Rob Carpentier's "Seven Day Stretch" is a whirlwind tour around every corner of college basketball nation:
Seven Day Savior (Team): Duquesne Dukes
I know that the Dukes aren’t the popular pick for Team of the Week, but this is a program that has been down for so long it’s hard to remember when it’s been up. The Dukes began last week by losing in overtime to a mediocre St. Louis squad, but then came the weekend and the wire-to-wire victory over top ten-ranked Xavier. It was the biggest win that Duquesne has had in probably 30 years. The Dukes sit at 15-7 overall and 6-3 in the Atlantic 10. These are heady days for the “other” school in Pittsburgh. Last year, they had a winning season for the first time in 14 years. And this year they are a dark horse to win the A-10 conference tournament, (which they’ll have to do to make the NCAAs), and are almost certainly going to be involved in some postseason tournament. Led by senior Aaron Jackson and sophomores Damian Saunders and Bill Clark, all averaging in double figures, not only does this season look to be magical for the Dukes, but the future looks bright as well. As for the now, the schedule sets up well for Duquesne to potentially earn a top two or three seed in the A-10 tournament, and then, look out.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Ryan Tillema, Wisconsin-Green Bay
UWGB was the first Horizon League team to knock off Butler and it didn’t come as a surprise to those who know the conference. That’s because the Phoenix have perhaps the Horizon’s best player in senior swingman Tillema. The 6’8” Tillema scored 21 points in the victory over the Bulldogs which included making 10-12 from the free throw line. For the season, Tillema is averaging 16.9 PPG, based primarily on his 43% shooting from behind the three point line. Impressively, he scores all those points in just 24.8 minutes per game. More than that he brings a real grit to the floor and gives the Phoenix a real chance to win the conference tournament. He and UWGB did play Butler very close at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse so they have the ability to defeat the Bulldogs in Indianapolis, which, barring something strange is where Green Bay will have to go to win the conference title in March.
Game of the Week (The one you’ve already heard about): UCLA at Arizona State
Yeah, Duke faces Carolina on Wednesday and Pitt travels to Connecticut next Monday, but those are games involving teams that are locked in to the NCAA Tournament. The Big East and the ACC are widely considered the best conferences in the nation this year. The Pac-10 is not. That’s why this battle of the two preseason favorites in the pac-10 is huge. The Bruins are shooting for their fourth straight regular season crown while ASU is trying to gain a game on UCLA and Washington. ASU has arguably the best player in the country, let alone the Pac-10 in sophomore James Harden, but UCLA plays some of the best team defense in college basketball. ASU’s defense is also a tough nut to crack and the Bruins have Darren Collison. Both have excellent coaches; ASU’s Herb Sendek and UCLA’s Ben Howland. The Sun Devils have already defeated the Bruins in Los Angeles but they need the win to validate their season. ASU slid off the bubble at the end of last season and they are starting to play with that kind of inconsistency this year. The Bruins, on the other hand, could essentially wrap up the Pac-10 with a win because Washington, who is a game behind the Bruins, still has to travel to L.A. This is the biggest game out west so far this season.
Game of the Week (The one you DON’T know about): Bethune-Cookman at Morgan State
We have never ventured into the land of the two traditionally black college conferences, and that is an oversight on my part. Some of the most exciting basketball in the country is played in the MEAC and the SWAC. Its not that they have the cleanest games or the most talent, but the fans love their respective schools and they show it, as do the players who leave everything they have on the floor. Some of these schools have coaching legends that sit or have sat on the bench, but none have had bigger years than Morgan State’s Todd Bozeman has had this season. He started resurrecting MSU last year with a bevy of transfers, including Marquise Kately, who is MSU’s best player this year. The resurrection of the program has also been a resurrection of Bozeman’s career. Remember it was he who was found guilty of some serious NCAA violations while at California. But the man can coach and seems to have found his way. He has Morgan State at the top of the MEAC and it appears that only Norfolk State or Bethune-Cookman can stop them. MSU has a two game lead on both and gets Bethune at home on Monday night. If MSU wins the MEAC, and having the top seed in the conference tournament is meaningful, then this might be the most dangerous #16 seed since the Princeton squad that just missed knocking off Georgetown more than a decade ago. They are a formidable team…just ask Maryland.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Arkansas-Little Rock
For the last few years in the Sun Belt Conference, Western Kentucky and South Alabama have dueled for dominance. This season’s Hilltoppers are still at the, forgive the pun, top of the hill, while USA has fallen off. The team that is truly challenging WKU’s supremacy this season is UALR. The Trojans used to have decent success in both the Sun Belt and the postseason, but it’s been since 1990 that the Trojans have been to the NCAAs. That’s a long drought. They may have the firepower to go dancing this season. They are tied with WKU for the best record in the Sun Belt, but, more importantly, the Trojans have run away with the Sun Belt’s western division. This is important because they will be one of the two #1 seeds come conference tourney time. The Trojans have already defeated Creighton and barely lost to Memphis. They have four players who average in double figures, led by junior guard Steven Moore. The thing that makes the Trojans stand apart from the rest of their Sun Belt brethren is that they by far and away are the only team that can win consistently on the road. They have an impressive 8-3 road record and that will count for something when conference tournament play begins.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Brey has already been on the Hot Seat this season and he was one of my choices to be on the Hot Seat as the season began, and now I think his seat is as hot as Dennis Felton’s and Mike Gottfried’s were two weeks ago…and they’ve since been removed from their respective positions. After Notre Dame’s crushing defeat this past weekend at UCLA, (the Bruins won by 26 and the score was in no way indicative of how badly the Irish got beat), the Irish sit at 12-10 overall and 3-7 in the Big East. This was a team that was supposed to challenge in the Big East for the conference crown and had a realistic shot at the Final Four. I said before the season that Brey, whose teams have tended to play below their talent level, didn’t get a big season out of his squad, then he would be gone. Well, his team has quit on him, (that’s obvious), and there is talk of dissention in the locker room over the amount of touches one player gets and another doesn’t. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who studies college hoops. The Irish are very unathletic and they had major defensive issues at the end of last season. It would take a minor miracle for Brey to survive this season and quite frankly I think Felton and Gottfried have a better chance of regaining their former jobs than Notre Dame does of going on a huge winning streak.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Rivalry Week
Am I the only one who thinks that ESPN has gotten terribly excessive with its pronouncements of “judgment week” and “throwdown week” and “??? week”? This week its “rivalry week”. Why? Because Duke plays UNC, (as if that’s not overblown by ESPN anyway)? On Monday night I saw ESPN tout Kansas/Missouri as a huge traditional rivalry game. Obviously someone forgot to tell ESPN’s sports information department that Kansas/Oklahoma State goes back much farther and that even the Jayhawks’ games with Texas have been the real rivalry recently. On Wednesday we get to see the renewal of the great “rivalry” game of Marquette versus Villanova…huh?!? If ESPN really wanted a true “rivalry week”, they would have games like Georgetown/Syracuse, (oh, wait, they do), and Michigan/Michigan State, (…they have that, too). Wait, ESPN might be on to something!!! Seriously, the games this coming week have some serious name power to them even if some of the teams, (are you listening Hoyas), aren’t that good right now. But let’s keep in mind that the idea of “rivalry” games is really on for football, not hoops. The big rivalry out west is UCLA/USC, but that isn’t really a hoops rivalry. Michigan and Ohio State? That’s clearly a football rivalry. Same with Auburn/Alabama, Clemson/South Carolina and Yale/Harvard…wait, the Elis and the Crimson don’t like each other in ANYTHING. The point is, college basketball is about the Big Dance and the games leading up to that point. “Rivalry week”, is just another week on the road to the Final Four…hooray for college basketball!
I will be on the Papa Joe Chevalier show, based and syndicated out of Las Vegas, every Tuesday around 5:30 CST. It would be great to get some listener support, whether you agree with me or not.