Seven Day Stretch: Surprise Cal & ESPN's Redesign
Rob Carpentier's "Seven Day Stretch" is a whirlwind tour around every corner of college basketball nation:
Seven Day Savior (Team): California
The Pitt Panthers had a very strong week, culminating in their dismantling of Georgetown on Saturday. But, quite frankly, that was what was expected from Pitt at the start of the season; that they would be a player at the national title table. So the SDS team of the week is a surprise; the Golden Bears of California. To wit; Cal was picked to finish in the bottom third of the Pac-10, and the Pac-10 is down this season. They lost their best player, Ryan Anderson, to the NBA and graduated their three-year starter at the point. However, they also dumped coach Ben Braun and brought in Stanford legend Mike Montgomery. To date the Bears are 13-2 and are tied atop the Pac-10 after a weekend sweep of the Arizona schools. That is particularly impressive when you remember how well Arizona was playing as they entered conference play, and the fact that Arizona State really is a ranked team. Monty has already gotten the Bears to buy into his tough halfcourt man-to-man defense and he has two guards who he can build his offense around in Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher. Christopher is particularly good as he is a multi-dimensional player. This coming weekend will tell us more about Cal as they go on the road to the Washington schools. But for now, Cal is the surprise co-leader of the Pac-10.
Seven Day Savior (Player): DJ Rivera
Junior forward D.J. Rivera of Binghamton may be more valuable to his team than any player in the country. Of the 13 games that the Bearcats have played, Rivera has led them in scoring…13 times. If that’s not the definition of consistency, I don’t know what is. He averages 21 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game. He is only 6’4” and plays out of position, especially on the defensive end, but he plays much bigger than his size. His athleticism is excellent and lets him do things that teams in the America East Conference just don’t see regularly. In the past week he scored a combined 40 points in wins over Maine and Stony Brook. Rivera does all of this knowing that every opponent is trying to specifically take him out of the game. If Binghamton keeps winning, and Rivera keeps scoring, he’s going to become a mid-major “feel good” story come March.
Game of the Week (The one you’ve already heard about): UNC vs Wake Forest
This one may be one of the easiest picks to make this season. On Sunday night #4 Wake Forest hosts #3 North Carolina. Enough said, right? Not necessarily. Carolina’s upset loss at home to Boston College last weekend makes this a very important game for the Tar Heels. It’s not a must-win game, but its close. If the Deacons win, that would mean that Carolina would fall further behind ACC leaders Wake and (presumably) Duke. Wake is undefeated but their record is a bit deceptive. The Demon Deacons’ best wins have been over Baylor and at BYU. The win over BYU did break the Cougars’ 53 game home winning streak but BYU is not the same team this year that they have been in the past (ie, lacking an inside presence like Trent Plaisted). Wake Forest is very good, led by guard Jeff Teague and freshman phenom Al-Farouq Aminu. Coach Dino Gaudio has started the same five players in all 13 games and has a great deal of stability in his set rotation. But Wake is very young. Teague and #2 scorer James Johnson are sophomores and Aminu is a frosh. They are, however, playing at home. North Carolina, on the other hand, stands to come out angry & hungry after their loss to BC. However, this should help the Heels focus on the task at hand rather than listening to pundits wonder if they can go undefeated this season. It should be a very good early season conference game.
Game of the Week (The one you DON’T know about): Miami vs Akron
The MAC has a history of putting multiple teams in the Big Dance come March, but recently the conference has gone through a down cycle. That’s why it’s vitally important to win the conference and on Saturday the Mid American Conference has a match-up between the two preseason picks to be the class of the league; Miami (Oh) hosts Akron in what is not only a battle of tope MAC teams, but is also a “derby game”, to use soccer parlance, in that they are both Ohio teams. Miami has perhaps the conference’s most proficient scorer in Michael Bramos, while the Zips counter with the three-headed monster of Nate Linhart. Brett McKnight and Anthony Hitchens, who average over 30 points between them. The Zips are a defensive squad while the Red Hawks can score in bunches. Besides the fact that the game is at Miami, the one common opponent that they have is Pitt. While the Panthers beat both handily, Akron was much more competitive than Miami when facing the Panthers. This should be a real battle.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Boise State/Western Illinois/Middle Tennessee
There are three teams that share the honor this week. Honestly, I couldn’t separate what each team has accomplished up to this point in the season, so I decided that all three were deserving. The first squad is the Broncos from Boise State. They have started 10-3, beaten two Mountain West schools and are looking for their second consecutive NCAA bid. This is the same Boise State program that won perhaps the most entertaining conference tournament games in the nation last season. The second squad is the Leathernecks from Western Illinois. They sit atop the Summit League, (the former Mid Continent Conference), with a record of 3-0. They haven’t beaten anyone of note, (although they have been competitive against the likes of Iowa), they have an RPI in the 300s and they probably won’t win the league, but Western has been bad for so long, (basically for the entire history of the conference going back to the early 80s), that they deserved some props for being in first place this late in the season. The final squad is Middle Tennessee State. They appear to be the main competition for Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt Conference. They have suffered narrow losses to Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Houston. They have already defeated Missouri State and perennial Sun Belt power South Alabama, both on the road. This is a good team that should make some noise over the coming weeks. The January 15 game at WKU is going to be a barn-burner.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Dennis Felton
Unfortunately, Georgia coach Dennis Felton is probably in trouble. I say unfortunately because he’s a good man who seems to run a very clean and responsible program. He insists upon accountability and maturity from his players. The problem is that Felton survived the pink slip last season because of the Bulldogs’ improbable run to the SEC Tournament title. His squad currently sits at 9-5 but the Bulldogs have already suffered losses at the hands of Loyola (Il.), and Texas A&M CC. Those losses are bad and even though the SEC is down this season, Georgia still has two games each against the tougher teams of the SEC East division. It’s looking likely that Felton will only survive as coach after this season if his team either starts to surprise some of the likes of Tennessee and Florida or the Bulldogs make another (highly improbable) run to the NCAAs.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: ESPN’s Redesign
Stepping outside of college basketball for a moment, I want to comment on the redesign of ESPN’s website. As a writer I use many sources to find out information for my various columns. That’s what makes collegehoops.net so good; the writers do a great deal of legwork to get proper information for their articles. ESPN.com is one of the sites that I use and the redesign is simply awful. It is completely non-user friendly. Many of the easy tabs that a viewer can use are now several steps away from where they were making using the site much more tedious. I suppose I should be happy that the redesign has gone over as such, at least to me, as it could lead to even more fans using collegehoops.net as their primary source for college basketball information. But as a writer and a researcher I can’t for the life of me figure out why they redid something that was working so well. Perhaps it’s to be more “hip”, or to show more videos. Who knows? What I do know is that I will use other sites that are more user friendly to help me do my research. I am confident others will do this as well.