Conference Focus: The Big 12 - Each week we will focus on a particular conference and this week we will start with The Big 12. What a week in this wide open conference. With Oklahoma's injuries, I think we can put them on the backburner for now, so we can say this is a five-team race. As of today, Kansas, Texas, and Kansas State each have two losses. KU has lost to both teams, while Texas and K-State meet February 25th in Manhattan. After Texas' big win over the Jayhawks on Big Monday, Kansas State had the opportunity to take sole possession of first place, but they stumbled Wednesday night at Texas Tech.
Texas A&M in the meanwhile is laying in the weeds with three losses, but travel to Austin Monday night for a huge showdown. They also get Kansas at home to close out the regular season. Baylor may have four losses, but has wins at A&M and over Texas Tech at home. They get a rematch with Texas at home Saturday in a key game for both teams. The Bears also have K-State on the 23rd and A&M on the March 5th making trips to Waco. They have the schedule remaining to make up serious ground. Back to the Jayhawks, they may have the most favorable schedule of all the teams vying for the title. Other than a road trip to A&M and a home date rematch with Kansas State, there are no other games they should even come close to losing. It's conceivable that KU runs the table and takes the league.
This league has a ton of talent. K-State's Bill Walker and Michael Beasley, Texas' D.J. Augustine, A.J. Abrams, and Damion James, KU's Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Mario Chalmers, and Brandon Rush, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, Texas A&M's Josh Carter and Bryan Davis, Baylor's Curtis Jerrells, LaceDarius Dunn, and Kevin Rogers. All of these players are first team all conference possibilities. If Oklahoma can somehow finish strong, this will be a six bid league in the NCAA Tournment.
The Sampson Mess: While there were a ton of games that changed the course of the national landscape, the big story this week has to be the potential self-destruction of Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson. We were big fans of the hire two years ago when most weren't; he has a shady track record of recrutiting improprieties as well as a poor graduation record. But there is no doubting the man can coach. Wednesday, word leaked out that the NCAA's findings on Indiana's own investigation weren't good enough. The NCAA founf five major allegations involving improper contact with recruits; the same thing Sampson was in trouble for in the first place. Not a smart idea for a guy who was already on probation to be breaking the same rules he broke before.
People are taking sides already. The Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz lit up Sampson and demanded he be fired immediately. ESPN's Pat Forde says the move is to suspend him right away. Worst of all, you know the boosters will be pining for the return of Bob Knight to Bloomington. The latest says Sampson is now hanging by a string, coaching game to game limbo
Team of the Week: Purdue Boilermakers (20-5, 11-1) - You have got to give Boilermakers coach Matt Painter credit. He has taken a team full of Freshman and Sophomores to the top of the Big Ten standings and has them believing they can win it. Since early season losses to Wofford and Iowa State at home, the baby bilers have won 14 of 15, including last week's back to back wins over Wisconsin (in Madison) and Michigan State; two of the three teams chasing them for the Big Ten lead. The man for this club is Freshman Robbie Hummel. The 6'8 swing man can do everything. He is the heart and soul of this club and put on a clinic tuesday night against the Spartans. "We've put ourselves in position coming down the stretch in the Big Ten season. It's just a total team effort," said Hummel after the win.
#1 Memphis (24-0, last week #1) - Should we be concerned that the Tigers struggled in two homes games this week before pulling away in the end? No, they are just getting a little complacent. What is concerning is the same thing that concerned us last week: Free Throw shooting and Three Point shooting. Against Houston Wednesday night, the Tigers were 19-32 from the line and 3-16 from deep. Only one week until the big showdown with Tennessee. This Week: at UAB, at Tulane
#2 Tennessee (22-2, #4) - Maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves here, but the Vols are crusing these days. True, they struggled at LSU this week, but it was the game after John Brady's firing and the Tigers looked great in thrashing Florida in Gainesville three days later. Bruce Pearl's boys got Duke Crews back and he responded with 11 and 11 in their pasting of on-coming Arkansas. Many pundits now have them as a #1 seed and we agree. Did we mention we can't wait for the Vols to travel to Memphis a week from Saturday? This Week: at Georgia, Auburn
#3 Duke (22-1, #5) - It pains us to put the Devils up here, but the bottom line is they are playing as well as any team in the country. Greg Paulus continues his stretch of outstanding play and as long as they keep hitting their threes, they will be tough to beat. The problem is, it only takes one bad shooting night in the Tournament and you are out. FYI - Dick Vitale's grand kids were in the stands at the Duke/Maryland game Wednesday night in Duke jerseys. So much for being impartial. That is beyond unprofessional. This Week: at Wake Forest, at Miami
#4 Kansas (23-2, #2) - The Jayhawks had it all in front of them in Austin after playing a complete first half and then forgot how they got there. Darrell Arthur continues to get better each game and is finally the #1 option on offense. A major concern is the fact that KU still hasn't beaten anyone in the current top 25 and doesn't seem to be getting better. Did they already peak? This Week: Colorado
#5 UCLA (21-3, #3) - Exactly how did they lose at Washington again? Well they didn't have starting Forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Darren Collison was ice cold. The team as a whole shot 1-16 from deep. That isn't going to win you many games unless you play in Conference USA (haha). Ben Howland though does always seem to get his team re-focused after a loss. That's bad news for a USC team playing without starting PG Danile Hackett Sunday. This Week: at USC, Oregon State
#6 North Carolina (23-2, #6) - You can't judge this team right now because they are playing without the straw that stirs their drink, PG Ty Lawson. They needed double OT and a ridiculously bad officiated game to beat Clemson (UNC shot 36 free throws to Clemson's seven), and barely escaped in Charlottesville by one against the worst team in the ACC, Virginia. That said, with Tyler Hansbrough, they always have the best player on the floor. This Week: Virginia Tech, at N.C. State.
#7 Stanford (20-4, #7) - We are holding the Cardinal here despite their road loss in OT at Arizona State because Brook Lopez is an absolute stud. He continues to drop big numbers on everyone he is playing against. The only worry we have with this club is can they get someone from their perimeter to compliment Lopez inside? We'll say this, a loss at Arizona Saturday and they will drop. This Week: at Arizona, Cal
#8 Xavier (22-4, #9) - How is a team that is 22-4, 9-1 in one of the deepest conferences in American considered under the radar? Well, Sean Miller's club is just that. They have won 13 of 14 since back to back losses to Tennessee and Arizona State in mid-December and are hitting their stride at the right time. Don't think that going through St. Louis, Charlotte, and UMass on the road isn't impressive. Next up, another tough road test at 20-5 Rhode Island. Props to Josh Duncan on his 25 point, 7-7, 5-5 from deep, game against Charlotte. This Week: at Rhode Island, Duquesne
#9 Texas (20-4, #11) - The Longhorns showed us some real guts pulling out the big upset over Kansas. most impressive was they did it with PG D.J. Augustin going 1-13. Damion James showed his importance of staying on the floor. He played just three minutes in the first half with foul trouble, then scored 12 while grabbing 13 boards in the final stanza as UT came from behind to win it. Did you know texas now sports wins over Tennessee, Kansas, and UCLA, three of the top five teams in the country? Not too shabby.
#10 Connecticut (19-5, #12) - Not only did they end the Team of the Week jinx, but they showed grit in coming back in both wins over Georgia Tech and Notre Dame. A.J. Price is really turning into a star in the backcourt. He single-handedly willed the Huskies to the win over the Irish with 26 points and nine assists. Meanwhile, Hasheem Thabeet had six blocks and 10 boards. This is a team nobody wants to see on their side of the bracket. This Week: at South Florida, Depaul
#11 Georgetown (20-3, #7) - Sorry Hoya fans, but your team should have lost both games this week, not just the drubbing at Louisville. The Bob Donato foul call with 0.1 seconds left 80 feet from the basket was completely phantom and the worst call you will ever see. That handed Georgetown the Villanova game on a silver platter. More disturbing is the vanishing act by PG Jonathon Wallace on the offensive end. This is the all-time Hoyas three point king, and he can't seem to hit anything these days. Talk about a team ripe for an early round Tournament exit. Here's a tip: they lose one of their next two games. This Week: at Syracuse, at Providence.
#12 Purdue (20-5, NR) - How about those Baby Boilers? Anyone who had them as a player in the Big Ten race, let alone in first place, should buy a lottery ticket. We cannot wait for the rivalry matchup with IU later in the week. This Week: at Northwestern, at Indiana
#13 Wisconsin (20-4, #10) - Talk about your roller coaster week. They go down to Purdue and get drubbed and face the fact that another tough road game is up next that could really hurt them in the race for the Big Ten, and Brian Butch banks in a three at Indiana to upset the Hoosiers and break their hearts. Never count out a Bo Ryan coached team. They are all heart. This Week: Minnesota, at Illinois
#14 Butler (22-2, NR) - Yes, they had a hard time with UW-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee on the road, but they won both games, didn't they? Mike Green, playing with a sprained ankle, saved them in Milwaukee with 24 points and 11 boards. They have all the makings of a Sweet 16 squad, but can Senior Guard A.J. Graves be more consistant? When he is hot, his is smokin, but too often of late, his shot is off. This Week: Cleveland State, at UIC
#15 Drake (22-2, #13) - The streak was bound to end at some point, but you cannot fault them for losing at Southern Illinois, one of the toughest places to play in the country. They are a live by the three, die by the three team. This Week: at Northern Iowa, Bradley
#16 Louisville (19-6, NR) - Outside of Purdue, nobody had a better week than the Cardinals. They completely owned the second half during the "White Out" against Georgetown with David Padgett neutralizing Roy Hibbert, and then the blitzed Depaul by 20 in Chicago to boot. This Week: at Providence, Syracuse
On the Outside....Looking In:
Texas A&M - Playing well at the right time. Have put together a five game winning streak including two road games last week. Beat Texas on Monday and you are in next week.
Indiana - Still a quality team, but will the distractions set off by coach Sampson derail them? The home loss to Wisconsin was a killer.
Michigan State - Drew Neitzel needs to wake up or he and his Spartans are staring at a fourth place Big Ten finish.
Notre Dame - No shame in a tough loss at UConn. Luke Harangody is quietly putting together an All-American season.
Pittsburgh - Stayed afloat long enough and now Levance Fields is set to return this weekend.
Kansas State - All of a sudden, they can't win on the road? When you have Bill Walker and Michael Beasley, there is no reason you should lose to Texas Tech.
Falling...can they get up?
Florida - Dropping like acid at a Dead concert. Loss at home to LSU = not good.
Mississippi - We are ashamed that we bout into this fraud the way we did. Are the Rebels really 3-6 in the SEC?
Kentucky - They were somehow playing themselves into bubble talk, but when you lose to Vandy by 41, we think that eliminates all tournament consideration.
USC - The loss to Washington State isn't that big of a deal. Losing starting PG Daniel Hackett for the season when you already have no depth, is.
Syracuse - You cannot lose to South Florida and be taken seriously for an NCAA bid.