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

Heroes in a Half Shell

Jordan Williams in the paint makes Maryland a tough out this March

The Maryland Terrapins, who welcome Duke on Wednesday, are one of the hottest teams in the nation. They’ve won five in-a-row and 11 of 13.

Everyone knows about the guard ACC fans love to hate, Greivis Vasquez, but the revelation for the Terps has been freshman post player, Jordan Williams. Williams is averaging nine points-per-game, but what’s more impressive is the 8.4 rebounds a game. He gives the Terrapins a legitimate presence in the paint that they can rely on in a half-court game.

Gary Williams has been criticized a lot in the Washington, D.C. media and by Terrapin fans, but now is the time for folks to be quiet and give Gary Williams a round of applause for the job he continues to do in College Park. This team is playing hard and playing well and people should thank Gary for that.

We’re forgo the Stock Report this week for conference tournament previews.

BIG SOUTH: For some reason, this might be my favorite low-major conference. Whenever I watch a Big South game, it’s always entertaining. I expect more of the same from the tournament. I killed Coastal Carolina earlier this season for not beating Radford at home. Well, Coastal went traveled to Radford on Valentine’s eve and shut me. At 26-5, it’s Coastal Carolina’s year. Expect the Chanticleers to go dancing for the first time in 17 years.

OHIO VALLEY: On Bracketbuster Saturday, I finally got a glimpse of Murray St and boy was I impressed. They were running through the OVC and took a pretty good Morgan St team apart down the stretch. Then the Racers paid a trip to Morehead St to play the Eagles and had their quest of a perfect league record eliminated. After a disapointing loss in the the OVC semi-finals and the recent loss to Morehead St, expect to see a very motivated Murray St team this week. Motivated for a trip to the Big Dance.

ATLANTIC SUN: It’s hard to find words to describe this season in the Atlantic Sun. The first place team changed weekly it seemed so it was only fitting that there was a four-way tie for first. Lipscomb, Belmont, Jacksonville and Campbell finished with identical 14-6 conference records while East Tennessee St was just a game back at 13-7. No program in the Atlantic Sun knows how to navigate this tournament like Belmont. It had a down year last year but it’s back this season and will make a return to the NCAA Tournament.

HORIZON LEAGUE: Butler completely dominated the Horizon this season. It was the only team to finish with an undefeated league record in conference. The Bulldogs are six games ahead of their closest competitors. There is no reason to believe that someone is going to be able to beat them at home this weekend. Butler will win the Horizon League tournament and make a bubble team somewhere very happy.

This week’s bracket projections:

Last Four In: San Diego St, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Connecticut
Last Four Out: Mississippi St, Virginia Tech, Mississippi, Rhode Island

NCAA Projected Bracket

Meeks Shall Inherit the Court

Kentucky G Jodie Meeks

Kentucky G Jodie Meeks

Dan Issel, Pat Riley, Jamal Mashburn, Antoine Walker, Rex Chapman, Kenny Walker.  He beat all of them the way he beat Tennessee.  He beat all of them the way he beat history.  A college game is on 40 minutes, so to score 54 points in that amount of time is extroardinary.  Of course, Jodie Meeks is proving to be an extroardinary player.

Just think of long history of Kentucky basketball.  The great teams under Rupp and Pitino.  All of the national championships.  All of the All-Americans.  Jodie Meeks 54 points is a number that no one had touched.  The crazy thing is, he’s capable of doing it again.  He’s posted 39, 37, 32 and 46-point games as well this season and is light years ahead of anyone in the SEC player of the year race.  I’ll definitely be watching for the rest of season because he’s going to put up numbers the SEC hasn’t seen in a long time.

Stock Up: Marquette.  Quietly, the Golden Eagles have been going about there business in a workmanlike fashion.  They’ve won eight in a row including a 22-point pasting of a good West Virginia Team last weekend.  Marquette hasn’t gotten into the teeth of it’s Big East schedule yet, but they’ve set themselves up quite nicely.

Stock Down: Maryland.  I feel sorry, but I’m not sure who I feel sorry for.  I could feel sorry for Gary Williams because he looks like he’s working so hard to everything out of his team.  I could feel sorry for the fans because it’s pretty obvious there are players on that roster which shouldn’t be seeing the light of day on an ACC basketball team.  In any case, the Terps have lost three of their last four including a game to Morgan St and blown lead of 17 points to Miami.

George Mason G Cam Long

George Mason G Cam Long

Stock Up: George Mason.  Here come the Patriots again.  Clearly Jim Larranaga has a stranglehold over the CAA now.  He’s definitely making the most out of going to the Final Four.  They’re currently undefeated in conference play with two tough road games coming up at the Northeastern and Virginia Commonwealth.  If they can get past those, we’re looking at an at-large bid for the Patriots.

Stock Down: Missouri Valley.  I’m used to seeing at least one team from the MVC with a strong case for an at-large bid.  Right now, it looks pretty grim with just Illinois St as a possibility and the Redbirds’ case is weak.  Might be time to go back to the drawing board at league headquarters.

This week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: UNLV, Arkansas, BYU, Utah

Last Four Out: USC, Stanford, Texas A&M, Illinois St

This bracket is good for games played through Sunday, January 18, 2009.

SOUTH

1.Wake Forest16.Robert Morris Greensboro, NC

8.Ohio St9.Kentucky

5.West Virginia12.UNLV Portland, OR

4.Texas13.George Mason

6.Florida St11.Villanova Minneapolis, MN

3.Xavier14.Weber St

7.Arizona St10.Oklahoma St Minneapolis, MN

2.Marquette15.Cornell

WEST

1.Pittsburgh16.Alabama St/Western Michigan Dayton, OH

8.Gonzaga9.Utah St

5.Minnesota12.Arkansas Boise, ID

4.Butler13.Long Beach St

6.Florida11.Utah Miami, FL

3.Syracuse14.VMI

7.Baylor10.Michigan Philadelphia, PA

2.North Carolina15.North Dakota St

MIDWEST

1.Connecticut16.East Tennessee St Philadelphia, PA

8.Missouri9.Davidson

5.Purdue12.Siena Boise, ID

4.UCLA13.Western Kentucky

6.Notre Dame11.Wisconsin Miami, FL

3.Clemson14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Dayton10.Tennessee Kansas City, MO

2.Oklahoma15.Austin Peay

EAST

1.Duke16.Morgan St Greensboro, NC

8.Kansas9.Illinois

5.California12.BYU Portland, OR

4.Georgetown13.Northern Iowa

6.St. Mary’s11.Miami(FL) Kansas City, MO

3.Louisville14.American

7.Memphis10.Washington Dayton, OH

2.Michigan St15.Albany

Published in: on January 19, 2009 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Post Holiday Reaction

I hope everyone has been watching basketball over the past week.  We’ve had plenty of great action from the Caribbean to the Hawaiian Islands.  We’ve had some impressive performances and then we’ve had some duds.

Stock Up: Gonzaga.  Never before have I thought a Gonzaga team had a better chance to get to the Final Four than this one.  I am pleasantly surprised by the offensive firepower the Zags have and they’re finally getting it on the defensive end.  If they don’t crack the Final Four this year, they may never do it.

Stock Down: Siena.  This is a team that had aspirations of an At-large berth into the NCAA tournament.  Those aspirations were dead by Friday.  Going 0-3 in Orlando was not what the doctor ordered for the Saints.  With Niagra impressing thus far, an automatic bid doesn’t seem like a sure bet either.

Stock Up: Wake Forest.  The Deamon Deacons won the 76 tournament out West this weekend and that’s quite an accomplishment for this young team.  While, they didn’t necessarily have to play against a loaded field, the win against Baylor was very impressive.  They’ll definitely be in the top 3rd of the ACC this year.

Stock Down: Louisville.  Oh goodness.  Any time the head coach issues a public apology on his website, than you know it’s bad.  I have a bad feeling about Louisville; the kind that says this team will do just enough to make it to the tournament, but won’t reach it’s potential.

Stock Up: Kyle McAlarney.  It doesn’t matter where he’s at on the floor, you HAVE to guard him.  His range is ridiculous.  While Luke Harangody was getting his lunch handed to him by Tyler Hansborough, McAlarney was lighting North Carolina up.  He’s definitely gotten my attention.

Stock Down: Gary Williams.  The natives are restless.  Getting crushed Gonzaga is one thing, we saw what the Zags did to Tennessee, but to get destroyed by your cross-town rival in Georgetown might signal the beginning of the end for Gary.  Now people may want to downplay it, but look at Georgetown’s roster.  They’re killing Maryland in Baltimore and DC.  Gary has to stop that bleeding or he’s going to get run out College Park like Herb Sendek was run out of Raleigh.

First bracket of the year below.  Few thoughts.  I don’t have much to go on.  3-7 games for most teams is way to small of sample to feel comfortable with the bracket, but this is what I do and why not.

SOUTH

1.North Carolina16.Hampton Greensboro, NC

8.Dayton9.Illinois

5.Baylor12.Illinois St Boise, ID

4.Syracuse13.Niagra

6.Wisconsin11.BYU Minneapolis, MN

3.Louisville14.VMI

7.Arizona St10.Nebraska Philadelphia, PA

2.Tennessee15.American

MIDWEST

1.Pittsburgh16.Lamar/Grambling Dayton, OH

8.Florida St9.Washington St

5.Villanova12.George Mason Portland, OR

4.Michigan St13.Long Beach St

6.Davidson11.Minnesota Boise, ID

3.UCLA14.Utah St

7.Marquette10.Rhode Island Kansas City, MO

2.Oklahoma15.Mount St. Mary’s

WEST

1.Duke16.Oakland Greensboro, NC

8.Michigan9.St. Mary’s

5.Georgetown12.Mercer Miami, FL

4.Florida13.Western Kentucky

6.Kansas11.Kentucky Minneapolis, MN

3.Xavier14.Akron

7.Miami(FL)10.Utah Dayton, OH

2.Notre Dame15.Albany

EAST

1.Connecticut16.Cornell Philadelphia, PA

8.Clemson9.California

5.Memphis12.Ohio St Miami, FL

4.Texas13.Butler

6.Wake Forest11.Mississippi Kansas City, MO

3.Purdue14.Jacksonville St

7.Seton Hall10.USC Portland, OR

2.Gonzaga15.Portland St

Published in: on December 2, 2008 at 2:19 am  Comments (3)  
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