Burlison: Hoops Takes Charge

The BCS business finally came to a conclusion in Arizona Monday night. Now, it's "all college basketball, all the time", beginning with a very intriguing game being played in Madison, Wisc., Tuesday night. The Bruins still hold up well after their loss to Oregon...

College football hangs onto the national spotlight for a few more hours Monday night in Glendale, Ariz.


But come Tuesday night, college hoops officially takes center stage in Madison, Wis.


Wisconsin and Ohio State could meet twice more during the regular season (including a possible hookup in the Big Ten Conference's tournament).


But the first meeting between the teams can be thrown into the same category as Florida-Kansas in November, and Florida-OSU and the Buckeyes-North Carolina in December, and Arizona-UCLA later this month: Matchups of squads falling on the short list of Final Four candidates.


And guess what?


The same thing could be said of the Jayhawks' Big 12 opener with Oklahoma State Wednesday night in Lawrence, Ks.


It's going to be a heck of week – and then some.


Bagging individual kudos for the week of Dec. 31-Jan. 7)

*Aaron Brooks (6-0, Sr., Oregon)

I usually avoid tabbing a player here when his team lost a game. But I'm guessing you'll agree that this is a most acceptable exception. Brooks went for 31 points (hitting 11 of 18 from the field, including six of nine on 3's) with five assists, three steals and just one turnover when the Ducks suffered their first loss off the season, 84-82, Thursday night in a Pac-10 game with visiting USC. Two days later, though, he hit the winning shot, and finished with 25 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals as his team handed then-No. 1 UCLA its first loss, 68-66.


*Kevin Durant (6-9, Fr., Texas)

It's going to take a monster Big Ten performance by Greg Oden to snatch national Freshman of the Year honors away from Durant. In fact, Durant should be on a short list – a very short list – for National Player – freshman, sophomore, junior or senior – of the Year hardware. His numbers bordered on the absurd against Texas-Arlington (21 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots in an 84-56 win Tuesday) and Colorado (37, 16, two and one as the Longhorns smoked the host Buffaloes, 102-76, in a Big 12 opener Saturday).


*Gary Ervin (6-0, Jr., Arkansas)

The Mississippi State transfer led the Hogs to a couple of impressive victories, going for 14 points and six assists, without a turnover, Tuesday against Tulsa (68-56) and then helping his club blast then-No. 8 Alabama Saturday, 88-61, as he went for 18 points, six rebounds, 11 assists, three steals and only one turnover.


*Geoff McDermott (6-7, So., Providence)

After a pair of lopsided Big East victories (74-59 over Marquette and 91-69 against Seton Hall) improved the Friars' overall record to 12-3, it's apparently time to consider this a team with legitimate NCAA Tournament at-large hopes. McDermott was easily the best player on the floor in each of those two games, with an 11-point, nine-rebound and 11-assist effort against the Golden Eagles and a 14-point, 15-rebound and six-assist performance against the Pirates.


*The Ohio State Freshmen Trio (7-0 Greg Oden; 6-1 Mike Conley; and 6-5 Daequan Cook)

Since each of the three was outstanding in both of the Buckeyes' Big Ten victories over Indiana (74-67) and Illinois (62-44), each gets a piece of a spot on the Top Five this week. Conley averaged 7.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.0 assists and 3.0 steals (with just two turnovers). Oden was at 14.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg and 4.0 blocks per game. And Cook chipped in with 12.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 2.0 apg.


This Week's Cool Games

(A look at the weekend games will be posted Friday)


Boise State at No. 12 Nevada

Frank Says: The visiting Broncos opened WAC play with an impressive 77-66 win over Utah State in Boise and have captured five of their past six games. Coby Karl (14.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game) has received a lot of national attention but BSU Coach Greg Graham has several other quality players, including 6-9 Matt Nelson (15.0 ppg and 8.7 rpg) and 6-6 Reggie Larry (12.7 ppg and 7.5 rpg), both juniors. Nick Fazekas (20.8 ppg and 12.3 rpg) continues to be a national Player of the Year short-list candidate while junior Ramon Sessions (12.7 ppg and 4.6 apg) is among the better, if under-appreciated, point guards nationally for Nevada.


Texas Tech at Kansas State

Frank Says: Somewhat lost in all of the national attention showered upon Bob Knight's record-breaking victory against New Mexico on Jan. 1 is that the Red Raiders are playing pretty well of late. They've won six of their past seven games, the most notable of those (in hindsight) being the 15-point decision at Arkansas on Dec. 16. The Wildcats (who opened conference with a four-point loss at No. 10 Texas A&M Saturday) are playing their first Big 12 home game under Bob Huggins. KSU freshman Bill Walker was expected to undergo more testing and diagnosis on the left knee that was injured Saturday. He was considered an unlikely participant against the Red Raiders.


Villanova at Georgetown

Frank Says: The Wildcats have gotten off to a wobbly Big East start (a road loss at West Virginia and a home defeat to DePaul) while the Hoyas couldn't have  looked much better in their debut Saturday – a 66-48 victory over a Notre Dame team that took a 12-game winning streak into Washington, D.C. Villanova (11-4) has gotten exceptional play from the senior duo of Curtis Sumpter and Mike Nardi. Here's a cool note: The Hoyas have allowed as many as 60 points only three times – none in the past 10 games.



Arkansas at No. 2 Florida

Frank Says: That the Hogs knocked off then-No. 8 Alabama in Fayetteville Saturday wasn't particularly surprising. That the Crimson Tide got punched out by 27 points – after trailing by as many as 36 – was startling. Scoring spurts will be much harder to manufacture in Gainesville, though. The Gators aren't nearly at 2006 NCAA Tournament form but have reeled off seven consecutive wins, including 18- and 26-point decisions over Providence and Ohio State that are growing more impressive every day.


No. 5 Ohio State at No. 4 Wisconsin

Frank Says: The victor in this one doesn't become the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten – uh, unless, that is, it's OSU that does the winning. The Buckeyes' 18-point victory at Illinois was of the attention-grabbing variety. The Badgers' Big Ten-opening 23-point win against Minnesota Saturday extending their winning streak to 11, with four of those coming against probable NCAA Tournament teams.


No. 17 LSU at No. 15 Alabama

Frank Says: The Tigers haven't beaten a quality team away from home, although it has reeled off five consecutive wins at home since losing by 16 points at Washington. And Alabama has to bounce back strongly at home to atone for that embarrassing thumping at the hands of Arkansas Saturday.


No. 23 West Virginia at No. 24 Notre Dame

Frank Says: After wire-to-wire victories over Connecticut, Villanova and St. John's in Morgantown, the Mountaineers get tested in South Bend against an Irish club whose 12-game winning streak fell victim to the team's first Big East road venture (at Georgetown) Saturday.



Virginia at No. 1 North Carolina

Frank Says: The Cavs take to the road to face newly anointed No. 1 team and that's not a good prescription for recovering from a stinging 76-75, last-second home defeat to Stanford Sunday evening. Coach Roy Williams' team won its past seven home games by an average margin of 34.5 points. Yes – that's impressive.


No. 14 Oklahoma State at No. 8 Kansas

Frank Says: The Cowboys' depth borders on the non-existent but, led by Mario Boggan, the Sean Sutton-coached team has played as well as anyone – the Jayhawks included – in the Big 12. Kansas has won seven in a row since its loss to DePaul in Chicago more than a month ago.


No. 11 Pittsburgh at DePaul

Frank Says: The Panthers opened Big East play with solid wins over Syracuse (in the Carrier Dome) and South Florida (at home by 21 points). The performance in this one could be even more telling, considering how well the Blue Demons are playing of late (six wins in their past seven games, including an eight-point decision over Villanova in Philadelphia).


Wichita State at Indiana State

Frank Says: With five losses in six games after a 9-0 start, the Shockers, at 1-3, need this one desperately to stop the Missouri Valley Conference bleeding. The Sycamores' 10-5 overall record (they are 3-1 in the MVC) carries a bit more bite to it when you consider that one of those wins was also Butler's only loss.


No. 25 UNLV at Wyoming

Frank Says: The Rebels debuted in the Frankhoops.com Top 25 after taking Air Force down to the wire before losing a 56-50 Mountain West Conference decision in Colorado Springs Saturday. The Cowboys (10-5) opened MWC play last week with a 66-65 win at San Diego State.


Washington at Stanford, and Washington State at Cal

Frank Says: The Cardinal's win at Virginia Sunday, Cal's win at Stanford last week and Washington State's victory over Arizona Saturday night, lends extra importance – within the Pac-10 and nationally – to each of these contests. They swap foes Saturday and each of those games will also have obvious impact on a conference that has eight teams with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations going into this week.


Frankhoops.com Top 25

(Includes last rating and record as of Jan. 7)

1. (2) North Carolina (14-1)

Frank Says: The Tar Heels' dominance of late had them looking like the best team even before Oregon's 68-66 victory over UCLA Saturday in Eugene cleared the way for them to slide into the top spot.


2. (3) Florida (14-2)

Frank Says: Comparative scores don't mean a lot but, in case you're wondering, the Gators lost to Florida State by four points on Dec. 3 while North Carolina beat the Seminoles by 26 points on Jan. 7.


3. (1) UCLA (14-1)

Frank Says: The Bruins' defensive and offensive execution were not nearly as sharp as they needed to be Saturday to beat a quality team on the road, yet UCLA nearly pulled out it out in Eugene before Aaron Brooks hit the game winner.


4. (5) Wisconsin (15-1)

Frank Says: Just a hunch – procuring a ticket in Madison for the Badgers-OSU game Tuesday night is going to be difficult.


5. (6) Ohio State (13-2)

Frank Says: A telling stat about the poise of freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook: They had just a combined seven turnovers in the wins over Indiana and Illinois.


6. (4) Arizona (12-2)

Frank Says: The Wildcats have the most offensive firepower in the Pac 10 but they're not going to win the conference unless their half-court defense improves considerably.


7. (9) Butler (14-1)

Frank Says: The Bulldogs' three Horizon League victories have come by an average margin of 20.3 points.


8. (10) Kansas (13-2)

Frank Says: The Jayhawks open Big 12 play against Oklahoma State Wednesday night and what better opportunity to justify their preseason favorite's status?


9. (7) Duke (13-2)

Frank Says: The Blue Devils may be overrated in this slot. But they can do their best to prove otherwise when they visit Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech Wednesday night.


10. (11) Texas A&M (13-2)

Frank Says: Three of the next four Big 12 games are outside of College Station. The only one that isn't comes against Oklahoma State on Jan. 20.


11. (12) Pittsburgh (14-2)

Frank Says: The 21-point home victory over South Florida Sunday wasn't nearly as impressive as the eight-point decision at Syracuse was earlier in the week.


12. (13) Nevada (13-1)

Frank Says: It's hard to imagine Mark Fox's team going through the WAC without at least a couple of losses – unless, that is, Fresno State and New Mexico State, among others, aren't nearly as good as their impressive non-conference records would have you believe.


13. (15) Oregon (14-1)

Frank Says: The Ducks' victory over UCLA and WSU's over Arizona a couple of hours later created a virtual six-way tie for lead in the Pac-10.


14. (16) Oklahoma State (15-1)

Frank Says: Lost, a bit, in the outstanding senior season that Mario Boggan is having for the Cowboys is how well JamesOn Curry (18.9 points and 4.7 assists per game) has bounced back from a sub-par sophomore season.


15. (8) Alabama (13-2)

Frank Says: Let's go on the assumption that the Crimson Tide's performance (or lack thereof) was "just one of those things".


16. (18) Tennessee (12-3)

Frank Says: The Vols continue to get quality productivity from freshmen Duke Crews, Wayne Chism, Ramar Smith and Josh Tabb.


17. (22) LSU (11-3)

Frank Says: This seems quirky – the Tigers don't play either Kentucky (the 20th) or Florida (four days later) until late next month.


18. (23) Clemson (16-0)

Frank Says: Sorry, but I can't move the Tigers up much more until more teams currently ranked above them start losing. That's just the way it works.


19. (24) Texas (11-3)

Frank Says: Rule of thumb – if the Longhorns are playing, there will be plenty of Kevin Durant highlights on sports wrap-up shows later that night.


20. (25) Air Force (15-1)

Frank Says: The Falcons knocked off UNLV Saturday (56-50). The rematch is on tap for Feb. 20 in Las Vegas.


21. (ur) Washington State (14-2)

Frank Says: For those who need a reminder, the Cougars were picked to finished 10th in the Pac-10. Barring collapse or injury, they're headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994.


22. (ur) Georgetown (11-3)

Frank Says: In case anyone had forgotten why they were considered one of the three or four best teams in the Big East prior to the season, the Hoyas offered a nice reminder against Notre Dame.


23. (ur) West Virginia (13-1)

Frank Says: So much for the "rebuilding" Mountaineers slipping much in the Big East pecking order.


24. (17) Notre Dame (13-2)

Frank Says: The Irish actually played pretty well in portions of the second half against Georgetown.


25. (ur) UNLV (14-3)

Frank Says: Even with a six-point loss at Air Force, the Rebels gave a convincing enough performance to merit inclusion into the Top 25.


Dropped out: Marquette (14), Gonzaga (19), Washington (20) and Wichita State (21).


Just misses: Arkansas, Drexel, Georgetown, Kansas State, Memphis, Northern Iowa and USC.


Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, 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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