Looking at UTC (10-17, 4-10) …
What’s left to say? Another day, another one-point loss.
The Mocs’ good vibes from snapping a seven-game losing streak on Thursday were extinguished on Saturday. UNCG handed UTC its third one-point loss since Jan. 21. This one came on a running, off-balanced shot by Spartans guard Derrell Armstong with 16 seconds left. The Mocs led the game 74-70 with 1:39 left and lost 77-76. Head coach John Shulman was nearly inconsolable after the game.
UTC is now mathematically eliminated from any chance of winning the SoCon North Division. The season began with the Mocs being picked as the division favorite. UNCG, meanwhile, has won nine of its last 10 since since starting the season 2-14 and is 9-5 in conference play, good enough for first place in the North. The Mocs, at 4-10, have four remaining games against Appalachian State (away), The Citadel (home), Furman (away) and Samford (home).
Remember when UTC was 9-9 overall and 3-2 in the SoCon?
Looking at Tennessee (13-12, 5-5 SEC) …
Quick, name one player on the Tennessee roster that would undoubtedly start tomorrow for Billy Donovan’s Florida team.
OK, if you’re sitting in silence, congrats, the right answer in no one. If you said Jarnell Stokes, ehh, maybe, but Erik Murphy could potentially start over him. So what’s the point of all this? It’s to help folks realize how absurd it is that Tennessee swept the season series against the Gators thanks to Saturday’s 75-70 win in Gainsville.
How’d the Vols do it? Defense and scoring from the post. On Saturday, Tennessee forced 15 turnovers and scored 17 second-chance points while outscoring Florida in the paint, 36-14.
Having entered the game 0-7 on the road, head coach Cuonzo Martin told his players before tipoff that it was time they won on the road.
“We had the necessary pieces and the necessary mindset to win the game,” Martin said. “Before, we weren’t mentally ready. I let our guys know we could win our road games.”
After being picked to finish 11th in the SEC during the preseason, the Vols are now tied with Arkansas, Alabama and Ole Miss for fifth place with a 5-5 league mark. The next three games will come against three of those teams – Arkansas (2/15), at Alabama (2/18) and Ole Miss (2/22).
Looking at the national scene …
You got Izzo’d: The best coach in the country (my opinion) did it again. Tom Izzo brought his Spartans – the same Spartans that were unranked in the preseason after losing Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers to graduation – into the Schottenstein Center on Saturday and handed Ohio State its first home loss in 39 games.
At 9-3 in the league, Michigan State is now tied atop the Big Ten standings with the Jared Sullinger-led Buckeyes. Damn impressive, if you ask me, but the road home is tough for Izzo’s boys. Included among the Spartans’ final six games are trips to Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana, and home games with Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Sulli’s triple-double: Sullinger, a topflight national player of the year candidate, notched his own type of triple-double in the Michigan State loss. The big man scored 17 points (good), pulled down 16 rebounds (really good) and posted 10 turnovers (yikes). The sophomore was visibly frustrated throughout. So was coach Thad Matta. His three-guard lineup of Aaron Craft, William Bufford and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. combined for only four turnovers. He couldn’t have anticipated 10 coming from his future lottery pick playing on the blocks.
POY separation: Sullinger’s double-digit turnovers combined with Anthony Davis’ most recent domination (15 points, 8 blocks, 7 rebounds, 39 minutes, 1 turnover in a win over Vanderbilt) has swung any argument of who is better directly toward Davis. As of now, the national player of the year award is his to lose. (Kansas forward Thomas Robinson might still have something to say about that.)
Speaking of Kentucky: If you’ve already ticketed the mighty Wildcats for the Final Four in New Orleans, just remember back to how you felt at this time of year about Ohio State in 2011, Kansas and Syracuse in 2010 and Louisville in 2009. There’s no such thing as a sure thing.
Duke steps up: Nearly as impressive as beating North Carolina with a pulse-thumping buzzer-beater at the Dean Dome last week, was Duke’s response. There was no letdown, no hangover. The Blue Devils mauled Maryland 73-55 behind 21 offensive rebounds thanks to a 1-for-14 showing from beyond the arc by the Terps. Austin Rivers, the hero versus the Heels, scored 11 against Maryland.
If you’re curious, North Carolina responded to the Duke loss with an impressive drubbing of Virginia in Chapel Hill. A three-way tie atop the ACC standings is the result. Duke, Carolina and Florida State are all deadlocked with an 8-2 conference record. FSU’s loss at Boston College last week leaves concern surrounding the Seminoles.
A new kind of ranking: Last week I ranked the top 10 surprise teams of the 2011-12 season. This week, we look at the top 10 teams to be concerned about with the NCAA tournament only one month away.
1.) Alabama: Five players are needed for the opening tipoff. Bama is running out. Four players have been suspended in the last week.
2.) Arkansas: How exactly do you beat Vanderbilt and then lose to LSU and Georgia?
3.) West Virginia: The Mountaineers’ lone victory over the last six games was an overtime win at Providence. WVU’s next three games are at Pitt, at Notre Dame and home against Marquette. Ouch.
4.) Mississippi State: Don’t be shocked if the Bulldogs lose at LSU on Tuesday and panic sets in around Starkville. MSU was once 12-1. Now 19-6.
5.) Creighton: Three straight losses to Northern Iowa, Evansville and Wichita State has the Jays in panic mode. An explosive screaming fit from coach Greg McDermott directed at son/All-American Doug McDermott on Saturday made national news.
6.) Cleveland State: The Vikings have the look and feel of a team that could made a surprise run in the Dance. Back-to-back losses to Valparaiso and Butler have me wondering.
7.) Cincinnati: The Bearcats were 15-4 with a win over Georgetown. They’re now 17-8 with a loss to Rutgers and have an atrocious non-conference strength-of-schedule (324).
8.) Dayton: Flyers looked like a tournament team with a 14-5 record and wins over Minnesota, Alabama, Ole Miss, Saint Louis, Temple and Xavier. Dayton has now lost four of five and needed OT to beat Fordham on Saturday.
9.) Florida: The Gators’ undoubtedly have top 25 talent, but health issues with key reserves Mike Rosario (hip pointer), Will Yeguete (concussion) and Cody Larson (stomach virus) are reason for concern.
10.) Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg and the Cyclones are the feel-good story of the year, but remaining games against Baylor (twice), Kansas State and Missouri could leave Iowa State beaten and battered at the Big 12 tournament.
Sinking SEC: Now look at the above ranking again. Notice anything odd? How about the fact that four of the top 10 teams are from the SEC. The conference once seemed like a lock to produce six NCAA tournament teams. That star is fading. The Reeling Tide is all but out of the picture, Mississippi State looked bad on Saturday, Arkansas’ RPI is plummeting and Florida is battling an injury bug. As of now, Kentucky is a lock, Florida and Vandy are near-locks, but Mississippi State can still play itself out, while Arkansas and Alabama are unlikely to play their way in. Could the SEC get only four bids? It’s not out of the question.
And then there’s Vandy: Do you know how many ranked teams vaunted Vanderbilt has beaten this year? Try one – Marquette. How many ranked teams have the Dores lost to? How about five – Xavier, Louisville, Mississippi State, Florida and Kentucky. Three came in overtime and none were by more than eight points. Winners win close games against good teams. Vandy hasn’t proven it’s a winner. Is anyone still confident that this team can get past the first round of the tournament?
Big Ten Bids: With the SEC slipping as of late and the Pac-12, ACC and Big East all looking at less bids than in typical years, don’t be shocked if the Big Ten jumps up and grabs nine bids.
Upset alert: Look for Syracuse to fall on Monday night at the Yum! Center in downtown Louisville. Rick Pitino’s team has won its last seven meetings against Syracuse, dating back to the 2006-07. Since a brutal 31-point loss at Providence in early January, Louisville has won seven of eight (six straight). Syracuse has yet to notch a quality road win (Cincinnati?) this season.
Zags zig back: Everyone was quick to write-off Gonzaga after double-digit road losses to Saint Mary’s and BYU. It might have been a tad premature. The Zags smacked Saint Mary’s with a 73-59 loss last week. Next week brings a chance for revenge against BYU. If Gonzaga wins that one, it will likely enter the WCC tournament on an eight-game win streak and a 24-5 record.
Parity reigns supreme: Eight top 25 teams lost Saturday. It was a perfect example of the mayhem that might ensue in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. Outside of Kentucky, I could easily make a legitimate case for why every ranked team could get knocked out before the Sweet 16. More than anything else, there is no vast talent gap in the best 60 teams in America. So after Selection Sunday, when the pundits, including me, rattle off their bracket picks, know that it’s entirely a guessing game.
Tight on top: Another sign of parity? How about the fact that 21 different teams are lodged in a tie atop their conference standings and, all told, 13 of the 32 league races nationally are tied or separated by only half a game? Here’s a complete look …
America East: Stony Brook (12-2) and Vermont (11-2)
Atlantic 10: Temple (8-2) and Saint Louis (8-3)
ACC: Duke (8-2), North Carolina (8-2) and Florida State (8-2)
Atlantic Sun: Mercer (12-2) and Belmont (11-2)
Big 12: Missouri (10-2) and Kansas (10-2)
Big Sky: Weber State (12-1) and Montana (12-1)
Big Ten: Ohio State (9-3), Michigan State (9-3) and Michigan (9-4)
CAA: Drexel (13-2), VCU (13-2) and George Mason (13-2)
Conference USA: Southern Miss. (8-2), Memphis (8-2) and Tulsa (8-3)
Horizon: Valparaiso (11-4) and Cleveland State (10-4)
MAAC: Iona (12-3) and Loyola (12-3)
MWC: UNLV (6-2), San Diego State (6-2) and New Mexico (6-2)
Pac-12: California (10-3) and Washington (10-3)
Must-see Web TV: You might have better things to do next Saturday night, but I recommend opening your laptop, clicking on ESPN3.com, and tuning in to Weber State vs. Texas-Arlington. Yes, it sounds absurd. However, the game marks the only time you’ll be able to catch Weber State guard Damian Lilliard before the Big Sky tournament. Not only is the 6-foot-3 senior the best player you’ve never heard of, but he might be the best point guard in the country. He averages an NCAA-best 25.1 points, to go with 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. As a result, the Wildcats are 20-4 and 12-1 in the Big Sky Conference.
Need to know info: Go here for the most complete look at the inner-workings of Memphis’ move to the Big East. Very good stuff.
Give me Gus: Does anyone else feel a deep void with Gus Johnson relegated to only calling games on the Big Ten Network? Since he and CBS parted ways, the game has suffered. Hey, ESPN, if you’re gonna go to the trouble of televising about 150 college basketball games per week, come up with the money and do whatever it takes to hire the best college basketball play-by-play man in the business. Do us a favor, man. Rise and fire!
By the way: If the selection committee has half a clue, the bad RPIs of Drexel (82), VCU (83) and George Mason (99) will be ignored and all will receive bids out of the Colonial.
Just saying: The New Jersey Institute of Technology currently has a higher RPI than UTC.
The Hoops Market …
Buying: The return of senior center Micheal Eric has established Temple as the top team in the Atlantic Ten. The Owls are rolling on an eight-game winning streak. Remember the name Ramone Moore (18.3 ppg., 41.8 percent 3-pt) come March.
Selling: In January I said Baylor wouldn’t sniff the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, the Bears were ranked in the top five. I’m feeling awfully good about the prediction now. The Bears were thumped at home against Kansas last Wednesday and then exposed at Missouri on Saturday. How do you outrebound a team 35-22 and lose by 15?
Keeping an eye on: Since its upset of Syracuse on Jan. 21, Notre Dame has looked like the class of the Big East. I was expecting a few stumbles, but the win over Cuse was followed by five more in a row. Two more wins this week should come over Rutgers and Villanova. After being 11-8 four weeks ago, the Irish will likely be 19-8 at this time next week.
By the numbers …
23: Wins by MTSU after Saturday’s win over Arkansas-Little Rock over the weekend.
14: 3-pointers made by Missouri in its dissection of Baylor’s zone defense on Saturday.
8/20/7: The points, rebounds and blocks registered by Kansas 7-footer Jeff Withey in a win over Oklahoma State on Saturday. The junior’s development adds a new piece to the KU puzzle.
45.4: Combined points averaged JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele, the four players currently suspended by Alabama coach Anthony Grant.
9-7: Career coaching record of 28-year-old Wes Miller since replacing fired UNCG coach Mike Dement after the Spartans opened the year with a 2-8 record.
273: Utah’s RPI – the worst of any team from a BCS conference.
47: Days from Monday to the Final Four.
110-37: Tennessee’s RPI and strength of schedule (through Sunday).
292-196: UTC’s RPI and strength of schedule.
38-153: MTSU’s RPI and strength of schedule.
One man’s top 25 …
1.) Kentucky (25-1)
2.) Missouri (23-2)
3.) Syracuse (25-1)
4.) Michigan State (20-5)
5.) Duke (21-4)
6.) Ohio State (21-4)
7.) Kansas (18-5)
8.) North Carolina (20-4)
9.) Baylor (21-4)
10.) UNLV (22-4)
11.) San Diego State (20-4)
12.) Wisconsin (19-6)
13.) Georgetown (19-5
14.) Wichita State (22-4)
15.) Murray State (24-1)
16.) Marquette (21-5)
17.) Michigan (19-7)
18.) Indiana (19-6)
19.) Louisville (20-5)
20.) Virginia (19-5)
21.) Saint Mary’s (23-3)
22.) Gonzaga (20-4)
23.) Temple (19-5)
24.) Florida State (17-7)
25.) Drexel (21-5)