Still recuperating from your midweek bar crawl? Are you nostril deep in term paper research? Have no fear, fellow bracketeers. The I.D. is here to highlight all the college hardwood action from the week that was and preview the most pivotal matchups of the weekend. Unlike Fogell's Hawaiian driver's license, there's nothing fake about this I.D. …
Still winded from Baylor and Texas A&M's most memorable, yet not witnessed, five overtime thriller, the Noise, currently sucking air from an oxygen tank, is incensed that a game between two ranked teams wasn't televised. Bravo, ESPN Regional! Bravo!
Rehearse your choreographed moves one last time. Get into costume. And press "play" on your boombox. It's time for an Interpretive Dance …
Here are this week's bracket bulls and bears:
|Baylor Bears||Big 12||15-2||22||91|
|Comment: A program just five years removed from being cloaked in murder, scandal and corruption, Baylor was overdue for a positive long-term memory. Reminiscent of a backyard Texas brawl, the Bears, nationally ranked for the first time since 1969, traveled to College Station and upended a plunging Texas A&M club 116-110 in five overtimes. That victory, coupled with a key neutral court win versus Notre Dame and close losses to Washington State and Arkansas have thrust Scott Drew's team out of hibernation and into the spotlight. Despite having only one senior in their starting lineup, the Bears are polished and disciplined, largely due to the leadership of junior guard Curtis Jerrells, who scored 36 points and dished out eight assists in an air-gasping 53 minutes on Wednesday. Now tied with Kansas at 4-0 in Big 12 play, the Bears have quickly shed their Paddington softness and have emerged as ferocious postseason-bound grizzlies.|
|Purdue Boilermakers||Big Ten||14-5||77||149|
|Comment: If the Boilers remain entrenched in the upper-echelon of the Big Ten, Purdue Pete will have to trade in his steel-toed boots for dancing shoes. Racing out to a 5-1 start in league play and with an impressive non-conference win against Louisville in Indianapolis back in mid-December, Matt Painter's callow club – they don't list an upperclassmen in their starting lineup – are on the brink of springboarding off the bubble. Purdue's intense man-to-man defense ranks nationally in the top 25 in adjusted efficiency and turnover percentage. Offensively, they're timid at times, but if versatile 6-foot-8 freshman swingman Robbie Hummel, who has averaged 12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in Big Ten play, continues to cause mismatch problems, they'll remain seated at the league's head table. This weekend's tussle with Wisconsin is crucial for their NCAA resume.|
|Comment: Not even George Costanza could hate this Drake. Due to their continued dominance in the underrated Valley, Drake could leap into the AP top 15 for the first time since March 18, 1975 next week. Wining back-to-back games against primary conference contenders Illinois State and Creighton, Keno Davis' balanced bunch are the unquestioned top dogs of the Valley, sporting an immaculate 8-0 mark. Drake's rapid ascension to the national forefront is largely due to their overall effectiveness on both ends of the floor. The Bulldogs are ranked 29th in offensive efficiency and 22nd in defensive efficiency. Outside of forward Jonathan Cox, Drake is rather deficient on the glass, but their ability to pressure and trap opponents has allowed them to overcome interior inadequacies by creating turnovers. With a gaudy 9 RPI and two top 50 wins, it's not unfathomable to believe this team would be a five or better seed in the NCAA tournament even with a couple of conference losses.|
|Dayton Flyers||Atlantic 10||14-3||17||25|
|Comment: Beset by crushing injuries to postmen Chris Wright and Charles Little, who averaged a combined 18.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, the Flyers were manhandled by a physical, hardnosed Xavier team on Thursday. Without a notable paint presence, the Musketeers suffocated A-10 conference Player of the Year frontrunner Brian Roberts, holding him to five points in 24 minutes. Without Wright and Little for several more weeks, Brian Gregory will have to light a fire under center Kurt Huelsman and forwards Jimmy Binnie and Thiago Cordeiro in order to create space for Roberts on the perimeter. Luckily for Dayton, its resume is rich with boastful pre-conference victories at Louisville and against Pittsburgh, which means it can absorb a swoon and still qualify for the NCAAs. But, unless someone steps up down low, this team is destined to earn a 7-10 seed.|
|Texas A&M Aggies||Big 12||15-4||50||112|
|Comment: Not even a 12-pack of Shiner Bock could numb the pain of being on the wrong end of a five overtime home loss. Without a vocal floor general, TAMU's susceptibilities against quality opponents, especially away from College Station, have been exposed. Much of their inefficiencies on the road are due to abundant backcourt turnovers. In their losses at Texas Tech and Kansas State, starting guard Donald Sloan conceded the rock nine times, while tallying a meager four assists. Also, freshman goliath DeAndre Jordan has struggled immensely in league play, shooting a lowly 45.8 percent from the floor. Because TAMU is an excellent defensive team and talented offensively at every position, the bleeding will stop abruptly once Sloan matures. But given their weak, home-dominated non-conference schedule (198 SOS), they're more of the 7-10 than 5-6 seed variety.|
|Oregon Ducks||Pac 10||12-7||38||19|
|Comment: Pac 10 foes have shot so well against the Ducks, 8-bit graphic dogs haven't had a reason to snicker. During their recent three-game slide (at Washington, at Washington St. and vs. UCLA), opponents have netted 47 percent of their shots. Because they rank 128th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and 336th in turnover percentage, no matter how searing the Ducks might be on any given night, their problems on defense leave them vulnerable. As long as Oregon takes care of business at home against lesser rivals, they should be tournament bound based on their healthy RPI and strength of schedule.|
Named after a Clash classic, this segment sifts through the bountiful weekend slate to highlight seven titanic games that will bear the greatest impact on a team's "Bracket Big Board" seeding.
1. Wisconsin (16-2) at Purdue (14-5)
Unblemished in Big Ten play, Wisconsin has badgered its way to national prominence, riding on the backs of upperclassmen Brian Butch (12.8 ppg), Michael Flowers (9.4 ppg) and Marcus Landry (53.1 FG%). Although a robust 5-1 in conference contests, Purdue desperately needs to shore up their tournament resume with another victory against a marquee opponent. Because of the bruising, slow-paced styles both teams like to play, anticipate this contest to be attritional. Forwards Robbie Hummel, Namenja Calasman and JaJuan Johnson must viciously attack the glass for the Boilers to score the upset.
Prediction: Purdue 60, Wisconsin 59
2. USC (12-6) at Oregon (12-7)
Amidst the middle-of-the-pack scrum, Oregon and USC are two teams heading in opposite directions. The Ducks and their terribly inefficient defense (128th in DI) have dropped three straight. Meanwhile, the suddenly resurgent Trojans have won three consecutive games. Mayo's 3.2:4.0 assists-to-turnovers split is abhorrent, but his recent unselfishness (13.5 shots per game in his last four) has been instrumental to their success. If the more half-court oriented Trojans can control tempo and stymie Oregon in transition, their sixth-ranked defense will cook the Ducks. Whoever wins the battle in the paint between Taj Gibson and Maarty Leunen will emerge victorious.
Prediction: USC 74, Oregon 70
3. Mississippi (15-2) at Mississippi State (13-5)
This clash for Magnolia State bragging rights should be a dandy. Rebels post titan Dwayne Curtis, who ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency, will matchup toe-to-toe with Jarvis "Swat" Varnado (5.2 bpg), arguably the nation's most intimidating interior defenseman. Although the battle inside will be epic, Bulldogs guard Jamont Gordon's ability to contain Chris Warren on the perimeter and score from outside will be the deciding factor. Without a win against a top 50 opponent this year, Mississippi State needs this game to solidify their tournament resume and establish supremacy in the SEC West.
Prediction: Mississippi State 72, Mississippi 68
4. Vanderbilt (17-2) at Florida (17-3)
Unequivocally, the Gators showcase the most deceiving record in the nation. Billy Donovan's babies slapped around powerless opponents in non-conference action and have played a rather gelatinous SEC slate thus far. Coming out triumphant against the Commodores could sway many analysts' opinions, including mine. In terms of offensive execution, Florida is a well-oiled machine, ranking 10th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Although Vandy has been unspectacular on defense, Shan Foster's poise and experience should net them their first conference road win.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 82, Florida 79
5. Xavier (16-4) at Massachusetts (13-5)
After clobbering Dayton in Cincinnati for the 28th straight year, the Musketeers hope to swashbuckle their way through the Minutemen. Rated only behind North Carolina and Texas in offensive efficiency, Xavier executes their offensive sets with pinpoint precision. Expect that trend to continue against a UMass squad that has struggled defensively. Whoever controls tempo will ultimately prevail, and based on Xavier's brilliant man-to-man efforts versus Dayton, it will be the team wearing the road blue.
Prediction: Xavier 76, Massachusetts 70
6. Clemson (15-4) at Miami, FL (14-4)
The quickly dissipating Hurricanes are on the brink of being downgraded to a tropical depression. Mirroring Clemson's nosedive from a season ago, Miami has slipped in three straight, including a 16-point shellacking at the hands of North Carolina on Wednesday. The Tiger's triumvirate of glass wipers, Trevor Booker (8.6 rpg), James Mays (7.3 rpg) and K.C. Rivers (7.2 rpg) will dominate.
Prediction: Clemson 74, Miami 69
7. UNLV (14-4) at San Diego State (14-5)
In a down year in the Mountain West, the Rebels and Aztecs have been the two most consistent teams. Led by 6-foot-6 forward Lorrenzo Wade (15.4 ppg), Steve Fisher's group has grinded their way to a 4-1 leagues start by defending competently. Lon Kruger's well-drilled bunch has compiled an equally impressive 3-1 start using similar strategic principles. Considering Fisher and Kruger used to be esteemed Big Ten coaches, it's only fitting this game will be slow-paced and methodical.
Prediction: San Diego St. 58, UNLV 55
Other Notable Games: Gonzaga (15-4) at Memphis (18-0), Georgetown (15-2) at West Virginia (15-4), Washington St. (16-2) at Arizona St. (14-4), Connecticut (13-5) at Indiana (17-1), Duke (16-1) at Maryland (12-7), Notre Dame (13-4) at Villanova (13-4), Providence (12-6) at Syracuse (13-7)
Last week's results: 6-1
Off-the-cuff thoughts, observations and blather from the "Big Noise."
• When people ask me years from now where I was the night Baylor and Texas A&M exchanged blows for five overtimes I can confidently tell them, "at a Mexican restaurant slugging back pineapple margaritas with Yahoo! Sports Fantasy's Brandon Funston." Instead of engaging in conversations about "Anchorman" – one of Funston's favorite Ferrell flicks – or fantasy baseball average draft positions, I frantically updated my cell phone's web browser to get game updates. Funny, I'm sure I wasn't alone. Damn you, ESPN Regional …
• For those curious minds out there wondering what the overtime record for a single game is, it's seven. Back in 1981, when shorts hugged certain areas snugly, Cincinnati and Bradley played seven exhausting overtimes. The final score: 75-73. Talk about a war of attrition.
• Wisconsin is the best team in the country no one is talking about. Bo Ryan's aggressive defensive tactics – they rank third in the country in D efficiency – and their balanced scoring attack are the primary reasons why Bucky stands at 6-0 in league play. Interestingly, five different Badgers have led the team in scoring in six of their conference games. They will be lethal in tournament play.
• Raise your forties for George Mason's Dr. Trey, Dre Smith. Last Saturday, the Patriots guard canned a perfect 10-for-10 from the arc, breaking the NCAA record for 3-pointers made without a miss. Quietly, the Patriots, who have notable nonconference wins versus Dayton, Kansas State and Cleveland State, are 6-2 in conference play. Ranked 23rd nationally in offensive efficiency, they could be tournament giant killers once again. Even if they don't win the Colonial's automatic bid, they will most certainly garner attention for an at-large birth. Remember, Selection Committee chairman Thomas J. O'Connor is the A.D. at Mason.
• In this age of political indecisiveness, it's comforting to know Rick Majerus' candidate affiliations and stances on controversial issues. His statements this week shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. He's expressed his views on contentious topics before in front of a camera, albeit with more laughs than lashes.
Each week, per your emails, the Noise compares two closely matched resumes in an attempt to get inside the mind of Selection Committee chairman Thomas J. O'Connor. All statistical information is courtesy of kenpom.com. Margin of victory/defeat is noted in parentheses. BBR stands for last week's "Bracket Big Board" rank.
|Key Ws||at Kansas St (3) |
at Arizona (10)
|Ugly Ls||Oakland (6)||Florida St. (14)|
|BBR||31 (8 seed)||NR|
Two-time defending NCAA champs are 17-3 and can only cop bubble love? I'll admit they've played a weak schedule, but give them credit for being one of the most proficient shooting teams in the country. And you know Billy Donovan will have this very young team tournament-ready come March. Right now you have Oregon, a team that is 4-6 in its past 10 games (including a loss to Oakland) on the board but not Florida. (Expletive) the Ducks! Please explain yourself. – Rob, Pensacola, FL
Noise: Rob, to set the record straight, mating with any species in the Anatidae family of birds is not condoned, nor legal in the 48 contiguous states.
Your arguments are strong and well-received, but the issue with Florida is three fold: 1) Their 298 non-conference SOS is abominable, 2) They've not yet notched a win versus a team ranked in the RPI top 50 and 3) The SEC (5th) is significantly weaker in conference RPI than the Pac 10 (2nd).
Yes, this team is showing signs of improvement and they are one of the finest shooting squads in the land, but the Selection Committee will surely frown upon the Gators' unchallenging, Jim Boeheim-like non-conference schedule. If Florida can muster a convincing win against Vanderbilt at home this weekend, then they deserve an at-large birth. But if they lose, they'll likely have to win two marquee road games against quality opponents or hold court versus Tennessee on Mar. 5 to attract consideration. Of their remaining road contests, Arkansas (Feb. 2), Tennessee (Feb. 5) and Vanderbilt (Feb. 16) would qualify as "quality" resume builders.
Oregon's stock is undoubtedly plummeting. And sure the Oakland loss on a semi-away court back in December is an eyesore. But with two headline road triumphs and another quality victory at home, they would be far more desirable in the eyes of the Committee if the regular season ended today.