Friday, January 12, 2007

Fun for Friday

Conference play is in full effect and from recent observations, no team is a safe bet anymore. For instance, a wilted Villanova squad beat Georgetown on the road, Florida outlasted a Razorback team that demolished Alabama by more than 20 and Kansas absolutely crushed a hot Oklahoma State team. That being said, I was 3-4 with my weekly predictions and as you’ll see from the weekend predictions, it will only get harder.

With Martin Luther the King day around the corner, I am sad to say that I will not be posting a blog on Monday. I am going to take advantage of the floating holiday by kicking back and watching movies while sucking down a Colt 45.

Big Wins, Bad Losses

Villanova prevented losing their first three Big East games by upsetting Georgetown in D.C., 56-52. It was yet another freshman who stepped up, combo-guard Scottie Reynolds who lead the team in scoring (16), steals (4) and assists (3). The old-fashioned Big East defensive struggle ended the Hoyas’ seven game winning streak.

With a 87-76 victory over N.C. State, Clemson (17-0) wins in Raleigh for the first time since 2000 and is off to the best start in team history. The 14th ranked Tigers were lead by Vernon Hamilton’s 21 points and remain the only unbeaten team in Division I. They’ll be at the University of Maryland this Saturday where a very rautious crowd will make for an unwelcoming environment.

Solidifying their status as a Top 5 team with a realistic chance of making the Final Four, Wisconsin held off a rallying Ohio State team, 72-69. Wisconsin’s experience and depth (not to mention home court advantage) appeared to be the key to victory with senior’s Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor combining for 42 points while the Badger bigs held Greg Oden to just 10 points/7 rebounds (not really all that bad, it’s just that it’s Greg Oden).

Wichita State lost another shocker, this time to conference foe Indiana State, 68-63. The Shockers, the sexy pick to win the Missouri Valley Conference this year, have now lost 6 of their past 7 games and fall to 1-4 in the MVC (10-6 overall). Meanwhile, the Sycamore’s are tied for first place in the conference (4-1) and post an 11-4 record.

Despite 29 points (6-7 from downtown) from sharpshooter Chris Lofton, Tennessee had their 9-game winning streak snapped at the hands of Vanderbilt, 82-81. Vanderbilt’s Shan Foster scored on a putback as time expired in a game where whoever had the ball last would prove to be the victor. Senior guard/forward Derrick Byers lead Vandy with 25 points and 7 boards.

In what was a very defensive minded battle, Hofstra defeated the surging Drexel Dragons, 55-53 on Carl Rivera’s last second jumper in overtime. Behind Antoine Aguido’s 26 points, the Pride improved to 5-0 (11-4 overall) in the CAA conference, tying Virginia Commonwealth for the top spot. This is a big win for the Pride as Drexel was beginning to elevate its game having won 9 straight including wins over St. Joes, Villanova, Syracuse, Temple and George Mason with majority of those games being played on the road.

Players of the Week

Nevada’s Marcelus Kemp scored 27 points, grabbed 6 boards and dished out 5 assists to help the Wolfpack (14-1) prevent another Boise State upset, 90-86. With about 7 minutes left in regulation, star forward Nick Fazekas had to be helped off the court after sustaining an ankle injury (leaving him sidelined with crutches) so it was up to Kemp and his fellow teammates to seal the victory. Then, just a few nights later with Fazekas in street clothes, Kemp dropped 33 points to go along with 8 boards in a 72-63 win over San Jose State. On the season, Kemp is averaging almost 19 points a game including 29 against Oregon State, 20 at Cal, and 21 at Gonzaga.

While POY front-runner Alando Tucker struggled to find the bucket at times, it was fellow senior guard Kammron Taylor who propelled the Wisconsin Badgers over the Ohio State Buckeye’s by scoring 25 points, connecting on 5-8 FG’s and 12-16 FT’s, to go along with 5 rebounds. This underrated guard is averaging just over 13 points a game for the Badgers however it’s his unheralded leadership and experience that helps his team the most.

Despite losing by 10 points at Alabama, POY candidate and All-American Glen “Big Baby” Davis scored 24 points and grabbed 17 rebounds despite playing with sore ribs and right knee from a two-car accident after Saturday night's win over No. 24 Connecticut. Davis received no help from his teammates as the rest of the LSU Tigers connected on just 14 field goals (Davis had 9 himself) and allowed the Crimson Tide to make over 56% of their three’s.

Stephane Lasme, a 6-8 forward for UMass, became the 23rd player in NCAA history to record two triple-doubles in the same season with 23 points/15 boards/11 blocks in a 91-84 win over George Washington. Lasme’s first triple double came against St. Francis when he had 19 points/10 boards/11 blocks. The Minutemen improve to 12-4, 2-0 in conference play.

As if he was waving the white flag, Missouri Coach Mike Anderson exclaimed after an 88-68 loss to Texas, “Send him to the league. He needs to go to the league, man.” Of course he was talking about all-world Long Horn freshman, Kevin Durant who single-handedly dismantled Missouri by dropping 34 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Durant continues to scorch opponents with averages of 23 points and almost 11 boards a game. More on Durant later!


Deforrest Riley-Smith scored 37 points (to go along with 7 boards) to lead Southern University to a 73-62 Southwestern Athletic Conference upset over Jackson State on Monday night. Southern held the nation's leading scorer, Trey Johnson, to 19 points -- 11 below his average. Despite the 9-8 record, Jackson State is a strong contender for the Southwester Athletic Conference title where they now sit at 3-1.

After pulling off a major 91-90 upset at Cincinnati on 11/21, Wofford has taken quite the plunge. After defeating the Bearcats on their home court, Wofford held a 4-1 record and probably felt pretty confident going into the next game. Little did they know that they would lose the next eight games and go 1-10 since. Hopefully their in-conference schedule will help most of those losses came at the hands of strong non-conference oppoenents (at Michigan, at Auburn, at Clemson, at Charlotte including a total of 9 away games).

With a 74-63 loss to Georgia Tech, the Duke Blue Devils fell to 0-2 in ACC play for the first time since 1996 when they lost four straight. For avid Duke fans, these two losses shouldn’t come as a shock as the Devils struggled to beat less superior opponents in Cameron (George Mason, Kent State, San Jose State). This year, teams aren’t as intimidated by the name on the jersey as, outside of Josh McRoberts, the star power is quite frail and have continued to be offensively challenged.

There was a duel Wednesday night among two of the lesser known gunslingers in college basketball. In High Points 115-104 defeat of Virginia Military Academy, Arizona “AZ” Reid had 32 points/13 rebounds while VMI’s combo forward, Reggie Williams dropped 40 points and grabbed 15 rebounds (both game highs). Reid is averaging almost 20 points a contest while Williams averages just over 27. It was the first time High Point eclipsed the century mark in points scored while VMI leads the nation in that category having scored 100 or more points 8 times (surprisingly, they lost four of those games).

Winless watch: IONA; this continues to be my favorite story of the year as the Gaels simply cannot buy a win. In an effort to continue their losing streak, the Gaels did a nice job of allowing MAAC frontrunner, Marist University, to jump out to a 40-26 halftime lead on Tuesday and the rest was history eventually losing by a score of 87-65. The Gaels are now 0-14 on the season and sit in the basement of the MAAC standings at 0-4. Up next should be a sure fire loss to Manhattan tonight.

Weekend Predictions

Creighton at Northern Iowa – Another great MVC matchup where the teams are simply put, just beating up on each other. It’s quite reminiscent of last year’s Big East where the conference record may wind up being a shade over .500. UNI at home.

West Virginia at Marquette – Innovation versus athleticism; WVU’s only two losses came on the road this year and Marquette is looking to patch up a winning streak. WVU will revenge their loss to ND in a tough Big East challenge.

Tennessee at Ohio State – The tests just keep coming for OSU and their diaper dandy’s. They haven’t played a team quite like Tennessee yet, where coach Pearl takes advantage of their lack of size by imploring a frenetic full court press for the entirety of the game. If OSU’s guards can mitigate the pressure and turnovers, they should win the game. I’ll take OSU at home.

Clemson at Maryland - The last of the unbeatens will have to contend with the 6th man and that is the crowd at the Comcast Center. Coming off a disappointing loss to Miami at home, Maryland does not want to be another notch on the belt for the Tigers. A tough game to pick as Clemson continues to shock the world – let’s go Tigers!

UCLA at USC – Both teams stand at 3-1 in the Pac-10 and a win here would propel one of these teams into the top spot. With new facilities and a commitment from arguably the best guard/player in the class of 2007 (O.J. Mayo) USC is a team on the rise and certainly playing like one at 12-4. However, I wouldn’t want to be the team playing UCLA after their heartbreaking defeat to Oregon last weekend. In a tough battle I like the Bruins on the road.

Missouri State at Southern Illinois – Another heavyweight battle in the MVC where Missou St., tops in the conference at 4-1 look to hand the Saluki’s their third straight loss. The Salukis have yet to lose a game at home this year and that streak should continue.

Washington at Cal – Washington is just 1-4 in their past 5 games, however the Pac-10 is no joke as their losses have come at the hands of USC, Arizona, UCLA and Stanford. Cal features a solid freshman in Ryan Anderson who leads the team in points (17+) and rebounds (8+), but with 6-11 Center DeVon Hardin out with the injury bug, the front line of the Huskies should dominate.

Georgetown at Pitt – this should be a class Big East brawl featuring great defensive intensity and minimal easy buckets. After two tough losses at Wisconsin and at Oklahoma State, Pitt has won five straight and should make it six at home.

Oregon at Arizona – This should be one of the more “fun” games to watch this weekend as both teams look to push the ball when possible and both feature 5 players scoring in double figures. Arizona’s starting five are impressive enough to take them to Atlanta, but the question is do they have enough depth at each position to the give the starts a breather. Some say they rather be lucky than good and Oregon has certainly had some luck their side this year, however they’ll have no such luck Tucson.

Quips, Quarrels, Querulous Inquiries

Not too long after Monday’s blog, I started to second guess some of the amendments as to my thoughts on this year’s player of the year. When you think of the players that were listed, I couldn’t convince myself that any of those players were necessarily “carrying” their team. In essence, a great “team” feature’s a cohesive unit playing as one where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Players such as Noah, Hansbrough, Tucker and Fazekas have certainly shouldered the load several times for each of their teams, however they are each part of a larger system that helps their respective teams succeed. Each of these players, maybe aside from Tucker, have complimentary players that can help bail a team out when the star is struggling (Noah has Horford and Brewer, Hansbrough has Brandon Wright and a slew of others, and Fazekas has Marcelus Kemp).

The other commonality amongst these candidates is their experience, all of the players considered front runners for POY are made up of upperclassmen with the exception of Hansbrough. With that said, I’m sure we all remember someone named Carmelo Anthony who as a freshman lead Syracuse to a National Championship not so long ago and racked up a few POY awards that same year. Well, not to say this candidate will do the same, but what about Texas all-world freshman, Kevin Durant?

The numbers for the 6-9 guard/forward are staggering as he’s averaging 23.4 points and 10.9 rebounds a game (he leads the Big 12 in scoring and rebounding). He’s doing this while shooting 50% from the field including 40% from behind the arc and 85% from the charity stripe. He has scored in double figures in every game this season including 11 games of 20 or more points. He’s also notched 9 double-doubles and two games with 9 rebounds.

In his last two games Durant was unstoppable:

In a 102-78 win over Colorado, Durant tied a Texas and Big 12 scoring records with 37 points hitting on 13-23 FG’s and 5-7 from three. He also added a game high 16 rebounds including 7 offensive.
Texas blew out Missouri 88-86 as the Tigers had no way of keeping him from scoring from just about anywhere on the court. He hit 10 of 14 shots, two 3-pointers and was 12-of-13 on free throws giving him a total of 34 points. He also grabbed 13 rebounds.

Durant has certainly put Texas on his back considering out of the top seven players playing major minutes for the Longhorns, five of them are freshman, yet they stand at 2-0 in conference play and 12-3 overall. I know the season is still incredibly young and the Longhorns have yet to play the likes of Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M, but consider the possibilities if Durant AND Texas continue at this pace; the voters will have to consider Durant for player of the year.

Unfortunately for us most expect Durant to jump to the NBA after one season. For now, he remains a defender's nightmare in a conference that might have hoped for a Texas drop-off after the Longhorns lost all five starters from last season's co-championship team.


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