Five Unbeatens Face Major Tests

Villanova, Ohio State, Washington, George Washington and Pittsburgh have cruised to unbeaten records. But each figures to get severely tested at least once on this, the final week of play in 2005.

Five of the 12 remaining unbeaten Division I teams (not counting Baylor, which doesn't debut until Big 12 Conference play) will have to play well – and, in some cases, very well – this week in order to remain perfect going into 2006.

 

Villanova (Saturday, at Temple), Pittsburgh (Wednesday, at Pittsburgh, and Saturday, home to Wisconsin), Clemson (Wednesday, at Georgia), George Washington (Friday, at North Carolina State) and Washington (Saturday, home to Arizona) may all be facing their toughest tests of the 2005 portion of the 2005-6 season.

 

But the game that will get the most national attention takes place Tuesday night in Memphis when Gonzaga (No. 7 in the Scout.com National Top 25), takes on the host Tigers (No. 8).

 

You've probably heard of Gonzaga's best player – forward Adam Morrison – by now. And Memphis, which has only lost to No. 1 Duke, may be surpassed by only Connecticut in terms of the number of players it has capable of scoring 20 points on any given night.

 

Here's a look at some of the week's best matchups, as well as Scout.com's updated Top 25 and the five Scout.com National Players of the Week:

 

Tuesday

Gonzaga at Memphis: One has to hand it to the Bulldogs – they don't shy away from competition. The Tigers will become the sixth team in the current Scout.com Top 25 that they've played. This could be a preview of a Sweet 16 – or Elite Eight – matchup in March.

 

Wednesday

Pittsburgh at South Carolina: It had to happen eventually, right? The 9-0 Panthers play their first game of the season outside of the Pittsburgh city limits (their only "road" game was at Duquesne). The Gamecocks are 7-3 and, it would seem, easily the best team they've played so far. Things could be even tougher, but at home again, Saturday against Wisconsin.

 

Missouri State at Creighton: This is the night that Missouri Valley Conference competition begins in earnest (Indiana State beat Illinois State in the only MVC contest played so far). The Bluejays (6-2) have held up well, winning three in a row, despite not having All-America candidate Nate Funk (shoulder injury). The Bears have just one loss – by four points, at Arkansas.

 

Georgia Tech at Air Force: Talk about flying under the national radar . . . the host Falcons are 10-1, with the only loss coming by 11 points to unbeaten Washington in Seattle. Coach Paul Hewitt's visitors don't have a senior averaging more than 3.9 points per game.

 

Clemson at Georgia: There are two ACC teams with 11-0 records. One of those (Duke) has faced some formidable tests, most notably games with Memphis and Texas, and a conference-opener with Virginia Tech that it had to pull out with a stunning buzzer shot. The other is Clemson, which numbers 6-3 Penn State as it most impressive victory (82-63, at home).

 

Thursday

Stanford at UCLA: Pacific 10 Conference play opens and this looks to be the best matchup, although Arizona (7-3) at underrated Washington State (7-2) should be a toughie as well. The Bruins are hot (10-1, seven wins in a row) and Stanford has been struggling (4-4, including losses to UC Irvine and UC Davis). But a Stanford team hasn't lost in Pauley Pavilion since the 1996-97 season, when then-Bruins' coach Steve Lavin still had the "interim" tag.

 

Friday

George Washington at North Carolina State: The 8-0 Colonials' only other significant test came against an ACC team, Maryland, and they held up quite well with a 78-70 victory. Major Test No. 2 comes against another ACC club and the Wolfpack is only a three-point loss at Iowa away from being 10-0.

 

Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Montana: The host Grizzlies have won 10 games in a row (including a 19-point decision against Stanford) since losing at Boise State to open the season. They are clearly the class of the Big Sky with conference play set to begin on Jan. 5.

 

Saturday

Villanova at Temple: The 8-0 (and No. 3 team in the Scout.com Top 25) Wildcats take on their third consecutive Big Five opponent after victories over Penn and La Salle. The 62-55 decision over the Quakers was their only win by less than a double-figure margin. The 6-3 Owls concluded their "SEC schedule" with victories over Alabama and South Carolina wrapped around a baffling 31-point defeat to Auburn.

 

Arizona at Washington: Barring a major upset loss to Arizona State at home in a Pac 10 opener Thursday night, the Huskies will be 11-0 and will take a 32-game home winning streak into this one. Arizona, after playing in a walk-it-up/grind-it-out affair against Washington State Thursday, will at least find the tempo (fast) in this one more to its liking.

 

LSU at Ohio State: Unless calamity strikes in their game with Gardner Webb Wednesday, the Buckeyes will be 9-0. The 7-3 Tigers have lost to three of the four quality teams they've faced, with a win over West Virginia followed by defeats to Houston, Northern Iowa and Cincinnati.

 

Wisconsin at Pittsburgh: If the Panthers prove as good as their record, this could be as good as any game played on the final week of 2005.

 

Players of the Week

(Games played Dec. 18-23)

*Dee Brown (5-11, Sr., Illinois): He was pretty much flawless as a floor leader Wednesday night during his team's 82-50 victory over Missouri with 17 points (hitting four of seven 3-pointers) with four rebounds, seven assists, two steals and no turnovers, after eight points, seven assists and just one turnover during the 61-42 win over Coppin State on Dec. 18. For the season: 14.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game.

 

*Lodrick Stewart (6-4, Jr., USC): Stewart helped spark the program's biggest victory in several seasons Wednesday night with 18 points (16 in the second half), five rebounds, four assists and four steals during the Trojans' 74-59 win over visiting North Carolina. Two nights later, while helping his team extend its winning streak to nine with a 68-38 decision against North Carolina A&T, he had 19 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. For the season: 12.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 2.0 apg.

 

*Corey Brewer (6-8, So., Florida): Despite not shooting well from the field (nine of 28) in victories over Jacksonville and Miami, Brewer did a lot of other things for Billy Donovan's team, averaging 14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 9.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. For the season: 14.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 4.8 apg.

 

*JamesOn Curry (6-3, So., Oklahoma State): The Cowboys extended their record to 8-3 with wins over Mercer and previously unbeaten Tennessee, averaging 23.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. For the season: 13.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 5.2 apg and 1.4 spg.

 

*Rodney Carney (6-7, Sr., Memphis): Is there a better "reserve" in the country right now than this guy? In 30 minutes off the Tigers' bench last Tuesday during a 76-58 victory over Louisiana Tech, he had 37 points (14 of 25 from the field, including five of 10 on 3's) with 10 rebounds, two assists and four steals. For the season: 17.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.3 apg and 2.0 spg.

 

Scout.com's updated Top 25

(with previous ratings; records include games through Dec. 26)

1. (1) Duke (11-0)

Next game: at UNC-Greensboro (Saturday)

2. (2) Connecticut (9-0):

Next game: vs. Stony Brook (Wednesday)

3. (3) Villanova (8-0)

Next game: at Temple (Saturday)

4. (4) Ohio State (8-0)

Next game: vs. Gardner Webb (Wednesday)

5. (5) Illinois (12-0)

Next game: vs. Southeastern Missouri State (Wednesday)

6. (6) Washington (10-0)

Next game: vs. Arizona State (Thursday)

7. (7) Gonzaga (9-2)

Next game: at Memphis (Tuesday)

8. (8) Memphis (9-1)

Next game: vs. Gonzaga (Tuesday)

9. (10) Florida (11-0)

Next game: vs. Florida A&M (Friday)

10. (11) Wisconsin (9-1)

Next game: vs. Louisiana Tech (Tuesday)

11. (12) North Carolina State (9-1)

Next game: vs. New Hampshire (Wednesday)

12. (13) Michigan State (10-2)

Next game: vs. Tennessee Tech (Wednesday)

13. (14) Boston College (8-2)

Next game: at Duquesne (Tuesday)

14. (16) Indiana (7-2)

Next game: at Ball State (Saturday)

15. (17) George Washington (8-0)

Next game: at North Carolina State (Friday)

16. (18) UCLA (10-1)

Next game: vs. Stanford (Thursday)

17. (19) Nevada (8-1)

Next game: vs. Norfolk State (Tuesday)

18. (20) Maryland (8-2)

Next game: vs. Delaware State (Wednesday)

19. (22) Arizona (7-3)

Next game: at Washington State (Thursday)

20. (23) Kentucky 8-3)

Next game: vs. Ohio (Friday)

21. (24) Louisville (9-1)

Next game: vs. Farleigh Dickinson (Wednesday)

22. (25) Texas (9-2)

Next game: vs. Prairie View A&M (Friday)

23. (15) North Carolina (6-2)

Next game: vs. North Carolina-Asheville (Wednesday)

24. (ur) Cincinnati (9-2)

Next game: vs. Miami-Ohio (Wednesday)

25. (ur) Oklahoma State (8-3)

Next game: at Alabama-Birmingham (Wednesday)

Dropped out: Oklahoma (9) and Tennessee (21)

 

An April inductee into the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com


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