Catching Up With Seth Davis

On Wednesday, Hoops Addict was very lucky to score an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports college basketball writer Seth Davis.

Amongst the topics Seth and Hoops Addict discussed were the health of UConn Hall of Fame basketball coach Jim Calhoun, who are Seth’s top teams going forward, and whether the Duke Blue Devils are a true contender in 2010 or not.

Aside from basketball, Seth discussed, “The Department of Fannovation,” an initiative he’s working very closely with Coke Zero on, as well as how you can team with him and Coca-Cola to help earthquake victims in Haiti.

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College Basketball Power Rankings

It’s strange to think how quickly time passes. It seems like just yesterday we were getting ready for a full plate of Thanksgiving weekend college basketball tournaments, and now the season is more than half way over.

With conference play underway, teams are starting to show their true colors, both in good and bad ways. As a matter of fact, the most shocking revelation of the last week, wasn’t who was playing well, but actually trying to figure out what’s wrong with two of college basketball’s most tradition rich programs: North Carolina and UConn, which combined to go 0-4 in the last seven days.

Either way, a lot of good basketball is still being played, so let’s focus on that. Starting with our No. 1 ranked team…

1. (Texas 17-0, 3-0): The Longhorns are college basketball’s best team, but have been struggling of late, and even needed overtime to hold on against Texas A&M Saturday. Don’t doubt Texas long term, but with trips to No. 9 Kansas State and UConn coming up, don’t expect them to be undefeated in next week’s Power Rankings either.

2. Kentucky (18-0, 3-0): With all the John Wall hype, it’s easy to forget about everyone else on Kentucky. Well don’t. Eric Bledsoe (25 points against Florida) and DeMarcus Cousins (18 points and 11 rebounds) are the reason the Wildcats won their two games last week, not Wall.

3. Villanova (16-1, 5-0): While everyone continues to talk about Texas, Kentucky and Kansas, it’s Villanova which may be college basketball’s hottest team. After holding on against Georgetown Sunday afternoon, Villanova will be a comfortable favorite in their next four games, and should cruise into February before being challenged again.

4. Kansas (16-1, 2-0): You heard it here first: The best thing that ever happened to the Jayhawks was losing last weekend at Tennessee. Since then, they’ve seemed more relaxed and are finally playing up to their potential. Their win against Texas Tech Saturday was their best performance of the season.

5. Syracuse (17-1, 4-1): Go ahead, just keep doubting the Orange, that’s exactly how they want it. But after going to West Virginia and dominating for just about 39 minutes Saturday (they did need to hold on at the end), there is real reason to think that this team could win the entire Big East.

6. Duke (15-2, 3-1): Watching Duke methodically pick apart Wake Forest on Sunday night it became apparent that these guys are for real. Everyone talks about Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler on offense, but it’s the Blue Devils defense that could carry them to the Final Four.

7. Michigan State (15-3, 5-0): While parity is creating a jumbled mess in the middle of the Big 10, the Spartans just continue to win games. Like Kansas, some early losses may have actually helped this team: The pressure is now off, and Michigan State is just free to focus on basketball.

8. Tennessee (14-2, 2-0): After being suspended for four games, Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum will rejoin the Volunteers for practice Monday. But after the team went 4-0 in their absence (including victories over two ranked squads), the question has to be asked: is the team better without them?

9. Kansas State (15-2, 2-1): One game should never make or break a college basketball team’s season. But with that being said, can you remember a bigger one for Kansas State than Monday night’s tilt with No. 1 ranked Texas? Me neither.

10. Georgetown (13-3, 4-2): Here’s the question: Was Greg Monroe’s 29 point, 16 rebound and four block performance on Sunday against Villanova his coming out party, or simply a big guy getting good numbers against an undersized front line? Because if it was the former, Georgetown might be the most dangerous team in the Big East going forward.

11. Purdue (14-3, 2-3): I’m not quite ready to give up on Purdue just yet. But after losing three straight games the concerns are there. Mainly that with Lewis Jackson still hurt, this team doesn’t have (and desperately needs) a true point guard.

12. West Virginia (13-3, 4-2): The Mountaineers nearly pulled off a stunning comeback against Syracuse Saturday, scoring 16 points in the final 1:18, before ultimately losing by one. But with just 55 points through the first 39 minutes, I’m starting to wonder if this team has enough offense to beat truly elite teams.

13. Pittsburgh (15-2, 5-0): All you need to know about Pitt is this: Louisville coach Rick Pitino called Pittsburgh’s stunning, shocking, improbable come-from-behind victory against Louisville on Saturday the second worst loss of his career, behind only the 1992 classic Elite Eight game against Christian Laettner and Duke, when Pitino was at Kentucky. Umm… wow!!

14. Clemson (15-3, 3-1): Clemson does this every year: Sucks us in with some big early season wins only to fade down the stretch. If they can notch two wins this week (at Georgia Tech, Duke at home), we’ll start to take the Tigers seriously. Until then, proceed with caution.

15. Wisconsin (14-4, 4-2): The Badgers split two tough road games last week, and now have their next two at the Kohl Center, where they’re practically unbeatable. With that said, the loss of center Jon Leuer (15 points and six rebounds a game) could be crippling going forward.

16. BYU (18-1, 3-0): The Cougars are in the midst of a 13 game winning streak since their only slip-up of the year at Utah State. You may not know much about BYU, but they’re the best team West of the Rockies right now.

17. Ohio State (13-5, 3-3): Even with Evan Turner in foul trouble Sunday, the Buckeyes were still able to hold on against Wisconsin at home. And after a win earlier in the week at Purdue, it’s safe to say that this is the team that nobody in college basketball wants to play right now.

18. Temple (15-3, 3-0): Find a TV, because the showdown you need to see comes Wednesday, when the Owls host Xavier in a battle for first place in the Atlantic 10.

19. Gonzaga (14-3, 3-0): It’s funny how every year we doubt Gonzaga, and yet every year they continue to just roll out wins. Mark Few might not have a ton of experience, but he does have maybe the second best freshman in college basketball (behind John Wall), Elias Harris (15.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game).

20. Georgia Tech (13-4, 2-2): The Yellow Jackets are the most “hit or miss,” team in the game right now, losing to Virginia Wednesday (in their defense, Virginia is the only undefeated team in the ACC), before winning at North Carolina Saturday. The talent is there in Atlanta, but is the mental toughness?

New to the Power Rankings: Clemson, Ohio State, Gonzaga

Dropping Out: North Carolina, UConn, Baylor

With conference play underway, teams are starting to show their true colors, both in good and bad ways. As a matter of fact, the most shocking revelation of the last week, wasn’t who was playing well, but actually trying to figure out what’s wrong with two of college basketball’s most tradition rich programs: North Carolina and UConn, which combined to go 0-4 in the last seven days.

College Basketball Power Rankings

Conference play is under way, and college basketball is heating up.

And there’s a new No. 1 team in the Power Rankings, after four unbeaten teams last week were trimmed to just a remaining two today.

1. Texas (15-0, 1-0): Former high school All-American Avery Bradley showed what all the hype was about Saturday, scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a win against Colorado. And that is the scariest part about our No. 1 ranked team: They’re deep, they’re talented, and they’re only getting better as the season goes on.

2. Kentucky (16-0, 1-0): Just like Kansas and Purdue, Kentucky very nearly suffered their first loss of the season Saturday, needing all 40 minutes to hold on against Georgia. Could these talented freshman be hitting a little bit of a wall (No pun intended. I swear)?

3. Villanova (14-1, 3-0): What a weird schedule quirk Villanova had the past 10 days, playing, and needing to hold for dear life, in two games against Marquette. After a visit to Louisville Monday, Villanova may be playing in the biggest game of this coming weekend, at home against Georgetown Sunday.

4. Kansas (14-1, 0-0): Is there really anything to take away from the Jayhawks first loss of the season Sunday afternoon? Probably not, Kansas simply caught an emotional Tennessee team on the wrong day. This group will be fine.

5. Purdue (14-1, 2-1): Take exactly what I just said about Kansas and apply it here to Purdue as well. Wisconsin is never an easy team to play at the Kohl Center, and the Boilermakers found that out the hard way on Saturday.

6. Syracuse (15-1, 2-1): My oh my, is anybody flying under the radar more than the Orange right now? While Wednesday’s game against Rutgers won’t tell us much, Saturday’s grudge match with a physical, defensive minded West Virginia team sure will.

7. Duke (13-2, 1-1): Even though Duke has its biggest frontline in years, they still need to make 3-pointers to beat good teams. They didn’t do that Saturday against Georgia Tech (6-28 as a team), and because of it, lost their second game of the season.

8. Michigan State (13-3, 3-0): In a week where Purdue lost to Wisconsin, the Spartans were able to beat the Badgers for maybe their most impressive win of the year. Three straight home games are to come, meaning the Spartans should continue to roll.

9. Tennessee (12-2, 0-0): So second leading scorer Tyler Smith got kicked off the team Friday, and Tennessee went on to shock No. 1 ranked Kansas on Sunday. Think coach Bruce Pearl might try kicking some more guys off before Saturday’s game at Ole Miss? Maybe?

10. Georgetown (12-2, 3-1): Austin Freeman had the performance of a lifetime Saturday, scoring 28 second half points as Georgetown overcame a 19 point deficit to defeat UConn at home. Unfortunately in the Big East there’s never any rest, as the Hoyas play Seton Hall and No. 3 Villanova this week.

11. West Virginia (12-2, 3-1): The Mountaineers have lost two of their last three games, with the sole win coming against hapless Rutgers. It’s not time for Bob Huggins to start worrying just yet, but in the rugged Big East, things can start to go downhill in a hurry.

12. Kansas State (13-2, 0-1): Even the up-tempo Wildcats can’t outscore everyone, as they learned Saturday in a loss at Missouri. Things don’t get any easier with Texas A&M on the schedule this week.

13. Wisconsin (13-3, 3-1): The Badgers beat another undefeated, top five opponent Saturday, dispatching of Big 10 favorite Purdue 73-66. This may be the under the radar team in the Big 10 that nobody wants to play.

14. North Carolina (12-4, 1-0): Could Will Graves be the answer to North Carolina’s perimeter woes? The senior hit three 3-pointers- two of them in a crucial second half run- as the Tar Heels dispatched of Virginia Tech in their Sunday night ACC opener.

15. UConn (11-4, 2-2): UConn eventually will put “it,” all together, and when they do, they’re going to be a team that nobody wants to play in March. Unfortunately right now, that’s more fantasy than reality, especially after seeing them blow a 19 point lead against Georgetown Saturday.

16. Pitt (13-2, 3-0): We’ve seen this happen before: Pitt losing a bunch of talented players to graduation, and everyone expecting them to fall off; only they never do. Jamie Dixon should be National Coach of the Year at this point.

17. BYU(16-1, 1-0): How ‘bout them Cougs? BYU’s wins over UNLV and UTEP last week might not have meant much to you, but I promise it will matter to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee come March.

18. Baylor (13-1, 1-0): Baylor snuck into last week’s Power Rankings at No. 18 and stay there this week after beating Oklahoma by 31 points (31!!!) to open conference play. For those of you not noticing the trend, be warned, there’s a lot of good basketball being played in the Big XII right now.

19. Georgia Tech (12-3, 1-1): We’ve said all year that Georgia Tech is one of college basketball’s most talented teams, but unfortunately also one of its most erratic. That was certainly the case last week, when the Yellow Jackets lost to woebegone cross-state rival Georgia, before trumping No. 7 Duke Saturday.

20. Temple (13-3, 2-0): Temple and Rhode Island are the two best teams in the Atlantic 10 right now. Chalk up Round 1 to the Owls, who beat URI in overtime Saturday. The two teams will meet again in at Rhodie in February.

New to the Power Rankings: Pitt, Georgia Tech and Temple

Dropping Out: New Mexico, Ole Miss and Rhode Island

College Basketball Power Rankings

It’s been two weeks since the last Power Rankings, and in that time, Kansas has reclaimed its spot on top of the throne.

And with the calendar turning to the New Year, the easy part of the schedule is over, and everybody is entering conference play.

Included in this week’s most exciting games are a pair of Wisconsin tilts, at Michigan State Wednesday, and Purdue at home Saturday. Also, look out for Duke-Georgia Tech, UConn-Georgetown and several other big games Saturday afternoon.

Let’s get to the Rankings!

1. Kansas (13-0, 0-0): Since the last edition of the Power Rankings where we labeled Kansas slightly overrated, they responded with convincing victories over Cal and Temple. This team is just starting to match its preseason expectations, which saw many experts rank them as the top team in college basketball.

2. Texas (13-0, 0-0): It’s never a good thing when your coach says you’ve, “taken a huge step backward,” but that’s exactly what Rick Barnes said after the Longhorns surprisingly tight victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Saturday. But despite the poor performance, there’s still no need to stress if you’re a Texas fan. This is the deepest, and the most overall talented team in the game right now.

3. Kentucky (15-0, 0-0): Even though they got a win over Louisville Saturday, Kentucky’s sloppy performance left a lot to be desired. But with that being said, who thought Kentucky would be 15-0 at this point?

4. Purdue (13-0, 1-0): If you weren’t sure about Purdue, their dominating New Year’s Day performance against West Virginia should have told you everything you needed to know. This team truly is a National Championship contender.

5. Duke (12-1, 1-0): The Blue Devils just continue to roll, dominating Clemson in their ACC opener Saturday. Believe it or not, this may be Coach K’s most talented team since Duke went to the 2004 Final Four.

6. Villanova (12-1, 1-0): The Wildcats had been quiet for the last couple weeks, but nothing was quiet about their come from behind victory at Marquette Saturday. Yes this team has its flaws, but they still seem to be getting better each and every game.

7. West Virginia (11-1, 2-0): Bob Huggins’ boys couldn’t stay undefeated forever, and fell hard on New Year’s Day at Purdue. But with wins over Ole Miss, Seton Hall and Marquette the last two weeks, did anyone have a more impressive holiday season?

8. Syracuse (13-1, 1-1): Another team that fell from the undefeated ranks were the Orange, who lost on Saturday to Pittsburgh. They should rebound nicely however with three winnable games, before a big trip to West Virginia January 16.

9. Michigan State (11-3, 2-0): The Spartans have won a few games in a row now, but the problems continue to mount. The latest? How about the benching of last year’s Big 10 Player of the Year Kalin Lucas?

10. Kansas State (13-1, 0-0): What can we say about this team that hasn’t already been said? They are hands down the best team no one knows about in college basketball right now.

11. North Carolina (11-3, 0-0): Similar to Michigan State, the Tar Heels have won a few games in a row now, but will be unable to mask their deficiencies as time goes on. For North Carolina, their guards are still too turnover prone to do any damage once ACC play starts.

12. Georgetown (11-1, 2-0): After victories over St. John’s and DePaul, the easy part of the Big East schedule is already done for the Hoyas. Their next three games are at Marquette, with UConn and Seton Hall at home. Good luck!

13. UConn (10-3, 1-1): Speaking of UConn, the Huskies have split two Big East games, losing at Cincinnati, and beating Notre Dame at home. This team is athletic and talented, and will be one of college basketball’s scariest teams if they ever start making their foul shots.

14. New Mexico (12-1, 0-0): New Mexico has quietly put together an awesome start, beating Texas Tech and Dayton since the last Power Rankings. Add those wins to victories over Cal and Texas A&M earlier in the season, and you have college basketball’s scariest mid-major team.

15. Ole Miss (11-2, 0-0): Even with a loss at West Virginia on December 23, there’s still a lot to like with Andy Kennedy’s club. There will be a lot more to like if they can beat cross-state rival Mississippi State on Saturday.

16. Wisconsin (12-2, 2-0): The Badgers are 2-0 in conference play, with two convincing, double-digit wins. But, back-to-back games with Michigan State and Purdue this week will prove whether Wisconsin is a Big 10 contender or not.

17. Tennessee (10-2, 0-0): Unfortunately right now, the story surrounding the Vols is the suspension of four players on New Years Day, instead of the fact that they’re playing really good basketball. A trip to No. 1 ranked Kansas Saturday will do nothing to ease Bruce Pearl’s pain.

18. Baylor (11-1, 0-0): Is it too late for Baylor to join the SEC? After victories over Arkansas and South Carolina last week, the Bears are 3-0 vs. SEC teams this year.

19. Rhode Island (11-1, 0-0): Quick, who’s got the best record in the Atlantic 10? It’s not Dayton, Temple or Xavier, but Jim Baron’s crew, who beat Oklahoma State for their best win of the season on Saturday.

20. BYU (12-1, 0-0): Much like their conference counterparts, the Cougars have several nice early season wins. Included, is a sweep of Arizona and Arizona State.

New To The Power Rankings: Wisconsin, Tennessee, Baylor, Rhode Island, BYU

Dropping Out: Ohio State, Florida, UNLV, Washington, Butler

College Basketball Power Rankings

It’s been a quiet couple week’s in college basketball, as most schools and players have seen more time with their textbooks for final exams than time with their teammates on the court.

But don’t worry, that’s about to change as we’re just a week away from conference play kicking off in full-swing.

For those of you who just can’t wait, there are some lovely appetizers this week, including the newly ranked Ole Miss visiting No. 5 West Virginia, and Michigan State and Texas squaring off.

Speaking of Texas, they have leapfrogged Kansas into the top spot in our poll after Saturday’s dominating victory over North Carolina.

And oh, by the way, one more thing…Merry Christmas!!!

1. Texas (10-0): I know, I know, it’s hard to justify dropping Kansas out of the top spot even though they have yet to lose a game. Just know this: Not only is Texas 10-0, but they’ve won those games by an average of 29 points. Wow!

2. Kansas (10-0): Think of the Jayhawks similarly to this year’s Florida Gators football team, they keep winning, but just aren’t as dominant as they should be. Honestly, if Kansas played Texas on a neutral court today, not only would they lose, it likely wouldn’t be close.

3. Kentucky (11-0): Wildcats fans finally have a reason to be thankful this holiday season, mainly John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and John Calipari. And the holiday feasting will continue into the New Year, as Kentucky plays it’s next three games against Drexel, Long Beach State and University of Hartford. Cheers!

4. Purdue (10-0): Purdue beat Ball State to improve to 10-0 Saturday…yawn…Wake me up when they play West Virginia New Year’s Day.

5. West Virginia (8-0): Speaking of West Virginia, nobody loaded up their holiday plate quite like the Mountaineers, who play Ole Miss and Purdue by New Year’s with Big East games against Seton Hall and Marquette in between. Good luck the next couple weeks West Virginia fans, you might need it.

6. Syracuse (11-0): Another week and another win for Syracuse. Enjoy the holidays Orange fans, and check back next Tuesday, when Syracuse opens Big East play at 9-1 Seton Hall.

7. Duke (9-1): Duke 76, Gonzaga 41. Can you say signature victory?

8. Villanova (10-1): Nothing to report this week for the Wildcats, as they played just once, and dominated at that. But as Big East play begins, the question has to be asked: Does Villanova have enough size to truly be a contender?

9. Michigan State (9-2): The Spartans seem to be playing better now that the weight of their absurdly high preseason ranking is off their shoulders. But even after winning four straight, do they have any chance against Texas Tuesday night?

10. Uconn (7-2): Congratulations to coach Jim Calhoun, who signed a new five-year contract that will likely keep him at the school through the middle of the next decade. But with the way his Huskies are playing (lowlighted by a come from behind victory against Central Florida Sunday), who knows if he’ll even want to stick around that long.

11. Kansas State (10-1): Folks, Kansas State is a really, really good team. How good? How about double-digit wins over Xavier, UNLV and Alabama in the last two weeks? Not too shabby, right?

12. North Carolina (8-3): The Tar Heels ran into the Texas buzzsaw Saturday, losing to the Longhorns 103-90 in Cowboys Stadium. Why’d they lose? Texas might be the only team that has a better frontcourt than North Carolina, and it showed Saturday, as the Longhorns outrebounded the Tar Heels 56-36.

13. Georgetown (8-1): Don’t sweat the Hoyas loss to Old Dominion because everybody has a letdown once in awhile. But if Georgetown can’t rebound with a win New Year’s Eve at St. John’s, well, then there might some cause for concern.

14. Ohio State (9-2): The Buckeyes continue to win as their best player, Evan Turner, remains on the sidelines with a back injury. But will they keep pulling out games once the schedule gets tougher?

15. New Mexico (12-0): We told you about the Lobos last week, and they responded by winning two more games since then. Now, if they can win another two games- against Texas Tech and Dayton- New Mexico might be celebrating the New Year with a top 10 ranking.

16. Florida (8-2): With young teams you’re always going to have highs and lows, and the Gators are at a low right now with two straight losses. They should be able to right the ship however, with games against South Alabama and American coming up.

17. UNLV (10-1): The Rebels should have no problem beating a bad SMU team Tuesday. But, it won’t be a happy New Year as they prepare for a January 6 trip to BYU, traditionally one of the toughest places to play in college basketball.

18. Ole Miss (10-1): There was a lot of preseason hype surrounding the Rebels, but I for one didn’t buy it. Until now. The Rebels are skilled and athletic, and can do themselves wonders by beating West Virginia Wednesday.

19. Washington (7-2): The Huskies are 7-2, but looking at their schedule, who exactly is their best win? If this team is to be taken seriously, they need, repeat need to beat Texas A&M at home Tuesday night.

20. Butler (8-3): The Bulldogs may have college basketball’s most controversial win this season, when a shot clock malfunction allowed them to sneak by Xavier Saturday. But a win is a win, and combine that with Butler’s victory over Ohio State a week ago, and the Bulldogs find themselves back in the Power Rankings.

College Basketball Power Rankings

We promised you last week that these College Basketball Power Rankings would fluctuate all season long, and that’s exactly what happened over the past seven days, as we welcome in four new teams.

For you college hoops junkies, it’s going to be a quiet week, as most schools will be in the midst of final exams. But be sure to clear some time on Saturday, when Texas and North Carolina will square off at 2 p.m. and Duke and Gonzaga do battle at 4 p.m., both on neutral courts.

Let’s get to the rankings!

1. Kansas (9-0, 0-0): Has any undefeated and top ranked team ever laid this low a month into the season? The Jayhawks are undefeated, virtually untested and won’t be back in action until Saturday against Michigan.

2. Texas (8-0, 0-0): Speaking of ho-hum, hey look it’s Texas, which won two more games by double-digits this week. No need to worry though, as the Longhorns have North Carolina this week, their first major test of the season.

3. Kentucky (10-0, 0-0): Yours truly was in the Garden Wednesday night and can attest, Kentucky’s game against UConn was as good in person as it came across on TV. And oh, that John Wall kid? He’s pretty good too.

4. Purdue (9-0, 0-0): Give Purdue credit for weathering the storm, and overcoming a nine point halftime deficit at Alabama Saturday night. The Boilermakers should cruise to wins in their last three games before the New Year.

5. West Virginia (7-0, 0-0): Question, how do you follow up tough, 25 points victories against Duquesne and Coppin State? If you’re West Virginia it’s with a trip to 4-6 Cleveland State, that’s how. Hey Bob Huggins, how do those cupcakes taste?

6. Syracuse (9-0, 0-0): The Orange went down to Tampa and got another impressive win Thursday, this one against Florida. Syracuse can now hit cruise control, and should be undefeated when Big East play starts on December 29.

7. Duke (7-1, 0-0): The Blue Devils move up a spot, coming off an impressive…wait a second, Duke didn’t play a game this week! Either way, they’ll be back in action Wednesday, and then play Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon.

8. Villanova (9-1, 0-0): Hoops Addict warned you last week that Villanova was due for a letdown against one of their cross-town rivals this week, which is exactly what happened in Sunday night’s loss to Temple. After a few days off, look for Villanova to take out their frustrations on 2-6 Fordham next Saturday.

9. Tennessee (7-1, 0-0): Boy, that win over Middle Tennessee sure showed us, oh wait, it didn’t show us anything at all. Neither will games against Wyoming and Southern Cal this week.

10. North Carolina (8-2, 0-0): With Michigan State and Kentucky on the schedule last week, and Texas up next, Saturday’s game against Presbyterian was a good way to rest the starters and get the backup’s valuable minutes. However, if Marcus Ginyard (foot) and Dexter Strickland (leg) don’t get healthy, the Tar Heels could be in trouble. Not just against Texas, but also for the rest of the season.

11. Florida (8-1, 0-0): It’s hard to drop the Gators too far after losing to a good Syracuse team Thursday. But a problem crept in that game- a lack of big-time rebounders- which might haunt the Gators all season.

12. Georgetown (8-0, 0-0): Uh oh… The Hoyas beat both Butler and Washington convincingly this week, and if Greg Monroe keeps playing like he did against the Bulldogs (24 points, 15 rebounds), the rest of college basketball could be in big trouble.

13. Michigan State (8-2, 0-0): There’s not much to report on the Spartans this week, and there really won’t be until their visit to Texas December 22. However, after losses to Florida and North Carolina already, if Michigan State can’t at least keep it close against the Longhorns, it might be time to start writing them off for good.

14. Kansas State (9-1, 0-0): Is this too high to have the Wildcats make their first appearance in the Power Rankings this year? Maybe. But with double-digit wins against Xavier and UNLV already, Frank Martin is proving that Kansas State isn’t just “The school that Michael Beasley went to once upon a time.”

15. UConn (6-2, 0-0): You can’t fault the Huskies for losing the most competitive and overall best game of the 2009-2010 season to Kentucky last Wednesday. However, some of the things which crept up for them in that loss (mainly poor free throw and three point shooting), could remain problematic all year.

16. New Mexico (10-0, 0-0): Well hello New Mexico! We couldn’t keep the Lobos out of our Power Rankings any more. Especially after they beat Texas A&M Saturday night to improve to 10-0.

17. Texas Tech (9-0, 0-0): Pat Knight (Bobby’s son), has Texas Tech playing its best basketball in years. No word yet though if Knight Jr. has the same chair throwing tendencies his father once did.

18. Gonzaga (8-2, 0-0): The Zags re-enter the Power Rankings just six points away from being undefeated. Even with wins against Wisconsin and Cincinnati in Maui, a win against Saturday against Duke would be their most important of the season.

19. Washington (6-2, 0-0): Alright, here’s the truth: Washington just isn’t as good as we thought they’d be. But in a watered down Pac-10, who exactly is better?

20. Georgia Tech (6-1, 0-0): It’s hard to move the Yellow Jackets any higher than where they were last at week since they haven’t played in that time.. Georgia Tech opens ACC play Sunday against Florida State.

New to the Power Rankings: Kansas State, New Mexico, Texas Tech, Gonzaga
Dropping Out: Ohio State, Wisconsin, UNLV, Texas A&M

College Basketball Power Rankings

john-wall

As with any year in college basketball, it is right around the middle of December, and the elite are starting to rise to the top of the sport.

Villanova and Kentucky improved with signature wins last week, while Kansas and Texas continued to roll through the opposition. Michigan State and North Carolina? Well, they’ve got some work to do.

And while the top of these Power Rankings should remain just about the same every week from now through Selection Sunday, expect spots 8-20 to fluctuate between about two dozen good teams all year long.

As for this week’s schedule, be sure to check out two major SEC-Big East matchups, when Kentucky and UConn square off Wednesday night, and Syracuse and Florida do battle Thursday.

Alright, enough chit-chat, let’s get to the Power Rankings:

1. Kansas (7-0, 0-0): The Jayhawks trip to UCLA Sunday was supposed to be a matchup between two of college basketball’s best programs. Instead, it turned into another blowout for this year’s top ranked team.

2. Texas (6-0, 0-0): The Longhorns continue to make their case as the second best team in the sport, after two more double digit wins this week. And with games against Long Beach State and Texas San-Antonio coming up, don’t be surprised if I just copy and paste the first sentence of this paragraph into next week’s Power Rankings.

3. Kentucky (8-0, 0-0): John Wall is The Truth (a nickname I gave him myself), as Kentucky wouldn’t have beaten North Carolina without the freshman’s 16 points and seven assists. The Wildcats now have to avoid complacency, as they have an equally tough game against UConn on Wednesday.

4. Villanova (8-0, 0-0): Maryland got frisky with the Wildcats Sunday night, but like the veteran team they are, Villanova held on for a road victory. With two games against city rivals St. Joe’s and Temple coming up, don’t be surprised to see an “L,” in the loss column in next week’s Power Rankings.

5. Purdue (7-0, 0-0): Purdue is undefeated and should remain so until the start of Big 10 play in late December. A tricky road test awaits the Boilermakers at Alabama Saturday.

6. West Virginia (5-0, 0-0): The Mountaineers haven’t played since last Sunday, apparently taking time to soak in all the glory that is, an Anaheim Classic championship. Begrudgingly, they return to the court Wednesday to play Duquesne.

7. Syracuse (8-0, 0-0): The Orange survived gauntlet wins against Maine and Colgate last week, holding on to beat the two by a combined 80 points (Anyone sense a little sarcasm?). It won’t be quite the same cakewalk this weekend, when they play undefeated Florida in St. Petersburg Thursday.

8. Duke (7-1, 0-0): Yes, the Blue Devils lost at Wisconsin, but the Kohl Center isn’t a place many road teams leave victorious. Duke did rebound nicely with a victory over St. John’s Saturday, and now has 10 days off to do whatever it is that Dukies do with free time.

9. Ohio State (7-1, 0-0): This program is nothing if not snake bitten by injuries, as do-it-all superstar Evan Turner (my early Naismith Player of the Year front runner) is out for two months after breaking his back. Yes, breaking…his back. In maybe unrelated story, former Buckeyes superstar Greg Oden was lost for his NBA season to a knee injury. At this point, I’m honestly not sure if the two events are coincidence or not.

10. Florida (8-0, 0-0): Is anyone else starting to notice that this Gators team is starting to take the shape of the selfless, team-first group that won National Championships in 2006 and 2007? They’re not as talented, but Florida currently has eight players averaging between 14 and eight points. The Gators are nothing if not balanced.

11. Tennessee (6-1, 0-0): East Tennessee was the only game on the Vols schedule last week. This week their only game is Middle Tennessee. Who’s on the schedule next week, Western Tennessee? My suggestion to Bruce Pearl? How about scheduling a pickup game with the Tennessee women’s team, just you know, to get a little competition?

12. North Carolina (7-2, 0-0): The knock on North Carolina all year has been whether or not their guards would hold up against good competition. Sixteen turnovers against Kentucky Saturday tells me the issue is far from resolved.

13. UConn (6-1, 0-0): The matchup to watch in Wednesday’s game with No. 4 Kentucky is Kemba Walker guarding Kentucky superstar John “The Truth,” Wall (See what I did there?). The Huskies 5’10 point guard might be the only player in college basketball quick enough to keep up with Kentucky’s leading man.

14. Wisconsin (6-1, 0-0): The Badgers did what they always seem to do in their win over Duke Wednesday: Play good pressure defense, crash the boards and limit turnovers. Now, can they end a two game losing streak to cross-state rival Marquette this coming Saturday?

15. Georgetown (6-0, 0-0): We can build on this! After a 46-45 win over Temple earlier this year that brought us back to the days of the two-hand set shot and super short shorts, the Hoyas have actually looked like a basketball team of late, winning four straight games by double-digits. Now it’s time to see if they’ll continue to take one step forward, or take two steps back, with games against Butler and Washington this weekend.

16. Washington (6-1, 0-0): Speaking of the Huskies, nobody should really be surprised with their first loss of the year to Texas Tech last week. But there’s something that’s just not right with this group, and they better get it fixed in a hurry if they’re going to compete in the Pac-10.

17. UNLV (7-0, 0-0): With wins already over Arizona and Louisville, UNLV gets another chance to impress, when a very good Kansas State team comes to Vegas on Saturday.

18. Texas A&M (7-1, 0-0): The Aggies snuck into the top 20 last week, and will stay there with good, quality wins over Akron and Prairie View. Ok, so maybe the wins weren’t good…or quality, but two wins are two wins, right?

19. Michigan State (6-2, 0-0): After a third embarrassing loss in less than a year to North Carolina, I’m going to say what we’re all thinking: These guys just aren’t that good. Luckily the Spartans are also a team known for peaking late in the season, so we probably shouldn’t give up on them just yet.

20. Georgia Tech (6-1, 0-0): The Yellow Jackets make their triumphant return to the Power Rankings, after five straight double-digit wins. Whether or not one of college basketball’s most talented- but erratic teams- can stay there, is another story.

New to the Rankings: Wisconsin, Georgia Tech

Dropping Out: Gonzaga, Oklahoma State

College Basketball Power Rankings

For some, the Thanksgiving holiday is filled with massive food and football consumption. But for many, it’s also a chance to see many of college basketball’s top teams battle in some good early season tournaments.

With the results in, here is the newest version of our College Basketball Power Rankings:

1. Kansas (5-0, 0-0): The Jayhawks are undefeated, and with the exception of a close win against Memphis, untested as well. They are also college basketball’s highest scoring team (90 points per game), with six players averaging at least seven points.

2. Texas (5-0, 0-0): You can make a case – and do so pretty convincingly – that the Longhorns have been the best team so far, as all five of their wins have come by double-digits. And despite losing starting guard Varez Ward for the season, Texas is one of the few teams with enough talent and depth to replace him.

3. Villanova (6-0, 0-0): There was sun and fun for Villanova over the holiday weekend, as they beat Dayton and Ole Miss to capture the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic. The Wildcats currently have five double figure scorers.

4. Purdue (5-0, 0-0): The Boilermakers won maybe the best game of the early season so far, a 73-72 victory over Tennessee in the Virgin Islands. If this team and can stay healthy- and that’s always a big if with this group- there’s plenty of reason to believe they’ll be in the National Championship hunt all season long.

5. West Virginia: (5-0, 0-0): The Mountaineers were arguably the most impressive overall team this holiday weekend, winning a talent filled Anaheim Classic by an average of 16 points per game. And with Devin Ebanks back after missing some early action, there’s no reason to believe that Bob Huggins’ group won’t compete with Villanova for a Big East championship.

6. Duke (6-0, 0-0): Keep calling Duke soft and un-athletic, they don’t care, they just keep winning. With a convincing victory over UConn in the NIT Tip-off Classic, the Blue Devils have made their case early as the ACC’s best team.

7. Kentucky (6-0, 0-0): Kentucky is undefeated, but it hasn’t come without some close calls. We’ll find out a lot more about John Wall and Co. over the next 10 days, when they play at North Carolina Saturday, and UConn on a neutral court a week from Wednesday.

8. Michigan State (4-1, 0-0): We know Michigan State has the talent to beat just about anyone in college basketball, they simply haven’t shown it yet, struggling against Gonzaga and losing to Florida. They’ll need to improve quickly with a trip North Carolina Tuesday night.

9. Syracuse (6-0, 0-0): From unranked to No. 8? That’s what happens when you beat Cal and North Carolina by a combined 40 points to win the 2K Sports Classic.

10. North Carolina (6-1, 0-0): Syracuse proved that if you pressure North Carolina’s ball-handlers, the Tar Heels suddenly become a lot more beatable, as the Orange ran them off the court in a 25 point victory. This team will be much better in March than it is now, but with games against Michigan State and Kentucky this week, more losses seem to be looming.

11. Ohio State (5-1, 0-0): Can I interest anyone in a ball-handling 6’7 forward averaging 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists a game? That’s what Ohio State has right now in junior Evan Turner.

12. Tennessee (5-1, 0-0): Beating Austin Peay, East Carolina and College of Charleston is cute, but to be taken seriously the Volunteers will need some wins against the big boys. Unfortunately, their next major test might not come until New Year’s Eve when they play cross-state rival Memphis.

13. Florida (6-0, 0-0): With wins over Florida State, Michigan State and Rutgers already, no one has come off the radar and into our consciousness faster than the Gators this season. Florida may have the second best freshman in college basketball right now (excluding John Wall) in Kenny Boynton, currently averaging 15.8 points per game.

14. Washington (5-0, 0-0): Home cooking has certainly been nice to Washington, which hasn’t left Seattle and hasn’t lost yet either. However, if they want to be real players in this year’s Pac-10 race, they’ll need more than 5.2 points a game and 27 percent shooting from freshman Abdul Gaddy.

15. UConn (4-1, 0-0): The Huskies have been wayward at times and great at others, dominating LSU before losing to Duke in the NIT Tipoff Classic final. The schedule lightens up this week, with a Dec. 9 showdown looming with Kentucky.

16. Gonzaga (5-1, 0-0): Yes, the Maui Invitational field was a little light this year. But the Zags still had to beat three very good teams (Colorado, Wisconsin and Cincinnati) to claim the title.

17. Oklahoma State (6-0, 0-0): A sleeper team to keep an eye on is Oklahoma State featuring high-scoring wing James Anderson (22.8 ppg). Anyone remember the Cowboys shootout with Pitt in the 2nd round of last year’s NCAA Tournament?

18. UNLV (5-0, 0-0): How about a little Mountain West love for the Rebels? UNLV won their first four games by double-digits, before shocking Louisville 76-71 Sunday afternoon.

19. Georgetown (4-0, 0-0): Alright, so the Hoya’s 46-45 victory over Temple may have set basketball back about 30 years. But we had them ranked to start the season, and they haven’t lost yet, so we can’t drop them, can we?

20. Texas A&M (5-1, 0-0): The Aggies beat two ranked teams and lost to another in this weekend’s Anaheim Classic. It’s looking like Texas A&M will again be one of the most overlooked teams in college basketball this year.

NCAA Power Rankings – Nov. 9, 2009

It’s hard to believe, but as the calendar turns to November, it’s time to tip off another college basketball season.

And with it, here is the first College Basketball Power Rankings for the 2009-2010 season. All team’s records as well as finish in last year’s postseason are included.

Enjoy!

1. Kansas (27-8, NCAA Second Round): Bill Self has the deepest and most talented team in all the land. A second title in three years might be in store for the good folks of Lawrence.

2. Michigan State (31-7, National Runner-Up): Kalin Lucas and most of last year’s National Runner’s Up are back for another title run in East Lansing. The only question is how the loss of emotional leader Goran Sutton will affect this team.

3. Villanova (30-8, NCAA Final Four): College basketball will always be a guard’s game, and no one has more talented guards than the Wildcats. But for Villanova to win a National Championship, McDonald’s All-American Mouphtaou Yarou will have to replace the departed Dante Cunningham’s production in the frontcourt (16.1 ppg, 7.5 rebounds).

4. Kentucky (22-14, NIT): The game’s most recognizable coach (John Calipari) is now on college basketball’s biggest stage in Lexington. If Calipari’s freshmen are as good as advertised, we very well might see the Wildcats in their first Final Four since winning it all in 1998.

5. Texas (23-12, NCAA Second Round): Add high school All-American’s Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton to four returning starters, and Texas has the deepest team in the country. However, there’s still no answer to the question that plagued the Longhorns last year: Who’s going to handle the ball?

6. North Carolina (34-4, National Champions): The defending National Champions will give everyone matchup problems with the biggest and most talented frontcourt in college basketball (Ed Davis, Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller, John Henson). But is Larry Drew (1.5 ppg, 1.9 apg in 2009) ready to run the point?

7. Purdue (27-10, NCAA Sweet 16): All the pieces are in place for Purdue to make their first Final Four since 1980. Well, just as long as Robbie Hummel can stay healthy (he missed five games last year and was limited in several others with a back injury).

8. West Virginia (23-12, NCAA First Round): No one expected Bob Huggins to have West Virginia at the top of the Big East this quickly, but here they are. Now it’s time to see how they respond to being the hunted, rather than the hunter.

9. Tennessee (21-13, NCAA First Round): Any Bruce Pearl coached team will be able to score, we know that. But for Tennessee to become elite this year, they’ll need to improve on the 72.5 points a game they allowed defensively last year (284th in college basketball).

10. Ohio State (22-11, NCAA First Round): It seems like every year Thad Motta is breaking in a superstar freshman class, but for once he’s got a team of veterans. Evan Turner (17.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg), could have been an NBA lottery pick last spring.

11. California (22-11, NCAA First Round): Quick, who is the best team in the Pac-10: UCLA? Nope. Arizona? Naw. How about the Cal Golden Bears, headlined by Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher, the best backcourt on the West Coast.

12. Duke (30-7, NCAA Sweet 16): As always, Duke will be one of the two or three best teams in the ACC. But just like last year’s Sweet 16 against Villanova, they’ll still struggle against quick and athletic guards.

13. UConn (31-5, NCAA Final Four): The Huskies are deep and athletic with Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson, Kemba Walker and Co. coming back to Storrs. But more than skill, will they be able to replace the leadership void left by A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien?

14. Butler (26-6, NCAA First Round): Everyone from last year’s surprising Butler team is back on campus in 2010. The scariest part? Only one of their top seven players is a senior.

15. Georgia Tech (12-19): Georgia Tech has as much talent as anyone besides North Carolina in the ACC. Now it’s time for coach Paul Hewitt to prove that he is as good a coach as he is a recruiter.

16. Washington (26-9, NCAA Second Round): Abdul Gaddy is the best freshman in the entire Pac-10. How well he interacts in the backcourt with returning starter Isaiah Thomas will determine how far the Huskies go in next spring’s NCAA Tournament.

17. Oklahoma (30-6, NCAA Elite Eight): Willie Warren came back to Oklahoma to prove he was more than Blake Griffin’s sidekick. Luckily, he’ll have Tony Crocker and freshman Keith “Tiny,” Gallon (6’9 300 lbs.) around to help.

18. Louisville (31-6, NCAA Elite Eight): Rick Pitino has plenty of good players at Louisville (Terrence Jennings, Samardo Samuels, Jerry Smith etc.). But will any of them be able to provide the star power of the departed Terrence Williams and Earl Clark?

19. Michigan (21-14, NCAA Second Round): John Beilein is back for his third year in Ann Arbor. And he’ll have arguably the best player in the Big 10 joining him, Manny Harris.

20. Georgetown (16-15): With so many young players last year, I’ll give Georgetown the benefit of the doubt for struggling as much as they did. But now that Greg Monroe, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman are a year older, there’ll be no excuse this time around.

Unsung Player: Stanley Robinson

The University of Connecticut’s basketball season ended Saturday night with an 82-73 Final Four loss to Michigan State. While stars like A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet get much of the credit for this team’s success, it may have been small forward Stanley Robinson who played best this postseason.

The fact that Robinson was even on the court Saturday is a story all to itself.

You see, Robinson is a walk-on. He paid his own way this season, while the guys he started over were on free rides.

Just the typical student you’d find walking around UConn’s campus on a typically cold winter morning.

That is, if by “typical student” you mean a wiry 6’9″ athlete with the ability to jump out of the gym and with an unlimited future, one that will likely include cashing NBA paychecks.

The most bizarre thing? “Sticks,” as his teammates call him, didn’t lose the scholarship he once had by flunking off the team, doesn’t appear to have failed a drug test and has no known criminal record.

Regardless, Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun decided last spring to give the enigmatic Robinson a little tough love, telling him he wasn’t welcome to the program until he dealt with some maturity issues that were holding him back both off and on the court.

Because of his unlimited potential and apparently in-tact transcript, Robinson could have left the university and gone somewhere else.

He has two young daughters in his home town of Birmingham, Alabama, and could have transferred somewhere closer to them and his more comfortable past (Robinson suffered from well documented culture shock upon his arrival to Connecticut in the summer of 2006). His list of suitors would have likely been as long as the wingspan that will someday make him millions in the NBA, and no one would have second-guessed him.

Instead Robinson shocked some, and decided to stay at the University of Connecticut, or as he once described it to me, “the 31st team in the NBA.” Despite the suspension, he has a deep bond with Calhoun, one that reared its head when Robinson once interrupted a press conference to give his coach a hand-wrapped gift before heading home for a short Christmas break.

While not taking classes last fall, Robinson worked at a scrap heap company in Willimantic, Conn. from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (the story was wonderfully documented by ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil here), and lived off-campus. A few days a week he got up early and worked out on his own, often at 5 in the morning, and lifted weights after work.

Not quite the typical day of a Division I athlete.

On December 15 of this past season, Robinson returned to his team and into competitive basketball, scoring seven points and getting five rebounds in 16 minutes of action.

But again to re-iterate, despite sharing the court with no fewer than three other teammates who may someday share NBA riches with him, Robinson played as a walk-on. He spent the spring semester at UConn paying for his own education, books and food, something that maybe just a year before he took for granted.

As the season progressed, Robinson’s rust started to wear off. And not a second too soon.

On February 11, guard Jerome Dyson, and his 13 point a game average, went down and out for the season, tearing cartilage in his knee. Many – myself included- were ready to write the obituary on UConn’s season that night, as the Huskies lost their best perimeter scorer and defender.

And for three weeks, the argument seemed to hold water, as UConn finished the season 4-2 without Dyson.

Then something strange happened. Appearing from out of no where (as much as anyone who is 6’9″ could), the Stanley Robinson everyone in Connecticut had been waiting two-and-a-half years for showed up.

He made his first mark on one of sports biggest stages: in the classic six overtime game against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament. Yes the Huskies lost, but for the first time since Dyson went down, they seemed to have a pep in their step that had been missing.

Robinson finished the evening with 28 points and 14 rebounds, starting the game with some highlight reel dunks, and finishing with some clutch perimeter jump shots. If it wasn’t for Robinson, there would have been no historical significance to the game, no “Instant Classic,” on ESPN and we all would have gotten a better night’s sleep.

Robinson carried the Huskies that night, and as someone who was there, I can say that of the eight players that fouled out, Robinson got by far the loudest ovation of anyone as he found his way to the bench.

As the NCAA Tournament rolled around, Robinson’s game continued to develop. He scored double figures in all five games, after only accomplishing the feat four times in the regular season.

His defense improved, shutting down Purdue’s Robbie Hummel in the second half of their Sweet 16 game, and his four blocks against Missouri in the Elite Eight were the same as the rest of his teammates combined (including Thabeet, who at 7’3 was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year).

And even though the Huskies season ended in the Final Four, there was Robinson getting 15 points and 13 rebounds at Ford Field Saturday, arguably the only Husky that had a game worth remembering.

Most importantly though, Robinson seems to have gotten his act together off the court too. Over Final Four weekend he noted to reporters that he got a 93 on a recent test. And of course Calhoun plans on honoring the player who stuck with his program, by giving Robinson something that he once likely saw as a formality: his scholarship.

Every March we talk about the “Road to the Final Four,” which to me has always been a bit of a misnomer, since, let’s be honest, once you get to the Final Four, don’t you want to win it?

Because for the one team that does hoist the trophy, there are 64 others that end their season with losses.

Everybody wants to be that team, and the player with the smile on their face on the first Monday night in April.

However sometimes, just the journey down that road, is accomplishment enough.

(author’s note: This article was originally published at www.aarontorres-sports.com)

College Basketball’s Toughest Job

Despite writing about NCAA basketball for close to two years now, Billy Gillispie’s name has been typed on my keyboard all of one time. It was a passing mention of the Kentucky head basketball coach, in reference to a player who’d transferred out of the program in the fall of 2007.

The fact that the coach of the winningest program in college basketball history was only mentioned once on the site speaks volumes to where Kentucky basketball is, and has been since Gillispie took over two seasons ago. They are an afterthought nationally, and now locally as the Louisville Cardinals have made a run to the Elite Eight.

It is that indifference both by myself, and from everyone that covers college basketball which led to Gillispie’s firing on Friday afternoon.

His Kentucky teams just didn’t matter, at a place where basketball is all that matters.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the firing was best for both parties.

Gillispie proved to be a bit of an introvert, at a place where every move is scrutinized. He was standoffish with the media, something that’s acceptable when you’re winning 30 times a year, but not when you’re a mid-level SEC team.

He lost too many head-scratching games (Gardner-Webb last year, VMI to open this season) and struggled down the stretch in 2009, finishing the regular season just 3-6, after starting 16-5.

You can survive stretches like that at UTEP and Texas A & M (Gillispie’s previous two head coaching stops), but not in Lexington, where anything short of a Final Four run is considered a disappointing year.

Not making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 17 years of course is downright unspeakable.

So Kentucky cut the cord, figuring if they didn’t this year, they would next (barring an absolutely shocking turnaround). Gillispie is on the unemployment line, and the Wildcats are searching for a new hardwood head man, for the second time in three off-seasons.

As with any head coaching search at a major program, you’re going to hear all the big names.

Florida head coach Billy Donovan has already come out and said he has no interest in the job. It is probably for best, as Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart likely would have taken at least a little heat for bringing in a coach that is coming off back-to-back NIT appearances. Even if they were on the heels of consecutive National Championships.

The next big name is Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Well, there is a possibility that after going to four Final Four’s in the last decade, and being on the brink of another that he might be getting bored in East Lansing.

But he is also a Michigan guy, born there, and started his coaching career in his early 20’s at a state high school. He was also an assistant at MSU before getting the head coaching gig, so it seems unlikely that Izzo retire anything but a Spartan.

What about Pitt’s Jamie Dixon? The problem with this is Dixon has never coached a McDonald’s All-American in all his years at Pitt, choosing instead to develop lower rated recruits into stars by their junior and senior years.

While this may work at Pitt, I doubt the fans in Lexington will be comfortable watching their players develop at a snails pace. That is what did in Gillispie’s predecessor Tubby Smith. He won an awful lot of games, but never seemed to have the superstars needed to win games late in the tournament.

As for Rick Pitino, I’m sorry UK fans, but he’s not riding in on his white horse, and in his all white suit to save the day.

So with all those names out, who’s left?

As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one man that Barnhart needs to call, and when he makes that call, needs to refuse to take no as answer.

That man: John Calipari.

Calipari is everything that Kentucky and their fans want. And he’s everything they need, if they’re serious about getting back to college basketball’s elite.

At the end of the day, what was the biggest problem with Gillipsie? Yes, he was aloof, but again none of that would matter if he won more games. Calipari recently won 30 games for the fourth consecutive year. Not too shabby considering no coach in the history of the sport has done that.

And before Gillispie, what did in Tubby Smith?

Well, there were a few factors, the primary one being that he didn’t win enough tournament games. Calipari has been to the Sweet 16 four times in the last four years, the Elite Eight twice in that time and played for a National Championship in 2008.

But beyond that, Calipari would bring some cache that the Big Blue faithful are desperately missing.

For one, there is no one better at selling his program than Calipari. He did it at UMass, and has continued his “us against the world,” mentality in Memphis.

This year, when his team was battling for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament down the stretch, there was Calipari on every television show, radio network and street corner preaching that his team deserved it. You couldn’t turn on your TV without seeing Calipari’s face.

Most importantly though, Calipari will bring the superstar players that Kentucky really hasn’t gotten since Pitino was roaming the sidelines in Lexington in the mid-1990’s.

Meanwhile, in that same time guys like Shawne Williams, Derrick Rose and very likely Tyreke Evans have come to play Calipari and in one year, come out NBA ready. Before them, Calipari successfully got players like Amare Stoudemire and Kendrick Perkins to commit to Memphis, and would have played there, but weren’t required at the time to go to college before starting their NBA careers.

And despite the constant exodus of top players, more blue chippers continue to commit.

This year Calipari has already signed Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins, two of the top three players in the high school class of 2009 according to recruiting website Rivals.com.

Calipari has made Memphis the destination for the one and done superstars looking to come to college, improve their game, and then move on to the next level. And at the end of the day, superstars are what win you NCAA Tournament games, and more importantly National Championships.

Now, here’s the most important question: Would Calipari ever leave Memphis?

It seems like every year, some school makes an overture at the coach, including the spring of 2006 when he seriously considered leaving for NC State. He decided to stay, but lets be honest NC State isn’t Kentucky. The whole state revolves around Wildcats basketball, and Calipari could get whatever he wanted in terms of salary and facility upgrades.

Also, at some point, doesn’t Calipari have to get bored by the lack of competition in Conference USA? Memphis hasn’t lost an intra-conference game in three years, and doesn’t appear to be letting up any time soon.

And for a guy as competitive as Calipari, doesn’t that seem a little boring?

Because as much as he relishes the underdog role in Memphis, the competitor in him must get a little disinterested once January comes, and he can pretty much hit cruise control until Selection Sunday.

Other than a few big games early in the season, Memphis simply isn’t challenged the remainder of the year.

So as the tournament winds down, we’ll learn a lot more about Kentucky’s plans for their basketball future.

What direction they will go? I have no idea.

But Barnhart needs to start by getting on a plane to Memphis with a blank check in hand, and not leaving until Calipari’s signature is on it.

Because in Kentucky there’s only one thing that counts: winning basketball games.

And no one does it better than John Calipari.

(This article was originally published here, at www.aarontorres-sports.com)

NCAA Tournament: Weekend Preview

Well, the NCAA Tournament field has been trimmed from 65 to 16, with that number set to be dwindled to four by the end of the weekend.

Before we get there though, a lot of good basketball is still to be played.

Here is what to look out for this weekend.

Best Match-Up: Villanova vs. Duke, East Region, Thursday 9:57 p.m.

It’s a classic match-up of two college basketball’s best teams, from its two premiere conferences Thursday night in Boston.

What makes this match-up one to watch however, is that both teams play similar styles of basketball, using dribble penetration by its guards to create open shots on the perimeter, and easy baskets for the big guys down low.

For Villanova it all starts with Scottie Reynolds.

While his numbers may be a bit down from previous years, the point guard has been as good as ever, as his ability to break-down defenders creates open shots from 3-point range for Villanova’s wing players.

Both Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher contribute off the bench, combining for about 19 points and two 3-pointers a game off the bench.

Like Duke, Villanova isn’t big down low, with Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark getting the bulk of the minutes in the paint.

Cunningham is one of college basketball’s most improved players this season, averaging 18 points and seven rebounds, after being a role player for most of his career.

But while the Wildcats do like to get Cunningham the ball in the post, most of his points still come off put backs, and his guards ability to create off the dribble.

Duke plays in a very similar way.

They’re top three scorers all do most of their work on the perimeter, with Gerald Henderson, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer combining for about 56 points a game.

The Blue Devils too lack a true low-post presence, with Singler often lining up on the opponents power forward, despite spending most of his time away from the basket.

Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas are Duke’s primary low-post players, although neither is much of an offensive weapon.

The key in this game will be how Duke handles Villanova’s more athletic backcourt.

Against UCLA, the Wildcats were simply able to do whatever they pleased with six players scoring in double-digits.

Reynolds and Reggie Redding seemed to be able to get into the lane at will, with the “Corey’s,” Fisher and Stokes, combining for five threes.

All year Duke struggled with athletic ball-handlers (Jeff Teague of Wake Forest, Tyrese Rice of Boston College and of course Ty Lawson of North Carolina), and will need to have their best defensive effort of the year to hang stay with Villanova.

But if Reynolds and the rest of Villanova’s backcourt are able to make plays it will be a long night for Duke fans, and likely the Blue Devils last game of the season.

Best Match-Up No One is Talking About: Syracuse vs. Oklahoma, Friday 7:27 p.m.

This game has it all.

Star-power? Absolutely, with Blake Griffin of Oklahoma and Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn.

Great coaching? Hall-of-Famer Jim Boeheim and up-and-comer Jeff Capel certainly qualify.

Playing styles? Check, as Oklahoma wants to push the ball and Syracuse wants to play in the half-court.

But what will be the key in this one is how Syracuse’s famous 2-3 zone handles Blake Griffin and Oklahoma’s 3-point shooters. Because to quite be honest, their defense a week ago against Arizona State left a lot to be desired.

Yes, the Orange did a good job in holding Arizona State superstar James Harden to just 10 points, and limiting Jeff Pendergraph’s effectiveness down low.

However, whenever it looked like Syracuse was ready to put Arizona State away, the Sun Devils always seemed to make a run, usually fueled by the three point shot.

In the game, Arizona State role players Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks seemed to always be open, combining for 40 points on 12 3-pointers.

Simply put, that will not get the job done against Oklahoma, which boasts four genuine perimeter threats in Austin Johnson, Tony Crocker, Willie Warren and Cade Davis. Each can light it up, and each will make you pay if left open.

This is the biggest reason why I think Syracuse may be in trouble this weekend.

While it seems natural for the Orange to try and double Griffin every time he touches the ball, he is a great passer out of the double team, and seems to always find the open man on the perimeter.

If he can do this with any regularity, and Oklahoma is able to swing the ball into the corners as effectively as Arizona State did, Syracuse will be in trouble.

Offensively, look for Syracuse to do what they’ve been doing, running their half-court sets, and relying on the dribble penetration of do-it-all point guard Jonny Flynn.

The sophomore has elevated his game since the beginning of the Big East tournament, and is the biggest reason why the Orange are still playing on the second weekend of the tournament.

Syracuse too has great perimeter scorers in Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins, as the two each average double figures, and are killer when left open on the perimeter.

Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson are big bodies down low, but will have trouble getting easy baskets the way they have in previous games with Griffin and his brother Taylor down low for the Sooners.

This one will be close, but look for Oklahoma’s perimeter players to be the difference.

After every win and every double-double, Griffin is quick to praise his guards, and rightfully so.

While they don’t get the publicity the big guy down low gets, they are equally important in the Sooners run to the Sweet 16.

They’re skill-set will be on display this weekend, and be the biggest reason Oklahoma marches on to the Elite Eight.

Most Important Player: Ty Lawson, G, North Carolina

Could it be anyone else?

The Tar Heels point guard and ACC Player of the Year is the single most important player to his team in this tournament.

During his absence due to a toe injury, North Carolina lost in the ACC Tournament to Florida State, and struggled upon his return against LSU in the first half of their second round match-up.

However, Lawson was phenomenal in the second half, scoring 21 of his 23 points after intermission, including a three-point play that gave the Tar Heels momentum that ultimately pushed them to victory.

Reports are this week that the toe is getting better, and if North Carolina is going to win Friday night against Gonzaga, they’ll need the junior.

The Zags want to play at a fast pace, and may be the best offensive team left in the field besides North Carolina. And they are deep on the perimeter with Matt Bouldin, Jeremy Pargo and freshman hero Demetri Goodson, causing match-up problems if Lawson isn’t healthy.

If they do push the pace of the game- which they’re expected to do- it will be crucial that Lawson be at full strength to keep North Carolina’s offense rolling, and scoring the points needed to keep up with Gonzaga.

While it does appear Lawson will play Friday, it is still uncertain how much he will be able to give, and how healthy the toe actually is.

North Carolina fans better hope for the best game Lawson has played all season.

They were able to beat LSU with their point guard on nine toes. They might not be able to do the same Friday.

No. 1 Seed Most Likely To Lose: Louisville

Yes, the Cardinals have the benefit of playing a No. 12 seed in Arizona, but their opponent certainly isn’t your conventional Cinderella story.

The Wildcats boast two future NBA draft picks in Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, and beat the likes of Gonzaga, Kansas and UCLA during the regular season.

Louisville meanwhile is coming off a struggle against a good Siena team, but one that certainly didn’t have the athletes to match-up against the Cardinals. If it wasn’t for Terrence Williams 24 points and 15 rebounds, Louisville might not be playing this weekend.

While Arizona will be the toughest match-up Louisville has faced this far, they should still win.

The Cardinals full-court defensive pressure should eventually wear down a good Arizona team, but one that really only plays six players.

Also it’s hard to imagine Hill- a future NBA lottery pick- able to get easy baskets the way he did in the first two rounds. Louisville boasts one of the deepest front-courts in all of college basketball, with Earl Clark, Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings down low.

Look for Louisville to defend, run and ultimately pull away in the second half against a game Arizona team, but one that simply can’t stay with the Cardinals for forty minutes.

Louisville should win comfortably, but didn’t we say that against Siena too?

Best Storyline: Look Who’s Left!

Everybody gets all gushy whenever a Cinderella upsets a big name, but it makes for better basketball and better ratings when the good teams are still alive.

Because the best players come and go so frequently, what’s best for college basketball is to have recognizable programs and coaches in the tournament. It is what gives the casual fan something to root for, and against.

For example, how many of you out there really know who Memphis’ starting center is? Even if you do know the answer- Shawn Taggert by the way- I doubt you have much of an opinion, good or bad, on him. But everybody knows the Tigers coach John Calipari, and whether you love him from his days at Memphis or with the New Jersey Nets before that, you most certainly have some preconceived ideas about him.

The same is true in Durham, North Carolina and Storrs, Conn., where Coach K and Jim Calhoun seem to have patrolled the sidelines since the beginning of time, and have gained both fame and infamy along the way.

So while the players change, the jerseys do not, and that is what’s best for this tournament.

Look at who’s left.

Of the 16 teams, seven have coaches who have won a National Championship (Roy Williams, Coach K, Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino and most recently Bill Self), while Arizona won a National Championship just 12 years ago, under a coach who just retired this season in Lute Olson.

Villanova (Jay Wright), Gonzaga (Mark Few) and Pittsburgh (Jamie Dixon) are led by long-time floor generals who have been on the cusp before, and may have their best teams to date this year.

And of course there is Calipari, who was just a few seconds away from getting his own hardware a year ago.

So while there may be no Davidson or George Mason this year, enjoy this weekend, because we’ve never seen more top-flight coaching and talent on the court among the final 16 teams.

And while you may not have a chance at winning your office pool because you had West Virginia and Wake Forest in the Final Four, at least you get to watch good basketball.

Right?

Five Players To Watch In The NCAA Tournament

Every year players emerge from no-where to become household names come NCAA Tournament time.

Here are five, that you’ll need to know before filling out your brackets this March.

5. Ben Woodside, G, North Dakota State:

Woodside’s story, like all of North Dakota State’s, is truly amazing.

The fifth-year senior was actually instructed to red-shirt – along with four other classmates, one of which is no longer on the team- in the fall of 2004, as the Bison had their eyes on 2009, the first year they’d be eligible for the NCAA Tournament.

During that season, Woodside, and the rest of the practice squad routinely beat the first teamers, tempting then assistant coach, and current head man Saul Phillips to remove their red-shirts.

But all the heartburn from that season has quickly faded, as the Bison are in the school’s first ever NCAA Tournament, in their first year of eligibility.

Now, if North Dakota State is to actually win a game, they’ll need a super-human effort from their 5’11” guard.

Woodside has done it before, scoring 60 points earlier this season in a loss to Stephen F. Austin, while topping 30 on three other occasions.

But none were against a team like Kansas, or his likely opposition at point guard, Sherron Collins.

Anyone who watched CBS’ Selection Show on Sunday saw what North Dakota State going to the NCAA Tournament meant to both this school, and the community that surrounds it.

But it will take a truly magical effort from Woodside for the story to continue, and for the Bison to advance to the second round.

4. Robbie Hummel, F, Purdue:

Hummel’s stats don’t jump out at you (12.7 points, 6.9 rebounds per game), but don’t be fooled, the 6’8″ junior is the heart and soul of this team, and having him healthy is Purdue’s only chance at a deep tournament run.

Early in the season, Hummel struggled with injuries, missing five games completely, while being limited in several others. Even in games which he played, Hummel often didn’t practice between contests.

However, since returning to the Boilermakers line-up for good in mid-February, this has been a different team, highlighted by a Big 10 tournament championship last weekend. In it, Hummel appeared to be his old self, averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds in Purdue’s three wins.

Although they should get by Northern Iowa in the first round, Pac-10 regular season champion Washington will likely await, with No. 1 seed UConn a likely opponent in the Sweet 16.

It’s not unfathomable for Purdue to beat either of these teams, and make a serious run at the Final Four. But they’ll need a healthy Hummel, at the top of his game, for it to happen.

3. Devin Ebanks, F, West Virginia:

NBA scouts have been drooling over Ebanks since the long and athletic forward was a senior in high school a year ago. And after playing for Bob Huggins for a year, the true freshman is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

Ebanks, is literally getting better by the day, getting a career-high 20 points in the Mountaineers upset of Pittsburgh in the Big East quarterfinals, and topping it the following night with 22 points against Syracuse. He also has recorded double digit rebounds in five of his last eight games.

But more importantly, Ebanks has a knack for the clutch, making big free throws down to ice the game against Pittsburgh and two that forced overtime in the closing seconds against Syracuse.

West Virginia has had tournament success in recent years, getting to the Sweet 16 three times since 2005.

But they’ve never had a player as talented as Ebanks, and because of it, may advance further than any Mountaineers fan could ever imagine.

2. Toney Douglas, G, Florida State:

We all know that Ty Lawson won the ACC Player of the Year in 2009, but quickly who finished in second? No, it wasn’t Duke’s Gerald Henderson, Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague or even Lawson’s teammate Tyler Hansbrough.

It was Florida State’s Douglas.

While the nation may not have known much about the senior guard a week ago, they got a quick acquaintance, after Douglas scored 28 points in the Seminoles stunning victory over North Carolina in the ACC semi-finals, and got another 27 in the loss to Duke.

In all honesty, Florida State wouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament, and maybe not even the NIT if it wasn’t for Douglas.

They’ve got a lot of nice spare parts like wing Derwin Kitchen and 7’1 monster Solomon Alabi down low. But Douglas is the engine that makes this team go.

As a No. 5 seed, the Seminoles can’t look past a good Wisconsin team, or even Xavier in the next round.

But as long as Douglas does what he has all year- score points and lots of them- Florida State should beat both, and advance to the Sweet 16.

1. Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis:

Evans isn’t going to sneak up on anyone, as the freshman has started virtually every game since putting on a Tigers uniform, and was everyone’s high school All-American before that.

But despite all the hype, Evans may be the single most important player to his team in this years NCAA Tournament.

To put it simply, Memphis has not lost since Evans has taken control of the point guard position, just a few days before Christmas.

Since then Memphis has put up 23 wins in a row, sweeping through Conference USA, and beating both Tennessee and Gonzaga on the road.

The Tigers play good enough defense to beat anyone in this tournament, but their half-court offense has been suspect at times. Which is what makes Evans so important.

At the end of the day Evans is still a freshman, and at times it’s shown. He can be turnover prone, and occasionally tries to force things, and do too much.

But he can also take virtually any opponent off the dribble, and is Memphis’ best offensive weapon.

The Tigers have everything a team needs to get back to the Final Four, and compete for a National Championship.

To finish up where they fell just a bit short a year ago, Evans will have to be the star he is capable of being.

(author’s note: this article was originally published at www.aarontorres-sports.com

Important March Madness Trends To Watch

It takes a full season to get to this point. We dissect teams, watch hundreds of games (remember that night you were up until 2:30 watching San Diego and Portland? Me too, although I’d like to forget) and learn the smallest nuances about our favorite schools and players.

Then the NCAA Tournament brackets come out, and we fill them out confidently, knowing that the team that everyone’s picking has a star player who only shoots 42 percent from the foul line, and that State U’s center has one leg that’s shorter than the other.

And despite it all, we never win that darn NCAA Tournament pool. It’s always Doris from accounting that walks with the first place prize, after choosing her National Champion because she liked their team’s colors, or thought their coach was a “cutie.”

While picking your NCAA Tournament bracket will always be an inexact science, there are trends that stand out year to year that can help you when making those tough picks.

So while it’s very unlikely that you’ll finish the tournament with an unblemished bracket, here are some key factors that have withstood the test of time, and should be key aspects when determining your National Champion.

Talent Usually Wins Out:

So listen, we’re not saying that all four No. 1 seeds are going to make the Final Four like last year, because well, last year was an absolute anomaly.

But it is also no coincidence that dating back to the last five NCAA Tournaments, what turned out to be the most talented team won four of them (2004 with UConn, 2005 with North Carolina, 2007 with Florida and you can make a case for Kansas in 2008).

You don’t need to win your conference tournament (North Carolina in 2005) or even be a No. 1 seed (UConn was actually a No. 2 in 2004), if you have talent that no one else can match up with.

And by talent, we mean future NBA talent.

John Calipari said that he believes you need three future professionals to win a National Championship. And well, there hasn’t been a team this decade where that didn’t hold true.

Because this is a down year for college basketball, the number of teams that have that is limited. Really looking across the landscape, only North Carolina and maybe Louisville have three sure-fire pros.

So it may only take two. Which brings Memphis (Tyreke Evans, Robert Dozier), UConn (A.J. Price, Hasheem Thabeet) and Pittsburgh (DeJuan Blair and Sam Young) back into the picture.

At the end of the day, it’s not what you do in November or December that matters, but what you do for three weeks in March.

And like anything else in life, at the end of the day talent almost always wins out.

Look Out For: North Carolina- The Tar Heels have four guys who could have been pros this year in Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Tyler Hansbrough, as well as guys who aren’t much farther behind like Deon Thompson and Ed Davis.

They’re Called Free Throws For A Reason:

One of my favorite NCAA Tournament stories (that I get reminded of yearly by a friend) happened in 2002.

Duke was the defending National Champion, and blitzed through the ACC, conquering every town from Chapel Hill to Tallahassee along the way.

They had Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, and everybody’s All-American Jason (now Jay) Williams leading the team.

But coming into the tournament, I went against the grain and picked Duke to lose, telling anyone who would listen, “Don’t take Duke, because Jason Williams will be handling the ball in pressure situations, and he is a terrible free-throw shooter.”

And for once in my life, I was made to look like a genius. Down four to Indiana in the Sweet 16, Williams was fouled while making a three-pointer, cutting the Hoosiers lead to one. However, he missed the subsequent free-throw, Indiana recovered and the rest was history.

And we all saw that bad free-throw shooting did Memphis in last year’s National Championship game.

The bottom line is, they’re called free throws for a reason. If you’re serious about winning a National Championship you better be able to make them down the stretch.

Be Wary Of: Connecticut- Overall this team shoots about the same as Big East foes Pittsburgh and Louisville, however three UConn starters- Jeff Adrien, Stanley Robinson and Hasheem Thabeet- all are below 64 percent on the year. The trio went just 12 for 26 in the Huskies six overtime loss to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament.

Juniors and Seniors Win Championships, Not Freshmen and Sophomores:

Remember that stacked Kansas team that cut down the nets last year in San Antonio? As freshman and sophomores in 2006 they lost in the first round to Bradley.

How about this year’s North Carolina squad? They lost in the second round as a heavy favorite to George Mason in Tyler Hansbrough’s freshman year.

Although there are some exceptions (Carmelo Anthony’s Syracuse squad in 2003), age and experience do matter. Even the Greg Oden-Mike Conley led Ohio State team that made it to the National Championship game two years ago had seniors like Ivan Harris and Ron Lewis in supporting roles.

The bottom line is, the NCAA Tournament is one of the most pressured-packed sporting events out there. That is why it is always good to have guys who have been through the grind before.

We aren’t saying that Wake Forest can’t win it all, just that history tells us that the Demon Deacons will probably struggle with the pressure associated with the game to game intensity of the NCAA Tournament.

As Jim Boeheim and Carmelo proved, it’s not impossible to win with a young cast, but it won’t be easy either. And newsflash to all you hopefuls out there: there’s no Carmelo in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Stay Away From: Wake Forest- The Demon Deacons were the Jekyll and Hyde of college basketball in 2009, beating ACC heavyweights Duke and North Carolina, as well as Clemson twice. That same Wake Forest team also lost to Miami, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech. They’ve been inconsistent all year, why should the NCAA Tournament suddenly change things?

It’s Always Easier If You’ve Been There Before:

In regards to what was said about winning a National Championship, if you’re looking to pick first round upsets, go with the lower seeded teams who aren’t playing in their first NCAA Tournament games.

Some of the greatest upsets in the NCAA Tournament have happened with small schools taking their second, third and fourth crack at the Big Dance.

Remember Bryce Drew’s epic shot for Valparaiso against Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament? It was his fourth consecutive tournament, and first win. The Crusaders went onto the Sweet 16 that year.

In 2005, it was Vermont’s turn at tournament magic, as Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine shocked Syracuse in overtime. It was also the Catamounts third NCAA Tournament, and with the experience, they feared no one that March.

Like anything else, comfort comes with experience, and these small schools won’t be intimidated by the bright lights that come with the NCAA Tournament. They also won’t be intimidated by the school with the recognizable name on their chest, or the opposition’s All-American point guard.

These schools have been there and done that and come ready to play. To get to back-to-back tournaments, it usually takes experienced players who can handle the pressure of a one-and-done elimination tournament. Heck, they usually have to win one (their conference tournament) just to get to the Big Dance.

So when looking for those upsets, don’t go with the school your co-worker is touting, or even the one everyone on television is raving about.

Look for the one flying under the radar, that isn’t happy just to be playing in March, but is coming in looking to win.

Because more often than not, they will.

Keep An Eye On: Temple- For the second consecutive year, the Owls wouldn’t be dancing had they not won the automatic bid from the Atlantic-10. But they did, beating Xavier along the way, as well as Tennessee and Penn State in the regular season. Temple was in the tournament last year, losing to Michigan State in a game that was closer than the 11 point final score indicated. Did we mention that they happen to be playing Arizona State, a team with no one on their roster who has ever played an NCAA Tournament game?

Don’t Try to Pick the Upsets:

If you happen to be the one guy in the pool who correctly picks the 15 seed to win in round one, you’ll have inter-office glory for all of one day.

But if that same 15 seed loses by 25 points, and goes to the Final Four, you can pretty much rip up your bracket on day one.

It is simply not worth trying to pick any team as a one, two or three seed as an upset victim. The risks are too high.

At the end of the day, it will be highly unlikely that we see a Final Four with all No. 1 seeds like last year. But there’s a reason that those same No. 1’s have never lost in the first round. They’re the best teams!

Play it safe and take pretty much all chalk until at least the Sweet 16. Sure you can pick a 12 to upset a 5, or 6 over a 3 in the second round, but don’t go crazy.

Most all pools are based on a point system, and while you will likely need to pick the correct National Champion in a big pool, it’s the smaller points in the first few rounds that add up and win you the whole thing.

So don’t give those points away, just because you have a “feeling,” Louisville or Michigan State won’t show up in the second round. Because if they do, and then show up again in the next round and the Elite Eight, you’re in big trouble.

Mental Note: In the last three years, only one No. 1 seed has been eliminated before the Elite Eight, Duke in 2006.

Finally, Just Have Fun:

Most pools you’re going to enter are usually no more than five dollars, with the occasional big office pool reaching no more than 20.

So have fun. If you feel like picking your alma mater because of school pride, do it. Or if you like a certain player or coach. Ride them.

At the end of the day, we remember the upsets and champion, but more importantly, the camaraderie that we build with friends, family and co-workers watching these games.

So have fun, because remember even if you follow all these rules, and make the smart picks, Doris in accounting is going for the win for a fourth year in a row.

You had no chance from the beginning.

(author’s note: This article was originally published at www.aarontorres-sports.com)

A Game For The Ages

We all came for different reasons.

Some were workers at Madison Square Garden. Others fans of West Virginia and Pittsburgh who’s teams had played earlier in the night, just looking to get their money’s worth from a one session, two game ticket.

And others, like me, were fans of either UConn or Syracuse, two teams who’s distaste for each other runs as thick as a river of blood.

But no matter what the reason was for coming to Madison Square Garden Thursday night, everyone left with the same feeling: that they had seen one of the greatest games, regardless of sport, ever played.

Syracuse 127- UConn 117 in six overtimes.

You can break down all the numbers and percentages, but that six stands out. Only two games in the history of college basketball have equaled it in length, and only a 1981 Cincinnati-Bradley game surpassed it.

Six overtimes!

My girlfriend, who sat on the edge of her seat for all 3 hours and 46 minutes with me, asked in overtime number two if there was such a thing as “triple overtime?”

Yes, I replied.

“And quadruple overtime?”

They keep playing until one team has more points than the other when the final horn sounds I responded. “But I’ve never seen a game go more than three overtimes, so no need to worry,” I added.

Little did I know, over an hour later, and four overtimes after the original question, she’d be sprinting through the Garden to catch the final train to get her back to New Jersey for the night. The next was at 5 a.m., which I’m pretty sure is just about the time the game ended.

127-117. Six overtimes.

The final score, just like the words on this paper, do no justice to the game itself.

For starters, I’ve been to hundreds of live sporting events, and nothing even came close to the electricity that was inside The Garden Thursday night.

While virtually any other major sporting event is played on one team’s home field or court, this was a neutral site in the truest sense.

And because of each programs success coupled with proximity to New York City, every March, Madison Square Garden fills with Syracuse and UConn fans, regardless of how good each team is, or the opposition.

And when the two schools actually play each other- like they have in four of the last five years- it’s always a must-see event. No ticket in college basketball this side of Tobacco Road is harder to come by.

But even for Syracuse-UConn, this was extra special.

I was in the Garden in 2006 when Gerry McNamara brought the house down, forcing overtime against the No. 1 ranked Huskies, before ultimately sticking an Orange pitchfork in UConn and then, the entire Big East.

But that was an afternoon game, when many fans were still in work or at school.

This was a 9 p.m., prime-time stuff. And with a game before it, fans from both schools weren’t bleary-eyed from catching an early train, but in top form after taking in West Virginia’s upset of Pitt earlier.

Each time anyone hit a basket to start the game, it felt like the roof was about to blow off. The same at the beginning and end of each overtime.

And when the game finally did end, there was both cheering and relief from Syracuse nation, and likewise from UConn fans.

There are many things that I will carry with me from this game, well beyond what the final scoreboard read.

For starters, I had the perfect view for Eric Devendorf’s shot in the closing second (singular) of regulation, and I can say unequivocally that when it left his hand, I not only knew it was going in, but was positive it would count.

As the referees went to replay I actually shook hands with a Syracuse fan in front of me, who’d been quite gracious all night. He told me not worry, that UConn would be just fine in the NCAA Tournament, and that the loss was a blessing in disguise as the team would have plenty of time to rest up.

The man grabbed his coat and went on his way. I still don’t know what happened to that Syracuse fan, but understandably, he didn’t have the courage to show his face again in Section 338, which was almost entirely made up of the UConn contingent.

But well after he left, the referees continued to look at the replay, spending what seemed like an eternity dissecting the tape. All of a sudden, the shot that I thought was a certainty was anything but, and I realized that with every passing second the game may be headed to overtime.

And when the referee ran on the court, waiving his hands indicating the basket was no good, there was an emotion in the arena like I’d never felt before. The Garden erupted. UConn fans hugging people they’d met just hours earlier, as if they were long lost family members, Syracuse fans with their hands on head, staring into the distance in total disbelief.

We were going to overtime.

And like all of the first five overtimes, UConn jumped out to a quick lead.

To me, that was the most amazing stat of the night, that Syracuse never actually lead in any of the first five overtimes. Not for one second. In one of the extra periods – I honestly forget which, maybe the fourth, maybe the fifth – UConn had two separate leads of five points and couldn’t hold on. Syracuse kept fighting, and deserved to win this game.

Above all, what will stand out from this game more than anything, is the heart of every player on the court.

A friend who is a UConn fan texted me at the beginning of the second overtime, “We look so tired, there’s no way we pull this out.” The teams then proceeded to play five more overtimes!

For Syracuse, it was guard Jonny Flynn, playing 67 of the possible 70 minutes, relentlessly taking the ball to the basket, time and time again. And Paul Harris, one of the games best dunkers, who in overtime missed a dunk, when his legs just ran out of spring.

For UConn, there was Stanley Robinson. The 6’9 junior has been an enigma for his entire three years in Storrs, with fans, coaches and teammates alike not sure what they’ll get from him from game to game.

But of the eight players who fouled out by the end of the game, Robinson got the loudest cheers as he headed toward the bench (A standing ovation was out of the question, as everyone in the arena was on their feet from the first overtime on, like one big, exhausted student section).

If it wasn’t for Robinson’s 28 points and 14 rebounds, in a “measly,” 53 minutes of play, there would have been no overtimes, as the Orange would have won this one going away.

And A.J. Price, the Huskies fiery senior guard, who seemed to will his team, possession after possession, playing 61 minutes on a surgically repaired knee. Andy Rautins of Syracuse had the same knee surgery a year ago, played 49 minutes Thursday and hit as many big shots as anyone in this game.

There was UConn freshman Kemba Walker, too emotionally drained after the fifth overtime to pick himself up off the floor. It took two Huskies to help Walker – the smallest player on the court – up off the hardwood. Of course this was the same Walker (generously listed 6’1, 172 lbs.) who had a put back rebound that forced the original overtime.

Even guys who rarely see the court, played larger than expected roles. That tends to happen when eight guys foul out.

One of the most memorable plays, that was forgotten in the grand scheme of the game came from little used UConn freshman Scottie Haralson. Haralson, who hadn’t played a minute since the first half, re-entered the game in the fifth overtime, and hit a shot in the closing seconds of the period, that gave UConn what turned out to be its final lead of the game.

Flynn of course made two free throws to tie the game back up just a few seconds later, and force the final period.

Overall, the numbers are staggering, with 11 players overall playing more than a full 40 minute game. Six players recorded double-doubles. Walker (again the smallest player on the court) out rebounded all but one Syracuse player with 11.

There were clutch players who missed free throws (Devendorf and Price both could have iced the win for their respective clubs) and poor free throw shooters who kept their teams in the game with makes (Arinze Onuaku a 30 percent shooter made two in a row in the closing minutes of regulation to give Syracuse a brief lead).

In the end, I’m not sure what this game means in the “big picture,” for either of these teams.

But whether Louisville, Villanova or West Virginia wins this tournament, it will be a small footnote next to the game would never end, arguably the best in Big East Tournament history.

As I walked out of the arena, I took a quick snapshot of the scoreboard.

A man with a cute blonde on his arm rushed by me, almost certain to miss his train like everyone else in Madison Square Garden on the night.

But then he stopped, and with me he took a snapshot as well.

“This is definitely worth a picture,” he said to me, quickly taking the photo. “I’ve been to every Big East Tournament since I was six-years-old and haven’t seen anything like this.”

As he disappeared into the crowd, he added, “And we never will again either.”