Burlison: Plenty of Rivalries

UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is one of last week's best; This week there are many rather intense rivalry games, including UCLA/USC, that could impact the outcome of conference races, as well as the at-large selections and seedings to the NCAA Tournament...

There are only five weeks, give or take, of college basketball action remaining before Selection Sunday is upon us again on March 11.

 

So nearly each and every night of play is going to impact conference races and program's NCAA Tournament at-large bid portfolios.

 

One of those nights is going to be Wednesday of this week, when there are enough regional and conference rivals of sorts going at it to justify calling it "Rivalry Wednesday".

 

Sounds cute, eh?

 

Bagging Individual Kudos for the Week of Jan. 28-Feb. 3

*Ramel Bradley (6-2, Jr., Kentucky)

The Wildcats swept Southeastern Conference opponents Tennessee (76-57) and Arkansas (on the road, 82-74) as the native of Brooklyn average 22.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. They've won 13 of their past 15 games.

 

*Acie Law (6-3, Sr., Texas A&M)

He hit the go-ahead 3-pointer Saturday night as the Aggies marched out of Phog Allen Fieldhouse with a critical 69-66 Big 12 Conference victory. He had 23 points, seven assists and two steals in that one after producing 13 points, seven assists and only two turnovers in a 73-49 win over Iowa State earlier in the week.

 

*Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (6-7, So, UCLA)

Last season's Pac-10 Freshman of the Year helped the Bruins maintain their one-game lead in the conference race by hitting all 12 of his shots and averaging 14.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.0 blocks during victories over Oregon (69-57) and Oregon State (82-35) in Pauley Pavilion.

 

*Ben McCauley (6-10, So., North Carolina State)

Coach Sidney Lowe got several outstanding efforts in his team's upsets of nationally ranked Virginia Tech (70-59) and North Carolina (83-79). But McCauley was ultimately the choice after he averaged 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in the victories.

 

*Jeremy Pargo (6-2, So., Gonzaga)

The powerful (210 pounds) point guard helped the Bulldogs go 3-0, including an exhausting 90-86 double-overtime non-conference decision at Stanford. Pargo went for 23 points in that one with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. For the week he averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game.

 

This Week's Cool Games

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

MONDAY

No. 19 Texas at No. 7 Texas A&M

Frank Says: The Aggies, just two nights after edging Kansas (69-66) in Lawrence, get another high profile opportunity to demonstrate they are the best of the Big 12 Conference. In order to do so, they're going have to contain Kevin Durant. Of course, when discussing or preparing to play against the immensely talented freshman, "contain" is a relative verb. In eight conference games  the 6-9 forward has averaged 33.1 points and 13.8 rebounds. So, one could "hold" Durant to, say, 25 points and 10 rebounds, and claim to have "contained" him. Amazing. Something in regards to the Aggies that also borders on the amazing: they've only allowed as many as 70 points once this season and that was in the 70-68 loss at Texas Tech on Jan. 24.

 

Syracuse at Connecticut

Frank Says: The Orange snapped a three-game skid with a 75-69 home victory over DePaul Saturday to elevate its Big East record over .500 (5-4) and remain in reasonably good shape for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, all things considered. The Huskies have a whole lot of NCAA Tournament bid resume-polishing to do in order to get into the thick of things on March 11. Their overtime victory at home over Rutgers Saturday snapped a four-game losing streak and brought their Big East record to 3-6. But those victories are against teams with 2-8 (Rutgers), 3-6 (South Florida) and 4-6 (St. John's) records. And to think that, with an 11-0 start in an all-home schedule that was something well short of challenging, Coach Jim Calhoun's team climbed to as high as No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today (coaches') poll.

 

New Mexico State at Utah State

Frank Says: In this Aggies vs. Aggies Western Athletic Conference tilt, the visitors (18-4 overall and 8-1 in conference) will attempt to move into a tie with leader Nevada while building a stronger at-large bid case at the same time. The host Aggies haven't lost in Logan this season.


TUESDAY
Michigan at No. 5 Ohio State

Frank Says: At 4-4 in the Big Ten, and with a non-conference slate in which victories over Central Connecticut and Davidson are the high points, the Wolverines are something short of "just playing for a better tournament seed right now". But a victory in Columbus would be an attention grabber for those who will spend a long weekend in Indianapolis next month sorting out the 34 NCAA tourney at-large bids. Coach Tommy Amaker's team's last three conference games have ended as 13- (Wisconsin), 15- (Indiana) and seven-point (Iowa, at home) losses. The Buckeyes have reeled off seven wins in a row – three of those on the road.

 

No. 17 Air Force at San Diego State

Frank Says: The defending Mountain West Conference champion Aztecs (at 4-4 in conference and 15-7 overall) can get themselves back into the thick of the title hunt by knocking off the Falcons. And the guys from Colorado Springs have struggled away from the academy, winning by just two (Wyoming) and losing by six (Utah) and nine points (BYU) in their past three road games. San Diego State has four players scoring in double figure figures while Air Force has one of the most efficient offenses in the country: the Falcons are shooting .518 from the field and committing just 10.3 turnovers per game.

 

No. 23 Virginia at Maryland

Frank Says: A six-game winning streak has the Cavaliers deadlocked for the Atlantic Coast Conference lead with Boston College (yes, a half-game in front of North Carolina!). The Terrapins improved to 3-5 with a win at Wake Forest Saturday. But if Gary Williams' program is going to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2003-4 season, his team is going to have to play its best basketball of the season – and then some – since the meat of its conference schedule is still to be played. On tap are home games against the Cavs, Duke (Sunday), Florida State (Feb. 21), North Carolina (Feb. 25) and North Carolina State (March 3), and treks to North Carolina State (Feb. 14), Clemson (Feb. 18) and Duke (Feb. 28).

 

North Carolina State at Georgia Tech

Frank Says: Both of these teams are trying juice up their NCAA Tournament bid hopes. The Wolfpack collected consecutive wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina, while the Yellow Jackets had an18-point win over Clemson Saturday that snapped a four-game losing streak. Both (NCSU is 3-5 and Georgia Tech 3-6 in the ACC), obviously, are still digging themselves out of significant holes.

 

LSU at Tennessee

Frank Says: Both are in tailspins, of sorts, with the Volunteers dropping three of the past four games and the Tigers losing five in a row. Tennessee is still in decent NCAA tourney shape, though, especially when Chris Lofton (ankle) returns. He may try to play in this one. The Vols have dropped three of the four games he has missed. There is no such player return on the horizon to rescue LSU, though.

 

Saint Joseph's at Villanova

Frank Says: The Hawks' NCAA at-large hopes out of the Atlantic 10 aren't as likely as the Wildcats' are coming out of the Big East. That doesn't matter, though: this could be the most competitive game of the night. It's a Philly thing, you know?

 

WEDNESDAY

No. 1 Florida at Georgia

Frank Says: So, one more time, why shouldn't the defending national champion Gators (14 wins in a row) be considered the clear-cut choice to cut down the nets in Atlanta?

 

No. 25 USC at No. 2 UCLA

Frank Says: The Bruins, minus Josh Shipp, needed a jumper by Arron Afflalo in the closing seconds to edge the Trojans (65-64) in the Galen Center on Jan. 13. Shipp is back in the lineup and Coach Ben Howland's team was at its defensively suffocating best while sweeping Oregon and Oregon State and holding them to a combined 92 points last weekend. But Tim Floyd has his USC team NCAA Tournament-bound (barring collapse) and the Trojans would share the Pac-10 lead if they manage to exit Pauley Pavilion with a victory. Look for the score to be 60-something to 60-something – as it was the last go-around.

 

No. 3 North Carolina at Duke

Frank Says: The Blue Devils are going to have to play very, very well --- yeah, probably better than in any other 40-minute stretch of the season --- to keep their losing streak from extending to three. You'll be able to throw a Frisbee in any direction in Cameron Indoor Stadium and chances are it will bounce off the heads of at least three or four McDonald's All-American alumni.

 

No. 6 Pittsburgh at West Virginia

Frank Says: OK, let's have a show of hands from everyone who thought the Mountaineers would be 18-4 (overall) and 7-3 (in the Big East) 22 games into the season? The Panthers have won just as often on the road (where they are 4-0) as they have at home (4-1) in Big East play.

 

Kansas State at No. 10 Kansas

Frank Says: Bob Huggins' Wildcats haven't lost since falling to Texas Tech in Manhattan on Jan. 08. That means' they've won seven Big 12 games in a row, three of those on the road. That's impressive.

 

No. 22 Oklahoma State at Oklahoma

Frank Says: The Cowboys' loss at Colorado Saturday, no doubt, took a chunk out of their RPI. And that NCAA Tournament seed isn't going to be too robust if Sean Sutton's team doesn't starting beating some opponents on their home courts. The Sooners are 4-4 in the Big 12. And that's better than most anyone who doesn't reside in Norman probably assumed would be the case eight games into conference.

 

Georgetown at Louisville

Frank Says: After four- (Villanova) and five-point (Pittsburgh) losses last month left the Hoyas at 11-5, there were "disappointing" whispers here and there. In hindsight, each of the team's losses (to Old Dominion, Oregon, Duke, the Wildcats and Panthers) was to a team that will, very likely, be in the NCAA Tournament. And Georgetown has won five Big East games in a row, three of those coming on the road. The Cardinals have played well of late (6-3 in the Big East) but still need some wins against the conference "elite" (of which the Hoyas are certainly a member) to beef up their "we deserve an NCAA at-large bid" argument.

 

Florida State at Clemson

Frank Says: These are Atlantic Coast Conference teams that are seemingly heading in opposite directions, the Seminoles winning five of six games, including a biggie at Duke Sunday, and the Tigers dropping five of six after their 17-0 start. This isn't a "must-win game" for Clemson. But in the context of at-large bids and seeding, if the Tigers let this one slip away, just about every other game is going to fall into that category.

 

THURSDAY

No. 18 Stanford at No. 12 Washington State

Frank Says: The most significant college basketball game of the evening and it's in Pullman, Wash., matching a Washington State team that was projected to finish last in the Pac-10 and a Stanford squad that lost to Air Force by 34 points, at home, during its third game of the season? It's another one of those "who would have thought it possible three months ago?"-type of deals.

 

Frankhoops.com Top 25

(Includes last rating and record as of Feb. 4)

1. (1) Florida 21-2

Frank Says: The Gators are on the road for five of their final seven Southeastern Conference regular-season games. There is no reason to wonder how well they'll hold up.

 

2. (4) UCLA 20-2

Frank Says: The Bruins are nearly overwhelming favorites to end up with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Yet, if they lose Wednesday (to USC) they are only sharing the Pac-10 lead.

 

3. (2) North Carolina 20-3

Frank Says: Here is another program that is a solid choice to grab a No. 1 seed. But the Tar Heels are a half-game out of the lead in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

 

4. (2) Wisconsin 22-2

Frank Says: The Badgers should get through their next four Big Ten games (Penn State twice, Iowa and Minnesota) without an excessive amount of stress.

 

5. (5) Ohio State 20-3

Frank Says: The Buckeyes' only losses are to likely No. 1 seeds Florida/UNC/Wisconsin.

 

6. (7) Pittsburgh 20-3

Frank Says: The Panthers get their Big East regular-season rematch with Marquette in Milwaukee on March 3. There could be a third meeting six days later in New York City.

 

7. (8) Texas A&M 19-3

Frank Says: The Aggies proved they could win in a hostile environment against a quality opponent Saturday night. How is that for an understatement?

 

8. (10) Butler 22-2

Frank Says: Can the Bulldogs end up with a No. 3 seed if they win out? One would hope so.

 

9. (6) Oregon 19-4

Frank Says: Losing by 12 points at UCLA and three at USC last weekend shouldn't be cause for alarm in Eugene.

 

10. (9) Kansas 19-4

Frank Says: The Jayhawks will face a Kansas State team Wednesday night that is just as committed to playing quality defense as is the Texas A&M squad that knocked them off Saturday night.

 

11. (12) Nevada 21-2

Frank Says: Marcellus Kemp and Ramon Sessions continue to demonstrate in grand style why Nick Fazekas is far from the only star in Reno.

 

12. (14) Washington State 19-4

Frank Says: The Cougars were a Christian Polk jump shot away from being the first Pac-10 victims of Arizona State Saturday.

 

13. (15) Memphis 19-3

Frank Says: The Tigers have a Feb. 17 non-conference game at Gonzaga, which could prove a decent indicator as to what kind of NCAA Tourney seed they'll end up with.

 

14. (16) Marquette 20-4

Frank Says: The Golden Eagles visit Washington, D.C., for a game with Georgetown that will be one of Saturday's best matchups.

 

15. (11) Duke 18-5

Frank Says: Three of the ACC losses have come by a combined five points.

 

16. (19) Indiana 16-6

Frank Says: Despite the loss at Iowa, the Hoosiers are still the guys with best opportunity to finish third in the Big Ten.

 

17. (20) Air Force 20-3

Frank Says: The Mountain West Conference's regular-season champion may not be determined until BYU visits Colorado Springs on Feb. 27.

 

18. (23) Stanford 15-6

Frank Says: If the Cardinal can somehow manage a sweep in Washington Thursday (in Pullman) and Sunday (in Seattle), a Pac-10 title is a legitimate goal.

 

19. (18) Texas 16-6

Frank Says: Despite Kevin Durant's usual productivity, the Longhorns couldn't hold off Kansas State Saturday when A.J. Abrams missed 14 of 16 shots from the floor.

 

20. (25) Vanderbilt 16-7

Frank Says: The Commodores bounced back nicely from the 10-point loss in Gainesville to beat Georgia in Nashville.

 

21. (ur) Southern Illinois 19-5

Frank Says: The Salukis continue to play some of the best defense anywhere and have a healthy RPI, to boot.

 

22. (13) Oklahoma State 18-4

Frank Says: It's time to start winning on the road or time to start vacating Top 25 Land.

 

23. (ur) Virginia 15-6

Frank Says: The Cavaliers' backcourt continues to be tough for any opponent to match up against.

 

24. (ur) Gonzaga 17-7

Frank Says: The double-OT win at Stanford showed why the Bulldogs are very much a team we should think has a great opportunity to still be playing in the second week of the NCAA Tournament.

 

25. (ur) USC 18-6

Frank Says: The Trojans will be playing UCLA with a piece of first place in the Pac-10 on the line. And that hasn't happened in a while.

 

Dropped out: Virginia Tech (17), Clemson (21), Notre Dame (22), Texas Tech (24).

 

Just missed: Arizona, BYU, Clemson, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Kansas State, Kentucky, New Mexico State, Notre Dame, Villanova, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech.



 

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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