Good 'n Plenty: Thanks to point play of Woodall, Pitt heating up

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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Travon Woodall had 24 points and 10 assists as the Panthers won their third in a row. (US Presswire)  
Travon Woodall had 24 points and 10 assists as the Panthers won their third in a row. (US Presswire)  

Looks like Travon Woodall was more important than everyone thought.

"Everyone knows the value of a point guard," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said Tuesday morning.

Pittsburgh has reeled off three straight Big East wins -- including one over No. 10 Georgetown and Monday night on the road against West Virginia. The Panthers are still a ways away from being considered as an at-large team, but Dixon's team is 14-9 overall and 3-7 in league play.

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If Pittsburgh wins six of its final eight games, the Panthers would be at 20 wins overall and 9-9 in league play and would be tough to keep out of the NCAA tournament.

Especially if the NCAA tournament selection committee takes into account the value of Woodall.

Without their starting point guard in the lineup, Dixon's club is just 5-6 -- and you may as well make it 5-7 since he was hardly himself on Dec. 27, a loss to Notre Dame and the only game he played from Dec. 3 until Jan. 21.

That means the Panthers are 9-2 with Woodall.

Woodall had 24 points in Monday night's road victory at West Virginia and had 10 assists in the Panthers win against Georgetown on Saturday. He's a veteran guard who gives Dixon another scoring option, but also allows Ashton Gibbs to slide back to his natural position playing off the ball.

"All of the sudden, guys were in different roles," Dixon said. "And it lasted a lot longer than we thought it would."

Now the question becomes just how long this current Pittsburgh run can last.

The schedule certainly helps matters. The Panthers host Villanova this weekend, then travel to South Florida and Seton Hall before playing West Virginia and South Florida at home. That could be five straight wins -- and you may be looking at an 8-7 Pittsburgh Panthers team come late February.

"We're honestly just worried about the next practice and the next game," Dixon said. "We're just battling. We didn't look at our record before and we're not looking at it now."

Bracket busted

There's no one who enjoys mid-major hoops more than yours truly, but this BracketBusters event has to be either scrapped or revised.

How many programs does it truly help on the mid-major level?

I know there are a dozen or so games on ESPN's networks, but honestly, how many people are going to watch Wichita State at Davidson on Saturday, Feb. 18 at noon?

Long Beach State faces Creighton in the co-Main Event (along with Saint Mary's at undefeated Murray State) at 10 p.m., but it'll be a tough call whether to watch the 49ers against Doug McDermott or the Ohio State-Michigan game at 9 p.m.

Most of the coaches want no part of BracketBusters because they don't get a game on TV, but even those awarded ESPN time don't get legitimate help from it.

For instance, what's Nevada truly going to get by beating Iona in NYC? The bottom line is that David Carter's team won't improve its status with a win to warrant at-large conversation.

Truly, the only teams that can help its case here are Long Beach State and Murray State. The 49ers could put themselves in an at-large spot with a road victory at Creighton while Murray State could secure a Top four seed and also credibility with a win against a ranked St. Mary's team.

My suggestion?

Just cut it down to a handful of BracketBusters. Ones that actually matter.

Luck of the Irish

Mike Brey is hoping that he might get either Tim Abromaitis or Scott Martin back next season.

Notre Dame's coach said both fifth-year seniors will attempt to get the NCAA to give them another year of eligibility.

Abromaitis played a grand total of 40 minutes as a freshman, then redshirted his sophomore season. He has played full seasons each of the past two years before suffering a season-ending knee injury in practice playing just two games this season.

So, in essence, he has played a grand total of two seasons and three games.

Martin's situation is different. He was a part of a heralded Purdue class, along with Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, and transferred to Notre Dame after his freshman season in West Lafayette. Brey said that a primary reason he opted to go to Notre Dame was to help his father, who has a rare form of eye cancer, driving him to treatments in the year he was sitting out. Martin then tore his ACL and missed the entire 2009-10 campaign before playing last season and this year.

"We're going to appeal both players and see what happens," Brey said. "I think it's fair. You won't find a better role model for a student-athlete than Tim Abromaitis."

If Brey can get even one of the duo back in the fold, the Irish could be tough next season. Brey has a terrific young backcourt in Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, an emerging threat down low in Jack Cooley and also has Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman sitting out and talented freshman forward Zach Auguste coming into South Bend.

Ref rant

Seemingly every season around this time we start to see as referees make questionable calls that could wind up determining whether a team winds up in the NCAA tournament or the NIT.

That happened the other night when Karl Hess apparently blew a goaltending call that resulted in Syracuse escaping West Virginia with a win at the Carrier Dome. The Mountaineers have now, after Monday night's loss to Pittsburgh at home, dropped three straight and are in danger of falling into Bubble territory.

Hess had worked 21 of 28 days going into the game at the Carrier Dome.

Mike Stuart, earlier in the month, had logged 10 consecutive games -- and on the 10th day he whacked Alabama coach Anthony Grant with a quick, likely undeserving technical.

Roger Ayers and Brian Dorsey have each worked 65 games and February hasn't even begun.

It's not financially advantageous, but the NCAA needs to do something about this. Right now, the referees are independent contractors and can work whenever -- and however much -- they choose. They can work an ACC game a couple nights a week, then go do a couple with the A-10, pull a Big East game and fill in the rest of the week with a mid-major game or two.

But if the NCAA takes it over, it can make certain that these guys only work four days a week -- at most. Then they will be at their peak when the games matter most -- in February and March.

Husky resurgence

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar isn't making any excuses for the Pac-12.

"We can't run from it this year," Romar told me on my SiriusXM radio show. "Sometimes people make judgments based on a couple non-conference games, but this year the criticism is fair. We have not done very well as a league."

The lack of signature wins from Washington and the entire Pac-12 could result in just two teams getting into the NCAA tournament come March: The regular-season champion and also an automatic bid for the league tourney winner.

But this Huskies team is finally hitting its stride. Romar said improvements within the chemistry of the team and also on the defensive end have been the primary reasons for the recent success. Washington is 17-5 overall, tied for first place with Cal at 7-2 in the league and coming off a sweep of the Arizona schools.

The other advantage for the Huskies? With the new, unbalanced schedule, Romar & Co., don't have to make a road trip to the Bay Area this year.

Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross may be as talented of a duo as there is west of the Mississippi, and now that C.J. Wilcox has returned to the lineup, the Huskies could be extremely dangerous if they can get back to the NCAA tourney. Abdul Gaddy hasn't become what many anticipated when he was coming out of high school. But with guys like Wroten, Ross and Wilcox on the court, he doesn't have to be much of a scoring threat.

Machado an elite floor leader

I've seen almost all of them. Kendall Marshall, Tu Holloway, Aaron Craft, Jordan Taylor, Phil Pressey. Iona's Scott Machado definitely belongs in the conversation with all the elite point guards in America, maybe even near the top.

I went out and saw Machado play at Fairfield this past weekend and he was as good as advertised. He's got good size, can get to the basket and finish with contact -- and also knows how to make his teammates better.

Machado, who is averaging 13.4 points, 9.9 assists and 5.2 rebounds this year, is one of the most well-rounded point guards in the country, but that wasn't always the case.

"I couldn't shoot," he admitted. "That's the truth."

Machado averaged seven points as a senior in high school on a St. Benedict's team that featured the frontline of Tristan Thompson and Samardo Samuels (both are in the NBA) and Creighton big man Gregory Echenique.

There was interest, even offers, from the likes of Seton Hall, Providence, South Florida and DePaul, but Machado didn't want play in the bottom of the Big East. He wanted to compete for championships -- and now he's doing that with Tim Cluess and the Gaels.

Cluess said that the difference from the Machado of last season and this year's version is significant.

"He's focused and has been a tremendous leader," Cluess said. "It's not even close. He went from a non-worker to a workaholic."

Machado is what ultimately makes this Iona team dangerous -- if they win the MAAC and get into the NCAA tournament. Sure, the Gaels also have talent with Michael Glover and former Arizona guard MoMo Jones, but there's no doubt who makes this team go.

"He's the best player in our league," Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said after watching Machado get a quiet 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists against his Stags. "He's special."

Naismith midseason ballot

Player (school) Player (school) Player (school)
Harrison Barnes (North Carolina) John Henson (North Carolina) Phil Pressey (Missouri)
Will Barton (Memphis) Kevin Jones (West Virginia) Thomas Robinson (Kansas)
Trey Burke (Michigan) Perry Jones III (Baylor) Mike Scott (Virginia)
Isaiah Canaan (Murray St.) Damian Lillard (Weber St.) Michael Snaer (Florida St.)
Jason Clark (Georgetown) Scott Machado (Iona) Jared Sullinger (Ohio St.)
Anthony Davis (Kentucky) Mike Moser (UNLV) Chase Tapley (San Diego St.)
Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary's) Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi St.) Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin)
Marcus Denmon (Missouri) Doug McDermott (Creighton) Dion Waiters (Syracuse)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky) Darius Johnson-Odom (Marquette) Royce White (Iowa St.)
Draymond Green (Michigan St.) Mason Plumlee (Duke) Cody Zeller (Indiana)
Just missed: William Buford (Ohio State), Tu Holloway (Xavier), Kris Joseph (Syracuse), Kendall Marshall (North Carolina), Jordan Theodore (Seton Hall), Casper Ware (Long Beach State)

Scout's take

Each week we talk to an NBA executive who gives us his off-the-record thoughts on a player he has seen recently. This week we take a look at Vanderbilt's trio of center Festus Ezeli, guard John Jenkins and forward Jeffery Taylor:

"[Ezeli] made great progress a year ago, but he's been slowed by the injuries and the suspension. That being said, there aren't a lot of true centers in the draft. I like his body and how far he's come. His hands are just OK, but I still think he's a late first-round pick.

"John Jenkins is a good player, but for someone who is considered a really good shooter, I've never seen anyone miss as badly as he does sometimes. He's also only been to the foul line 66 times in 663 minutes this year and he only has 22 assists. He really struggles to get free with the ball in his hands. He's a really good shooter, but he's one-dimensional.

"Taylor teases you because he can really run and jump. He's shooting 48 percent from 3-point range, but he doesn't shoot many of them. He's only a 63 percent shooter from the line. I think he's an early second-round pick.

"For me, I think Ezeli will be the best pro and will go the highest in the draft because there just aren't a lot of big guys walking the streets."

Running out the shot clock

 Kevin Parrom has played in 20 games this season and by NCAA rules, he wouldn't be eligible for a sixth-year in college at Arizona. But the NCAA should show some compassion for a kid who was shot, his mother passed away and now suffered a broken foot all within the past six months.

 Here's a startling stat: Tyler Zeller has more assists than Harrison Barnes this season. Zeller has 23 and Barnes has just 20.

 Binghamton, coached by former Temple star Mark Macon, is the lone team without a victory in the D-1 ranks this season. The Bearcats are 0-21 overall and 0-9 in the America East.

 Give credit to South Florida coach Stan Heath and the Bulls, who have gotten off to a 6-3 start in Big East play, but I'm still not quite sold. The league wins have come against Rutgers, Villanova, Seton Hall, St. John's, DePaul and Providence.

 Kudos to UNC-Greensboro 28-year-old interim head coach Wes Miller, whose Spartans have reeled off six in a row and are in first place in the North Division of the SoCon.

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