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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stealing Cinderellas

Once a week, we look at a mid-major team that could be crushing your bracket in March if you don't realize it now.

The first team in this series is Xavier. The Musketeers have already pulled one big shocker this season and will have the opportunity to move deep into the tournament come March.

Thus far on the season, Xavier is 5-1 with the lone loss at Miami (Oh), but as we mentioned they shocked the Indiana Hoosiers in the Chicago Invitational over the weekend. In addtion, the team has wins over SE Missouri, Coppin State, Kent State and Oakland.

Amazingly, Sean Miller's team has six players averaging in double figures and is one of the most selfish crews you'll find. The national average for assists per game is 13.9, but Xavier averages 18 per contest. That type of offensive efficiency helps Xavier get 1.19 points per possession which is tied for sixth in the nation with Oregon. Not surprisingly, the five teams ranked ahead of them are a combined 29-0.

Drew Lavender, who spent his freshman year at Oklahoma, averages 4.7 assists a night, while Stanley Burrell chips in 3.2.

In addition, the Musketeers allow only .9 points per possession which is below the national average and helps to make sense of their success.

Xavier is the type of team that could easily perform very well in the Atlantic 10 this year and could leave a top seed disappointed in the NCAA tournament. Winning one game wouldn't make Xavier Cinderella, but making it through the first weekend just might.

100 isn't enough

Syracuse failed to guard anyone last night and fell to UMASS 107-100 at the Carrier Dome.

I've tried to decide what this means and how it will play out in the hours since the loss and I haven't come up with anything yet. But I do know that if Syracuse doesn't make the tournament again this year, thye can whine and complain until they're blue in the face, or they could just win games like this.

And truly this wasn't a game they should have lost. Nor did it seem like a game the Orange would lose. But there they were 35 minutes into it despite scoring 90+ points, the same place we had started, tied with the opposition. Obviously, UMASS isn't a bad team. They have now won 5 of 6. But they are the type of team you beat if you are an NCAA tournament. Particularly on your home floor.

In addition, this Syracuse team continues to look sensational on offense at times during the contest. But it is sporadic, and inconsistent. And they just don't defend. Last night the Minutemen made 14 three-pointers, while shooting 52% from the floor. Much of it wasn't against the Orange zone. And much of the problem is because Syracuse guards Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf can't stop penetration.

As a result, the Orange wasted a performance that saw four starters score 20+ points, and the fifth Paul Harris record a double-double, as they fell to 4-2.

Syracuse doesn't get enough credit for scheduling these type of mid-major programs. UMASS's performance last night was clearly one of the top-5 performances of the day. Syracuse's schedule is largely criticized because the Orange doesn't go on the road often in the early season. But they will play just about anyone at home. And when enough teams get a shot, as St. Joe's and Siena already had this year, someone will take advantage. Drexel and Wichita State did last year, Bucknell and Charlotte have in the past. But still last night should not have been a loss, and if the Orange does not perform during the regular Big East season, it could be a loss that will hurt long into March.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thinking Out Loud

Weekly thoughts from all across the sports world

The sports world lost two active athletes this week. I remember my first thoughts when I saw the news about MLB pitcher Joe Kennedy's passing last week on the crawl at the bottom of the TV. "What is the rest of the story?" Certainly, a 28-year old pitcher doesn't just die. There had to be something else to it. But as it turned out there wasn't. Just a normal, healthy 28-year old dying. It was shocking.

But it wasn't any less shocking when the news came that Sean Taylor had been shot on Monday, and subsequently died at 24 on Tuesday. Even though what led to Taylor's death was the type of explanation I was looking for on Friday when I heard of Kennedy's, it still hits you.

We watch athletes. We put them on pedestals. We don't expect this things to happen. We look at them as invincible in so many ways.

So now Joe Kennedy and Sean Taylor, who were different in so many ways, are linked in the end. Both of them dying in the primes of their careers on this Thanksgiving weekend in their home state.

Both were tradgedies, neither made sense, both were so different, and yet they brought about the same stunned reaction from so many of us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Around the NEC

Weekly look at the Northeast Conference - and what to expect from the conference brethren in the upcoming week.

Since this is the first installment, I'll take a look at each school up to this point

Fairleigh Dickinson (1-4, 0-0) - The Knights haven't gotten off to the best of starts with only one win in five tries. However, it does seem like they may be playing a little bit above expectations to this point. They lost a pair in the preseason NIT and I'm sure would have liked to be a little bit more competitive in at least one of those. However, they responded with a tough win at Lafayette, before dropping their last two on the road at Rider and St. John's, which probably would have been considered bonuses if they got W's.

Manny Ubilla and Sean Baptiste have done the bulk of the scoring averaging 19.6 and 17.0 ppg, with Baptiste bringing in 6 boards a contest. Freshman John Galvin had big games against Siena (20) and Lafayette (19) and has been effective in just over half a game.

The Knights don't play again until they start conference play next Thursday versus Monmouth.

Wagner (3-2, 0-0) - The Seahawks have probably been the most surprising team of the bunch so far. The schedule has sort of been designed to allow them a decent start, but they have taken advantage. They won at Lafayette, and at home against William and Mary and Bucknell. They dropped a home encounter to Manhattan and lost at St. Peter's.

They've had three different players lead them in scoring in the first five contests and currently have five players averaging 9 points or better. Durell Vinson leads the way at nearly 15 per outing while snagging 9.4 rebounds.

The Seahawks are on the road for a pair of matchups with Ivy League schools this week traveling to Brown on Wednesday, before visiting Yale on Saturday.

St. Francis NY (2-3, 0-0) - After starting the season so terribly last year, the Terriers have been a decent basketball team over their last fifteen or so games. They have carried that into this year.

Senior Robert Hines has been in double figures every time out and averages 21.2 a night to provide most of the offense. Jamaal Womack, Kayode Ayeni and Marcus Williams have provided the offensive balance behind Hines. But it is clear that Hines is the dominant player and may end up challenging for the top scoring honors in the league.

The Terriers have gotten wins over Hartford and Hofstra, and dropped contests with Manhattan, St. John's and a tough three-point defeat at Maine.

St. Francis has home games with Fairfield and a good Ohio squad this week.

Robert Morris (3-2, 0-0) - On the surface the Colonials have probably been the most impressive team in the conference notching three wins and an overtime loss at unbeaten Seton Hall. They probably have taken over the favorite category at this juncture.

They own wins over Iona, Howard and on the road at Navy, with the other loss coming to Drexel.

As expected the Colonials have been led by the trio of Jeremy Chappell, AJ Jackson and Tony Lee. Lee has been extremely impressive adding 6.8 rebounds and assists per game to his 11.8 points.

The Colonials are back on the road again this week with a pair of games. They travel to Florida International for a mid week game and then to Fordham over the weekend. I'm sure they'd be happy with a split.

Central Connecticut (1-4, 0-0) - Nobody really expects too much out of the defending NEC champs this year. And thus far they aren't providing too much excitement. But they've had chances to win more than the 1-4 indicates, yet they haven't accomplished it yet. The lone win is a three-point win at Binghamton, while they've lost to two other America East squads New Hampshire and Albany. They also opened the season with a loss at Princeton and most recently fell at Lafayette by 17.

Tristan Blackwood and Joe Seymore are the only two Devils averaging in double figures at this point. But freshman forward Ken Horton has been in double figures the last three games including a career high 21 in the win over Binghamton.

CCSU travels to LaSalle on Wednesday before returning home for a date with Lehigh this weekend.

Monmouth (2-3, 0-0) - Perhaps the Hawks found their game in the Virgin Islands. After losing their first three games of the year, Monmouth won their final two on the island with quality wins over Wichita State and Charlotte.

Jhamar Youngblood is improving upon his freshman season and leads the Hawks with 16.4 per outing. But he has taken fewer shots as the season has worn on and thus far it has been a positive for Monmouth.

The Hawks are at St. Peter's tomorrow night and open conference play on Sunday versus Sacred Heart.

Long Island (3-1, 0-0) - The Blackbirds have put up the conference's best showing thus far, in terms of wins and losses. After opening the season with a blowout loss to Notre Dame, Jim Ferry's crew has rebounded to win three straight. The level of competition has been somewhat soft, but its three wins. The victories have come against Army, Columbia and a struggling Canisius.

Senior Center Kellen Allen has averaged 14.3 points per game in just over 22 minutes matching him for the top scoring slot with Kyle Johnson. Johnson, a freshman from Canada, has seen his point total grow in each of the 'Birds four games, notching a high of 18 last out versus Canisius.

They get a chance to notch a more quality win this week with a trip to St. John's before hosting Hartford. LIU would be in good shape to be above .500 by the end of the week.

St. Francis (PA) (0-5, 0-0) - The Red Flash is still looking for its first win of the season, having lost four times by 10 points or less.

Chris Berry and Cale Nelson combined for 43 points in the Flash's loss to Lehigh, making 8 of 15 three-pointers between them. Berry is the only Flash player to average in double figures thus far this year at 13, while picking off better than 6 boards a game. Nelson averages nearly 5 assists.

PA will get their chance at their first win when Youngstown State visits on Wednesday before heading to Bucknell on the weekend.

Mt. St. Mary's (0-4, 0-0) - The Mounties are also in search of victory for the first time this year after a disappointing home loss to American on Monday.

The Mount started the season with a pair of losses to A10 competition, losing at George Washington and to Lasalle at home. They fell to 0-4 with 2 losses in 3 days. After a solid performance in defeat at an improving James Madison, the Mount struggled mightily at home.

Chris Vann is fourth in the NEC in scoring averaging 17.3 per night. Vann had a long double digit scoring streak snapped in the loss to American. Jeremy Goode, who missed the opener, scored a career high 27 versus JMU and led the Mount again against American. He also averages 7 assists per night.

The Mount plays rival Loyola on Saturday night (a game available on MASN) and then travels to Navy on Monday evening.

Sacred Heart (0-6, 0-0) - Nothing has gone right for the Pioneers who were expected to challenge for the NEC crown by many at the start of the season. SHU has averaged just less than 60 points per night while struggling to shoot the ball early.

The schedule has not been easy, but the league favorite has to win some of these games. It's tough to believe the Pioneers will still be winless at the end of the week as they have three shots at victory with a road games at Princeton and Monmouth, and a home game with Columbia.

The Pioneers haven't gotten consistent scoring from anyone and don't have a player averaging in double figures. Senior Drew Shubik is fourth in the NEC with 2.3 steals per contest.

Quinnipiac (1-3, 0-0) - The Bobcats have lost three straight since a season opening win over Hartford, all against America East competition.

Demario Anderson is the conference's leading scorer and is averaging 21.5 per night. His 29 point 10 rebound effort versus Maine is one of the conference's top performances of the season.

The Bobcats will look to end the losing streak at Lehigh on Wednesday, before hosting Brown on Monday.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mount loses at Home

The Mount was flat out awful tonight in a home loss to American. The game was tied at 21 with about five minutes left in the first half, but the Eagles controlled everything from there and won easily 66-45.

Give the Jeff Jones coached outfit a little bit of credit for the defensive effort that saw them limit the Mounties to 31.4% from the floor, but much of the Mount's offensive demise was of their own making. Sophomore Jeremy Goode, fresh off the career high 27, was once again the best Mountie on the floor and scored 10 and dished out 5 assists. But the point guard didn't have the ability to beat the Eagles off the dribble like he did at JMU on Saturday and it showed. Plus the defensive help was much better for American.

The Eagles are now 4-3 on the season and will fare ok in the Patriot League. But I wouldn't expect them to win the conference based on the strength that Bucknell and Holy Cross have shown in recent years. But Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer give them a tough pair of guards who aren't afraid to pressure the ball.

The difference in the game was probably the rebounding. AU controlled the glass 45-29 and I'd like to see some 2nd chance point numbers, because American came away with 18 offensive rebounds. Travis Lay led American with 18 points and also pulled down 7 rebounds.

The Mount will need a much more inspired effort against longtime rival Loyola on Saturday. However, I think the style of play may help the Mount on Saturday. Still, it seems like a long season may be in store.

My Top 25

I realize that there are still some issues with my ranking system -- and I'm trying to work out the mathematics that is making things so out of whack, regarding a few teams. But for the most part, I'm pleased enough with this to place it here.

1. UCLA - They have been the best so far, and its hard to see it changing too much.
2. Kansas - The Jayhawks have been very impressive and got a huge hard fought win against Arizona.
3. Wisconsin - Rolling right along, not it gets a little more difficult.
4. Pittsburgh - A bunch of early wins. Let's see if they can continue against quality opponents.
5. Duke - The Devils have been oh - so - impressive and were excited for the matchup with the Badgers.
6. Texas A&M - Tremendous effort in the Big Apple
7. Florida - Obviously the loss to Florida State was a surprise to us. But we're giving them a pass for now.
8. Memphis - The Tigers have done everything that has been asked of them so far.
9. North Carolina - We realize that many think this is much higher. We're just waiting for total verification. And punishing a little for some odd scheduling.
10. Clemson - We really thought the win at Missisippi State was huge. But now the Bulldogs are struggling a little. Watching very closely.
11. Butler - Bulldogs with another huge early season tournament win.
12. Georgetown - Our numbers don't indicate even this much for the Hoyas. But we're going to put them here so you don't laugh at who we do have.
13. Texas - The Horns were very impressive at the Rock.
14. Washington State - Doing things the right way and looking to build on this.
15. Ohio State - Extremely impressive versus the Orange, but didn't follow up with much.
16. Kentucky - Shaking off the Gardner-Webb loss, and gaining experience.
17. Oregon - Even with the loss to St. Mary's we think the Ducks will exceed expectations.
18. Seton Hall - The Pirates are finding a way to win, against other teams that are winning.
19. Miami (FL) - Performance truly matters and the Canes keep on rolling.
20. Baylor - The Bears could be a real surprise in the Big 12 this year.
21. Alabama - The Tide gets a chance to impress the rest on Wednesday at AtM.
22. Boston College - Big win over Rhode Island for the New England Championship - (and this spot in the poll)
23. Vanderbilt - Commodores building on a huge finish to last season.
24. New Mexico - Six wins gets them a mention
25. St. Mary's - We knew the Gaels were good before they upset Oregon.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Who is good anyhow?

I gotta admit, I'm a tough critic. I never really think anybody is any good. In fact, I'd much rather have a team prove it to me than to just elevate them to lofty levels. And there have been a lot of teams I've been wondering about during the start of the college hoops season. For instance, Indiana, Louisville, Washington State, Georgetown are all near the top and haven't really proven anything yet. Obviously, the Hoyas made a huge run last year and that should be factored in but I just haven't included them yet.

Well this weekend, it seemed a lot of "good teams" lost. Gonzaga lost in Alaska. Indiana fell in Chicago. Louisville went down in Vegas. UVA lost in Philly. Tennessee was defeated at the Rock. Florida was blasted by the Noles. Even UNC Asheville, which had started 5-0 fell for the first time in OT on Saturday.

So who are we left with? Obviously, UCLA and North Carolina are probably at the top of the list, and Kansas probably becomes part of that discussion if they win tonight. You can probably put Duke, Pitt, Texas A&M, Memphis in the next grouping.

But what about some others, who might just be moving up. How about the Hurricanes of Miami? Fresh off their tourney victory in Puerto Rico, the Canes dropped a solid Morgan State team yesterday. Their next four games are against teams that started a combined 9-3, so we might find a little bit more out about the Canes. A big trip to Mississippi State looms.

What about Baylor? The Bears won in the Virgin Islands and I think that shocked everyone. But the Bears have a chance with some returning players in the Big 12. If they pull the surprise on Friday night as part of the Big 12/Pac 10 series versus Washington State, everyone will have noticed.

And what about Butler? The Bulldogs won another early season tourney this year. Although it probably wasn't as impressive as last year. Butler is off to a 6-0 start and it really is hard to imagine any team that has performed better to this point. The Bulldogs welcome Thad Matta back to Indy next weekend in what could be a huge game. After that, they have only 4 non-conference games left before the bulk of conference play. (They will play a Bracket Buster matchup in February). Bradley, Florida State and Southern Illinois will all provide challenges. But if the Bulldogs manage to go 3-2 in these last five OOC games, they could end up with 5 or less losses and a Top 4 seed in the Big Dance.

Seton Hall surprised Virginia as I mentioned. And the Pirates at 5-0 are on the fringe of the Top 25. The Pirates have not been overly impressive at spots this year. But they continue to win. Two overtime wins versus the NEC and then a four-point win over Navy. Still, they were fairly impressive against the two best teams on their schedule. A spot in the Top 25 could await the winner of next weekend's game at St. Mary's.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey Hoops

I know that the tradition isn't supposed to be hoops on Thanksgiving. It's supposed to be football. But yesterday, I was much more compelled to watch the basketball action.

Basically, there were only 10 games - nine of which were on television, and there was really only one super compelling matchup. But the football yesterday was worthless and the hoops especially the four games from Orlando was entertaining.

Still, the best game of the game came last night in Alaska. Western Kentucky and Gonzaga dueled in a classic mid-major matchup. Although is still amazes me that Gonzaga has sort of shed that label and is viewed as a true top notch squad. I don't have the Zags in my Top 25 at the moment, but they entered the Shootout in 14th or their abouts in the national polls.

You knew the Hilltoppers weren't going to go easily. An entertaining first half ended with Gonzaga fortunate to be ahead. The second half started with a huge WKU run and the game was officially a problem for the Bulldogs. But give Gonzaga credit, they rallied and executed better down the stretch. They move on to face Texas Tech.

I watched a good portion of three of the four games from Walt Disney World. With a young daughter, we have made several trips to the World recently and I think that tying it into this basketball tournament seems to make perfect sense. If my Orange or the Mount played in this thing, I don't think I could resist.

Anyhow, South Carolina took care of Penn State in the opener. The Gamecocks built an early lead and won by 7. I didn't see the second half as we had to do that turkey dinner thing. Again, the Lions are fairly decent. And I could see them winning as many as they lose in the Big Ten. There is some young talent around. South Carolina always seems to be a team that gets close come tournament time, but never is a serious threat to see its name. They need at least one more win this weekend to help the resume.

Rider and NC State may have been the most entertaining game of the day. The Broncs let a mid-size lead dwindle to two or three in the last few minutes of the half, and ultimately, in my opinion that cost them the basketball game. I'm interested to see how NC State responds today against South Carolina. The Pack was sluggish early but they played a good final 25 minutes or so to earn the win.

I was incredibly impressed with Rider's Jason Thompson. 6-11 folks who can play the way he plays are fairly rare. But when you find them at places like Lawrenceville NJ, its even more uncommon. He really is good, and does so many things well for a player of his size. Its obvious why he averaged a double-double in the MAAC, and hard to imagine him not averaging the same anywhere.

Central Florida got behind early and didn't have enough to catch Villanova. But the Knights tried and tried and tried. The Cats are a team, who I've bumped in and out of my Top 25 this early season, and they showed some inconsistincies last night. But they got the victory and they'll be strong in the Big East, and they might just win this tournament.

George Mason had never started 4-0 before last night. In fact, I don't think the Patriots have ever been 3-0, but they easily got to 4-0 over Kansas State. Michael Beasley is clearly the real deal. But Mason, as VCU did in Puerto Rico, has shown that the CAA is the real deal. The Mason/Nova matchup should be a good one today.

I didn't really see a lot of the Anaheim Classic. I did see USC late night for a bit and its obvious that the young Trojans are going to get better as the year goes on. They got a solid win against San Diego last night. I think that the Southern Illinois-Mississippi State matchup is very intriguing today.

The other thing that is intriguing is a trip to Orlando for next year's tournament. It looks like a great field. Gonzaga, Tennessee, Memphis, Michigan State, Siena, Maryland, Oklahoma State and Wichita State. That actually gives it the star power that it sort of lacked in each of its first two years. I'm keeping it as a possibility.

There is so much more good hoops today. I'm interested in the early start from the World, if just for another look at Thompson. And because it is hoops at 10:30. I may have to watch some football this afternoon as well, but I do plan on trying to see Mississippi State and Southern Illinois. Plus my Orange is back on the floor. And since some of the folks from Washington have brought up the football massacre that the Huskies laid on, I'm seeking revenge. The Legends Classic starts at the Rock, and the NIT Championship features Ohio State and AtM. I have both of those teams ranked. The Aggies at 11, and Ohio State at 17.

It will be a good day. Plus I will get some live action in, as the Gettysburg Warriors take on Daniel Boone in a District III semifinal across the street.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hoop Dreams

Or maybe it just seems that way after watching so much basketball late into the evening.

I realize that my rankings have some issues. And the fact that I haven't gone public with them confirms that. But I just don't understand why teams that play for national titles get no respect the following year, regardless of what returns. Wouldn't it make more sense to make teams such as Ohio State, Florida, etc have to play their way out of the rankings and teams like Washington State, Louisville and the like to have to play their way in. I understand, I probably shouldn't have Air Force in my top 10 - but eventually that will take care of itself. I still just think you have to give last year and history some due in the rankings. I've got the Buckeyes 16 at the moment and feel like I've shortchanged them somewhat. But others don't even give them a mention.

Or what about Butler? How could you just ignore the Bulldogs? They are 14 in my latest collection. That kind of stuff doesn't make sense to me.

Of course both teams will now probably lose their next times out, just to make all of you feel better.

My top four by the way is UCLA, Florida, Duke and North Carolina. I was impressed by the Dukies in Hawaii. Although, I do think the Maui field wasn't quite as strong as it has been in the past. Still that was a good effort last night, and a good win over a solid Illini team. I think Duke is closer to being back near than top than many give them credit for. But I do think teams like Kansas, Memphis and Tennessee if they perform well in the Legends this weekend, could push for those top slots.

Two interesting little tournaments tip off today. The Old Spice Classic at Disney, and the Anaheim Classic out west. I'm interested to see how Penn State fares in the opener today. They hung a huge win on Canisius the other night and might be ready to be mid-Big Ten. They'll need to win twice in Orlando to show they are stepping forward.

The opposite side of the bracket has some real interesting situations. Central Florida is probably looked upon as the weak link, but the Knights can play a little bit and will give everyone a tough time in this tourney. UCF could get Nova tonight, if the Cats aren't careful.

George Mason faces Kansas State in the matchup in that half. The Patriots are still unbeaten and that hasn't happened for a long time in Fairfax, despite their recent success. Of course everyone wants to see Michael Beasley. This is K State's first test. It won't be an easy one.

Southern Illinois played in Orlando last year if I recall, and they head to Anaheim for the holiday this year. I think everyone has to think that USC is the favorite at this tourney. But it really could be interesting. San Diego will be fiesty for the Trojans, late night tonight, and the Salukis maybe the best team in the field. Of course, Mississippi State will try to shake off the home loss to Clemson and make some noise in the tourney. And they have the ability to do so.

If you would rather ignore those and settle for the best game of the day. It just might be Gonzaga and Western Kentucky in Anchorage. The Zags will have to play well to advance.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the food and whatever else you might enjoy.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thinking Out Loud

I've risen from the dead.

You'll notice that my last post was last July. As in July 2006. At that point the Orioles were trying to decide whether or not to trade Miguel Tejeda. Now 15+ months later, they are trying to determine if there is a market left for him. It has pretty much dried up. He is everyone's third or fourth option at this point.

I just want to say that the folks (or folk) at Storming the Floor has a great college basketball blog. He inspired me to do a little writing again. So go visit his site, we think you'll like it.

There is some good hoop tonight. Maryland/UCLA has to be the headline game. But around the dial, you've got four games in Maui, one of which is probably wrapping up right about now. Marquette was up eight at the half. Plus you've got them finishing up down in the Virgin Islands. You can't think that they expected the Final to be Baylor and Winthrop. And that might not even be the most entertaining game from the islands. The consy with Georgia Tech and Notre Dame could be worth watching. I'll also tune in for some of the second game at Maui. LSU and Oklahoma State are a pair of teams that nobody expects a lot from this year. One other game I may try to catch a bit of is UMKC at Arizona. I think the Cats will bounce back, but KC could give them some fits early.

Expect the Titans to win in Denver tonight. The Broncos just aren't that good.

Ok, so I'm back. A little rusty no doubt, but we'll try to be involved.