Friday, December 23, 2005

Slow Down, National Wonks

It’s not of this blog to be a media critic, but I just can’t stand what so many of the national college basketball media (or the Gang of 500, according to Yoni Cohen) are doing in already talking about player of the year.

To say that either JJ Redick or Adam Morrison is a lock for the award(s) would be like saying that either Peyton Manning or Shaun Alexander was a lock for NFL MVP this season after Week 7. There’s just too much that can happen between now and then.

Besides, to only highlight two players thus far discredits players who are having awesome seasons to this point like Paul Davis, Dee Brown and Je’Kel Foster. Players from smaller conferences are also having dynamite years like LA Tech’s Paul Millsap or Western Kentucky’s Anthony Winchester.

West Virginia picks up a very nice (essentially) road win, while Oklahoma State takes care of previously unbeaten, Longhorn-slaying Tennessee.

Cincinnati gets revenge on their sluggish loss to Dayton, and really has turned the corner since early December. Andy Kennedy found out that starting a turnover-prone guy named Jihad at the point can never be good, and promptly adjusted his lineup. The post-Huggins era might not be that bad after all.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Return of Randolph

Just when you think that Kentucky may be in a chronic tailspin, the NCAA reverses its decision on Mr. Morris.

The reason for the reversal: a misplaced fax from Morris, lost by Tubby deep in the annals of his desk.

The letter addressed to ‘Orlando Smith’ simply says this: “First of all, I would like to thank you and your staff for the many opportunities and benefits afforded me this year. However, I would like to announce my intentions to 'test the waters' in the 2005 NBA draft. My intent is not to obtain an agent so as to maintain my collegiate eligibility.”

Three sentences and they probably saved Kentucky’s season.

Kentucky fans have to be asking themselves questions like, all that beating around the bush for this? Couldn’t we have taken care of this sooner? Can I organize Tubby’s desk for him?

Just be grateful Cat fans, you could have been stuck with Shagari Alleyne, Lukasz Obrzut and Jared Carter the whole season.

Morris will be eligible to return for the conference opener Jan. 10 against Vanderbilt.

First Field of 65 of the Season

I decided not to get concerned with potential tournament matchups this early in the season. Don't expect those until about mid-January, once everyone has gotten a few conference games under their belt.

No. 1s: UConn, Duke, Villanova, Washington
2s: Florida, Memphis, Gonzaga, Illinois
3s: Texas, Michigan St., Louisville, Oklahoma
4s: UCLA, Indiana, North Carolina, Maryland
5s: Houston, Iowa, Boston College, Iowa St.
6s: NC State, Wisconsin, Ohio St., Vanderbilt
7s: Wake Forest, Michigan, Bucknell, LSU
8s: Kentucky, George Washington, Arizona, Syracuse
9s: Nevada, Arkansas, Northern Iowa, Notre Dame
10s: DePaul, Kansas, Xavier, Cincinnati
11s: St. Joe's, West Virginia, Alabama, Georgetown
12s: Oklahoma St., Iona, Indiana St., Utah, Temple
13s: Ohio, Western Kentucky, Old Dominion, Wis.-Milwaukee
14s: Davidson, Winthrop, Pacific, Oral Roberts
15s: Murray St., Gardner-Webb, Penn, Montana
16s: Northwestern St., Fairleigh Dickinson, Vermont, (Southern, South Carolina St.)

Yes, it was a pretty big crap shoot but I awarded teams that have shown something so far (Washington, North Carolina), and put underachieving teams in lower spots than what most expected (Kansas, West Virginia, Wake Forest).

Odd anomalies from this first field: nine from the Big East (!), seven from the Big Ten, just three from the Pac-10, and four from the A-10.

Also, the mid-majors were basically picked according to a variety of factors including RPI, record (conference for some), and most importantly, just who I think is the best of the conference, even if you lose an early conference game (Old Dominion).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Big Games This Week

Winthrop @ South Carolina
No one should have been the least been surprised at Winthrop’s near takedown of Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. It would be purely utopian to suggest that this win would boost Winthrop’s potential at-large candidacy because once Big South play kicks off, the Eagles current RPI will plummet faster than you can utter “There’s a Charleston Southern?”

Wisconsin-Milwaukee @ Wisconsin
Ladies and Gentlemen, we present to you the battle of the Tuckers! Whatever you do, however, don’t expect this contest to be exciting. Each team is coming off of wins in the fifties, and that should stay true.

Missouri St. @ Arkansas
This is the test of the week for a mid-major team as the Bears take their undefeated record into Fayetteville. Last week, they got a nice win over a good Oral Roberts team. The Razorbacks have not lost since Maui, but this will be their toughest test since then. The Bears have five players averaging double-figures, including guard Blake Ahearn, who is averaging more than 21 a night. Arkansas runs through Ronnie Brewer, but 6-10 C Darian Townes will be a key factor against a smaller Bears lineup.

UCLA @ Michigan
Big man Courtney Sims has been a pleasant surprise for Tommy Amaker, who has felt his seat become a little less warm with a 7-0 start. Sims is currently the leading scorer and rebounder on the team, and is shooting over 68 percent(!). Meanwhile, UCLA should win this contest because of the play of Arron Affalo and Jordan Farmar, who were excellent in the much needed statement win over Nevada on Saturday.

Louisville @ Kentucky
Will Kentucky fail to show up for a third consecutive Saturday on national TV? I wouldn’t bet against Louisville.

Arizona @ Utah
The Wildcats could use a quality non-conference win badly. However, with their play being so erratic and usually bad, a smart Utah team could wipe the floor with them. Or the ‘Cats might blow the Utes out by actually showing their potential for a game.

Ohio St. @ Iowa St.
A good sign for the Buckeyes is that five guys are currently in double figures, and neither of the top two are named Terence Dials. However, the Buckeyes’ leading glass cleaner is off-guard JJ Sullinger. Iowa State also has three 6-10 or over players who have been getting significant minutes. If those players can clean the glass against a small Ohio State team, Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock will look like cyclones all day long.

Virginia Tech vs. Stanford @ Las Vegas
Stanford needs a win so bad right now it hurts.

I am currently putting together the first of many bracket projections to be first shown on this site.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Gonzaga, Washington Go Racing

The Gonzaga-Washington game was simply a blast to watch. Ken Pomeroy’s pace statistics had it as a ‘NASCAR’-type game.

Meanwhile, Adam Morrison is such a scoring powerhouse that it almost seemes he had a quiet 43 points, as ridiculous as that sounds. With this Gonzaga team, one knows that Morrison will be getting the ball just about every time down the floor.

It shouldn’t be that way, though. This team is more loaded than the counterparts of Zags past.

Morrison shoots a high percentage for the type of player that he is, but there are other options like Jeremy Pargo, JP Batista, Sean Mallon, and the back-bruised Derek Raivio.

Northwestern State at Gallagher-Iba, easy tune-up for Gonzaga, right? WRONG. Versatile forward Clifton Lee poured in 24 points to go along with 9 boards. The Demons’ win ended Oklahoma State’s 44 game home win streak against lesser known teams between the end of fall and start of winter. Or something like that.

Palo Alto, it’s time to panic. Next possible tree-chopper: Denver with C Yemi Nicholson.

Much is being made about the frontcourt in tonight’s Michigan State-Boston College matchup. However, guard play will decide this game.

Louis Hinnant at the point has a size advantage over Drew Neitzel, his Spartan counterpart, and thus has a slight advantage getting the ball inside to Jared Dudley and Craig Smith.

However, at the two spot Maurice Ager is far better than Sean Marshall. That’s no knock against Sean Marshall, it’s just that Ager is so skilled shooting and off the dribble. His presence will lead the Spartans to victory tonight.

You can bet that the Sojka will be rocking when Villanova comes to Lewisberg to play Bucknell as the two best teams in the Quaker State face off (sorry Pitt) (oh wait, no I’m not).

Buknell really should have chance in the game, but Chris McNaughton has got to rise his toughness level in order to make himself the best player in the game. Also, his role will be crucial when Allan Ray, Randy Foye or Kyle Lowry comes barreling into the lane.

The quickness of Bucknell’s guards and the ability of their bench actually matches up better to the Wildcats than Oklahoma did.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Villanova Takes It To the Sooners

Villanova’s four-guard attack (and Jason Fraser, too) was great against Oklahoma. Randy Foye’s career-high 32, Allan Ray’s 21, and a 57% shooting clip were more than enough to take the small, quick lineup to victory over the powerful, strong one.

The matchup problems for Oklahoma were glaring at times, with Kevin Bookout getting trapped on the perimeter on occasion and subsequently eating the dust of the smaller player. Also, after Taj Gray, Bookout and Terrell Everett, Oklahoma does not have players who like taking shots in tough spots. With Gray and Bookout prone to fouls, this problem may come to haunt the Sooners in a conference (or even non-conference) game(s) to be named later.

Going back to the Wildcats, if ‘Nova can get performances like the one Jason Fraser had on Staurday, the shadow of Curtis Sumpter in the frontcourt will keep gettting smaller and smaller. Perhaps the biggest play of the game was Fraser’s dunk with 6:11 to go to make the lead 13.

There is one word that comes to mind when talking about Kentucky’s performance today: uninspired. Every time that they needed someone…anyone to make a play in the second half, it was not there. Yes, that means you, Rajon Rondo.

Credit should be given to UNC in the meantime as the freshmen made solid plays as the elder statesmen of Reyshawn Terry and David Noel are proving that they will be good leaders for the kiddies.

Houston and Oliver Lafayette: proving a bunch of unenlightened pundits wrong about C-USA being a one-bid league.

Does anyone realize that this happened Friday night?

Another week, another major conference team beaten at home by Bucknell. Up next for the Bison: Villanova.