Currently looking to snap a three-game losing streak the University of Connecticut basketball team will tackle their upcoming schedule without head coach Jim Calhoun, who is taking a medical leave of absence. According to a program source of Luke Winn (Sports Illustrated) the leave is stress-related, and in its press release the school stated that there was no connection to either cancer (which Calhoun has had three bouts with) or cardiac issues. Associate head coach George Blaney, who has plenty of coaching experience as both an assistant and a head coach, will take over beginning with tonight's game against St. John's. While the leave is expected by many to be temporary, few expect Coach Calhoun to be on the sidelines for Saturday's matchup with top-ranked Texas.
What does this mean for the Huskies' season? At 11-6 (2-3 Big East) and currently without a marquee win, a team without much depth will need its veterans to step up their on-court leadership in order to get the season headed in the right direction. It will be interesting to see if Coach Blaney uses a similar rotation (counting on no more than seven players) or if he expands to give a few more guys a shot at earning consistent minutes. Taking the "preemptive strike" approach is better than allowing an issue to linger and possibly become even worse in the future, so the hope is that Coach Calhoun can recharge the batteries and get back on the sidelines sooner rather than later.
Three Key Happenings
1. The "forgotten man" plays a significant role in Purdue's win at Illinois. It has to be a rare occurrence to have a player who's mistakenly left out of the official score book play a major role in a win, doesn't it? That's exactly what happened to Purdue's John Hart, who had played just 33 minutes all season before contributing fourteen points in eighteen minutes off the bench in the Boilermakers' 84-78 win at Illinois. To be fair the Fighting Illini had their chances in the first half to take control of the game but failed to do so, converting eleven offensive boards into just four second-chance points and leading by just four at the half.
Hart helped spark an early second half run that gave the Boilers the lead and JaJuan Johnson bounced back from a poor showing at Northwestern to scored 24 points and grab 12 rebounds. Demetri McCamey led Illinois with 28 points but starters Bill Cole and Mike Tisdale combined for just nine points on the night. And when your opponent has five players in double figures (four starters) it's tough to pick up a win with just three players scoring points. For Purdue the win ends their three-game skid and keeps alive their hopes of possibly catching Michigan State atop the Big Ten standings...and possibly adds John Hart to the rotation.
2. Wichita State knocks off Northern Iowa to close the gap in the Missouri Valley. Northern Iowa went into their game at Wichita State with a fifteen-game win streak and control of the MVC race. But playing in front of one of college basketball's most underrated home environments, the Panthers struggled offensively and eventually lost to a very good Wichita State team 60-51. The win is the second over a Top 25 team for the Shockers, who move to within one game of first place in a race that's steadily becoming a two-team sprint to the finish line.
Neither team shot well from the field but with J.T. Durley (19 points) and Graham Hatch (14) leading the way the Panthers couldn't recover from falling behind by as many as fourteen points. Jordan Eglseder managed 14 points and seven rebounds for UNI and four starters reached double figures, but the reserves were outscored 14-2 (WSU's Gabe Blair had nine). Gregg Marshall's squad gained control of the game early, a necessity in such a big game at home. A big win for the Shockers, this makes it all the more likely that the Valley will earn two bids come March.
3. Lucca Staiger pulls a "Christian Drejer" on Iowa State. Who's Christian Drejer? He's the former University of Florida basketball player who back in 2004 quit the team in the middle of the season to sign a pro contract in Spain. And just like Drejer, Lucca Staiger signed a deal (in his native Germany) to play professionally on Tuesday and will leave the Cyclones with just seven scholarship players. Shooting 42.5% from behind the arc, the junior averaged 9.4 points per game and started all seventeen games.
His loss adds even more to the workload of Craig Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap, and redshirt sophomore Scott Christopherson will move into the starting lineup. The Cyclones have been competitive this season but to find this out the day before a game (at Texas Tech tonight) is an inconvenience to say the least.
Top Three Games
1. Georgia Tech 66, Clemson 64 Zachary Peacock made a pair of free throws with three seconds left to give the Yellow Jackets the win in Atlanta. Forwards Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal combined for 33 points and 24 rebounds in the win while Clemson was led by Trevor Booker (19 points, nine rebounds).
2. Missouri State 99, Indiana State 92 (OT) MSU survived blowing a 24-point lead to win in overtime at JQH Arena. Indiana State hit eleven three-pointers in the second half, including one from Harry Marshall that tied the game in the final seconds of regulation, but they managed just nine points in overtime due to improve defense from the Bears.
3. Boston College 79, Miami 75 Boston College stormed back from a seventeen-point deficit to knock off the reeling Hurricanes in Coral Gables. Joe Trapani led the Eagles with 31 points and Reggie Jackson scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half.
Three Notable Performances
1. G/F Evan Turner (Ohio State) Turner scored 20 points and added 13 rebounds and eight assists in the Buckeyes' 76-56 win over Northwestern.
2. F Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech) Favors helped lead the Yellow Jackets to a win over Clemson with 17 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.
3. G Cam Long (George Mason) Long led the Patriots to their fourth straight win (90-72 over Hofstra) with 27 points (9-11 FG, 5-7 3PT), seven assists and four rebounds.