The big deal for Boston College at the Wooden Classic wasn't that it beat UCLA 74-64, or even that it came back from 13 down in the first half and nine down in the second to surge to victory. Nor was it that the three Southern Californians on the roster -- Craig Smith, Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall -- got to strut their stuff before the home folks. No, the key for coach Al Skinner's squad was that the Eagles overcame the kind of adversity that often cost the team last season.
For starters, Smith only played 29 minutes because of foul trouble. That's 29 more minutes than starting point guard Louis Hinnant, sidelined with a sprained ankle. So in one fell swoop, the Eagles had to play big minutes without their leading scorer and premier ballhandler. And nothing happened. The Eagles surged instead of sagging, as freshman Sean Marshall and senior Jermaine Watson picked up the offensive load and Nate Doornekamp clogged the middle on defense.
Boston College picked up a road win against a good team, one that will come in handy when the NCAA Tournament selection committee seeds the field of 65. But more importantly, it now knows that it doesn't need to panic when one of its big guns gets shoved back in the holster.
Boston College has been taking advantage of its frequent trips to the free throw line. Through six games, the Eagles were shooting 74.6 percent from the charity stripe (91-122).
Freshman Sean Williams already has a nickname. Teammates call him "The Eraser" because of his shot-blocking abilities.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Louis Hinnant, shooting guard Sean Marshall, center Nate Doornekamp, forward Jared Dudley, forward Craig Smith.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Boston College is a good team. They were in the (NCAA) tournament last year and they're going to be in the tournament this year." -- UCLA coach Ben Howland, in the Boston Herald, after the Eagles topped his Bruins 74-64.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Boston University, Saturday, Dec. 11.
KEYS: The Terriers are deceptively tough, and even though the game is at home at the Conte Forum, this could be a classic letdown game before exams begin. Boston University has a balanced attack, and B.C. needs solid production out of point guard Louis Hinnant, who has been bothered by an ankle injury. He missed the UCLA game, returning to start in a 63-60 overtime win over Holy Cross on Dec. 9, but he played just 18 minutes and didn't score.
ROSTER REPORT: Louis Hinnant didn't play against the Bruins because of an ankle injury, and Steve Hailey struggled running the point in his absence. He had five of the team's 22 turnovers.
Jared Dudley has come up big on the glass. He pulled down at least seven rebounds in each of the season's first five games before getting only five vs. Holy Cross.
Sean Williams and fellow freshman Gordon Watt missed the Eagles victory over
Long Island University because of a violation of team rules.
Not very many teams have the inside depth to compete with the Huskies in the paint, but UMass stayed even with UConn on the boards, had a significant 42-24 edge in points in the point ... and delivered the defending national champs their first loss of the season Dec. 8. Rashaun Freeman's fast break lay-up with 4.3 seconds remaining gave the Minutemen a 61-59 victory, dropping the visiting Huskies to 4-1. Each team had 39 rebounds.
On Dec. 4, Indiana tried to negate UConn's strength in the paint by playing
four guards the entire game, spreading things out on offense and controlling the
pace. It didn't lead to victory -- though Indiana did lead by 13 with 13:05 to
play in the second half -- but it negated the UConn frontcourt depth as the
Huskies had to adjust. Starting center Josh Boone played 34 minutes, but
Hilton Armstrong only got 10 and Charlie Villanueva 11. Meanwhile, the
team ran a pair of freshmen out in the backcourt at times, and the Marcus
Williams-Antonio Kellogg combination proved to be very effective. Rudy Gay
also played 23 strong minutes, and showed the ability to play both inside and
outside that makes him arguably the best freshman in college
basketball. It was his first time playing power forward in college.
The Huskies had won 88 games in a row against non-Big East teams from the New England region until they dropped a 61-59 decision at UMass on Dec. 9.
The big men rebounded -- literally and figuratively -- from a poor performance against Indiana when the Huskies pounded Northeastern 97-60. The Huskies won the battle of the boards 74-39.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Marcus Williams, shooting guard Rashad Anderson, center Josh Boone, small forward Denham Brown, power forward Charlie Villanueva.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They had four guards in there which means we couldn't put our big man in there and use our big men to our advantage. Their guards were quick, it was almost like playing against five guards. It was an ugly game but we came out with a win." -- Freshman Antonio Kellogg, on the victory over Indiana on Dec. 4.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Rice, Sunday Dec. 19
KEYS: The Huskies enter their exam break playing fairly well, and really don't face another big challenge before conference play begins, although the Owls are an experienced team that is expected to contend for the WAC title. Mostly, these next two weeks will be all about Jim Calhoun tweaking the rotation, adjusting on-court lineups as needed, and getting over the Dec. 9 loss to UMass.
ROSTER REPORT: Josh Boone has recorded three double-doubles so far this season.
Denham Brown recovered from the ankle injury that briefly sidelined him in early December. He played 30 minutes against Northeastern and scored 15 points. He played 36 minutes against UMass, scoring 11 points.
It's a young Georgetown team, and it's dealing with a new coach and a new offensive system. There are going to be growing pains and learning experiences throughout the season as John Thompson III looks to build the program back to its lofty status in the days when his father was the coach.
The Hoyas' 66-53 victory over Penn State was one of those learning
experiences; a classic look-ahead game before No. 1 Illinois came to town and
administered 74-59 defeat on Dec. 9.
Georgetown took a big early lead by scoring the game's first 17 points, let Penn State back in the ballgame, then pulled away late to earn the win. Georgetown came away with some salient points of emphasis for the coming weeks. For starters, the need to play hard for 40 minutes was made apparent as the Hoyas let the undermanned Nittany Lions hang around for far too long. They
also settled for outside shots on offense, rather than getting the ball inside or scoring points off of dribble penetration.
But the best thing the team learned is that they have another offensive weapon besides Brandon Bowman, who led all scorers with 28 points. Freshman Jeff Green once again proved to be capable of shouldering some of the scoring load as well, finishing with 18. The development of Green and freshman walk-on Jonathan Wallace has given Georgetown weapons that observers were unsure they had in the preseason. Giving Bowman a break from shouldering the entire offensive burden may the key to pulling some surprises during conference play.
One thing's for sure -- the Hoyas trademark defense is clicking on all cylinders. Against Penn State, Georgetown forced 19 turnovers and finished with 11 blocks and 12 steals.
During the Hoyas' 17-0 run to open the Penn State game, Georgetown held the Nittany Lions to three shots and forced seven turnovers.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Ashanti Cook, shooting guard Jonathan Wallace, wing guard Darrel Owens, forward Brandon Bowman, forward Jeff Green.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a big win because of how we won. We could have caved in. We could have given in and said, 'OK, here we go.' ... It was the way our guys responded when they made a run at us -- they made a big run at us -- and we found a way to gather ourselves and rally and not just hold on, but we stretched [the lead] out again and then held them off at the end." -- Coach John Thompson III on the victory over Penn State, in The Washington Post.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. San Jose State, Saturday, Dec. 11.
KEYS: Georgetown's defense has been very good, but the offense is still inconsistent. Too often, the Hoyas settle for jumpers, or turn the ball over trying to force a play that isn't there. San Jose State shouldn't be a problem, but John Thompson III will be looking for his team to get some of the kinks worked out before the competition gets tougher.
ROSTER REPORT: Freshman Jeff Green continues to show that he's ready to make an instant impact on the Big East. In the victory over Penn State, Green contributed his first collegiate double-double (18 points and 10 rebounds), and also tallied six blocks and three assists. Thirteen of his 18 points came in the second half.
Brandon Bowman scored his 28 points as efficiently as ever, making 11 of his 15 shots against Penn State.
It didn't take long for the Notre Dame big men to play well together. Then again, it may not have been a moment too soon for coach Mike Brey. This is the time of year when things started to fall apart last season, as a tough nonconference stretch left the Irish with too big of a hole to dig out of once Big East play began. A one-point loss to Michigan left a bitter taste, and the next game was a tilt with Indiana at Assembly Hall, an arena Notre Dame hadn't won at since December 1973. But on a day when offense was hard to come by, with the two teams combining for just 100 points, the Irish finally managed to run an offense with big men Torin Francis and Dennis Latimore as the focal points. The two forwards combined for the first 13 points of the second half and 15 of the first 18 as Notre Dame quickly turned a three-point halftime edge into a 10-point lead. Francis finished with his first double-double of the year, with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Latimore added a dozen points and eight boards.
The victory keeps Notre Dame in good early-season shape, with the 61-60 defeat against the Wolverines just a blip in the rear-view mirror. Now, if the Irish can just get the backcourt and the frontcourt on an offensive roll in the same game...
The fighting Irish broke out a 2-3 zone against Indiana in the second half, which shut down the Hoosiers offense. Coach Mike Brey said after the game that his team would likely switch between man and zone defenses the rest of the season, depending on matchups.
Notre Dame dominated the glass against Indiana. The Fighting Irish outrebounded the Hoosiers 41-32, and pulled down 15 offensive boards.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Chris Thomas, shooting guard Chris Quinn, center Torin Francis, forward Dennis Latimore, forward Jordan Cornette.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I told the guys, I was listening to the Bee Gees the last time the Irish won here, and I really was. I probably still have the eight-tracks, as a matter of fact." -- Coach Mike Brey, in the South Bend Tribune, after Notre Dame beat Indiana.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. DePaul, Saturday, Dec. 11.
KEYS: Notre Dame did a much better job of looking inside on offense against Indiana, after failing to do so earlier in the season. It needs to continue that against DePaul, and a better performance at the line would help as well. The Irish made just 10 of 18 shots from the charity stripe against the Hoosiers.
ROSTER REPORT: Chris Thomas struggled in the 61-60 loss to Michigan, scoring a career-low two points. He bounced back to score 13 against Indiana, including 10 in the second half.
-- In a sign of how important the early-season game with Indiana was, four starters played at least 33 minutes, led by Thomas' 37. The only reserve to hit double-digits in minutes played was Colin Falls, who had 16.
The rap on Pittsburgh, here and most everywhere else, is that the Panthers don't play a challenging nonconference schedule. While that may lead to fewer games on national television and duller packages for season-ticket holders, it doesn't look like it affects the team's readiness for a top foe. It happened last season, when the Panthers took the conference by storm despite a cakewalk of a pre-conference slate. And judging by the 70-51 dismantling of Memphis on Dec. 7, the Panthers could be revving themselves up for a repeat performance this year.
Both the offense and the defense survived the step up in competition, thriving before a national TV audience. Carl Krauser was able to dominate the Tigers as much as he does the Panthers' usual Northeast Conference opponents, and Chris Taft was equally dominant inside. Moreover, the 71 points qualify as an offensive explosion, though it needs to be pointed out that Memphis has a hard time guarding stationary objects, much less the Panthers. The Panthers now resume their regularly-scheduled pre-conference snoozefest, but it's served notice that it will be ready to attack Big East foes once the hibernation ends in January.
While the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden was technically a neutral site game, it served as a home away from home for many of the Panthers. Seven members of the squad are from the New York City area, including Carl Krauser and Chris Taft. The Panthers are 12-4 at Madison Square Garden over the past four years.
Krauser finished with 17 points despite going 1-9 from the field. He went to the line 18 times, making 15 free throws.
Pittsburgh still has not allowed an opponent to score more than 60 points this season.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Carl Krauser, shooting guard Antonio Graves, center Chris Taft, forward Yuri Demetris, forward Chevon Troutman.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Going into this game everyone said Pitt didn't play anybody. We just went out there with the attitude that we wanted to blow them out." -- Sophomore center Chris Taft, on the Panthers' victory over Memphis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Penn State, Saturday, Dec. 11.
KEYS: This is the last game the Panthers have before exams, so the big key will be not losing focus and looking past the Nittany Lions. Penn State has played some teams tough this season, but there's no reason a Big East favorite should lose to a team at the bottom of the Big Ten, even if it's an in-state rival on the road.
ROSTER REPORT: Pitt got a verbal commitment from Levance Fields, a 6-0, 185-pound point guard from Brooklyn. Fields chose Pittsburgh over St. John's, and says he will sign in the spring signing period. He joins Tyrell Biggs, Sam Young and Doyle Hudson in the recruiting class.
Jamie Dixon seems to have his rotation in place. Nine Panthers average 12 minutes or more per game, and none more than Carl Krauser's 29.5.
At this point, the stat leader sheet for the Panthers has only three names on it: Chevon Troutman, Chris Taft and Carl Krauser have led the team in points and rebounds every game thus far.
Nothing is coming easy for the Friars this season. Providence was 5-3
after a Dec. 4 overtime victory over Rhode Island, and it could easily be 1-4.
The Friars barely survived after trailing by 13 with 8:15 left to play in its
preseason NIT opener with Niagara, and a loss there would
have brought a premature end to a tournament where the Friars eventually finished 3-1.
Then, the Friars were down six against the instate rival Rams with 2:27 left before finally pulling out a victory in overtime. Without some late heroics in those two games, the Friars only victory of the season would be over St. Thomas Aquinas. It's not hard to see what the problems are, but it takes a lot of space to rank them.
On offense, Providence is a team opponents can contain with a packed-in zone
or a box-and-one on Ryan Gomes, since Dwight Brewington is streaky and Donnie
McGrath ice-cold from three-point range. Providence has shot fewer free throws
than its opponents, and is being out-rebounded by nearly four boards per
game. Gomes looks as good as ever, and is averaging nearly a double-double
at 18.4 points and nine rebounds per game. If Brewington can channel the flashes
greatness he's shown at times this season, the Friars still have ample time to get it together before Big East play starts. If not, Gomes may soon walk around campus hunched over from carrying the team on his back.
Providence's starting backcourt of Donnie McGrath and Dwight Brewington was 4-of-21 from the floor against Rhode Island, including 1-of-10 from three-point range. McGrath missed all eight shots he took, six of which came from beyond the arc.
The Friars also continue to be awful on the glass, and have been outrebounded in all eight games this season. Providence tied a school record by giving up an incredible 32 offensive rebounds against the Rams.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Donnie McGrath, shooting guard Dwight Brewington, center Randall Hanke, forward Ryan Gomes, forward Tuukka Kotti.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've tried to stay very positive with him. He's been my guy for two years, plus. He runs the team wonderfully, but he's got to give us a little more scoring, no question about it. But he will." -- Coach Tim Welsh, in the Providence Journal, on the shooting struggles of point guard Donnie McGrath.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Wichita State, Saturday, Dec. 11.
KEYS: The Friars have to rebound and hit their outside shots, or they can lose to any team in the country. The Shockers outrebounded their opponents by a significant margin during the first three games, and Providence doesn't defend well enough to survive giving up all those extra opportunities.
ROSTER REPORT: Ryan Gomes is once again a one-man wrecking crew, leading the team in points and rebounds and ranking second in assists and steals. Twenty of his 25 points came after halftime against the Rams.
Reserve Gerald Brown, fourth on the team in scoring at 8.4 points per game, was held scoreless by Rhode Island. If nothing else, Tim Welsh would like to see him get to the foul line more -- he's second on the team at 94.4 percent (17-18). The same holds true for Donnie McGrath, who's perfect in nine attempts on the season even while he struggles from everywhere else on the floor.
Panic might be too strong a word. But Rutgers fans have to be experiencing extreme concern as the Scarlet Knights slog through a stretch in which they can't seem to find the basket. After a 53-40 loss to Princeton on Dec. 8, the Scarlet Knights have dropped three in a row, and the Big East schedule hasn't even gotten started. Rutgers managed just 17 points in the second half (on 4-20 shooting from the field), and even that makes it sound better than it really was. Over the game's last 13:30, Rutgers made just one of its final 11 shots, and turned the ball over five times. Moreover, it lost to a Princeton team missing two starters because of injuries.
There's been no balance to the Rutgers offensive attack all season. If either Ricky Shields, Quincy Douby or Ollie Bailey get cold or in foul trouble, there's nobody to fill the breach. Even on days when the defense is strong -- as it was against Princeton -- it's not enough to overcome the utter lack of offensive production.
Only one game remains before the Scarlet Knights break for exams. While his players use the time to study, Gary Waters will be in the film room, trying to figure out where the extra points he needs will come from in the new year.
The 40 points Rutgers scored against Princeton is the team's lowest total since 1998, when the Scarlet Knights lost to Temple 56-38.
Of some consolation to coach Gary Waters is the rebirth of the defense, which shined in losses to Wisconsin and Princeton after looking awful in a defeat at the hands of Penn State. The Scarlet Knights held the Tigers to 38 percent from the floor.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Marquis Webb, shooting guard Quincy Douby, shooting guard Ricky Shields, center Byron Joynes, forward Ollie Bailey.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm very concerned about this. I think we have to go sit down and regroup. Things happened. This happened. The concern is how it happened." -- Rutgers coach Gary Waters after the loss to Princeton, in the Newark Star Ledger
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Rhode Island, Saturday, Dec. 11.
KEYS: Rhode Island seems to be getting it together after a tough start, nearly beating Providence despite injury problems. It's a dangerous game against a team that can play some ugly basketball -- struggling on offense, starring on defense. The Scarlet Knights need to find some easy baskets, whether in transition or on the inside, and they need a boost from the home crowd to return the homecourt advantage to the Rutgers Athletic Center.
ROSTER REPORT: It's becoming obvious in the early season that Rutgers offense totally depends on Ricky Shields, Quincy Douby and Ollie Bailey. After 30 minutes of the Wisconsin loss, they were the only three Scarlet Knights who had scored. Against Princeton, they combined for all but three of the team's baskets.
Quincy Douby is keeping his team in games on offense -- that is, until he gets to the free throw line. After shooting 82.6 percent from the line last season, he's just 12-of-23 from the charity stripe this year.
The pressure is starting to get to Seton Hall. Not the pressure the team experienced last season, playing and winning critical games down the stretch to lock up an NCAA berth. This season, the problem is pressure in the literal sense. With four-year starter Andre Barrett gone, the Pirates are seeing a consistent diet of pressure defense for the first time under coach Louis Orr. Last year, teams tended to abandon such efforts quickly, since Barrett could and would just dribble right through it. This year's squad has nobody capable of such heroics, which nearly cost them the game in a 57-56 home squeaker against St. Francis (N.Y.).
Seton Hall was up by eight in the second half, 50-42, when the Terriers began to press in earnest. That destroyed the Pirates momentum, got the Terriers five late steals, and saw them tie the game at 56 with 1:28 left before a John Allen free throw with 14 seconds left won the game.
Big East play begins in less than a month, so the Pirates don't have a lot of time to figure things out. Unless they can make the opponents pay for pressure defense by beating it for easy points in transition, Pirates point guards can expect to see it nearly every game for the rest of the season.
Turnover troubles nearly killed Seton Hall against St. Francis (N.Y.). The Pirates gave it away 19 times, with 10 coming from the starting backcourt of John Allen (6) and Donald Copeland (4). Freshman Justin Cerasoli added three in his 21 minutes.
In contrast to some previous games, coach Louis Orr had a seven-man rotation that got virtually all of the minutes against the Terriers. Cerasoli and Grant Billmeier were the two reserves to get significant time.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Donald Copeland, shooting guard John Allen, guard J.R. Morris, center Kelly Whitney, forward Andre Sweet.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Last year, we had a one-man press breaker, so now, we just have to get to our spots better. I think if we just go over it one or two more times, we'll be good." -- Center Grant Billmeier, in the Newark Star-Ledger
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. St. Peter's, Saturday, Dec. 11.
KEYS: Expect to see Louis Orr tweak the rotation, particularly in the
backcourt, to give the team better ballhandling ability in case of defensive
pressure. The Hall should beat St. Peter's, although the Pirates aren't playing
well enough to take anything for granted. If the Pirates take an early lead,
expect a lot of substitutions if things get sloppy on offense, as Orr looks to
clean things up before conference play tips off.
ROSTER REPORT: John Allen had a big game against St. Francis, and can take a good portion of the credit for the victory. In addition to hitting the winning free throw, he led the Pirates with 17 points and stole the ball to prevent a last-second shot attempt by the Terriers as time expired.
Kelly Whitney had three double-doubles in his first four games after scoring
11 points and pulling down 11 rebounds against the Terriers.
St. John's showed that it's not resigned to a repeat of last season's role as college basketball cellar dweller. In the biggest victory of Norm Roberts' coaching career -- OK, so that's only five games long -- the Red Storm upset the ACC's Virginia Tech 75-65 on Dec. 8. Now, the Red Storm just have to do it again, and away from home as well. Consistency -- or the lack thereof -- has been an issue for St. John's, as it is for many teams this early in the season and certainly for most teams with this many new players.
While nobody is jumping up and down to celebrate a 3-3 start, this team is not as bad as its record shows. All three losses were on the road: one to a tough Illinois State squad, and one to a St. Francis (N.Y.) team that came within a bucket of winning at Seton Hall. Even Niagara is 5-2, although that 102-91 loss was ugly any way you spin it. So progress is being made.
But next up is a road game at undefeated Hofstra, a team whose 81-64 victory at St. John's last year was just about the final straw that forced an end to the Mike Jarvis era. Nobody is going to fire Norm Roberts if he loses this one, but a victory would be a sign that this team can cause some headaches in conference play earlier than expected.
St. John's dominated the glass against Virginia Tech, winning the battle of the boards 48-31. Included in that total are 18 offensive rebounds.
Ballhandling is still an issue for the Red Storm, as one might expect from a team with so many inexperienced players. Against the Hokies, St. John's had assists on only 10 of its 27 baskets, while turning the ball over 16 times. Eugene Lawrence came off the bench to lead the team with five assists, and has 21 assists to only nine turnovers on the season.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Daryll Hill, guard Cedric Jackson, forward Lamont Hamilton, forward Rodney Epperson, forward Dexter Gray.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think that's a big deal that they're an ACC team. If not, then they're a Big East team because they were in the Big East last year. Our guys are excited about it, but I don't want our guys to think, 'Wow, we beat an ACC team so now we'll beat our next opponent.'" -- First-year St. John's coach Norm Roberts, in the New York Post, on the victory over Virginia Tech.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Hofstra, Saturday, Dec. 11.
KEYS: Consistency. The Virginia Tech game was probably the best the Red Storm has played in two seasons, but they've also shown that they can lay an egg with the best of them (see the Niagara game tape for details). Hofstra will be thrilled to have a Big East team in its gym, even if it is the one picked to finish 12th in the league. St. John's will need to be as strong on the inside as it was against Virginia Tech to have a shot, and will need to put forth a complete effort for the second game in a row.
ROSTER REPORT: Lamont Hamilton posted his first career double-double against the Hokies, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Darryl Hill picked up 18 points the hard way against Virginia Tech, missing 13-of-17 shots from the field but making 10-of-11 free throws. He was just about the only member of the Red Storm hitting anything from the free throw line; the rest of the team combined to shoot 8 of 17.
Conventional wisdom says the way to beat Syracuse is to pound the Orangemen into submission. Contributing to this theory is that star Syracuse inside threat Hakim Warrick isn't exactly a threat to win bodybuilding championships anytime soon. It's a strategy that tends not to work, as demonstrated by the Orangemen's lofty record over the past few seasons. But it's one that Oklahoma State used to wear down Syracuse in a 74-60 victory.
One key to the loss was that Syracuse didn't make the Cowboys pay for
fouling. The Orange hit just 7 of 22 free throw attempts, a ridiculously bad
31.2 percent. Coupled with its 5 of 14 performance earlier this season against a
physical Mississippi State squad, this trend has to be a concern to the coaching
staff. In another sign of wearing down that doesn't show up in the stats, it
seemed like Oklahoma State got to every loose ball down the stretch. Twice,
for a rebound after an OSU miss led to an immediate three-pointer from the Cowboys -- a pair of threes that helped break Syracuse's back. The Orangemen lost despite getting 20 points from Josh Pace. Gerry McNamara spent a good portion of the game handling the basketball, and should be able to free himself up for better shots as Billy Edelin gets more time at the point.
Demetris Nichols may be on the verge of losing his starting spot. He has played just 10 minutes in each of the past two games, and hasn't made a basket in either.
The Oklahoma State loss wasn't one that Hakim Warrick will be saving on his Tivo. He finished with just 13 points, and missed eight of 13 free throw attempts.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Gerry McNamara, shooting guard Josh Pace, center Craig Forth, forward Demetris Nichols, forward Hakim Warrick.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They tried to play physical with us. Everyone is going to try to play physical with us. We just didn't execute at the end." -- Forward Hakim Warrick, on Oklahoma State's style of play that proved to be too much for the Orangemen.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Binghamton State, Saturday, Dec. 11.
KEYS: The Orangemen obviously shouldn't have any problems in this one, but a key is going to be getting back on track from the free throw line. No regular besides Gerry McNamara is shooting better than 67 percent from the charity stripe. McNamara is making 81.1 percent of his attempts (30 of 37).
ROSTER REPORT: Terrence Roberts has emerged as a force off the bench. Against Colgate, he contributed 13 points and 8 rebounds, and he had eight points and four boards against Oklahoma State before fouling out.
Billy Edelin is slowly working his way back into the Orangemen rotation after missing the first five games and five weeks of practice. He has scored six points and has three assists in 37 minutes over three games. Edelin played 16 minutes against Oklahoma State.
Despite a close loss to Temple, Villanova's on-court performance has been
good enough to give the Wildcats confidence heading into mid-December. The
Wildcats haven't been great. Far from it. Villanova still turns it over way too
often, fires three-pointers like it's penalized for layups, and battles injuries
on seemingly a daily basis. But so far this season, the Wildcats have done the
things they've needed to do to overcome that. They rebound as well as any team
with their lack of size can hope for. They knock down more outside shots than
the opposition. And
they're mentally tough.
To continue the run once Big East play starts, though, may come down to Jason Fraser -- or the lack thereof. Fraser's oft-injured knee continues to give him trouble. Some days he can't practice, and some games he can't play for very long. On the other hand, when he's in there, he gives the team a badly-needed inside presence that backup Chris Charles can't yet provide. He and Curtis Sumpter balance out the outside attack to keep defenses honest. With Fraser, the Wildcats appear poised to make an NCAA Tournament run if they can cut down on the mistakes -- particularly with some Big East rivals looking a lot shakier in the early season. Without him, it's up to reserves like Charles and the always solid Will Sheridan to make sure the weight of the world doesn't entirely rest on the starting backcourt.
Villanova attempted 63 three-pointers over the first three games of the season. They've made 20, shooting them at a 31.7 percent clip.
Turnovers have been the Wildcats Achilles' heel thus far, and never more so than in the Monmouth game. Villanova had 11 turnovers at the half against the Hawks, though it settled down to give the ball away only five times in the second 20 minutes.
Villanova averaged 4.2 blocks per game last year. Through this season's first three games, the Wildcats have 27 blocks, or 9 per game.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Mike Nardi, shooting guard Allan Ray, wing guard Randy Foye, forward Chris Charles, forward Curtis Sumpter.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Scrapping, going for the loose ball, that's all good. That's three games in a row we've had a really good defensive effort and I like that. That's what we're trying to build our program around. But we have to work on taking better care of the basketball." -- Coach Jay Wright, after the victory over Monmouth, in the Philadelphia Daily News
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at La Salle, Saturday, December 11; vs. Fordham, Tuesday, December 14.
KEYS: La Salle's off-court problems make Villanova's injury situation look
like child's play -- this is the school that saw its coach, Billy Hahn, fired
late in the offseason. John Giannini's crew has struggled, but Big Five games
are never cakewalks, and if Jason Fraser can't play, the Wildcats will need to
be extra careful in valuing the basketball to avoid an upset they can't afford.
The same holds true for Fordham, a dangerous opponent that can take advantage of
ROSTER REPORT: Jason Fraser's left knee is still bothering him. He was limited to 15 minutes in the Monmouth game because of discomfort, and was placed on anti-inflammatory medication. He was hoping to return to practice by the end of the week.
Villanova usually begins games in a three-guard set, starting Mike Nardi, Randy Foye and Allan Ray. Despite the small lineup, however, the Wildcats have been strong on the boards. Villanova has had a significant edge on the boards in all three games, and outrebounded a taller Temple team 45-35.
The Mountaineers have started the season 5-0 for the first time since 1997-98 (or "forever" in college basketball years). That hasn't gotten West Virginia into the rankings, nor has it gotten the school much national press. But it has illustrated that the team picked to finish ninth in the Big East may be capable of more than the preseason prognosticators imagined.
Next up for the Mountaineers are home games against Coppin State, James Madison and New Hampshire, and it would be a major upset if they didn't win all three. If that happens, the final two games before the preconference slate will be classic statement games, vs. George Washington at home and North Carolina State on the road. Earn a split in those two games, combined with the LSU victory on the road, and the Mountaineers suddenly look to be in excellent shape to make a run to the NCAAs.
West Virginia plays Pittsburgh and Boston College twice, but also St. John's and struggling Providence and Seton Hall. It doesn't have to make the road trips to Notre Dame or UConn, nor will it entertain Syracuse. Of course, that's looking a lot further ahead than coach John Beilein wants to. But if the Mountaineers can avoid looking past these next three opponents, they'll be -- as the saying goes -- in position to get into position for a run at the postseason.
West Virginia's bench suffered a rare off day against St. Bonaventure. It combined for just 12 points against the Bonnies, with Patrick Beilein and Kevin Pittsnogle combining for an 0-8 performance from the floor.
The Mountaineers struggled from the three-point line against the Bonnies, making just 3 of their 20 long-range attempts.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard J.D. Collins, shooting guard Johannes Herber, center D'or Fischer, forward Mike Gansey, forward Tyrone Salley.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need a toughness going after the ball we absolutely do not have. Both our big guys had two rebounds total. Those guys have to look at that and say, 'What am I doing?' We have to be better at that position rebounding." -- Coach John Beilein, after the St. Bonaventure game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Coppin State, Saturday, Dec. 11.
KEYS: Coppin State is one of those dangerous MEAC teams that always seems to give a higher seed a game in the NCAAs, but West Virginia is too talented to allow itself to be upset at home. Expect coach John Beilein to spend some time trying to get his bench back in a rhythm after its struggles against St. Bonaventure.
ROSTER REPORT: Mike Gansey is playing with a deep thigh bruise that coach Jim Beilein doesn't expect to fully heal until the team breaks for exam week after the Coppin State game.
Freshmen Luke Bonner and Brad Byerson, both of whom have had problems cracking the Mountaineers' deep rotation, scored their first collegiate points in the 78-44 victory over Radford on Dec. 4.