Even though Kentucky ended up winning the National Championship last year, it was Vanderbilt who took home the SEC title. Can UK recover from five players leaving for the NBA Draft, or will another team pull off another major upset in the SEC?
1- Kentucky. Nerlens Noel will lead another star-packed Kentucky recruiting class, that was ranked No. 2 in the nation. Scouts say Noel is every bit the shot blocker Anthony Davis was, though his offensive game still needs some work. Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin will both get big minutes in their freshman years as well. Of John Calipari’s five recruits from the 2011 class, only Kyle Wiltjer elected to stay for a sophomore season. He averaged five points a game and will be the only contributor back from that National Championship team. NC State transfer Ryan Harrow will be Calipari’s most experienced point guard he has had in years. It’s hard not to pick Kentucky to win the conference with the way Calipari is able to rebuild teams quickly.
2- Missouri. With Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon, Missouri will have one of the best starting backcourts in the country. The two combined for nearly 24 points and 10 assists a year ago. The Tigers had trouble with frontcourt depth last season, but 2010 starter Laurence Bowers (10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds per game in 2009-10) is back from a torn ACL, and they will also have UCONN transfer Alex Oriakhi, who has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience. They lost three players who averaged over 13 points a game, but with who they have coming back this is still a strong team.
3- Florida. The Gators are without two of the main backcourt members, including Bradley Beal who was the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, but the cupboards are hardly bare. Shooting guard Kenny Boynton, who averaged nearly 16 points a game last year, will be counted on even more this year. Erik Murphy and Patric Young, who both averaged over 10 points and 4.5 rebounds a game last year return as well. This team will have a lot of depth and experience, including that of Mike Rosario and Brandon Ogbueze.
4- Tennessee. If the Volunteers can repeat what they did in their half season with freshman Jarnell Stokes, then this team will for sure be a top-five SEC team and borderline top-25 team in the nation. After Stokes was inserted into the starting lineup last year, Tennessee went 10-3. He provides a big physical presence that the Volunteers will need to rely on. He isn’t their only quality big man, as Jeronne Maymom (12.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will be a good counter for Stokes. Trae Golden is one of the SEC’s best point guards as well, leading the team in scoring at 13.6 a game. It’s NCAA Tournament or bust for Tennessee, as they return over 80 percent of the scoring and rebounding.
5- Arkansas. A 3-9 stretch to end last year ended squashed any chance of the Razorbacks making the Big Dance, but this year should be a different story. Arkansas got a huge break when BJ Young decided to not turn pro and stay in college another year. He led the SEC freshmen in scoring a year ago, shooting 50 percent from the field. Marshawn Powell tore knee ligaments after just two games last year — two breakout games, suggesting he is in for a big year this year. Mardracus Wade, Rickey Scott and freshmen JaCorey Williams and DeQuavious Wagner give this team a lot of depth.
9- Ole Miss
11- Texas A&M
12- Mississippi State
14- South Carolina
Jarnell Stokes- In just half of a year last season, Stokes was a monster in the post, and a full summer with the team will pay huge dividends going into his sophomore season. He only averaged 9.6 points a game, but that’s in limited playing time. Look for that to increase upward of 15 a game, as he has a full summer of workouts. He helped Team USA to a gold medal at the U18 FIBA Americas during the offseason, averaging 15 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
Nerlens Noel- It’s hard not to compare him to Anthony Davis, especially when there have been plenty of people that said his defensive game rivals Davis’. If that’s the case, pencil Noel in for an SEC first-team selection. He may not be totally polished on offense, but in a Calipari offense the offense will definitely be there for him to average at least 10 points a game. He doesn’t have to be Anthony Davis, just Nerlens Noel, and by the looks of it — that kid can play.
BJ Young- As a freshman last season, this guard was fourth in the whole conference in field goal percentage. You just don’t see that in freshmen, especially guards. Fayetville must be excited to get Young back for another season, one that is filled with high expectations for the Arkansas squad. He averaged 15 points a game last season, and with even just a little bit of improvement I’d be shocked if he didn’t leave for the NBA after this season.
Phil Pressey- Though he averaged just 1.3 points a game, Pressey did pretty much everything else last season. He was tops in the Big 12 in assists (6.4) and steals (2.1). His field goal percentage went from 38 percent in his freshman year to 43 percent last year, but he will still need to improve on that. Pressey was the lone Tiger who showed up for their first round NCAA Tournament game with Norfolk State, scoring 20 points with eight assists. Expectations are high with this Missouri team, and a lot of their success will depend on Pressey’s play.
Kenny Boynton- With apologies to Alex Poythress, Patric Young and Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Florida’s Young gets the nod for the fifth spot on this list because of his ability to take over games with his scoring. The SEC’s leading returning scorer, Boynton has averaged at least 14 points a game in all three years at Florida. Last season he had 13 games of at least 20 points. The biggest improvement Boynton made was in his field goal percentage, which jumped from 38 percent to 44 percent.
Most Underrated Team- Alabama
The Crimson Tide had a two-man monster in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell a year ago, but with both of them graduated Alabama will need a new identity. Look no further than Devonta Pollard, who may be the best freshman in the conference aside from UK’s. Pollard has tremendous athleticism and will fit in right away with Alabama. Returning for the Crimson Tide is Trevor Releford, who last year averaged 12 points a game on 48 percent shooting. There are no seniors this year, so if they finish in the middle of the pack this year, look for them to be in the top-5 in 2013-14.
Most Overrated Team- Vanderbilt
With all of the pieces they graduated, it’s hard to imagine the Commodores enjoying much success this year. Jeff Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli are all graduated, leaving a big hole on the Vanderbilt squad that won the SEC Tournament last year. Not many are picking the Commodores to do much of anything this year, but fans may look at this time as a top-half SEC team just by habit. But with their top six players graduated, that simply will not be the case.
This one was a toss up for me, but if Tennessee repeats what they did when they had Stokes in the starting lineup last year, then it should be their sophomore big man who takes home this award. Word in Knoxville is that Stokes has looked even more polished. He made his presence known in just his third game last year, pulling down 12 rebounds and scoring 16 points in an upset win over UCONN. I envision Stokes being a double-double machine this year. He is now used to Cuonzo Martin’s system and knows what to expect out of the team, including that of Trae Golden who will feed Stokes the ball early and often.
Coach of the Year- Cuonzo Martin
Not many people expected Tennessee to be good this soon after Bruce Pearl’s exit. But Martin has put the Volunteers in a position to contend for the No. 2 team in the conference behind Kentucky. With several players on his team recruited from Pearl’s team, Martin was able to keep the team focused enough to contend for the NCAA Tournament, and they will be better this year with most of their players returning. The biggest thing Martin has done was grab the aforementioned Stokes as a part of his first recruiting class.
Sleeper Impact Player- Marshawn Powell
Powell began the 2011-12 season as good as anyone, scoring at least 19 points with five rebounds in each of his first two games. His season was short lived, as he tore knee ligaments after in just the first week of the season. He’s back for an Arkansas team that has high expectations. Powell is a guy who averaged 14.9 points and then 10.8 points in his first two years at Arkanas, and the Razorbacks will need him to be a double-digit scorer again in what they think will be a big year for their team.
Photos: SEC Conference/Google Images
We have made it to the final weekend of college basketball.
New Orleans is the place to be, for those that are stuck watching CBS, hopefully they don’t use the SkyCam shot too much, and hopefully Jim Nantz doesn’t force his ‘non-scripted’ sayings into the broadcast.
On one side of the bracket you have a bitter instate rivalry, Louisville vs Kentucky. Being from Louisville I have to list Louisville first, Kentucky can not be first when you list these two teams. One the other side Ohio State and Kansas face off for the right to play in the last college game of the season.
Back on December 10 Kansas defeated the Buckeyes 78-67, Thomas Robinson led Kansas with 21 points and 7 rebounds, however Jared Sullinger was out for the Buckeyes with an injury.
The Jayhawks are making their 14th Final Four appearance, they are one of six schools to appear in the Final Four at least 10 times, Kentucky and Ohio State are also on this list.
Here are a few reasons why the Jayhawks might cut down the nets on Monday. Kansas has out rebounded 29 of their 37 opponents, shot a higher percentage than 34 teams. In all of their games this season six different players have led the team in scoring, so they do not rely on one player to provide the spark. The Jayhawks have won 11 Final Four games (6th best in college basketball).
Thomas Robinson was named the ESPN.com 2012 National Player of the Year, is a First-Team All-American as well as Big 12 Player of the Year. With 17.7 ppg and 11.8 rpg, Robinson is the only player in the Big 12 that is averaging a double-double. Tyshawn Taylor has scored 20 or more points in five of his last nine games. The downside for Kansas, they are 2-4 in the Superdome.
If you are a fan can this Final Four be any better? You are in New Orleans, you have Kentucky and Kansas, two programs that have fans that are everywhere and travel well. You have the Louisville fans that flock to destinations to watch the Cardinals and you have Ohio State wanting to prove that the Big Ten is a power basketball conference.
-It took awhile to fathom what I’m writing. What you’re about to read.
For those around my age, we all heard from our parents about the 1983 Dream Game. Louisville, a team that had pined to play Kentucky for so long, got their shot because they met in the Mideast Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals came out on top 80-68 in overtime in Knoxville. I didn’t even have to look any of that up, I swear.
We all heard about 1984, a Kentucky win, as well, in the NCAA Tournament. Those were great games, but it all pales in comparison to what we’re about to witness.
Louisville and Kentucky are about to meet in the Final Four.
Take a second and think about it. Think about all the times anyone hoped this could happen, then shook it off.
In my (incredibly biased) opinion, Kentucky and Louisville is the best rivalry in college basketball. I’ll spare the details, because that’s not why I’m writing this. But it’s happening.
Two of the top 10 programs in college basketball history, interstate rivals, a bitter hatred among the coaches, the whole nine. There are too many moments in the past that define this rivalry. The Dream Game, Samaki Walker’s triple-double, Pitino’s return to Rupp, Patrick Spark’s three free throws, Edgar Sosa’s 3-pointer saving a near-collapse. Anyone who has paid any attention to these two teams has a moment.
And now it’s happening on the biggest stage of college basketball. In a city that thrives on things getting totally out-of-hand.
And that city thought the BCS National Title Game was insane.
The two fanbases need no more motivation to hate one another. Both teams, while they’ll deny it until the end, now have more motivation.
While most expected Kentucky to be in this position, no one saw Louisville coming. A 4-seed and a generous West Region allowed it to happen.
No matter which way you slice it, Kentucky looks like a heavy favorite, and it should be. The no. 1-overall seed is there for a reason. Louisville has nothing to lose, which also makes them dangerous.
But none of that matters this week. The city of Louisville is about to explode. Sports talk radio will talk about nothing else. If you’re a supervisor, don’t expect anyone to get much work done. And if you doubt that this rivalry is one of the tops in college basketball, I invite you to go to Youtube and explore, it won’t take much time.
I could never imagine this ever happening in my lifetime.
It’s about to. Good Lord is it ever.
-PHOTO: RIVALS.COM/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament gave us a lot of surprises, but will the Final Four teams be a surprise? We will find out by Sunday, but first let me preview the four match-ups I’m most excited for.
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 3 Marquette: These two teams are probably the best two teams nobody has been talking about during the tournament. I didn’t have either of these squads getting this far, but they have really impressed thus far. Jae Crowder put up 25 points and 16 rebounds one game and 17 points and 13 rebounds the next for Marquette — he has officially reached beast mode status. Florida hasn’t played the same type of competition as Marquette has, as they have blown out Virginia and Norfolk State, but in the NCAA Tournament you have to respect any blowout win. I think Crowder will be too much for the Gators though, and the Golden Eagles make the Elite Eight.
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 1 Michigan State: This is perhaps the best coaching battle of the round, as we have Rick Pitno and Tom Izzo going up against each other. The two have combined for 11 Final Four appearances, and I think the winner of this game will be able to beat the Florida-Marquette winner. Both teams have peaked at the right time, but I think the Cardinals still have too many question marks. If Gorgui Dieng gets into foul trouble again or if Peyton Siva is inconsistent with his shot again, then the Spartans should win this one easily.
No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 1 Kentucky: The rematch everyone has been waiting for will be here Friday night. Kentucky has cruised through their first two rounds, backed off of strong performances from Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague. Last time the Hoosiers were able to beat the Wildcats, they were able to get Anthony Davis in quick foul trouble, and Jones was basically nonexistent. Don’t expect that to happen again. Jones and Teague will be the wild-cards for UK — if they are playing to their full potential I’m not sure if anyone in the country can beat them.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Syracuse: This is the one I’m most excited for. I love match-ups with teams of contrasting styles, and that’s exactly what this is. The Orangemen are as fun and exciting as a team as there is to watch in college basketball, and the Badgers simply aren’t, but their defense can stifle opponents. I agree with my counterpart, David Harten, in thinking that the Wisconsin style of play will throw Syracuse off too much, giving them the upset.
Don’t look now, but the Tennessee Volunteers are creeping up the ranks as a possible bubble team for the NCAA Tournament.
Winners of eight of their last nine games, Tennessee found a way to grab the No. 2 seed for the Southeastern Conference Tournament, despite five teams lower than them having better overall records.
With a strong finish to the regular season, including wins at Florida and at home over Vanderbilt — two locks for the tournament — the Volunteers have surprised a lot of people under first-year coach Cuzono Martin.
Nobody expected this for the Vols — many thought they would dwell in the cellar of the SEC. After early season losses to Austin Peay, Charleston and Oakland, that prediction seemed likely.
But something changed, all it took was a 69-44 blowout victory to national title perennial favorite Kentucky to put a spark into this team, as they have just lost once since that game at the end of January. Sweeping the season series with the Gators and beating the Commodores shockingly gave them the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed in the SEC.
This year’s Vols don’t necessarily have the star power they have had in the past, with Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris both leaving early after last season’s drama involving Bruce Pearl. But they have had a couple guys come out of nowehere to provide big lifts. Trae Golden, a guy who averaged all of three points a game last year, is currently leading Tennessee in scoring with 13.4 per game. He posted 17 points in each of the most recent Florida and Vanderbilt games.
Jeronne Maymon, in his second season at Tennessee after transferring from Marquette, has seen his minutes increase from just 9.1 last year to 27.8 this year. He has been the main post-presence for the Vols, averaging 12.6 and 7.8 a game. He picked it up when it counted too, scoring at least 12 points in every SEC game.
Perhaps the best player of the three is Jarnell Stokes, who came to Tennesee in January after graduating high school early. In his first start, he posted 16 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in an upset win over UConn. He’s scored in double figures six times this season, and is still just two months removed from his 18th birthday. Stokes has perhaps been the wild card on this team, as they have lost just three times since his first start nearly two months ago. He has quickly become one of the best freshman in the conference this side of Lexington.
What Martin has done this year in his first year at Tennessee coach is pretty remarkable, considering they lost 70 percent of their scoring from last year. They have had unknowns step up big, and that takes a special kind of coach to make that happen.
Those bad early season losses won’t go away, however, and that’s what will hurt Tennessee the most when it comes time to determine if they are good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament. But with those big conference wins, as well as the non-conference win over Connecticut, things are looking good in Knoxville.
They aren’t in yet, but a win or two in the SEC Tournament this weekend will surely help their cause. They’ve got Ole Miss on Friday, a team they beat 73-60 last month. If they win that one they will likely play Vanderbilt, who they beat just last weekend. They are on the outside looking in at the moment, but that can change this weekend. And don’t be surprised if they keep on with their surprises.
Five games you should’ve watched, and five games you still have a chance to see. All while your wife makes you run around for two hours, including a trip to Sephora that I’m pretty sure qualifies as some sort of misdemeanor kidnapping.
No. 1 Kentucky-83, Vanderbilt-74
-Kentucky (28-1, 14-0 SEC) clinched the overall SEC title with the win over the Commodores (20-9, 9-5), and got one of the best performances of the season out of National Player of the Year candidate Anthony Davis. Davis dropped in a career-high 28 points, pulled down 11 boards and also had six blocks. Coach John Calipari said after that he thought about letting his team take it on the chin, but said he couldn’t. He’s a brilliant basketball mind…but also a notorious BS’er. Nonetheless, UK with a good win.
No. 4 Duke-70, Virginia Tech-65, OT
-This Duke (25-4, 12-2 ACC) team makes everything close this conference season. The Hokies (15-14, 4-10) have had Duke’s number in recent years, but hey, this season there isn’t even talk of VaTech being On The Bubble, so the final was a bit surprising. Cadarian Gaines missed a jumper that would’ve won the game for VT with time running out, and the Blue Devils kept hitting shots in the extra period. Austin Rivers had 23 points in the win and Miles Plumlee showed off his best Ben Wallace with 15 rebounds and only 5 points for the Dukies.
St. John’s-61, No. 18 Notre Dame-58
-Whoa. Any see this coming? (Put your damn hand down). The Redmen (13-16, 6-10 Big East) — it’s more fun to say that than Red Storm, it sounds like a VD — led 31-25 at halftime and an Alex Dragicevich three went begging at the buzzer to give the Johnnies their most relevant win this season. Big hit to Mike Brey’s Irish (20-9, 12-4) squad, who are still probably in the Dance, but might take a seeding hit for this one.
Iowa State-65, Kansas State-61
-Can anyone figure out this K-State (19-9, 8-8 Big 12) team? Beat Mizzou (granted, at home) then get beat by, in fairness, a solid Iowa State (21-8, 11-5) squad that probably will make the Tournament. But damn, this one would’ve helped a lot for the Wildcats, Frank Martin obviously is losing all sorts of heat on his laser-like stare. It doesn’t help when you let Scott Christopherson go for 29 on 10-of-13 shooting.
GAMES TO COME (All times eastern, home teams first)
No. 5 Kansas (23-5, 13-2 Big 12) v. No. 3 Missouri (25-3, 13-2 Big 12) (4 p.m., CBS)
-It’s a travesty, really. This is the last battle in the Border War in the known future. But at least we get a great one between two top-5 teams in a venue that just might implode in Allen Fieldhouse with the tension as high as it is. Look for the biggest match-up to be a streaking Jeff Withey, averaging nearly a double-double recently, against Mizzou big man Ricardo Ratliffe, who leads the nation in field goal percentage.
Virginia (21-6, 8-5 ACC) v. No. 7 North Carolina (24-4, 11-2 ACC) (4 p.m., ESPN)
-The last time these two teams played, both were ranked. The Cavaliers are close to that now (like it matters?) but Tony Bennett’s squad needs to put together a solid second half this time around. The Tar Heels only led 35-32 at halftime in the first meeting between the two before outscoring the Wahoos by 15 in the second half to pull away.
No. 13 Michigan (21-7, 11-4 Big Ten) v. Purdue (18-10, 8-7 Big Ten) (6 p.m., Big Ten Network)
-This one is more about the Boilermakers than Go Blue. Purdue is most definitely on the wrong side of the bubble right now, and need another solid Big Ten win — and probably need to beat Indiana on the road after that — to get back on it. Robbie Hummel is averaging 26.5 points over the last two games.
VCU (24-6, 14-3 CAA) v. George Mason (23-7, 14-3 CAA) (6 p.m., ESPN2)
-Winner leaves with the Colonial Athletic Association crown, it’s that simple. A Sherrod Wright 3-pointer at the horn was the difference last time in a 62-61 win for the Colonials. Shaka Smart won’t let the Rams forget that.
Harvard (24-3, 10-1 Ivy) v. Penn (16-11, 8-2 Ivy) (7 p.m, ESPN3)
-Harvard can essentially lock up the Ivy League with a win, which will put them three wins and two losses ahead of the Quakers with two games left. After being less than a second from their first NCAA Tournament berth last season, you can bet Tommy Amaker has this squad prepared.
No. 23 St. Mary’s (24-5, 13-2 WCC) v. San Francisco (18-11, 8-7 WCC) (11 p.m., No TV)
-The only reason this one is intriguing is because the Dons defeated Gonzaga last week, and could have their minds on another upset against the Gaels.St. Mary’s demolished Portland, and a win over USF could earn a lot of respect for them after being dominated in their Bracketbuster loss at Murray State.
-PHOTO: GOOGLE IMAGES
With Conference Tournament games just over a week away here is a look at some of the games that you should keep an eye on this week.
Monday: Connecticut @ Villanova (7pm ESPN) – ESPN’s Big Monday has a double-header worth watching. UConn and Nova both are in need of a confidence boost before they head to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. If you want a second game tonight, Baylor is at Texas at 9pm on ESPN
Tuesday: Kansas St at Missouri (7pm ESPN2) – The Big 12 leader host 5th place Wildcats. This games kicks off a tough week for both teams.
Wednesday: So many games to pick this week but a few to keep an eye on include West Virginia @ Notre Dame (7pm ESPN2), USF at Syracuse (7pm Big East Net.), Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma (8pm Big 12 Net.).
Thursday: Duke @ Florida State (7pm ESPN) – Two of the three teams at the top of the ACC meet in Durham. Murray State @ Tennessee State (8pm ESPNU), the top two in the OVC will battle it out, the Racers are coming off the win over St. Mary’s. Louisville @ Cincinnati (9pm ESPN) the long time conference rivals meet at Fifth Third Arena, both teams are currently at 9-5 in conference play.
Friday:Baseball is back; go watch your college program play our national past-time. If you really want to watch some hoops Butler @ Valparaiso (7pm ESPNU) and Marquette @ West Virginia (9pm ESPN) should settle that craving.
Saturday: Go on and clear your schedule it’s the last full Saturday of regular season basketball. The day starts with Vanderbilt @ Kentucky (Noon CBS), Iowa State @ Kansas State (1:30 Big 12 Net.), North Carolina @ Virginia (4pm ESPN), Creighton @ Indiana State (4pm ESPN2), and what could be the final meeting of Missouri @ Kansas (4pm CBS).
Sunday: It’s the Daytona 500 why do you want to watch basketball? Cincinnati @ USF (Noon Big East Net), Indiana @ Minnesota (1pm ESPN), Pittsburgh @ Louisville (2pm CBS), Florida State @ Miami (FL) (6pm ESPNU), Oregon @ Oregon State (7:30pm FSN).
If you can not find a game that peaks your interest this week then you might not be a college basketball fan.
Getting the March Madness itch? Selected members of the media gathered in Indianapolis Friday to get a feel for what it is like as a member of the selection committee. Let’s take a quick look at the simulated bracket that they released today.
The first round, which most know as the first four in Dayton include Alabama/Illinois and Seton Hall/Arizona as well as UTSA/Southeast Missouri State and Mississippi Valley/Stony Brook. The first two match-ups are the only two that seem like they would be good games.
Your number one seeds: Kentucky, Ohio State, Missouri, Syracuse.
In the South Region Kentucky is on the top line. This is the region that would be one to watch if this was the actual bracket. Other teams in the region include Louisville, North Carolina, Baylor and Wisconsin. A Louisville/Davidson match-up makes for a fun start to this region.
Syracuse claims the one seed in the East Region. This region has some match-ups that could be some of the best in the entire tournament. 8 Memphis/9 Purdue, 6 Vanderbilt/11 Texas, 7 Murray State/10 Connecticut. Other teams in this region include Duke and Indiana.
Ohio State is the leader in the West Region. Some of the teams that would try to advance to New Orleans include West Virginia, Iowa State, Florida, UNLV, Georgetown and Kansas. The first match-up in this region would be a classic 8/9 seed battle between West Virginia and Iowa State.
Finally in the Midwest Region Missouri is on the top line. Some of the other teams in this region include St. Mary’s, Florida State, Michigan, Xavier, Marquette and Michigan State.
Yet again the Big East led all of the Conferences with 8 bids. The Big Ten had 7 teams and Big 12 had 6 in the dance.
Now we just have to wait for the real bracket to be revealed. 2012 Media Mock Bracket
No. 23 Louisville 77, West Virginia 74
-Wayne Blackshear made his debut (24 games in) four Louisville, and scored 13 points. While there was a lot to talk about in this game — we’ll get to it — that has to be the most encouraging part for Louisville fans. Blackshear obviously kept himself in basketball shape while rehabbing. The future is bright…. Now, talk about going in opposite directions. The Cardinals (20-5, 8-4 Big East) reached 20 wins and have won six straight now, while the loss is the Mountaineers’ (16-10, 6-7) have lost five of their last six. WVU led for most of the game until a Kyle Kuric 3-pointer and a steal-and-score by Russ Smith on the ensuing inbounds play gave Louisville a 73-71 lead with 2:17 left. Kyle Kuric would steal a Gary Browne pass inside to Kevin Jones with 10 seconds left, hit two free throws after being fouled, and Truck Bryant’s left wing 3 went begging as time expired.
Butler 52, Cleveland State 49
-A big win for the Bulldogs (15-12, 9-6 Horizon League), who really needed this just for confidence heading into crunch time and the Horizon League tournament. The Vikings (20-6, 10-4) had a shot at an at-large bid, but those hopes are dashed now. All a matter of who gets hot in the tourney. Butler held Cleveland State to 26.3 percent from 3-point range and forced 16 turnovers, all the while overcoming an 0-for-8 3-point day and shooting 38 percent on their own.
No.5 North Carolina 70, No. 20 Virginia 52
-It was a game in the first half, with the Tar Heels (21-4, 8-2 ACC) leading just 35-32 at the half. The second half made a lot of people believe that the Cavaliers (19-5, 6-4) might not be the team everyone expected, what with Mike Scott getting completely owned and UNC showing no ill effects from that tough loss to Duke. Tyler Zeller had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Heels, with John Henson (10 and10) and Harrison Barnes (14 and 11) notching double-doubles. The bigs were obviously the difference in this one. Mike Scott has been carrying the Wahoos all season and had 18 in the loss.
No. 2 Syracuse 85, UConn 67
-I’m not saying that UConn (15-9, 5-7 Big East) can’t bounce back from a game that they basically quit in at Louisville, but they didn’t start with a loss at the ‘Cuse (25-1, 12-1). Four players finished in double-figures and Andre Drummond has 13 points and seven boards in the loss. But they never could match up athletically with the Orange, which if you’ve seen the Huskies, shouldn’t happen. They’ve got as much talent and athletic ability as any team in the nation.
No. 4 Missouri 72, No. 6 Baylor 57
-The Tigers (23-2, 9-2 Big 12) got the sweep over the Bears (21-4, 8-4) on the season, and wow, they did it quick. This team is guard-heavy, and they ran on Baylor’s athletic big men in the second half, using a 17-1 keyed by three 3-pointers midway through the second half to propel them to the W. Phil Pressey had 19 points and four three’s in the game and Mizzou shot 50 percent from 3-point range (14-for-28). They bombed it. Baylor still has to figure out it’s identity, which is scary considering it’s identity. They have long athletic forwards who play essentially like swingmen in Perry Jones III and the Quincy’s (Miller and Acy) but seem inept at finishing down low, though Acy has improved. Most telling stat? They out-rebounded Mizzou 35-22.
No. 17 Florida State 64, Miami 59
-The Hurricanes (15-8, 6-4 ACC) didn’t necessarily hurt their at-large hopes with this loss to the Seminoles (17-7, 8-2), but if they don’t get in, this is one game that Jim Larranaga will look at and shake his head. Reggie Johnson was held to four points (which can’t happen) to go with six rebounds, which really was the difference being that the game was never more than a three-possession game late. Bernard James ha 18 points, six boards and four blocks in the win.
Vanderbilt vs. No. 1 Kentucky (9 p.m., ESPN)
-A lot of folks taking Vandy (17-7, 6-4 SEC) in this one, especially being at home in Memorial Coliseum and the magic that seems to ensue in big games there for the Commodores. Kentucky (24-1, 10-0) is still Kentucky, they still have Anthony Davis and his Stretch Armstrong arms. It’s going to be tough for Festus Ezeli to be effective by himself, they’ll really need guys like Steve Tchiengang to show up down low and 6-8 Lance Gilbourne to provide a mid-range to draw out Davis and Kentucky’s other lengthy bigs.
No. 15 Creighton vs. Wichita State (5 p.m., ESPN2)
-Just another day in the Missouri Valley Conference. Creighton (21-4, 11-3 MVC) is somehow surviving in the Top-25 despite losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville on the road. Granted, they’ll fall come tomorrow, but a win over the Shockers (21-4, 12-2) would not only help them stay in the rankings, but also go a long way to help their confidence and steady their at-large hopes. Which to me, is the best a conference win can do, being that teams see these opponents automatically every year. Wichita State has won three in a row after a loss at Drake.
No. 16 UNLV vs. No. 14 San Diego State (4 p.m, The Mtn.)
-This one is set for a classic. The Rebels (21-4, 5-2 Mountain West Conference) losing at Wyoming in their last game took some luster off this game, but it’s still a battle of Top-20 teams. The Aztecs (20-3, 6-1) have only lost one game since Dec. 4, a bad one at Colorado State, but other than that have been soaring.
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Michigan State (6 p.m., ESPN)
-It seems like every week, the Buckeyes (21-3, 9-2 Big Ten) play the second-best team in the B1G. Whoever it is. This week, it’s Michigan State (19-5, 8-3). It’ll be Jared Sullinger vs. Draymond Green for the most part, but can any of the Spartan’s guards get past ball-hawking Aaron Craft? That will probably be a big reason if Tom Izzo’s bunch can get a win. Look for William Buford to have a big game for tOSU, he had a career-high 29 last game, a victory at Purdue.
Temple vs. Xavier (9 p.m., ESPN2)
-What do the Owls have to do to get some serious poll love? They’ve beaten Duke this season, have a KenPom rating of 30 and have won eight in a row after a bad loss to Richmond on the road. They’re 18-5 overall and 7-2 in the Atlantic 10 and also have wins over Wichita State and Penn, two teams deep in the NCAA Tournament conversation. They won’t help themselves that much with a win over the Musketeers (16-8, 7-3), but it would certainly make me look stupid if they took a loss. Chris Mack’s squad, on the other hand, desperately needs a confidence W, losing three of their last six.
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