BuffCountry.com Men's Top 25 – 03/01/04

Kentucky tops our weekly look across men's college basketball, followed by UConn and Oklahoma State. The only two remaining unbeatens follow suit in the fourth and fifth spots, followed by a host of other up-and-coming programs looking to make an impression prior to Tourney Time. Meanwhile, CU continues to slowly climb towards the top of our poll, up to 18th from 24th a week ago. We break down all the week's action, plus look at who to keep an eye on this week in our weekly feature.

1. Kentucky (21-4)
Here is how Gerald Fitch described the head coach at this time of year: He be more hyper. At 6 a.m. Tubby's out there shooting jump shots, when we're out there yawning." Say hello to the Wildcats' stretch rub. "Not a whole lot of changes are going to take place between now and Sunday, or now and South Carolina, or now and Florida," head coach Tubby Smith said Friday. "You just want to execute better." Last Week: Unchanged

2. UConn (23-5)
There was only one Husky left to beat, one man who could stop the Villanova Wildcats from prevailing in the most exciting basketball game fans at the Wachovia Center had seen in a while. Desperate for some good fortune, Villanova more than held its own against UConn, outrebounding the nation's top rebounding team, often looking quicker and more precise, and causing all sorts of matchup problems for the eighth-ranked Huskies. That man, though, the one left to beat; was Emeka Okafor. Last Week: 4th

3. Oklahoma State (22-3)
Oklahoma State should have known by now: Baylor on the road and Baylor at home isn't the same team. One good thing for them, though; they didn't have to learn the hard way. OSU averted disaster entering Monday's home showdown with Texas, as point guard John Lucas dumped off to Ivan McFarlin just in time Saturday to give the Cowboys a huge late basket and an eventual 72-65 victory against the stubborn Bears before 6,105 at the Ferrell Center. Last Week: 2nd

4. Saint Joseph's (26-0)
Keeping an undefeated season going… easy? Not in Rhode Island. A Delonte West 3-pointer with 57.9 seconds left gave Saint Joseph's a one-point lead in the seesaw battle, and his free throw with 19.4 left finally gave Saint Joseph's enough to hold off Rhode Island, 57-55, and remain a perfect 26-0 on the season. Saint Joseph's, in its bid to become the first team since the 1991 UNLV squad to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated, nearly saw it all go down in flames. Last Week: 7th

5. Stanford (25-0)
Cardinal basketball isn't much at all like a box of chocolates; you always know what you're going to get. Patient offense. Claw hammer defense. Old-style Italian gusto. Floor diving. Board crashing. Coach Mike Montgomery, parboiling the ears of referees. It was like that again Saturday afternoon at Maples Pavilion, in the final game played there before the place undergoes an extreme and quite necessary makeover. But this Cardinal team needs no alterations. This country's No. 1 hoops machinery thrummed out another victory, 76-55 over Oregon. Last Week: 3rd

6. Duke (24-3)
It's February and, on the Duke calendar, that means it's time to change. "It's just a matter of usually during February we try to make an adjustment we think will be beneficial to us during March," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said earlier this week. This month, with N.C. State still breathing down the Blue Devils' necks in the ACC race, Duke is frequently using a bigger lineup and letting versatile 6-foot-8 freshman Luol Deng play more like a guard and less like a big man. In other words, Duke isn't standing pat on a guard-heavy look that had used Deng against bigger forwards and guided the team to an 18-game winning streak earlier this season. Last Week: Unchanged

7. Mississippi State (23-2)
It came down to a battle of wills. Vanderbilt, a skilled, crafty team, stayed in the game but struggled to maintain its poise. There are no such problems for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs beat Vandy on the boards, and they beat the Commodores off the dribble Saturday. They struggled with their shooting touch in the second half, but so, too, had Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings' squad. Last Week: 9th

8. Pittsburgh (25-3)
Can Pitt receive its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament? Coach Jamie Dixon tries not to waste a minute considering what might happen in mid-March when he still has a game left in February. "I'm just thinking about Syracuse," he said simply last week. Last Week: 5th

9. Syracuse (19-6)
Syracuse just about wrapped up a return trip to the NCAA Tournament this week. But don't look for the Orangemen to defend their national championship. Not without a true point guard. And that's how SU has been playing for nearly a month because of the mysterious absence of sophomore Billy Edelin. He has missed seven games over the last three weeks - including the last five - because of personal problems the school says are not related to basketball or academics. Last Week: 10th

10. Georgia Tech (20-8)
Not every big basket comes in the final seconds against one of the nation's best teams. Marvin Lewis made the biggest basket of Georgia Tech's season with 9:47 remaining in a motley game. Lewis made a shot that gave the Jackets cause to start believing again, and belief had been in diminishing supply. Tech had lost consecutive home games to throw a hitch in its once-strutting gitalong. With a road date at Duke upcoming, Saturday's game here assumed outsized importance. Lose to last-place Clemson and you're staring at a four-game losing streak at a time when the better teams are supposed to step forward. Lose to Clemson and you have no cause to strut anymore. Last Week: 8th

11. Texas (21-4)
With the pomp and circumstance that comes along with Senior Day, a longtime in-state rival in town and the winningest active coach in the country on the other bench, there was no way Texas would view Saturday's game as a warm-up contest. But the Game of the Year is Monday, when the Longhorns travel to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State to play for, at the very least, a share of the Big 12 championship. Last Week: 14th

12. Kansas (18-7)
If Bill Self was handing out invitations, Oklahoma's men's basketball team would be headed to the Big Dance for a 10th straight season. "Oklahoma is an NCAA Tournament team," said Self, Kansas University's first-year coach, "but I'm sure they're trying to add to their resume, just like we need to add to ours." Last Week: 15th

13. Arizona (18-8)
Salim Stoudamire, the moody leading scorer for Arizona was suspended for a game by head coach Lute Olson "for failure to meet team responsibilities." Olson announced the suspension before Thursday night's game against Washington. Afterward, he elaborated only briefly on the reason for suspending his star player. "Everyone in this program has responsibilities," Olson said, "and I don't care if it's the leading scorer or the 12th guy on the team." Olson was reinstated Saturday. Last Week: Unchanged

14. Illinois (20-5)
You can see it on Dee Brown's face; he's having a blast. After hitting a deep 3-pointer in the second half of Illinois' game with Northwestern on Saturday, Brown turned and jogged down the court, mugging for the Orange Krush student section. "I'm having so much fun," Brown said after Illinois' 66-56 win. "Maybe I see the big picture," said Brown, who hit five 3-pointers and finished with 20 points. "I see that we've got a chance to win the Big Ten championship." Last Week: 16th

15. Gonzaga (25-2)
The last basket in The Kennel was a slam dunk by Ronny Turiaf in Gonzaga's 80-64 win over Santa Clara. Gonzaga's home gym for 39 years went out in an emotional farewell on Saturday night, in a combination nostalgia trip and celebration of the new $23 million home next door. The McCarthey Athletic Center, a 6,000-seat arena, is scheduled to open for next season. It was named for the Salt Lake City media family that made a major contribution to the facility. Last Week: 12th

16. Wisconsin (19-6)
Dave Mader dishes out the punishment and takes it, too. That may be how the 6-foot-11, 265-pound center's time as a Wisconsin Badger will be remembered. In five years, no one blackened more eyes or busted more chins than the Appleton East graduate. His elbows have been painful to teammates and opponents alike. Last Week: 17th

17. Texas Tech (19-6)
Bob Knight made a b-line for Texas center Jason Klotz after the teams' most recent meeting this weekend. To the big man's surprise, Knight shook Klotz's hand and complimented him, and afterward Klotz tried to remember what Knight had told him. "He just kind of scared me," he admitted, smiling, "because that's the first time I ever saw him shake someone's hand." That's the power of Knight. When he comes at you - no matter if you are 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds as Klotz is - anything can happen. Last Week: 11th

18. Colorado (17-8)
Blair Wilson couldn't get any offense going and his Colorado teammates couldn't do much to stop Texas A&M in the first half Saturday. In the second half, Wilson scored 15 points, including three straight 3-pointers, and the Buffs held their Big 12 rival to just seven field goals for a 76-70 victory. "We didn't guard anyone in the first half," said Colorado coach Ricardo Patton, whose team won its fourth straight over the weekend. "There is a very thin line between Texas A&M and us, and a thin line between success and failure." Last Week: 24th

19. Florida (17-8)
Florida freshman forward Mohamed Abukar spent most of Thursday and Friday in practice tinkering with his lost 3-point shot. The work paid off Saturday. Abukar hit two straight 3-pointers during an 8-0 first-half run; key shots in Florida's 73-68 win. "It felt good to contribute," said Abukar, who finished with six points and five rebounds in 22 minutes. "I've felt really confident the past two games, but today I was able to hit some open looks." Last Week: Unranked

20. Boston College (19-8)
Trap game. Seat-squirmer. Wake-up call. Pick a cliché; Boston College's 56-48 Big East victory last night over the downtrodden Virginia Tech Hokies ranked as all of the above. "Guys were happy, especially in the layup line," said BC sophomore Craig Smith, who combined with freshman Jared Dudley to score the first 11 points of BC's 17-0 run. "You could tell guys were thinking, ‘Yeah, we're gonna beat ‘em. It's our night to win.' And those guys came in very determined - and almost knocked us off." Last Week: 18th

21. Iowa State (15-10)
Knee bone, or foot bone? That was the debate swirling inside the Devaney Center after Nebraska's dramatic 68-65 victory over Iowa State Saturday afternoon. A botched in-bound pass with 27.9 seconds remaining gave the Cornhuskers new life, and led to the Cyclones' 24th straight road loss in the Big 12 Conference. Video replays failed to show whether the basketball deflected off the leg of Iowa State's Jake Sullivan, or the shoe of Nebraska's Jake Muhleisen. Referees ruled Sullivan touched the ball last, and moments later Nate Johnson put the Cornhuskers ahead to stay, 66-65, on a twisting bank shot with 25 seconds on the clock. Last Week: 19th

22. South Carolina (21-7)
Georgia lost its shot and its cool Saturday night at South Carolina, and the Bulldogs may have lost their chance at an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. Georgia scored only four points, all on foul shots, in the final 10 minutes, 28 seconds, and South Carolina snapped a two-game losing streak with a 63-47 victory at the Colonial Center. The loss snapped the Bulldogs' three-game winning streak and dropped them two games behind Florida and South Carolina for second place in the SEC East. Now, Georgia probably needs to win its last two games, at Florida on Wednesday and against Vanderbilt in Athens on Saturday, to be considered for an NCAA tournament at-large bid. Last Week: 20th

23. North Carolina State (18-7)
N.C. State went without scoring a field goal for almost seven minutes in the second half of its 68-66 loss at Chapel Hill on Jan. 28. A rash of turnovers - 20 in all - contributed to the scoring futility, and the Wolfpack can't afford to be so sloppy from here on out. Last Week: 22nd

24. Air Force (20-5)
The Falcons left no doubt about their worthiness atop the Mountain West Conference, turning back the Rebels 72-70 before 6,014 fans Saturday at Clune Arena. The victory avenged a 63-50 loss at UNLV on Feb. 2 and clinched a tie for the conference championship. The Falcons also claimed the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, March 11-13 at Pepsi Center. The Falcons will open the league tournament against Colorado State, which secured the No. 8 seed with a 67-61 loss Saturday at Wyoming. Last Week: 21st

25. Wake Forest (19-6)
If Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser had a vote on the NCAA tournament selection committee, Maryland would have an excellent chance of getting in. On Saturday, however, Prosser and his team severely damaged the Terrapins' chances of extending their school-record run of NCAA tournament appearances to 11. Vytas Danelius scored a career-high 23 points, and No. 11 Wake Forest held off a spirited Maryland comeback in a 91-83 victory. Last Week: Unranked

Caught Flopping

Notre Dame (14-11)
Torin Francis, Notre Dame's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, probably will miss the rest of the season because of a lower back injury. "I'd say if he were ever to rejoin us this year, it would be one of the all-time miracles," head coach Mike Brey said Thursday. Brey said the 6-foot-11, 252-pound sophomore will have another MRI exam next week. "If there is not improvement, then there's some decisions and some serious discussions about surgery," Brey said. Francis has missed Notre Dame's last four games and played sparingly in the previous two games. He averaged 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds in 20 games this season.

Last Week: 23rd

On The Fringe

Michigan State (17-9)
By beating Penn State, 67-42, Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Spartans put themselves in position to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title Tuesday night at home against Wisconsin.

Troy State (21-5)
The Trojans haven't lose a game in a month, but still haven't separated themselves enough from other contenders to breath easy entering A-Sun tourney fun.

North Carolina (17-8)
The Tar Heels hung onto final spot by beating ACC's bubble teams in back-to-back games. They can move up with wins on road this week.

Southern Illinois (24-2)
The Salukis are equal on paper to the more prominent Zags. Even so, wouldn't a trip to the Kennel have been so much more telling?

Utah (20-7)
If the Utes or Cougars struggle down the stretch, the NIT will be their most likely postseason destination.

Mid-Major Top 10

1. Gonzaga (25-2)
2. Troy State (21-5)
3. Southern Illinois (24-2)
4. Illinois-Chicago (22-7)
5. Providence (20-5)
6. Memphis (20-5)
7. Boston U (23-4)
8. Charlotte (18-7)
9. DePaul (17-8)
10. Pacific (20-7)

Across The Board

Colorado (18th), Air Force (23rd), Colorado State (149th), Denver (158th), Wyoming (159th)

The Big 12…
Oklahoma State (3rd), Texas (11th), Kansas (12th), Texas Tech (17th), Colorado (18th), Iowa State (21st), Nebraska (32nd), Missouri (43rd), Oklahoma (62nd), Kansas State (130th), Texas A&M (238th), Baylor (244th)

CU's Schedule…
Utah (30th), Northwestern (85th), Cal (99th), Oregon State (109th), Richmond (117th), Pepperdine (118th), Cal-Poly (229th), Tennessee State (278th), Savannah State (318th)

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