Rob Carpentier's "Seven Day Stretch" is a whirlwind tour around every corner of college basketball nation:
Seven Day Savior (Team): Kansas Jayhawks
While those around them in the Top 10 were falling last week, the Jayhawks quietly went about their business winning two games and setting up the big showdown with a vulnerable Oklahoma team. The Jayhawks have gotten to this point because they have completely bought into Coach Bill Self’s style of defense and the idea that they win when they outrebound their opponents. It helps when Self can count on not one, but two game changers in center Cole Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins. If anyone has questioned Self’s ability as a coach, despite last year’s national title, they should know that he has probably done a better coaching job with this year’s Jayhawk squad, one that lost a lot of talent, then he did with last year’s title team. If the Jayhawks can run the table, which isn’t out of the question, leading up to the Big 12 Conference Tourney, then they will be and should be in the discussion for a #1 seed come NCAA Tournament time.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Damian Lillard, Weber State
The freshman guard had a big week leading the Wildcats to wins over the second and third place teams in the Big Sky Conference. The 6’2” “two” guard from Oakland is the second leading scorer for the Wildcats but scored 30 points in the victories over Montana and Portland State. As the season has gone on Lillard has become more of an offensive force as he has acclimated himself to the college game. He isn’t the greatest shooter, averaging less that 43% from the floor and less than 40 % from behind the arc. Still, Lillard finds ways to score and help his team win, and at this time of the year, that’s what counts. By the way, Weber State has swept Montana, the second place team in the Big Sky, virtually assuring the Wildcats of the #1 seed come Championship Week.
Game of the Week (The one you already heard about): Arizona St @ Washington
The Huskies and the Sun Devils are essentially tied atop the Pac-10 standings and both will be favored to win out…after this game in Seattle. Both teams have superlative players; UDub has senior Jon Brockman while ASU has possibly the best player in the country in swingman James Harden. They both have excellent complementary players in Washington’s Isaiah Thomas, (the favorite for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year), and Arizona State’s senior post Jeff Pendergraph. These two teams play vastly different styles with Washington looking to run at every opportunity and gambling on defense while the Sun Devils want to slow things down and play a match-up zone defense that seeks to deny good shots rather than get steals. When Washington won the first meeting between these two last month its because they were able to beat the Sun Devils on the boards and get out in transition. Washington tends to get a lot of 50/50 calls at home so look for the Huskies to drive to the glass constantly in search of free throw opportunities.
Game of the Week (The one you DON'T know about): North Dakota St at Oral Roberts
The Summit League, previously the Mid-Continent Conference has fallen on hard times lately in terms of exposure. Long gone are the days of Northern Illinois, Tony Bennett the player and Valparaiso’s miracle team. In fact, the Summit League has only one original member left from the old Mid-Con days, (and the AMCU before that); Western Illinois. But the changes over the years don’t mean that there isn’t still some excitement in the conference. The Bison have clearly been the best team in the Summit, even though they haven’t beaten anyone of note. However, perennial Summit/Mid-Con power ORU is only a game behind NDSU, thus setting up this showdown. What makes this a big game in this one-bid league is the fact that the remainder of the league is pretty weak…save for one team, the Oakland University Grizzlies. The team that finishes first in the Summit regular season will essentially have to play one tough game to get to the NCAA Tournament, while the second place team will have to play two. Neither wants to have to beat Oakland and then have to face the other the next night on the conference finals. NDSU defeated Oral Roberts in their first meeting this season way back in December.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Alabama State Hornets
The traditionally black conferences get very little love from sportswriters, so here is a deserved shout out to one of them. Like virtually every other team in the SWAC, and the MEAC for that matter, the Hornets played very few home games at the beginning of the season, preferring to gain several paychecks for visiting some bigger schools. While Alabama State didn’t beat any of those bigger schools, they did barely lose at Illinois State, Mississippi State and Mississippi. In those games the Hornets proved they can play with bigger, deeper teams, thus establishing themselves as a possible threat in the NCAA Tournament, provided they aren’t stuck in the play-in game. Alabama State is led by senior point guard Brandon Brooks, a 6’2” playmaker who could play for a lot of BCS schools. He averages 14 PPG, but his real skill is passing the ball. He averages over 7 APG, which is unheard of in the shot first, ask questions later SWAC. The Hornets have been so surprisingly good that they currently sit five games over .500 against Division 1 competition. That, too, is unusual for a SWAC team at this point in the season. Alabama State may not be the typical “Cinderella” come March, but it sure is fun to see a school with a very limited athletic budget have this kind of a successful year.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Pat Knight, Texas Tech
I don’t think that Pat’s daddy, Bob, envisioned this kind of collapse when he left the Red Raider job last season after essentially negotiating that Pat take his place. Granted, Pat was left in a tough situation, with Bob basically bailing out on the team in mid-season last year. The question was whether or not Pat knew what he was doing. After all, the son’s only coaching experience had come on the bench of his father. Pat has proved this year that he knows the ‘x’s and ‘o’s of the game, but he seems not to have the maturity on the bench to handle adversity. In short, he has made some bizarre in-game decisions and handled himself…poorly, when dealing with bad officiating or hostile crowds. The Texas Tech athletic department brought in Bob Knight as a quick fix to get the basketball program jump started with the idea that once the Red Raiders got on the map that having Pat coach the team, (which was, as I said before, something the elder Knight fought for when he first was thinking about the TT job), would lead to a smooth transition. Now, a couple of years after making that “deal with the devil”, the fans in Lubbock are clamoring for a move in a new direction. The athletic department, according to gossip, seems to be listening.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Renardo Sidney and USC
Sidney is one of the most talented high school players in the country. He plays for Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. He is a 6’10”post that can play facing the basket or with his back to it. He passes like a guard, has great floor vision and has used his senior season to try and rehabilitate his image. You see, Sidney was considered a prodigy as early as his 8th grade year, but he quickly gained a reputation for being selfish, lazy and hard to coach. More importantly, rumors have followed Sidney for the past four years about payoffs to his family, specifically his father, improper benefits to others in his inner circle and Sidney’s father trying to “sell” his son to the highest bidder, I mean college. It is interesting to note that here is one of the top three players in the country in the class of 2009 and the only schools continuing to recruit him actively were Virginia, Mississippi State, (Sidney is originally from Mississippi) and USC. Earlier this week, Sidney committed to play for Tim Floyd’s Trojans. Now this isn’t a commentary on Sidney; he’s still a kid apparently getting some questionable advice, but rather a commentary on USC. Here’s a team that is being looked at by the NCAA over the recruitment of OJ Mayo, and an athletic department that still has the Reggie Bush investigation hanging over its head. Yet they still chose to embrace Sidney, who is essentially Mayo, Part II, and his announcement. There is definitely a feeling building by insiders that USC is going to be hit and hit hard by the NCAA over what is being called “Bushgate”, and the recruitment of Mayo. Now they’ve added Sidney to the mix. Can you say, “lack of institutional control?” The NCAA sure can, and signs point to the NCAA imparting that lesson on USC’s doorstep relatively soon.
Listen to me and my college hoops opinions, whether you agree with me or not, on the Papa Joe Chevalier show at 5:30 PM CST Tuesdays each week.