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By Andy Katz
Last week: 37 points, 9-of-9 free throws in a 90-85 win vs. Duquesne; 19 points and 5 rebounds in an 85-66 win at La Salle
Junior guard Dionte Christmas has put the Owls in the mix to make noise this week and steal an NCAA Tournament berth. Temple earned the No. 2 seed in the fluid Atlantic 10 and already owns a win over the top seed, Xavier.
Christmas lit up Duquesne with 37 points, making 12 field goals, all nine free-throw attempts and four 3s. He finished the week by pouring in 19 points in a win at La Salle. Christmas has been a workhorse this season, playing 40 or more minutes for Fran Dunphy eight times, and that includes 40-plus in overtime games against Marist, Saint Louis and Rhode Island. Christmas finished the regular season averaging 20.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and shooting 44.6 percent on the season.
Temple finished 18-12 overall, 11-5 in the A-10. The Owls played their usual decent schedule with games against Tennessee, Duke, Villanova and Florida. But they didn't win any of those. Still, the Owls turned it around in the league, in large part because of the production from Christmas.
By Andy Katz
Last week: Beat Florida State 90-77; won at Duke 76-68
The Tar Heels had to do something this week to prove they were worthy of a No. 1 seed. Sure, UNC passed the eye test. The Tar Heels looked as though they were one of the four best teams in the country. But beating Duke in Durham was about as loud a statement as the Tar Heels could make about their candidacy. And to do it with defense in the final five minutes made it even clearer.
But there was even more to UNC's week that deserves praise. The Tar Heels were all class. From the administration down to the players, they were respectful and honored the memory of Eve Carson, the UNC student body president who was slain this past week near campus. Team members wore an "Eve" patch on their light blue road uniforms. The staff wore blue ribbons. UNC's program has always been classy, but this was yet another example of it, and during such a tragic time.
By Fran Fraschilla
So, after watching the replays of California's loss at UCLA on Saturday, I was more saddened than angry that the outcome of another very important game in the Pac-10 could be decided by officiating. Cal's Ryan Anderson was clearly fouled as the Bears were protecting a precarious lead late in the game. The UCLA player, as most fans know, was trying to foul to stop the clock and put Anderson on the line. The ensuing steal gave UCLA a chance to cut into the Cal lead. And, when Josh Shipp's acrobatic shot went over the backboard and into the basket, it clearly violated the rule. Granted, it was a split-second call, but from the angle of the "middle" official -- who is stationed on the sideline -- it seems clear that the ball disappeared behind the backboard.
Here's my point: UCLA is a great team, worthy of all the accolades it gets. It is all deserved. But, there are two teams out on the court fighting for a win. I would not have wanted to have been a player or coach in the Stanford or Cal locker rooms this weekend at Pauley Pavilion. The great thing about college basketball is that sometimes the underdog actually wins, even on the road. Not these two times.2. 'Tis The Season My favorite two weeks of the college basketball season are upon us. Championship Week and the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament will give me as much excitement as the the entire rest of the season combined.
There is no greater pressure in college basketball than coaching or playing in a postseason low- or mid-major tournament when, seemingly, every possession of the game matters in determining which team goes to the NCAA Tournament. Eight months of practice, weight and conditioning workouts, team meetings, and games comes down to three or four days in March. It used to make my head almost explode as a coach.
We can argue another time whether the regular-season champion in a league such as the MAAC or the Ohio Valley Conference should be the league's representative to the Big Dance. All I is know is that, while a few teams in the power conferences have bids sewn up and will play like it this week, we will see some great performances and some heartbreaking losses this week in places such as Albany, N.Y.; Richmond, Va.; and Charleston, S.C. Is there anything better than a buzzer beater that will decide who gets to be Cinderella for a week?
Watching Tyler Hansbrough, Kevin Love and D.J. Augustin has been fantastic this year. This week and next, we'll get to discover a few more players equally deserving of the accolades, as well.3. Good Selection Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione took a calculated gamble when he hired young VCU coach Jeff Capel two years ago. Capel, a terrific player for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, was the youngest head coach in the country when he was hired at VCU. Four years later, he was snapped up by Oklahoma. Remember, Castiglione also hired Bob Stoops when he was Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida.
At the time, I likened the hiring of Capel to drafting a high school player in the first round of the NBA draft. Potentially, Capel had "star" written all over him, but he had not yet proved he could coach in a league such as the Big 12. Right now, it's looking as if Castigione has drafted LeBron James.
Forget the 21 wins and the likely NCAA bid. What has impressed me the most has been Capel's crisis management skills. Hubie Brown used to say, "The notoriety of a coach is directly proportional to his team's execution under pressure." Upon being hired, Capel endured the loss of rising stars Scottie Reynolds and Damion James, who bolted for Villanova and Texas after signing with then-Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson. With the returning cast, those two guys would have had the Sooners a top-15 team a year ago.
This season, Capel lost his two leading scorers, Blake Griffin and Longar Longar, for two games each in conference play and went 2-2. With Griffin out with a knee injury on Wednesday, the Sooners won at rival Oklahoma State, which was coming off its best stretch of the season.
Capel has a quiet confidence and relates well to his players. It's obvious. What's also obvious is that Oklahoma has a gem and might have to ward off potential suitors such as South Carolina this offseason. My feeling is that Capel might be about to get a raise at Oklahoma.
By Reggie Rankin
• Rhode Island, Atlantic 10 (21-10, 7-9), No. 11 seed; Key wins: UAB, Providence, at Syracuse, Richmond, Dayton
A team that was predicted to finish as high as second in the preseason could make things interesting when it faces Charlotte on Wednesday in the first round of the A-10 tourney. The Rams are very explosive on offense, averaging 78.6 points per game in conference play, and are second in 3-point field goal percentage at 39 percent. Forward Will Daniels, the third-leading scorer in the league at 19.3 points per game, can post up, slash from the perimeter or shoot the 3. Jimmy Baron is a long-range shooter and is excellent from the free-throw line at 88 percent. Point guard Parfait Bitee pushes the ball in transition and is a threat from behind the arc, shooting 54 percent and dishing out 4.4 assists. Kahiem Seawright's activity on the glass put him second in the A-10 in rebounding at 8.8 and first on the offensive end at 4.0 per game. Rhode Island can score in the open court and from its set plays in the half court. If the Rams can get some stops, they could make a serious run, but they will need to improve from being last in the league in scoring defense, giving up 79.1 points per game.
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Freshman Donte Greene paces Syracuse in the scoring department.
By Andy Katz
Here are the top tourney games I'd like to see this week:• Duke vs. North Carolina, Charlotte, Sunday
Xavier vs. UMass, Atlantic City, Saturday
Would like to see whether the Minutemen can get past Charlotte/Rhode Island, then possibly Temple and have enough left to beat (likely) Xavier in the final and earn an automatic berth.
Wisconsin vs. Michigan State, Indianapolis, Saturday
A potential conference semifinal with perhaps the two Big Ten teams with the best chance to go deep in March. This could be a real grind, but not like the 2000 Final Four. There will be more scoring, and plenty of seeding potential at stake.
Memphis vs. UAB, Memphis, Saturday
The Tigers ran the Blazers out of FedExForum on Saturday. Let's see whether the Blazers act as though they deserve an NCAA bid by reaching the final and giving Memphis a game on its home court again.
Kansas vs. Texas, Kansas City, Sunday
The Jayhawks and Longhorns played only once in the regular season. I'd like to see a rematch on a neutral court (albeit not a neutral site) and see how Texas handles KU in that environment.
Georgetown vs. Louisville, New York, Saturday
The second game of the series this past Saturday was good enough for an encore. Put this matchup in New York and it could be a Final Four-type effort from both squads. Both could have a claim on a No. 2 seed, but a win here could go a long way toward determining logistical advantages.
UCLA vs. Stanford, Los Angeles, Saturday
Not to continue the favorite theme of wishing for 1-2 matchups, but Stanford deserves another shot at UCLA after the way the game ended Thursday at Pauley.
• Virginia Tech: Seth Greenberg wasn't going to project too much about the Hokies in the preseason. Who knew they could be a top-five team in the ACC after going with a youth movement? Yet, at the end of the season, the Hokies were chasing third place.
• Wake Forest: Dino Gaudio has done a tremendous job of keeping the Demon Deacons in the mix in the ACC. The win over Duke put them in position to get a bid. But a mini-slump slid them back toward an NIT berth. Still, with a highly rated recruiting class coming next season, the 7-9 ACC finish was quite impressive and bodes well for next season.
• Miami: The Hurricanes were picked last in the ACC. Frank Haith has the squad in the top six in the ACC and on the verge of an NCAA berth.
• Cincinnati: The Bearcats lost Mike Williams to start the season. But that didn't matter. Cincinnati ended up being one of the toughest outs in the Big East, and the finish in the conference top 10 was an impressive run.
• Pitt: Jamie Dixon had to reshuffle his team because of injuries. No one outside Kentucky's Billy Gillispie had to do it as much. Yet the Panthers were able to finish in the top seven in the Big East and merit an NCAA berth.
• Kentucky: Billy G's Wildcats were left for dead in January but rallied in the SEC and are going to force the committee to make a major decision later in the week if they don't win the automatic berth.
• Davidson, Cornell and Memphis: You win all your games in your league and you should understand you did a tremendous job.
-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com
• Matt Painter, Purdue: Painter was supposed to be a year away, but he got the baby Boilermakers in position to challenge for the Big Ten title. Purdue swept Wisconsin, too. Painter has Purdue back.
• Bo Ryan, Wisconsin: OK, the Badgers couldn't beat Purdue, but Wisconsin won the Big Ten title outright a year after losing a national player of the year finalist in Alando Tucker.
• Rick Barnes, Texas: The Longhorns lost the best player in the country in Kevin Durant. Sure, they had D.J. Augustin back, but the development of players such as Connor Atchley and the attitude to play anyone, anywhere and win (see: wins at UCLA and over Tennessee in Newark) should justify a potential coach of the year award.
• Herb Sendek, Arizona State: The Sun Devils were last a year ago. ASU should be in the field this season after sweeping Arizona, knocking off Xavier and beating Stanford. Sendek made a great move heading West.-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com