The Seven Day Stretch, a new weekly column by Rob Carpentier.
Seven Day Savior (Team): Baylor
This one is easy: the Baylor Bears. It was only two years ago that the Bears and new coach Scott Drew had to play an abbreviated schedule that consisted of only Big 12 Conference games because of the massive violations that occurred under Drew’s predecessor, Dave Bliss. This doesn’t even begin to get into the issues that arose out of the murder of forward Patrick Dennehy in the summer of 2003. If there was ever a program in need of a program-changing victory, this was it. All the Bears did on Wednesday night was go to Texas A&M and defeat the Aggies in a five-overtime game, 116-110, that has to be, until now, the game of the year in college basketball. The Bears won despite having 5 players foul out and their bench only shot 21% from the floor. This is easily the biggest and most impressive win in what has already become a most impressive season for Baylor, who is 16-2 and only have lost to Washington State and Arkansas. Not bad for a team that was imploding in on itself only 30 months ago.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Jermaine Taylor
Junior Jermaine Taylor of Central Florida. He started the week by scoring 32 points in a Conference USA road victory over East Carolina and followed that up with a 24 point performance on Wednesday in a crushing victory over UTEP. That’s the same UTEP team that was supposed to be one of the only roadblocks to Memphis having an undefeated conference season. In the two games, Taylor was a combined 20-28 from the floor, including 5-8 from behind the arc. He was also 11-12 from the charity stripe. Taylor is the clear leader of the Golden Knights, who are 4-0 in C-USA. Central Florida is 11-7 on the season, but all 6 of those losses have come against major conference teams and three have been by 3 points or fewer. Memphis, you’ve been warned about Central Florida and their best player, Jermaine Taylor.
Game of the Week (The one you’ve already heard about): WSU at ASU
While Memphis hosting Gonzaga and Connecticut playing Indiana highlight the intersectional schedule and Georgetown going to Morgantown to face West Virginia is a critical Big East clash, the most important game of the day is going to happen out in Tempe, Arizona. Washington State visits upstart Arizona State in a game between two teams tied for first in the Pac-10. Washington State was supposed to be in this position, but ASU was picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference. The Sun Devils have gotten to this point on the strength of freshman James Harden, (if Kevin Love isn’t the Pac-10 Frosh of the year, then Harden should be), junior Jeff Pendergraph and the coaching of Herb Sendek, who has brought a disciplined, defensive intensity to Tempe that Washington State coach Tony Bennett would be proud of. The game is more critical to ASU as Wazzu has already played UCLA and the Sun Devils need to make the trip to Los Angeles next week. To complicate matters for Arizona State, it seems that Harden has a bit of an injury heading into the game.
Game of the Week (The one you DON’T know about): Cleveland State at UWM
The Horizon League has proven to be one of the best mid-major conferences in the country over the past several years. The conference can boast the success of Butler and Wisconsin-Milwaukee over the past few seasons. This season, Butler was expected to be the top team in the conference and one of the top teams in the nation. However, the Bulldogs sit 2, that’s right, 2 games out of first place. That’s because the surprise of the season in the Horizon League has been undefeated Cleveland State. The Vikings are coached by former Rutgers head man Gary Waters and they are playing the kind of defense that takes teams, even mid-majors, into the second week of the Big Dance. The Vikings have a two-headed attack in the form of juniors Cedric Jackson and J’Nathan Bullock. The one criticism of the Vikings up to this point is that they haven’t faced a real conference road test yet. That changes on Saturday as they travel to Milwaukee to take on a rejuvenated Panther squad that is being driven by a freshman point guard, Deonte Roberts. UWM’s record isn’t gaudy, but with a win over the Vikings they climb within a game and a half of the Vikings and, more importantly, bring Cleveland State back to the pack. This is especially significant as the Horizon’s conference tournament games are played at the home of the higher seed.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Providence
That’s right, the Providence Friars. When talking about the Big East, everyone seems to talk about the same teams; Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Louisville, blah, blah, blah. This Friar team is one that can surprise enough to win the league. They are coming off of a very good win at Connecticut last week and the next two games set up well for them to prove my point. They get an undermanned Syracuse and then Notre Dame on the road. Win one of those two and they will be players in the Big East title race. Win both and look out. What sets Providence apart is that they are relentless on the boards.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Mark Gottfried
The SEC is having a down year for a conference that has produced the past two NCAA champions. Traditional power Kentucky is having, what for it, is a horrible year, and the western division of the conference may only produce one team with a winning conference record. You could look at LSU and its streak of seven straight losses as a program whose coach is on the proverbial hot seat. But Coach John Brady is less than 2 seasons removed from a Final Four berth. But this week’s occupant of the Seven Days on the Hot Seat goes to fellow SEC West member Alabama and Coach Mark Gottfried. The Tide is on a four game losing streak and they host Tennessee next week in a game the Tide has to win. Gottfried had a chance to stay away from the Hot Seat last Saturday at home against Mississippi State, but Alabama fell short in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. To add to Gottfried’s misery, his best guard, Ronald Steele, is hurt again. Alabama didn’t hire Gottfried so they could miss the NCAA Tournament two seasons in a row.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Oregon State
Oregon State fired Coach Jay John this week after a miserable 6-12 start to the season. There was conjecture that John would be let go after last season’s 10-21 record, including only 3 Pac-10 Conference wins. Anyone who knows basketball knew that OSU was returning a young team with mediocre talent. When Oregon State’s administration allowed John to return this season, the assumption was that they knew this, too, and would give John some leeway in rebuilding the roster. Instead, OSU gave John his walking papers six games into the conference season. The question is, why? The dismissal of Kansas transfer C.J. Giles only a day after John’s firing may have something to do with it, but it still leaves you wondering…