Rob Carpentier's "Seven Day Stretch" is a whirlwind tour around every corner of college basketball nation:
Seven Day Savior (Team): North Carolina Tar Heels
I think we can safely put to bed the idea that UNC is one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time, but the Tar Heels finished the regular season exactly where they started, as the #1 team in the country. North Carolina has had to deal with season-ending injuries, raised expectations and the knowledge that they were going to typically get an opponents best shot. In terms of those adverse conditions, what the Tar Heels have been able to accomplish this year has been pretty impressive. The Heels closed out the regular season by beating Duke for the second time this year. They enter the ACC Tournament as the consensus favorite to win the national title. Carolina reminds me quite a bit of the Florida squad from a few years ago that ended up winning a second consecutive national championship. That Florida team sort of coasted through the regular season and noticeably kicked their play up a notch when the postseason began. Outside of senior Tyler Hansbrough, who plays every possession as if it’s his last, the Tar Heels show some of the same qualities as those Gators. The Heels lose focus at times, especially on defense, but it seems to be because they know that the time for serious focus is fast approaching.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Kenneth Faried, Morehead State Eagles
Faried had a very good season for the Eagles, averaging almost 14 PPG and 13 RPG. However, he didn’t begin to turn it on until towards the end of the year. Faried is a sophomore and played at the beginning of the season like a young man who didn’t know exactly what to do when he was on the floor. However, his transformation and growth has been almost exponential. He capped off a superior second half of his season by dominating the Ohio Valley Conference Tourney and leading the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1984. He was simply a one-man wrecking crew in the OVC final against Austin Peay. His block of Peay’s attempted game-winning shot at the end of the first overtime was a thing of beauty. The Govs had designed a very nice play for an inbounds with 3 seconds to go in that first OT. The Peay players ran it to perfection but there was Faried to simply swat the shot away like it was nothing and send the game into a second OT where the Eagles won to go dancing.
Game of the Week (The One You Already Know About): Big Ten Conference Tournament
Because we’ve now entered Championship Week, there really isn’t one game to focus on, but rather an entire tournament. The Big Ten Tourney has serious ramifications because most “experts” in the NCAA selection process have stated or written that the Big Ten should get 8 teams into the NCAAs. However, some of those squads, specifically Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and even Northwestern, have a bit of work to do in order to feel comfortable about what’s going to happen to them on Selection Sunday. It really is a compelling tournament because of this one issue. The Gophers open with Northwestern while Wisconsin has to play Ohio State on Thursday. The Nittany Lions get Indiana first, which should be a win, but Michigan has a tricky game with Iowa to open their tournament. The long and short of it is that the Big ten really is the only conference that is beginning it’s conference tournament with so much postseason uncertainty surrounding so many of its teams.
Game of the Week (The One You Don’t Know About): The WAC Tournament
As much as the Big Ten has five teams with their postseason fate hanging on their tournament performances, the WAC really has only one storyline; Utah State. There has been so much talk over the past several weeks about how there aren’t that many mid-major teams that are going to “steal” spots in the NCAA Tournament from teams in the bigger conferences. That means that most mid-major conferences are going to be one-bid leagues. With the Horizon League having completed their tournament, the only mid-major left playing that might steal a bid from a BCS school is Utah State. If the Aggies make the WAC Tournament final and lose, there is a very good chance that they will get an at-large bid to the Big Dance. There are only a few schools that bubble teams are keeping an eye on this week and Utah State is one of them. Every team in the proverbial bubble is hoping that the Aggies win the WAC.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Chattanooga Moccasins
The Mocs started the season 0-6. They lost seven of their first eight. They were a mess in December. Now they are going to the NCAA Tournament. Even though they are 18-16, the Mocs have all the ingredients of a team that can pull off a first round upset. They have a big-time scorer in guard Stephen McDowell who averages almost 19 PPG, and two complimentary scorers in Nicchaeus Doaks and Kevin Goffney. They shoot well from the outside and for the past four weeks they’ve been defending and rebounding with a renewed passion. They have very good guard play and that, coupled with their other qualities, mean the Mocs are going to be a real threat in their first round game. They are probably looking at a 14 or 15 seed in the NCAAs, but even if they get that dreaded 16 seed…well, just remember where you read it first.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Billy Gillispie, Kentucky Wildcats
I put Gillispie in this spot earlier this season and was chastised by many readers for it. Heck, the leader of collegehoops.net, Shawn Seigel, even stated that I was essentially wrong to put Gillispie on the hot seat*. Well, the Wildcats are about to have their streak of NCAA Tourney appearances put on ice, and quite frankly, deservedly so. Gillispie has brought a certain style to Lexington but he hasn’t modified his system at all to fit the players he inherited when he arrived from Texas A&M two years ago. He has alienated several of his players, his game decisions have been questionable throughout the season and, most importantly, he hasn’t gotten his players to buy in to his philosophy. Now he’s losing the fans because this Kentucky team has been terribly underwhelming in a year when the SEC has been terribly down. Gillispie has no connection to Kentucky and seems like he is a coach who would be better off being slightly under the radar like he was at College Station. If the Wildcats lose early in the SEC Tournament and then go to the NIT, don’t be surprised if there’s a change in Lexington.
*Ed: My direct quote was, "UK will be fine.. more than fine actually down the road. I have a lot of faith in Gillispie's coaching ability."
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Scheduling and the Economy
One of the things I’ve been thinking about this year is how some of the smaller D-1 programs are going to cope with the shrinking economy. The first thing that came to mind was and is scheduling. Many of these low-major programs are cannon fodder for the big schools at the beginning of the season. However, this year there has also been more of an effort by many of these smaller programs to schedule NAIA and D-II schools. That simply can’t happen anymore, or at least no where near as much as this past season because of the cost involved in bringing those teams in to small school ‘X’s arena. These small schools, or at least many of them could possibly be in serious trouble as D-1 entities. The fact is that many of these schools moved into Division 1 when they shouldn’t have. They don’t have the facilities, the fan base or the tradition to survive what appears to be an economy that is reaching into all areas of society. Perhaps that’s a good thing; some of these schools will be forced to move back to a classification that better fits their enrollment, facilities, etc. The question, and it bears watching, is how this recession is going to hit these smaller D-1 programs.