Steamin’ towards March

Purdue F JaJuan Johnson has been outstanding this season

Last month, it looked like Ohio St was going to win the Big Ten championship in a landslide. Now the Purdue Boilermakers are making their claim for a piece of that title.

Some wrote the Boilermakers off after Robbie Hummel suffered another torn ACL. However, there was still plenty of talent left in the cupboard in West Lafayette, Ind.

JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have been outstanding for the Boilermakers averaging 20.4 and 18.5 points per game respectively. They have more than picked up the slack for Hummel and look like they’re positioning themselves for a deep run this March.

The Boilers are ending the season with two very winnable games at home against Illinois and on the road at Iowa. If Wisconsin can manage to upset Ohio St on Sunday, they can possibly claim a share of the Big Ten title and an outstanding chance for a No. 1 seed.

No Stock Report this week as we preview some mid-major conference tournaments.

BIG SOUTH: This one is hard to call. Coastal Carolina was cruising before an injury to Kierre Greenwood and a suspension to Desmond Holloway derailed its dreams. Now head coach Cliff Ellis is hiring lawyers in response to media reports about the state of his program. It doesn’t smell like a team ready to claim a NCAA bid. It’s sad to see, but I don’t see Coastal getting past the semi-finals. In the Chanticleers place will be the Liberty Flames.

OHIO VALLEY: Anybody who doesn’t want to see Murray St and Morehead St duke it out one more time doesn’t like college basketball. Murray St is a squad that I thought would be in position for an at-large bid this season, but the Racers struggled against their ramped up schedule. Meanwhile, Morehead St has one of the best players in the nation in Kenneth Faried, the NCAA all-time rebounding leader. I expect the two to meet again in the finals with Murray St coming out on top.

ATLANTIC SUN: Belmont has been in complete control of the Atlantic Sun the entire year. The Bruins have lost four games all year and only one of those came in league play. This team has been one of the dominant programs in the Atlantic Sun since it joined the league and this year reinforced that. There’s nothing indicating any team other than Belmont has a chance. The Bruins are going dancing.

HORIZON LEAGUE: This will be one of the more competitive conference tournaments in all of college basketball. Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Butler and Cleveland St tied for the league title at 13-5 with Valparaiso finishing in fourth at 12-6. In fact, only 3 games separate first and sixth place. This is pretty much a toss up, but you have to go with the experience of the underachieving Butler Bulldogs to return to the NCAA tournament.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Washington St, Baylor, Richmond, Alabama
Last Four Out: Memphis, Butler, Penn St, California

Good for Games through 2/27

SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas16.McNeese St/Texas Southern Tulsa
8.Tennessee9.Gonzaga
5.Xavier12.Missouri St Tucson
4.Connecticut13.Princeton
6.Villanova11.Washington Washington, D.C.
3.Wisconsin14.Bucknell
7.Missouri10.Virginia Tech Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Murray St
SOUTHEAST
1.Purdue16.Long Island Chicago
8.Utah St9.Marquette
5.Georgetown12.Colorado Tampa
4.Florida13.Belmont
6.Texas A&M11.Alabama/Washington St Washington, D.C.
3.Syracuse14.Wisconsin-Milwaukee
7.UNLV10.Michigan St Charlotte
2.Duke15.Vermont
WEST
1.BYU16.Coastal Carolina Denver
8.Temple9.Old Dominion
5.Vanderbilt12.UAB Tampa
4.St. John’s13.Oakland
6.Kansas St11.St. Mary’s Charlotte
3.North Carolina14.Fairfield
7.UCLA10.Georgia Cleveland
2.Pittsburgh15.Long Beach St
EAST
1.Ohio St16.Northern Colorado/Bethune-Cookman Cleveland
8.West Virginia9.Florida St
5.Kentucky12.Richmond/Baylor Tucson
4.San Diego St13.Charleston
6.Arizona11.Illinois Denver
3.Louisville14.Kent St
7.George Mason10.Cincinnati Tulsa
2.Texas15.Florida Atlantic

In Graphical Form

Swamp Things

Florida point guard Erving Walker does everything for the Gators

After a slow start to the season, the Florida Gators have distanced themselves from the pack in the SEC East. Tied for the overall lead in the league, they have easily been the most impressive team thus far in the SEC.

Billy Donovan seems to finally getting his program back the level it enjoyed when it won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. He’s getting a balanced attack that is proving a difficult task for opponents to guard.

Erving Walker leads the team with 14.8 points per game, but gets plenty of help from Kenny Boynton, Vernon Macklin and Chandler Parsons who score about 35 points per game together. They’re an experienced group that has been through the rigors of the SEC before and want to return the program to glory.

Despite the success though, now is not the time for the Gators to rest on their laurels. Their final four games of the season all look to challenge their stranglehold on the standings. Home games against Georgia and Alabama along with trips to Kentucky and Vanderbilt will test the Gators. Time to see how bad the Gators’ bite is.

Stock Up: St. John’s. About 3 weeks ago, the Red Storm was the quintessential bubble team. Now, it looks like the only way it doesn’t make the NCAA tournament is if its canceled. St. John’s has beaten Duke, Georgetown, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut. At this point, it looks like they may be just playing for seeding now.

Stock Down: Missouri Valley Conference. The MVC’s showing in BracketBusters this weekend was very dissapointing. The conference did harbor some hopes to be a multiple bid league before the weekend, but after its three best teams lost in national TV games, those hopes are dashed. I’m used to seeing this as one of the best mid-major leagues, but it is truly a down year in the Valley.

Stock Up: Cliff Ellis. Here is a man in charge of a team that won the regular season title in the Big South last season, but was upset in the conference tournament. His Coastal Carolina squad is dominating the regular season again, but lost it’s starting point guard to a torn knee ligament. Then it found out leading scorer Desmond Holloway was suspended for a violation of NCAA rules. Ellis didn’t wallow in pity, he just got his team prepared to go out and beat North Carolina Central by 35 points. He continues to do a hell of a job with that program.

Stock Down: Minnesota. Gopher fans are seeing why Wildcat fans ran Tubby Smith out of Kentucky. A promising season is now on the verge of disaster as the Gophers have lost five of their last six. The Gophers face the real possibility of missing the dance altogether – possibly putting Smith on the hot seat. That’s something no one saw coming.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Memphis, Virginia Commonwealth, Boston College, Alabama
Last Four Out: Richmond, Butler, Colorado St, Virginia Tech

Good for Games through 2/20

SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas16.McNeese St/Morgan St Tulsa
8.Utah St9.Old Dominion
5.Arizona12.Alabama/Memphis Tampa
4.Connecticut13.Princeton
6.Syracuse11.Nebraska Tampa
3.Florida14.Bucknell
7.Florida St10.St. Mary’s Chicago
2.Purdue15.Miami(Oh)
WEST
1.Pittsburgh16.Montana Cleveland
8.UNLV9.Washington
5.Missouri12.Boston College/VCU Denver
4.Wisconsin13.Missouri St
6.Xavier11.Minnesota Washington, D.C.
3.Villanova14.Belmont
7.St. John’s10.Tennessee Tulsa
2.Texas15.Long Beach St
SOUTHEAST
1.Ohio St16.Vermont Cleveland
8.Kansas St9.Georgia
5.North Carolina12.Cleveland St Washington, D.C.
4.Louisville13.Oakland
6.Kentucky11.Illinois Charlotte
3.Georgetown14.Morehead St
7.George Mason10.Marquette Denver
2.BYU15.Florida Atlantic
EAST
1.Duke16.Long Island/Texas Southern Charlotte
8.UCLA9.Cincinnati
5.Texas A&M12.UTEP Tucson
4.Vanderbilt13.Charleston
6.Temple11.Gonzaga Chicago
3.Notre Dame14.Fairfield
7.West Virginia10.Michigan St Tucson
2.San Diego st15.Coastal Carolina

In Graphical Form

Weekend Bracket 2/19-2/20

Last Four In: Michigan St, Marquette, Gonzaga, Alabama
Last Four Out: Virginia Commonwealth, Butler, Richmond, UAB

Good for Games through 2/18

SOUTHWEST
1.Texas16.Long Beach St/Texas St Tulsa
8.Washington9.Memphis
5.North Carolina12.Gonzaga/Marquette Denver
4.Wisconsin13.Princeton
6.Kentucky11.Boston College Charlotte
3.Georgetown14.Miami(Oh)
7.St. John’s10.Utah St Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Bucknell
WEST
1.Kansas16.Vermont Tulsa
8.UNLV9.West Virginia
5.Xavier12.Alabama/Michigan St Washington, D.C.
4.Louisville13.Oakland
6.Syracuse11.Baylor Chicago
3.Purdue14.Belmont
7.George Mason10.Illinois Charlotte
2.Duke15.Fairfield
SOUTHEAST
1.Pittsburgh16.Hampton Cleveland
8.Kansas St9.Old Dominion
5.Arizona12.Minnesota Tampa
4.Vanderbilt13.Cleveland St
6.Missouri11.Georgia Washington, D.C.
3.Villanova14.Montana
7.Florida St10.St. Mary’s Denver
2.BYU15.Florida Atlantic
EAST
1.Ohio St16.Long Island/Texas Southern Cleveland
8.Tennessee9.Cincinnati
5.Texas A&M12.Missouri St Tucson
4.Connecticut13.Charleston
6.Temple11.Virginia Tech Tampa
3.Florida14.Morehead St
7.UCLA10.Colorado St Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Coastal Carolina

In Graphical Form

Published in: on February 19, 2011 at 9:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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Comeback ‘Cats

Arizona Coach Sean Miller has the Wildcats back in the spotlight

The return to prominence of Arizona has been remarkable under second-year coach Sean Miller. The Wildcats, who were thought to have fringe NCAA Tournament chances, are now almost at lock status with a high seed.

Miller came to Arizona after a successful run at Xavier. He kept that program afloat after replacing Thad Matta, and now has Arizona back on top in the Pac-10 after years of turmoil at the coaching position.

The trouble can be traced back to the beginning of the 2007-2008 season when it was announced that legendary coach Lute Olson was taking a leave of absence from coaching for the season. Journeyman coach Kevin O’Neill replaced Olson on what he believed to be a promise that he’d be Olson’s successor.

That season, despite great talent, the Wildcats struggled. At a postseason press conference, Olson became very agitated with reporters and announced that O’Neill would not be returning to coach at Arizona in any capacity.

Olson was then set to return to the bench, but just before the season began, he abruptly retired; citing health concerns. Russ Pennell coached another Wildcat squad that barely made the tournament, but parlayed their selection to the Sweet 16.

Enter Miller. Anyone who knows college basketball knows that he was going to turn this program back around. He’s one of the best young coaches in the game and has great contacts.

Arizona is back and soon, so will the Pac-(12)10.

Stock Up: Princeton. The first-place team in the Ivy League looks poised to reclaim its dominant position as the class of the conference. Coach Sydney Johnson’s Tigers have performed very admirably for team out of the Ivy – already recording four RPI top-100 wins. It’s already beaten it’s primary challenger, Harvard, at home with a return trip set for later in the season. If this keeps up, the Tigers may be heading for a pretty nice seed in the tournament.

Stock Down: Maryland. Get ready to hear Gary Williams complain about more NCAA tournament berths for the ACC because his team didn’t get the job done on the court. Maryland has had golden opportunities to get quality wins, but just haven’t been able to do so. There’s no weight to Williams’ argument if he even has one this season. The Terrapins are just going to have to win the ACC tournament to get in.

Stock Up: Texas. Could this be the best team in the Country? It seems the chemistry problems that plagued last season’s uber-talented Longhorn squad are long gone. Rick Barnes has found a way to get his guys to play certain roles. It also doesn’t hurt to have a guy like Jordan Hamilton, who is one of the best players in the nation. Texas seems poised for a Final Four run reminiscent of its 2003 team.

Stock Down: Michigan St. I don’t like this team any more than Tom Izzo does. This is not the way Michigan St plays basketball. The Spartans are always tough and rugged. They kill teams on the glass and play in your face defense. This team lacks all that toughness and it’s very surprising. This is a veteran group that many saw as the favorite to win the national championship. At this point, this team might have to set its sights on winning the NIT.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Gonzaga, Alabama, Memphis, Cincinnati
Last Four Out: Virginia Commonwealth, Baylor, Virginia Tech, New Mexico

Good for Games through 2/14

SOUTHWEST

1.Texas16.Long Beach St/McNeese St Tulsa
8.Washington9.Minnesota
5.North Carolina12.Memphis/Alabama Washington, D.C.
4.Villanova13.Princeton
6.Kentucky11.Michigan St Charlotte
3.Georgetown14.Kent St
7.St. John’s10.Utah St Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Bucknell
WEST
1.Kansas16.Hampton Tulsa
8.Tennessee9.West Virginia
5.Xavier12.Boston College Tampa
4.Louisville13.Coastal Carolina
6.Missouri11.Colorado St Washington, D.C.
3.Purdue14.Belmont
7.St. Mary’s10.Marquette Charlotte
2.Duke15.Vermont
SOUTHEAST
1.Pittsburgh16.Murray St Cleveland
8.Kansas St9.Old Dominion
5.Arizona12.Cincinnati/Gonzaga Denver
4.Vanderbilt13.Valparaiso
6.Syracuse11.Richmond Chicago
3.Wisconsin14.Oakland
7.Florida St10.Georgia Denver
2.BYU15.Fairfield
EAST
1.Ohio St16.Long Island/Texas Southern Cleveland
8.George Mason9.UNLV
5.Texas A&M12.Missouri St Tucson
4.Connecticut13.Charleston
6.Temple11.UTEP Tampa
3.Florida14.Montana
7.UCLA10.Illinois Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Florida Atlantic

In Graphical Form

Irish Eyes

Notre Dame Guard Bens Hansbrough

Not many teams around the country have been as pleasant a surprise as Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have gotten off to a great start this season led by seniors Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis.

The Irish have already gone to Orlando and won the Old Spice Classic taking out Georgia and Wisconsin on its way to the title. In addition to that, it has also dispatched of Georgetown, Connecticut and Pittsburgh in Big East play.

The reason why Notre Dame has been so successful however is because of shift in philosophy. Towards the end of last season coach Mike Brey, prompted by an injury to star forward Luke Harangody, changed his team’s style of play from fast-paced to a more methodical or “burn” offense. It’s an offense that the talent he has thrives on.

Hansbrough is surprisingly effective off the dribble along with being a great shooter while Abromaitis is a matchup nightmare with his size and ability to step outside and knock down jumpers. Throw in the supporting cast of Tyrone Nash, Carleton Scott and Scott Martin and the Irish may realistically be a Final Four contender.

Stock Up: North Carolina. A few weeks ago coach Roy Williams went off on Tarheel fans. Well his team has been going off on Tarheel opponents. After a slow start, the Tarheels have managed to set themselves apart from every ACC team not named Duke. A blowout loss to Georgia Tech almost started a coup in Chapel Hill, but now it looks like this team can challenge for the ACC title.

Stock Down: Wichita St’s quality wins. Where are they? They’re nowhere to be found. Wichita St has played four games against opponents in the RPI top-100 and it’s 0-4 against them all. The Shockers are still living off of preseason expectations, but if they expect that to translate into a postseason berth, they’ll have to sweep Northern Iowa and Missouri St on the road.

Stock Up: Harvard. The Crimson is poised for its first ever NCAA tournament berth with a 4-0 start to Ivy League play. The Crimson may also be poised for an at-large berth as well. Harvard has already taken out Colorado and Boston College this season with its three losses coming to George Mason, Michigan and Connecticut. Traditionally Ivy League teams have been very competitive in March and it looks like this year will be no different.

Stock Down: Kansas St. If you declare that you’re not going to play in the NIT, then you better play like you don’t want to play in the NIT. Jacob Pullen has failed in that regard and the preseason top-5 ranked Wildcats are one of the biggest disappointments in college basketball. There’s no leadership on the floor and now players are defecting from the program. Manhattan is morphing back into the laughing stock of the Big XII.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: New Mexico, George Mason, Georgia, Richmond
Last Four Out: Colorado St, Wichita St, Virginia Tech, Penn St

Good for Games through 1/30

EAST
1.Ohio St16.McNeese St/Bethune-Cookman Cleveland
8.Temple9.Missouri St
5.Syracuse12.Georgia/George Mason Tampa
4.Missouri13.Harvard
6.Florida11.UCLA Washington, DC
3.Villanova14.Bucknell
7.West Virginia10.Michigan St Charlotte
2.Duke15.Belmont
WEST
1.Pittsburgh16.Long Beach St Cleveland
8.Illinois9.Old Dominion
5.North Carolina12.Richmond/New Mexico Tucson
4.Texas A&M13.Oakland
6.Washington11.St. John’s Denver
3.Purdue14.Coastal Carolina
7.Vanderbilt10.Memphis Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Northern Colorado
SOUTHWEST
1.Texas16.Long Island Tulsa
8.Marquette9.UNLV
5.Minnesota12.Washington St Chicago
4.Georgetown13.Charleston
6.Xavier11.Northern Iowa Charlotte
3.Kentucky14.Kent St
7.Utah St10.Boston College Washington, DC
2.Connecticut15.Florida Atlantic
SOUTHEAST
1.Kansas16.Austin Peay/Texas Southern Tulsa
8.Florida St9.Cincinnati
5.Wisconsin12.UAB Tampa
4.Louisville13.Valparaiso
6.Tennessee11.Virginia Commonwealth Denver
3.BYU14.Maine
7.Arizona10.St. Mary’s Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Fairfield

In Graphical Form