Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Look Who's Undefeated!

Like the '73'Dolphins in the NFL, the '76 Hoosiers let out a sigh of relief when the last undefeated team in college basketball earns their first loss of the season. It's been 30 years since that magical run to an undefeated season, and eventually the National Championship, and every year it appears less and less likely that a team can pull off the same accomplishment. The last team to come close to pulling off the undefeated season was the '05 Fighting Illini who were 37-1 during the regular season where a buzzer-beater three pointer by Ohio State proved to be their lone defeat (evantually they would lose to UNC in the NCAA title game). With that said, let's take a look at who remains undefeated going into conference play and who has the best chance of chasing history!

Clemson: Oliver Purnell has his club playing solid defense while the offense continues to spread the love around. Clemson has historically been the doormat of the ACC and despite the strong start to the 2006-2007 season (beating Mississippi State, Minnesota and South Carolina), I can’t imagine they will thwart the likes of UNC, MD, BC, and Duke in the ACC. The Tigers encounter a tough upcoming home game against Georgia on December 28th however I will give them the home-court advantage and the win – Their first loss will come on January 3rd playing at Florida State.

Oklahoma State: Over the summer, Coach Sutton was able to dispense of a few bad apples from last year’s team in an effort to clean up the image and overall brand of basketball to be played at the program. The Cowboys have victories over Auburn, Missouri State (there’s that damn MVC again!) and Syracuse. The Cowboys feature a small lineup with 6-7 C-F Mario Boggan (20 points/7 rebounds) in the middle, however they’re relentless on the boards and play that typical Big-12, physical brand of basketball. Playing Tennessee in Nashville will be a tough test considering how bad the Vols ran Memphis off the court, but I like Oklahoma State’s toughness to pull them through. Pittsburgh will be a more than formidable opponent, but I hate Pittsburgh and I like OSU’s chances at home making their first loss coming on January 10th in the land of the Phog – Phog Allen field house where beating Kansas at home is seldom accomplished.

Pitt: Eck, phew! Always picked to go far in the tournament…the result is always a disappointing early exit that ruins millions of brackets and office pools from New York to California. I personally think their number two overall ranking is a bit too high despite solid wins over a very enigmatic Florida State team, UMass and at Auburn (however, they were awful in their 3 point win over Buffalo). They feature a prototypical starting five led by 7-footer, Aaron Grey manning the lane at 17 and 10 a clip. In true form, I look for Pitt to go down in their very next game on Saturday, December 16th when they’ll be hosted by the Badgers. Pitt is tough defensively but will have significant trouble keeping Alando Tucker under wraps… just ask Marquette.

UConn: An extremely young but talented team, it’s been cupcake city thus far for the Huskies. Despite the lack of competition, the early season wins will do wonders for the UConn psyche and they’ll head into Big East play with heightened confidence. They’re lead by sophomore, double-double machine Jeff Adrien (13 points/10 rebounds), point guard A.J. Price (14 points/6 assists) and freshman shot-blocker extraordinaire, Hasheem Thabeet. No key wins to note as of yet, however their first true test will come on the road against a very disciplined, very methodical, 7-1 West Virginia team that play surprisingly good zone defense and have four players in double figures lead by senior forward Frank Young ( 12 points/4 rebounds). I like UConn’s talent to overcome their lack of experience in this game and believe their first loss will be at the hands of a very hungry LSU Tiger team at Baton Rouge on January 6th.

Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles have a lot of depth with nine players getting 12+ minutes per game – their pre-conference schedule to date has been nothing to talk about and would’ve encountered stiffer competition playing against Oak Hill Academy. Freshman Jeremy Wise (17 points/4 rebounds) leads the team in scoring and unless your name is Carmelo Anthony and you play for Syracuse, that’s never going to work. Their next game is at home against Alabama on December 16th and after we witnessed the numbers that Richard Hendrix posted against Alabama State this past weekend, and Jermareo Davidson and Ronald Steele returning to the lineup, I expect the Golden Eagles to be blown out of the water.

Oregon: The Ducks have been the perennial underachievers in the Pac-10 yet they are off to a great start this year with solid wins over Georgetown in and at home against Nebraska. They’ve found quite an unheralded gem in 5-6 freshman guard Tajuan Porter who’s averaging 19 points per game and leading the team in that category. Five players average double figures for Ernie Kent’s group and none of them happen to be potential NBA first-rounder and former McDonald’s All-American, Malik Hairston. If he gets it together they’ll be a tough out in conference play. At home against a solid USC team on January 4th will be a tough test, but I’ll take the Ducks at home. That makes there next home game on January 6th against UCLA their first loss of the season, bar none.

UCLA: Speaking of the devil, how dominant do these guys look on defense? They’ve already stymied Kentucky, Georgia Tech and the scrappy Texas A&M Aggies and are lead by returning All-American guard Aaron Afflalo. The Bruins aren’t that flashy however their on-court character emulates the type of play that Ben Howland has been preaching since he brought his rugged style from Pitt just a few years ago. Despite their number one ranking, I don’t believe they’re a clear favorite and will have trouble holding onto that spot the rest of the year. Coming up they have 5 home games in a row where they’ll run into a very underachieving Michigan Wolverine team and a very young Washington Husky team coming off an embarrassing loss to Gonzaga. They’ll play at Oregon and at USC, but the real test will come at home on January 20th against the surging Arizona Wildcats. I absolutely love the top to bottom talent and depth of the Cats (picked them 4th overall in my preseason poll) lead by sophomore guard/forward Marcus Williams and all-world freshman Chase Budinger. Tough to win at the Pavilion, but I like the Cats to prevail in a very tough game.

Wichita State: Wins at George Mason (deucing on the Patriot’s Final Four banner raising day), at LSU, at Syracuse and at Wyoming – has any team, not just mid-major because the Shockers cannot be mislabeled anymore, ever had better non-conference wins in such a short period of time than Mark Turgeon’s crew? This is a team where nine players average 10 minutes or more per game, a player whose afro brings nostalgic memories of a young Artis Gilmore and a nickname taken from a sexual move made famous by fraternity brothers across the nation! Playing nine guys at 10 or more minutes a clip certainly keeps the legs fresh and the defense suffocating at all times. They’ll run into a bid of trouble at “The Pitt” against a feisty New Mexico team lead by Jayhawk transfer J.R. Giddens (19 points/game), but dare I pick the Shockers to lose to New Mexico! I believe there first loss will come at the hands of another MVC opponent. They’ll face formidable guard play from the Salukis on January 1st but the Shockers should pull that one out. Where I think they might run out of steam is on January 7th against college basketball’s all-time best free throw shooter, Blake Ahearn (17 points/over 55% from 3) and a scorching Missouri State Bears team who’ve taken down the Badgers and lost a 3 point heart breaker to Oklahoma State.


Anonymous pbrods said...

Oh boy, here we go again. FYI - New Mexico plays in "The Pit" not "the Pitt".

Yet another slam on Pitt? What exactly do you "hate" about Pitt?

2002/3 Big East Champions. Sweet 16 but beaten by Marquette and a guy who turned out to be a decent player - Dwayne Wade.

2003/4 Beat a tough Wisky team in the tourney (featuring Devin Harris) and then lost to Final 4 team and higher seed Okie State.

2004/5 Granted, a disappointing second round loss to Pacific. No excuses there.

2005/6 Lost in the second round to lottery pick Patrick O'Bryant.

That's a pretty good run, even if you're not impressed. And this year's Pitt team looks like the best ever.

Oh, and I DID graduate from the U of Pittsburgh in the late 90's. When did you get out of Duke?

11:14 AM  
Blogger JT & Deuce said...

pbrod, i'm thoroughly impressed by how quickly you provide comment. What do you do for a living because I need to get where you are! I'm glad you pointed out Pitt's recent tournament history - it certainly shows that they consistently can't make it beyond the sweet 16. Let me say this about my feelings for Pitt - i don't hate the team, I hate the fact that analysts continue to pick them to go far when you know its not going to happen. In all honesty, I root for Pitt, I hope they prove me wrong and make it to the Final Four this year. I also hate myself for making them my "sexy" final four sleeper team year after year and always coming up short. Again, nothing against Pitt, it's more about how the dice fell for my bracket! Love the banter pbrod - keep it coming! Tell others to join in as well!

12:05 PM  
Anonymous pbrods said...

Only one team a year (of the teams that make the Big Dance) wins its last game so there are a lot of teams that don't get where they're hoping to go. Does that mean that they've been unsuccessful? I don't think so.

Pitt is 113-27 from 2002 on, that's pretty darned good. And that is 44-20 in the Big East - which is undeniably a great conference.

When you lose to Dwayne Wade, that is not underachieving. When you lose to a higher seed (OKST) then that is not underachieving. Losing to Pacific? Yes. Last year's loss to lottery pick O'Bryant and company? Debatable.

I don't see it as underachieving at all. If you thought that Pitt was headed further than we achieved then that is not Pitt's fault, it is yours. But Pitt has adapted to the refs being different in the NCAAs than in the Big East. We're much more skilled than we had been in the past and that should help us come tourney time this year.

And I'm guessing that since you haven't answered when you graduated from Duke that you did NOT go to school there. Let me guess, you're one of those guys who "has been rooting for Duke since you were 7 years old", right? I wonder why all of those 7 year olds who were Houston Cougars fans when they had Phi Slamma Jamma aren't still sporting Houston gear yet all the UNC/Duke bandwagoners are still aboard? Maybe because Houston started losing and UNC/Duke kept winning?

Sure seems like the definition of bandwagon to me......

1:10 PM  
Blogger JT & Deuce said...

Considering you're a faithful reader of Sports Talk, I would imagine you read the very first blog telling you how I became a Duke fan and where i sent to college. If you haven't, I'd advise that you go back and read it - it will explain everything. Keep it coming pbrod, I now look forward to your comments on a daily basis!

2:38 PM  
Blogger JT & Deuce said...

By the way pbrod, i hate to break it to you...The best thing to come out of Pittsburgh in twenty years was Gung Ho.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous pbrods said...

Actually, I didn't see your post explaining how you became a Duke fan. But unless you have/had some family/close friends there or you grew up in NC (or maybe your dad did, etc) then you like Duke because they were (and are) good.

Kinda funny how not many people become huge Penn State basketball fans and Duke football fans - it is always the other way around. I wonder why that is?

4:07 PM  
Anonymous pbrods said...

Oh, and Gung Ho came out just slightly more than 20 years ago so you're just a little off yet again.

Best Pittsburgh movie in the last 20 years is Wonder Boys. "Okay, James, I wish you hadn't shot my girlfriend's dog. Even though Poe and I weren't exactly what you'd call simpatico, that's no reason he should've taken two in the chest."

4:17 PM  
Blogger JT & Deuce said...

pbrod, love the feedback - i have a feeling we'd be close friends if we ever met in person.

Regarding my becoming a fan of Duke, of course it's because they're good. Like you said, unless you have an immediate connection to something, why else do you start to like something? You're either intrigued, drawn into, or excited by, etc. something good that happened. I personally started out as a huge NBA fan and eventually a Celtics fan. Why, because I fell in love with Larry Bird (as Bill Simmons describes as the Basketball Jesus) and the blue collar fan base in Boston. I did not become a bandwagon fan of the more glamorous Laker teams of the 80's (though how can you not love the rivalry) or the MJ lead Bulls of the 90's. Once i started getting into college bball, I started watching a ton of Duke games for three reasons: 1. They're on all the time, 2. Played great team basketball, 3. I'm a dick and so was Laettner and I loved the fact that he played with a big "fuck you" attitude.

Plus, I should let you know that with the NFL, I'm a Rams fan! I had to live through many a horrible seasons during the LA Rams era and seeing players like Cleveland Gary, Chris Miller and the last of the great bare-foot placekickers, Mike Lansford. Extremely tough times, but I did get to see one Superbowl victory in my lifetime.

7:58 AM  

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