The College Basketball Notebook

February 7, 2010 7:18 PM

Big Ten & Big East Tighten

Anyone who thinks February is a dead month after the Super Bowl (Matt Stover’s just kicked a field goal to make it 3-0 Indy as I type), hasn’t looked at the conference races in college hoops. The Big East & Big Ten races heated up after big road losses by the frontrunners and those leagues will lead up our Sunday night review…

It wasn’t long ago that the pundits proclaimed the race to be over after Michigan State built a three-game lead. Actually, the only pundit who made such a proclamation was myself, the most premature calling of a race since Election Night 2000 when the networks called it both ways before settling into the long recount. Playing without Kalin Lucas, the Spartans lost at Illinois under the watchful eye of ESPN Gameday. Both teams shot over 50 percent. Michigan State won the rebounding battle, while Illinois forced turnovers. Demetri McCamey was the biggest difference in the end, scoring 22 points and dishing 11 assists.

Illinois is now one of four teams only a game back in the loss column. Wisconsin kept pace by taking apart Michigan with an 11-of-21 day from three-point land, and 45 points from its backcourt trio of Trevon Hughes, Jason Bohannon and Jordan Taylor. Ohio State is also hot on the heels of the leader after 32 points from Evan Turner and an offense that took care of the ball beat Iowa. The other contender is Purdue, who was off this weekend, but goes to East Lansing on Tuesday night.

Purdue and Michigan State are the two contenders who have strong frontcourts. The Boilermarkers are also strong in the backcourt. MSU will be if Lucas makes it back. That’s why Tuesday’s game will be about establishing a frontrunner in the Big Ten.

Villanova and Georgetown rang up a lot of points, and the Hoyas won it 103-90. In a prediction here that turned out prophetic, both backcourts were sensational, but Georgetown owned the frontline. Antonio Pena was held to seven points. Georgetown also made fifty trips to the foul line and converted thirty-nine, marking the biggest statistical difference.

The loss dropped ‘Nova even in the loss column with everyone else and actually a half-game behind Syracuse (10-1 vs. 9-1). The Orange beat Cincinnati today decisively, but star forward Wesley Johnson was MIA for the second straight game. This either showcases Syracuse’s depth, or is a cause for concern that the player they can’t win the Big East without is in a cold spell. Probably a little of both. West Virginia stayed a game back of the two leaders with an easy win over St. John, as DeSean Butler scored 33.

And the bubble—the first time that dreaded word has been used here this season is getting interesting in this conference, mainly because of the raw number of teams. After a slow start marked by tough losses, Marquette is playing well and now 6-5 in Big East play. They beat Providence behind a torrent of three-pointers, especially from forward Lazar Hayward, who scored 28. Louisville & Notre Dame also held serve, winning home games with Rutgers and South Florida, respectively. And UConn stayed alive, beating DePaul as the Blue Demons only made one free throw in the entire game.

Monday will be a showdown day in the East, as Villanova battles West Virginia.

Duke survived a trip to Boston with a narrow win over BC. Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith had 21 apiece to key the win. And how about Maryland? Overcoming the skepticism I expressed in the post below, the Terps buried North Carolina with some three-point shooting. Greivis Vazquez was 6-of-11 in scoring 26, while Eric Hayes hit 4-of-5 on his way to a 16-point game. The Heels may be cutting down the nets again this postseason, but it’s looking like it will be in the NIT.

While Maryland and Duke remain tied in the loss column (Duke’s a half-game up overall), Wake, Virginia Tech and Virginia are one back. The Demon Deacons got a must-win game over Virginia, thanks to a 42-31 rebounding edge and playing great defense. Virginia lost its share of first place because Sammy Zeglinski scored only three points, and the Cavs aren’t good enough to win with Sylvan Landesberg alone. As for Virginia Tech, they got a nice win over Clemson thanks to some friendly homecourt officiating that got them a 38-14 point advantage at the stripe.

Vanderbilt’s Cinderella bid to keep up with Kentucky took a huge hit. The Commodores lost to Georgia, a game that simply cannot be lost if one aspires to win a championship. Georgia controlled the glass and A.J. Oglivy, who scored only six, while Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie gave the Dawgs inside-out balance with 17 apiece.

Tennessee pulled into a tie for second with its in-state rival and the Vols really seem to be gaining steam. They hammered South Carolina with extremely disciplined basketball. They only turned it over five times, and got 30 points inside from Wayne Chism. The defense was also there—Devan Downey got his points (26), but on 5-of-20 shooting from the floor, it wasn’t exactly efficient.

BIG 12
Texas turned in a disastrous performance at Oklahoma, shooting 10-of-27 on the line and losing 80-71. The chief culprit was Damion James who was 4-of-13 and had only 12 points. The ‘Horns also let Sooner guard Cade Davis crash for 10 rebounds. The Longhorns are now one of four teams that are three games back of Kansas—but I won’t mistake of calling this race too soon, at least until the Jayhawks and ‘Horns play on Monday night.

Missouri is a team that has really turned its season around in conference play, getting a decisive win over Colorado, behind 21 from Kim English and 22 off the bench from Marcus Denmon. And Texas A&M got a very good win over Baylor, keeping solid control of the interior behind 22 points and 8 rebounds from forward Bryan Davis.

Oh, and a side note, I mistakenly called Kansas guard Sherron Collins, “Sherrod Wilkerson.” Sorry, the old Bob Knight fan in me retro’d to 1995 and one of the Indiana guards from that team.

As quickly as Cal fell back to the pack, they pulled right back out. The Golden Bears beat UCLA by hitting 10 three-pointers. Cal started the day in a four-way tie and ended it in sole possession of first. In addition to UCLA, the other co-leaders were to fall were Arizona and Arizona State. Their trips north to the state of Washington were unproductive. Arizona lost to Washington State, being beaten at the line and on the glass, with DeAngelo Casto (19 points and 9 rebounds) doing most of the damage. And the Sun Devils lost to Washington, who destroyed them on the boards.

This race is all about Cal—can they play with consistency? Otherwise, it’s just about who’s less ugly. In addition to Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA, you also have Washington and USC (not eligible for the NCAAs) a game back. And remember how Kansas is three ahead of the field in the Big 12? Well here, the entire conference is within three of the leader.

See you Monday to look at some of the highlight games ahead.

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