West End Boys: Stanford shining, UNC rolls
Wake up America, Stanford is here and ready to bust your bracket, let alone the Pac-10 standings.
The Lopez twins (Robin and Brook) are becoming the nation's most feared inside force west of Greg Oden, but don't think for a second that the trees out on the Farm are all that are growing and showing potential.
The Cardinal also are getting solid play out of their wings in Anthony Goods, and this week, Lawrence Hill. Hill scored seven straight points in the second half against UCLA Sunday night, including a midrange bucket to tie the game at 51 and then a banked-in 3-pointer to put Stanford ahead for good. The Cardinal were down 12 at halftime, but Hill's buckets were part of a 15-0 run that put Stanford up by eight.
Hill finished with 22 points, making 8 of 10 shots, 2 of 3 on 3s and 4 of 6 at the line. He also complemented Brook Lopez's triple-double (18 points, 11 boards, 12 blocks) against USC Thursday night with 18 points and nine boards in the win over the Trojans. The home sweep put Stanford a game back of first place in the Pac-10 at 6-3 (14-5 overall) and makes the Cardinal a serious threat from this point forward.
Teams aren't supposed to go to the West and dominate with ease, especially in the middle of the conference season and when the opposing arena is at Arizona. UNC, though, isn't just any team.
The Tar Heels put together the season's most impressive performance to date, dismantling the Wildcats from the opening tip. This win came with starter Brandan Wright and reserve Marcus Ginyard being ill and unavailable and Bobby Frasor out for the fourth straight game. Yet none of that mattered.
The Tar Heels proved they have one of the nation's best penetrating point guards in Ty Lawson, plenty of options among the frontline to go next to Tyler Hansbrough in Reyshawn Terry (Mr. Putback-and-one), Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson, and a solid wing in Wayne Ellington.
The 28-point rout, the worst home loss under Lute Olson at U of A, came after a 28-point win at Wake Forest and, even though it was the previous week, the Tar Heels were coming off of punishing Clemson on the road by 22 and beating Georgia Tech by 16 at home.
To Michigan State's credit, the Spartans showed the heart of a champion in the second half. Now that Michigan State is healthy, Tom Izzo's team can mature into a Final Four contender by March. The only drawback is the schedule down the stretch -- four of the Spartans' last 10 games are against Wisconsin and Ohio State and they also face road games against Illinois, Michigan and Purdue in that stretch.
In a year with outstanding backcourt combos around the country, the Maureece Rice-Carl Elliott combo may be one of the more underrated. Elliott, a New York City point guard in the Levance Fields/Russell Robinson mold, is a tough, tough competitor and Rice is a potentially prolific college scorer. Regis Koundjia, the LSU transfer, has been workmanlike inside, and the same can be said for underrated sophomore Rob Diggs.
How true is that right now? Think about the college basketball brand names that, as of today, possibly/probably won't be in the NCAA tourney field: UConn, Michigan, Cincinnati, Louisville, Syracuse, Missouri, Oklahoma, Purdue, Illinois, Gonzaga, LSU, Utah, Maryland, NC State and Wake Forest. While a couple of these teams still have ample opportunities to make the dance -- most notably, the Zags, Michigan, LSU and Syracuse -- the turnover in the college basketball landscape is nothing if not interesting.
For more of our experts' 3-point shots, click here.
Connecticut loses again: The loss to Providence stings more than maybe any of the others. The Huskies need to rally at DePaul to possibly save their season. No joke. This team needs to win to regain some confidence and cohesiveness even for an NIT run.
Tennessee without Chris Lofton: Look, take the best player -- and maybe the top shooter in the country -- off any team, and it likely will flop. You shouldn't be surprised the Vols have slipped to 2-4 in the now-rugged SEC East.
Marquette keeps cruising: It doesn't matter how or where or when, all that matters is that the Golden Eagles find ways to win. Jerel McNeal converted a steal into a bucket for the win at South Florida on Sunday.
Virginia wins at Clemson: OK, something was completely out of whack with the Cavaliers in Puerto Rico when they dropped two games and barely beat PR-Mayaguez. The losses at North Carolina and Boston College and to Stanford are now totally understandable. Maybe the four straight wins, including Sunday's frantic comeback at Clemson, are more indicative of how good this team can become in the final six weeks.
Wisconsin wins on the road again: Iowa became just another notch in the belt of a team that may end up being the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
LSU and Alabama can't win: This is the reality: The Tigers (13-7, 2-4) and Tide (15-5, 2-4) are heading toward the NIT, not the NCAAs, if they don't right their listing ships quickly.
Providence on a high: The win at Connecticut served notice that the Friars are still in the mix for an NCAA bid and a possible top-six finish in the Big East.
BYU and GW pick up key conference wins: The Cougars beat Air Force and the Colonials won at Rhode Island, putting both schools in contention for their respective (MWC and A-10) league titles.
Georgia and Kentucky win Sunday: The worst projection may have been thinking the SEC West would be deeper than the SEC East. Georgia and Kentucky are tied with Vanderbilt, both at 5-2, two games behind Florida. If Tennessee had Lofton healthy, the Vols likely would be in stride with those three teams as well.
Here are the games to watch that will directly impact Wednesday's bracket:
MON/Pittsburgh at Villanova
Panthers get back in the No. 1 seed discussion if they can pull off road win.
MON/Siena at Loyola (Md.)
The Greyhounds are somehow holding on to their surprising lead in the MAAC.
TUE/Maryland at Florida State
Loser is likely out of the next bracket projection.
TUE/Notre Dame at Syracuse
Orange need to bounce back or they may be looking at a double-digit seed.
TUE/Wichita State at Northern Iowa
Winner has a chance to return to the bracket; loser is toast.
TUE/Davidson at Elon
Davidson must win to keep its lead in the SoCon (and bracket slot).
Greg Oden, Ohio State: Oden seems to be finding his groove. He smacked Northwestern for 17 points, 17 boards and a block. He followed that up with 19 points, six boards and three blocks in the win over Michigan State.
Derrick Byars, Vanderbilt: Byars is making a case to be considered for SEC Player of the Year with his latest performances. He put up 18 points and grabbed 10 boards in a win at LSU, and then piled on 19 in a win over Ole Miss. That came a week after he scored 23 in a win at Kentucky.
Derrick Low, Washington State: Low's squad didn't win the game, but wow, what an effort. He scored 37 points and made 9 of 16 3s in an overtime loss to Oregon Saturday night.
A.J. Graves, Butler: Take that, Blake Schilb! Graves took it right to Loyola (Chicago) on the road with a 26-point, three-steal effort in the Bulldogs' 70-66 win. He followed that with a solid 15-point, seven-board game in a 10-point win at Detroit.
Alando Tucker, Wisconsin: Fresh off being tabbed as the favorite for national POY (at least in this space), Tucker scored 27 on Iowa in Iowa City.
-- Andy Katz
Wichita State at Northern Iowa, Tuesday (ESPN2, 7 ET): Payback game for the Shockers after losing to the Panthers at home; may be a must-win to get the NCAA bid process going again.
Vanderbilt at Florida, Wednesday (Full Court, 7 ET): This is shaping up to be a matchup between the two best teams in the SEC, or at least the two playing the best basketball.
Wisconsin at Indiana, Wednesday (Full Court, 7 ET): The Hoosiers are on a roll at Assembly Hall, but they get the top road team in the conference -- maybe one of the best in the country.
Alabama at LSU, Wednesday, (Full Court, 9 ET): This isn't a bubble-busting game on the last night of January, since both have talent to turn it around, but the loser is in some serious trouble.
Gonzaga at Stanford, Wednesday, 11 ET: OK, Mark Few, you're officially honored as the coach who took on way too much in the schedule and definitely gets the bad timing award. The time to play Stanford was in November and December, not now!
VCU at Hofstra, Wednesday, 7 ET: First place in the CAA is on the line. An at-large bid for the Rams could hinge on winning the regular-season title (undefeated would be even nicer).
Texas at Texas Tech, Wednesday (ESPN2, 9 ET): The Red Raiders have taken out the league leaders at home. Is Texas next?
Washington State at Arizona, Thursday, 8:30 p.m.: The Cougs go for the sweep of the reeling Wildcats. The Cats aren't in danger of missing The Dance, but this could be a must-win for confidence down the stretch.
Duke at Virginia, Thursday (ESPN, 9 ET): The Cavaliers are one of the hottest teams in the ACC and likely are salivating over getting Duke in their new digs.
Oregon at UCLA, Thursday, 10:30 p.m.: Yet another big-time Pac-10 game, with first place on the line.
Virginia Tech at Boston College, Saturday (Full Court, 1 ET): If the Eagles are still a contender, they likely have to knock off the Hokies at home.
Kentucky at Arkansas, Saturday (Full Court, 1 ET): The Hogs took out Bama on the road, but this is the type of game they have to win to be taken seriously in the SEC West.
Southern Illinois at Wichita State, Saturday (ESPN2, 2 ET): Contender or pretender time for the Shockers?
Oregon at USC, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.: This is the last of the Ducks' brutal four-game road swing.
Ohio State at Michigan State, Saturday, 4 ET: The quick return game of what was a classic second half Saturday in Columbus.
Texas A&M at Kansas, Saturday (ESPN, 9 ET): This is the Big 12 game that was circled from the start. Too bad they only play once.
-- Andy Katz
VCU: Don't look now, but VCU is 18-3, 10-0 in the CAA, and on target to possibly be an at-large team if the Rams don't win the conference tourney (in their hometown of Richmond).
Hofstra: Remember when Hofstra started 0-3? Well, since then the Pride are 16-2 (9-1 CAA).
Toledo: The Rockets were a preseason MAC favorite, but had a rough stretch in nonconference play, going 4-8. Well, take a guess at what the Rockets' MAC record is now: 7-0.
Creighton: The Bluejays were the hot team in the Missouri Valley in the preseason, but injuries early and often, especially to point guard Josh Dotzler, derailed them. Well, the Bluejays got Dotzler back and now they are the hottest team in the league, winners of six of their last eight games to stand tied with Southern Illinois for first.
Louisville: Back-to-back losses to UMass and Kentucky at home made this squad look NIT-like, but the Cards have rallied of late, winning three straight. They knocked off UConn and Syracuse in the past week to now have the look of a possible NCAA team.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies are proving that beating Carolina and Duke is no fluke. Virginia Tech won at Georgia Tech on Sunday and is half a game ahead of North Carolina (tied in the loss column) for first place in the ACC.
Drew Neitzel, Michigan State: If it weren't for the Weekly Watch rule here that your team has to win all of its games for you to get player of the week honors, it would be hard to pass up Neitzel. He scored 24 of his 29 points in the second half to help erase a 20-point halftime deficit at Ohio State. Neitzel almost took down the mighty Buckeyes by himself.
Aaron Brooks, Oregon: Brooks sat out the loss at Washington as the final installment of his punishment for elbowing Ryan Appleby in the Pac-10 tournament last March. Let's hope that the flagrant part of his game is in the past because he's playing such a beautiful stretch of ball, it would be a shame if he tainted it again. Brooks scored 31 points in a thrilling overtime win at Washington State Saturday night. Brooks is on the tails of Alando Tucker and Kevin Durant, making this seem like a three-man race for national player of the year.
-- Andy Katz
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