Rob Carpentier's "Seven Day Stretch" is a whirlwind tour around every corner of college basketball nation:
Seven Day Savior (Team): Connecticut Huskies
Jim Calhoun’s Huskies have been chomping at the bit to become the team that America is talking about. Well that time may finally have come. While it’s true that UConn isn’t even in first place in the Big East, they are only one half game behind league leaders Marquette and they still have to play the Golden Eagles. More importantly, the Huskies won two tough games this week; a thorough demolition of a pretty good Providence team and then an absolute battering of Louisville at Freedom Hall. The win against Louisville was the most impressive win of the past week because the Cards were arguably the hottest team in the country at the time. UConn may lose a game or two before March Madness, but this team is built for a national title run. They play great defense, anchored by 7’3” Hasheem Thabeet in the middle. They have two solid forwards in Stanley Robinson and especially Jeff Adrien, who does the little unsung things that lead a team to championships, and they have multiple threats in the backcourt, led by A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson and super frosh Kemba Walker. They’re deep and they are led by one of the best coaches in the game…and they are starting to play better as the season turns for the run-in to March.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Patty Mills, St. Mary’s Gaels
Mills is the first winner of this award to have done almost nothing on the court to deserve it. Mills, who is arguably the best mid-major player in the country, (apologies to Stephen Curry), was having a huge game against league rival Gonzaga last week when he went down with a broken hand. Not only did the Gaels lose the game, but they may have lost their season. Mills was averaging 18.7 PPG, and had 18 in the first half against the Zags when he went down. However, its Mills’ all-around game that makes him special and such a devastating loss for Coach Randy Bennett. Mills is so good that when he went down the post season hopes of St. Mary’s probably went with him. Outside of Davidson’s Curry, there isn’t another player in the country that means as much to his team’s chances of success as Mills. It says a lot that his injury was probably the biggest individual story to come out of last week, and thus his SDS selection.
Game of the Week (The one you already heard about): Purdue @ Illinois
The Boilermakers and the Illini are tied for second place in the Big Ten, one game behind Michigan State. The Spartans have their big game this week against another second place club, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, so either there will be a logjam in first in the conference or Purdue and Illinois will be involved in a real elimination game to see who can catch Michigan State, that is if anyone can. Illinois has been playing over their heads all season, which is a real testament to the coaching job that Bruce Weber has done. The Boilers, on the other hand, were supposed to be here, but their hold on second place may be tenuous as their best player, forward Robbie Hummel, has a stress fracture in his back and will not practice again for the remainder of the season. His game status will be day-to-day until Purdue’s season ends. How Matt Painter’s team plays with a hurt Hummel will determine their real chances in the postseason. Even without Hummel they are a very good team.
Game of the Week (The one you DON'T know about): Cornell @ Princeton
The Ivy League is the one conference in the country that still decides its champion the old fashioned way, through the regular season. It has been a few years since Princeton was talked about as an Ivy contender, (the same is true for Penn for that matter). Going into the game at Jadwin Gymnasium on Friday, the Big Red have a one game lead on Princeton, however that’s because Cornell is 4-0 in the league while the Tigers are 2-0. They are the only undefeated teams in the Ivy League. Cornell was the preseason pick to win the Ivy while Princeton was picked to finish near the bottom of the conference. The team that was supposed to challenge Cornell, Harvard, has already suffered a defeat at the hands of Princeton. In fact, the next closest team to the Tigers and the Big Red in the Ivy has two losses already, thus making this match-up a big one for conference supremacy and the Ivy’s automatic NCAA berth.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Dayton Flyers
I have surfed all week looking for articles on national sites about the Flyers, and I found exactly two. That’s about as under the radar as you can get for a team that is 20-2 overall and is one of only two teams in the nation to have beaten Marquette. It is a team built for success in the postseason as they have a suffocating defense. The Flyers allow their opponents to shoot only 37% from the floor. Offensively they may have some issues as they have only two players averaging in double figures and both of them are closer to 10 PPG than 15 PPG. They also outrebound their opponents by 6 RPG, which is huge at the D1 level. We’ll know more about the Flyers by this time next week as they host conference leader Xavier, but until then this may be the best team in college basketball that no one knows about…or at least is talking about.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Karl Hobbs, George Washington
Two coaches I have already placed in this spot have already been let go; Mike Gottfried of Alabama and Dennis Felton of Georgia. Not that I am trying to see anyone lose their job, but I have a feeling that at least two more of the coaches I’ve written about will be let go at the end of the season. Let’s add Hobbs to that list. A few seasons ago the Colonials were arguably the best team if not program, (sorry Xavier), in the Atlantic 10. Hobbs had them in the Big Dance three straight years from 2005-2007, including a second round near upset of then #1 Duke in 2006. However, GW was 9-17 last year and they currently sit a 6-12 this season including a winless mark in the A-10. Hobbs has, rightly or wrongly, earned a reputation for cutting corners with regard to NCAA rules, and two straight miserable seasons may be more than the administration at GW is willing to take. Hobbs isn’t known in the athletic department as someone who is easy to get along with and now that GW is clearly out of the week-in, week-out conversation in college hoops, the powers-that-be in the Nation’s capital may feel the time for a change is now…or at least in about six weeks.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Mid-Season Coaching Changes
As I said earlier in the column, Alabama and Georgia both made coaching changes in the past nine days. Since both were let go in the middle of the season there has been a great deal written about whether or not it’s appropriate or fair to let a coach go in the middle of the year. Most every opinion I’ve read has said that it’s not. I disagree. In today’s age of instant communication, sports blogs and immediate updates athletic directors have to get a head start on things if they know that they are going to make a change anyway. Gottfried had some serious dissention in the Alabama locker room that almost begged for a change, while Felton’s fate was decided a while ago and the Georgia athletic department didn’t want to even give him the chance of a reprieve like Felton had last season when he led the Bulldogs to an improbable SEC Tournament title. Both athletic directors knew they wanted to make a change so they pulled the trigger knowing that it would allow them to start vetting coaching candidates before the majority of coaching changes happened in March. This is good business and whether we want to admit it or not, this is a business as much as it is a game. We can argue about whether or not Gottfried and Felton deserved their pink slips in the first place, but once the decision was made that they were going to be let go both schools did the right thing and allowed everyone to move on with their basketball lives.