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Inside the College Game

Thu, 01/29/2009 - 1:57pm

By Brian Cerone


Wake Up Call

 
 


James Johnson
 

Great players command great respect, and that is exactly the reason that the #4 ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons edged out the top ranked Duke Blue Devils on Wednesday night, 70-68. Wake Forest superstar Jeff Teague had a sub-par game for his standards, 11 points on 4 of 14 shooting, but it was the attention that he commanded on the last inbounds play that allowed his teammate James Johnson to slip to the hoop for the go-ahead bucket with 0.8 seconds left on the clock.

Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio set up an inbounds play with 2.6 seconds left that worked like he had hoped. The play was a triple screen for Teague along the baseline. All three Duke defenders jumped out towards Teague, not wanting him to get the last shot off. As that happened, the defenders forgot about everyone else wearing a Wake Forest uniform, and James Johnson easily slipped to the hoop for the game winning basket.

It took a furious comeback from the Blue Devils to put themselves in a position to steal the game at the end of regulation. The lead was 13 points with 8 minutes remaining for the Demon Deacons, before Duke started to make its last stand. It was a two-man game for Duke with Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler putting the team on their shoulders. Singler ended up with 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Henderson scored 20 points, including a tough jumper with 17.4 seconds left to cap off the comeback and tie the game at 68-68.

Throughout the course of the game it was a balanced attack for the Demon Deacons all night. Freshman Al-Farouq Aminu had 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks. James Johnson played well all night with 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Wake Forest got 9 points a piece from Chas McFarland and David Weaver as well. But, it was the defensive side of the court where the Demon Deacons really shined. They held the top ranked Blue Devils to a season low 33% shooting and kept the usually gunning Duke squad to only 4 three-pointers for the game.

The loss for the top ranked Blue Devils is the 3rd loss by the #1 ranked team in the past 12 days. First Pittsburgh was knocked off by Louisville on January 17th, then the aforementioned Wake Forest lost last Wednesday to Virginia Tech, and now the Duke Blue Devils lose a heart breaker at Wake Forest by two points.

The win for Wake Forest now gives them victories over both Duke and North Carolina, the two usual titans of the ACC. They also beat #9 Clemson on the road. Dino Gaudio has his squad believing they are the best team in the nation, and they are certainly playing like it. Don’t expect the Demon Deacons to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski recently came out with statements trying to sell the ACC as the top conference in the country, so let’s take a look and see if he is right:

Top 5 conferences:


#1 – Big East (8 teams ranked in the top 25)

The Elite:
#2 UConn, #3 Pittsburgh, #7 Louisville, # 8 Marquette

The Challengers:
#15 Syracuse, #21 Villanova, #22 Notre Dame, #23 Georgetown, Providence, West Virginia, Cincinnati

Analysis: This is without question the best conference in the nation (sorry coach K). Its depth is something that has never been seen before in college basketball, with 8 teams in the top 25 and a few others that are right on the cusp of being so. When all is said and done, the Big East might end up getting 10 teams into the NCAA tournament, something that has never happened before. How do you deny any of these teams to a shot at the big title? Take a look at a team like Providence who no one gave a shot to be competitive this year. After a month of conference play, the Friars are 6-2 in the Big East, most recently beating 15th ranked Syracuse, 100-94. Providence is a perfect example to show just how deep the Big East really is. The conference as a whole has a winning percentage of 79% (154-42) outside of conference play. Every night is truly a battle in the Big East, and most teams are going to be rewarded for it on Selection Sunday. Expect a
record breaking amount of teams selected to play in the NCAA tournament.

#2 – ACC (4 teams ranked in the top 25)

The Elite:
#1 Duke, #4 Wake Forest, #6 North Carolina

The Challengers: #11 Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College

Analysis: While some might make the argument that the top of the conference is as good or even better than the Big East’s, it’s clear that the ACC is not as deep. The ACC is very top heavy. Duke, Wake Forest, and North Carolina are all National Title contenders, but after that there is a serious drop off of talent level. Even the #11 ranked Clemson Tigers are not at an elite level, and probably are not worthy of being the 11th ranked team in the country. It seems to be the same story every year for the Tigers, as they have yet to beat a ranked team and lost to the only 2 that they have faced (Wake Forest by 10 and North Carolina by 24). Expect the ACC to bring only 5 or 6 teams to the NCAA tournament this March, with everyone but the big three making early exits.

#3 – Big 12 (2 teams ranked in the top 25)

The Elite:
#5 Oklahoma, #12 Texas, Kansas

The Challengers: Missouri, Baylor, Oklahoma State

Analysis: The Big 12 gets the nod over the Big Ten or the Pac-10 because it has the two best teams that any of those conferences can boast. Oklahoma and Texas are legit national title contenders. Oklahoma has the best player in the country in Blake Griffin and also a very solid supporting cast. Texas has a more well balanced attack, but will be just as deadly when March comes around. Next in line is probably defending the National Champion Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas, who fell out of the top 25, is undefeated in conference play, but have yet to play either Oklahoma or Texas. The young Jayhawks (17-4) seem to be gelling at the right time after losing 2 first-round picks and 3 second-round picks from last years squad.

#4 – Big Ten (4 teams ranked in the top 25)

The Elite:
#9 Michigan State, #17 Purdue, #20 Illinois, #24 Minnesota

The Challengers:
Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan

Analysis: The Big Ten has responded from a disappointing ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Michigan State, most notably has bounced back significantly, winning 12 of 13 including a win over the 5th ranked Texas Longhorns. Similarly, after getting destroyed by Duke on Dec. 2, the Purdue Boilermakers have won 11 of 13 games, including a beat-down on 20th ranked Davidson. Overall, the Big Ten has a better winning percentage outside of league play (81%, 108-25) than the Big East.


#5 – Pac-10 (2 teams ranked in the top 25)

The Elite:
#14 Arizona State, #16 UCLA, Washington, California

The Challengers:
USC, Arizona

Analysis: The Pac-10 is a little down this year and it doesn’t seem that they can boast a national title contender. Arizona State has one of the nation’s best players in James Harden, but his supporting cast isn’t enough to make them a serious threat in March. UCLA brought in possibly the nation’s best recruiting class of the year, but it has taken longer to gel than expected. With two losses in their last 3 games, the Bruins seem to miss Kevin Love’s inside presence more than they had anticipated. Washington and California have gotten off to nice starts in conference play, but when all said and done, the Pac-10 looks like it will only be sporting 4 teams in the NCAA tournament, possibly less.

Games Notes:

Virginia Tech spoiled a potential showdown between the top two ranked teams in the country by knocking off #1 Wake Forest, 78-71 on Wednesday night. The 2nd ranked Duke Blue Devils visit the Demon Deacons this Wednesday. Virginia Tech isn’t stranger to giving the top ranked team in the country a hard time. In 2005, #1 Duke needed a half court shot at the buzzer to hold off the Hokies. Last year, they knocked off #1 North Carolina in the regular season, and nearly again in the ACC tournament had it not been for a tough baseline jumper in the waning moments by Tyler Hansbrough… Jeff Adrien (12 points and 19 rebounds) and UConn snapped the nation’s longest home court winning streak when they traveled to South Bend, Indiana and beat Notre Dame, 69-61. The streak was stopped at 45 games. The Fighting Irish had another slip up at home a couple nights later, when Marquette (7-0 in Big East play) came in and knocked the Irish off again, 71-64. The
loss makes it a 4-games losing streak overall for Mike Brey’s crew…North Carolina looked like the heavyweight bully last Wednesday night that we all expected when they ousted 9th ranked Clemson, 94-70 at Chapel Hill. Senior Wayne Ellington continues to destroy the Clemson Tigers. After averaging 29 points in three games last year vs. Clemson, he had 25 points and a career high 7 assists in last Wednesday’s meeting.

matthewanaya1
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Conference RPI

1. ACC, 2. Big 10, 3. Big East. Objective not subjective. Big 12 is garbage. I (Purdue) would love to play OU again. This time with a healthy Rob Hummell and Chris Kramer.

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