Random thoughts on the state of intercollegiate athletics from the editor of SouthernCollegeSports.com...
< SUNDAY :: 01.29.06 :: 09:55:00 PM >
THE MAC EAST: A WEEK LATER
About this time last week, I took a look at the MAC East and the huge week that was upcoming. With that action-packed week behind us, where does the division stand now? Akron and Kent State came into the week tied atop the standings with matching 6-0 records, and each won two of three over the past seven days, meaning they remain tied, though now with 8-1 league marks. Miami (Ohio) and Ohio each lost two of three games, and those two squads are now 7-3 and 6-3, respectively. One final note of interest: the Bobcats, currently in fourth place in the East, would actually be the leader in the MAC West.
< SATURDAY :: 01.28.06 :: 10:40:00 PM >
SATURDAY IMPRESSIONS: THE GOOD
...Is there any team in the country hotter than Georgetown? The Hoyas have won four straight including a road victory at Notre Dame and home wins over Duke and Cincinnati, the latter coming today...
...Props to a young Kansas squad for not throwing in the towel. Since losing at Missouri, the Jayhawks have won three straight, including Saturday's win on the road at Iowa State, and are now 4-2 in the Big XII...
...How about North Carolina's dominating performance over Arizona? The Heels, who had lost three of four coming into the day, were led by freshman Tyler Hansbrough in the 17-point victory...
...A matchup of two of the Colonial's tri-leaders saw George Mason trounce Old Dominion. The Patriots led by 23 at the half and never looked back. The victory leaves GM in a tie atop the standings with UNC-Wilmington...
...What a week for Michigan. The Wolverines came from behind to knock off in-state rival Michigan State in the mid-week and then took down Wisconsin in Ann Arbor on Saturday. UM is now 5-2 in the Big Ten and tied for the league lead...
...Creighton got a huge home win in the MVC over Wichita State on Saturday. The victory pulls the Jays into a tie with the Shockers, and both teams are now a single game out of first, trailing league leader Northern Iowa...
...You do not want to play the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Already this year, coach Steve Alford's team has taken down NC State, Illinois, Indiana, and now Ohio State in the home arena...
...Oklahoma extended its winning streak to four with a big victory over rival Texas. The Sooners are now 4-2 in league play and just a game back of the Horns in the Big XII standings.
SATURDAY IMPRESSIONS: THE BAD
...What has happened to Cincinnati? The 'Cats were rolling along with a ten-game win streak in early January but have since lost five of six, four of those losses by double-digits...
...Is there a more inconsistent team in the country than Iowa State? Losing home games will kill you in the Big XII...
...Louisville has some serious work to do. Now 2-5 in Big East play with three of their next five games on the road at Villanova, Cincinnati, and Syracuse, the Cards' NCAA hopes do not look good...
...Wake Forest, ouch. The Deacons are now 1-6 in ACC play after a home loss to Virginia Tech...
...Notre Dame can just not get over the hump. The Irish have lost six of their last seven games, none by more than six points. ND is now 10-8 overall but could be 13-5 if they had just won half of those games.
< TUESDAY :: 01.24.06 :: 10:05:00 PM >
AVOIDING THE LET-DOWN
Georgetown, Tennessee, and St. John's each took down one of the three remaining unbeaten teams over the past weekend, and while those wins are huge, they don't mean as much if you fail to follow up with another win in your next outing. It took two overtimes, but the Hoyas avoided that let-down on Tuesday, going on the road to knock off Notre Dame by three and moving to 4-2 in Big East play. The Volunteers hit the court for the first time since their home win over Florida on Wednesday at Mississippi State. It will be interesting to see how Bruce Pearl's squad responds against a Bulldog team that has lost its last four games. And also on Wednesday, the improving Red Storm hit the hardwood, their contest on the road at top-ranked Connecticut. Obviously the most difficult post-upset matchup of the three, don't be surprised to see SJU drop the game at UConn, but keep an eye on West Virginia's trip into Madison Square Garden this weekend.
< MONDAY :: 01.23.06 :: 10:00:00 PM >
HUGE WEEK IN MAC EAST
The MAC East has to be one of the most competitive divisions in all of America. Coming into the week, Akron and Kent State are tied atop the standings with 6-0 league records. Miami (Ohio) and Ohio follow closely with 6-1 and 5-1 conference marks, respectively. If you think that's impressive, then take a glance at this week's schedule that features numerous head-to-head showdowns between this group of teams. On Tuesday, the division leaders hit the road, the Zips to face Ohio and the Flashes to take on Miami (Ohio). With the two one-loss teams at home, it is very possible that there could be a four-team cluster of one-loss squads after Tuesday evening's action. Then on Thursday, the Zips return home to host the Red Hawks, while Ohio makes a road trip to Buffalo. The Bulls had high expectations but have underachieved and are just 3-3 in the conference to date. And finally over the weekend, Kent State will host Buffalo, and Miami (Ohio) will trip to in-state rival Ohio. We'll take a glance at the MAC East standings again next week to see how all this action affected the league standings.
< SATURDAY :: 01.21.06 :: 10:40:00 PM >
WELL, THAT ANSWERS THAT
Wednesday we asked "when will they lose?" Saturday we got the answer. Top-ranked Duke, second-ranked Florida, and number six Pittsburgh all lost games (on the road), leaving no Division I team without a loss. Don't hold me to this - I must consult with the rest of the staff - but at this point I'd have to put Connecticut on top of this week's Fab 15 with Duke second and then Florida, Villanova, Memphis, and Texas follwing in some order.
SHOCKER OF THE DAY
Wisconsin's loss at home to North Dakota State has to be one of the biggest upsets of the entire season thus far. And the Badger loss was more of a result of their own play than the heroics of the St. Bison. UW shot 16 of 72 (72!) from the field, and though Kamron Taylor led the way with 19 points, he himself was just 6 of 24 shooting. Sure, it doesn't affect their Big Ten status, and in all honestly, it really isn't that big of a deal. But still, a loss like this harms the ego and psyche more than anything else. Luckily for the Badgers, a home matchup with Penn State midweek should get the train back on track before a huge weekend showdown on the road at Michigan.
BEST PROGRAM COMBO TODAY?
With their win at UCLA Saturday, West Virginia is now 14-3 on the season and winners of their last dozen outings. So it occurred to me, are the Mountaineers the best football-basketball combo program in the country right now? That argument could be made when you combine the hoopsters' performance with the showing of the Sugar Bowl champions, but I'd have to give that honor to the Texas Longhorns. UT's hoops squad is as good or better, and the Horns are the national champions on the gridiron. Others in the running? How about Ohio State, LSU, and Florida?
After losing their first two conference games, Colorado has rebounded to win three straight, including two on the road at Missouri and Oklahoma State. With a pair of home games this week against Nebraska and Kansas State, the Buffaloes could get themselves right back in the middle of things in the Big XII if they can come out on top in both.
< THURSDAY :: 01.19.06 :: 10:45:00 PM >
The annual cross-city matchup between Xavier and Cincinnati is one of the most overlooked and under-rated rivalries in all of college sports. These two get together each year, and the battle almost always goes right down to the wire. Thursday night's meeting was no exception as the game went into overtime thanks to missed Musketeer free-throws and some heroics from Bearcat Jihad Muhammed. But Xavier scored first in the extra period and never looked back, earning the victory and also some major national respect in the process. The 'Teers have lost just twice all season and are in the midst of a seven-game win streak. Along with George Washington and Charlotte, XU has to be considered one of the favorites in the A-10 as we hit stride in conference play.
< WEDNESDAY :: 01.18.06 :: 10:05:00 PM >
WHEN WILL THEY LOSE?
Florida captured an easy victory over Savannah State on Wednesday, while Duke and Pittsburgh picked up hard-fought victories over NC State and Rutgers, respectively. Those three squads, the only teams in America without a loss, are now a combined 49-0 this season. So the question becomes, who will lose first? For the Gators, if it isn't this weekend at Tennessee, Billy Donovan's squad could go some time without a loss. If UF can survive the Vols in Knoxville on Saturday, the next best bet is a home game with LSU on February 11. As for the Panthers, next Monday's home matchup with Syracuse won't be easy, but I look for Pitt to pick up their first defeat of the season on the final day of this month in a road game at Connecticut. Three of Duke's next four games on the road at Georgetown, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. I would expect the Blue Devils to win each of those matchups and likely not lose until they come upon back-to-back road trips to Maryland and North Carolina the second week of February. And to answer this question before it's asked, I expect none of the three to go unbeaten in 2005-2006.
WEDNESDAY THOUGHTS - IMPRESSED WITH:
(a) Miami's trouncing of Clemson. Granted, the Tigers aren't all that great, but this Hurricane team seems to have finally found its groove, winning three straight over Maryland, North Carolina, and now CU. (b) Memphis's hard-fought victory over Tennessee. Great to see not only these two in-state rivals going head-to-head but also to see the game have big-time national implications. (c) Alabama, again. Without Chuck Davis, the Tide has found a way to get the job done three straight times at Auburn, at Kentucky, and then last night at home against Arkansas. It took overtime, but the Tide moved to 3-1 in the SEC with the win. (d) Ohio State's home victory over Wisconsin. The Buckeyes desperately needed this win after dropping one in Columbus to Michigan State this past Sunday. (e) Creighton's come-from-behind home win over Bradley. The Jays continue to find a way to win without star Nate Funk. (f) Iowa's triple-overtime win over Minnesota. Anytime you play three overtimes, does anyone really deserve to go home a loser? (g) Wake Forest's romp over Georgia Tech. The Deacons just needed something to go right, and it finally did.
< MONDAY :: 01.16.06 :: 10:20:00 PM >
WILD AND WOOLY MVC
If Monday night's double-overtime thriller between Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa (won by the Panthers) is any indication, the race in the Missouri Valley is going to be a sight to see. Besides the two already mentioned, Creighton, Missouri State, and Wichita State are also legitimate contenders not only for the conference title but also for NCAA bids.
The "Big Monday" blowout between Kansas and Missouri was another great game to see. Two missed free-throws as regulation expired kept the Jayhawks from coming out on top, as Mizzou went on to grab the victory in the extra period. However, neither team looks like they'll do much come NCAA time, if they're even invited. And though it wasn't as exciting, Connecticut's dominance of Syracuse on the road certainly re-solidifies the Huskies' position as one of America's best teams and offers a dose of reality back to the Orange. Look for the trend shown in the Dome on Monday to continue throughout the Big East season.
< SUNDAY :: 01.15.06 :: 10:45:00 PM >
WHEW, WHAT A WEEKEND
There was a ton of great hoops action this past weekend, but what follows is what I view as the biggest news of the weekend....
....Syracuse finally got a big win on their resume, going on the road and knocking off Cincinnati, a member of last week's Fab 15....
....Just when it looks like Kansas has things on track, they blow an eight-point halftime lead and lose at home to in-state rival Kansas State....
....And wow, speaking of collapses, how far will the Kentucky Wildcats fall? After losing at home to Vanderbilt for the first time in forever on Wednesday, UK dropped a home game Saturday to the Chuck Davis-less Alabama Crimson Tide. While bemoaning the Cats, we also send out props to the Tide, who also won on the road at Auburn earlier in the week....
....Sticking in the SEC, LSU is stepping out as the SEC West's best team and Florida's biggest contender for the overall conference title, their latest triumph coming Saturday night against Tennessee....
....After coming up short in big games over and over again, the Miami Hurricanes have picked up two huge wins in a row. After knocking off Maryland last Saturday, the 'Canes came back this weekend and won in Chapel Hill, upsetting the Heels by eleven....
....Also in the ACC, NC State continued their winning ways with a hard-fought home victory over Georgia Tech....
....What a pitiful week for Arizona. After getting blown away at Oregon State on Thursday, the 'Cats were knocked off by the Oregon Ducks in Corvallis on Saturday....
....The biggest game of the weekend saw Texas fight off visiting Villanova as the 'Horns claimed the three-point victory and kept their current hot streak alive....
....The West Coast's game of most importance this weekend had Washington winning on the road at UCLA. The Bruins have already lost twice at home in league play....
....Pittsburgh remained one of only three unbeaten teams in the country with a tough road win at Louisville Sunday afternoon....
....Also on Sunday, it took double-overtime, but Michigan State came away with a monstrous road win at Ohio State. After starting 0-2 in league play, the Spartans are now back even at 2-2 in Big Ten action.
< THURSDAY :: 01.12.06 :: 03:05:00 PM >
BIG NIGHT IN THE PAC-10
After pulling off a road upset of California last weekend, the Oregon State Beavers return home tonight to face Arizona, who is tied atop the league standings with a mark of 3-1. How the 'Cats fare on the road against a middle-of-the-pack conference foe will certainly be interesting. And speaking off coming off of an upset, the Washington State Cougars looked fabulous in a road victory at in-state rival Washington on Saturday, especially when you consider they were without their leading scorer. WSU will again be without sophomore guard Derrick Low when they pay a visit to UCLA this evening. The Bruins are ranked 13th in this week's Fab 15 and are among a group of tri-leaders at 3-1 in conference games and sitting atop the PAC-10. And finally on Thursday, the Washington Huskies, who have stumbled to a 1-2 start in PAC-10 play, venture southward to take on USC. The Trojans already knocked off North Carolina in L.A. earlier this year.
< WEDNESDAY :: 01.11.06 :: 11:15:00 PM >
DEACONS FADING FAST
An overtime loss at Clemson Wednesday night leaves Wake Forest 0-2 in ACC play with their next three games coming at Maryland (another disappointing story), vs Georgia Tech, and at NC State. This team could lose their first five league games, though I lean to a more likely 1-4 start. Ouch!
After knocking off Oklahoma on Saturday, Nebraska trounced Kansas State by 15 on the road Wednesday night. Before you laugh, remember that the Wildcats took Iowa State to the wire this past weekend. With ISU as the favorite, Missouri and Kansas surging, and Colorado playing pretty well, the Big XII North is looking a bit more exciting than it was a mere few weeks ago.
BIG WIN FOR JAYS
Playing without star Nate Funk, Creighton went on the road and pulled off a huge win at MVC rival Northern Iowa on Wednesday. The Panther loss gives the Blue Jays a three-game win streak since losing two straight MVC contests but also allows Southern Illinois an even larger early-season lead in the conference. SIU's next three games are on the road, however, including a trip to visit the Panthers next Monday.
HEATH'S HAWGS HURTING
Arkansas has opened up SEC play 0-2, losing at Mississippi State on Saturday and then to LSU Wednesday night. Once a division of tri-favorites (Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU), the SEC West appears to be LSU's to lose with the Tide's loss of Chuck Davis and the recent struggles of the Razorbacks. Auburn is likely to start 0-3 in league play after a visit to Florida this weekend, but keep an eye on both Mississippi and Mississippi State, who meet in Oxford this Saturday.
< WEDNESDAY :: 01.11.06 :: 12:35:00 PM >
BRING ON THE BEARS
The Baylor Bears, thanks to NCAA sanctions, finally get to open their season this evening. I really feel for the squad as basically no one currently associated with the team was involved with the scandal three years ago. And don't be surprised if the Bears win tonight, either. Coach Scott Drew has put together a fairly talented team, and in-state rival Texas Tech, the Bears' season-opening foe, has struggled all season and lost five of eight.
FOSTER A RISING STAR
Vandy's Shan Foster, aka "Usher" (you should see his photo), is blossoming into one of the SEC's best players. The Louisiana native, a preseason All-SEC selection, leads the 'Dores with 16 points per game and is connecting on more than 45% of his shots from downtown. And the good news for Vandy fans is that the 6'6" sophomore is improving day by day. Check out his last four outings, all against quality competition: at Dayton (19), at Georgia Tech (19), vs Auburn (20), at Kentucky (16).
ACC play has been a disaster for Boston College thus far. The Eagles have lost their first three conference games, including Tuesday night's blowout home loss to NC State. Since winning against Oklahoma State out in Las Vegas in late November, BC has dropped four games, and their most impressive win was over UMass.
SPEAKING OF REELING...
I find it hard to believe, but to my eye, Kentucky does not physically have the talent to win the SEC. I didn't ever think I'd see the day when I really believe they don't have a shot to win the conference crown. Rajon Rondo is the only proven SEC performer on the team, though Randolph Morris could turn into a second. Every other player on the squad is what I would consider a "role" player. Don't count the 'Cats out of the NCAA Tournament by any means, but then again, don't look for the team to win more than ten SEC games either.