Maybe, just maybe this whole “Seven Day Stretch” curse thing works in reverse, too. It seems that for the past several weeks, anything positive I have written about a team has proven to be the “kiss of death”. So it goes that anything negative I’ve written just might kick start a team. Last week I positioned Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton on the hot seat, specifically for not winning a Big 12 Conference road game in more than a year. The Cowboys then proceeded to go out and beat Texas A&M in College Station. Let’s see if we can send some “mojo” someone else’s way this week.
Seven Day Savior (Team): American University
American isn’t going to get a lot of press playing in the Patriot League, but Washington D.C.’s “forgotten” team seems ready to make a run at their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. The Eagles defeated both Colgate and Bucknell last week. Colgate sits last in the conference, but Bucknell has been a thorn in the side of the Eagles since they joined the Patriot League from the Colonial Athletic Association several years ago. Led by diminutive junior guards Garrison Carr, (5’11”), and Derrick Mercer, (5’9”), American has suddenly found themselves atop the conference with only three games remaining in the regular season. Because the Patriot League plays its conference tournament at the sites of the higher seeds, if the Eagles can navigate these last 10 days without a blemish then their chances for punching their first ticket to the Big Dance will increase dramatically.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Trevor Mbakwe, Marquette
This isn’t the typical selection in that the Marquette freshman hasn’t led his team to a big victory or scored a lot of points. Mbakwe suffered a serious knee injury in October and the plan was to redshirt him this season. But through his hard work at coming back from the injury, Mbakwe convinced Coach Tom Crean that he should play this season. It helps that Mbakwe addresses the Golden Eagles’ number one glaring weakness; that of an inside presence. Mbakwe is 6’8”, 230 lbs. and as athletic and strong a big man as Marquette has had in Crean’s tenure. Mbakwe is good enough to make a significant difference in Marquette’s post-season fortunes. He played his first minutes of the season over the weekend and pulled down a rebound. On Wednesday night, however, against St. John’s, Mbakwe played extended minutes in the second half and scored 5 points and pulled down 6 boards. That may not seem like much, but with his ability to hit the glass, especially on the offensive end, Mbakwe’s return from injury just may allow the Golden Eagles to play deep into March.
Game of the Week (The one you DON’T know about): California at Stanford
Speaking of rivalries, the one between these two Bay Area, Pac-10 schools is pretty fierce. While there hasn’t been the “trash talking” in the press that seems to be leaking out of Tobacco Road, make no mistake, this is a very important game. Stanford is trying to keep pace with UCLA atop the Pac-10 and it’s a pretty sure bet that the Bruins will win both of their games at home this week. With Stanford already a game behind the Bruins they can’t afford a slip-up. Cal, on the other hand, has been a victim of the strength and parity of the Pac-10. The Bears are sitting in 7th place in the Pac-10, but a victory on Saturday in Palo Alto could see them waking up Sunday morning only a game out of third place. Because the conference’s parity has the 3rd through 8th place teams beating up on one and other, it may cost one or two talented and worthy teams a spot in the NCAAs. Cal doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of the proverbial “bubble” come Selection Sunday. Stanford won at Cal 82-77 earlier this season.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Davidson Wildcats
Remember back in November when Davidson was one of the two or three darlings of the mid-major world? The Wildcats then proceeded to lose to all of the big name teams they played, including UCLA, North Carolina and Duke. They also lost to some teams that they weren’t supposed to lose to, namely North Carolina State and Western Michigan. Because of all those losses, people stopped talking about Davidson. Since then, however, Coach Bob McKillop has the Wildcats at 18-0 in the Southern Conference and poised to make another run at an NCAA bid. Because of the weakness of the conference and the losses they suffered earlier, Davidson probably has to win the Southern Conference Tournament to get into the Big Dance, but if they get there, don’t be surprised to see them make a run to the Sweet 16. They are well-coached, well-led and they have a special player in sophomore Stephen Curry who would still be scoring if he was playing at a much bigger school.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Kelvin Sampson, Indiana
I couldn’t ignore this one any longer. Is there a hotter seat in the country than the one that Kelvin Sampson has apparently put himself on at Indiana? This isn’t about ‘x’s and ‘o’s, but rather about honesty and integrity. Listen, the kids that play for Sampson swear by him and they certainly can stay focused, just ask Michigan State and Purdue. But there have also been some ominous quotes by some of the Hoosier’s team leaders, specifically senior post DJ White. White basically said that he’s been through this before, with former coach Mike Davis, and that he dealt with it then and will deal with whatever happens now. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the player that is the face of your team. On top of all of that, Sampson is being accused of being dishonest at an institution that values honesty above all else in its athletic department. Indiana dealt with some crazy antics by Bob Knight but he never put them in a position to have to defend against being called cheaters. Unfortunately Sampson has done just that.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Indiana’s Reaction to Sampson
Staying with the Indiana/Sampson story, one has to ask themselves, what is Indiana doing? Athletic Director Rick Greenspan conducted an investigation into Sampson’s alleged improper contact with recruits in the fall and found that Sampson only deserved a slap on the wrist. Now the NCAA comes calling and says that Sampson lied about the improper contact and that they are charging Sampson, (and thus Indiana), with 5 major violations. Reading between the lines, the NCAA is telling Indiana that if Sampson lied to you and you were too dumb to know it, then we feel sorry for you. But, if there is any sense of a cover-up at any level, then certain things are out of control. Indiana has got to know that if the NCAA thinks, “certain things are out of control”, then the Hoosiers are going to get hit with some heavy sanctions, unless they do something about this first, and quickly. That’s why the Indiana president ordered, that’s right, ordered Greenspan to conduct an investigation into Sampson’s alleged wrong-doing and that investigation was only to last seven days. Indiana is going to get hit here, and so are some individuals. Sampson is going to get fired, that much is a given. But Greenspan is much more likely than not on his way out, too. He’s the one who green-lighted the Sampson hire in the first place and was the overseer to the fall investigation into Sampson. If Sampson goes, how can Indiana keep Greenspan? The head scratcher here is why Indiana didn’t deal with this in the fall. This is going to come back and bite them very hard and very deep. This is the kind of thing that can hurt a program for a decade, regardless of how much the team is loves in the Hoosier State.
News of the Week: Coach ‘K’ versus Roy Williams
The Duke/North Carolina rivalry is one of the biggest in sports, and this week it took on a little more intensity, (as if that was needed). Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski was quoted in an interview several days ago as not talking about his team’s injuries. It may not have seemed like much, but Roy Williams, the North Carolina head man, took exception to the implication that Carolina talked about its injuries and, taking it one step further, that the Tar Heels used injuries as an excuse when they don’t play well or lose. Williams talked specifically about Coach ‘K’s comments in an interview Williams granted later in the week. To say he wasn’t happy would be an understatement. Even as his interview seemed about to end, Williams revisited the topic, clearly irritated by what he felt was more than a subtle jab. With the rematch of Duke/Carolina in two weeks already shaping up to be a clash for top seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tourney, the rivalry has now reached the boiling point. Remember, this is the rivalry that gave us Tyler Hansbrough’s broken nose last season. Stay tuned; I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this one.