Bouncing Around the Country

The college basketball season is barely a week old, yet there have already been a handful of surprising results that could alter tournament pairings. A couple of injuries could also impact the early-season success enjoyed by California and Louisville.

Bouncing around the nation, barely a week into the college basketball season:

 

*Miami and Virginia Tech are expected to be two of the teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference scrambling for NCAA Tournament at-large bids come March.

 

Those scrambles may now be a bit more cumbersome for the Hurricanes and Hokies after losses that could come back to bite them when at-large bids are being doled out by the NCAA's Basketball Championship Committee in a hotel meeting room in Indianapolis.

 

Coach Frank Haith's Miami team saw a nine-point lead in the second half evaporate while dropping a 57-53 decision to the Air Force Academy Monday night in Seattle during a Black Coaches Association Classic semifinal.

 

Granted, the Hurricanes were playing without Anthony Harris (sidelined with a broken bone in a foot), who led the team in assists last season. But is he any more important to them than forward Nick Welch, twice an All-Mountain West Conference selection, is for Air Force? Welch is sidelined for the season because of ankle and knee injuries but is expected to play as a fifth-year senior next season for Coach Jeff Bzdelik.

 

Virginia Tech lost at home to Bowling Green (72-71) in an NABC Classic game Saturday but did pick up a couple of victories (over Radford and West Carolina) in the event.

 

*Missouri and Charlotte also suffered unexpected losses in tournaments Monday night.

 

The previous management Preseason NIT (now under the umbrella of the NCAA and called "The 2005 NIT Season Tip-off") seemed to have had a "protégé" (Quin Snyder) vs. "mentor" (Mike Krzyzewski) semifinal matchup of Missouri vs. Duke in mind when they drew up the bracketing.

 

Sam Houston State took care of that, courtesy its 80-77 victory over the Tigers in Columbia. Not quite the opening that Snyder could have anticipated for a team that is trying to bounce back from a 16-17 season.

 

So the folks who show up in Madison Square Garden next Wednesday will have to get fired up for a semifinal of Duke (assuming the top-ranked Blue Devils aren't shocked at home by Seton Hall in Round 2) vs. Sam Houston State or Drexel, which pulled anupset of sorts by beating host Princeton by 13 points Monday evening.

 

And what about Charlotte getting drubbed by Northwestern (in Laramie, Wyo., during the Black Coaches Association Invitational), 61-47?

 

The 49ers, who were playing their second game as a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference, have an All-America forward candidate in Curtis Withers and one of the top four-year transfers in the country in guard De'Angelo Alexander (Oklahoma) and are projected to be the top threats to George Washington in the conference.

 

Northwestern? The Wildcats were expected to be improved over their 15-16 (6-10 in the Big Ten Conference) finish of last season. But beating a fringe Top 25 team by 14 points in their opener? Wow.

 

The 49ers shot .308 from the field with Withers and Alexander missing on a combined 15 of 22 shots from the field.

 

Meanwhile, one of the Big Ten's most (nationally) under-appreciated players isn't going to hang onto that status much longer.

 

Senior forward Vedran Vukusic (16.8 points per game last season), after going for 25 points in the Wildcats' 61-59 victory over Lehigh Sunday, dropped 28 more on the 49ers. He was eight of 13 on 3-pointers in the two games.

 

Host Wyoming was also upset (62-59 to UNC Wilmington) Monday night, setting the stage for a third-place matchup with Charlotte everyone figured would take place in the final.

 

But the Cowboys' 6-10, 225-pound senior post player, Justin Williams, has gotten off to the kind of start that will cause some buzz among NBA talent evaluators, scoring 29 points to go with 27 rebounds (16 Monday night) and nine blocked shots.

 

*The Kentucky lineup that Tubby Smith had on the floor – Sheray Thomas and Rekalin Sims (both right at 6-8), and guards Rajon Rondo, Ravi Moss and Ramel Bradley – down the stretch against Lipscomb Monday night looked very quick and efficient.

 

If Monday night's game was any indication, Rondo will have his hands on the ball as much as  any player in the country this season.

 

We'll get a truer read on just how good Kentucky is right now when the Wildcats face Iowa (assuming the Hawkeyes get by Colgate Tuesday in Iowa City) in a Guardians Classic Sunday in Kansas City.

 

*Are Leon Powe and David Padgett ever going to be cut any slack, health-wise?

 

Powe, the Pacific 10 Conference's Freshman of the Year in 2004 for California, missed all of last season after reconstructive surgery on his left knee. He had a highly successful summer, during the San Francisco Pro-Am League and on the Bears' trip to Italy.

 

But he was held out of the team's exhibition Monday night against Humboldt State because of a stress reaction (a precursor to a stress fracture) in a foot. His status for the team's opener at Eastern Michigan Friday was still to be determined.

 

Padgett, who spent last season red-shirting at Louisville after transferring from Kansas, will be sidelined three to four weeks after suffering a sprained left knee during a scrimmage Saturday. He'd only been practicing for a week after recovering from a broken foot suffered in a pick-up game on Sept. 19.

 

Both players are critical to the respective teams' success this season. But Louisville would still get to the NCAA Tournament with something less than a fully healthy and productive Padgett. Cal can't make the same claim without a fit Powe on the floor for the Bears.

 

*If Texas Tech wins the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (beating Syracuse on Thursday and then Wake Forest or Florida on Friday) in Madison Square Garden, it will still be a tad early to proclaim the Red Raiders a team capable of winning the Big 12 Conference, right?

 

On second thought . . . no, it will not.

 

*One of the top 10 high school juniors in the country (and I'm leaning toward the conservative side in that rating), 6-3 Jerryd Bayless of Saint Mary's in Phoenix, committed to the University of Arizona last week.

 

By the way . . . I can't be the only one who thinks that 71-year-old Wildcats' coach Lute Olson is never going to retire, can I?

 

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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