Posted on: March 12, 2011 3:11 am
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Posted on: March 12, 2011 3:06 am
Edited on: March 12, 2011 8:28 am
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Posted on: March 12, 2011 2:43 am
Edited on: March 12, 2011 4:11 am

Odd day in Indy sets up unpredictable Saturday

Conference tournament quarterfinal days are by their very nature, unpredictable. The combination of high stakes, postseason jitters and differing motivation levels inevitably creates surprising games and often curious results. But even in the span of strange days in major conference tournament land, Friday's foursome of contests in Indianapolis will be hard to beat. 
It began with Ohio State needing overtime and a questionable technical foul call late in order to dispense with Northwestern, 67-61 in overtime. The Buckeyes, who had looked like potentially the most complete team in America over the last month of the season, looked decidedly ordinary throughout Friday's game, missing shots, executing poorly and having the look of a team not hitting on all cylinders. If not for a professional performance from freshman Jared Sullinger, whose 16-18 shooting from the free throw line was the difference in the game, Ohio State would have taken an embarrassing loss right at a time that it was supposed to be getting in gear for a national championship run. It may or may not be indicative of the play to come for the Buckeyes, but going into Saturday's semifinals, the taste of the performance against Northwestern has to be at least a little unsettling.

While Ohio State avoided the disappointing upset, Purdue not only fell victim, but was destroyed in the process. The Boilermakers dropped a shocking loss to Michigan State 74-56 in a game that they were very rarely in. From the outset, the Spartans jumped on top, building up a 14 point lead at halftime. Kalin Lucas was a star, scoring 30 points and dominating a Purdue team that looked nothing like its top ten ranking. The Boilermakers had hoped to lock up a potential No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, but with the force of the loss, now may be looking at a 3 and a potentially much more difficult first round game. Whereas for Michigan State and Tom Izzo, it is March, which means that once again, they are playing their best basketball.

Wisconsin and Penn State played one of the strangest (or should I say, most unwatchable) basketball games of the past decade on Friday, as the Nittany Lions won 36-33. The game featured only 42 total possessions, the fewest for any game in college basketball since 1998. Both teams played at a snail's pace, provided virtually no tempo and set the entire sport back at least 20 years by emptying the arena from all but the most diehard fans. But the win did give Penn State a fighting chance to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, an accomplishment that seemed very unlikely just a few days ago.

Finally, in the most normal of the quarterfinals, Michigan topped Illinois to get a step closer to an NCAA tournament berth. John Beilein's team won 60-55, extending the inconsistent and perplexing play of the Illini. Michigan's Darius Morris led all scorers with 17 points and added 7 assists, in a dominating performance for the Wolverines.

With the action on Friday, the entire bracket for the tournament has now opened up, allowing a number of interesting opportunities. Ohio State is clearly the definitive favorite and will take on its rival Michigan on Saturday. But it will be interesting to see if Thad Matta's team can bounce back from its uncharacteristic performance on Friday and put together a complete game against the Wolverines. No team played better in the last couple of weeks of the regular season and the Buckeyes have owned Michigan over the last few years. But I saw troubling signs against Northwestern that I didn't expect this Buckeye team to project, making me wonder if I should just write it off as a one game aberration or something to remember when the brackets are announced. Saturday's game will give us a good indication as to which is correct.

As for the second semifinal, Penn State will have an opportunity to bore another team into submission and pull of a second upset against Michigan State. Tom Izzo seems to have his team once again playing better in the postseason that at any time during the regular season and his group could be peaking on exactly the right timeframe. The Spartans have likely locked up a berth in the NCAA tournament, but Penn State may need one more victory to feel confident when the brackets are announced. Expect a lot of passion from both teams as Michigan State seeks to fulfill its lofty early expectations and the Nittany Lions play for a rare trip to the NCAA promise land.

One thing is certain. No matter what happens on Saturday, it won't be any more surprising than the bizarre stretch of games we saw on Friday.
Posted on: March 5, 2011 2:28 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2011 12:58 am

Bubbles boiling over on Saturday

Posted by Jeff Borzello


With so many teams still teetering on the edge of the bubble, this weekend is the last opportunity for dozens of teams to send a message to the committee before the conference tournaments. Fortunately, there are a ton of bubble battles and must-win situations throughout the day. The games might be overshadowed by conference tournaments and top-25 match-ups, but keep it locked here for all your bubble action.

Note: This page will be updated all day, with bubble discussion and analysis.

USC 62, Washington 60: This game threw as much of a wrench into the bubble picture as any game all day. If Washington won, the Huskies would have likely locked up a bid and USC would have been out of the at-large discussion. Now, who knows? The Huskies lost three of their final five games to end the season, going 11-7 in the Pac-10. They have two wins over UCLA and a victory over Arizona, but the non-conference resume is porous. Three sub-100 losses also don't look good. They need to beat Washington State in the quarterfinals on Thursday. USC is squarely in the mix right now. The Trojans still have to make up ground on the teams in front of them, but at least they are in the picture. They won five of six to end the season, own wins over Washington, UCLA and Arizona and have a couple of nice non-conference victories over Texas and Tennessee. This could be an interesting case on Selection Sunday if USC wins two in the Pac-10 tourney.

Texas 60, Baylor 54: Baylor had a shot to play itself in the field at home against a team that seemingly every bubble team has beaten the past few weeks – and the Bears couldn’t get the job done. 7-9 in the Big 12, an RPI in the 70s, three sub-100 losses – should I keep going? A win Saturday night would have given Baylor a legitimate shot, adding to its two wins over Texas A&M. Without the victory, the Bears have an awfully barren profile. Depending on how things play out, Baylor might be auto-bid or bust.

Colorado 67, Nebraska 57: A head-to-head battle between two Big 12 bubble teams just clarified the at-large pecking order within the conference. The Buffaloes were my last team in the field heading into the weekend, and this win should keep them up there. They have five top-50 wins, including two over Kansas State and one over Texas. The three bad losses are an eyesore, but at least they’re .500 in the Big 12 after winning three of four. As for Nebraska, losses in three of its final four games and an awful non-conference profile will do them in.

Utah State 72, Louisiana Tech 30: Well, that wasn’t very nice. The Aggies absolutely destroyed Louisiana Tech, sending a message with the margin of victory. They finished the conference campaign with a 15-1 record, and the RPI has now moved into the top 20. Given the soft bubble, it is going to be very tough turning down a team with those numbers. On the flip side, though, Utah State has just two top-100 wins, with a borderline top-50 victory over Saint Mary’s. I think the Aggies are in good shape, although any loss in the WAC tourney is a bad loss.

San Diego State 66, Colorado State 48: About two weeks ago, Colorado State was 8-4 in the Mountain West and looking good for a bid heading into a difficult stretch. Well, the Rams went 1-4 down the stretch and are now going into the conference tournament needing to win it. They have two top-50 wins, although one is over Southern Miss. Colorado State has a very weak non-conference resume and three sub-100 losses. The Rams went only 1-5 against the top three of the MWC.

UAB 66, East Carolina 48: The Blazers won the outright Conference-USA title with the victory. While the Blazers are not really in great position for a bid (in my opinion), a regular-season title combined with their excellent computer numbers, and they are in the mix. UAB came into the day with an RPI of 28, and has now won seven of eight to the end the season. Now, for the negatives. The best non-conference wins are over Kent State and VCU, and the three top-50 wins – Southern Miss and a sweep of UCF – turn into zero top-50 wins by the morning. The Blazers should play it safe and win the auto bid. 

Butler 76, Cleveland State 68: The Bulldogs knocked off Cleveland State for the third time this season, earning a spot in the Horizon League title game on Monday. They have now won seven in a row, moving to 21-9 overall. Outside of those three wins over the Vikings, though, Butler has just one other top-50 win – on a neutral court against Florida State. When you throw in all the bad losses the Bulldogs have, it might be best for them to just win the automatic bid.

Seton Hall 85, Marquette 72: Big East getting 11 bids? Hold off on that for just a few minutes. The Golden Eagles seemed like a lock after winning at Connecticut last week, but back-to-back losses to Cincinnati and Seton Hall put them squarely on the bubble. Marquette drops to 9-9 in the Big East and 18-13 overall, meaning another loss would be the 14th of the season. The Golden Eagles don’t have any bad losses and own four top-25 wins. They need to win at least on in the Big East tourney.

Oklahoma 64, Oklahoma State 61: Oklahoma State had very slim at-large hopes heading into the weekend, but now the Cowboys are heading into the Big 12 tournament with only the automatic bid as an option. The Cowboys have some good wins, including over Kansas State and Missouri, but 6-10 in the Big 12 simply won’t get it done.

Memphis 66, Tulane 61: The Tigers are still hanging in there, despite a long list of bad losses and negatives on the resume. They technically have six top-50 wins, although that number can quickly drop to two if UCF and Southern Miss fall out of the top 50 at some point. A run to the Conference-USA final is necessary for Memphis to think about getting a bid.

UCLA 58, Washington State 54: Washington State had an outside shot at a bid if it could pull off the upset over UCLA and then make a run in the Pac-10 tourney. With Klay Thompson suspended and Reggie Moore injured, though, the Cougars couldn’t get it done, falling in overtime. They have wins over bubble teams Baylor and Gonzaga, as well as two over Washington, but 9-9 in the Pac-10 and three sub-100 losses don’t look good.

Indiana State 61, Wichita State 54: Without a single top-50 win on the resume, the Shockers had little-to-no shot at hearing their name called on Selection Sunday without the automatic bid. Getting to the title game and being competitive was a necessity; they did neither.

Michigan 70, Michigan State 63: The intrastate battle had big-time bubble implications. With the win, Michigan now owns a season sweep of Michigan State – a significant trump card if the two teams are on the fence come Selection Sunday. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, their only other top-50 win was over Harvard. They still have work to do in the conference tournament. Michigan State dropped to 9-9 in the Big Ten, joining a logjam of potentially four teams. The Spartans have better wins than Michigan, with victories over Wisconsin, Washington and Illinois. A loss in the league tournament would be their 14th of the season, tough.

Alabama 65, Georgia 57: Alabama kept its at-large hopes alive with an impressive home win, bringing its SEC record to 12-4. If Florida loses at Vanderbilt this weekend, the Crimson Tide will earn a split of the SEC title. The Tide already had solid wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, but their non-conference resume is horrendous and they have a slew of bad losses. They might need to win their first SEC tourney game. Georgia would have clinched a bid with the road win, but the Bulldogs are still in decent shape. They have a solid computer profile and zero bad losses. They need to avoid bad losses in the SEC Tournament.

Missouri State 60, Creighton 50: The Bears needed to come back again in the Missouri Valley tournament, overcoming a halftime deficit. It remains to be seen whether they even have an at-large shot, but the best way to end the questions would be to win the title game on Sunday.

VCU 62, Drexel 60: It might be time to dust off the VCU profile after Jamie Skeen’s buzzer shot sent the Rams to the semifinals. Quality wins over UCLA and Old Dominion are more than some bubble teams can claim. A litany of bad losses and a 12-6 CAA record brings the profile down.

Clemson 69, Virginia Tech 60: A huge bubble match-up in the ACC could result in neither team making the NCAA Tournament. Virginia Tech went down 24-9 in the first half and was never able to recover. With this and the blowout home loss to Boston College during the week, all the good will the Hokies picked up with their win over Duke has disappeared. As for Clemson, the Tigers join Tech at 9-7 in the ACC. However, Clemson’s two best wins are over Boston College and Florida State – not exactly marquee victories. Both teams might need two wins in the league tournament. 

Richmond 68, Duquesne 56: Richmond continues to do what it has to do in order to get a bid on Selection Sunday. The Spiders ended the first half on a run and then coasted for most of the second half. They finished 13-3 in the Atlantic-10, winning their last four games, and 11 of their last 13. Richmond doesn’t have many marquee wins, but it does own a neutral-court victory over Purdue. Avoiding a bad loss in the conference tournament is a necessity.

Illinois 72, Indiana 48: The Fighting Illini certainly took care of business on Saturday, jumping out to a big lead early to avenge an earlier loss to the Hoosiers. Of course, the victory doesn’t do much to enhance the profile, other than the fact it gets them to 9-9 in the Big Ten. With wins over North Carolina and Wisconsin, as well as victories over fellow bubble teams Gonzaga, Michigan State and Michigan, Illinois should be in good shape.

Others: Maryland ended its season on a sour note, losing at home to Virginia by 14; Dayton finished 7-9 in the Atlantic-10, completing a disappointing regular season. 

Photo: US Presswire

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: February 28, 2011 3:37 pm

BracketBusters? How about Bubble Bursters?

Posted by Jeff Borzello

The last week of the regular season means bubble teams are running out of changes to impress the committee. Some teams took advantage of that desperation this past weekend, with Virginia Tech defeating Duke and Colorado beating Texas. Others, like Washington, Colorado State or Alabama, decided it would be the perfect time to add a bad loss to the resume. This season, there are still plenty of bids up for grabs – and no one seems to be dead in the at-large hunt. Coincidentally, several of the top bubble contenders play each other this week - it's like a bubble version of BracketBusters weekend. Which are the biggest bubble battles this week?

Boston College at Virginia Tech (Tuesday): After Virginia Tech’s win over Duke on Saturday, the Hokies took the lead in the race for a fourth bid from the ACC. Boston College overcame a first-half deficit to pick up a must-win game at Virginia. The Eagles have better computer numbers than the Hokies, as well as a head-to-head victory over Tech. But Tech has a two-game lead in the ACC standings, and is playing far better lately. A win here could lock things up for the Hokies.

Cincinnati at Marquette (Wednesday): Both of these teams are still in good shape heading into the week, after each picked up a monster road win last week. Cincinnati went on the road and defeated Georgetown, although it lost to Connecticut at home on Sunday. Marquette knocked off UConn, and then blew out Providence to keep the momentum rolling. Both teams have four top-50 wins, although the Golden Eagles have better computer numbers.

Michigan State at Michigan (Saturday): Back in November, would anyone have thought this intrastate battle could decide the Selection Sunday fates of both teams? After getting big wins over Illinois and at Minnesota, Michigan State lost by 20 at home to Purdue. The Spartans have a home contest with Iowa on Wednesday before heading to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines, on the other hand, have a week to prepare. They bounced back from a heart-breaking loss to Wisconsin by winning at Minnesota over the weekend. If Michigan wins, it would have a sweep of Michigan State.

Georgia at Alabama (Saturday): Alabama would have been in good shape had it defeated Ole Miss over the weekend – would the committee really turn down a 13-3 SEC co-champion? With the loss, though, the Crimson Tide are in trouble. They now have to head to Florida before hosting Georgia in a bubblicious match-up. The poor computer numbers and lack of good wins mean a split might not even be enough. Georgia, on the other hand, is buoyed by its solid computer profile. The Bulldogs need to beat LSU at home and then at least one in the SEC Tournament if they can’t beat Alabama.

USC at Washington (Saturday): Before last week, this game would not have been included. Since then, USC has entered the discussion with four straight wins. The Trojans have four top-40 wins and are 9-7 in the Pac-10. Washington dropped back into the pack with a blowout home loss to Washington State, killing any shot it had at a Pac-10 title. Moreover, with a fairly barren overall profile, the Huskies should start sweating.

Virginia Tech at Clemson (Saturday): This is only a must-see if Clemson wins at Duke during the week. If the Tigers fall short, they simply won’t have the profile to garner consideration for a bid. Wins over Florida State and Boston College merely balance out two sub-100 losses. They need a sweep of the Blue Devils and the Hokies.

Penn State at Minnesota (Sunday): Both teams are on the outside looking in at this point, with Penn State trending upwards and Minnesota going in the wrong direction. The Nittany Lions have won three of four, including one over Minnesota, to put themselves in the mix. They face Ohio State on Tuesday, which is likely a must-win if it wants serious consideration. Minnesota, losers of six of seven, need to beat Northwestern and Penn State and then do serious work in the conference tournament.  

Photo: US Presswire

Posted on: January 28, 2011 1:23 am
Edited on: January 28, 2011 8:48 am

Four takeaways from the night's action

Tom Izzo finds your spotlight to be harsh

Posted by Eric Angevine

Michigan State lacks comeback oomph

Zack Novak hulked out on his teammates during a timeout, and that was apparently what it took to break a 1,181 day streak in which Michigan football and basketball had failed to beat their arch-rivals at State. Novak's six three-pointers didn't hurt, either. The Breslin Center magic wasn't quite enough to dig the Spartans out of a twelve-point hole. The Spartans fell to 4-4 in the Big Ten in spite of a rowdy home crowd and 27 points from Kalin Lucas, in part due to a lack of bench production. Mike Kebler's two points were the only points by an MSU sub all night. The Wolverines shot a blazing 47 percent from deep, including a late three-pointer by Stu Douglass that effectively killed a rally that had the Spartans within two.

Pac-10 fans should enjoy Derrick Williams' farewell tour

Williams is a rare bright spot in the Pac-10 landscape. With the league in its second straight season of mediocrity, there are precious few opportunities to see the sophomore ply his craft on television. Fortunately, UCLA's visit to the McKale Center was televised last night, so we got to see Williams snag an errant pass that nearly went out of bounds, take the ball straight up from under the backboard, and stuff it with extreme prejudice. Then there was the runout of a Bruin turnover early in the second half that ended in a monster jam that brought the home crowd to its feet. Every Williams appearance is an absurd display of body control and out-of-the-gym athleticism. The Wildcats may not have a deep tourney run in them, but Williams should be ready for his closeup when the NBA draft comes around regardless of how this season ends for his team.

Kenneth Faried is a one-man wrecking crew

Here's a line you don't see very often: 23 points, 23 rebounds, 3 blocks. That's how dominant Morehead State senior Kenneth Faried was in a 72-65 win over Tennessee State last night. Nobody saw it unless they happened to be in Ellis T. Johnson Arena, but there's little doubt that we all missed one of the most dominant performances of the season. The Eagles from Morehead, Kentucky are now two games back of Ohio Valley leader Austin Peay, but there won't be a game for the rest of the season where Faried can't impose his will and pull out the win if his teammates just play along.

St. Mary's vs. Gonzaga is one of the best rivalries in the land

As an East Coast resident, I have to lose a little sleep to catch these games, but it's always been worth it. This was a real back-and-forth affair, with several ties and lead changes and some rather testy exchanges between the big men who were doing battle down low. In a very odd reversal of fortune, the Zags were awarded 15 free throws in the first half and then didn't shoot another one until the final five minutes of regulation play. In the final minute, missed charities by Gonzaga's David Stockton (son of John) and Mitchell Young of St. Mary's kept the game tense right up to the bitter end, when Mickey McConnell nailed an off-balance shot to win in the Dog Pound for the first time in head coach Randy Bennett's tenure in Moraga.
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