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January 10, 2007

SCS.comCollege basketball has stepped up to a new level after the first week of league play for the major conferences. There were some pretty good matchups for it being the first week of conference play, and the rankings have already been shaken up. Not only were the rankings rattled, they were rattled by some of the less talented (or so we thought) teams in some of the power conferences. If this trend continues, there will be many more surprising and exciting games before March Madness rolls around. Here are four things that we found out this past week in college basketball.

Duke is going to lose a lot more games that usual.

After struggling on Saturday against Virginia Tech, it shouldnít be a surprise that Duke is going to have some trouble in conference play this season. Virginia Tech is a talented team and will probably incur some upsets this year, but they are a team that some have projected to finish ninth in the conference this year. Duke had no business losing to them, especially at home.

We have yet to see consistent leadership on the floor from Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus. Some games they take over, some games they hardly show up. For at least this season, these two players have to be the go-to-guys every game. I canít imagine that Coach K will let it continue, but if somehow this level of play does continue for Duke, there will be more teams than not who donít take American Express.

If UNC continues to improve, they are going to be scary in March.

There have been a few times this season where the style of play for North Carolina has been a little unsettling. On one play, they may do everything perfect, and on the next play they canít seem to tie their shoe correctly, much less run a play. But after watching them beat Florida State, my faith has been renewed. This isnít to say that they are the best team, and despite the polls, they may not be the number one team in the nation. But they are certainly making a case for themselves.

One reason that they could be scary by the time March rolls around is that it seems that everyone, both individually and as a team, is committed to getting better. Individually, Ty Lawson has stopped running over defenders on his drives to the basket. Quentin Thomas has gotten better about not passing the ball to the guy in the fifth row. Tyler Hansbrough has started to understand that even though he has some guys to share this load, itís okay for him to still take the team on his shoulders if they need him to. And the entire team seems to have bought in to the defense that Roy Williams preaches. They not only make adjustments at halftime, but they put them to work immediately. It is fun and impressive to watch and will be very interesting when the NCAAís come around.

Clemson is a basketball school?

Most college sports fans know who Tommy Bowden is and how he has made Clemson University into a football school. But could Oliver Purnell and the Tigers be making an effort to make Clemson a basketball school? In case you didnít know, Clemson is undefeated, 16-0, and beginning to move up in the rankings. It could be said that Clemson has played easy teams, but by now an average team would have slipped up, even against cupcake teams like some of the teams that they have played against. This is not an average team.

They have needed two buzzer-beater shots to win their last two games, but playing hard to the very end is a sign of a good team. They are also in ACC conference play, which at the time, makes them number one in their conference. While I donít think they will be undefeated at the end of the season, they could be on their way to the NCAA Tournament and as a high seed.

Hereís how. It usually takes a bit more than a .500 season to make the tournament. Clemson only has fourteen games left. So technically they could lose the rest of their regular season games (which I highly doubt will happen), and they would still be over .500. Also, consider their strength of schedule. They will play UNC once, Duke twice, and Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Georgia Tech who all have a shot at being ranked before the season is over. Things are looking good on both the football field and the basketball court in Clemson.

If Florida continues to play like they have been, it wonít matter how good the other teams are.

There are a lot of talented players and teams in college basketball this year. But there are few as dominating as Florida. This was extremely evident when the Gators turned it on in the second half against Ohio State. It was exciting to see a team put back-to-back plays together with such ease and a sense of team chemistry.

If there is one criticism that could be said, it is that they are not much of a first half team. They really start to show up in the second half, as was evident in both their wins against Ohio State and Georgia this past Saturday. This is a team loaded with veterans, led by Joakim Noah, and they have already figured out how to win a championship. It seems that they might have figured out how to win them back-to-back. Now that the Gator football team has picked up the national trophy, there is all the more reason for the Gator cagers to go after it again.

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