Inside the College Game
As February nears, so does the ominous term “must win.”
[img_assist|nid=4046|title=Lorenzo Romar|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=272]We’re entering the point in the college basketball season where teams are scrapping to keep their at-large hopes alive. Whether it’s a good mid-major trying to keep the loss column small or a traditional power trying to pull itself out of a slump before it’s too late, the pressure is on and the games are intense.
The biggest win of the weak may have been Washington’s 12-point defeat of #7 Oregon Thursday night. Lorenzo Romar is a great coach, but his Huskies have far too much talent to need a win just to stay in the tournament picture. After beating the Ducks, Washington stands at 2-6 in Pac-10 play, and regardless will need to find some momentum if they want to go dancing into March.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts has dropped two of their past three games, losses at Xavier and Rhode Island respectively. Such losses put UMass in a tough position where they probably cannot afford to lose again until the Atlantic-10 tournament if they want an at-large bid. In fact, barring either UMass, Xavier, or George Washington hitting a dominant streak, the A-10 will struggle to get an at-large bid at all, despite being much stronger than last season.
In the deep and parity-filled Missouri Valley Conference, Indiana State has essentially eliminated itself from at-large consideration with four consecutive losses, after starting the season as the MVC’s biggest surprise. Meanwhile, Bradley has brought itself back into the hunt by winning five of their past six. Bradley lost a ton of talent, specifically their two most reliable players, Patrick O’Bryant and Marcellus Somerville.
Speaking of deep conference, the Big East is nothing if not rough. Connecticut’s youth and lack of leadership have put them in a very bad spot, and a 2-6 record in their last eight have the Huskies on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, Louisville’s depth has them looking like a tournament team more and more. Pitino should be able to return all of his players next season, and the Cardinals may wind up a contender for the 2008 crown, though they aren’t there yet.
A game to watch this week is Maryland at Florida State on Tuesday. Both teams could really use a win to help solidify their résumés. Florida State missed out big when Sean Marshall hit an amazing three-pointer at the end of regulation in Boston College, to end a tied game. The ACC seems like a six-bid league, and BC, Duke, UNC, Clemson, and Virginia Tech are all holding strong.
You’’ve got to love conference play, when road wins are near-impossible and players, coaches and fans have a sense of dire desperation at each game. It’s this part of the season that makes college basketball so great, along with the rivalries, passion, and desperation that accompanies it.
With that, let’s get on with the show.
Unseen, Unheard, Unheralded
Who’s Flying Under the Radar?
1. Vanderbilt Commodores (14-6, 4-2 SEC)
After a non-conference season including losses to Appalachian State and Furman, the Commodores have come on in conference play. Their last two games were been road wins over Kentucky and LSU, and before that they knocked off Alabama. This is a team that could wind up with as many as 10 or 11 SEC wins at the end of the season, lead by a pair of talented swingmen, Derrick Byars and Shan Foster.
2. Jim Baron, Rhode Island Coach
Baron has carried the Rams to the top of the Atlantic-10 at 6-1, despite entering the season with very low expectations. Home wins over UMass and Dayton were strong, as was a road victory over St. Joseph’s. Baron’s team is young, with only one senior, and will continue to be tested by a deep Atlantic-10. The pressure is on the A-10 leaders, because it is unlikely that they will qualify for an at-large bid if they don’t win the A-10 Tournament.
3. Adam Haluska, Iowa Senior Guard
After playing the role of the key jump-shooter on several good Iowa teams, including last season’s Big 10 tournament champions, Haluska has developed into a star in his senior year. While the Hawkeyes have taken a definite step down, Haluska has done all he can as the focus of the offense. improving all of his shooting percentages and averaging 20.3 points per game so far this season. His shot is nice enough he may find himself in the NBA.
The Ricky Pierce Award
A Look at the Nation’s Best Sixth Men
1. K.C. Rivers, Clemson Guard
Rivers is one of the top shooters in the country, and Clemson’s primary offensive weapon. Coming off the bench mostly due to the success Purnell has seen with his current starting lineup, Rivers has emerged as a star-in-the-making. Despite being a bench player, Rivers averages 26.8 minutes per game, to go along with his 14.2 points and 4.2 rebounds.
2. Jeremy Hunt, Memphis Guard
As the lone senior in John Calipari’s rotation this season, Hunt’s impact off the bench is more than just his shooting touch. The fifth year senior also provides leadership and experience on a young team. However, his shooting touch is crucial for the Tigers, as he is the top shooter on a team that struggles from behind the arc. Hunt is also one of Memphis’’s top perimeter defenders.
3. Daequan Cook, Ohio State Guard
Despite being only the third best freshman on his team, Cook is one of the top sixth men in the country. He’s got great athleticism and an outstanding jump shot with NBA-range. Cook was carrying Ohio State’’s offense at times before Greg Oden returned, and though his role has been slightly reduced he still makes for a key player who is dangerous from anywhere on the floor.
4. Darrell Arthur, Kansas Forward
The chiseled, athletic, 6’9” power forward has NBA written all over him. But for this season, at least, Arthur has taken a role as a bench player for a very talented Jayhawk team. He fits best on the high post, and when he gets the opportunity he can deliver. Though his opportunities have been reduced in conference play, he’s an exciting young talent.
5. Ronald Ramon, Pittsburgh Guard
Ramon shoots 49% from behind the arc. That alone tells you the kid can shoot. He’s a crucial offensive weapon for the Panthers, as he can handle and run the point to go along with his lethal shooting abilities. Ramon, Antonio Graves, and Levance Fields provide Jamie Dixon with a good stable of reliable guards, and Ramon is the chosen spark off the bench for now.
6. Paul Harris, Syracuse Forward - Talented freshman brings intensity and toughness to Orange.
7. Darian Townes, Arkansas Forward - Athletic big might be Razorbacks’ best rebounder.
8. Anthony Morrow, Georgia Tech Guard - Last year’s leading scorer has taken to his bench role.
9. Walter Hodge, Florida Guard - Quick combo guard gives the champs a spark off the bench.
10. Karon Bradley, Wichita State Guard - Former Marquette transfer is a talented little man.
Clemson has the right to complain about the timing error in their game against Duke, but hopefully it will serve as a lesson. Duke managed to easily get the ball up court for a lay-up, just as UNC did all night against Clemson in their rout. Oliver Purnell needs to tighten the back end of his press or he will continue to watch his team be exposed… UNC, Wisconsin, UCLA, and Florida have set themselves apart from the rest of the country, and are currently ready to take their #1 seeds… Alabama needs to pick up the pieces to their season before they wind up with a terrible seeding… Thaddeus Young is really picking up. I feel like I underrated him earlier this year, but he’s coming on strong. He’s got a great skill set and an NBA-ready body… Michigan is slowly slipping out of at-large contention, even in a weak Big 10... As far as elite teams go, this is a bit of a down year for the mid-majors. A lot of that has to do with it being a great year for the power conference elites… I feel like if the NCAA had its way, the Final Four would be one-seeded UNC (the deepest, most talented team and the most prestigious program in one), one-seeded Florida (the champions trying to defend), five-seeded Texas (more Kevin Durant is always desirable), and six-seeded Air Force (the mid major Cinderella)… Expect columns on Fridays from now on, I apologize for the late posting date. Have a good week.
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