We’re a little over 3 weeks away from one of the best days of the year, Selection Sunday, and this week will either make or break teams depending on how they perform. Some games you could even call “elimination games” because of their significance for either side. An example from this past week would be Florida St./Miami or Ohio St./Northwestern. It’s not that the loser is officially eliminated from the dance, but it could be a turning point or the single game the committee needed to see to pick Team X over Team Z. If it is true and the selection committee doesn’t hold into account the conference tourneys as much as ‘last 10 games’ or ‘regular season wins’, then this week is almost the most critical time of the season to do a last-minute resume building and posturing for the postseason. Just as teams are fighting just to get in the tournament, the teams that are solidified up-top are fighting just as hard for the easiest possible draw.
– The UCONN/PITT game was about as good as it gets outside of the madness. Two top-5 teams battling for about 38 minutes until PITT pulled away at the end behind a couple bombs from Levance Fields. This game was Final 4 caliber and the best thing about it is there’s a rematch still to come. DeJuan Blair put up the best performance of the season thus far with 22 points and 23 rebounds. The reason it is better than other great performances is that it came against the best defender in the country, Hasheem Thabeet, playing for the hands-down #1 team in the country. Thabeet had been getting POY pub all weekend prior to the Monday match-up because of his spectacular 25-20-8 game against Seton Hall. Right from the tip, Blair took it to Thabeet – going through him as opposed to under him (Jay Bilas). He almost broke the man’s arm in an early game tie-up. If Blair stays out of foul trouble, as he didn’t in losses to Louisville and ‘Nova, PITT is deadly. Sam Young and Fields are two of the most wiley veterans in college basketball and Blair is a complete force. Also don’t count out the Huskies. The loss of Jerome Dyson might take a minute to adapt to, but his replacement Kemba Walker is arguably the better player and was just waiting his turn. Both teams have #1 seeds if the season ended today.
– I find it hard to believe that a team should be punished for what conference they are in. It is obvious to me that a team in the BIG EAST or ACC would have a much better record in any other league in America. That being said, I think a team like Miami, Florida St., Georgetown or Notre Dame is going to get pushed aside for a school that plays against weaker competition causing an inflated record. All 4 teams have quality wins in and out of the conference and seem like victims of the “somebody’s gotta lose” theory in most of their defeats. Just like the Big 12 and SEC in football this year, sometimes one or two conferences are just head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field. In my opinion, the BIG EAST/ACC should get 14 of the 31 at-large berths at the minimum. It is impossible to look at a team from either conference on paper and tell really how good they are. It will be proven in March as the majority of Final 4 contenders – outside of Memphis and Oklahoma who play in weaker conferences- are from one of the two leagues.
– The significance of the Stephen Curry injury is huge on Davidson, but also proves the point that he is the most valuable player in America. Curry turned and ankle and was on crutches as he saw his team lose to The Citadel this week. What are the requirements for the Naismith/Wooden Awards? Is it scoring ridiculous amounts of points? Is it being the best player on a good team? Or is it who’s team would suffer the most in his absence? If it’s a combination of all, Curry should have the thing won easily. Blake Griffin, Meeks, Thabeet, Harden, Hansbrough, and Harangody all have at least one NBA-caliber player around them to take some heat off. Curry doesn’t have that- every team knows he’s going to shoot when he gets it and he still pours in 30 a night without any supporting cast. And those that question his competition level must remember that he did the same thing against the likes of Duke, Oklahoma, and West Virginia earlier in the season. Stephen Curry is the Player of the Year.
What to watch for in the week to come….
Friday – Always the worst day of college basketball out of the week. However, there are two “Bracket Buster” games on the ESPN family of networks. I don’t know what the consensus is around the country, but I am a huge fan of the “Bracket Buster” weekend. It is almost essential to watch if you want the inside track in this year’s office pool. Illinois St. might be a 10-12 seed that’s a candidate to pull of an early round upset. they take on Niagra on the deuce. Nevada is in action against former Cinderella VCU on the U following at 9. Also, don’t sleep on Mercer who ran through the state of Alabama this year, pulling off non-conference upsets on Bama and Auburn. The Bears take on Nashville’s Lipscomb at 7 on ESPN360.
12 ESPN Butler at Davidson – The marquee match-up of Bracket Busters pits two teams that are almost surefire locks to make it to the tournament. No word on whether Stephen Curry is in or out at post time, but I can see a hobbled Curry putting up a courageous effort against a Butler team that seems to reload every year. Lexington’s Shelvin Mack, who will possibly be assigned to Curry, is averaging double-figures for the Bears.
330 ABC North Carolina at Maryland – The Terps are fighting for their lives and Gary Williams’ job security is the hot topics around College Park these days. Their meltdown against Clemson this week could have been the final nail in the coffin, but a win against a red-hot Carolina team would leap-frog them back into the hunt. The only problem is the Terps have great wings and guards, but no big men for support.
900 ESPN Oklahoma at Texas – I have been looking forward to this game until recently when Texas decided to take a serious nose-dive. I can’t remember a time in Rick Barnes’ tenure that the Horns have been this bad. We’ll see if the Horns play like a team with their backs against the wall. The key match-up will be Damien James trying to throw his weight around with Blake Griffin.
1100 CBS-CSTV BYU at UNLV – Top two teams in the Mountain West square off in a late-night affair for east coast viwers like myself.
745 FSN Wake Forest at Duke – The Dukies looked pretty bad at St. John’s last night, but they are a different team at home. Deacons guard Jeff Teague has not been getting as much hype because if a few losses, yet he is the type of player that can come into Cameron and set the nets on fire. He reminds me a lot of former Wake guard Randolph Childress – only Childress had Tim Ducan to play with.
1000 FSN Arizona at Arizona St. – The Pac 10 is fairly underrated in this part of the country, partially due to the fact we never get to see games. Arizona looks to continue the longest streak of consecutive tourney appearances (25) and a win against one of my sleeper teams will solidify that. 3 potential lottery pick in this game with Arizona’s Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill and State’s James Harden.
Monday – Big Monday doesn’t disappoint yet again as Louisville takes on Georgetown at 7 and Kansas travels to Oklahoma at 9 on ESPN. The Cards are vying for a top-seed in the dance and a bye in the conference tourney and the Hoyas don’t even know if they are in or not. Kansas will be the best test for Oklahoma in months. Cole Alderich shouldn’t back-down from Griffin and teams with a player like that are usually pretty successful when facing the Sooners. Kansas is my upset-special of the week, but given how I’ve been picking games lately the Sooners will win by 30.
7 ESPN Penn St at Ohio St. – This could very well be an elimination game as both teams sit around the middle of the pack of a Big ten that is not as good as was previously thought. The Lions sit at 19-8 with big road wins against Michigan St, Wisconsin and Illiinois. The Buckeyes are 17-7 with wins over Butler, Purdue and Notre Dame.
9 ESPN Florida at LSU – The Tigers and Trent Johnson are shocking some people around the country withe their play, but many aren’t sure whether it is because of the lack of firepower in the SEC this year. The Paper tigers have two guys, Marcus Thorton and Tasmin Mitchell, that account for the majority of points scored and neither are anything to write home about. Calathes and his Gators should give the Tigers a good test.
7 ESPN UCONN at Marquette – These are two contrasting styles if I’ve ever seen it. UCONN brings guys like Thabeet and Jeff Adrien that love to get physical and pound the ball inside. Marquette doesn’t play anyone over 6’8 and is loaded with tough, scoring wings. It will be interesting to see how first year coach Buzz Williams attacks the Huskies’ defense with Dominic James and Jerel McNeal.
9 ESPNU Kansas St. at Missouri – Did anyone else realize that Missouri has risen all the way up to #10 in the land? That is crazy to me, but the Tigers have beaten who they were supposed to a snuck in a last second win vs. Kansas. K-St is yet another team fighting for there life and I’m sure all the people wearing purple are hoping those animalistic survival traits come out and they pull the upset.
9 ESPN Purdue at Michigan – Robbie Hummel returned for Purdue after missing games with back spasms to lead the Boilers over an overrated Michigan St. team last week. The Boilers have always been one of my sleepers and look like they are back on tack going into the homestretch. Add Michigan to the list of teams that need to win and win now.
11 FSN Arizona St. at Washington – Watch simply to see two players – Washington freshman PG Isiah Thomas who is named that because his dad lost a bet…seriously and first team All-American James Harden. Both are worth staying up to watch and both are playing for top 20 teams.
Until next week – Check out how good Louisville’s basketball team is at The L Yes! Report