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FIVE TEAMS YOU SHOULDN'T SLEEP ON JUST YET
January 9, 2008

SCS.comThere is very little doubt that most eyes will be focused on Chapel Hill, Memphis, and Lawrence for the majority of the season, but that is what makes March Madness special. A second chance is given to teams who, well let us just say, may not have met their preseason expectations. Fans have short memories; a ten loss season can easily be forgotten with a three game win streak and a trip to the Elite Eight. When the ball goes up in March, the players and coaches win games, not December wins over Duke or Texas, even as formidable as those wins looked at the time. Also some teams simply do not get the respect they deserve heading into March despite having very good seasons. Just as Texas A&M and Washington State jumped onto the map the past few seasons, there are many teams off to hot starts looking to emulate their success.

Here is a look at five teams not to be forgotten or overlooked over the next couple of months:

Alabama-Birmingham

Entering the season, Alabama-Birmingham looked like one of the most talented teams in the country and certainly in Conference USA. Coach Mike Davis brought in a pair of high-impact transfers in Robert Vaden (Indiana) and Walter Sharpe (Mississippi State) that seemed to give Davis a pair that would match any CUSA tandem outside of Memphis. The duo is currently UAB’s top scorers. However after a 2-3 start, many fans and experts were questioning how and if this team would ever manage to mesh.

Despite the aforementioned sluggish start, Davis seemed to have righted the ship and get this talented team to rattle off eight wins over the past ten contests. After seemingly getting their act together, UAB should be able to reach 23 or 24 wins, but may need to grab a victory over Memphis to get that ever important notable win. The long and athletic Blazers need to keep their focus on basketball and if they are still playing in March, they will be a team that coaches would not mind avoiding during the bracket pairings. Outlook: 22-9 and will need at least a CUSA semi-final appearance, but more than likely a finals run to make the tournament. This is unless of course they can get a win over Memphis in the regular season.

Saint Joseph’s

Saint Joseph’s finds itself in a fortunate situation in that the Atlantic Ten is probably the most improved conference in the nation. Thanks to this, the Hawks will have a chance to garner impressive conference victories. With one of the most athletic and versatile frontcourts in the country, Saint Joseph’s will be able to compete with the top teams in the A10 as displayed in their narrow defeats against non-conference powers Syracuse and Gonzaga. Forward Pat Calathes presents a problem for opponents thanks to his height as a 6’10 swingman who will use his size in the paint when the opportunity presents itself.

Should the Hawks reach 20 wins, they will put themselves in position for an at-large berth barring a disaster in the conference tournaments. Coach Phil Martelli’s squad uses a balanced attack that keeps opponents honest. With five double-digit scorers, a different player can step up for Saint Joseph’s at any given time thus making it a team who could win a game or two should they reach the NCAA Tournament. Outlook: 20-9 and finding themselves entering the Atlantic Ten Tournament competing for one of the last at-large berths more than likely with another conference foe or two.

Kentucky

Turnovers have absolutely killed Kentucky this season. The Wildcats’ top three players in minutes played, Patrick Patterson, Joe Crawford, Remel Bradley, and have combined for 93 assists and 98 turnovers. That is a true recipe for disaster. Currently Kentucky sits at 6-7 in Billy Gillespie’s debut season, obviously not very Kentucky-like. To make matters worse, five of the team’s seven losses were against unranked opponents. And if that is not bad enough, Kentucky is staring at two conference road games and two top 15 opponents in their next four games.

Now for the positive, Gillespie does have a freshman in Patterson who is only going to get better and he happens to be very good already. But the Wildcats are running out of time and more than likely need two or three wins over the next four games or getting to 18 wins by the end of the regular season could be very harsh. Outlook: 16-13 and in need of a SEC Tournament championship or championship appearance. There is talent in Lexington, but the tough SEC may prove too challenging a task for Kentucky to completely turnaround their season, but if they take care of the ball, this is a team that will be dangerous by the end of the season.

Duquesne

Quietly Duquesne has put up a 10-3 record against less than stellar competition. The Dukes lost their three games against quality opponents thus far, but easily could have won two before falling short. The frontcourt has lived up to its hype with Shawn James and Kieron Achara combining for over 26 points and nearly 13 rebounds per content to go along with 6 blocks. In addition to the frontcourt, Duquesne goes twelve deep, with eleven players averaging over ten minutes per contest.

Duquesne needs to obviously learn how to find ways to beat its quality opponents, especially heading into conference play in the deep Atlantic Ten. James was a monster in the three losses, showing he has not missed a beat since his days at Northeastern, but Achara was nearly invisible in the games against Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Expect the dynamic frontcourt to log more minutes in the second half of the season and keep an eye on Kojo Mensah. The guard needs to take better care of the ball, especially down the stretch. Outlook: 22-7 and in the same position as Saint Joseph’s, playing for one of the last at-large berths. There is no doubt Duquesne will be sweating and scoreboard watching in March unless they come close to running the table in conference play. Duquesne’s frontcourt will give pretty much any team trouble and should place them in the upper echelon of the Atlantic Ten on par with the Hawks and Massachusetts. Xavier, Rhode Island, and Dayton appear a notch above the rest.

Arizona State

Sitting atop the early Pac Ten standings alongside national power UCLA, while posting a 12-2 record and garnering very little talk. Arizona State has wracked up three impressive wins over Xavier, Oregon, and LSU. To go alongside those victories, the Sun Devils will also have a chance to make an impact if it can muster even more impressive wins within its conference. James Harden and company are already 2-0 with four tough games coming up, but all quite winnable. Three wins over the next four would send Arizona State to 15-3 and 5-1 in the Pac 10 setting up a monster match up with Washington State at the end of the month.

Arizona State knows what they are getting with Harden and Jeff Pendergraph, but the key to their season may be the development of freshman Ty Abbott and sophomore Jerren Shipp. If the two can continue their improvement on the perimeter and on the wing, Arizona State can continue its winning ways. One last factor to keep an eye on is former Duke Blue Devil, Eric Boateng, who gives Arizona State another big body inside. If Boateng continues to gel with his teammates, he will see more playing time in conference play, especially with some of the giants found in the paint of the Pac Ten. Outlook: Arizona State looks to finish right around 18 wins which should place them on the right side of the bubble thanks to the power of its conference. The last twelve games of the schedule are absolutely brutal, if they can manage to finish out the remaining games at .500 or better, their hot start should be enough to propel them into the postseason.

The season is still in its early stages, but the midway point is creeping up mighty quick. These teams and many more throughout the country hope to sneak up on opponents the rest of the season. As mentioned, teams like Arizona State and Duquesne have gotten off to solid starts and need to simply continue their winning ways, while teams such as UAB, Saint Joseph’s, and Kentucky need to put together some winning streaks should they expect to meet their preseason expectations.

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