Jan. 18), at Miami (Jan. 26), NC State (Jan. 29), at BC (Feb. 1) and Florida State (Feb. 6), Roy Williams may have his second straight NIT ticket punched before heading to Cameron Indoor to face Duke (Feb. 9) for the first time this year.

5. There are some great freshmen and some great seniors. Who is the best sophomore in the country?

Braden: Wow, there are too many to count, and there is no Blake Griffin in this group. I will go with Maryland’s Jordan Williams, who has been a machine on the glass all season. His 12.1 rebounds per game rank third nationally and first among all power conference teams. He is also averaging 18.1 points, 1.4 blocks and is shooting 56 percent from the floor. I can’t, however, answer this questions without at least mentioning Jordan Hamilton, Derrick Williams and Alec Burks.

Mitch: Derrick Williams at Arizona is having a monster sophomore season. The forward who originally committed to USC leads the Cats in scoring (19.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg) and is shooting .658 from the field and .770 from the line. He is a legitimate Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate.

Nathan: My favorite sophomore is Miami point guard Durand Scott — although Arizona big man Derrick Williams is a beast, Vanderbilt sharpshooter John Jenkins is one of the top marksmen in the country and UCF heir to His Airness, Marcus Jordan, has nearly doubled his production while leading the Knights to a 14–2 start. But Scott has an all-around game that continues to improve and an intangible winning edge. The 6’3”, 200-pound New York City product — who won a state title as a high school senior at Rice and played for the AAU power New York Gauchos — is averaging 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists on ultra-efficient shooting percentages (45.8 from the field, 87.1 from the free throw line and 43.8 from three).

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, January 17, 2011 - 17:48
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/burks-has-buffs-top-big-12-standings
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By Ken Davis

During those crazy summer days of 2010, realignment rumors threatened to blow up the Big 12 as we know it. In the end, the Texas Longhorns put an end to that speculation by sticking with the membership and keeping the league together — minus Nebraska and Colorado.

The Cornhuskers and Buffaloes are committed to their escape plan. The old Big Eight partners have decided to bail out after this season. Nebraska will join the Big Ten and Colorado is headed for the mountains and surf of the Pac-10.

There is no doubt the Big 12 will feel a greater sense of loss as a football conference. From a basketball perspective, the reaction was an overwhelming sense of “Good riddance.” Neither program has brought much to the basketball table — especially in recent seasons — so who will miss them?

But guess what? It appears the Huskers and Buffs want to make a little noise as they head for the exit ramp.

Colorado travels to Lincoln, Neb., to play the Cornhuskers Tuesday. It’s not a game that will catch the fancy of the entire nation. But the Heartland will take notice. Just look at the Big 12 standings. Colorado (14-4 overall) is tied for first place with Texas A&M with a 3-0 conference record. Kansas, which plays at Baylor Monday night, and Texas are 2-0. Behind Baylor (2-1) is a logjam of five teams at 1-2, including Missouri, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas State — and Nebraska (13-4 overall).

The Cornhuskers nearly rocked the college basketball world Saturday when they almost took the Rock Chalk out of Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks had to battle back from a 10-point deficit early in the second half to defeat the Cornhuskers, 63-60, in Nebraska’s last visit to Lawrence — at least as a Big 12 member. Kansas remained undefeated this season and extended its home winning streak to 69 games, but the Huskers made a statement.

“I can tell you this, as long as I’m coaching here — I’ll be a spectator probably the next time there’s a game here,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. “I don’t like it that much.”

College presidents, commissioners and athletic directors make their realignment decisions with money in mind. They give very little thought — if any — to the traditions that are being destroyed. They give no thought to the emotions of coaches and players. It was obvious Saturday’s trip to historic Allen Fieldhouse meant something to Nebraska. Football coach Bo Pelini even attended the game.

The Jayhawks didn’t play their best game, but credit the Cornhuskers for making it close. Nebraska won the battle of the boards, 39-31, and played tough defense — especially on the interior. Sophomore forward Brandon Ubel grew up in nearby Overland Park, Kan., and attended games at Allen Fieldhouse. Like the other Huskers, he was hungry for Nebraska’s first victory there since 1999.

“I really wanted to get that win,” Ubel told the Lawrence Journal-World. “We were so close. … The fact that I’m not going to be able to come back here and give it another go is one of the more disappointing things.”

The emotions will be even stronger for Colorado coach Tad Boyle on Feb. 19 when the Buffaloes make their final appearance at Allen Fieldhouse. Boyle is a 1985 graduate of Kansas and played point guard for the Jayhawks. He is excited about the move to the Pac-10, but knows he will only get one chance to coach against KU in a conference game.

Boyle is a native of Greeley, Colo., and after building a program from scratch at Northern Colorado, he got the Colorado job when Jeff Bzdelik left for Wake Forest. With a new practice facility opening in April, Boyle is excited about Colorado’s future.

“This is not a stepping stone job for Tad Boyle,” he said during an interview last summer. “It’s a destination job for me. … This is where I want to be.”

The Colorado players are flourishing in Boyle’s system. Sophomore guard Alec Burks is averaging 19.7 points and is one of the most underrated players in the nation. But Burks isn’t a one-man show. Cory Higgins (16.6 ppg), Marcus Relphorde (12.0 ppg) and Levi Knutson (11.6 ppg) are all averaging in double figures scoring for CU.

Burks had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 75-71 win over Oklahoma State Saturday. Colorado is 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 1996-97, when they opened 6-0 and went on to the NCAA tournament.

“You have to give Colorado credit,” OSU coach Travis Ford told The Boulder Daily Camera. “They have come a long way. They’re not the team of the past. They are a very good basketball team.”

And their timing couldn’t have been better.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Jimmer Fredette is the talk of college basketball, especially after scoring 47 points in BYU’s 104-79 victory over Utah last Tuesday. So how could we possibly deny him the Player of the Week award, even if he gets it for the second consecutive week? If you haven’t seen the highlights, Fredette was 16-of-28 from the field, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range, and 9-of-9 from the free throw line. So just when you thought Kemba Walker was going to walk away with Player of the Year honors, you might want to reconsider. Fredette took over the national scoring lead that night with a 26.1-point average. “I just felt good right from the beginning,” Fredette said.

FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK

Terrence Jones scored 35 points against Auburn last Tuesday night and then apologized to teammate Doron Lamb. Why the apology? Jones had just broken the Kentucky freshman scoring record set by Lamb last month when he scored 32 against Winthrop. Jones came off the bench and demonstrated his versatility by scoring from points all over the floor. “I just wanted to do the little things on defense, run the floor hard and shoot it when I was open,” Jones said.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Monday, Jan. 17

Villanova at Connecticut
This has developed into one of the best rivalries in the Big East. Why should it be any different with Kemba Walker, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes on the floor? This is the start of a great Martin Luther King Day schedule on the ESPN networks.

Kansas State at Missouri
Curtis Kelly is back for K-State. Missouri’s grueling overtime loss to Texas A&M dropped the Tigers’ conference record to 1-2 — same as the Wildcats.

Syracuse at Pittsburgh
Coach Jim Boeheim’s leading scorer, Kris Joseph, won’t be healthy enough to play. In fact, he won’t even make the trip. That makes the task at Pitt even tougher. The Cuse might suffer its first loss.

Kansas at Baylor
The Ferrell Center will be amped up to greet the Jayhawks. But Kansas hasn’t lost in Waco since 2001.

Tuesday, Jan. 18

Colorado at Nebraska
For all the traditionalists out there, this is a slice of history. This is the next to last Big 12 game between these two. Both have shown remarkable improvement in conference play.

Michigan State at Illinois
Two overtime victories last week put the Spartans back in contention in the Big Ten. Now can they pick up a big win on the road?

Wednesday, Jan. 19

Duke at North Carolina State
The Blue Devils got off to such a smooth start, but last week was full of speed bumps. The trip over to Raleigh is always interesting.

Cincinnati at Notre Dame
The Irish will be glad to be home at the Joyce Center for this one. Notre Dame’s most recent road trip resulted in losses at Marquette and St. John’s.

Texas A&M at Texas
Mark Turgeon’s Aggies have been a huge surprise. The winner of this game emerges as the strongest contender to Kansas in the Big 12.

Thursday, Jan. 20

Virginia Tech at Maryland
Both of these teams have fallen below expectations, but you get the impression they aren’t far from busting out. This is a big ACC game.

Saturday, Jan. 22

Villanova at Syracuse
Syracuse hopes to have guard Kris Joseph healthy and back in the lineup for this game. Either one of these teams could win the Big East.

Ohio State at Illinois
With two big home games this week, the Illini could make a big difference in the Big Ten standings.

Kansas State at Texas A&M
You better make yourself familiar with Khris Middleton. He is a rising star at Texas A&M, a team that is quietly starting to make a lot of noise.

Kentucky at South Carolina
The Gamecocks love to cause trouble for Kentucky. Led by freshman guard Bruce Ellington, South Carolina is dangerous at home.

Iowa State at Missouri
Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones lost back-to-back Big 12 games to Nebraska and Kansas, but bounced back to beat Baylor.

Tennessee at Connecticut
The Vols take a break from the SEC and that earns coach Bruce Pearl a “Get Out Of Jail” card.

Texas at Kansas
This is the rivalry that has defined the Big 12 Conference. The Jayhawks will be shooting for their 70th consecutive home court victory.

Sunday, Jan. 23

Wisconsin at Northwestern
If John Shurna doesn't score, Northwestern finds itself in big trouble. Michigan State held Shurna to six points and the Spartans won in OT.

THEY SAID IT

“I have failed this team. I’ve got to do a better job of making us see how well we can play.” — Kansas State coach Frank Martin, after deciding to show his team video of wins over Gonzaga and Virginia Tech earlier this season.

“Look at anybody’s next six games in this league. It is by far the best league in the country. Everybody watches it because it’s drama and it’s playing out again.” — Notre Dame coach Mike Brey after his team lost to St. John’s 72-54.

“They’re kind of similar to a Big Ten team. It kind of reminded me of Minnesota. It wasn’t anything I haven’t seen before.” — Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, after a 68-64 loss to West Virginia in Morgantown.

“It’s someone’s girlfriend. (Reading) ‘Meet me at Jake’s … Is there a Jake here? …. (puts down the phone) I shouldn’t be getting messages on that. I told them not to call me on someone else’s phone.” — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, reading a text message from a reporter’s buzzing cell phone at the press conference following the Blue Devils’ loss at Florida State.

“When he starts to shoot from 40 feet out you know he’s feeling something. You kind of wanted to keep giving him the ball.” — BYU’s Jackson Emery, commenting on Jimmer Fredette’s 47-point performance in a 104-79 victory over Utah.

“If that does happen, the thing that excites me the most is that’s the second time we’ve been there in a few years. I think it’s great for the program. I don’t know how many schools can say that they’ve been in that position. We’re definitely one of them.” — Ohio State coach Thad Matta on the possibility of rising to the No. 1 spot in the polls. Ohio State ended the 2006-07 regular season as the No. 1 team.

NOTES

• Guard Jeremy Hazell is playing again at Seton Hall and somehow that just seems like a miracle. We’ve been updating you on the preseason first-team All-Big East selection since November. He went into the season as the centerpiece of everything the Pirates wanted to do, but a wrist injury immediately ripped him from the lineup. The uncertainty of his return upset Hazell deeply. Then on Christmas Day, Hazell was shot, hit by a bullet as he fled armed robbers in Harlem. Suddenly a wrist injury didn’t seem so serious. Hazell could have lost his life. But rather remarkably, there he was last Wednesday, scoring 23 points in a victory over DePaul. We’ve seen comeback stories before, but maybe nothing like this. “I was just happy to get back with my team,” he said. “When they told me I could play, there was no holding back.”

• Reggie Moore, starting point guard at Washington State, has been suspended indefinitely. Coach Ken Bone made the decision and Moore was in street clothes when the Cougars defeated Stanford Saturday. According to the Associated Press, Moore received two misdemeanor citations last month involving marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He was cited after a Dec. 11 search of a dorm room. Bone told the rest of the team about the suspension as they were getting off the bus at Maples Pavilion.

• Again, if you’ve been paying attention to this space, we predicted the first loss of the season for UCF would come against Southern Miss. The Knights did lose there 86-69. But it wasn’t the first loss for UCF. That came a week ago Saturday at Houston. So now UCF has lost two in a row and everyone is casting doubt over that 14-0 start. Southern Miss, under the direction of former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy, scored its first home victory over a ranked team since 1986. There’s a lot to think about there. Most important, UCF might not be as impressive as originally thought.

• The soap opera at Memphis has gotten out of hand. Now coach Josh Pastner has suspended Wesley Witherspoon. There’s no doubt Witherspoon, a veteran with outstanding athletic ability, is a major key to the Tigers. But Pastner had little choice. Reportedly, Witherspoon mimicked an assistant coach by getting on the team bus’ loudspeakers and doing an impression of the coach — after a loss at SMU. It was supposed to be comical. But maybe Witherspoon should think about growing up a bit before he hurts his team again.

• Kansas State junior center Freddy Asprilla, who transferred to the Wildcats from Florida International and had started 13 games, has left the team. Coach Frank Martin called it a “mutual decision.” Martin offered no further explanation, other than to say he expected Asprilla to pursue pro opportunities in Colombia. “I found out last night,” Martin said before Saturday’s game against Texas Tech. “I don’t know what to tell you.” It’s just one more distraction for the Wildcats.

• Oregon’s new Matthew Knight Arena cost $227 million. It looks like a terrific building and I’m sure it tailored to the fan in every way possible — except actually watching the game. That court has to go. The idea is to pay tribute to the “Tall Firs,” that 1939 national championship team. My first impression? Someone spilled paint all over the floor. The more I watched on TV, the more problems I — and others — noticed. The lighting creates a horrible glare. The mid-court line is barely visible, even with a camera close up. Let’s hope there’s a new court in there by next season — if not sooner.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, January 17, 2011 - 12:55
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/best-losing-team-football
Body:

By Ralph Vacchiano

The fact that the Seattle Seahawks were even in the playoffs didn’t sit well in New York and Tampa Bay, where the 10-win Giants and Buccaneers were already dispatched to their offseason vacations. And collectively, the nation laughed that, for the first time in NFL history, a 7-9 team would play in a playoff game.

But the Seahawks didn’t laugh. And nobody’s laughing at them anymore.

They shook up the world and the NFL playoffs on Sunday with their hard-to-believe 41-36 win over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. They were the only home team to win, and they did it against a team many thought might be the most dangerous in the NFC.

They did it in style, with an unheralded quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, standing toe-to-toe with Drew Brees and throwing four touchdown passes. They did it wan unwanted running back, Marshawn Lynch, finishing the Saints off with a touchdown run so powerful, the cheers from the Qwest Field crowd literally shook the Earth.

And when they did it, they were still facing this unfathomable reality: They still are not a .500 team.

“We just beat the world champs and that’s a great feeling,” Hasselbeck said. “And we worked hard to do it. It wasn’t like it kind of happened. We worked hard this week, and we prepared, and we believed and we laid it on the line.”

“It’s funny I’m so calm about this,” added Pete Carroll, the coach in his first year back in the NFL. “You’d all think that I’d be all pumped up and jacked up, but there is just a calm about it. I’m just so proud to be part of this thing.”

Nobody really knows what “this thing” is yet for the 8-9 Seahawks, who next travel to Chicago on Sunday to face the Bears (11-5) in an NFC Divisional playoff game. There’s a pretty good chance that the thing was a fluke, aided by one of the loudest home crowds in the NFL, injuries to their opposition, and a bit of a Super Bowl hangover for the Saints.

But the beauty of the thing is that the possibilities are endless for a team that, incredibly, would need to win the Super Bowl to finish over .500 for the season. It’s a testament to what players around the NFL always say this time of year — it doesn’t matter how you get to the playoffs, just that you get there.

And once you’re there, all you need to do is believe. And the Seahawks definitely believe.

“I think what’s clear to me is that we have a bunch of guys that are really together on how we think and how we approach our opportunities,” Carroll said. “And they realize that it doesn’t have anything to do with what’s outside. It has to do with what we do. The lessons in the last two weeks (when they beat the Rams to win the division, and then upset the Saints) are so clear about that. The way we performed last week and the way we came back this week, they’re starting to own it.

“And that’s what makes you powerful.”

Still, it’s not enough to make anyone outside of Seattle feel they were deserving. Certainly the Bucs and Giants took note of the fact that they each won three more games than the Seahawks and still didn’t earn a playoff spot. And the Saints took note of the fact that they won four more games and had to make the trip to the Seahawks’ home.

Critics also point to their 7-9 record despite playing six games in the worst division in football (where they went 4-2). They were just 2-6 on the road. They were outscored during the season by 97 points — a wider margin than all but three other teams, and all three of those teams finished last in their respective division.

Not surprisingly, the Seahawks’ appearance has sparked the predictable cry for re-seeding so that the teams with the better records host games in the wild card round. Many simply believe that a team with a losing record does not belong in the postseason.

That’s fine, and you can certainly debate that all you want — and the competition committee undoubtedly will in the coming months. But here’s the thing: The Seahawks did what they had to do under the current rules. There was no requisite number of wins. They won their division. They got in.

And now that they’re in, they may still be a losing team, but don’t try telling that to the Saints. The football world can laugh all it wants, but the Seahawks are still playing while 24 other teams are watching them on TV.

“I’m having fun with this,” Carroll said. “I’m enjoying it. And we’re going to see how far we can ride it.”
 

Teaser:
Post date: Sunday, January 16, 2011 - 09:00

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