With the 2006-07 college hoops season already a month and a half into play, there are still five teams that have a shot at an undefeated season. Top-ranked UCLA (9-0), #6 Wichita State (8-0), #16 Connecticut (9-0), #19 Oregon (10-0), and #24 Clemson (10-0) are the only teams still left undefeated. Meanwhile, as the holidays are now upon us, the busiest week of basketball is here too. With two fantastic Fab 15 matchups between #7 Pittsburgh and #13 Oklahoma State on Thursday and #3 Ohio State and #5 Florida on Saturday, this will not be a week to miss.
In addition to top teams battling it out, these next five days feature a fabulous selection of college hoops rivalries. Ranging from an old-school rivalry like Arkansas at Texas to the Braggin’ Rights series between Illinois and Missouri won by the Illini on Tuesday night, make sure you plan out your week according to the hoops schedule (and maybe even leave a little room for football while you’re at it).
The Bruins are the best team in the country as of so far. They feature the best starting lineup in the nation, led by sensation sophomores Josh Shipp, Darren Collison, and L.R. Mbah A Moute. However, junior guard Arron Afflalo contributes the most to the team, pitching in 16 points a game. UCLA has faced an unbelievable schedule so far, knocking out Kentucky and Georgia Tech to win the Maui Invitational, and then knocking off #6 Texas A&M. The only real challenges left on the Bruins’ schedule are Washington, undefeated Oregon, and Arizona, all of whom UCLA must face twice each.
The Shockers have done basically just that so far this year: shocked people. WSU is one of the most surprising teams this season, jumping from 20th all the way to 6th in just eight games. Wichita State is led by two dynamic forwards, Kyle Wilson and P.J. Couisnard. The pair contributes for 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists per game for the Shockers. So far, Wichita State has won big games on the road, knocking off LSU and Syracuse on their home courts. The schedule seems to soften up a bit though down the stretch, with their hardest remaining games being against conference foes Creighton and Missouri State.
The season so far has been easy for the Huskies, with their biggest wins coming against unranked Mississippi and St. Mary’s. Connecticut has one of the most exciting players to watch in 7-3 freshman Hasheem Thabeet. The big guy is already giving the Huskies seven points and seven rebounds per night, not to mention his whopping five blocks per game. Meanwhile, UConn uses the talented guard play of Jerome Dyson and A.J. Price to handle and distribute the ball. The Huskies' road ahead is ten times harder than the one they have faced so far, as they must travel to LSU and Pittsburgh, and take on Marquette at home.
The Ducks are a team that has cracked its way into the top 25 in the past week, and they are fast approaching the Fab 15 with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Oregon is led by three quick guards in Tajuan Porter, Bryce Taylor, and Aaron Brooks. The trio combine for an average of 51 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists per game. Oregon has played a mediocre schedule in the early-season, with impressive wins against Nebraska at home and at Georgetown. The Ducks’ schedule gets plenty harder though, as they must face Arizona, Washington, and top-ranked UCLA twice each.
The Tigers are still sleeping in their den, but not for long. With fantastic forwards such as K.C Rivers and James Mays, Clemson will soon be recognized as a team to fear. Rivers and Mays steady the Tigers with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. Clemson has played a somewhat fairly easy schedule so far, with quality wins against SEC opponents Mississippi State and South Carolina. The Tigers will have to step it up soon though because they must face Duke twice and North Carolina.
YOUR HOLIDAY HOOPS SCHEDULE
Arkansas at Texas - Wednesday 7:00 CST
This should be an exciting game where both teams will have something to prove. The Razorbacks and Longhorns both are capable of making deep Tournament runs, or being left out completely. This game will be a huge factor in that deciding process. Arkansas uses their two big forwards, Sonny Weems and Charles Thomas, to control the inside play and make big runs. The 8-2 Razorbacks have two recent losses to Texas Tech and at Missouri, but have played a pretty tough schedule otherwise. Texas comes into this contest with a record of 7-2, losing two close games to Gonzaga and at Michigan State. The impact of freshman forward Kevin Durant has guided the Longhorns to big wins already, such as their victory against LSU. I like the way Durant and Texas have been playing so far. Arkansas still needs to find its rhythm. My Pick: Texas by 14
LSU at Washington - Wednesday 9:30 CST
This game will be one of experience versus youth. The Tigers are 6-2 so far with the help of their “Big Baby”, Glen Davis. The junior leads the Tigers in points and rebounds, and has made a huge name for himself so far this year. LSU, currently #11, has great experience in seniors Darnell Lazare and Dameon Mason. Meanwhile, the 8-1 Huskies lack experience greatly. The seven leading scorers for #21 Washington are four freshmen, two sophomores, and a junior. Freshman sensations Quincy Pondexter and Spencer Hawes lead the Huskies in virtually every category. However, I like the effect of Big Baby and the experience of the Tigers in a big game such as this one. My Pick: LSU by 7
Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State - Thursday 6:00 CST
Both teams come into this game looking to rebound from their first loss of the year. The 10-1 Panthers were beaten last week by very good Wisconsin team, while the 11-1 Cowboys were upset Monday night by on-fire Tennessee. #7 Pittsburgh has probably the best center in the nation in Aaron Gray, along with the nice combo guard-play of Mike Cook, Antonio Graves, and Ronald Ramon. #13 Oklahoma State also goes with a nice big guy, Mario Boggan, along with a fantastic trio of guards in JamesOn Curry, Terrel Harris, and Obi Muonelo. I think the play-making ability of Curry and Boggan will be too much for Pitt to handle, and Oklahoma State will regroup from their first loss. My Pick: Oklahoma State by 6
Duke at Gonzaga - Thursday 8:00 CST
Last year, all anyone ever heard was Reddick vs. Morrison. Well guess what? They’re gone. However, there are still plenty of reasons to watch the #8 Blue Devils and the #18 Bulldogs travel to Madison Square Garden in New York to compete in the Aeropostale Classic. Duke comes in with a single loss to Marquette early in the year and a record of 9-1. However, all ten games for Duke have been played at home in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The “Reddick-less” Blue Devils are led by guards DeMarcus Nelson and Jon Scheyer and their big man, Josh McRoberts. Gonzaga, however, has traveled on the road five times and has three losses to show for it. The “Morrison-less” Bulldogs post a record of 9-3, with great wins already against North Carolina, Texas, and Washington. Senior guard Derek Raivio and sophomore forward Josh Heytvelt have stepped up so far this year to lead Gonzaga to big wins. I think in a big time arena, the experience of playing on the road and number of quality teams faced for Gonzaga will contribute in their win over Duke. My Pick: Gonzaga by 9
Ohio State at Florida - Saturday 3:00 CST
As if you won’t be worn out from big-time college hoops games already, there’s one more to go. You can call this one the grand finale. Two potential final four teams, #3 Ohio State and #5 Florida, will meet in Gainesville to compete in what will be the biggest game of the year so far. Ohio State, 9-1, has won three straight games since their only loss at North Carolina and the return of Greg Oden. Oden has lived up to the spotlight so far, contributing 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks per game, despite still nursing a sore right hand. When Ohio State isn’t going to their big man, they use the guard play of Ron Lewis and Daequan Cook to control the ball and handle their up-tempo style of play. The defending national champion Gators are 9-2 right now. They’ve had two close losses, one by a bucket to Kansas, and another by 4 points at Florida State. Starters Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Lee Humphrey, Corey Brewer, and Taurean Green all return from last year’s squad who won the SEC and national championship. If they can, the Gators like to get the ball to their two big guys, Horford and Noah, to take over the game. I would have to say that the winner of this game can go ahead and book their ticket to Atlanta for the Final Four. It’s hard to tell, but I actually think the Buckeyes will hand the champs their third loss of the year. I think the speed of Ohio State and presence of Oden will be too much for Florida. My Pick: Ohio State by 5
Last Week’s Record: 2-0
So now that you’ve got your schedule set, you can go ahead and get your last-minute shopping done and all the presents wrapped. Have fun these holidays, spend time with the ones you love, and watch some college hoops while you’re at it. Have a very Merry College Hoops Christmas.