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Buckeyes a year early? Vols ahead of schedule

12/29/2005

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: JE'KEL FOSTER

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AP Photo/Steve PopeFoster laid it on the Cyclones in Des Moines.
By Andy Katz, ESPN.com

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

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AP Photo/Kelly WestC.J. Watson and the Vols had no trouble keeping Texas at bay.
By Andy Katz, ESPN.com

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

By Andy Katz, ESPN.com

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
By Mark Simon, Special to ESPN.com

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.

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.

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.

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."