Saturday, January 6, 2007

Saturday Surprises

This Saturday demonstrated how unpredictable and challenging conference play truly is. Just as we thought we were getting an understanding of the nature of teams, we were thrown for a spin. Saturday was a mix of déjà vu (Virginia Tech at Duke), upsets (Alabama at Arkansas), and unpredictable blowouts (Ohio State at Illinois).

Some of the most notable games include...

No. 1 UCLA 66 at No. 17 Oregon 68: Ducks able to bounce back after losing their first game of the year, earlier this week, right as talk about UCLA running the table spread throughout the country.

Virginia Tech 69 at No. 5 Duke 67 (OT):
Nearly the same story as last year. Duke hit a three pointer in waning seconds, but this year, it’s to tie. Virginia Tech doesn't collapse; they win in sluggish overtime period, stunning the Cameron Crazies.

No. 6 Ohio State 62 at Illinois 44:
Considered the Buckeye's first true Big Ten test, on the road, in one of the hardest places to play in the country. Hardly a game, Illini couldn’t buy a bucket.

No. 7 Arizona 73 at Washington State 77 (OT): Washington State nearly toppled UCLA in their opener, they weren’t about to let the other Pac-10 giant sweep the state of Washington. Pac-10 up for grabs after Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona losses this week, the conference is without an unbeaten.

No. 8 Alabama 61 at Arkansas 88: 11-0 run to begin the game for the Razorbacks, they never looked back, handing Alabama its second loss of the season.

No. 14 Connecticut 49 at No. 19 LSU 66 (non-conference):
Young Huskies who returned only 16% of their scoring from last year(only 1 senior and 1 junior, both walk-ons) couldn't win their first and only non-conference test, rough road ahead in Big East. Big Baby and LSU show they can win against Top 25 teams.

No. 22 Notre Dame 48 at Georgetown 66:
Notre Dame was never able to respond to Georgetown's early run. Blowout defeat will be hard to forget come March, Irish will need to pick it up to compete in the deep Big East. Georgetown shows they can fight and play like they were expected to at the beginning of the year.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The Fall of Inner-State Hierarchies

The first eight weeks of the college basketball season have shown that no result or team is for certain, despite early ravings about teams such as Florida, who had the fortune of returning all five starters from a national championship squad. There have been over ten teams who have been slotted in the Top 5 of the polls; none of these teams have been there all year. More surprisingly though, are the changing tides on a state level. The usual powerhouses have seen their egos crushed at the hands of inner-state rivals and smaller programs.

Take for example the states of Indiana, Iowa, and California. Probably the greatest instance of long-term hierarchies crumbling at the hands of less prestigious schools takes place in the Hoosier State, where the Indiana Hoosiers are no longer the top team. It would be likely to assume that the Hoosiers were finally dethroned by a rival such as Notre Dame or Purdue, but that’s not the case. Actually, Notre Dame and Purdue witnessed first hand what the Hoosiers did; all three were beaten by the Bulldogs of Butler.

A similar trend was seen in fellow Midwest state, Iowa. Both The University of Iowa and Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa during non-conference play. Such defeats of major conference teams at the hands of "lesser teams" just furthers the claim of mid-majors come March.

The case in California seems to be over-shadowed by the fact that UCLA is undefeated. The Bruins success does not defeat the fact that one of the most historic programs, Stanford, and fellow Pac-10 mate, California, both lost to other California schools. Stanford underestimated Santa Clara when the Broncos made the thirty minute trip to play the Cardinals, a trip that resulted in a major win. Likewise, California realized they should stay away from southern California when the Golden Bears fell to San Diego and San Diego State.

This year of NCAA hoops has also seen another peculiar and more common occurrence; major programs are being ranked behind smaller programs from the same state. Until recent troubles, Wichita State was looking down on the big dog Kansas and even currently, Southern Illinois is ranked higher then the school which their former coach ran off to, Illinois, who just two years ago nearly ran the table.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Week 9: What to Watch For

A list of the can't miss match-ups that are sure to make the headlines in the week to come...

Indiana at No. 6 Ohio State, Tuesday: Can Ohio State bounce back after the Florida blowout, when it counts most during conference play?

No. 18 Clemson at Florida State, Wednesday:
ACC match-ups will show if undefeated Clemson is the real deal, Florida State is far more then a walk in the park, just ask Florida.

USC at No. 17 Oregon, Thursday: A true test to see if either of these teams might be able to compete for a championship in the powerhouse Pac-10.

No. 1 UCLA at No.17 Oregon, Saturday: A battle amongst two possible unbeatens, as well as a game that is sure to be remembered come early March.

No.14 Connecticut at No.19 LSU, Saturday: Both teams are in dire need of a marquee non-conference win, this will be their last shot.

Syracuse at No. 21 Marquette
, Sunday: With a Connecticut team that fell in their Big East opener and a Pittsburg squad that has lost their only two major games, the Big East seems up for grabs and both of these teams are capable of challenging.

Texas Tech Win Gives Knight Record

After a tough loss to UNLV (13-2) on December 28th, Bob Knight's Texas Tech Red Raiders (11-4) got the job done at home, giving Knight his historical 880th career win as a coach, surpassing Dean Smith's Record.

The Red Raiders got off to a fast start, quickly building a 20 point lead, but New Mexico (11-4) was far from out of it. Texas Tech saw its lead drop to 13 at the half and continuously decrease over the course of the second half. About 10 minuets into the second half, the Lobos took the lead and kept it until just over 2 minutes to play. With 2:10 remaining, Jarrius Jackson hit a 3-point basket which would prove to be the difference in a 70-68 game.

After the game, Knight still seemed focused on the game and the fact that his team could have blown a game in which they led by 20 points, if a J.R. Giddens 3-pointer with 11 ticks remaining had gone in. "This really, as I've said all along, has absolutely nothing to do with this record," Knight claimed after the buzzer had sounded, "I'm very, very disappointed with how we played in the second half.... If anything I'm glad this is over with." With a career scarred by negative publicity, it is nice for once to have something to congratulate Coach Knight about, we can only expect for the new record to grow as Texas Tech enters Big 12 play.

2006 Surprise - Notre Dame...But Still No Respect

As we enter the BCS Bowl week, there are still complaints echoing throughout the country concerning the possibility that the Fighting Irish are only playing Wednesday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, despite having no marquee wins, because they are Notre Dame; a university with one of the most prestigious football programs in the country, surrounded by a legacy of success and talent. The basketball program, at the same university, has been shown none of this respect, regardless of how they have played on the court.

Entering the ’06-‘07 season, it is doubtful that any lay college basketball fan could name Notre Dame's starting lineup, or even there best player(s). Even the so called experts weren't aware of the team's talent; the Irish did not receive a single vote in any of the major top 25 polls. During the non-conference season, Notre Dame (12-1) has more than shown that they deserve to be named along with top ranked teams such as Connecticut and Pittsburg, who also come from the powerful Big East. Notre Dame is averaging almost 89 ppg. and easily handled No. 5 Alabama (12-1) by 14 points, as well as handed No. 19 Maryland (13-2) their first lose, on the Terps home court. Unlike teams such as No. 9 Kansas (12-2), who lost to no name schools such as Oral Roberts (7-7), Notre Dame fell by a bucket to a very good Butler (13-1) squad, now ranked 13th, in only the Irish’s second game of the season; a game in which Notre Dame was still in search of their identity.

Despite such a resume, the Fighting Irish are only just now rising in the ranks. It will be interesting to see if Notre Dame can continue their eleven game win streak when conference play begins and if they will receive the recognition that they deserve.