Rob Carpentier's "Seven Day Stretch" is a whirlwind tour around every corner of college basketball nation:
Seven Day Savior (Team): Arizona Wildcats
Four weeks ago this team and its record 24 straight years with an NCA invite were left for dead. Since then the Wildcats have rattled off seven straight victories, to not only put themselves back in the running for an NCAA Tourney bid, but for a run at the Pac-10 title. The Wildcats have played progressively better over the past month with the climactic event being this past weekend’s demolition of UCLA, a team that Arizona hasn’t defeated since 2005. Arizona is playing as well as any team in the country because interim Coach Russ Pennell has gotten the Wildcats to play defense like their playing lives depend on it. It is also because Chase Budinger, the perennially underachieving small forward has finally begun to play up to his reputation. The Cats have a potential lottery pick in the post in Jordan Hill and a young man playing way over his head in point guard Nic Wise. The other players know their roles and play them to a tee. The one drawback for the Cats is that they have no depth, but that didn’t seem to matter as they swept the L.A. schools at home for the first time in a while. The post-Lute Olson era in Tucson may eventually be a very rough one, probably starting next year, but for now, talk of the demise of the Arizona program is premature.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Mike Trimboli, Vermont Catamounts
Vermont continues to be the power in the America East Conference and should be many people’s choice to be a first round Cinderella if they make the NCAA Tournament. The Catamounts find a new “go-to” player every year and this year it’s Trimboli, a 6’1 senior. He leads Vermont in scoring at 16 PPG and has scored 17, 17 and 25 points in his last three games, all Vermont wins. He shoots a respectable 46% from the floor, good for a player who is primarily an outside shooter, hits 38% from beyond the arc and is over 80% from the charity stripe. He is also one of the conference leaders in assists. Vermont is tied for first in the A-East with Binghamton, (although Vermont has lost both games to Binghamton), and the Catamounts are poised to get the top seed in the conference tournament, which is important in a conference where the top seed hosts the title game. If Trimboli plays as he did in the three games last week, then the rest of the A-East are going to be watching as Vermont goes to the Big Dance yet again.
Game of the Week (The one you already heard about): Wake Forest at Duke
In the first match-up of these ACC heavyweights Wake won on a last second shot in Winston-Salem. Since that game, in which both teams were ranked in the top 5 in both polls, both the Deacons and the Blue Devils have fallen on hard times. Duke has suffered two blowout losses and teams are beginning to understand how to defend them while Wake has lost a couple of close contests that, quite frankly, they shouldn’t have lost. The key here is whether the young Deacons can handle the Cameron Crazies and Duke’s high pressure man-to-man defense and whether Duke can finally see off an athletic opponent with a better than average inside game. Duke would be a real favorite here if they ran some zone defense, but Coach K is loath to run anything but man. Wake is very young and Duke should be angry after having lost both games last week. This should be fun to watch as both teams are a real threat to North Carolina come ACC Tourney time. As it is, the game is a real toss-up.
Game of the Week (The one you DON'T know about): Butler at Davidson
Okay, so a lot of people probably know about this one because it is the marquee Bracket Buster game. When this first hit the schedule a couple of weeks ago this looked like a fun game between two NCAA-bound squads, but it has since turned into close to a must-win game for both teams. Isn’t that what the Bracket Busters are supposed to be about? Both Davidson and Butler have suffered a tough loss in the last two weeks, (Butler has two), and now aren’t looking quite the sure thing for March. In fact, Butler has taken a real hit in the last 10 days as they lost to a very good Wisconsin-Green Bay squad on the road, but then suffered an embarrassing home loss to Horizon league bottom feeder Loyola (Chicago). Butler has the benefit of playing in a much stronger conference and they have some nice non-conference wins on their resume, but that Loyola loss may prove to be their undoing if they don’t win this game or the Horizon Tournament. Davidson on the other hand has some close losses on their non-conference schedule, including to Oklahoma, but they have beaten no one of note. They could use this game as a buffer in case they don’t win the Southern Conference automatic bid. Davidson has been a bit suspect at home and Butler is very good on the road making this a delicious match-up.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Siena Saints
There are a couple of BCS schools that could be at the top of this list this week, like Missouri and LSU. Both of them are having tremendous seasons and yet few people are talking about them. However I like to reserve this spot for a mid-major squad and the Saints are the second team from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference I have put in this spot this season, (the other being Niagara). The Saints were on national television at the beginning of the season against some big name competition and came up flat. However, Siena had some key injuries in November and December, but they have a complete squad now and they are playing like it. Once they got healthy after the Christmas holiday they started playing like a team on a mission. They’ve only lost twice since January 6; at Kansas, (no shame there), and by 2 at conference foe Rider, (and trust me, Rider is a very difficult place to play). The Kansas laws in doubt in the last minute. The thing about the Saints is that they are blowing opponents out, whether at home or on the road. The Saints are led by four players, each one who might be the best player on the team if not for the other three. Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin all average in double figures and Franklin averages 7.2 RPG. Ryan Rossiter averages just a shade under 10 PPG but pulls down almost 8 boards per game. If the Saints run the table, they may not need to win the MAAC Tournament in order to go dancing. The point is that if thy do make the Big Dance, they will be and should be a popular pick to pull a first round upset.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: NONE…
I’ve seen two coaches who’ve been on this list already shown the door in Alabama’s Mike Gottfried and Georgia’s Dennis Felton. Two more are almost sure to go in Notre Dame’s Mike Brey and Oregon’s Ernie Kent, (in fact, if Kent is retained I’ll eat baby food for a week and sell my house). Even GW’s Karl Hobbs is probably a goner, (I wrote about him two weeks ago), so I thought that this week I’d point out a couple of coaches who are doing a very good job at their respective school. At the top of the list is Arizona’s Russ Pennell. I mentioned what the Cats are doing earlier and it may just be that the interim tag will in fact be removed from his title. How about Trent Johnson at LSU? Here was a team that was almost a unanimous pick to finish at the bottom of the SEC West and yet the Tigers are the only team in the SEC that have probably locked up an NCAA bid. Do you think that Kentucky fans are rethinking their negative stance on Tubby Smith? Minnesota is not a talented team and he has them set up for a berth in the NCAAs, (trust me, I live in Minnesota and when you look at the Gophers’ roster you’d agree with me that Minnesota has no business being in the same area code as an NCAA bid). Cal’s Mike Montgomery has again left a positive mark on the Bay Area with his turn around of a static Golden Bear program that lost its two best players. Finally I’d like to give a shout out to Valparaiso’s Homer Drew who just won his 600th game. Sure the Crusaders are bad this year, but Drew has been a model of class and consistency over his 20 plus years in northwest Indiana.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Pac-10 Officiating
I brought up Pac-10 officials last season, (remember how ASU was “jobbed” in the Pac-10 Tournament last season), but after this week I feel compelled to bring up the officiating in the West Coast’s biggest conference. Arizona State should feel pretty good about its sweep of the L.A. schools last week, but the only thing coming out of those two wins was the talk of two of the most horrendous calls I’ve seen in the last decade considering what the calls were and when in the respective games they took place. Both calls went ASU’s way and both, especially the phantom charge call on UCLA’s Darren Collison, had a great deal to do with the outcome of each game. I don’t want to get caught up in one or two calls because that happens all over the country. My problem is with the massive inconsistency that Pac-10 officiating crews show within the same crew. A well-officiated game isn’t one where all the correct calls are made, but rather where calls on one end of the floor will be called on the other end of the floor. All coaches want is some consistency. Pac-10 officials apparently haven’t heard of that…for a long time. Part of the problem is that the pac-10 doesn’t in any way critique its officials. The conference considers officials to be independent contractors and as such they don’t penalize officials when they are clearly below par. Don’t believe me? When is the last time you saw a Pac-10 official, let alone a Pac-10 crew anywhere near the Final Four? The NCAA knows how bad these officials are and hopefully its only a matter of time before the Pac-10 realizes it, too.
Listen to me and my college hoops opinions, whether you agree with me or not, on the Papa Joe Chevalier show at 5:30 PM CST Tuesdays each week.