A lot of talk on CHN's message board this week about who would win the Josh Heytvelt-Tyler Hansbrough battle on Thanksgiving eve. In the end, it was Heytvelt's 19 and 8 boards which accounted for the difference in Gonzaga's big win over #2 ranked North Carolina. For Hansbrough, his 7 points was the 2nd lowest ouput of his career, and the first time he's scored under double digits since last December 3rd. By my count, this is 27 games in a row.. and in fact Hansbrough never had less than 13 in any of those 27. More important than Hansbrough's struggles (you know he'll start another impressive streak) is Gonzaga's statement to the basketball world that they still matter. All the talk of the young guns in Carolina, Duke, and other places.. but the Zags are basically a sophomore and freshman dominated team outside of Raivio.
Perhaps Mark Few's team was inspired by Butler's upset of #23 Tennessee. The Bulldogs have now beaten Notre Dame, Indiana, and Tennesse. What's amazing is that the Bulldogs weren't supposed to even be a major contender in the Horizon League. We had Butler #2 in our preseason ranking, but most had them 3rd or 4th and others had them as low as 6th. Major props (do people still use that term?) to point guard Mike Green who is making the difference for Todd Lickliter. The Towson transfer is averaging 13 points and 5 assists per game and adding the spark Butler lacked last year.
(By the way, Alaska Anchorage is up 40-38 over LMU in the Great Alaska Shootout right now. Would love to see them pull off the upset..)
Good wins for UCLA and Memphis out in Maui. The Bruins were easily the class of this tournament, and are looking like a Final Four contender once again. More intriguing though is John Calipari's crew which needs all the wins they can get early on. When you think of Calipari, you think of big name recruits and athletes and guys that are NBA locks. But with this crew, you have a deep and talented team, yet no names that the general public knows. Douglas-Roberts, Dozier, Dorsey, Anderson, Hunt (not to be confused with UNLV guard Anderson Hunt) are all solid if not spectacular contributors. It is the play of freshman guard Willie Kemp though that can put the Tigers over the edge.
VMI might not be good.. but at least they're making things fun. The Keydets lost 89-87 to James Madison last night, but are coming off games of 144, 156, and 104. Granted two of those games weren't against D1 teams, but their most impressive scoring total might actually be their lowest. VMI lost 73-68 against Princeton. Knowing the way Princeton (who beat Manhattan 57-43 last night) plays, the Tigers 73 points in that game might be their highest total of the season.
The name Rob McKiver might not mean much outside of Houston or pockets of New England, but the 6-3 guard has been lighting it up for the Cougars. Tom Penders (like VMI above) loves to score points, and McKiver has been a perfect fit. He spent a lackluster year at Providence before transferring, but is now averaging 28 pppg after three games. Houston lost Lanny Smith to a toe injury in the off-season and this was thought to be a blow to their tournament chances. But the emergence of McKiver ensures the Cougars, now 3-0 after beating Grambling, will be in the thick of the who can finish 2nd to Memphis in the CUSA sweepstakes.
(UAA is now down 49-44 with 10 minutes to go.. upset chances are dwindling.)
McKiver's old team, Providence, got a nice win over formerly ranked Boston College. BC's loss is just one of many ACC losses this week that are making people question ESPN's favorite league. UNC fell to Gonzaga, BC to Providence (and Vermont earlier), and Georgia Tech to UCLA last night. The day before it was Duke losing against Marquette. These were supposed to be the league's top 4 teams. You can look at these losses as showing the ACC is overrated, or you can look at it as the ACC top teams are actually playing good competition unlike other leagues. Sure, Florida and LSU are 7-0, but they've played a bunch of joke cupcakes on their own floor. Alabama's beat Xavier and Iowa, but those unranked teams are no better (and probably less impressive) than Duke's win over Air Force. In the Big East, Syracuse and UCONN have played virtual nobodies on their home floors, and in the Big Ten Ohio State has yet to beat a half-decent team on their home court. All we've learned about the ACC's top teams, as we've learned about MSU, Texas, Kentucky, Memphis and others that have actually played good opponents as well is that if you play good teams.. you'll occassionaly lose. The only top BCS team that has played good teams away from home and remains unblemished is UCLA.. which is why they have to be considered the most impressive team in the country so far.
(Anchorage is still down 5.. with 7 minutes to go. Unfortunately, my bed awaits to dream of Turkey..)