The unpredictability of college basketball continued in this past week. Some teams reassured their NCAA-bid and others left a little work to be done. Then there is always the battle for the best possible seed. As you’ve seen with North Carolina, UCLA, and many other teams in previous years, staying close to home is a recipe for the Final 4 and that is a luxury of being in the top 2 seeds. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. Many teams have been sent thousands of miles from their home and been successful, but it’s obviously far more difficult.
– As it looks right now, 6 teams are battling for the 4 #1 seeds. Oklahoma, PITT, UCONN, North Carolina, Louisville and Memphis. I think just because of what conference they play in Memphis is almost a shoe-in. They should win every game from here on out easily (get to that later). If Blake Griffin recovers from his concussion, Oklahoma is another near-guarantee. Even if he isn’t, Willie Warren has been making his claim for National Freshman of the Year and could carry the Sooners to a conference title, which would almost assure them of a #1. Griffin will be back soon though – hopefully – I know a concussion is nothing to mess with, but I think Griffin is milk-toast and this further proves it. What is disturbing is the next 4 teams left are better than the 2 I just mentioned, but will more than likely be punished because they is a greater possibility of being beaten in their tourney. Only one team out of the 3 from the BIG EAST can win the conference tourney and only 2 can make the title game. There’s a possibility of the committee taking that into account and knocking Memphis or Oklahoma down – but I doubt it. Whoever fairs best in the tough ACC will take the next #1, probably Carolina if they run the table and win a couple in the tourney. My prediction as of right now is – Carolina, Memphis, UCONN, Louisville (let the hating ensue).
– Back to Memphis. They are an enigma to me this year. They feast on a conference full of cupcakes, yet they sit a top the latest Pomeroy ratings. Their biggest non-conference wins are against Tennessee, Gonzaga, and Cincinnati. They are 2-2 against BIG EAST teams (one being Georgetown) and also lost to Xavier. They are also rated as the best defensive team by Pomeroy. Is that a product of their stifling defense or lack of competition? The team has definitely gotten a lot better since moving freshman stud Tyreke Evans to point guard. He’s good, but he’s no Derrick Rose. Antonio Anderson has given leadership, but he’s no Chris Douglas-Roberts. Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart are active down low, but they don’t amount to Joey Dorsey. Last year’s Memphis team was full of talent and senior leadership – this year it isn’t. The Tigers are a good team, but they would just be another team in what is a down SEC this year. Last night, it took an 0-17 performance from UAB-start Robert Vaden for the Tigers to beat their conference “rival” – and by rival I mean UAB fans just hate Memphis because they always get whipped.
– South Carolina is emerging as the possible team to represent the SEC furthest in the dance. You can’t underestimate the value of veteran guard play in March and the Gamecocks most definitely have that. Devan Downey reminds me a lot of Billy Clyde’s meal ticket Acie Law IV at Texas A&M. He seems to make everyone around him play with more confidence and, when needed, he can completely take over a game. Plus, he has a few good complimentary players surrounding him. Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow hold it down inside with Dominique Archie and Zam Frederick complimenting Downey on the wings. There is always one team who basically comes out of nowhere to make a nice run out of the SEC. Vandy did it last year. The Gamecocks are the best bet this year.
– The Dominic James injury is a horrible thing to happen to Marquette given the season they were currently having, but I don’t think it will be as crippling as many are making it out to be. Yes, James was a 4-year starter and supposed team leader. However, in my mind he was their 4th option and not necessarily the best defender. I could see some kind of “Ewing theory” coming out of this where a team’s alleged “leader” is hurt and in turn plays better without him. There is no question Dominic James is/was a great college basketball player and I’m not saying it’s a a guaranteed blessing in disguise. Just don’t count Marquette out quite yet. Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews and Lazar Hayward are really going to have to elevate their respective games up in order for that to happen.
I don’t know if this week is “Rivalry Week”, “Judgement Week” or “Shark Week” on ESPN. All I know is this is what to watch for…
Friday – Such a waste of a good night to have some quality big conference games. As is with nearly every Friday night all year, there is absolutely ZERO good games to watch. The Siena Saints are a team a lot of people are picking to be one of those #12 seeds that upset a #5. They take on their closest competition in the MAAC, Niagra, at 7 on the U.
NOON – CBS – Georgia Tech at UNC – The Heels are still the scariest team in the country regardless of what happened against Maryland last week. However, Tyler Hansbrough has been a complete ghost lately and the loss of Marcus Ginyard has been a lot more significant than first believed. Ginyard was their best shut down defender and his loss is evident in the way the other team’s opposing star has been having huge games against the Heels.
2 – CBS – Notre Dame at UCONN – Frankengody and the Irish have their backs against the wall when it comes to getting a tournament bid. A road win against the Huskies would stick out beautifully on an Irish tourney resume. They do match-up fairly well ouside of Thabeet and only need a few shots to fall to have a chance.
4 -CBS – LSU at Kentucky – Two teams with something to prove on national television in the game of the day in my opinion (yea i said it). LSU wants to prove that they are not Paper Tigers who have a jaded record due to a down-conference and early cupcakes. Like the Irish, the Cats have their back against the wall as well. A win here would be enough to get them a ticket to the dance regardless of what happens in the conference championships.
5 – CSTV – Utah at BYU – DVR this one because both teams are unranked and still making the tourney. The Utes sit #9 in the latest RPI rankings with the 20th ranked schedule. This makes no sense whatsoever because they beat Gonzaga by 1 and LSU by 30 – that’s it. Their losses include SW Baptist, Idaho St., and Utah St. BYU is 23rd and has about the same resume, but with their only quality win being San Diego St.
9 – ESPN – UCLA at Cal – Another match-up pitting tournament teams is also a position battle for second place in the Pac-10. Jerome Randle is putting up 18 points and 4 assists for Mike Montgomery’s Golden Bears who lead the nation in three-point accuracy. The Bruins need a strong finish or else they are going to make it very difficult for a 4th straight Final 4.
NOON – CBS – Marquette at Louisville – Two top-10 teams tussle in the Hall to start off a huge day of college hoops. The Cards are playing as hot as any team in the country. A win here and they are looking one of those precious top-2 seeds in the face. it will be interesting to see how the Eagles fair without James.
2 – CBS – Missouri at Kansas – The “Boarder War” went down to the last second last meeting a couple weeks back with a Zaire Taylor game-winning shot for Mizzou. The Tigers have won 11 of 12 and find themselves with the distict possibility of a #2 seed. Bill Self should be considered for National Coach of the Year for what he has done with the Jayhawk team who lost more than anyone after last year’s title run.
TBA – CBS – Michigan St. at Illinois – There is a three-way battle for first place in the Big Ten between these two and Purdue. If the Illini hold court, they could clinch the regular-season title with a win against Penn St. in the finally. I really can’t take a team that scored 33 points in a game – as the Illini did against Penn St. previously – seriously.
7 – ESPN – Villanova at Notre Dame – I have trouble thinking Harangody will be able to be stooped by Villanova’s big guys. In turn, I don’t see Notre Dame’s guards being able to stop Scottie Reynolds and co. This will be a high-scoring affair.
9- ESPN – Baylor at Texas – After starting the season 15-3, Bayor has dropped 8 of their last 9 games and have totally played themselves out of the tournament. Maybe the karma from the sleazy John Wall package deal is oming back to bite them. AJ Abrams and Texas saved their hides with a tainted Oklahoma win and should build upon that against the Bears.
7 – FOXSPORTS – Wake at Maryland – Gary Williams might have saved his job thanks to Grevies Vasquez’ triple-double in the OT win against Carolina. However, the Terps still may have work to do to get a bid. A win here and it’s pretty much sealed. On the other side, Wake needs to get back on track as it looks like Al-Farouq Aminu has hit the freshman wall. Jeff Teague could get hot at any momen, so still watch out for Wake
8 – N/A – Florida St at Duke – An all ACC night is topped off with Toney Douglas and his Seminoles traveling to Cameron. Douglas, brother of Harry and Auburn transfer is getting a little pub for ACC player of the year averaging 20-4-4 for the 24th ranked Noles. Gerald Henderson of Duke may be playing as well as any player in the nation without an A-Rod or T-Mac like nickname. G-Hend really sounds stupid, but so do the others.
730 – ESPN – Marquette at PITT – A horrific stretch of @GTOWN, UCONN, @LOU, @PITT, SYR continues for the Eagles. It’s pretty simple, get DeJuan Blair in foul-trouble and you can beat PITT. In all three losses Blair has been missing action due to foul-trouble. And being undersized he is nt a very good defender, so the Marquette guards need to slash the ball inside and get him to make a mistake. PITT is very beatable without Blair, but with him they are close to unstoppable.
9 – N/A – Oklahoma at Missouri – The battle of all battles in the Big 12 this year. 6-8 225lb DeMarre Carroll will be assigned to Blake Griffin assuming the OU big guy is cleared to play. As has been all year, if Willie Warren‘s shot is falling the Sooners are tough to beat. Whether or not he’s on could determine the outcome of the game.
830 – FOXSPORTS – Stanford at Arizona St. – How is James Harden not getting National POY hype like he should? The guy is up in the top-10 in the country in scoring, pulls down 6 boards and drops 4 assists on a team that is highly-ranked. Unlike some other candidates, Harden does it all without having to be selfish. I just think no one east of the Mississippi has seen him play enough to judge him. A great player shining for a good team should win the award – not someone who jacks up shots because that’s all their team has, a la Harangody and a few others.
9- FOXSPORTSOHIO – Dayton at Xavier – Always a bitter battle for positioning in the Atlantic 10. The Muskie were sitting in the top-10 nationally not too long ago and have preceded to lose 3 of their last 6 conference games. Derrick Brown leads a balanced attack for Xavier and Chris Wright is a highlight waiting to happen for Dayton.
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