While focusing on nothing in particular, this week's edition of the Journal will touch on a little bit of everything. From Philly to Spokane and all between, an edition of notes, opinions, and tidbits from the world of college sports....
[ Updated January 29 ]
GAMECOCKS STRUTTING THEIR STUFF
If not for Mississippi State, all of the talk in the SEC would be about Dave Odom's team at South Carolina. The Gamecocks are off to a 5-1 start in the SEC and have lost just two games overall. That's far more impressive than anyone thought USC would be at this point in the season. But as life in the SEC goes, things don't slack up now. After a road trip to Mississippi and a visit from Alabama next Wednesday, take a look at the Gamecocks' next five games: at [#5] Kentucky, vs [#12] Mississippi State, vs Vanderbilt, at Arkansas, and at Florida. Much more on South Carolina later on....
After a dismal 4-4 start to the season that had taken the Indiana Hoosiers off the national scene, coach Mike Davis' team has risen to the top of the Big Ten standings with a great start in conference play. After being demolished on the road at Wisconsin in their first league game, IU has rebounded to win their last five, three of them on the road, and is tied with the Badgers atop the Big Ten standings. Led by the 20 points per game of sophomore sensation Bracey Wright, don't be surprised to see Indiana hanging around the top of the league standings for the rest of the year in what is a weak Big Ten conference....
SO WHO'S FOR REAL?
We've had the debate between Timo and Toby, so I figured I would join in. Here are a few teams that have been mentioned and how I feel about them:
....St. Joseph's: For Real? Yes. Any team that has won all 17 games put before them has to be considered to be "for real." Some complain about their (lack of) strength of schedule, but if they were not a good team, they would have slipped up somewhere along the way. Instead, the Hawks have very nice wins over Gonzaga, Boston College, California, Richmond, and Xavier. Sure, only Gonzaga is a real power team there, but the Hawks have stayed focused throughout the season and have possibly the nation's best player leading the way....
....Gonzaga: For Real? Yes.
As Toby pointed out last week, the 'Zags' only two losses have come to the only two teams in the country who have yet to lose a game, St. Joseph's and Stanford....and both of those games were decided by exactly seven points. Their resume also includes wins over Georgia, Maryland, and Missouri, only one of which was played in their home gym. And all college basketball fans know that Mark Few's team always steps it up in the Tourney....
|Gonzaga forward Ronny Turiaf
Gonzaga, led by the 16 points per game of junior forward Ronny Turiaf, has a comfortable two-game lead in the West Coast Conference and will again be a Tournament threat.
....Pittsburgh: For Real? Yes. No, make that "Absolutely." Prior to last week when Pitt had to travel to both Connecticut and Syracuse, I said that a split would be awesome for the Panthers. And that's exactly what first-year head coach Jamie Dixon's team did. And in fact, they were in the lead at UConn with less than two minutes to go before dropping a three-point decision. That set up a huge showdown at Syracuse Saturday night, a showdown that turned out to be a show-out party for the Panthers. Pitt turned a six-point halftime lead into a 21-point victory over last year's national champion. If you thought last year's Sweet 16 team was good, tune in to check out this group of Panthers....
....Providence: For Real? Yes. This is my personal entry into the debate. The Friars have quietly been one of the best teams in the Big East this season. They are just two points and about 0.1 second away from being a one-loss team. An early-season defeat to Rhode Island was disappointing, but a loss at the hands of Texas on a disputed last-second basket doesn't hurt the RPI. And if you're a college hoops fan, you know that a loss to Rutgers this year isn't anything to be ashamed of. Mix that, a RPI ranking in the top ten, and victories over Alabama, Illinois, Virginia, Seton Hall, and Connecticut, and you find yourself with not only a Big East contender but a team with a serious shot at grabbing a three-seed in the Tourney...or better....
SO WHO'S NOT FOR REAL?
....Kansas. The Jayhawks' most impressive victories of the season have come over teams that probably aren't as good as advertised. An early-season seven-point win over Michigan State once looked impressive but doesn't really anymore. A win over Oregon is nice, but the Ducks are at best a distant third in the PAC 10. Other than that, nothing stands out about KU. They have twice been beaten by (supposedly) far inferior opponents, Nevada by 14 points and Richmond in Lawrence. Those are a few of the reasons that Kansas, a team ranked in the top fifteen in the national polls, did not receive a vote in my top 20 this week....
....Oklahoma. Sorry, not taking a shot at the Big XII, but how can the Sooners, who didn't receive a vote in any of the SCS.com staff's polls, still be ranked #25 in the country? Sure, they started off the season 12-0, but what followed was a four-game losing streak. I projected early in the season that following the losses of seniors Ebi Ere, Hollis Price, and Quannas White, this team would struggle. Now that they have started playing quality competition, OU's lack of experience has caught up with them. A couple of very winnable games are up next on the schedule before a stretch of five ranked opponents in 13 days hits the Sooners. Look for OU to struggle to reach .500 in league play this season....
THIS WEEK IN SEC HOOPS
There were only four games on the schedule for Wednesday night in the SEC, but three of those were decided by ten points or less. The biggest game of the evening was in Nashville, TN where Vanderbilt hosted South Carolina.
The fireworks were flying as a player from each team was ejected late in the first half, and another technical foul was assessed soon after. In actual basketball action, the game wasn't decided until USC forward Kerbrell Brown tipped in a missed shot with less than 2 seconds left to give the Gamecocks a huge SEC road victory. With that win, coach Dave Odom's team remains a half-game ahead of Kentucky, who struggled at times but came up with a ten-point home win over Mississippi. The Rebels have played better as of late, knocking off both LSU and Alabama last week and hanging right with the Big Blue on Wednesday. LSU and Georgia battled right down to the wire in Baton Rouge. The Dawgs trailed by one with 25 seconds remaining, but the Tigers stretched the lead to three with 12 ticks left. A UGA shot was off the mark, and LSU converted a free throw to seal the deal. Mississippi State rolled along with a huge win over Tennessee. The Bulldogs, who made a huge jump in the national polls this week to number eleven, have a two-game lead on the rest of the SEC West.
Like last weekend, no SEC game on the schedule stands out as the conference's biggest matchup. The first game of the day matches Vanderbilt and Kentucky for the second time this month, this time in Nashville. Vandy needs to rebound from two straight SEC losses; though they once looked like a sure-bet for the NCAA Tourney, a loss here would drop the 'Dores to 2-5 in the league. The task doesn't get easier for South Carolina Saturday. The Gamecocks will be visiting Mississippi, a team that struggled early but won two big home games last week.
A win here for USC would give the Gamecocks a legitimate claim as one of the nation's top twelve teams. Mississippi State visits Auburn Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs have been dominant as of late, winning their last four games by double-figures. Auburn has gotten off to a disappointing 2-4 SEC start, including a home loss to USC. Arkansas and Georgia, both currently last in their respective divisions, get together in Athens. The evening is capped off with a showdown between LSU and Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The loser of this one falls even farther behind Mississippi State and is well on their way to eliminating themselves from the SEC West race by early February.
|*SEC WEEKEND SCHEDULE*|
|Kentucky at Vanderbilt 11:00 ESPN2|
|S. Carolina at Mississippi 12:00 JP*|
|Florida at Tennessee 2:00 JP*|
|Mississippi State at Auburn 3:00|
|LSU at Alabama 6:00 FSN/SS|
The Mid-Week's Top Player: Jamie Lloreda....The senior forward from Panama dominated the Georgia Bulldogs with 18 points (12 of them in the second half) and 12 rebounds. He also blocked a shot and has two assists while shooting 69% from the floor.
On the Rise: South Carolina...The Gamecocks have been on fire lately. Dave Odom's team has won ten of their last eleven games and five in a row since dropping their SEC opener at home against Florida. Three SEC road wins have vaulted USC to a half-game lead in the SEC East over Kentucky. A weekend showdown at Mississippi provides another tough test.
On the Slide: Vanderbilt...Once looking so promising in the SEC, Kevin Stallings' team has lost four of their last five, including Wednesday's home game with South Carolina. This slide follows an undefeated start to the season that saw the 'Dores enter SEC play with an 11-0 record. A loss this weekend to Kentucky would drop Vandy to 2-5 and put them in real danger of knocking themselves out of contention for the NCAA Tournament early in the race.
Top to Bottom: (1) Mississippi State, (2) South Carolina, (3) Kentucky, (4) Florida, (5) LSU, (6) Vanderbilt, (7) Alabama, (8) Auburn, (9) Tennessee, (10) Arkansas, (11) Mississippi, (12) Georgia
Weekend Predictions: Kentucky over Vanderbilt, South Carolina over Mississippi, Florida over Tennessee, Mississippi State over Auburn, Georgia over Arkansas, Alabama over LSU.
-Last Week's Predictions: 6-1 (.857)   |   SEC Season: 10-3 (.769)