Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Duke win vaults Blue Devils into prime position

Its been awhile, but school work and other Mirror work kept me from posting, but from now on I will be updating this blog at least two-three times per week. Every Wednesday night I will post my top five teams in the NCAA and talk about college hoops, now that we are heading closer and closer to March Madness.

TC's Top Five:

1) Duke:
Despite the fact that Memphis remains the lone undefeated team in the nation, the Blue Devils are the best team right now. With a win over UNC on Wednesday night, the Blue Devils should be ranked No. 2 in the country when the polls come out next week, barring an upset by Boston College on Saturday. Duke was able to handle the Ty Lawson-less Tar Heels and the strong inside game of Tyler Hansbrough to prove they can beat any team in the country. With a 20-1 record and a loss to Pittsburgh earlier this season when Pitt was at full strength and among the best teams in the country, the Blue Devils are off to their best start in years. The Tigers may be running rampant through the C-USA, but it is the C-USA. Houston is definitely not anywhere close to UNC. Not one of the teams in the C-USA, other than Memphis, would be able to survive against the ACC teams, which is as deep as any conference in the country. Memphis averages 80.6 points per game, while allowing 59.9 per game, while Duke has allowed 66.5 points per game, while scoring 85.9. They have also done so against the sixth toughest schedule in the country, while Memphis has played against the 40th hardest schedule.

2) Memphis: No matter how hard of a schedule a team plays, being undefeated headed into February is always a major accomplishment in college basketball. The Tigers have a great shot at finishing out the regular season and heading into March Madness undefeated, but do not have the depth to last through the grueling tournament. Memphis faces off against Central Florida (fourth place C-USA) and Houston (second place C-USA) in the coming week. Houston is 17-4 on the year, but the game will be played at Memphis and the Cougars already lost to the Tigers at home earlier this year. UCF is 12-10 overall and 5-3 in conference play, but have not faced Memphis yet this season and will likely not be able to pick up a road win against the Tigers. Look forward to Feb. 16 when Memphis travels to UAB, could be a trap game before the big Tennessee matchup later this month.

3) Kansas: After dropping out of the ranks of the unbeaten last week, the Jayhawks remain one of the best teams in the nation. Kansas is a tough, defensive minded team that had its first bad game of the season against Kansas State on the road and could not overcome the struggles. Kansas State is also a great team, led by Michael Beasley. The Jayhawks will bounce back and remain a number one seed heading into the NCAA tournament.

4) UNC: Like Kansas, UNC has recently dropped in the polls after losing their first game, to Maryland back on Jan. 19. But the Tar Heels rebounded with three straight wins, two coming on the road, before losing the home half of their series against Duke on Wednesday night. The Tar Heels still have Tyler Hansbrough, who should be the National Player of the Year (although Beasely is making a big run at him), and Ty Lawson will be back. The Tar Heels may be able to return the favor on the road against Duke in the final game of the regular season for both teams on March 8, but there is still awhile to go before that. Nonetheless, UNC will be a fun team to watch down the stretch.

5) UCLA: Kevin Love is making a case to join Hansbrough and Beasely in the National Player of the Year race and the Bruins are continuing to surge through the Pac-10 season, with four straight wins since dropping their first conference game of the season to inter-city rival USC on Jan. 19. Love is averaging 22.1 points and 14.5 rebounds over the six game stretch since Jan. 12 and has moved into fourth place in the nation in rebounds per game, behind Beasely, Rider's Jason Thompson and High Point's Arizona Reid. UCLA makes two trips to Washington in the next four days to play Washington State and Washington. The Cougars of WaSu are a tough team to face at home and played the Bruins to a tight finish back on Jan. 12, so it should be a fun game to watch.

Player to Watch: Jason Thompson (Rider)...He may not get enough national attention to make a run at the Player of the Year award but he has all but locked up the MAAC Player of the Year award as well as a spot in at least the early part of the NBA draft. Thompson is averaging 20 points per game and 11.4 rebounds per game. I am looking forward to seeing him play in person, twice, as he plays Fairfield later this season.

Mid-Major Team to Watch: 21-1 and 12-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference, the No. 8 RPI conference, they are having a remarkable season so far. They are a very balanced team and should cause a lot of trouble in March Madness as a 6 or 7 seed, if they can run the table in the MVC which is not as unlikely after a big win over Illinois State, considered to be the second best team in the conference. Drawing Butler could give them a chance to prove they are worthy of a higher national ranking than No. 15. An "upset" of No. 10 Butler could vault them into the top 25, but games against Evansville, at Southern Illinois, at Northern Iowa, and against Bradley come first. None of those teams has been consistently good all season, but anyone can upset Drake.

Games of the Week (2/7-2/13):

2/7 - No. 4 UCLA at No. 17 Washington State:
A rematch of two talented teams should be exciting to watch.

2/9 - No. 16 Marquette at No. 21 Notre Dame:
Two teams looking to establish themselves as contenders for the Big East title clash in Indiana, part of a big time college basketball Saturday.

2/11 - No. 5 Kansas at No. 12 Texas: Both teams rely heavily on talented guards and it should be an entertaining game to watch, probably best game of the week.

Welcome back to Dick Vitale, great to hear him call UNC-Duke tonight, wouldn't have been the same without him. Lots more great games to come, including Maryland at Duke, Notre Dame at the surging UConn Huskies and Wisconsin at Indiana...all next Wednesday.

-Tom Cleary