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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

NCAA Basketball: Illinois Continues to Cruise While the Big XII Picks Itself Apart and Mid Majors Rise to the Top

Illinois continued its perfect run with a lone win this week over Northwestern, while teams like Kansas, UCONN, and Kentucky made great strides towards capturing theirrespective conference crowns. The race for the tournament is on, meaning that every game from here on means everythnig to these teams. One single loss can keep a team out of the Big Dance, whether they be a mid major or a big time conference school. Perfect example of this is George Washington. A Few weeks ago they were considered a tourney lock, they were command in the A-10 and had posted wins over Michigan St. and Maryland. After a losing stretch GW found themselves on the buble again, that is until a half court "excuse me" flick shot found its way to bottom of the net as time expired, giving GW a road win in Dayton. Moments like that will not be hard to find in the coming weeks, which is what makes this time of year the best for college hoops, and maybe all of sports. Only one more week until conference tournaments kick off, but until then....

Top 10 (*previous ranking)
1. Illinois (28-0) (1)
2. North Carolina (24-3) (2)
3. Wake Forest (24-4) (5)
4. Boston College (23-2) (3)
5. Kansas (21-4) (6)
6. Lousiville (24-4) (8)
7. UCONN (19-6) (9)
8. Kentucky (22-3) (NR)
9. Oklahoma St. (20-5) (4)
10. Syracuse (24-5) (NR)

just misssed: Duke; Washington; Gonzaga; Pacific; Charlotte
dropped: (7) Alabama (10) Utah

under the radar: Indiana; Texas; GW; Creighton; Texas A&M; UCLA

Mid Major Power 5
1. Gonzaga (22-4) (1)
2. Pacific (23-2) (2)
3. Southern Illinois (24-6) (3)
4. Utah (24-4) (NR)
5. Nevada (22-5) (4)

dropped: (5) Miami (OH)

Big Game Recap

Oklahoma 71 Kansas 63
Kansas continues to fall, dropping its thrid straight Big XII game, this time to Oklahoma in Norman. The Sooners were led by guards Terrell Everett and David Godgold who tallied 19 and 15 respectively. The Jayhawks were able to hold the post play of Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray in check, holding them to just 11 total points, but still lost the rebounding battle by 5. Kansas also turned the ball over 15 times leading to many easy fast break baskets for Oklahoma and allowing the Sooners to control the flow of the game. Wayne Simien led Kansas with 17, but could not help stop the slide that now sees the Jayhawks looking up at Oklahoma St. in the Big XII.

Texas Tech 69 Texas 65
Another Big XII tilt with postseason implications. Texas moves to only 4-5 since the loss of PJ Tucker to academic ineligibility, despite another stelllar game from frosh G Daniel Gibson. He finished with 22 pts 5 rebs and 4 assts, but that wasn't enough, as Jarrius Jackson from Tech had the same numbers, only with 2 more rebounds. Texas outrebounded the Red Raiders by 4, and even got to the line 3 times as often, but in the end it was their 17 turnovers that did them in. Bob Knight ends a 7 game losing skid to the Longhorns, and Texas Tech continues to show they are ready to make a move for March. Meanwhile, the Longhorns leave the selection committee wondering whether or not, without PJ Tucker in the mix, Texas is a candidate for an at-large selection.

Duke 60 Georgia Tech 56
The Yellow Jackets still sit firmly on the bubble after this loss to Duke, and are in danger of becoming only the second team in history to miss the tournament the year after making the Final Four (Marquette 03-04). JJ Redick was good for 21 pts while Sheldon Williams anchored down the middle yet again with a solid 12 points and 10 rebounds to go along with 4 blocks. BJ Elder continues to struggle for Tech since coming back from injury, shooting only 1-8 from the field and fouling out with only 2 points in 22 minutes. The "Big 3" for the Duke of Williams, Ewing, and Reddick continued to shoulder the bulk of the load, scoring 47 of the teams 60 points, right on pace with the 72% of the scoring they do for the Dukies during the rest of the season. All there is left for Georgia Tech to do is win games, as many as possible, from here on out. If they dont make if through at least 2 games in the ACC tourney, their postseason might be the NIT.

Villanova 76 Boston College 70
This time Villanova wasn't going to let the Eagles slip away with the win. The Wildcats blew a lead late against BC at the Conte Forum earlier in the season, and almost lost this one, going over 9 minutes in the second half without a feild goal. Nova was led by Randy Foye with 23 while Curtis Sumpter added 20 and hauled in 8 boards. Much like in their win over Syracuse, BC took many more 3 point attempts than usual (16), and were able to connect on 7 of them. Villanova got BC away from their inside game, so even though the Eagles were able to connect on some 3's, it got them out of their offensive flow and allowed Villanova to dictate the pace. Craig Smith led BC with 18 pts while Jared Dudley had 15 on only 4-11 shooting. This loss isn't terrible for BC, but does wonders for Villanova, all but assuring them a birth in the NCAA tournament.

Michigan St. 77 Wisconsin 64
The Spartans were propelled by a career high 28 from Alan Anderson and were able to end a 6 game losing streak to Wisconsin. Not only did he go for a career best, Anderson did not miss a shot, going 10-10 from the field and 7-7 from the charity stripe. Michigan St. is on a tear recently (won last 9 by double figures) and plans to be a major road block for Illinois in the Big 10 tourney. Wisconsin dropped into a tie for third in the league with Indiana at 8-5. Though they are a top 25 team this week, the Badgers now sport 7 losses on their resume, and if they let a smallish Michigan St. team push them around (Wisconsin -10 rebounding difference) then things do not bode well for the Badgers into the postseason.

Kentucky 78 Alabama 71
The Cats came from 14 down on the road to post an impressive victory over the Tide and claim the outright SEC regualr season title. Western Kentucky transfer Patrick Sparks led the way with a career best 26 pts including 7-10 from 3. Kentucky was down early but rallied by playing tough defense and watching Alabama continue to leave Patrick Sparks open. Time after time he was left alone or was able to free himelf using a screen, and Alabama had no answer on the offensive end. Chuck Hayes finished with 17 points, but only had 2 in the second half because the Kentucky post players (Hayes, Morris) were able to push him off of the block. Kennedy Winston led the Tide with 21, who now will have to hope to get another chance to knock off Kentucky in the SEC tournament.

UCONN 73 Pittsburgh 64
Pitt continues to slide as they drop another home game, this time to Charlie Villanueva and the Huskies. Villanueva failed to get 21 points after doing it in three straight games, but did put in 14 and grabbed 13 rebounds to go along with 17 from Rudy Gay and 16 from junior guard Denham Brown. Pitt was feisty as usual, but they were held to only 39% shooting, and even though they forced 20 turnovers, they failed to take advantage and committed 14 themselves. Chevy Troutman was solid yet again leading Pitt with 22 pts and 12 boards. Pitt needs to win a few more here down the stretch to feel safe about its tourney chances. I'm sure they are a lock at this point, but they dont want to end up in an 8/9 or 7/10 game which could happen if they continue to falter down the stretch.

Washington 93 Arizona 85
Washington was able to hold on in a scoring battle between the two best teams in the Pac 10 on a night where Lute Olsen had hoped to pass John Wooden for first in All-time Pac 10 victories. Tre Simmons went for 24 and Nate Robinson had 22 to go along with 7 dimes, as Washington prevented the Cats from clinching the Pac 10. Big difference in this one was the 29 fewer FTs Arizona attempted after getting 40 free looks earlier in the season in Tuscon. Channing Frye was a presence offensively all night posting 30 points, but their poor shooting from downtown (6-23) and poor defense (Washington shot 58% FG) eventually was what did them in. Washington continues to show that Arizona is not the only team that can cause problems come March from the Pac 10.

Kansas 81 Oklahoma St. 79
John Lucas missed a 3 pointer int he waning seconds as Kansas was able to hold off Oklahoma St., sending the Cowboys to their second consecutive loss. The win put Kansas alone in first place in the Big XII, and helped the Jayhawks regain some confidence after losing several games, including one to Oklahoma earlier in the week. Wayne Simien as always led the charge for Bill Self's boys, scoring 32 to go along with 10 rebounds. Graham had 19 points and John Lucas 22, but when it came down to crunch time the savvy senior guard did not have an answer. This was a good opportunity for Oklahoma St. to bounce back after a shocking loss at Nebraska, but now are just left needing to explain yet another mini losing streak.

Texas A&M 85 Texas Tech 63
Antoine Wright had another great game for the Aggies as they handed a beat down to Bobby Knight and the Red Raiders. Wright went for 29 after posting 21 earlier in the week against Iowa St., and he led 4 Aggies with 11 or more points. Tech kept the game close in the first half, but a big spurt to start the second half put them behind for good. The run was mostly a combination of poor defense by Tech and hot shooting from Wright, who nailed 5 of his 7 three pointers in the 2nd half. Martin Zeno was the high man for Tech, with only 16 This game is another in a series in which people are left scratching their heads as to the pecking order in the Big XII.

Upset of the Week
Nebraska 74 Oklahoma St. 67
Nebraska won its first game against a ranked opponent since a win over then #3 Missouri in 1994. The loss bumped Oklahoma St. into a Big XII tie with Kansas, which opened the door for the Jayhawks to take the lead after beating the Cowboys Sunday night. Losses like this are never a good sign for a contending team, and Oklahoma St. will need to right the ship and finish out conference play and the tournament strong in order to have any sort of positive momentum going into the Big Dance.

other upsets: New Mexico 65 Utah 54; LSU 61 Alabama 59; West Virginia 70 Pittsburgh 66; Indiana 78 Michigan St. 74 (OT)

Big Man On Campus
Syracuse F Hakim Warrick
vs St. Johns: 35 pts 10 rebs (10-15) FG (15-19) FT
vs Providence: 36 pts 6 rebs (12-17) FG (12-13) FT
Back to back career highs usually means you had a pretty good week. Hakim Warrick cemented himself as the favorite for Big East POY with 2 great performances in conference action. Hak helped the Orange avoid any slip up this week and is hoping to have similar success when the Orange meet UCONN on Saturday.

other top performers:
UCONN G Marcus Williams vs ND: 17 pts 9 rebs 12 assts
UVM F Taylor Coppenrath vs UNH: 39 pts 11 rebs 3 assts 2 steals
Clemson F Sharrod For vs Maryland: 24 pts 10 rebs 9 blks 2 steals
Texas A&M F Antoine Wright vs ISU/TT: 25.0 pts 6.0 rebs 3.5 assts (9-12) 3 pt
Kentucky F Kelenna Azubuike vs Auburn: 30 pts 11 rebs (9-11) FT 2 blks

MSU G Alan Anderson vs Wisconsin: 28 pts 4 rebs 2 steals (10-10) FG (7-7) FT
IU F Bracey Wright vs Michigan St.: 32 pts (5-8) 3 pt
KU F Wayne Simien vs OK St.: 32 pts 10 rebs (11-17) FG (10-11) FT

Big Games This Week
Monday (2/28)
Pittsburgh @ BC
Oklahoma @ Texas
Wednesday (3/2)
Georgia Tech @ Wake Forest
Georgetown @ UCONN
Texas A&M @ Oklahoma St.
Depaul @ UAB
Thursday (3/3)
Charlotte @ Louisville
Miami @ Duke
Oregon St. @ UCLA
Saturday (3/5)
Louisville @ Depaul
Pittsburgh @ Notre Dame
Alabama @ Mississippi St.
Syracuse @ UCONN
Oklahoma @ Texas Tech
Sunday (3/6)
Kentucky @ Florida
Duke @ UNC

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