College Basketball: Seven Day Stretch
Rob Carpentier's "Seven Day Stretch" is a whirlwind tour around every corner of college basketball nation:
Seven Day Savior (Team): Louisville Cardinals
This was a team that, while they weren't exactly left for dead, were certainly playing much worse no more than 10 days ago. Since then the Cardinals of Coach Rick Pitino have beaten both Notre Dame and then #1 Pitt. The Cardinals are starting to commit themselves to defense and are offensively finally taking what the defense gives them. Up until the Notre Dame Game, the Cardinals shot from behind the three point line as if they believed that they were all the second coming of Larry Bird. That wasn't particularly bright for a team that does not have any superlative outside shooters. In many ways that accounted for the losses to Western Kentucky and Minnesota. However, in their past two games, the Cards have focused on defense, rebounding and slashing to the hoop on offense. This is still a team with too many holes to seriously consider them as a Big east title contender, let alone a threat to make the Final Four. But for a week, anyway, Louisville proved they can still, (consistently), run with the big dogs.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Drake Reed; Wes Channels, Austin Peay Governors
This dynamic duo is dominating the Ohio Valley Conference. Reed, 6'5 senior swingman and Channels, a 6'3" guard, are averaging a little over 19 and 17 points respectively. Reed is the power player, shooting over 50% from the floor and leading the team in rebounding with over 7 boards per game. Channels is the finesse player, hitting over 44% from behind the arc. He is also averaging 3 assists per game. Against Tennessee State last week, Channels scored 24 points and Reed chipped in with 19. The Govs haven't beaten anyone of note yet this year, but they played Louisville tough for a while and played Arkansas very tough for the entire game, both on the road. This is the kind of team that can cause some real trouble in the first round or two of the NCAA Tournament. They play in a solid system and they play defense, but the key to the Govs' success has clearly been the play of their inside/outdie combo of Reed and Channels.
Game of the Week (The one you already heard about): Baylor Bears at Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma looks to be the runaway winner of the Big 12 and really have only two more hurdles to clear; Kansas and Baylor. The Sooners have already defeated Texas A&M, Texas and Kansas State and look like a real threat on the national level. Baylor has quietly been running just under the surface of "name" teams this season, even though the Bears are 13-3 and have defeated Providence, Oklahoma State, Arizona State and Washington State, (on the road, mind you, no easy task). Baylor plays the kind of frenetic game that could either lead to a blowout win for Oklahoma or an upset victory for Baylor. The key to this game is which Baylor team shows up on both the defensive end and behind the three point line. Baylor has the ability to shoot themselves in or out of games. That shooting has the added effect of motivating or deflating Baylor's defense; the better they shoot, the better they play on 'D'. This isn't exactly the mark of a championship squad, but it is the mark of a team that can pull off this kind of upset.
Game of the Week (The one you DON'T know about): George Mason Patriots at Northeastern Huskies
Most people remember George Mason from their surprising Final Four run in 2006. Well, the Patriots are back. They are undefeated in the Colonial Athletic Association and have an RPI in the 40's. Northeastern is a bit of a surprise. Other than a close road lose to Hofstra last week, this would be a game of Colonial unbeatens. George Mason comes into the contest at 14-3 while Northeastern is 11-6. The Patriots haven't beaten anyone of not, (their best non-conference win coming against Ohio), and they've only played one game against a team in the RPI top 50, Dayton. That was a close four point loss for GMU. The Huskies, who are in the 70's in the latest RPI, actually have played more teams of note; Michigan, Rhode Island and Memphis were all blowout losses, but NU did beat Providence and Indiana on the road. Northeastern is the home team and they've played much tougher schedule. Frankly, adding to the level of interest in this game, the Huskies have to win this one or they and the rest of the CAA are going to watch George Mason pull away from the rest of the conference and win the CAA title. That is looking like a bigger deal now that other traditional mid-major power conferences, (the Horizon League and the MAC to name two), appear to be one bid conferences come March when dance cards are handed out. Although both teams still have to face VCU, the third member at the top of the CAA, this game will go a long way in determining if the CAA is a one, two or three horse race.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Northern Iowa Panthers
The best mid major conference in the country over the past 10 years has probably been the Missouri Valley Conference. Traditionally the Valley has been a two or three bid league when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. However, this season, the Valley may be a one bid league. The MVC is only the 8th ranked conference in the RPI; the Valley has five teams in the RPI top 100, but the best, Illinois State, is only # 50, and those numbers are going to get worse as the teams in the MVC knock each other off. Enter the surprising Panthers. They have the worst RPI rating of any of the aforementioned Valley squads, yet they sit in first place in the conference at 6-1. Included in those wins were victories at Southern Illinois, (the first time that's happened in more than a decade), at Creighton, (even longer), and at Evansville. When you look at those wins you're shocked to see that UNI's onc conference blemish was at home against lowly Indiana State. The thing that makes the Panthers so formidable is the fact that they have five players that average in double figures in scoring. They are led by sophomore guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who is exceedingly quick and has the ability to go off for 28 points in a game, which he's already done this season. More importantly, however, is the Panthers' ability to defend. Most coaches will tell you that the most important statistic defensively is field goal percentage defense. UNI is holding opponents to 42% from the field, which isn't great, but its really good. Last week the Panthers held Evansville and Drake to a combined 37% from the field...on the road!!! As the season progresses, UNI's defense is getting better. That bodes well for a team that has already won four games on the road against some of the best competition the Valley has to offer.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Its hard to believe that Hewiit had the Ramblin' Wreck in the national title game less that five years ago. Its seems like ancient history in light of Tech's recent woes. Since that remarkable run to the finals, the Jackets have been to the NCAAs only twice. That's not going to cut it in the ACC. They are the only winless team in the league and after they host Boston College this weekend, they don't appear to have any realistically winnable games on their schedule until mid-February. There are definitely more than just a few rumblings coming out of Atlanta that Hewitt may be on the chopping block after this season. He has, perhaps been the victim of his own recruiting success. He definitely has raised expectations because of his ability to bring in talent. He has consistently put together some huge recruiting classes but then has seemingly not done anything with them. Then, as these kids are starting to learn his system and grow, they jump to the NBA, ala Javaris Crittenden and Thaddeus Young. Once again Hewitt's team is being led by two underclassmen, forward Gani Lawal and frosh guard Iman Shumpert and Lawal is a good bet to jump ship after this, his sophomore season. What may save Hewitt past this season is that he has landed the consensus #1 recruit in the country, post player Derrick Favors...again, Hewitt can recruit. For his sake, however, he had better learn to keep these kids around for more than a year or he's going to be out of work.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Officiating Differences
I am a basketball purist and as such I believe that the best officiated games are the ones where you don't even remember who the refs were or the calls tat were made. Granted, too often in today's game I se officials demonstratively making calls as if they were going to be up for some acting award at the end of the season. However, (except for the Pac-10), the major conferences have officials who make the right calls and control a game in a way that allows the players to determine who wins. In the past week I have watched some women's hoops and was singularly impressed bout how fundamentally sound the play of the women was. Granted, women's ball isn't as athletic, (lack of dunks, etc.), as the men's game, but they set better screens and rebound with position compared to their male counterparts. in short, I think the women are more fundamentally sound than the men. That's why its a shame to see games, even at the highest level, be so poorly officiated. It seems that I see more blown calls, (traveling, carrying and over the back to name a few), and phantom calls in the women's games than in the men's. I know that there isn't enough time in the day for the best men's officials to do the best women's games, too, even if they wanted to, but there has to be something better than what I've seen. Let's put it this way; it occurred to me this week that the reason i don't wacth women's ball much is because the officiating is so bad. If I'm thinking that then there re probably more than a few others out there thinking the same thing.