Seven Day Stretch: Bulls, Bulldogs, Hoyas, and Gophers
Rob Carpentier's "Seven Day Stretch" is a whirlwind tour around every corner of college basketball nation:
Seven Day Savior (Team): Georgetown Hoyas
John Thompson III had better start getting kudos as being one of the best preparation coaches in the nation. His Hoyas were clearly more ready to play than the previously undefeated Connecticut Huskies on Monday night. That win alone makes the Hoyas the SDS (Team) of the week. What makes that win even more impressive is that Georgetown beat Connecticut in Hartford. I had stated in last week's column that Connecticut should win the game, but if you would have told me that Connecticut would collectively forget how to attack a match-up zone, then I would have laughed. That, however, is exactly what happened. Credit Thompson III for recognizing UConn's susceptibility against the zone and then adding subtle adjustments to offset anything that Husky coach Jim Calhoun was trying to do. The respective backcourts played an even game while forwards DaJuan Summers of Georgetown and Jeff Adrien of UConn did the same. The difference, in terms of player personnel, was Hoya frosh Greg Monroe who clearly got the better of Husky junior Hasheem Thabeet. Monroe's play bodes well for the Hoyas as they move deeper into Big East play as the consensus #2 Pitt Panthers have a monster frontcourt.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Phil Nelson, Portland State Vikings
After upsetting Gonzaga in Spokane, WA, last week, many national pundits were singing the praises of Viking guard Jeremiah Dominguez, who scored 25 points in the win. The real hero for the Vikings, however, was and is Washington transfer and redshirt sophomore Phil Nelson. The 6'7" forward started the year very slowly, but in the last week he has scored 16 points against the Zags and led the Vikings in scoring in their win over Texas Southern and their loss to #19 Baylor, a game in which Dominguez only scored 2. Nelson was able to match up with Gonzaga's big front line and has been dominant over the last 10 days or so for PSU in the paint. Nelson has the tools to play with his back to the basket, get to the rack or shoot the '3'. His teammate Dominguez is the one who gets the headlines, and was the preseason choice to be the Big Sky player of the year, but it really is Nelson who, at least now, is the engine that makes PSU go.
Game of the Week (The one you already heard about): Minnesota Golden Gophers v. Michigan State/Ohio State
I would have normally put the Georgetown/Pitt match-up here as it’s a battle of the #3 team versus the #8 squad. That's a pretty big game. The reason I didn't is because, 1) both Pitt and G-Town are known quantities and they will be in this column as the season goes on, and 2) Georgetown was in this spot last week with their game against UConn. Looking around the country, the recently ranked-for-the-first-time-this-year Gophers face a heckuva week. They host two ranked teams; the Spartans on Wednesday and the Buckeyes on Saturday. Up to this point in the season the Gophers are not exactly a known quantity. Sure, they've beaten Louisville, and they've also beaten...uh...umm...that's the point. They haven't beaten ANYONE of note outside of the Cards. Their 12-0 record is probably the most suspect in the country because of their schedule. On the flip side, the Gophers have one of the best coaches in the country in Tubby Smith and they have one of the most unheralded players in the nation in sophomore point guard Al Nolen. If you haven't seen this kid play, find time to indulge. He simply doesn't turn the ball over. The Gophs, who score by committee, haven't shown they have a real go-to guy in crunch time yet, and that could hurt them, but one thing's for sure; we'll know a lot more about Minnesota after this weekend than we did before. [Ed: Due to New Year’s, this article is being posted a day late, and Minnesota has now already lost to Michigan State. Their win over Louisville is looking less and less impressive as the Cardinals stumbled once again yesterday.]
Game of the Week (The one you DON'T know about): Fairfield v. Siena
Although Niagara will have a great deal to say about who is going to represent the MAAC in the NCAA Tournament come March, the Stags of Fairfield and Saints of Siena are currently tied for first place in the conference at 2-0. The two teams have a great deal of similarities. Both have similar records, (Fairfield is 8-4 while Siena is 7-4), and both teams have suffered their losses against some top level competition. Between them they've faced Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Oklahoma St., Missouri, Virginia Tech and UConn. While both teams have been blown off the floor against most of those bigger schools but they both remain dangerous, talented clubs. Siena, especially, has players who are used to big games, having made the NCAAs last season. The Saints have essentially the nucleus of the squad that upset Vanderbilt in the first round of the Big Dance last year. Whichever team wins this game, especially if its Fairfield because they're the road team, will get a leg up on the rest of the conference, including Niagara.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Butler Bulldogs
Butler, along with Gonzaga, has been the most powerful mid-major program in the country over the last five seasons. This year, however, was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs. They graduated four starters, including two of the best players in school history in Mike Green and A.J. Graves. The lone returning starter is sophomore post Matt Howard who was a significant supporting player last season, but a supporting player nonetheless. He has become the team's leading scorer, but he's getting some serious help from freshmen Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack. All three average in double figures and are multi-dimensional players. The freshmen have taken to Butler's three-point, guard oriented offense and they play very disciplined on the defensive end of the floor. Coach Brad Stevens has continued what his predecessors Todd Lickliter and Thad Matta started; a smart team that plays to their strengths and forces the opponent to play to their weaknesses. Butler currently stands at 11-1, with their one loss coming in a very close affair at Ohio State, while this past weekend they defeated Xavier. Butler has already won at Horizon League preseason favorite Cleveland State and they have clearly positioned themselves for an at-large bid come March should they not win the HL. It appears that Butler doesn't rebuild but simply reload.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Stan Heath, South Florida
When you are a member of a premier, perhaps THE premier college basketball conference in the land, losing to schools such as Wright State, Oral Roberts and Central Florida usually causes rumbling among the fans and alumni. That's the case with South Florida and Coach Stan Heath, who's Bulls have lost to those three schools among others. Heath was hired to improve the 'x's and 'o's coaching in the program and to infuse the team with talent. The school is still out as to whether Heath is the kind of game coach USF needs in the Big East, (although his game acumen came into question when he was at Arkansas), but its clear that USF's talent has gotten worse since Heath arrived. He is losing recruiting battles to the likes of Florida Atlantic and Florida International and the Bulls stand a decent chance of going o-fer the Big East this season. That's saying a lot considering the Big East, for all its power at the top of the conference, has teams like Rutgers and DePaul in the league. As the Bulls continue their success in football, the basketball program is falling further behind at an alarming rate. Heath, who is only in his second season at USF, stands a good chance of not being given an opportunity to do much beyond this year.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Off Court Behavior
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has recently reinstated guard Eric Devendorf after the junior was suspended from the team and forced to do community service work for assaulting a Syracuse female student earlier in the year. I have to wonder aloud if Boeheim would have reinstated a player if it wasn't someone of Devendorf's stature or importance to the team. I know that Boeheim is a players' coach, but this goes too far for me. Cll me Old School, but I was raised to know...KNOW that you didn't lay a finger on a woman. If you did, then you suffered the consequences, whether it be jail time or being suspended for the season from a team. There are more important things in life than basketball and refraining from hitting another person, especially a woman, is certainly one of them. Don't coaches have a responsibility to their respective schools not to embarrass the school? Aren't coaches responsible for their players? When decisions such as Boeheim's are made they give young men who happen to be good at basketball one more small piece of belief that they are above the standards of society. Winning and keeping their jobs certainly is a motivation for why coaches make the kinds of decisions that Boeheim made, but coaches have a responsibility to teach their kids life lessons even if that means some short term pain. In this case, it seems that Boeheim didn't do that.