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TEAM OF THE DAY

Columnists | NCAA Tournament  | Daily Dribble

 

Each day, we profile an important team in the news, their recent results, and why this matters in the national scene:

 

March 10th - Raphielle Johnson


South Carolina (18-14, 6-10 SEC East)

RPI: 79

Record last 10 games: 6-4

Last two: W 79-71 vs. #15 Tennessee, W 65-61 vs. UK

Next: SEC Tournament Final vs. Florida (Mar. 12th)

 

After close calls on Saturday with the likes of Utah State and Wyoming, there remains one “bid stealer”: the Gamecocks of South Carolina. Winners of last season’s Postseason NIT, this was expected to be a team playing to improve their NCAA Tournament seeding at this point in the year. Thanks to an inconsistent effort, however, they found themselves in position to defend their NIT crown. But Dave Odom’s crew wasn’t ready to accept that, reeling off three straight wins in Nashville to get to today’s SEC Tournament final. Now they face a Florida team that they’ve beaten twice this season. It’s tough for a team to beat a conference foe three times in a season, but look for Carolina to lean heavily on guards Tarance Kinsey (18 points in win over Kentucky) and Tre Kelley. But don’t forget about forwards Renaldo Balkman (who hasn’t met a loose ball that he won’t go for) and Brandon Wallace, who also do their share of the lifting. There are some bubble teams out there who will root hard for the Gators, but this tough bunch could care less.

 

March 10th - Raphielle Johnson


California (20-9, 12-6 Pac-10)

RPI: 59

Record last 10 games: 7-3

Last two: W 82-67 vs. USC, W 91-87 (2 OT) vs. Oregon

Next: Pac-10 Tournament Final vs. #12 UCLA (Mar. 11th)

 

After a day of watching the likes of Maryland and Colorado show how not to play when your NCAA Tournament chances are on the line, California won a double-overtime thriller in the Pac-10 Semifinals. Leon “The Show” Powe scored a tournament record 41 points in the victory over Oregon, one night after outrebounding USC by himself with 20 rebounds (also a Pac-10 Tournament record). People may question the RPI and strength of schedule (68 as of Tuesday) numbers, but the Golden Bears have taken care of business when they needed to the past couple of days. And with Ayinde Ubaka playing well on the perimeter, this is not a team that you want to be paired with come Selection Sunday. They should be in, but knocking off a hot UCLA team in the championship game today would give them an automatic bid. And as they say, you never know.  

 

March 10th - Raphielle Johnson


Temple (17-13, 8-8 Atlantic 10)

RPI: 85

Record last 10 games: 5-5

Last two: W 74-45 vs. Rhode Island, W 68-53 vs. #6 GW

Next: St. Joseph’s (Mar. 10th- Atlantic 10 Semifinal)

 

That sound you heard around 2 pm EST was that of someone’s bubble popping thanks to the Temple Owls. The Owls have been one of the more inconsistent teams in America this season, thanks to an always tough non-conference schedule and a spotty offense outside of First Team All-Atlantic 10 performer Mardy Collins. Although Collins finished with a paltry five points, he had help in the form of Antywane Robinson (19 points), Mark Tyndale (15 points), and Wayne Marshall (15 points). Not to mention the worst game of the year from the Colonials. The important numbers: 19 turnovers, 32.3% from the field, and 43.8% (7-for-16) from the foul line. A one-bid league has now become two, and with Xavier knocking out the number two seed Charlotte in the night session, who gets the automatic bid is anyone’s guess.

 

March 9th - Raphielle Johnson


Syracuse (20-11, 7-9 Big East)

RPI: 43

Record last 10 games: 5-5

Last two: L 92-82 vs. #2 Villanova, W 74-73 vs. Cincy

Next: #1 Connecticut (Mar. 9th)

 

Wednesday afternoon’s Big East Championship matchup between Syracuse and Cincinnati was billed by many as an “elimination” game. The Bearcats could use it, but the Orange absolutely needed it in order to be a part of any discussion by the selection committee in terms of an at-large bid. Thanks to senior leader Gerry McNamara, who finished off a 17 point, 9 assist effort with a running three pointer to give the ‘Cuse a 74-73 win and one more opportunity to make their case for a bid. All five starters scored in double figures for Syracuse, who will need that kind of offensive effort to go along with an exemplary effort on the defensive end in order to knock off the top-ranked UConn Huskies in today’s first quarterfinal. Recent history may be on their side, however. Last season, the Huskies handled the Orange with relative ease, only to lose to them in the Big East semifinals. You’ve all heard the adage of how hard it is to beat a team three times in one year; Syracuse will need this to ring true in the Garden.

 

March 8th - Raphielle Johnson


Oral Roberts (21-11, 14-3 Mid-Continent)

RPI: 131

Record last 10 games: 8-2    

Last two: W 77-58 vs. Valpo, W 85-72 vs. Chicago St

Next: NCAA Tournament

 

The twenty-plus year drought between NCAA Tournament appearances was supposed to end last year for the Golden Eagles of Oral Roberts. But Oakland (Michigan) had different ideas, knocking off ORU in the final of the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament in their home city of Tulsa. Like Oakland, Chicago State came in with a losing record, but was severely tested in their non-conference schedule, having faced the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, and Louisville. But unlike last year, the Golden Eagles took care of business in the second half, led by junior guard Ken Tutt, who scored 20 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. The win makes head coach Scott Sutton, whose father is Oklahoma State head coach Eddie Sutton, part of the ninth father/son combination to coach in an NCAA Tournament. Oral Roberts is an experienced team with six seniors and two juniors that remember last year’s pain. Expect them to leave everything on the floor in their first-round matchup.

 

March 7th - Raphielle Johnson


UNC Wilmington (25-7, 15-3 CAA)

RPI: 37

Record last 10 games: 9-1

Last two: W 69-54 vs. Northeastern, W 78-67 vs. Hofstra

Next: NCAA Tournament

 

Led by TJ Carter and his 23 points, including twelve straight after the Pride of Hofstra had closed to within three points, the Seahawks of UNC Wilmington are headed back to the NCAA Tournament. Point guard John Goldsberry, who did an outstanding defensive job on CAA Player of the Year Jose Juan Barea in their semifinal win over Northeastern, dished out ten assists in addition to scoring nine. Four Seahawks scored in double figures Monday night, and this is a team than will give their first round opponent fits next week. The Seahawks should have a decent seeding in the NCAA Tournament, but how many of their CAA counterparts will join them in the Dance? Many believe that George Mason is in, but what about a Hofstra team that has beaten them twice in the last ten days? Do you punish teams that can’t get major conference schools to return their phone calls for games in order to reward middle of the pack schools with weak resumes? This will be an interesting decision for the selection committee.

 

March 6th - Raphielle Johnson


Ohio State (23-4, 12-4 Big Ten)

RPI: 5 (as of February 28th)

Record last 10 games: 9-1

Last two: W 56-53 @ Northwestern, W 76-57 vs. Purdue

Next: Big Ten Tournament (Mar. 9th-12th)

 

Most of the talk concerning the Big Ten this season has been focused on the up-and-down season of Michigan State, turmoil at Indiana, or Illinois putting together another solid season. Now introducing the outright champions of the league, the Ohio State Buckeyes. The thinking nationwide, as well as in Columbus when the season began, was that next year would be Thad Matta's year. Well, next year may be now. The Buckeyes didn't play the toughest of non-conference schedules, but that can be attributed to down years by the likes of Virginia Tech, Iowa State, and St. Joseph's. But that resume also has wins against LSU and Atlantic Sun Tournament champion Belmont on it. They are deep on the perimeter, thanks to the likes of Je'Kel Foster, J.J. Sullinger, Jamar Butler, and Ron Lewis, and have a skilled big man in the form of Terence Dials. And if they're in need of a big shot late...look no further than Matt Sylvester in addition to these plentiful options. It's about time that people realize that Ohio State is a serious threat to get to Indianapolis.

 

March 5th (A) - Raphielle Johnson


North Carolina (21-6, 12-4 ACC)

RPI: 13 (as of February 28th)

Record last 10 games: 9-1 (won 7 straight)

Last two: W 99-54 vs. Virginia, W 83-76 @ #1 Duke

Next: ACC Tournament (Mar. 9th-12th)

 

Losing your top seven scorers from a national title team should mean that your team suffers a significant drop in the standings. For those who felt this way about the 05-06 edition of the North Carolina Tar Heels, you can throw that theory out with the rest of the garbage. Led by national Freshman of the Year Tyler Hansbrough (no, it hasn’t been announced, but who else should get this honor?) in the paint, and seniors David Noel and Reyshawn Terry, head coach Roy Williams is giving arguably the best coaching performance of his career. Winning at Duke on an emotional Senior Night at Cameron wasn’t expected by many, but the goal of the Tar Heels on this night was to crash the party…and crash it they did. Carolina was able to hold J.J. Redick without a field goal for over thirty minutes as he missed fifteen of his final sixteen shots. The Tar Heels will not know who they’ll meet in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament until the end of today, but given their play of late, it may not matter

 

March 5th (B) - Raphielle Johnson


South Florida (7-22, 1-15 Big East)

RPI: 251 (as of February 28th)

Record last 10 games: 1-9

Last Two: L 66-53 vs. #2 UCONN, W 63-56 vs. #20 G'Town

Next: Season complete

 

Now I know what you all may be thinking: how on Earth can South Florida, and not Indiana or Cincinnati (just to name a few), be the “Team of the Day”? When a team ends a seventeen game losing streak and gets their first conference win of the season, they deserve some sort of recognition. The win allows this USF team that was thought to be a throw-in for football purposes to avoid the “honor” of sitting alongside the 1993-94 Miami Hurricanes as teams unable to win a Big East game. The Bulls were eliminated from Big East Tournament contention weeks ago, but it has to feel good to close out an injury-riddled year on a positive note. The losses of center Solomon Jones and guard James Holmes will be big, but this is a young team that will return valuable experience and add some transfers to the program next season. They should win more than one Big East game in 2006-07.

 

March 4th - Raphielle Johnson


Pennsylvania (19-7, 11-1 Ivy)

RPI: 107 (as of February 28th)

Record last 10 games: 9-1

Last two: W 68-62 vs. Dartmouth (Feb. 25th), W 57-55 @ Yale

Next two: @ Brown (Mar. 4th), @ Princeton (Mar. 7th)

 

The first ticket to the NCAA Tournament has been punched by Fran Dunphy’s Penn Quakers, thanks to their close win at Yale and Princeton’s loss at Brown. In recent years, the Ivy League has usually gone down to the wire, with a meeting between Penn and Princeton deciding who gets the automatic bid. This year, however, the Tigers have struggled while Pennsylvania has been the model of consistency. Led by two juniors, guard Ibrahim Jaaber (18.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.5 spg) and swingman Mark Zoller (12.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg), the Quakers were able to remain competitive in early-season matchups with Duke and Villanova. Unfortunately, recent history is not on the side of the Ivy League champs when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. The last Ivy champion to win a game in the Dance was Princeton back in 1998 when they defeated UNLV. The Quakers can give a team fits if underestimated, but their overall strength of schedule will not put them in the most advantageous of positions.

 

March 3rd - Raphielle Johnson


Alabama-Birmingham (21-5, 11-2 Conference USA)

RPI: 52

Record last 10 games: 8-2    

Last two: W 73-68 @ SMU, W 80-74 vs. #3 Memphis

Next two: Marshall (Mar. 4th), CUSA Tourney (Mar. 8-11)

 

Besides Memphis and their quest for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, Conference USA has been mostly disregarded as a one-bid league. Introducing themselves to America in the form of an 80-74 win over the Tigers last night are the Blazers of UAB, winners of five straight and seven of their last eight. The Blazers are second in the nation in steals, ranking right behind fellow CUSA member Houston. Leading Nolan Richardson disciple Mike Anderson’s pressure defense is senior guard Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson, a savvy point guard that focuses on getting the ball to the right people at the right times. Five Blazers scored in double figures last night, led by Marvett McDonald’s seventeen. Even with an RPI of 52, the fact that with a win over Marshall they can finish just one game behind Memphis is equally impressive. The key for the Blazers will be taking care of business Saturday, and putting together a solid effort in the conference tournament.

 

March 2nd - Raphielle Johnson


LSU (21-7, 13-2 SEC West)

RPI: 10 (as of February 28th)

Record last 10 games: 8-2

Last two: W 71-67 vs. Kentucky, W 64-61 @ South Carolina

Next two: Mississippi (Mar. 4th), SEC Tournament (Mar. 9th-12th)

 

The Bayou Bengals had a problem during their nonconference slate in close games, losing heartbreakers to the likes of Houston, Cincinnati, Ohio State, and Connecticut. While they were the preseason pick to win the SEC West, the Tigers were not mentioned with the likes of Florida and Kentucky when it came to winning the entire SEC. Now with a 13-2 record after their three-point win at South Carolina last night, LSU stands one win away from clinching the SEC outright (for this first time since 1985). There were questions about John Brady’s ability to coach the talent that he was able to recruit to Baton Rouge, but the critics have been silenced. In Glen “Big Baby” Davis, they have a man in the paint with sixteen double-doubles to his credit this year. There should be a federal investigation if Davis is not SEC Player of the Year. Help from the likes of senior Darrel Mitchell, and youth in the form of freshmen Tasmin Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas (who missed the USC game with a high ankle sprain) makes LSU a dangerous team come NCAA Tournament time.

 

February 28th - Raphielle Johnson


Villanova (22-3, 12-2 Big East)

RPI: 2 (as of February 21st)

Record last 10 games: 9-1

Last two: W 74-72 @ Cincinnati, L 89-75 @ Connecticut

Next two: St. John’s (Mar. 1st), @ Syracuse (Mar. 5th)

 

It’s been awhile since a knee sprain sounded this good. When Allan Ray described after Villanova’s loss at Connecticut a “pop” in his knee, there couldn’t have been a lot of good thoughts within the Nova Nation. Luckily for Ray and his teammates, it’s only a sprained left knee for the senior guard. He is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s home finale against St. John’s. Given the trials and tribulations that this senior class has been through, this should be one of the more emotional nights in the nation. And speaking of knees, what do we make of Curtis Sumpter? He still hasn’t been cleared, and if he is before the tournament, which way will he go? Play, and go out with his classmates? Or does he redshirt and come back next season? But don’t be fooled by the questions surrounding the Wildcats; they have more than enough ability to end up in Indianapolis at the end of the season.

 

ED: Curtis Sumpter announced two hours after this was published that he will not return for the rest of the season, and will red-shirt.

 

 

February 27th - Raphielle Johnson


Maryland (16-11, 6-8 ACC)

RPI: 45 (as of February 21st)

Record last 10 games: 3-7

Last two: L 71-60 @ Florida State, L 81-57 @ North Carolina

Next two: Miami (Mar. 1st), @ Virginia (Mar. 5th)

 

Leading up to their important game at North Carolina on Sunday, head coach Gary Williams asked for an improved defensive effort from his Maryland Terrapins. Someone obviously didn’t tell them that they still had to put the ball in the basket. This was a resume-building opportunity for a team that for the last month has done nothing but build a case as to why they should be in the NIT. But given the way that many bubble teams around the nation not playing in the SEC West have handled themselves of late, all is not lost for Maryland. Sitting two games under .500 in conference play, the Terps need wins over Miami and Virginia to close out the regular season. A solid performance in Greensboro wouldn’t hurt their cause either.

 

February 26th - Raphielle Johnson


Kentucky (18-10, 8-6 SEC East)

RPI: 40 (as of February 21st)

Record last 10 games: 6-4

Last two: W 80-40 vs. Mississippi, L 71-67 @ LSU

Next two: @ Tennessee (Mar. 1st), Florida (Mar. 5th)

 

Most seasons, the Big Blue Nation is thinking of whether or not their beloved Wildcats will be a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year, they have to wonder if they will even qualify for the Dance. Yes, the RPI and strength of schedule (23rd according to collegerpi.com) numbers are good, but Kentucky has not beaten a conference foe that has been above .500 all season. Next up are two major challenges, a visit to Knoxville to play the Volunteers, then the season finale at home against the Gators. The games will be tough, but they are also opportunities for the Wildcats to improve their standing. And after some interesting execution at the end of yesterday’s game in Baton Rouge, the Wildcats had better welcome the upcoming challenges.

 

February 25th - Raphielle Johnson


Seton Hall (16-9, 7-6 Big East)

RPI: 43 (as of February 21st)

Record last 10 games: 7-3

Last two: L 102-91 vs. Notre Dame, L 58-47 @ St. John’s

Next two: @ DePaul (Feb. 25th), Cincinnati (Feb. 28th)

 

Can the Big East get nine teams into the NCAA Tournament? After a couple of weeks thinking that Syracuse was that ninth team, back-to-back losses have the Seton Hall Pirates squarely on the bubble. To their credit, they do have road wins over both the Orange and NC State, but that can easily be forgotten when you lose games to teams that may not even qualify for the Big East Tournament. Next up is a trip to Chicago to play a DePaul team that has frankly underachieved. But with the likes of Sammy Mejia and freshman Wilson Chandler on their roster, an upset is possible. Focus on this one, and then they can look ahead to Cincinnati’s visit on the 28th. The Hall will go as far as the leadership of Donald Copeland and Kelly Whitney will take them.

 

February 24th - Raphielle Johnson


George Washington (23-1, 10-0 Atlantic 10)

RPI: 33 (as of February 21st)

Record last 10 games: 10-0 (15 straight)

Last two: W 64-51 @ Richmond, W 77-65 vs. La Salle

Next two: @ Fordham (Feb. 25th), @ St. Bonaventure (Mar. 1st)

 

All that the Colonials have done to this point in the season is win, but they may have suffered their biggest loss of the season in their win over La Salle last night. Thanks to torn cartilage in his left knee, George Washington will be without the services of center Pops Mensah-Bonsu for the remainder of the regular season. How much time he will miss beyond that is still up in the air, but Pops could also be out for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. With a “low” RPI for a one-loss team, thanks to their weak non-conference schedule, a healthy Mensah-Bonsu could mean 1-2 seed lines come Selection Sunday. GW must now show that they can be just as good, or somewhere close, without Pops as they have been to this point with him.

 

February 23rd - Raphielle Johnson


Bradley (17-9, 10-7 Missouri Valley)

RPI: 51 (as of February 21st)

Record last 10 games: 8-2

Last two: W 77-62 vs. Tenn Tech, W 71-49 @ UNI

Next two: Drake (Feb. 25th), Missouri Valley Conference Tournament (Mar. 3rd)

 

There’s been talk recently about the MVC possibly getting an unprecedented five teams into the NCAA Tournament. If you didn’t know anything about the projected fifth team, Bradley, a 71-49 whipping of Northern Iowa on the road should be a nice introduction. In completing the season sweep, center Patrick O’Bryant led the Braves with 18 points. The fact that this was the last regular season game in the UNI Dome (which will only be used when big name teams come into town), turned this into a moment similar to that of John Thompson’s “Manley Field House is now closed” back in the early 80s. An RPI of 51 for a mid-major is indeed shaky ground, but the MVC Tournament will give the Braves ample opportunity to make another statement before Selection Sunday.

 

February 22nd - Raphielle Johnson


Arkansas (18-8, 7-6 SEC West)

RPI: 56 (as of February 21st)

Record last 10 games: 6-4

Last Two: W 85-81 over #7 Florida, W 65-63 over Alabama

Next Two:: @ #11 Tennessee (Feb. 25th), Mississippi State (March 1st)

 

The last two games were of the utmost importance to Stan Heath’s Hogs, who are in need of a strong finish to the season in order to make a case for an at-large bid. Arkansas to this point in the season is a dreadful 1-5 on the road, with the latest result being a 73-70 loss at Ole Miss. Losses on the road to the Rebels and an earlier defeat at Mississippi State don’t exactly help either your RPI or your resume. Beating the Gators and Crimson Tide in riveting fashion may have been just what Arkansas needed for that final push.

 

In last night’s win over Alabama, all five starters scored in double figures, led by center Darian Townes’ fifteen points. Ronnie Brewer, the jack-of-all-trades picked to be SEC Player of the Year at the preseason meetings, came through with a three-point play with 20 seconds remaining to win the game. Brewer finished with twelve points and seven rebounds. Luckily for them, Alabama point guard Ronald Steele scored 29 points instead of 31, as his last-ditch attempt to tie the game fell short. Their trip to Knoxville presents them with an opportunity to add another key win to their resume, but a loss to the Bulldogs when they return home could cancel a big win out.

 

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