Rob Carpentier's "Seven Day Stretch" is a whirlwind tour around every corner of college basketball nation:
Seven Day Savior (Team): Oklahoma
Well, it sure ain’t North Carolina…how about the Oklahoma Sooners? Boomer Sooner won two big games this past week against two contenders for the Big 12 Conference crown; at Kansas State, (more of a pretender and a product of their creampuff non-conference slate), and home against Texas. Everyone and their mother knows about Oklahoma’s tight end of a forward, Blake Griffin, but very few people know about their point guard, Austin Johnson, but he really is the engine that will determine how far this team goes. Johnson is a prototypical point guard in that he looks to set the offense rather than be the offense. In the win over Texas, Johnson scored 15 points, (only the fourth time this year he’s been in double figures), but more importantly he forced Longhorn star A.J. Abrams to shoot 8-27 from the floor. As good as the Griffin brothers are and as solid a coach as Jeff Capel is, this team will be driven by Johnson. For the past week his driving was quite good.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Donovan Morris (LBSU)
Senior guard Donovan Morris is leading Don Monsen’s Long Beach State squad back to respectability. Morris is the leading scorer for the 49ers at 16.7 points per game, but he is more than that. In two crucial Big West Conference games last week Morris scored a combined 41 points. That included a 27 point performance against UC Davis. He has led the Beach in scoring in 10 out 16 games this season. But he means more than that to the Niners; he is almost automatic from the free throw line; he almost always grabs the big rebound; he by far leads the team in minutes played. His size, (he’s 6’3”), allows him to play at the level of some of the Pac-10’s finest. After dispatching Pacific on the road, one of LBSU’s chief competitors for the Big West title, the 49ers will this week take on Cal- State Northridge, another contender. Win that and Morris will be talked about much more often as he leads a team that won 6 games all of last season closer to an NCAA berth.
Game of the Week (The one you’ve already heard about): Wake Forest at Clemson
There are quite a few juicy games this coming week, especially in the Big East; Pitt/Louisville and Notre Dame/Syracuse just to name two. Then there’s Georgetown against Duke on Saturday. How about Arizona State traveling to UCLA, also on Saturday? They are all intriguing games, but the one that stands above them all is Wake Forest, the recent conquerors of North Carolina, playing at Clemson. Two top 10 teams from arguably the best basketball conference in the country going at it. They’re both undefeated. With the two game losing streak in the ACC suffered by UNC, and with Duke seemingly still having a bit of a hole in the middle, this game has taken on huge importance. The winner of this game, especially if it’s Wake, assumes the pole position in the ACC by virtue of having defeated one of their chief competitors. In Wake’s case, it will have been two, with one of them coming on the road. The game is being shown nationally on ABC and has the makings of a memorable contest. Wake Forest has the two best players on the floor in Jeff Teague and Al-Farouq Aminu, but Clemson is the deeper team. Wake can score in bunches but Clemson has a tougher defense. Wake Forest has Dino Gaudio on the bench while the Tigers have Oliver Purnell, both of whom are looking for a signature season. The match-ups appear awesome for a hoops junkie. Oh, and by the way, these two close out the regular season against each other in March.
Game of the Week (The one you DON’T know about): Boise State at Utah State
Last week the GOTW that you didn’t know about was in the MAC, (Miami beat Akron). This week we look to the WAC. Utah State, (traditional WAC power), hosts Boise State, (not so much), on the 17th. Now there’s one caveat; they both have a game to play before that. The Aggies host Fresno State, which shouldn’t be so tough, while Boise St. travel to Nevada, which will be a tougher game than the one Utah State will face. For now, both teams are undefeated in the conference and have some nice wins. The Aggies have already beaten MWC foes Utah and Wyoming while barely losing to BYU. The Broncos have also taken out two MWC teams; Colorado State and Wyoming. Utah State beat Wyoming by two while Boise beat them by one. Boise State was hammered by BYU, though. On paper this should be a relatively easy win for the Aggies. They are playing at home and they have more talent. But nobody expected Boise State would be without a WAC blemish up to this point, and if they can indeed beat Nevada on the road this week, then their pedigree to achieve the upset over Utah State appears much, much better.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Tulsa
In the early 1990’s, the Golden Hurricane of Tulsa were a high mid-major power. In fact they made it to the Sweet 16 twice in a row and made the Elite 8 in 2000. Since then the Hurricane have fallen on harder times, which now seem to be ending. Tulsa sits at 1-1 in Conference USA and 11-6 overall. They have an RPI rating of 76, but that should rise with wins in CUSA. They have defeated Texas A&M and barely lost at Illinois. Plus, they get another shot at Memphis, having only lost by a point their first meeting with the CUSA leader. The Hurricane are led by junior guard Ben Uzoh, a 6’3” slasher who leads the team in scoring, and 7-footer Jerome Jordan who is a hammer to opponents on the boards. Jordan has been named CUSA Player of the Week three time already this season. While the Tulsa squads of the last decade could score with anyone, this version of the Hurricane are defensive tempests, holding opponents to 39% shooting for the year and only a stingy 26% from behind the arc. If offense wins games but defense wins championships, Tulsa should be able to compete for the conference crown throughout the season. They’ll be a dangerous team come March.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Bobby Gonzalez (Seton Hall)
While the Big East is having a banner year, yet again, certain teams are not. Specifically, the New Jersey schools are having a rough go of it. I have already written about Fred Hill and Rutgers in this space earlier this season; now I add Bobby Gonzalez of Seton Hall. The Hall started the year very, very well, beating USC and Virginia Tech, (although neither of those wins seems as impressive now as when they took place), and gave Memphis a real game. The Pirates started the year 8-1. Since then they’ve gone 1-6, including losses to IUPUI and James Madison. They are 0-4 in the Big East, (although they have faced four powerhouses and stayed with two of them), and they get UConn and Georgetown in two of their next three games. Granted, Gonzalez’s team only goes 7 deep because of defections and players who have yet to gain eligibility, but if they collapse in the second half of the season, he may not get to see those kids when they are eligible next year. Seton Hall lives on men’s hoops and the program has a rich tradition that started with P.J. Carlesimo and the Hall tends to be less patient with coaches.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Pac-10 on Fox
I am admittedly a Pac-10 wonk, so this won’t come as a real surprise, but I have often wondered why the Pac-10 has a contract with Fox Sports and not ESPN. There have been many “excuses” as to why this is, but most tend to revolve around the fact that the Pac-10 has traditionally played Thursday/Saturday games, while ESPN wants the Pac-10 to move to Monday nights. The Pac-10 doesn’t want to switch and ESPN with their virtual monopoly on weekday evening contests doesn’t want to accommodate Thursday night games for the conference. I don’t understand why ESPN wouldn’t want to control the nation’s second largest media market, (Los Angeles), on a consistent basis, especially with the recent success of both UCLA and USC. Conversely, I don’t see why the Pac-10, who suffers from East Coast bias, wouldn’t want to have the largest viewing audience possible for its games. That would end the constant complaints from Pac-10 fans that ESPN’s on-air talent has a love fest with teams from the ACC, (read: Duke), and the Big East. It would force those talking heads to talk about the Pac-10 far more than they already do. It would seem to be a win-win situation for both parties. But, hey, that would assume that both sides use common sense.