The NIT field has been whittled from 32 to four as the semifinalists take center stage tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York. Two top seeds have made it to the Big Apple, Colorado and Alabama, and they’ll play in the nightcap. The first game features Klay Thompson and Washington State going up against Wichita State, a team that knocked off #1 seed Virginia Tech in Blacksburg nine days ago. All four teams were in the NCAA Tournament picture late into the season so this should be an exciting doubleheader. Alabama and Colorado have not been significantly challenged in this tournament and that’s a credit to both Anthony Grant and Tad Boyle for keeping their respective teams motivated in the face of what they perceived as NCAA snubs. Motivation is always a question mark in this tournament and both teams have done a nice job putting the past behind them and focusing on the here and now. Washington State has rebounded nicely from Thompson’s suspension which took them out of NCAA contention with a late season loss to UCLA. The storyline around Wichita State is whether their head coach, Gregg Marshall, will remain in that position after this tournament. Marshall will be on the lists of some prominent programs and may leave Wichita for greener pastures. Join RTC Live from the Garden tonight for what should be a fun doubleheader.
Given all the media and fan attention on the NCAA Tournament, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there were 32 other teams (several pretty good ones) playing on (mostly) the off days. The NIT is the grand-daddy of postseason basketball, so let’s get you briefly caught up on where that tournament is at the quarterfinal stage.
The first two rounds in the Alabama Bracket have seen the top seeds advancing in each game, which sets up a quarterfinal game between top seeded Alabama and second seeded Miami (FL) Wednesday night. Alabama has used solid performances from guards Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford, as well as from big man JaMychal Green to breeze past Coastal Carolina and New Mexico in home games. The Hurricanes have gotten solid guard play from Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott to earn victories over Florida Atlantic and Missouri State in Coral Gables. The quarterfinals will come down to whether Frank Haith’s team can find scoring options against one of the better defensive teams still playing basketball this season. The winner advance to the semifinals in New York City.
The first round of the Colorado Bracket gave us two of the biggest upsets of the tournament thus far. After getting their bubble burst on Selection Sunday, second seeded Saint Mary’s was upset at home by seventh seeded Kent State after blowing a 13-point lead. The first round also saw third seeded Colorado State lose at home to sixth seeded Fairfield. The Golden Flashes topped the Stags in the second round to advance to the quarterfinal. In the top half of the bracket, Colorado has used strong performances from standouts Alec Burks and Cory Higgins to easily defeat Texas Southern, California and Kent State in succession. The Buffs are playing like a team with a chip on its shoulder, and will advance to NYC to await the winner of the Alabama-Miami (FL) game.
Boston College Bracket
The first round of the Boston College Bracket saw all the top seeds advance and do so fairly convincingly. However, things changed in the second round, as top seeded Boston College was blown out at home by fourth seeded Northwestern. The Wildcats used a balanced attack led by John Shurna and Michael Thompson to throttle the Eagles. Elsewhere in the second round, Washington State used a strong performance from star guard Klay Thompson to get past third seed Oklahoma State by a 74-64 margin. The second round results set up a quarterfinal matchup between fourth seed Northwestern and second seed Washington State. Considering that the game will be played in Pullman and Klay Thompson might be the best player in the NIT this year, Wazzu should advance to the semifinals in Madison Square Garden next week.
Virginia Tech Bracket
The first round of the Virginia Tech Bracket contained the top individual performance of the tournament thus far. College of Charleston guard Andrew Goudelock netted 39 points to lead the sixth seeded Cougars to an upset victory over three seed Dayton. The Cougars remained hot in the second round by knocking out star guard Norris Cole and the Cleveland State Vikings. The top half of the bracket saw top seed Virginia Tech and fourth seed Wichita State advance to the second round where the Hokies and Shockers battled in an overtime classic. In the end, Wichita State was able to ride a balanced scoring effort to defeat the Hokies and overcome Malcolm Delaney’s 30 points. Both the Cougars and the Shockers are on a roll heading into the quarterfinal Wednesday night, making it a tough game to predict, but if Goudelock catches fire for Bobby Cremins’ squad then College of Charleston will enjoy a trip to New York as the sole mid-major representative next week in Manhattan.
RTC is pleased to announce that we’ll be covering all of the major conference tournaments this year — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC — in addition to the strongest two high-middies, the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. Each day for the rest of this week, we’re asking our correspondents to provide us with a Daily Diary of the sights and sounds from the arena at each site. Equal parts game analysis and opinion, the hope is that this will go beyond the tiresome game recaps you can find elsewhere and give you an insightful look into Championship Week. Today’s coverage: ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West & Pac-10.
ACC Tournament – by Kellen Carpenter
Miami-Virginia. This was a truly bizarre game that I’m still not sure makes any sense. Greensboro Coliseum was surprisingly packed for a 12 pm game between the 8 and 9 seed. Both teams boasted sizable and vocal fanbases who were each treated to a game of runs. Miami jumped out ahead, leading by six at the half, and then one of the weirdest second halves I have ever seen happened. Miami only scored eight points over the first 18 minutes of the second half. Virginia, rallying strongly, jumped out to a 50-39 lead with 2:15 left on the clock. Then Miami went nuts. No, really. I’m still not sure what happened. The crowd was whipped into a frenzy by a series of weird, truly improbably events. Miami cut the eleven point deficit and forced an overtime which the Hurricanes suddenly dominated and walked away with a truly unexpected win. For a the first game of the ACC Tournament, it was not just a dinger, but a hum-dinger. Whenever you can get a crowd of Floridians and Virginians to scream their heads off in the early afternoon in North Carolina, you’ve put on quite a show. Beyond that, nothing about this game mattered.
Wake-BC. After the drama of the Miami and Virginia game, any game with a team that had only managed to win one ACC game over the course of the season was bound to be a letdown. What was surprising to me, was the letdown in crowd energy. Winston-Salem, home of Wake’s campus, is a mere 20 minutes away, yet it seemed like the Demon Deacons had fewer fans present than Miami. Boston College had a very small and quiet contingent who seemed happy to quietly watch as the Eagles just took apart Wake. It really wasn’t much of a game, with the hyper-efficient Boston College offense firing on all cylinders (well, excepting the Raji cylinder). Reggie Jackson scored 27 points on 13 shots. Joe Trapani scored 22 points on 12 shots. Nicholas Biko scored 21 points on 12 shots. Wake Forest’s porous defense could do little to stop them, and their impotence on the offensive end doomed them. Freshman Travis McKie was a bright spot, going 6-8 in the first half while the rest of his team struggled. But, for some stupefying reason, McKie only got two shots in the second half, one of these being a put-back dunk of his own manufacture. If there is a silver lining to that second half, it’s the fact that Wake actually managed to outscore BC, 36-34. Sadly, this was clearly not enough to make up for the 16 point deficit incurred in the first half. My favorite part of this game, was clearly the few, loud Wake Forest fans sitting directly behind me. One woman seemed particularly keen on trying to coach Travis McKie’s admittedly poor free throw shooting (2-5). Every time he got to the line she would yell “Bend your knees! Follow through!” If only he had listened? The season is mercifully over for Wake, and BC will get it’s chance at tougher competition tomorrow when they take on Clemson.
NC State-Maryland. There were, as you might expect, an alarming number of loud, red-wearing people at this game. Maryland jumped out to an early lead which energized/enraged these loud, red-wearing fans. In response, the N.C. State band played Cee-Lo’s “Eff You,” which, when you think about it, is a perfect pep band song: catchy and insulting to the other team, while the lack of singing effectively makes it family friendly. Well-played, Wolf Pack band. That said, the pep band arrangement of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song was pretty excellent as well. And if the bands played with flair, the teams did too. There was more speed, athleticism, and acrobatic drives on display in this game than in the first two games combined. Cross-overs, spin moves, and behind the back dribbles on the fast break had the crowd frequently on its collective feet. Does Tracy Smith have the MVB (Most Valuable Beard) of this tournament? It’s hard to see anyone overtaking him. Maryland looked in command the whole game, but since Miami’s Miracle, there was a palpable nervousness in the crowd until the buzzer finally went off.
Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech controlled this game from the start and once it became clear that Georgia Tech could never catch up, the crowd that had gathered for the previous game started to vanish. Virginia Tech’s fans were consistently loud and even when the Hokies’ lead exceeded twenty, the fans took every call against them as if the game depended on it. Meanwhile, the Georgia Tech fans seemed resigned to his fate. Georgia Tech never managed to score more than a point per minute in the first half. It was one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen in a tournament setting, and remember, I watched the Wake Forest game earlier today. Virginia Tech played well enough, but I couldn’t help but be concerned about the minutes that the starters were playing. Malcolm Delaney played 39 minutes despite the massive lead VT held throughout. He only sat for the final minute of the game and that was after he had taken a needless hard foul. You have to wonder how such long minutes on consecutive days are going to affect the Hokies hopes of going deep into this tournament. Well, you don’t have to worry, but I would.
Games #181-182. It’s Pac-10 fever at the Staples Center as two quarterfinals give several teams a shot to keep hope alive in an otherwise disappointing season.
3 pm. California vs. USC. Southern Cal has emerged this week as everyone’s sexy pick to win the tournament and steal an at-large bid away from a team like VCU or Colorado. Four of ESPN’s 10 experts picked the Trojans to win the whole thing, while UCLA got the second-most votes at three, and No. 1 seed Arizona only got one (nice objectivity, Miles Simon). But before USC can think about cutting down any nets, it has to get past Cal, which surprised many with its fourth place finish this year in the Pac-10. USC and Cal split their season series, and each game was decided by three points or less. The crowd will undoubtedly be partial to the Trojans’ cause, but don’t be surprised if this one goes down to the wire.
11:30 pm. Washington State vs. Washington. Nothing would make the Cougars happier than knocking off hated Washington for the third time this season, possibly kicking the Huskies off the bubble and into the NIT. This game could very well serve as a de facto play-in game for the NCAAs. It’s suspect whether the Huskies’ resume can withstand another late loss (after all, there can only be so many Villanovas in the Dance), and a loss to Wazzu would drop UW to 4-7 in its last 11 games against teams not named Seattle University. Now the Cougars probably have to win two games this weekend to stake their claim for an at-large bid, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. At least Wazzu will have Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore back on the court, while Washington will be without Venoy Overton.
The Lede. There are only a handful of days left in the regular season. After 10,000 games, we’ve already eliminated a number of teams from national title contention and we’ll spend the weekend talking about positioning. Most teams are who we know them to be at this late point in the season — like last call in a college bar, it becomes about finding the best light to present yourself to the evaluators, in this case, the NCAA Selection Committee. The numbers ultimately will rule the day, but perception and the ‘sniff test’ are things not easily erased from one’s mind. Let’s see who helped and hurt their positions tonight…
Taylor Was Magnificent Tonight (Indy Star/J. Cecil)
Your Watercooler Moment. Jordan Taylor Dominates Indiana. The ascent of Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor from solid role player to unknown good player to rising superstar has been remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that the Cousy Award folks had originally left him off its list of the ten best point guards in America despite the fact that he is clearly more valuable than half the finalists on the list (Brandon Knight — is this a joke?). In watching Taylor blow up Michigan State, Ohio State and now Indiana tonight with a career-high 39 points on 11-19 FG (7-8 from deep), we’re regularly astonished with how well he gets his shots off while defended and they still manage to find the bottom of the net. Many players can shoot the ball when they’re standing open beyond the arc; Taylor, however, is the best player in college basketball shooting the ball with someone right in his face — he regularly takes jumpers where your initial reaction is “wow — tough shot,” only to be surprised when the ball swishes through. Wisconsin has gone from an unranked team in the preseason to a top ten mainstay in the latter part of the year, and as good as Jon Leuer has also been, the primary reason is Taylor. He gives Bo Ryan’s team an offensive option that Madison hasn’t seen since Alando Tucker was residing in Madison; and with the defense that his teams always bring to the table, this makes the Badgers just that much more dangerous this March. If you’re looking for a Final Four darkhorse, you might want to consider this team — they’re every bit as good as all but a few teams in America this year.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Emergence of Scotty Hopson. In the last three weeks, UT’s star wing has been playing as well as he has at any point in his Tennessee career. In his last six games including tonight’s win at South Carolina, he’s averaging 23.7 PPG on 52% shooting from the field. While UT’s record hasn’t necessarily improved as a result of his stellar offensive play — UT has gone 3-3 in those games with two one-point losses — the Vols absolutely must have Hopson play like the star he was supposed to be in order for Bruce Pearl’s team maximize its potential this March. If his recent play is any indication, the athletic guard may have finally figured out his role as alpha dog on this team, high fade and all.
A Fourth Pac-10 Team? Washington probably re-secured its Dance ticket with a nice win over UCLA tonight, so we can reasonably expect that those two, along with Arizona, will hear their names called on Selection Sunday. Is there a chance that a fourth Pac-10 team, notably Washington State, could sneak into the NCAA’s crosshairs in the next week or so? After tonight’s home win over USC, if the Cougars can also defeat UCLA over the weekend, Ken Bone’s team would sit at 20-10 (10-8 Pac-10) with a reasonable profile head-to-head against other bubble teams Baylor and Gonzaga (both of whom Wazzu beat earlier this year). Don’t get us wrong — Washington State would still need to make a run in the Pac-10 Tournament to merit serious consideration, but with the right matchups, the Cougars could find themselves in the finals and pushing the Selection Committee to make a difficult decision.
The Lede. What a wild, wild President’s Day weekend it was. The second-, third-, and fourth-ranked teams all took a loss over the weekend to join #1 Kansas from the previous Monday night, the first time that such a thing had happened in a little over seven years. BracketBusters was in full effect across the land, and although there were some interesting games during the event, only a couple of teams actually helped themselves. Over the three days, we saw RTCs ranging from relaxed ambivalence to firecracker intensity, another bizarre diatribe from Jim Boeheim, and a number of great games befitting the time of the season where so much is on the line. Let’s jump in…
No, That's Not the Actual Ref Screaming Amidst the Mayhem... (AP/N. Harnik)
Your Watercooler Moment. 1, 2, 3, 4… The last time that the top four teams in the national polls lost in the same week of action, Barack Obama was an unknown state senator in Illinois and Saddam Hussein was hiding in a hole in somebody’s backyard. It was November 2003, and the names Bieber, Gaga and Twitter had no meaning to anybody yet, but UConn, Duke, Michigan State and Arizona each dropped a game over Thanksgiving week that year and the result was a significant re-ordering of the poll. The big difference this time around is that we’re two weeks from the end of the season as opposed to two weeks from the start, so the likelihood of four established teams dropping games over the same week was far more unlikely. So what happened, exactly?
We already knew that #1 Kansas lost to K-State in rough-and-tumble fashion last Monday. But the next three teams waited until the weekend to join the polling bloodbath. It began on Saturday with the first game of the day — Steve Lavin’s rejuvenated and tough-as-nails St. John’s program took down #4 Pittsburgh on the back of Dwight Hardy’s 19 points and his tap dance routine along the baseline to win the game. It was the cherry on top of the sundae in a season of breakthroughs for the Red Storm program, and as you can see below, Madison Square Garden has become something more than just the place where Amare and (now) Melo play.
A little later Saturday afternoon, #2 Texas was in trouble at Nebraska late when its vaunted defense and some brain-farts on the part of the Huskers led to a ridiculous 12-1 in a span of thirty-four seconds to tie the game in the final minute, 65-all. What appeared to be a major meltdown in Lincoln, though, turned to bedlam as Doc Sadler’s team regained its composure enough to hit their FTs down the stretch and notch possibly their biggest win in years. UT is more than its individuals, but when Jordan Hamilton struggles as he did on Saturday (3-16 FG), the Horns have trouble putting enough points on the board against quality teams. With the win, Nebraska has vaulted itself back onto the bubble — with a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Huskers could potentially get back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in thirteen seasons. Nice RTC, fellas.
On Sunday it was Ohio State’s turn to again do battle with a Big Ten road crowd and team dead set on knocking off the much-hyped Buckeyes. Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore ensured that the home crowd got what they paid for, as the senior guard went Kemba/Jimmer on the Big Ten leaders, scoring in just about every possible way en route to a superb 38/4/5 asst afternoon on 13-18 shooting. His 13-point stretch over the last three-plus minutes of the first half was as impressive an offensive display as we’ve seen all season, punctuated by an acrobatic circus shot layup (see below) that told the viewers that this was going to be his game. Talk has increased about Purdue as a legitimate Final Four contender after wins over OSU and Wisconsin last week, but the Boilermakers are an excellent home team. We’re not as sold on Matt Painter’s team outside the friendly confines of Mackey Arena.
There you have it. Three of the top four losing over the weekend, and nobody having a clue as to how to rank the top six today. The AP Poll had six different teams receiving #1 votes, while the ESPN/Coaches had five. Even the RTC poll, consisting of only six voters, had four different teams ranked at the top. The takeaway from this weekend, and really, much of the season, is that there are a bunch of really good teams but certainly no great ones. The NCAA Tournament could look a lot more like the 1997 (Arizona), 2003 (Syracuse), or 2006 (Florida) versions given this season’s continuing and obvious level of parity.
Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. II. Another Diatribe From Jim Boeheim. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim must really be frustrated with his team this season. The smiles and self-knowing mockery that he engaged with the media last season appears to have migrated south with the rest of the snowbirds. After tonight’s win (note we said “win”) at Villanova, Boeheim again lashed out at the media for its stupid questions and representations about his team. Mike Miller at MSNBC has the goods here (via Soft Pretzel Logic), and we’re a little bit at a loss ourselves as to why Boeheim is acting like such a prima donna lately. With respect to the questions about “toughening” up one’s team, he can choose to not believe in such a thing but we dare say that he probably does. Most coaches who have been doing this for as long as he has would probably believe there’s real team-building value in gutting out close wins ten times even if you end up losing a similarly-situated game in the postseason. We weren’t at the presser in Philadelphia tonight, but it sounded like someone arguing for the sake of being argumentative. Lighten up, Jim — the university pays you a LOT of money to answer a few minutes of questions after each game, not to berate people and make them feel stupid for doing their jobs.
Game #128. RTC Live makes its first trip to the new Matthew Knight Arena on the campus of Oregon to see the Ducks take on Wazzu.
Washington State heads to Eugene for Thursday’s matchup on a completely different track than Oregon. The Cougars, led by Pac-10 scoring leader Klay Thompson, knocked off the Washington Huskies in Pullman on Sunday night, and sit fourth in the conference at 5-4. The Ducks are coming off of a split at the Bay Area schools, having won at Stanford for the first time in 25 years, but falling to reigning Pac-10 regular-season champs California. Washington State won the first game in Pullman, but this week is the start of the second half of the Pac-10 season, the last year in which the conference will play a double-round-robin schedule. Junior college transfer Faisal Aden, a native of Somalia, has made a huge impact on the Cougars this season, helping guide them from the conference cellar to NCAA Tournament bid contention. Washington State’s starting backcourt, featuring the 6’4′ Aden and 6’6 Thompson, will likely give fits to Oregon’s diminutive guard rotation, the tallest of whom are 6’1. The Ducks will have to attack the Cougars inside, with the now-healthy Joevan Catron and Jeremy Jacob teaming up with the hot Tyrone Nared to give Oregon quality interior play it has been lacking for most of the season. Join RTC Live Thursday night for its first game at Oregon’s new $200 million-plus Matthew Knight Arena, the most expensive on-campus arena in America.
Former Mississippi State forward Elgin Bailey of the refusal to move his legs for His Heiness Renardo Sidney’s passing fame, will re-surface at Southeastern Louisiana next season for his final year of eligibility. The 6’8, 265-lb forward was kicked off the team for getting into a fight with Sidney even though he was the team captain at the time and Sidney had already been suspended once for bad behavior. Bailey is a nice pickup for the Lions — teams in the Southland typically don’t have that kind of skilled size in the post (5/4 in 19 MPG). We think he’ll do well there.
Over at Memphis, Wesley Witherspoon, he of the let’s mock the assistant coach on the team bus fame, will remain suspended through Wednesday’s game versus Southern Mississippi, but he will be back at practice on Thursday and available to play in this weekend’s game at UAB on Saturday. Perhaps Witherspoon has learned a lesson about comedic timing (e.g., probably not great when your season is headed back to the NIT), but Josh Pastner’s hope for the preseason all-CUSA forward is that he’ll start producing — the four games prior to his suspension resulted in a 7/4 average, well below his season numbers of 12/5.
On a similar note, Washington State’s Reggie Moore hasn’t been officially reinstated by head coach Ken Bone just yet, but all indications are that the player who was charged with marijuana possession in December will be back in action soon. Bone allowed him back at practice yesterday and he said to reporters that “there’s a chance” he could be back in the lineup for Thursday night’s game against Arizona State.
It’s not always the best situation when the coach’s kid is starting as a freshman, but Creighton’s Doug McDermott is one such exception. The son of head coach Greg has taken over the MVC by storm with a 13/7 average this year, good for first in both scoring and rebounding on the team and fourth in the conference. The wild part is that if Dana Altman hadn’t taken off for Nike Nation up in Eugene last spring, then McDermott would be playing for league rival and tearing it up for Northern Iowa instead of Creighton. Big, big things are already being predicted for the young forward’s career, as White & Blue Review outlines here.
In an attempt to become the Maui Invitational for the eastern time zone, the Bahamas have passed NCAA eligibility requirements for its new tournament (called the Battle 4 Atlantis… and yes, we hate the name already) that will begin next Thanksgiving. While in theory this sounds like a great idea, we’re a little concerned about using a converted ballroom as the “gym” (similar to what the Cancun Challenge and some of the Vegas tourneys have done in the past). There isn’t a high school gym somewhere on those islands that could do the trick?
The Lede. As we head into the first weekend where almost every conference will be in action — the ACC, Big 12 and SEC finally kick it into high gear — tonight was a pretty interesting night of hoops with the Crosstown Shootout turning into a blowout, the Pac-10 providing us with a couple of good games, and Northwestern showing everyone once again why you should never count on them to man up and make the NCAA Tournament. Let’s dive in.
Cincy Had a Lot to Celebrate in This Year's Crosstown Shootout (cincinnati.com)
Your Watercooler Moment. Does the Crosstown Blowout Legitimize Cincinnati? Let’s be honest: this was an undefeated Cincinnati team playing at home against a beat-up Xavier squad. On paper, if you covered the names of the teams and players and looked at the stats and what each team had done so far, this wouldn’t have appeared as much of a contest. But this is the Crosstown Shootout. The schools’ names are what matter the most, not the least. Everything else can be thrown out the window of your nearest chili joint. Forget analysis. Forget what it means in terms of the rest of the year. To ask those questions implies that you don’t quite get the depth of this rivalry.
But there was no romanticism tonight. 66-46, Bearcats, and that’s no surprise. Cincinnati’s deeper bench, confidence, and enjoyment of the home atmosphere were too much for the Musketeers, and, even though the game wasn’t truly out of reach until late, you knew at about the 8:00 mark of the first half that there wasn’t much of a fightback coming from XU. When you realize that 6’9/265 pound Yancy Gates (22/14), who looks 7’2 with 35 more pounds of arm when you get up close to him, is hitting outside fade-aways off one foot, and that Tu Holloway (5 pts on 2-13) — he of the 21.4 PPG average — will probably not get to double-figures, well…you know the outcome well ahead of time. Holloway was the most glaring casualty of UC’s intense defensive effort, but he wasn’t the only frustrated Musketeer. On eighteen field goals, XU had only four assists, and they were flummoxed from three-point land, shooting 1-10.
Now that it’s over, we can ask that question: what does this mean? Should a 15-0 Cincinnati team be considered a national championship contender? It would be unwise to let the magnitude of this rivalry make this victory appear bigger than it is. In fact, the Bearcats were warned of this before the game. According to both Gates and reserve guard Larry Davis in their post-game comments, the team adopted an “all-business” approach at the behest of head coach Mick Cronin. His thinking on this is a product of how tough life is in the Big East. “You can’t just be ‘rivalry-tough,'” Cronin said. “We still have to play five teams on the road who are ranked in the top 14 in the country.” In other words, he got across to his team that there is life outside of the Crosstown Shootout. That said, this will probably be filed as yet another win over a mediocre team and won’t do much to persuade UC’s detractors. Does Cincinnati belong in the Top 25? Certainly. Are they a championship contender? Hey, this is a very good team. After a 15-0 start, they definitely deserve a little more attention than they’re getting, but whether they’re 15-0 or 8-7, with a Big East schedule looming, whom could you say that about with any assurance? That record will boost their confidence, and in terms of wins and losses, they’ve given themselves some wiggle room. They deserve credit for possessing more maturity than recent Bearcat squads, and it appears that this group has bought in to what Coach Cronin is teaching them. Cronin has his players’ trust. He’s gotten through to them early. That means a lot, to be sure. But it’s the only definite thing you can take away from their season so far, because what’s to come is so much more meaningful for their season than what’s already happened. Cronin doesn’t mind if you underestimate his team, of course. He knows the value of that, and he said so after the game: “Nobody thinks we’re any good, still, and that’s a good thing. So I’m just going to keep telling them that. As long as I can keep playing that card.”
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
St. Mary’s as the Class of the WCC. With the Gaels’ easy 98-75 win at LMU tonight, a team that was expected to push St. Mary’s and Gonzaga from the third-place spot, we’re becoming more and more convinced that Randy Bennett’s team is the class of the WCC this year. From our viewpoint, they simply have more offensive weapons and a more diverse attack than the Zags, and in a league that isn’t known for sticky defense, that should be the difference. With one of the toughest road venues already out of the way after this evening and a supreme home court advantage at the McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, we’re looking at a 13-1 record for SMC, good enough for the Gaels to knock Gonzaga out of first place for the first time in a decade.
The Other Terrence: Terrence Ross. Washington’s Ross was the much-less-heralded recruit named Terrence out of Portland last year, but in his introductory few games of Pac-10 play, he’s making himself known very quickly. The 6’6 wing torched his home state Oregon Ducks tonight for 25/4/4 stls, and in his last three games, he’s pouring in 17/3 on 57% shooting. With Abdul Gaddy done for the season with an ACL injury, Ross and the other backcourt Huskies will be asked to pick up his slack — this rising freshman is showing himself capable of the job.
Corey Stokes & Dominic Cheeks En Fuego. Nine treys fired, nine threes entered into the score books tonight against South Florida. The two Villanova guards have gunner Corey Fisher to blame for the team’s only three misses from outside the arc tonight (9-12). Not bad for a squad that came into tonight’s game shooting a rather weak 32.8% from deep this season. The Wildcats have generally played one of the weaker schedules in the Top 25 to date, but that will change soon with unbeaten Cincinnati arriving over the weekend and games against Louisville, Maryland, UConn and Syracuse in successive contests.