Buckeyes a year early? Vols ahead of schedule

Updated: December 29, 2005, 4:27 PM ET
ESPN.com

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: JE'KEL FOSTER
Je'kel Foster
AP Photo/Steve Pope
Foster laid it on the Cyclones in Des Moines.


Enough already about Greg Oden and the 2006 recruiting class -- let's talk about this season's Ohio State team.

The Buckeyes are off to a 7-0 start after an impressive three-point win over Iowa State in Des Moines and one of the main reasons the Buckeyes are in the Top 25 and soon to be climbing higher is senior guard Je'Kel Foster.

Foster is leading the Buckeyes in scoring (17.6 ppg) and minutes played (32.6). His two late steals helped key a 10-point win over Belmont and then, against the Cyclones, Foster scored 28 points. Foster converted two free throws that gave Ohio State a one-point lead in the final minutes.

The Buckeyes will get plenty of hype next season, but this edition (while blocking out the distractions of a former coach's lawsuit and the postponement of an NCAA infractions hearing) is a viable postseason team. We need to acknowledge that sooner rather than later, and Foster's play helps draw the necessary attention.


TEAM OF THE WEEK: TENNESSEE
C.J. Watson
AP Photo/Kelly West
C.J. Watson and the Vols had no trouble keeping Texas at bay.


OK, who among you had any idea the Volunteers would wax Texas on the road Saturday? We're not sure we believe anyone who thought this could occur.

The Vols hadn't exactly beefed up on a tough slate, but it didn't matter in Austin, where the Vols ran all over the Horns. Tennessee has bought into Bruce Pearl's style of play and the communication was clear. Tennessee shot 50 percent overall and on 3s and committed only 10 turnovers in the stunning 95-78 win.

The Vols seemed to be one of the weakest remaining undefeated teams heading into the Texas game. They come out maybe not as one of the strongest, but certainly one of the most confident.



3-POINT SHOTS
Jay Bilas
Jay Bilas
With a home win over Virginia and a neutral-floor win over Maryland this year, Gonzaga is now 7-1 all time against the ACC. That is absolutely stunning. Granted, Virginia may not be the best the ACC has to offer this year, but to have won seven of eight against the ACC?

Tell me that Gonzaga is overrated because the tiny school cannot point to a Final Four banner? Please. I have heard all of the Atlanta Braves comparisons in a feeble attempt to diminish the accomplishments of Mark Few's program. That is baloney. To win any league is tough. Remember, when idiots bash the Braves for winning 14 straight division crowns but only one World Series, only one National League team won more World Series titles over that same span: the Florida Marlins.

Gonzaga has had an amazing run since 1999.

Doug Gottlieb

Doug Gottlieb
Why isn't Andy Kennedy a legit coaching candidate at Cincinnati? Sure, the Bearcats lost early at home to Memphis and Dayton, but after crushing Vandy in Nashville and then Ohio and Tennessee Tech at home, Kennedy's squad is among the most improved teams in the country. That is coaching. Steve Lavin took over during a similar situation and led UCLA to five Sweet Sixteens, so why not Kennedy?

Fran Fraschilla

Fran Fraschilla
Corey Brewer's triple-double -- the first in Gators history -- and the team's 10-0 start remind me of the old coaching adage of "addition by subtraction." Who would have thought that after the early-entry defections of Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson that the Gators would be playing this well?

This is not to denigrate the character of either player, but it seemed that during their tenure in Gainesville, their agendas were clear: get to the NBA. Now, Billy Donovan and his staff have a young group that is certainly playing like the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. …

For more of our experts' 3-point shots, click here. Insider


FIVE GAMES TO WATCH


Indiana at Charlotte, Monday, ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET: Will D.J. White play or not? Regardless, this is a huge game for both schools. For Charlotte, it's a chance to show it will be in the mix in the A-10 and possibly for an NCAA bid. For IU, winning at Charlotte could go down as one of the most significant results of the season. Following up a Kentucky W with one at the 49ers would do wonders for this team's postseason profile.

Florida at Miami, Thursday: The Gators are rolling. The Canes aren't. Miami needs this win a heckuva lot more than Florida.

Tennessee vs. Oklahoma State (in Oklahoma City), Thursday, ESPN2, 6: The nightcap suddenly has meaning after the Vols dropped Texas. Beating Oklahoma State, too, would mean the Vols should be on the NCAA Tournament radar for some time.

West Virginia vs. Oklahoma (in Oklahoma City), Thursday, ESPN2, 8:30: The Sooners couldn't overcome Villanova in their first marquee game. West Virginia's intricate offense and active defense will be a worthy barometer.

Cincinnati vs. LSU, Friday, Las Vegas Holiday Classic: This should be quite an up-and-down affair with the game in the 80s or possibly 90s. Two of the better freshmen in the country -- Cincy PG Devan Downey and LSU forward Tasmin Mitchell -- will be on display in a high school gym in Vegas. The Bearcats' turnaround after beating Vandy on the road makes this game even more intriguing, since both teams are now expected to be tourney-worthy come March.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS


Opening Tip
Tennessee had played a cupcake-filled nonleague schedule prior to its clash with Texas on Saturday, in which the Volunteers proved some legitimacy with a resounding effort. The one thing, though, that Tennessee can do as well as any team in the SEC is put five legitimate scorers on the floor.

With Chris Lofton, C.J. Watson, Major Wingate, Andre Patterson and Stanley Asumnu, Bruce Pearl's team is one of four in the league that has five players averaging double figures in scoring. The Vols racked up some impressive stats in their first five games, but matched or bettered those numbers against Texas, shooting better from the field, free-throw line and from 3-point land than they had against other lesser opponents.

Women's basketball is what garners all the attention in Knoxville, but Pearl might be positioning a team that doesn't have an abundance of household names yet for a nice run.

High Fives
COMBINED PPG FG % 3-PT % FT %
LSU 76.1 55.0% 41.5% 64.3%
Tennessee 69.5 52.5% 48.2% 70.8%
Florida 63.0 55.5% 43.8% 69.5%
Georgia 55.3 46.3% 38.4% 70.0%

Rocking The Rim
UCLA's Jordan Farmar has shown in the last three games that he's healed up and able to score again at a top level. The Bruins' point guard has been particularly good in the last two outings -- wins over Nevada and at Michigan that have helped cement the Bruins' status as a Top 25 team.

UCLA hasn't exactly overwhelmed anyone, winning its last four by a combined 31 points, but Farmar has shown that he can come through in big spots and his contributions aren't coming at the expense of production by his teammates.

Farm hand
First four games Last three games
PPG 14.0 20.3
% of UCLA's points 20.5% 29.9%
FG% 37.2% 60.0%
Teammates' FG% 45.5% 48.1%

Matchup of the week
Sure, St. John's has already lost to Hofstra and Marist this season, but it doesn't seem to matter how the Red Storm are playing because they ususally seem to rise to the challenge of playing Duke.

The two will meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2 as part of our Holiday Hoops slate of games. Though four of the last five meetings have been decided by double digits, the memories of other recent matchups are certainly fresh enough in Mike Krzyzewski's mind that he won't let his team take this game lightly.

Matchup highlights
DATE GAME RESULT SKINNY
2/26/05 Duke,
58-47
The Blue Devils shot 31 percent. Lee Melchionni had 16 points and nine rebounds while J.J. Redick was held to 2-for-11 shooting.
3/2/03 SJU,
72-71
Marcus Hatten's free throw at the buzzer gave St. John's a thrilling win as Mike Jarvis became the sixth coach to win 100 games at three different schools. St. John's rallied from 11 points down with 4:05 left to pull out the victory.
2/26/00 SJU,
83-82
Bootsy Thornton's jumper with 13 seconds remaining gave St. John's a dramatic road win and snapped Duke's 64-game winning streak against unranked opponents. Thornton finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists.
1/24/99 Duke,
92-88 (OT)
Bootsy Thornton scored 40 points and Ron Artest tied the game with a 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation, but Duke won in overtime. Duke's Chris Carrawell had 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists, as well as two key free throws in OT.
2/18/90 Duke,
76-72
Duke advanced to the Sweet 16 on Robert Brickey's tiebreaking basket with 32 seconds remaining to cap a rally from an eight-point second-half deficit. Brickey had 22 points, including two free throws in the final seconds to clinch the win.

In the bonus
Sunday was mostly a day to forget for Davidson senior Brendan Winters, who went 4-for-18 from the field (and 1-for-12 from 3-point range) in a loss at Syracuse, but it was memorable in one regard: Winters broke the team's record for consecutive free throws made, clearing the previous mark of 36 by one before missing his last attempt in a 6-for-7 afternoon from the line.

Earlier this season, Duke fans chanted "You're not Redick" at the normally precise Winters, who entered the Syracuse game with Redick-light numbers (17.3 points and 39 percent shooting from 3-point range). He does have the Duke megastar beat in one respect though, as he's currently the best free-throw shooter in the state of North Carolina.

Winters is shooting 92.7 percent from the free-throw line, among the best in the NCAA and nearly 4 percent better than Redick. Last week, the son of former NBA coach Brian Winters credited his success to a new regular ritual at the stripe.

"I think I just settled on a routine," said Winters, who shot 77, 84, and 74 percent in his first three seasons. "It's changed over the years. Once, I tried to back off the line and shoot from a foot away. I've tried different spins and dribbles. Now I spin the ball in front of me, catch it, dribble twice, and shoot it. I got comfortable with it, and once I did, I got more confidence. Now I'm confident that every time I step to the line, I'll make two."

MOMENT OF THE WEEK
Watching Ohio assistant coach Kevin Kuwik walk back into the Bobcats' locker room prior to the Cincinnati game on Wednesday, 24 hours after leaving the Middle East. Kuwik served a year in Mosul, Iraq, as part of the Indiana National Guard, sweeping for improvised explosive devices. The Army captain will be back on the bench later this week.
-- Andy Katz
CLIMBING
Teams on the rise
Loyola (Chi.): The Ramblers are off to their best start since 1965 with a 7-1 record. Fran Fraschilla was raving about Blake Schilb, and why not? He's averaging 17.8 points and 4.1 assists a game.

Air Force: Just thought we'd keep reminding you that the Falcons are still the best team in the MWC, even without the Joe Scott-Chris Mooney coaching tree in place. Jeff Bzdelik took the Princeton offense and let it ride and the Falcons are now 9-1, even without Nick Welch.

Drake: Dr. Tom is doing something no one outside of Iowa is taking note of -- making the Bulldogs a potential NCAA team with a 6-3 record in the always-deep MVC.

Indiana State: The Indiana win was no fluke. The Sycamores remain undefeated and had an underappreciated win at Butler.

UCLA: Beating Michigan on the road (and pulling away in the second half) proves this Bruins team is a legit Pac-10 title contender. The Bruins are cruising without Josh Shipp and are looking more and more like a lock to get back to the Dance.

BMOCs
Devan Downey, Cincinnati: Ohio coach Tim O'Shea has already pegged Downey as the potential Big East rookie of the year. He's on track after smoking Ohio for 24 and then putting up 16 against Tennessee Tech. His quickness and ability to get to the hole make him one of the tougher playmakers in the conference to contain.

Kammron Taylor, Wisconsin: He hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to take out UNC-Wilmington and then followed that up with a 23-spot in a win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee, proving this squad is a lot more than just Alando Tucker.

Gerry McNamara, Syracuse: Anytime someone goes for 38 points, it deserves a mention. McNamara hit eight 3s in Syracuse's 90-80 win over Davidson on Sunday. This win will have shelf life and is a significant win for the Orange after losing to Bucknell at home.

-- Andy Katz
HARD TO FIGURE
Huh?
DePaul: So let's get this straight: the same DePaul team that beat Wake Forest by three in Winston-Salem lost to Old Dominion by 44? How does that occur?

Old Dominion: The Monarchs lose by 21 at Drexel and then, a week later, beat DePaul at home by 44?

Northwestern: The Wildcats beat Seton Hall on a back-door cut with 3.3 seconds left, proving that Bill Carmody hasn't lost the magic tough with the Princeton offense. But this win comes in the same week that NU lost at home by nine to UIC.

FALLING
Rough weeks
Oregon: The Ducks quacked again on the road, losing to New Mexico. Remember sophomore Malik Hairston waxing poetically at the Jordan high school all-star game two years ago that he wanted to play for an up-tempo team that will be going to the NCAA Tournament? It hasn't happened yet.

Duquesne: Is this program still in the A-10? The Dukes lost at Youngstown State to drop to 1-6.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are still searching after yet another setback, losing at UNLV.

Stanford: The Cardinal have two wins and we're only a week away from Christmas. Can it get any worse in nonconference play for this group?

Foul of the week
UAB's DeMario Eddins earned the honor. With the Blazers up in the final seconds, he fouled Minnesota's Mo Hargrow in the backcourt for no apparent reason. The reaction of utter disbelief on the UAB bench was classic. Hargrow made the free throws for the 69-68 win.
SCORES OF THE WEEK
Monmouth 41, Princeton 21 How many thought this was a halftime score on ESPN's Bottom Line?

Wagner 63, Rhode Island 61 A Northeast Conference team shouldn't go into an A-10 arena and win, right?

Marist 56, St. John's 53 Coming after already losing at home to Hofstra, the Red Storm rebuilding job has had a few setbacks.

La Salle 107, Central Connecticut St. 106, 4OT So what was I doing Sunday afternoon that I didn't head over to New Britain? I missed Steven Smith going for 41 in an epic game.

-- Andy Katz
LOOKING BACK
Forde: Cake schedule hurt Cards
On Saturday at Rupp Arena, Louisville reaped what it sowed with its soft early-season schedule. Story

Bilas: Weekend notebook
Jay is impressed with Dee Brown and Rajon Rondo -- and not so much with some NCAA rules. Story

LOOKING AHEAD
• How did this weekend's action affect the polls? Here are the latest rankings.

• What else is on tap for this week? Here's the schedule.

ESPN/ABC TV schedule