At 16-1, the Duke Blue Devils are off to a quick start in ACC play. Even after an early setback to Florida State, Duke has rebounded to knock off three potential tournament teams in a row, two of which are in the top 15 in the country. Following that loss to FSU, Duke went on the road to knock off NC State. Returning home to the Cameron Crazies once again, the Devils knocked off two top 15 teams in three days, defeating Maryland and Wake Forest by sizeable margins. Those are just a few of the impressive wins put on the board by Duke so far this season. Early in November and December, Duke was able to knock off South Carolina, Iowa on the road, Michigan on the road, and Kentucky in New Jersey. That UK game will go down as one of the best games ever in college hoops.
Duke is led by PG Jason Williams, who averages almost 22 points a game. Duke also has two players who are averaging 17 points a piece, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy. Not only does Boozer put points on the board, but he also shoots the rock at nearly 60 percent. Dunleavy shoots it at 48%, which isn’t too shabby itself. G Chris Duhon averages 9.5 points per game. And Dahntay Jones isn’t a bad 5th-man either. He scores more than 10 a game as well. Duke is well on their way to a NCAA Tourney bid and possibly to a #1 seed. There are still some tough games on the schedule though. A few of these include: at Boston College, Virginia, NC State, at Maryland, at Wake Forest, and at Virginia. I see the Dukies losing no more than 3 remaining games, if that many, and claiming yet another #1 seed for March.
Not too far behind Duke are the Kansas Jayhawks, who have been ranked #1 at times this season. Their only two defeats came at the hands of Ball State and UCLA. They’ve had their impressive wins along the way as well, a few of which include victories over Arizona, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. As he usually does at this time of the season, coach Roy Williams has his team in position for March Madness. And as usually, it look as if they could grab a top seed and make some noise in the Tourney. But, as most college hoops fans know, the Jayhawks have a known past of choking in the Tourney, never seeming to live up to their potential.
KU has some big time players who will try to do something about that in 2002, though. Drew Gooden (20.4), Nick Collison (15.1), Kirk Hinrich (14), and Jeff Boschee (13.3) all average more than a dozen points a game. Backups Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles, Jeff Carey, and Michael Lee also get considerable minutes. After so many of years of not living up to expectations in March, you know one of these years is going to be the one for KU. Everyone seems to think that this year or that year is the one. Can 2002 finally be the breakthrough year for the Jayhawks? My mind tells me no, they always choke. But my gut tells me that KU is going to make a run for it all at last.
After two improbable wins over top 5 nationally ranked teams to begin the season, Arizona has yet to slow down. Even after a loss to Kansas in early December, a game decided by less than 10 points, the ‘Cats continued to pick up big wins. The first two wins of the year, victories over Maryland and Florida, have propelled this team to a national ranking as well as much attention from college hoops fans everywhere. Besides the loss to KU, the ‘Cats have also lost to Michigan State, who has struggled at times this year, and Oregon twice, who appears to be on their way to the NCAA Tournament this season. Big wins have also found their way onto the UA schedule though. A few of these include W’s over Illinois, Pepperdine, Southern Cal, and UCLA, the latter two being conference games as well.
Much of the success can be attributed to the solid play of Jason Gardner, the team’s leading scorer at 21.1 points per game. Rick Anderson, Luke Walton, and Salim Stoudamire are all averaging more than a dozen points a game, too. Channing Frye (10 points per game), Will Bynum (7.7), Isaiah Fox (5.6) and Dennis Latimore (2.1) make up a nice supporting cast to back up the big scorers on the team. There are still plenty of important games on the Wildcat schedule. A home game against Connecticut, road games a Cal, Stanford, UCLA, and USC, and season-ending home games with Stanford and Cal will all be big tests for this team. This team still has plenty of time to make even more noise and set themselves up for a big-time NCAA Tourney seed and a big run in March.
After squeaking into the NCAA Tournament last season with a very high RPI over SEC rival Alabama, the Georgia Bulldogs are trying to leave no doubt as to where they belong in March. On their way to a 15-3 record so far this season, the Dawgs have recorded several impressive wins, including W’s over Georgetown, Minnesota, Pepperdine, Kentucky, and Florida. The latter two games, UK and UF, were both road games in the SEC, tough wins to come by. The only slip-ups came against in-state opponent Georgia State, at Hawaii, and a home game against Alabama.
Coach Jim Harrick seems to have found the right mixture of players this season. The scoring is led by Ezra Williams, 18.3 points per game, and Jarvis Hayes, 17.3 points per game. Chris Daniels (13.0) also averages more than 10 points per game. Steve Thomas (8.2 points per game), Rashad Wright (7.7), Jonas Hayes (7.6; the brother of Jarvis), Fred Gibson (6), and Mike Patrick (1.9) all average 10 or minutes per game as well. Tony Cole, who averaged 5.7 points in 21 minutes per game, was released from the team just this week pending a criminal investigation. It was said that he had also been late for team gatherings repeatedly as well. Playing in the SEC, the road gets no easier for Georgia. Road games at Mississippi State and Tennessee, along with home contests with Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, and Kentucky, will provide the Dawgs a challenging stretch run. If the Bulldogs can continue to prove themselves as they did in very, very impressive road wins at Florida and Kentucky, they will surely grab a nice Tourney position.
First year head coach Bobby Knight was expected to get the TT program going in the right direction. But how many people actually thought the turn-around would come so quickly? On their way to 14 wins, the Red Raiders have lost only three times. Those defeats have come at the hands of Sam Houston State, Oklahoma (on the road), and a home loss to Texas in overtime. Meanwhile, they have beaten a couple of annual basketball big-boys, Minnesota and Oklahoma State just last weekend. In the OSU game, both teams were evenly matched for about two-thirds of the game before Knight, the Raiders, and the home crowd exploded on the Cowboys, in route to a 94-70 conference win.
So far this season, the Red Raiders have three players averaging at least 15 points a game, including Andy Ellis (18.1), Andre Emmett (17.9), and Kasib Powell (15.0). Will Chavis (9 points per game), Pawel Storozynski (7.3), Nick Valdez (5.1), Nathan Doudney (3.7), and Ronald Ross (3.7) all play more than 10 minutes per game. Mike Marshall, who has played in every game this year, averages 2 points a game, too. Although the Red Raiders are off to a quick start, they have many tough games staring them in the face. The Oklahoma Sooners pay a visit to Lubbock this weekend. Road trips to Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Texas will all be tough. A few tough assignments at home come against Big XII rivals Iowa State and Missouri. If the Red Raiders can finish the season close to how they began it, they will undoubtedly find themselves playing in the Big Dance in March. Although I don’t like him, I would be lying to say that Bobby Knight is not a good basketball coach. He had a big test coming into Texas Tech, and so far, he’s got an A.
Here’s a look ahead at the college basketball games you’ll want to keep your eye on
Duke at Boston College: (Thursday) This is a big non-conference game for both teams. Duke should win the game, but you can’t count out BC on their home court.
Stanford at UCLA: (Thursday) This is a good in-state, in-conference battle between two traditionally strong basketball programs. Stanford has struggled this year, and the Bruins should be victorious.
California at Southern Cal: (Thursday) This is probably the better of the two CA vs CA games on Thursday. This one is big in the PAC-10 race, and the winner comes away with a big advantage.
Oklahoma at Texas Tech: (Saturday) Bobby Knight’s crew was able to knock off Oklahoma State last week and will now try to do the same to Oklahoma. This one will be much tougher, though.
Illinois at Indiana: (Saturday) This game is huge in the Big Ten race. Indiana must defend the home court.
Alabama at Kentucky: (Saturday) Bama is traditionally the best, but this year may be different. If UA comes away with a win, they’re well on their way to a SEC West Championship.
Florida at Arkansas: (Saturday) This game is huge for both teams. Florida lost to Georgia last weekend, but Arkansas has been even worse. They’ve lost two straight home games, amazing for that team.
California at UCLA: (Saturday) This is another big game for both teams, the second in three days. Defense of the home court is key though.
Stanford at Southern Cal: (Saturday) See above game.
Virginia at Duke: (Sunday) Duke is hot, while UVa is recovering from a slow conference start. Duke should win the game, but UVa is very capable of pulling the upset and pushing themselves back towards the top of the ACC.