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Friday, February 13, 2009
Will these teams pick up first league win?


Quick hitters for Friday, beginning with the remaining teams looking for a win in conference play:

DePaul (8-17, 0-12 Big East): According to one opposing coach, the Blue Demons have had "no fight" in them of late. There is some talent, like leading scorer Dar Tucker, but there are other pieces that are -- at this point -- more in line with the bottom of the Big East. Jerry Wainwright was an exceptional coach at Richmond and UNC Wilmington, but one coach said his team isn't playing as physically as it once did. The Blue Demons are running out of chances for a win. DePaul has four of six games remaining on the road, and one of the two home games comes against surging Villanova. That leaves a home game against St. John's on Feb. 28 as, perhaps, the one that would stop the Blue Demons from an 0-18 Big East season. But hey, at least this year everyone goes to New York, so there is hope for a Big East win at the tournament on Tuesday, March 10.

Oregon (6-18, 0-12 Pac-10): The Ducks have to be the biggest disappointment in the country. Oregon has a stud shooting guard in Tajuan Porter and highly-coveted freshmen, led by Michael Dunigan. But scoring 38 points in a loss Thursday night at Washington State is just poor. One opposing coach said the Ducks have looked out of synch since their demanding nonconference schedule left them with just six wins heading into the Pac-10. There have been times, according to the opposing coach, that the Ducks look like they can win (as was the case against UCLA at home for a spell). But then they go through a four- or five-minute nose dive within the game, and the deficit reaches double digits. Oregon lost by three to rival Oregon State on the road on Jan. 31. The Ducks still have three home games and could conceivably win at least two of them against Stanford on Feb. 21 or Oregon State on March 1. Oregon hasn't quit, despite the lopsided score from Pullman. The Ducks have been in every other game in the conference, and if they continue to play for coach Ernie Kent in the next two weeks, then at least one win isn't out of the question.

Georgia (9-15, 0-9 SEC): The Bulldogs appear to be "very down," according to an opposing coach in the league. That shouldn't come as a shock, given the midseason firing of Dennis Felton. Pete Hermann has to try to get the Bulldogs up for a daunting remaining schedule. If there is hope for a potential home win, it could come against Auburn on Feb. 18. But the Tigers aren't sliding, as Auburn is 5-3 in its last eight and is playing its best basketball of the season. The Bulldogs do go to one-win Arkansas on March 1, but that's the day the Razorbacks are honoring former coach Nolan Richardson and the 1994 national champion team.

Air Force (9-14, 0-10 MWC): The Falcons had been offensively challenged for most of the season, but scoring 66 points in a 10-point loss to New Mexico probably gives them hope for a win. Air Force has been held to under 40 points three times in the MWC. The Falcons finish with four of six games on the road, so a home game against rival Colorado State on Feb. 21 is probably their best shot at a win.

Brown (6-14, 0-6 Ivy): This is the shocker in the Ivy. The Bears weren't supposed to be at the bottom of the league. There are still eight games remaining in the conference, with six of those at home. It would be a stunner if the Bears remained winless. This is a team that won 19 games and reached the postseason a year ago.

Southeast Missouri State (3-22, 0-14 OVC): The Redhawks fired Scott Edgar, and the season has been a complete and utter mess since then. The schedule isn't favorable to get a win in the OVC. The only home game left in league play is against Murray State.

• Illinois coach Bruce Weber said early Friday morning that the Illini will take the win over Northwestern but probably didn't deserve it after being outplayed for most of the game. The epic collapse by the Wildcats was painful to watch. Northwestern gave up a 17-2 run in the final five-plus minutes before Demetri McCamey hit the game-winning shot with 2.9 seconds remaining. The Illini, at 20-5, 8-4 in the Big Ten, are a lock for the NCAAs after the one-year hiatus and are working toward a decent seed at this rate. Northwestern (13-9, 4-7) now needs to win the Big Ten tournament to go to the NCAAs for the first time.

• The UConn staff will be counting on Craig Austrie to take on some of the bigger guards defensively. They considered Jerome Dyson, out indefinitely with an MCL tear in his right knee, to be their top perimeter defender. The Huskies will need Stanley Robinson to amp up on the defensive end and will call on Donnell Beverly to play some key defensive minutes.

• The final straw for the Arkansas staff was a technical foul called on heralded freshman point guard Courtney Fortson in a 75-62 loss at Auburn on Wednesday. According to a source close to the program, head coach John Pelphrey had had enough of Fortson's pouty behavior, despite his immense talent. Fortson, the team's second-leading scorer at 14.6 points and 6.5 assists a game, was suspended indefinitely by Pelphrey. He won't play against Kentucky on Saturday. He may return for next week's game against LSU if he can abide by team rules and change his behavior. Arkansas has had one of the worst freefalls in conference play. This is the same team that gave Oklahoma its only loss so far and beat Texas at home. But the Hogs are 1-8 in the SEC, 13-9 overall. The reasons for the struggles have to do with inexperience and their inability to handle early success emotionally and mentally. There is plenty of talent with Fortson and Michael Washington, but the Hogs couldn't sustain their good vibes.

• Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said the Badgers simply took time to adjust defensively to the losses of 7-foot players Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma from last season's team. He also said they should be given credit for what teams looked like when Wisconsin played them. For example, the Badgers lost two games to Purdue with a healthy Robbie Hummel, and to Minnesota and Texas at home when they were ranked. Winning at Virginia Tech should also give them points. Losing to a full-strength Connecticut team (although it was before Stanley Robinson was eligible in November in the Virgin Islands) and at Marquette by three should be recognized. Still, he understands that the Badgers had to win some of those games. They've done that lately by winning three straight (including victories over Illinois and at Penn State). This streak comes off a rare stretch of six straight Big Ten losses (including two in overtime). "We're hanging in there," Ryan said in advance of Saturday's game against Ohio State. He knows the Badgers aren't given the same bubble consideration since their name isn't as recognizable as, say, Georgetown. Better shot selection and fewer turnovers are the reasons for the turnaround. Wisconsin has six games left, including two against last-place Indiana. The Badgers (15-9, 6-6) are back on the bubble with their recent run, and a road win at Minnesota or Michigan State would likely put the Badgers back in the NCAAs yet again under Ryan.

• I had a hunch Notre Dame would beat Louisville on Thursday, but had no idea the Cards would lie down and give up 90 points. Luke Harangody put up monster numbers (32 points and 17 boards), but he is still behind Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut), Jerel McNeal (Marquette), DeJuan Blair (Pitt) and Dante Cunningham (Villanova) for Big East Player of the Year honors. In part, that's because of the Irish's 4-7 Big East record. Notre Dame's slow climb back on the bubble comes down to its final three road games. Notre Dame probably has to win two of the three -- at West Virginia, at Providence and at Connecticut -- and beat Villanova at home for tournament consideration. If the Irish do all that, they would finish 10-8 and likely have the profile to get a bid.

• Villanova coach Jay Wright is pushing for Cunningham's candidacy for Big East Player of the Year. Listen to my conversation with Wright on Friday's ESPNU college basketball podcast.

• Kansas State coach Frank Martin, also on the podcast Friday, said he knew that he was being judged on his performance last season with Michael Beasley -- and now without. Martin is on the verge of being the Big 12 Coach of the Year if he can get the Wildcats into the NCAAs in back-to-back seasons, with and without Beasley.

• Dayton coach Brian Gregory said he's hoping that the team's backcourt depth, which was on display in the 71-58 win over Xavier on Wednesday, will get them through the rest of the season without guard Rob Lowery (knee injury). The Flyers can go to Mickey Perry, Stephen Thomas and Paul Williams off the bench in Lowery's absence as subs for guards London Warren and Marcus Johnson. They got 15 points from the three bench players against the Musketeers.

• The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday that Illinois-Chicago coach Jimmy Collins, who is grieving the loss of his mother this week, was the subject of threats and verbal assaults at home games for the Flames' recent slide from 8-3 to 3-10 in the past 13 games. They're now 11-13 overall and 4-10 in the Horizon League. Collins reportedly told the Tribune:

"If a guy wants to walk around with a 'Fire Jimmy' sign, that's his prerogative. Heck, if it'd help us, I'd print one up. But fans threatening to come out of the stands at me? Come on. And I wish they would limit those comments to me, not make my family the target of that sort of thing. I think you're a coward when you do that."

Please, people. Grow up. Leave the man alone. To behave like that makes no sense to me whatsoever, whether it's toward Collins or any other coach.

• Washington's Justin Dentmon continued to make his case for first-team all-Pac-10 with 28 points (including seven 3s) in an impressive win over Oregon State on Thursday, which moved it to 9-3 in the Pac-10. The Huskies are a virtual lock for a bid and a decent seed if this continues.

• Arizona won again, beating USC on Thursday, to move to 7-5 in the Pac-10 behind Nic Wise's 27 points. The Wildcats (17-8) have really hit their stride under Russ Pennell and Mike Dunlap. Pennell told me he knows he is the interim coach. I still wonder: If he hadn't taken the job, would he have a better shot at getting the full-time gig since he was a successful head coach? Dunlap's choice to pass on the interim tag is still one of the more baffling decisions this season.

• Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett was honest after the two-point loss to Gonzaga on Thursday. He said that the Gaels had their shot to beat the Zags without Patty Mills. Carlin Hughes couldn't handle an inbound pass with 6 seconds left, and the Gaels never got off a game-winning shot since they were down a point at the time. The loss was crucial to the Gaels' NCAA tournament hopes. They desperately needed to get a quality win without Mills, who may still make it back for the WCC tournament next month. Saint Mary's is 1-4 since his injury, which occurred in the first half against Gonzaga on Jan. 29.

• Max Good finally got his first win as head coach in the WCC after taking over for Bill Bayno, who had to leave the job for medical reasons. Loyola Marymount beat San Diego to go to 2-23 on the season.

• Arizona State had a great atmosphere in the win over UCLA. ASU swept the Bruins and essentially locked up a bid and likely decent seed. The key for the Sun Devils is to make sure that type of energy in their building continues next season when James Harden is likely gone to the NBA.

• Washington State drilled Oregon behind freshman Klay Thompson's 25 points, (5 of 6 on 3s). The hope is that the Cougars are still a postseason team at 13-11.

• NCAA coordinator of officials John Adams said Thursday that Duke's Kyle Singler should have been assessed an intentional technical foul for his elbow to North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough while in a scrum for a loose ball during the Duke-UNC game Wednesday night. That would have given North Carolina two shots and the ball. He said the officials gave Singler an unsportsmanlike technical foul for his language. He said the officials told him that Singler said, "Get the [bleep] off me," when attempting to get free of the scrum. UNC got two shots, but Duke retained possession on the jump ball. Adams said he agreed that Singler should not have received a flagrant foul.

Stephen Curry scored 39 points in Davidson's win over Wofford. Sometimes, I just like to see that sit for a while.