Since we did a separate BracketBusters BGTD today, we’re combining the late afternoon and evening analyses into one post here.
- Disappointing Weekend Coverage. ESPN is excluded from this complaint, as the WWL’s wall-to-wall coverage of college basketball makes us very happy from November through March. But folks, it’s three weeks from Selection Sunday — why aren’t there more networks showing games; and why aren’t there more marquee matchups on a weekend so close to the end of the season? Granted, Michigan State-Illinois looked great on paper a few months ago, but the schedule today was by and large fairly weak. If you’re looking for Exhibit A as to why the NFL wants to take over the entire month of February as well, this is it — CBS did a split-coverage game for two hours this afternoon, while none of the other broadcast networks showed anything (why did ABC completely give on hoops?). Throw in a bunch of ranked teams playing unranked teams today, and you have a sports weekend where college hoops should dominate conversation, except that there’s not much left to discuss than the occasional upset.
- It’s Not Just St. John’s. It was an entertaining game in Syracuse this afternoon, with the Orange escaping against an increasingly gritty and tough Rutgers squad led by first-year coach Mike Rice. With the recruiting Rice is doing in northern Jersey along with the renaissance going on across the Hudson River at St. John’s, New York City area basketball may have finally turned the corner after what seems like a million years. SJU is clearly leading the charge with its team of experienced players, but we love the hustle, heart and discipline exhibited by Rice’s players. They utilized an 11-2 run in crunch time in the Dome to force the Orange back onto its heels, something that simply would not have happened in previous years. After today’s overtime loss, the Scarlet Knights are only 4-10 in Big East play, but they’ve been competitive in nearly all of those Ls and the close win over Villanova along with today’s close defeat shows us that it’s only a matter of time before Rice’s troops figure it out and cause major problems for the rest of the Big East.
- Sparty Can’t Be Killed. As soon as you think the Spartans are dead, they give us another reason to think they still have life. And life they have after tonight’s ugly yet important win over Illinois on ESPN Gameday. They did it with an old Izzo standby, strong defense, holding the Illini backcourt to 12-37 shooting from the field. This was pretty much a must-win for Michigan State, and with four games left (two home; two away), they’ll have more opportunities to improve their resume. Games at Minnesota and home against Purdue will be tough, but the Gophers are reeling and two other games against Iowa and at Michigan will necessarily have to be victories. Our gut still says that MSU will do enough to get into March Madness, but this season has been one surprise after another with these guys.
- Utah State Legitimizes Itself. Much had been written about Utah State’s lack of quality wins this season, but the Aggies really only had one bad loss coming into tonight’s game at St. Mary’s (@ Idaho). They made sure to leave with the one thing they didn’t have, though, thanks in large part to the forceful inside play of Tai Wesley and his 22/11 night. During the first half of this game, it appeared that St. Mary’s was going to go on a patented three-point-fueled run led by Mickey McConnell and his thirty-footers, but USU came out in the second half with a clear strategy to a) pound the ball inside; and b) cut off McConnell’s looks. In doing both, the Aggies went on a huge 27-7 run to start the half and effectively finished the game with ease. They also put to rest any talk of the bubble for this team, now sitting at 25-3 with three WAC games remaining. St. Mary’s has Gonzaga and Portland coming to town next week, and the truth is that the Gaels need to win these games. Their quality wins consist of St. John’s (looking better and better) and Gonzaga. That’s not much to hang your hat on if you crash and burn down the stretch.
- Forget the Other Dunk Contest. Speaking of the SMC-USS game, and then there was this… say hello to Brady Jardine!