Friday, February 18, 2005

NCAA Basketball: Powers Fall Hard and Mid Majors Battle For Their Tourney Lives

Illinois has a stranglehold on the Big 10......and thats about all we know right now. The Big XII, Big East, ACC, SEC and Conference USA all have wide open races. In the Big East, one minute its Syracuse, then BC, then Pitt, then back to Syracuse, and now BC. The ACC has Duke, UNC, and Wake, all trying to get into position for a run at the Final 4. The SEC may not be as deep, but with Kentucky faltering, Alabama is right there along with Florida and LSU a bit further behind but still possible tourney teams. Then theres the Big XII, which has already gone through the collapse of Texas, and now is watching Kansas shoot down the polls, Oklahoma St. shoot up the polls, and Iowa St., Texas Tech, and Texas A&M make strong pushes for March berths. Then theres Conference USA, where Charlotte is charging hard along with Depaul, as Cincy and Lousiville try to remain on top. Not to mention what we learned from this weekends Bracket Buster games. There are some tough mid major teams out there that can hold their own with anyone on a neutral court (see Pacific, Nevada). We can only wonder what is ahead as all these teams clash in their final conference games and get ready for the final stretch run. For now, this is where we stand....

Top 10 (*previous ranking)
1. Illinois (27-0) (1)
2. North Carolina (22-3) (4)
3. Boston College (22-1) (5)
4. Oklahoma St. (20-3) (6)
5. Wake Forest (22-4) (3)
6. Kansas (20-3) (2)
7. Alabama (21-4) (9)
8. Louisville (22-4) (10)
9. UCONN (17-6) (NR)
10. Utah (23-3) (NR)

just missed: Kentucky; Syracuse; Pacific; Gonzaga; Michigan St.;Duke
dropped: (7) Kentucky; (8) Syracuse

Under the Radar: Charlotte; Creighton; Iowa St.; Nevada

Bracket Buster Breakdown
Miami (OH) 65 Wichita St. 58
Wichita St. continues to slide, dropping its 3rd game in a row, continuing its move from Mid-Major lock, to bubble trouble. The Red Hawks were led by F Danny Horace who dropped 24 while grabbing 9 boards and Miami (OH) watched as Wichita St. shot 57% from the FT line, turning what would have been a much closer game into a comfortbale lead early on. Especially with the great play lately of MVC foes Creighton and Southern Illinois, the Shockers may need to go on a run through the conference tourney to show the committe they are worth an at-large bid. Miami (OH) is gaining momentum at the right time, but still lacks that marquee win that could ease their worries should they not win the MAC title. Also it doesn't get much easier, as their final 4 games are on the road, including a trips to MAC West leader Bowling Green and Kent St., who beat Miami (OH) earlier this year.

Nevada 74 Vermont 64
This was a showcase game for two teams who are in deesperate need of a marquee win. After its loss to Boston Unioversity, Vermont was looking to rebound but ran into Nick Fazekas (31 pts 14 rbs) and the Wolfpack. Despite getting excellent shooting from TJ Sorrentine (24 pts 5-8 3-pt) and 18 from star Taylor Coppenrath, the Catamounts could never put together a serious run after falling behind early and trailing by 4 at half. Key to the game awas the agressive perimeter defense of the Wolfpack, who caused 14 turnovers, including 7 steals, and were able to key the transition game and create some easy baskets. This Nevada team is just as strong as the one Kirk Snyder pushed past Michigan St. and Gonzaga in the tourney last year and they are startin to roll, so look out.

Pacific 73 UTEP 66
The Tigers continue to display one of the most well balanced attacks in the country with 4 players who average at least 6 pts and and 4 rbs per game, and thats not including second leading scorer David Doubley at 13 per game. However their true star is F Guillame Yango from Martinique. He finished this game with 13 pts and 7 rebs, right on his season averages. He is a solid post player at 6'8" and takes good shots, connecting on better than 58% for the season. UTEP had a great chance to boost its tourney resume, but only connected on 3-13 from 3 pt range and received only 9 points from its bench. With Nevada winning against Vermont, this moves UTEP two games back in the WAC, and recent ugly loses @Tulsa and @Lousiana Tech won't help their cause when it comes to the bubble talk.

Mid Major Power 5

1. Gonzaga (21-4) (1)
2. Pacific (22-2) (2)
3. Southern Illinois (22-6) (3)
4. Nevada (20-5) (NR)
5. Miami (OH) (17-6) (NR)

dropped: (4) Vermont; (5) Old Dominion

Big Game Recap
Pittsburgh 68 Syracuse 64
Pittsburgh completes a season sweep of the Orange with a big win at the Carrier Dome. Carl Krauser took over late in the game making 3 contested 3 point jumpers to lead the comeback, and finish with 15 points. Syracuse led in the second half, but with Warrick only taking 3 shots in the second half, and star guard Gerry McNamara shooting a paultry 5-21 from the field, they could not fend off the charging Panthers. Chevy Troutman led Pitt with 20, 16 of them coming from the free throw line (16-20). Syracuse still needs to prove its place at the top of the Big East, as it has not done well against powers UCONN and Pittsburgh.

Texas Tech 80 Kansas 79 (2OT)
A win that essentially assures the Red Raiders a bid to the big dance, and a statement game for a team on the rise. Ronald Ross made a 3 to force overtime after struggling all game and Tech was able to hold on in OT. Wayne Simien led the way for Kansas with 20 pts and 13 rebs, but the Jayhawks were left with a stinging loss that brings them right back to the pack in the Big XII. Freshmen guard Martin Zeno led Texas Tech with season high 24 pts, and helps them improve to 8-3 in conference, trailing only Kansas and Oklahoma St. Tech also improves to 12-2 at home this season, their only losses coming to Oklahoma St. and Ohio St.

South Carolina 73 Kentucky 61
The Cats struggled to get any rhythym in this game, and end up dropping an ugly conference game to SC. Kentucky big man Chuck Hayes was held without a field goal for the entire game, and Kentucky as a team only managed 35% from the floor and 26% from 3 pt range.Tauy-ce Kinsey led the Gamecocks with 17 and Carlos Powell added 14. South Carolina is keeping its faint tourney hopes alive, but will probably have to win 3 of its next 4 (Florida, Tenn, Vandy, Ole Miss) to have any at-large case if it should stumble in the SEC tourney. Meanwhile Kentucky leaves people wondering if the "tide" may be turning in the SEC. Alabama smashed South Carolina 2 days later by 19.

Charlotte 66 Depaul 62
One of the hottest teams in the country, Charlotte continued to roll
and move within half game of Conference USA leader Lousiville. Drake Deiner made 7 3's for Depaul, who came charging back from down 15 to make a game of it in the late seconds. Charlotte F Eddie Basden tipped in a miossed free throw with seconds left to help secure the victory. He finished with 15 and 18 rbs. Depaul still needs to pick up some wins down the stretch to hope to have a shot at the big dance, but loses to Northern Illinois and Bradley won't help them come Selection Sunday.

Virginia Tech 67 Duke 65
Just what the Hokies needed to keep tourney hopes alive and just what Duke-haters needed to contnue saying the boys in Durham are soft. Tech outmuscled Duke and had a +17 rebounding edge, held Duke to 39% shooting, and blocked 12 shots, a season high. Coleman Collins led the way for Virgina Tech with 15 pts and 18 rebs and CArlos Dixon with 18 pts. The win keeps them on the tourney bubble and moves them to 7-6 in ACC play. While I would rather see more mid-major teams with similar resumes admitted to the tourney, if Va Tech can finish above .500 in the ACC, its going to be tough to leave them out, despite losses @ VMI, @ Florida St., and @ St. Johns this year.

Oklahoma St. 85 Texas Tech 56
The Big XII cream rose to the top in this one as Tech was absolutely no match for the Cowboys in Stillwater. John Lucas scored 25 pts, including 5-8 on 3's, and JamesOn Curry added 10 of his 15 in a second half that saw the home team pad its 9 point halftime lead by 20. The loss was a huge let down for Tech, who had previously in the week beaten Big XII leader Kansas, and felt they could at least make a game of it with Oklahoma St. This game shows that Bobby Knight still has some work to do if this team is going to be consistent enough to compete down the stretch, and that the Cowboys have recovered from a couple early hiccups in conference play.

Boston College 65 Syracuse 60
All American Hakim Warrick dissappeared in the second half, and the Eagles got big games again from Craig Smith and Jared Dudley to down the Orange at Conte Forum for their biggest win this season. Gerry McNamara continued his ice cold shooting going 5-17, and Hakim Warrick only finished with 12 pts, despite having 10 at halftime. Craig Smith was a monster inside with 16 pts and 15 rebs, and Jared Dudley continued to play at an All Conference level, scoring 21 pts with 5 rebs and 4 assists. The game was testy throughout, and you could tell the Eagles just wanted it more. They got all the lose balls, and key defensive stops when they needed them. As for the Orange, they need better play from McNamara, who has shot just 26% in his last two Big East games, and more touches for Hakim Warrick, who only attempted 3 field goals in the second half. Lone bright spot for the 'Cuse right now? Soph Louie McCroskey averaging 12.5 pts this past week, double his season average.

Duke 101 Wake Forest 92
A nice bounce back win for the Dukies, who are glad to avoid their first 3 game losing streak since '98-'99. Wake gave more than a solid effort, but some suspect officiating helped sway the momentum for Duke in a game that featured 28 turnovers and 34 3-point attempts. JJ Redick had another stellar night, connecting on 6-10 3s and 14-15 from the line to finish with a team high 38. Chris Paul did all he could, scoring 27 for the Deacons while dishing out 7 asstis and grabbing 6 boards. Wake guards Justin Gray and Jamal Levy were saddled with fouls the entire game and Eric Williams was never able to establish any real presence in the middle, finishing with just 10 points. Duke had named Reggie Love their captain before the game and started 2 walk-ons to help ignite a team that had lost its last 2 to Maryland and ACC newcomer Virgina Tech.

Upset of the Week
Texas Tech 80 Kansas 79 (2OT)
Iowa St 63 Kansas 61 (OT)

Dropping two conference games is not the end of the world, but these back to back loses are not a good sign for a team that is supposed to be oozing tourney experience and prime for another Final Four. They need someone to replace the energy of the injured Christian Moody, and need overall better play from JR Giddens and Michael Lee if they expect to go deep in the tourney.

Other upsets: South Carolina 73 Kentucky 61; Virginia Tech 67 Duke 65; LSU 77 Florida 73

Big Man On Campus
Gonzaga G Derek Raivio vs San Diego
29 pts 7 assts 5 rebs (5-6) 3 pt
This kid can shoot the rock (48% from 3 on the season) and when he catches fire like this the Zags will be tough to stop. Hes also a playmaker, and is very good at finding the main scoring options Adam Morrison and Rony Turiaf. Hes a great asset wither breaking pressure, running the offense in the halfcourt, or shooting over the zone, which makes him a major threat for this mid major power.

Other top performers:
Georgia Southern G Elton Nesbitt vs Citadel: 38 pts 4 rbs 4 asts (10-12) 3 pt
Grambling G Brion Rush vs Texas Southern: 38 pts 9 rbs (8-12) 3 pt
UCONN F Charlie Villanueva vs Providence: 22 pts 10 rbs
PC F Ryan Gomes vs UCONN: 37 pts 8 rbs (4-10) 3 pt
UA G Salim Stoudamire vs Oregon St.: 31 pts (9-14) 3 pt

Utah F/C Andrew Bogut vs Wyoming: 31 pts 13 rbs 4 assts (11-16) FG
Louisville F Ellis Myles vs St. Louis: 13 pts 18 rbs 5 assts
Charlotte F Eddie Basden vs Tulane: 27 pts 14 rebs 3 assts 4 steals
Nevada F Nick Fazekas vs Vermont: 31 pts 14 rebs (2-3) 3 pt

Big Games This Week
Monday (2/21)
Kansas @ Oklahoma
Utah @ New Mexico

Tuesday (2/22)
UNC @ NC St.
Texas @ Texas Tech
Iowa St. @ Texas A&M

Wednesday (2/23)
Duke @ Georgia Tech
Memphis @ Charlotte
BC @ Villanova

Thursday (2/24)
Wisconsin @ Michigan St.
Marquette @ Cincy

Saturday (2/26)
Kentucky @ Alabama
Wichita St. @ Southern Illinois
UCONN @ Pittsburgh
Arizona @ Washington
Lousiville @ Memphis

Sunday (2/27)
Oklahoma St. @ Kansas
UNC @ Maryland


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