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. …
Now with Kansas blemished, John Calipari's uber-athletic Memphis Tigers are undisputedly the top bracket seed. On their remaining cupcake schedule, only a road game at UAB on Feb. 16 and a titanic tussle with Tennessee in the FedEx Forum on Feb. 23 stand in the way of regular season perfection. The last team to enter the tournament undefeated was my colleague Greg Anthony's UNLV squad back in 1991.
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:
|Kansas St. Wildcats||Big 12||15-4||26||19|
|Comment: Johannesburg better start making preparations. One more victory against Highway 54 rival Kansas and Michael Beasley will want to beat the Jayhawks in Africa. Mauling their intrastate enemies 84-75 in Manhattan – they're first win versus Rock Chalk at home in 24 years – K-State pounded the offensive glass and held Kansas to its fifth-lowest offensive efficiency output of the year. Beasley, and redshirt freshman forward Bill Walker, were brilliant, shooting a combined 50 percent from the field and totaling 47 points. Sure, the versatile forwards deserve media accolades, but the key to K-State's immediate and future success lies with guards Jacob Pullen and Clent Stewart. With Beasley double- and sometimes triple-teamed, Pullen was able to penetrate, draw contact and punish KU at the charity stripe, knocking down an immaculate 10-for-10 from the line. As the freshman guard continues to mature, so will K-State's chances of a deep tourney run. Matched against the Pillsbury Doughboys of the Big 12 over the next three weeks, the Little Applanians could mount an 11-0 league record before heading into Waco on Feb. 23.|
|Connecticut Huskies||Big East||15-5||20||15|
|Comment: After dropping three of their first five games in January, the Huskies have overcome Jim Calhoun's sickness and suspensions to win four straight contests versus Marquette, Cincinnati, Indiana and Louisville. Without defensive specialist Jerome Dyson and key bench contributor Doug Wiggins, who were suspended for alcohol possession prior to the Indiana game, the Huskies have conquered adversity. Tanzanian Tower Hasheem Thabeet's meteoric development offensively has complimented his stellar defense perfectly, labeling him one of the premiere paint pounders in the Big East. With nearly the same amount of offensive possessions from last year, Thabeet's offensive rating has skyrocketed from 96.2 to 122.3. The potential prolonged absence of Wiggins and Dyson, who reportedly failed a drug test, is disconcerting in terms of depth, but if A.J. Price continues to distribute the ball with Marcus Williams-like zeal, the Huskies, who rank 13th nationally in offensive efficiency, will see their seed number shrink further.|
|George Mason Patriots||Colonial||15-6||49||96|
|Comment: Attention high-major conference Goliaths, the giant killers are on the rise again. In a pivotal conference clash on Tuesday, the Patriots outscored Colonial pacesetter Virginia Commonwealth by 12 in the second half to net a 63-51 victory. Senior forward Will Thomas, whose ranked eighth nationally in offensive efficiency among players with 20 percent of possessions used, compiled his 12th double-double of the season (21 points and 15 rebounds), shooting an almost flawless 8-for-9 from the floor. Although the Patriots suffered embarrassing losses to East Carolina (RPI 204), Georgia St. (284) and Delaware (172) earlier this season, their healthy non-conference strength of schedule (22) and marquee triumphs over Dayton, Kansas St. and Cleveland St. should propel them into at-large contention. Collectively, the Colonial, which ranks 14th in the RPI, is down this year, but given Mason's historic Final Four run two years ago, the fact that the CAA's netted two-bids since '06 and selection committee chairman Thomas J. O'Connor's influence – he's also the A.D. in Fairfax – the chances of the Patriots earning an at-large bid are favorable. However, another loss to an inferior opponent could be back-breaking.|
|Villanova Wildcats||Big East||13-6||58||91|
|Comment: Dropping three straight games, its worst losing streak since 2003-04, Jay Wright's club has suddenly become Vanilla-nova. Ranked 99th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 315th in 3-point field-goal defense, the Wildcats' demise was imminent. Minus a formidable post defender, 'Nova was dominated by interior muscle men Luke Harangody (25 points, 10 rebounds on Jan. 26) and DeJuan Blair (10 points, 14 rebounds on Jan. 30) in back-to-back games and were out-hustled on the glass by a Rutgers team that ranks 195th nationally in defensive rebound percentage. Offensively, they've been equally deplorable. 'Nova has converted just 39.4 percent of their shots during their current swoon. Guard Scottie Reynolds is a tremendous talent, but without an inside force to keep defenses honest, he's been inconsistent at times. Now at 3-5 and wallowing in the fourth tier of the Big East, 'Nova, ranked 18th in the AP poll just a week ago, is quickly becoming an NIT-bound team.|
|West Virginia Mountaineers||Big East||15-6||48||45|
|Comment: After losing to Georgetown on a controversial last-second Patrick Ewing Jr. block on Sunday and humiliated 62-39 in Morgantown by his former employer Cincinnati, Bob Huggins probably needs a hug. West Virginia's 10-for-50 (20.0 FG%) brick-laying display versus the Bearcats was the worst single-game shooting performance by a Huggins-coached team. Their appalling 0.95 points per possession and subsequent 65.8 offensive rating was the second-ugliest effort by an RPI top 50 team this season – Michigan State's net-burning 64.2 offensive rating at Iowa on Jan. 12 was worse. Outside the numbers, second-leading scorer Joe Alexander's groin has limited his, and the team's, offensive potency over the past three games. Since returning to the lineup Jan. 23 after sitting out against South Florida, Alexander has shot a detestable 6-for-22 (27.3 FG%) from the field. With only two noteworthy wins – home triumphs over Marquette and Syracuse – and no banner victories outside of league play, the Mountaineers desperately need to build their resume. Unfortunately, they'll have to accomplish that on the road, where they're 1-2 in conference. Right now, they're firmly planted on the bubble.|
|Indiana Hoosiers||Big Ten||17-3||33||113|
|Comment: A cloud of uncertainty currently hangs over Hoosier Land. Rumors of impending NCAA sanctions coupled with IU's second straight loss and Eric Gordon's ailing left wrist, has the Crimson and Cream faithful concerned. Unable to storm back from a 20-point deficit in the second half at Wisconsin, the Hoosiers were out-hustled, out-muscled and outplayed by a tenacious group of Badgers. Unheralded scrapper Joe Krabbenhoft, who compiled 12 rebounds (six offensive) on Thursday, was a one-man wreaking crew, sealing the game with timely boards. With only one victory over an RPI top 50 opponent (Illinois St.), IU's gaudy 17-3 record is somewhat deceiving. Currently in the most intense part of their Big Ten schedule (Northwestern, at Illinois, at Ohio St., Wisconsin, Michigan St., Purdue), the Hoosiers definitely need a key win or two to cement a top five seed. To accomplish that, they must keep D.J. White out of foul trouble and curtail turnovers – they're 119th in offensive turnover percentage. Presently 6-1 in Big Ten action, this team could easily tally 3-4 more losses by late-February.|
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. Tennessee (18-2) at Mississippi State (14-6) The outcome between the two Sasquatches of the SEC will be determined by tempo. If the Bulldogs can deflate Tennessee's NASCAR offense, they have excellent odds of springing the upset. Mississippi State ranks second nationally in field-goal percentage defense and have limited defenses to 30.8 percent from the arc, the Vols' strength. In order to pressure the perimeter and erase second-chance opportunities, look for Rick Stansbury to occasionally institute a 3-2 zone. Given their defensive prowess, size and home court advantage, the Bulldogs will spark a party in Starkville.
Prediction: Mississippi State 72 Tennessee 70
2. Arizona (15-6) at UCLA (19-2)
Winners of four straight games, including double-digit wins versus Washington State and at USC, the Wildcats are white hot. Kevin O'Neil's emphasis on transition defense has paid dividends, as 'Zona's defensive efficiency numbers have improved drastically from a season ago. Other than budding star Jordan Hill, the Wildcats lack an effective big man, which damns their chances of pulling the upset at Pauley. Led by frosh phenom Kevin Love, UCLA ranks in the top seven in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.
Prediction: UCLA 77 Arizona 70
3. Dayton (15-4) at Rhode Island (18-3)
Losers of three of their past four contests, Flyers fans have hit the panic button. The crippling absences of interior bulldozers Charles Little and Chris Wright have hampered Brian Roberts' ability to find open space. Luckily for Dayton, Rhode Island struggles mightily on the glass, ranking 203rd nationally in defense rebounding percentage. Rhody loves to run, which should make for a high-octane 40 minutes. If Flyers guard Andres Sandoval continues to perform well (32 points, 10 rebounds in past two games combined), Dayton upends the Rams at home.
Prediction: Rhode Island 81 Dayton 77
4. Pittsburgh (17-4) at Connecticut (15-5)
The Huskies, winners of four straight, are starting to foam at the mouth. Standing at 5-3 in Big East play, UConn is locked in a five-way logjam for third place, which includes Pittsburgh. Both teams possess plenty of rebounding brawn, but UConn has the upper hand defensively, holding opponents to a detestable 37.7 percent shooting inside the arc. However, UConn is especially vulnerable from long-range, ranking 279th in three-point field-goal percentage defense. Pitt guards Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin must make it rain for Pitt to emerge victorious.
Prediction: Connecticut 68 Pittsburgh 65
5. Oklahoma (15-5) at Texas A&M (17-4)
Blake Griffin's freakishly fast recovery from a sprained MCL has OU riding a wave of momentum. The Sooners have boomed of late, winning three straight contests. Meanwhile, the Aggies have righted the ship after dropping three straight, notching two impressive victories, including a 17-point annihilation of arch-nemesis Texas. Oklahoma is a gritty, hard-nosed club who can grind it out with the best of them. However, TAMU's resurgent offense – they shot 56.2 percent against the Longhorns – and renewed confidence gives them the edge.
Prediction: Texas A&M 66 Oklahoma 59
6. Nevada (13-7) at Utah State (15-6)
Even in a rebuilding year, Nevada has enough stored talent to vie for another WAC championship. But in order for Mark Fox's club to hoist the regular season WAC trophy for the fifth consecutive year, the Wolf Pack must steal a win in Logan. Led by shooting sensation Jaycee Carroll (see right), Utah State hopes to rebound after a 30-point thrashing in Las Cruces. In that lopsided contest, four key players were suspended by Stew Morrill for violating team rules. All are expected to return to action Saturday. Utah State, a perfect 12-0 at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum this year, should go berserk against a Nevada team ranked 117th in the county in defensive efficiency.
Prediction: Utah State 74 Nevada 67
7. Winthrop (14-7) at UNC-Asheville (17-4)
In the battle for Big South supremacy, the Abominable Snowman of Appalachia, Kenny George, could notch his best game of the season against a diminutive Eagles club whose tallest regular, Andy Buechert, is 6-foot-9. Coming off the bench, George has logged 20-plus minutes and averaged 16.3 points per game in his past three contests. Winthrop is a sound defensive team. limiting Big South opponents to a pathetic 35.6 percent from the floor in their past five games. If the Bulldogs want to remain unblemished in conference they'll have to have to contest three-point shots more vigorously – they rank 246th nationally in three-point percentage defense.
Prediction: Winthrop 63 UNC-Asheville 61
Other Notable Games: Baylor (16-3) at Texas (16-4), Florida (18-3) at Arkansas (15-5), Stanford (16-4) at Washington St. (17-3), Arizona St. (14-6) at USC (13-7), New Mexico (16-5) at UNLV (16-4), Syracuse (15-7) at Villanova (13-6), Seton Hall (15-6) at Georgetown (17-2), Boston College (12-6) at Clemson (15-5), Miami (Fla.) (15-5) at Duke (17-1), Wake Forest (13-6) at N.C. State (13-7)
Last week's results: 4-3
Off-the-cuff thoughts, observations and blather from the "Big Noise."
• Mick Cronin is beginning to turn the tide at Cincinnati. Their 62-39 embarrassment of West Virginia on the road showed how physically aggressive this team has become. In that one-sided contest, the Bearcats bombarded the Mountaineers on the glass, out-rebounding them by 19. Although Cincy likely won't be NCAA bound this season, the foundation has been laid for future success. With high-profile recruits Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright coming soon and leading-scorer Deonta Vaughn expected to return next year, Cronin has the Cats on the verge of returning to national prominence.
• So much for the Dan Fitzgerald experiment. Earlier this week, Tom Crean told Fitzgerald his "quickness and speed" was needed to ignite post production in Marquette's guard-featured offense. After playing an uncomfortable 10 minutes, scoring two points and grabbing a meager one rebound versus South Florida, it appears Fitzgerald's interior impact will be minimal. With the exception of the Providence game, the Golden Eagles, ranked 270th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, have been pounded on the glass by opposing Big East foes. In their past seven league games, they've been out-rebounded by an average of 6.3 boards per game.
• On Wednesday, in what would've been a monumental matchup 25 years ago, St. John's was handed their worst Big East Conference defeat in school history, losing 74-42 to rival Georgetown. At one point Georgetown lead 53-14 in the second half. In Lou Carnesecca's bedroom closet, one of his stylish wool sweaters is sobbing uncontrollably.
• Wackiest Super Bowl proposition bet, courtesy of BetUS:
Tom Petty …
smokes a joint during half-time show +2500
has a wardrobe malfunction +10000
streaks the field during play +50000
will smash a guitar onstage +5000
will curse during performance +8000
Never in all my years as a Petty fan have I yearned for him to play "Mary Jane's Last Dance" pantless. "Oh my my, Oh hell yes … "
• Super Bowl prediction: New England 35, New York 24 – I'll take Vegas' 12-point chalk all day.
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 Syracuse (7) |
at Boston College (3)
at Dayton (11)
UMass -- twice (6, 4)
|Ugly Ls||at IUPUI (7) |
at Northern Iowa (7)
|Holy Cross (5)|
|BBR||38 (9 seed)||NR|
Why do you have UMass ahead of Saint Joseph's when the Hawks have beaten the Minutemen easily in both games? Both teams have about the same overall record. – Phillyhawk, Philadelphia, PA
Noise: Ah yes, the classic "we kicked your ass twice in conference thus we're more deserving of an NCAA entry than you" comparison.
Every year the selection committee has to grapple with situations like this. For example, last season, Georgia Tech (20-12, 8-8 in the ACC) and Florida State (20-11, 7-9) boasted very similar conference and overall records. The Yellow Jackets had an RPI of 52, SOS of 41 and 8-7 record versus the RPI top 50. Meanwhile, the Seminoles sported an RPI of 41, SOS of 20 and 5-9 mark in RPI top 50 bouts. In their two meetings during the regular season, Georgia Tech emerged victorious in both contests winning by six and eight points. Who was awarded the bid? To no one's surprise, Georgia Tech.
Upon first glance, one would think the committee would've have rewarded the team with the higher RPI and SOS, but they did just the opposite. Undeniably, Tech's eight wins against quality opponents, including its two triumphs over FSU, was the difference.
Phillyhawk, this brings us to your A-10 conundrum. Because both teams have identical records versus the RPI top 50, SOS and RPI are weighted more heavily. Massachusetts' non-conference SOS is 67, while St. Joe's is a lowly 203. Since UMass logged critical victories at Syracuse and Boston College, while St. Joe's most notable pre-conference win was at Siena (RPI 109), the Minutemen get the nod despite losing twice to your precious Hawks.
Naturally, this situation can and will likely change as the season progresses. Of UMass' 10 remaining games, only two are against a team ranked in the RPI top 50 (Rhode Island). For Phil Martelli's youngsters, they have four clashes left against top 50 opponents and a pivotal Big 5 battle with cross-town rival Villanova. If the Hawks can post a 3-1 or even a 2-2 mark in those meaningful showdowns they would likely sneak into the field of 65 over UMass. However, until that occurs, Massachusetts has the at-large advantage based on their heftier RPI and SOS numbers.