Friday, January 05, 2007

Fun for Friday

Happy New Year sports fans! It’s been a long layoff for me and like you I too enjoyed many solid hours of eating, sitting on my couch in my underwear playing playstation, eating, watching college basketball (although the bowl games took up much of my time as well), and of course…eating. Over the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed a few things in college basketball, but none more important than watching Robert Montgomery Knight break Dean Smith’s Division I record of 879 career wins, attaining number 880 with a 70-68 win over New Mexico.

Throughout the years of on-again, off-again, some deserved, some not criticisms towards Bobby Knight, I’ve never stopped liking the man for who he was and what he represented. Did he have his faults, absolutely. I mean, I’ve been choked by my father before and that’s one thing, but if my coach did that to me, I’d certainly resent the man. However, look at what he's accomplished instead of his flaws which the media likes to headline. He’s always run a clean cut program with zero indication of any illegal recruiting, etc. and he won three NCAA Championships while sustaining a high level of competition each year without top tier talent. He did coach the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Kent Benson, Scott May and Calvin Chaney, but he never recruited on the same level as the Duke’s, the UNC’s, and Kansas yet every year he found ways to produce 20-win seasons.

Following his 880th win, it was great to see how much the Texas Tech fans have come to embrace coach Knight. It was even better to see his softer side by calling his wife down from the stands to enjoy the moment with him, cracking a few jokes, telling a few stories and even soaking it all up with his grandchildren in his arms. What got me completely was when the audio guys at the arena fired up ole Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and shot close-ups of Knight; you could faintly see the tip of his nose redden and a few swells of tears in his eyes that he was able to capture at the very last second. I tell you this, he did a better job holding them in than me.

Big Wins, Bad Losses

Behind burly Ben McCauley’s career high 26 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists (while never coming out of the game) N.C. State defeated UNC Greensboro 95-93 in overtime. Not sure if this is a big win, however with only a six-player rotation, the Wolfpack will take the victory in stride.

Arizona notched their 12th straight win defeating the Washington Huskies, 96-87 paced by freshman Chase Budinger’s 23 points. The Wildcats shot an astounding 76% in the second half and 65% for the game (including 11-20 from behind the arc). Freshman Quincy Pondexter netted 25 points off the bench for the Huskies.

Randal Falker scored 20 points and Matt Shaw added 18 (and a game-high nine boards) as Southern Illinois beat Wichita State 73-68. The Salukis improve to 11-2, 2-0 Missouri Valley on the year and have now won four in a row. The Shockers are winless in their last four.

Clemson topped Florida State in Tallahassee, 68-66 on a Cliff Hammonds layup with 3 seconds improving to a perfect 15-0 on the season. Clemson joins only UCLA and Oregon as the remaining unbeaten teams in Division I.

West Virginia extends their winning streak to seven with a 67-56 over Villanova, lead by Frank Young’s career high 25 points while drilling eight 3-pointers. Included within that winning streak include victories over UConn and NC State, propelling them into the Top 25.

In Charlottesville, Virginia crushed Gonzaga 108-87 while the Cavaliers set a team record connecting on 18 3-pointers. Sean Singletary hit 7 of his own to go along with a career-best 37 points. The Bulldogs have now suffered four straight losses.

Players of the Week

Mike Conley Jr. had nine points, 10 assists and provided maturity beyond his years in the Buckeyes win over Indiana 74-67 in Columbus. While 45 year old Greg Oden continues to get the acclaim, Conley is putting together a formidable freshman campaign of his own with a better than 3/1 assist/turnover ratio. He’s averaging 9 points/6.6 assists/3.4 boards on the year.

Point guard Stefhon Hannah dropped 27 points/5 boards/5 assts to propel Missouri over Mississippi State, 83-75 to help improve the Tigers to 11-2 on the year. The junior transfer guard is averaging 16 points/5 assists/3.4 boards per game while reaching the 20 point plateau five times and scoring in double figures in every game but one.

With 38 points and 10 rebounds, Trey Johnson led Jackson State to an 81-68 victory over Alabama State Tuesday night. Johnson is battling Rice’s Maurice Almond for the scoring title averaging 30 points a clip despite continuous double/triple teams and various gimmick defenses.

What is up with Wichita State? The Shockers started out 9-0 with road wins at George Mason, LSU, Syracuse, and at Wyoming, before losing to New Mexico (without second-leading scorer and top defender P.J. Couisnard, out with a stomach bug) and to USC right before Christmas. They then dropped a home game to Northern Iowa and a road one at Southern Illinois making it four straight. Obviously the non-conference schedule required a ton of energy and the losses could simply be attributed to running out of steam. The Shockers defeated Bradley last night in convincing fashion winning by 19 and are hoping to ride that momentum into their next game against 11-3 Missouri State.

In the continuing effort to humiliate those who suck and provide humor at the expense of others’ failure, I continue to present to you The WINLESS Watch were we are left with just a single team desperately searching for that ever so desired first win of the season: The Iona Gaels. With names like Milo Prodanovic and Alejo Rodriguez, I can’t imagine why they would be anything less than a .500 team at this point instead of 0-12. After a heartbreaking 88-57 loss to Maryland last night, the Gaels seek their first win against a surging Loyola (MD) team, winners of one straight!

Only two Division I teams remain unbeaten:

Clemson: The Tigers are off to one of their best starts in school history (15-0) with some descent wins over Florida State, rising Georgia, and at Old Dominion, but to me their non-conference schedule was still a bit weak. Next six games: Ga. Tech, at N.C. State, at Maryland, vs. UNC, vs. B.C., at Duke. Tough stretch.

UCLA: The Bruins appear to be the most complete team in the country on both ends of the court. Despite the lack of a prototypical interior big man, UCLA has already posted wins against Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Michigan, a surging Washington State, and Washington – certainly not the type of non-conference schedule that the other two unbeatens have faced. At this point it’s real hard not to picture them as one of the four remaining teams in Atlanta.

Weekend Predictions

Notre Dame at Georgetown: The Hoyas are winners of their past six with a recent win over Michigan while the Irish haven’t lost since November 13th. With that said, the Irish are without suspended point guard Kyle McAlarney as he was caught smoking dope; without his 10+ points, leadership and deadly three-point accuracy, the Irish will wish that he just passed on grass.

Duke vs. Virginia Tech: Duke will look to continue its defensive prowess, playing yet another home game against the same team they needed a buzzer beater to defeat last year. The Hokies upperclassmen will be seeking revenge, however the Devils at home is a tough out.

UCLA vs. Oregon: What was to be the battle of the undefeated’s is no longer, therefore the game is not as monumental as originally advertised. I believe Ernie Kent's guys will play well at home especially since UCLA hasn't had any tough tests on the road yet. However, the Bruins know how to win and finish off their opponents when it counts.

UNLV vs. Air Force: Lon “the unibrow” Kruger has the Rebels on the cusp of the Top 25 with recent wins over Texas Tech and Nevada during their 10 game win streak. Air Force has an 11 game winning streak of their own and find themselves at #16 in the polls. I like the Falcons at home.

Georgia Tech at Clemson: Clemson’s got a new swagger much like K-Fed after shockingly defeating John Cena in their first Monday Night Raw match and I don’t think they’ll lose their first game at home against the young Jackets.

UConn at LSU: UConn’s incredibly young and incredibly talented team suffered their first loss to WVU, while struggling to defend and/or make the three. Luckily, LSU does not shoot the three well, but they certainly play stingy defense. UConn will try to suffocate Big Baby, but he’s a good enough passer out of the post and his teammates should pick up the slack.

Arizona at Washington State: Tony Bennett’s boys and cerebral play are the talk of the Pac-10 with a record of 13-2 and wins over the Zags, USC and Arizona State (not to mention just a 3-point loss at UCLA). It’s a true contrast of styles as the Cougers look to slow the pace down, however I look for the Wildcats to turn this into a second half track meet.

Syracuse at Marquette: Both teams are in need of a quality win and quick after Pitt took down the Cuse on their home court and Marquette was defeated by the sensational sophomore’s of Providence. Marquette at home will be tough to knock off and no one in the country can stop Dominic James.

Quips, Quarrels, Querulous Inquiries

To date analysts around the country have been praising the much heralded freshman class and how they’ve impacted the college basketball landscape. More than ever, freshman are playing much larger than contributing rolls, often leading their respective teams in the traditional statistics such as scoring, rebounding, assists and sometimes in the areas of leadership as well. Mainstream media has been promoting the high profile freshman such as Greg Oden, Chase Budinger, Kevin Durant, Brandon Wright, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, Durrell Arthur, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young, and Javaris Crittenton just to name a few. By all means, these former McDonald’s All-Americans deserve every accolade being handed to them, they’re performing at a very high level, and producing right away. But this is just a handful of the young talent that is spread throughout college basketball and there are many others who deserve the same recognition. Here are a few less heralded freshmen earning the star treatment on their respective campuses:

Duke Crews, Tennessee: This man-child of a power-forward with averages of just over 10 points/6 boards per saves his best for wins against the big boys (9 points/10 boards against Memphis, 17 points/9 boards over Ok. State, and 16 points/8 boards over Texas).

Stephen Curry, Davidson: There are plenty of sleepers around the country, maybe no one more so than Stephen Curry of Davidson, son of former NBA guard Dell Curry. Curry is averaging over 19 points/4 boards/ 3 assists and has the Wildcats winners of their past eight.

Quincy Pondexter, Washington: Until Spencer Hawes’ recent tear, the 6-7 Pondexter was certainly fulfilling the hole left by the departure of Brandon Roy. Through the first 9 games, Pondexter led the Cats in scoring having eclipsed 20+ points four times and is currently averaging almost 15 points and 5 boards per game.

Grieves Vasquez, Maryland: The Terps' mature lead guard has already hit double figures 6 times coming off the bench including a 17 point performance in a win at Champaign against Illinois. He posts averages of 9 points/3.6 rebounds/4 assists per.

Ryan Anderson, California: One of the top freshmen in the country, the power forward is averaging 17.3 points and 8.4 boards a game and will look to keep Cal afloat now that junior center DeVon Hardin is out for nearly three months with a stress fracture.

Tajuan Porter, Oregon: Porter started the Ducks rolling with three straight games scoring 27 or more, capped off by 38 against Portland State. This 5-6 dynamo has slowed down a bit as of late as the upperclassmen are coming into their own, but he continues to contribute around 15 points a game.

Shamari Spears, B.C.: A undersized power player inside has been a must-have spark off the bench for giving the Eagles balance up front especially while they cope with the injured Jared Dudley. Spears is averaging 8.7 points/6.2 boards

Tweety Carter, Baylor: One of the least heralded of the former McDonald’s All-Americans, Carter has scored in double figures four times including 31 points in a disappointing loss at Syracuse. The 5-10 point guards is averaging 10 points in 22 minutes of action per game.

Luke Harongody, Notre Dame: This “Big Country” Reeves look-alike is making a major impact with 11.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per and has been solid for the upstart Irish

Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati: This 6-1 guard is having a heck of a season thus far where he’s already posted point totals of 17, 24, 25 and 33 against Temple, Xavier, N.C. State and Wofford. He’s averaging just over 14 points/4 assists/3 boards per.

Eugene Harvey, Seton Hall: This former running mate of Duke’s Lance Thomas is now in the limelight for the Pirates. Given the green light to run the team from coach Bobby Gonzalez, Harvey has yet to disappoint averaging over 16 points/5 assists per and has scored in double figures in every game but one. He’s also averaging 33.7 minutes a contest.

Raymar Morgan, Michigan State: A future star, this solid 6-7 forward caught the injury bug as of late, but was averaging 11 points/6 boards for a Spartan club looking for help on offense. Morgan has also scored in double figures in all but one game.

As the old saying goes, the best thing about freshman is they eventually become sophomores. In 2007, these players are no longer freshman, they are simply basketball players.


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