Tuesday, January 5, 2010 Updated: January 6, 1:55 PM ET
Big week for the Big Red and Runnin' Rebels
There are a number of hot topics to discuss this afternoon:
• On Wednesday, Cornell plays at top-ranked Kansas at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN360.com.
The Jayhawks, who crushed Temple in Philadelphia on Saturday, have won 50 straight home games, easily the longest active streak in the country and third all-time at KU. Kansas is 13-0 overall.
So it's crazy to think the 12-2 Big Red could pull off an upset, right?
Do Steve Donahue, Jeff Foote and the rest of the Big Red have a shot against mighty KU?
Here's how it could happen:
"The one thing we've got is a big kid who we can go to," said Cornell coach Steven Donahue on Tuesday en route to Lawrence. "We can go to him and that takes the pressure off the other guys."
Donahue is referring to 7-foot center Jeff Foote. If you've seen him you know that he's more than serviceable. Bryant's Tim O'Shea, who coached in the Ivy at Yale and has been at Boston College, Rhode Island and Ohio, said Foote is the best center in the Ivy since Chris Dudley. Foote has proved he can produce with 28 points and 18 boards at Bucknell and in games against higher-level competition he had 19 and 11 in the win over St. John's and 17 points in the win at Alabama. (Granted, the Red Storm and Crimson Tide aren't exactly KU.)
The Big Red have a stellar shooter in Ryan Wittman, who is shooting 43.8 percent on 3s, scored 34 points in a win at La Salle and like Foote is a senior.
Fellow senior point guard Louis Dale is back from an Achilles/ankle injury after missing the last three games. He has had his stellar moments at the point, like dishing out nine assists without a turnover in a win at Toledo.
Cornell has played only four home games, winning at Alabama, UMass, Toledo, Drexel, Bucknell, St. John's and La Salle and beating Davidson on a neutral court in New York. The only losses were at home to Seton Hall and at Syracuse. Now, of course none of the wins came against anyone the caliber of the Jayhawks, but Cornell goes into Phog Allen incredibly confident.
"Kansas has great length and athleticism and will provide a lot of pressure, but with Jeff we have options inside," Donahue said. "We expect Jeff to score and pass it out."
Donahue said he also sees opportunities for transition buckets on KU's defense.
"This group has been through so much over the last four years with 100 games under their belt," Donahue said. "These guys have been looking forward to this game all year and are excited to play on this stage. We'll play with confidence and play hard."
But like any typical Ivy League team, win or lose the Big Red have a ridiculous road trip. They leave Kansas to bus to Vermillion, S.D., to play the South Dakota Coyotes at the DakotaDome two days later.
"I don't even know where it is," Donahue said. "I just know we're busing from Lawrence and will stop in Blair, Neb. [home of Cornell senior forward Pete Reynolds] to practice."
• As it starts Mountain West play, UNLV faces its toughest week of the season by going to BYU on Wednesday and New Mexico on Saturday. To expect the Runnin' Rebels to sweep this week would be fairly unrealistic -- a split should be applauded nationally. And even if the Rebels did get swept, that wouldn't necessarily be cause for alarm.
"I think BYU has lost one conference home game in the last four years and New Mexico doesn't lose many either," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "If you win one of those two you put yourself in good position after the first week of conference play. If you lose two, it's a matter of maintaining. I'm not worried as much either way."
Kruger said the hoops nation doesn't fully appreciate how difficult the Mountain West will be this season. BYU is ranked No. 23 and blew out Arizona by 30 behind Jimmer Fredette's 49 at McKale Arena. The 14-1 Cougars finally got some national love this week. New Mexico, ranked No. 14, has already beaten Texas A&M in Houston; Cal, Texas Tech and Dayton at home; and is 14-1 (with the one loss coming at Oral Roberts).
UNLV's two losses were to Kansas State at the Orleans Arena in Vegas and to USC in the final of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. The Rebels had already won at Arizona in overtime and knocked off Louisville at home. A year ago, UNLV stunned Louisville at Freedom Hall, but couldn't put together a quality MWC résumé, finishing 9-7 in the league and ending up in the NIT.
"We need to do much more in the league this year than a year ago," Kruger said. "This year's group is deeper and more players can make plays off the dribble. We're more athletic too."
Kruger said the Rebels have more room for growth as well. They have their share of transfers in Tre'Von Willis (14.5 ppg), Chace Stanback (8.6) and Derrick Jasper (7.6), but sophomore Oscar Bellfield (11.1) has been just as important and consistent.
Kruger said the Rebels didn't progress as much as he hoped after the Louisville win. They have a much better shot now. The offense was out of sorts against USC and K-State, but a lot of that credit has to go to the respective defenses.
How UNLV plays in these two road games, regardless of the ultimate outcome, should let us know if the Rebels are worth discussing in March.
"For us [MWC] to get four teams in, those four teams have to separate themselves and beat each other," Kruger said. "But I don't think that will happen. Every other team is good, too."
Kruger still believes there are at least four NCAA-bound teams in the Mountain West. He's right. UNLV and San Diego State, which hosts New Mexico this week, have to do their part to stay with the Lobos and Cougars as the résumés are being built.
• Marquette should be considered one of the hardest-working teams in the country. Of course, every coach usually thinks his team plays hard. But the Golden Eagles clearly aren't as talented as Villanova or West Virginia, yet went down to the final possession with a chance to win each game.
Buzz Williams hasn't exactly been jumping for joy in the final moments of his team's last two games.
So what does Marquette coach Buzz Williams do to get these players to overachieve?
"Everything in practice is competitive," said Marquette assistant Tony Benford. "We compete in every drill. He puts them in a position to do that, whether it's 4-on-4, 3-on-3, 2-on-2 or 1-on-2. We keep score every time."
Jimmy Butler had a chance to beat Villanova, but missed a bucket in close to the basket. Of course, the Golden Eagles couldn't stop the fantastic plays made by Nova's Scottie Reynolds and West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler to put their teams ahead in the last two games.
Marquette hosts Georgetown Wednesday in a game the Golden Eagles must win to start building an NCAA case. The Golden Eagles did beat Xavier and Michigan in Orlando, but it's unclear how much those wins will matter in March. Marquette has already missed chances by losing to Florida State in the final of that event, falling to NC State at home, losing at Wisconsin and starting 0-2 in the Big East.
If the Eagles can find a way to go 3-3 in the first six league games (that's Georgetown, at Villanova, Providence, at DePaul), they'll at least be in position to make a run. But every game is going to be a grind, in large part because of the way Williams coaches this squad.
• When we spoke last week, William & Mary coach Tony Shaver knew the red-hot Tribe were now going to get everyone's best shot in the Colonial. The Tribe survived a road win at Hofstra by one, but UNC Wilmington clipped them 62-61 on Monday night. This is how it's going to be in the CAA this season. Unfortunately, the Tribe must finish first or second for a shot at an at-large and must do so with a quality record. The nonconference wins at Maryland, Wake Forest and over Richmond will have shelf life.
• Officiating roundup:
Officials have been at the center of a lot of controversial plays/calls this season. Time to add another one to the list. Mercer's Jeff Smith beat Jacksonville 74-72 on a so-called buzzer-beater, but if you watch the video, the shot leaves his hand after the sound of the buzzer. Jacksonville complained to the Atlantic Sun office and associate athletic director Joel Lamp said the school was told that the game wouldn't be overturned. Lamp said the school was told the shot did come after the horn and that officials mishandled the final possession.
I was told by an officiating source who reviewed the tape that Jacksonville's in-house camera does show the ball in the hands of the shooter with the red light from the backboard lit. That would mean no basket, but there was no courtside monitor and so by rule officials could not review the call made on the floor. The source said that about 40 percent of Division I college games do not have a courtside monitor. This was just an example of a poor judgment call, not a misapplication of a rule.
• John Adams, the NCAA's chair of officiating, said the officials correctly handled the skirmish in the first minute of Saturday's Kentucky-Louisville game. Technical fouls were assessed to Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins and Louisville's Jared Swopshire and Reginald Delk. At issue was whether Cousins threw a purposeful elbow at Swopshire's head and should have been ejected. UK claims Cousins can be seen taking a knee to the head prior to the elbow.
"[The officials] reviewed the play and assessed an intentional personal foul to Cousins," Adams said. "It was offset by an intentional personal four on a Louisville player and they had a taunting T on another Louisville player. That taunting T resulted in the two free throws that Cousins shot as he was designated by Kentucky to shoot free throws."
• Adams and Bill McCabe, the Pac-10's coordinator of officials, said the officiating crew for last Thursday's Oregon-Washington State game also made the correct call to assess a technical on the Cougars' bench after it ran on the court following a go-ahead basket with three-tenths of a second remaining in the first overtime. The two-shot technical foul put Oregon's Tajuan Porter at the line. He made the free throws and Oregon won in double overtime in Pullman.
Adams cited Rule 10, Section 2, Article 9, d.: "It is an administrative technical foul for delaying the game by preventing the ball from being promptly made live or by preventing continuous play, such as but not limited to, followers entering the playing court before the player activity has been terminated. When the delay does not interfere with play, it shall be ignored."
Oregon's Ernie Kent said after the game that the Ducks couldn't inbound the ball because of the Wazzu players on the court.
McCabe said the officials were put in a difficult situation, but handled the play correctly.
"When there are three-tenths of a second to play, Oregon has the right to try to score a basket and every right to complete that," said McCabe. "Players or managers came on the court and you have no choice but to shut down the play. You can't force Oregon to throw over additional players. Once you shut it down, now the rule is applied and it was pretty clear. You can't ignore it or you face suspension [as an official] for not citing a rule. You do what you're supposed to do and assess a technical. It put them in a difficult position, but did they do the right thing? Yes."