Upsets all around the country. Greg Oden finally hitting the hardwood. Bobby Knight closing in on an all-time record. Minnesota's Dan Monson out of a job. More than two hundred points in a game. By one team. Those are just some of the top headlines from a college basketball season almost exactly one month old. While reflecting on those stories, let's also look ahead to some of the top matchups the first part of December will bring our way. You'll want to plan your Christmas shopping around these battles.
5 Headlines You Have To Read
1. Upsets Galore
It’s only early December, but it feels like late March. Apparently Cinderella didn’t receive the notice justifying that the Big Dance would once again take place in early spring. While the 2006-07 NCAA basketball season is just getting underway, mid-major schools are already adding to their resumes and making names for themselves.
This past week, unranked DePaul upset the then-4th ranked Kansas Jayhawks 64-57 behind Sammie Mejia’s 23 points and 8 rebounds. Sunday drew a couple of upsets, as Notre Dame used a 25-7 second half run to knock off Maryland, and then-3rd ranked Florida was upset by rival instate rival Florida State 70-66. Meanwhile, Wichita State continued its run of upsets, as they knocked off another ranked team on the road. The Shockers had already taken down last year’s Cinderella, George Mason, and ranked LSU in their own houses. This time the victim was Syracuse, who gave up ten 3-pointers to the Shockers and eventually fell to them 64-61.
But, perhaps the biggest “shocker” of them all came when Division-I Independent school North Dakota State squeaked by Marquette 64-60 in the championship of the Blue and Gold Classic. Andre Smith and Mike Nelson combined for 45 points to lead the Bison to perhaps the school’s biggest win ever.
The mid-majors have taken charge already, with four “non-BCS” schools taking places in SCS’s Fab Fifteen. Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference is the highest ranked of the mid-majors at #7, while Memphis from C-USA, Butler representing the Horizon League, and Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference fall in at #9, #11, and #13, respectively.
2. Oden Begins College Career
The much anticipated debut of high-school phenomenon Greg Oden is finally over. The 7-0, 255 pound freshman center played last Saturday for the 7-1 Buckeyes in a home game versus 3-4 Valparaiso. Oden, who has been nursing an injury to his right wrist, performed quite well for his team, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 boards in just 23 minutes of play. I might also mention that he did manage to block 5 shots, despite having his dominant right hand in an elastic brace. Oden went 8 of 15 from the charity line, while shooting the ball with only his left hand.
There was still one thing that I’m sure Oden wishes he had done: dunk. Despite having a good 4 inches on the tallest man playing for Valpo (6-9 freshman O Urule Igbavboa), Oden was not presented the opportunity to do such. He will get his next opportunity on Saturday when the Buckeyes face 5-4 Cleveland State. As for now, Greg Oden has one double-double in one attempt, with many more to come.
3. Knight Inches Closer to Record
Texas Tech head coach Bob Knight coached his Red Raiders to victory over TCU last Wednesday night, leaving him just four more wins away from surpassing legendary coach Dean Smith for the all-time wins leader for Division-I basketball. Knight’s next victory will give him win number 876, tying him for second most all-time with former Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp. Knight will then need just 3 more wins to tie Smith, and 4 to make him the all-time winningest coach.
Coach Knight missed his chance last Saturday as Texas Tech lost against a tough Stanford team. Knight’s next chance for a win will come against Louisiana Tech this Wednesday night. The Red Raiders then proceed to play Centenary, at Arkansas, Bucknell, and then UNLV, which will more-than-likely be for the record. The UNLV-Texas Tech match is scheduled for Thursday, December 28th.
4. Monson Resigns as Minnesota Head Coach
Last Thursday, Minnesota A.D. Joel Maturi announced that Dan Monson had resigned as head coach of the Golden Gopher men’s basketball team, while assistant coach Jim Molinari would serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the 2006-07 season. The reason for this decision was unknown, and still is. Monson had an overall record of 118-106 in his seven seasons at Minnesota. He took Minnesota to a NCAA Tournament berth and four appearances in the NIT. Minnesota’s best year under Monson came in 2004-05 when the Golden Gophers had a fantastic 21-11 record and earned Monson’s only berth in the 2005 NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota played their first basketball game with under new coach Molinari last Saturday in the defeat of Arizona State, 66-63. The win ended a 5 game losing streak for Minnesota and put them at 3-5 for the season so far.
5. Division-III Lincoln Scores 201 Points in a Single Game
Lincoln University set the Division III scoring and margin of victory records last Saturday as they defeated Ohio State-Marion 201-78. Sami Wylie led Lincoln with a record 21 3-pointers and 69 points. They thumped the previous D-III record, set by the University of Redlands at 172 back in 2005, by 29 points. However, Lincoln was still 57 points off from the all-time record, set by then Division-II Troy in 1992, who scored 258 points against DeVry, Georgia.
5 Games You Can’t Afford To Miss
1. #5 Texas A&M (7-0) at #12 LSU (4-1) - December 5
The Tigers of LSU are led by their All-American center Glen Davis, and “Big Baby” is averaging nearly 19 points and 10 rebounds per game so far for the purple and gold. The Tigers’ only loss was to the Shockers from Wichita State. If LSU wants to get back to the Final Four for a second consecutive year, they are "geaux-ing" to have to get the ball to the big (yet a lot more lean than last year) guy.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M uses a nice one-two punch with guard Acie Law IV and center Joseph Jones. Jones averages 15 points and 5 boards, while Law equals him with 15 points of his own to go with 5 assists per game. The Aggies are perfect on the year thus far, though the competition hasn’t been decent. I think this will be a back-and-forth battle all the way, but in the end, I see the Tigers and Big Baby being too much for the Aggies at home. My Pick: LSU by 5.
2. #1 UCLA (6-0) at #5 Texas A&M (7-0) - December 9
The one problem with the Aggies of Texas A&M? No competition so far. This couldn’t be worse now that they have LSU and top-ranked UCLA within 5 days of each other. They are going to need to watch that they are not too tired from LSU so that they are not embarrassed at home to a tough UCLA team.
UCLA already has impressive wins over Kentucky and Georgia Tech. The Bruins are led by standouts Arron Aflallo, Josh Shipp, L.R. Mbah a Moute, and Darren Collison. The four horsemen average 55 of UCLA’s points per game together. I’m looking for Mbah a Moute to have a terrific game in this one, and show why he deserves to be an All-American. My Pick: UCLA by 14 (and 20 points, 10 rebounds for Mbah a Moute).
3. #17 Wisconsin (8-1) at #19 Marquette (8-1) - December 9
Senior forward Alando Tucker could be the best player ever to put on a Badger uniform. He averages just over 19 points per game, along with 3.5 boards and 2 assists, and stopping him is no easy task. Just ask Auburn, Florida State, and Winthrop, who have all had the privilege of guarding him. The Badgers have also seen Kammron Taylor step into the spotlight. The 6-2 senior guard contributes 13 points per game for Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Marquette has a dynamic duo of their own. The Golden Eagles have one of the best front-courts in the nation, led by All-American guard Dominic James and sophomore guard Jerel McNeal. James and McNeal alone, who put up 31 points every game, are a tough test for most teams. I see them keeping it that way for at least one more game. The dynamic guards for the Golden Eagles will be too much for Wisconsin. My Pick: Marquette by 10.
4. #15 Washington (6-0) at #13 Gonzaga (8-1) - December 9
Washington has been off to a hot start so far, winning their first six games, despite phenom freshman Spencer Hawes not being one of the top 3 scorers for the team. The Huskies are actually led by forwards Quincy Pondexter and Jon Brockman. The two contribute 31 points and 17 rebounds per game. However they are still a very young team, without much experience.
Gonzaga is showing just how much they really relied on Adam Morrison. The Bulldogs were worried that they would not be able to replace his 30+ points per game. Well, they’re 8-1 with impressive wins over North Carolina and Texas. The Bulldogs are led by senior guard Derek Raivio, sophomore forward Josh Heytvelt, and senior forward Sean Mallon. This talented threesome is making critics take back the “one-man team” belief. This Gonzaga team is deep, experienced, and even better than last year. In this game, I like the guard-play and experience of Gonzaga. My Pick: Gonzaga by 3.
5. #12 LSU (4-1) at Texas (5-2) - December 10
In what would normally be a must-see football game, or even at times a must-see baseball game, LSU-Texas is now a must-see basketball game. The two teams have been very impressive so far this season, with their only losses being LSU’s to #7 Wichita State and Texas’ to #13 Gonzaga and at Michigan State. The Tigers will already have been tested from earlier in the week after a matchup with Texas A&M, while the Longhorns are looking to rebound after a loss to the Zags. Leading Texas are freshman sensation Kevin Durant and guard A.J. Abrams. The two guards combine for 41 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. I like the Horns to Hook’Em early and often in this one. My Pick: Texas by 12.