Bad news hit West Lafayette and Columbia on Thursday afternoon, with Purdue's Robbie Hummel and Missouri's Justin Safford both going down for the remainder of the season with torn ACLs. The more important ligament on a national level: clearly that would be Hummel's, and his injury could be the difference in seed lines for the Boilermakers. Many have used Kenyon Martin's broken leg back in 2000 as the comparison to Purdue losing Hummel, but that's a bit off when you further examine the cases. In that season Martin was clearly the best player in America, and his injury happened in the Bearcats' first conference tournament game. Of course Cincinnati went on to lose, and with very limited evidence of what the Bearcats could be without the National Player of the Year the selection committee dropped them a seed line.
Cincinnati, out of sorts from losing their best player and not having much time to get used to playing without him, was bounced in the second round by Tulsa. Purdue, on the other hand, will have ample time between now and Selection Sunday to figure this out and it will also help them to still have marquee games on the schedule. The first test: Michigan State at home on Sunday. There have been a lot of statements that Purdue's chances of getting to Indianapolis are shot; despite Hummel's talents it's unfair to rush to such a judgement without seeing this team play a full game without him. Matt Painter and his staff will look for other players to step up, and if Wednesday's win at Minnesota was any indication maybe Keaton Grant is the man to expand his role.
As for the Tigers, losing their fourth-leading scorer is still a blow that needs to be negotiated with care the remainder of the regular season. Sitting alone in third place, Mike Anderson's team can still count on Kim English, Marcus Denmon and four other players averaging at least 7.5 points per game. Their strength is their balance and that's exactly how they'll make their way towards the NCAA Tournament without Safford. The key: someone else up front will need to step up. Steve Moore saw 21 minutes of action in the blowout of Colorado but it would be more logical to ask of more from Laurence Bowers and Keith Ramsey. But just like Purdue they've got two weeks to figure the new rotation out before entering conference tournament play. Both losses hurt but it shouldn't mean immediate panic.
Three Key Happenings
1. Morehead State ends Murray State's 17-game win streak; round three in the OVC final? In a collision of lengthy win streaks (Murray State's 17 overall, Morehead State's 16 OVC home game), Terrance Hill hit a three-pointer with 39 seconds remaining to give the defending OVC Tournament champs the lead for good on their way to a 70-65 home win. The win gives the Eagles their second consecutive 20-win season for the first time in school history and a good confidence boost going into next weekend's conference tournament. Kenneth Faried led the way with yet another double-double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
Isaac Miles led the Racers with 18 but the scoring balance, which has been one of Murray's biggest strengths, wasn't present on Thursday night with Danero Thomas scoring fifteen and no one else finishing with more than eight points. B.J. Jenkins had a rough night from the field in making one of eight shot attempts (1-7 3PT) on the night. Could there be a third meeting in the OVC final next week? It's definitely possible but to ignore the likes of Eastern Kentucky (who plays Murray State on Saturday) and Austin Peay would be dangerous to say the least; in the last decade the top two seeds have meet in the final just four times.
2. California takes a definitive step towards their first Pac-10 title in decades. We may finally have clarity in the Pac-10, a conference that while it hasn't impressed in regards to the caliber of the teams it has offered up unpredictable basketball. Mike Mongomery's Golden Bears took full advantage of their opportunity on Thursday night, using a second half run to take care of Arizona 95-71 in Berkeley. Now they sit just one win away from wrapping up a share of their first Pac-10 title in some fifty years. Jerome Randle led four players in double figures with 24 points and Jamal Boykin added another double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The young Wildcats simply couldn't keep up offensively with the Golden Bears, who shot 63% from the field in the second half and 56.7% for the game. Also outrebounding Arizona 34-23, Cal will face a stiffer defensive test in Arizona State on Saturday afternoon. Add in Senior Day and you can understand why a coach may be a little worried. "One of the risks that you run is there's a lot of things going on with Senior Night and these kids and the reality of it is, that if we win that game, we have at least a share of the conference championship," said Coach Montgomery. "When we're good, we play hard, we play together and we're focused on just winning the basketball game (quote courtesy of calbears.com)."
3. Jacksonville (Atlantic Sun) and Wofford (Southern) make moves toward a regular season title. Both teams were involved in important contests in regards to the inside track for their respective conference titles, and home court advantage came in handy for the Dolphins and Terriers. With their 65-52 win over Campbell, Jacksonville clinched at least a share for the A-Sun title with one league game remaining. Travis Cohn and Ben Smith scored fifteen points apiece and Jacksonville scored 17 points off of 21 Campbell turnovers to separate themselves from the Camels. The Dolphins also did a fantastic job of sharing the basketball, assisting on sixteen of their twenty-one baskets.
As for the Terriers, they won their eighth consecutive and 22nd game overall in beating preseason favorite Charleston 74-68 to take a one-game lead in the South Division of the Southern Conference. Noah Dahlman led three Terriers in double figures with 20 points while also grabbing eight rebounds, and as a team Wofford outrebounded the Cougars 41-34 while also holding the visitors to 39.4% shooting from the field. And just like Jacksonville, Wofford did a good job of distributing the basketball, assisting on 15 of their 24 made field goals. Now armed with the top seed in the South Division, the Terriers have locked up a postseason bid by virtue of having the SoCon's best record.
Top Three Games
1. Vanderbilt 96, Georgia 94 (OT) Ten players in this one finished with double figures and Jermaine Beal led the Commodores with 28 points in a comeback win over the Bulldogs in Nashville. Travis Leslie led the Bulldogs with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
2. Wright State 76, Youngstown State 73 Troy Tabler knocked down a three pointer with 0.5 seconds left to save the Raiders on the road. Todd Brown led the victors with 16 points while Vitas Sulskis led the Penguins with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
3. Morehead State 70, Murray State 65 See above.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Adnan Hodzic (Lipscomb) Hodzic led the Bisons to a 74-66 win over Kennesaw State with 24 points and 20 rebounds.
2. F Drew Viney (Loyola Marymount) In the Lions' 72-69 win at San Diego Viney led the way with 35 points and eight rebounds.
3. G Austin Kenon (VMI) Kenon scored 32 points and handed out five assists in the Keydets' 95-85 loss at Charleston Southern.