Burlison: Bracket Busters and UCLA #1

Scout.com's college basketball columnist Frank Burlison reviews the bracket-buster games from last weekend, the emerging WAC, the players of the week across the country, what looks like the best backcourt in the country, and his new Top 25, with the Bruins now regaining the #1 position...

A quick evaluation of the winners and losers in some of the Bracket Buster matchups over the weekend:

 

WINNERS

*Southern Illinois: When you play rock-solid defense, don't turn the ball over much and get solid shot attempts on pretty much every possession, you're a very good team. And that's what the Salukis looked like Saturday on the home floor of another very good team, Butler, while prevailing, 68-64.

 

*Winthrop: An 11-point win at Missouri State strengthens the "Winthrop is worthy of an at-large bid, if it doesn't win the Big South Conference tournament" suggestion.

 

*The WAC: Western Athletic Conference teams Nevada (by 15 points over Northern Iowa), Utah State (by five points at Oral Roberts), New Mexico State (by five points over Ohio), Hawaii (by 15 at Big West Conference-leading Long Beach State), Boise State (by one over Albany), Fresno State (18 over Sam Houston State) and Louisiana Tech (by 16 at Southeast Missouri State) enabled the conference to go 7-2. Is it the strongest "mid-major" conference this season? Could be.

 

LOSERS

*The MVC (as a whole): Creighton (losing by six to visiting Drexel), Missouri State (getting handled by Winthrop at home), Wichita State (clipped by two at home by Appalachian State) and Northern Iowa (smoked in the second half in Reno by Nevada) didn't do much to support the "the Missouri Valley is the best mid-major conference in the country" pre-event belief, although Bradley (73-64 over Virginia Commonwealth) joined Southern Illinois in knocking off a quality opponent on the road.

 

*The Big West: What does it say when its leader (Long Beach State, just a win a away from clinching a share of the conference title) loses at home by 15 points to Hawaii, which is in seventh place in the Western Athletic Conference? That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

 

Bagging Individual Kudos for the Week of Feb. 11-17

*Derrick Byars (6-7, Sr., Vanderbilt)

A definition of a "nice week" for a Southeastern Conference basketball player: Going for 32 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals in a 78-68 victory over South Carolina on Wednesday, then following that performance with 24 points, eight rebounds and five steals while leading your team past defending national champion and (then) No. 1 Florida on Saturday, 83-70. OK, let's change that to a "marvelous week".

 

*Darren Collison (6-0, So., UCLA)

The slender and slick point guard led the Bruins back from a 10-point deficit at Arizona State on Thursday night while finishing with 18 points, two rebounds and three assists in a 67-61 Pac-10 victory. Two days later he was even better, with 17 points (hitting five of seven 3's), 15 assists, a steal and only two turnovers in an 81-66 win in Tucson over Arizona.

 

*Jeff Green (6-8, Jr., Georgetown)

One of the nation's hottest teams continued to be just that thanks to Green. He 15 points, six rebounds and five assists in the Hoyas' 71-53 victory over visiting West Virginia last Monday night. And, on Saturday in Philadelphia, he hit the go-ahead jump shot while finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists while playing 40 minutes in the 58-55 win at Villanova.

 

*Jarrius Jackson (6-1, Sr., Texas Tech)

The Red Raiders got themselves back into the NCAA Tournament at-large bid hunt last week and this fellow was a significant reason why. His jump shot at the buzzer – and 31-point performance – gave his team a 77-75 win at Texas A&M Tuesday night, snapping a five-game losing streak in the process. Saturday he went for 28 points and a couple of assists – without a turnover – as Texas Tech cruised past visiting Colorado, 95-74.

 

*Alando Tucker (6-6, Sr., Wisconsin)

The Badgers hung onto their share of the Big Ten lead and Tucker remained a strong contender for conference and national player of the year honors as well, going for 29 points and nine rebounds in Wisconsin's 75-62 win at Minnesota and 22 points, six rebounds and two assists when the team cruised past Penn State, 75-49. The only bummer: He made just nine of 20 free-throw attempts.

 

This Week's Cool Games

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

MONDAY

No. 6 Kansas at Kansas State

Frank Says: The Jayhawks thumped the Wildcats by 27 points in Lawrence on Feb. 7. Bob Huggins' club would unquestionably like to exact a bit of avenge by hurting Kansas' Big 12 regular-season championship hopes. But, even more than that, a Kansas State win would help the Wildcats' at-large hopes immensely.

 

Villanova at No. 20 Marquette

Frank Says: The Golden Eagles are sliding – they've dropped three consecutive games – and there are no soft touches over the final three Big East regular-season games, since they're at Notre Dame on Friday and play host to Pittsburgh on March 3. The Wildcats' four-game winning streak didn't die easily, as Georgetown needed a late jumper by Jeff Green to edge Villanova Saturday.

 

TUESDAY

No. 2 Wisconsin at Michigan State

Frank Says: The last two Spartans' wins (both at home, by 15 points over Michigan and 32 over Iowa) were impressive. But how really impressive would a victory over the second-ranked team be at this stage of the season, regardless of the location?

 

No. 14 Air Force at UNLV

Frank Says: This could be a preview of a Mountain West Conference tournament (which will be played in Las Vegas, by the way) semifinal. The Falcons had their toughest home test of the season before knocking off the Rebels (56-50) in Colorado Springs on Jan. 7.

 

Texas Tech at No. 15 Texas

Frank Says: Kevin Durant scored 37 points and grabbed 23 rebounds – 23! – when the Longhorns beat the Red Raiders (76-64) in Lubbock on Jan. 31. That's when the "National freshman of the year" talk quickly changed to the "National player of the year" conversation for the 6-9 forward.

 

DePaul at Notre Dame

Frank Says: Is this the most critical game of the season for the Blue Demons? One could suggest that. They've won three in a row and the schedule (they close Big East regular-season play in Chicago against Cincinnati and South Florida) points to a 6-0 end-of-the-regular season run – if they can get by the Irish in South Bend, of course.

 

WEDNESDAY

South Carolina at No. 4 Florida

Frank Says: The Gators looked like anything but national championship favorites last week while needing to rally from 18 points down to beat Alabama in Gainesville and then getting pasted by 13 points by Vanderbilt in Nashville. The Gamecocks were on the front end of one of the weekend's more startling scores (81-64 over Tennessee).

 

North Carolina State at No. 5 North Carolina

Frank Says: Virginia's favorable closing schedule would seem to dictate that the Tar Heels are going to have to win out, in all likelihood, if they want to at least share the regular-season title with the Cavaliers. Oh, yes: There is a lot of other motivation for Roy Williams' team as well, since the Wolfpack knocked off the Tar Heels in Raleigh on Feb. 3, 83-79.

 

No. 6 Texas A&M at Oklahoma State

Frank Says: The Aggies want to at least hang on to a share of the Big 12 Conference lead. As for the Cowboys, well they've dropped four of their past five games to fall to 5-6 in conference. That's not exactly closing with the kind of flourish the NCAA's selection and seeding crew will smile upon.

 

No. 16 Boston College at Virginia Tech

Frank Says: The Eagles clipped the Hokies by 21 points the first time around. Virginia Tech built up so much NCAA Tournament at-large bid good will with a pair of wins over North Carolina and another at Duke. But it had better not have any more of those unsightly 25-point losses (at North Carolina State Sunday) left in its system.

 

No. 22 Vanderbilt at Mississippi State

Frank Says: OK, let's see how much energy the Commodores can play with in Starkville after turning in such a stunning performance in Nashville while whacking Florida Saturday. The Bulldogs, after consecutive SEC wins over Auburn, Arkansas and LSU leveled their conference mark at 6-6, are suddenly back in the at-large bid gossip.

 

Alabama at Tennessee

Frank Says: The Crimson Tide comes off a solid 72-61 victory over Kentucky in Tuscaloosa on Saturday while the Volunteers are coming off an 81-64 dud (as in "loss") against South Carolina in Columbus Saturday. Both are 6-6 in conference and staring face to face with NCAA Tournament seeds that will be in the eight to 10 range.

 

THURSDAY

No. 9 Washington State at Oregon

Frank Says: The Ducks can waddle off their slippery slope of late (they dropped three games in a row and five of their past seven) and put a damper on the Cougars' Pac-10 titles hopes  in the process.

 

No. 18 Duke at Clemson

Frank Says: Funny what a couple of wins (at Boston College and at home to Georgia Tech) can do to the "What's wrong with Duke?" talk, eh? This game is firmly in the "have to have it" category for the Tigers, who have lost seven of their past nine games and wouldn't be in the field if the NCAA Tournament at-large teams were being picked today.

 

No. 25 Stanford at USC

Frank Says: Third place in the Pac-10 is on the line in this one after the Trojans' loss at Arizona State Sunday evening. The last time these teams played, Stanford won in Palo Alto, 65-50, as Brook and Robin Lopez, and Lawrence Hill combined to block 19 of USC's 67 field-goal attempts.

 

Frankhoops.com Top 25

(Includes last rating and record as of Feb. 18)

1. (3) UCLA 23-3

Frank Says: Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison looked like the best starting backcourt in the country during the Bruins sweep in Arizona last week.

 

2. (4) Wisconsin 26-2

Frank Says: Are, in fact, the Badgers the best team in the Big Ten and worthy of one of the four No. 1 seeds awarded on March 11? We'll be able to definitively say after their treks to East Lansing (Tuesday) and Columbus (Sunday).

 

3. (5) Ohio State 24-3

Frank Says: The Buckeyes "have won every game they should have so far this season" and how many other teams can make that claim?

 

4. (1) Florida 24-3

Frank Says: The Gators (had to rally from 18 down to beat Alabama at home and lost by 13 at Vanderbilt) had their worst week in more than a year last week.

 

5. (2) North Carolina 23-4

Frank Says: Here's saying the Tar Heels will not lose again until the NCAA Tournament.

 

6. (7) Texas A&M 22-4

Frank Says: The Aggies will be facing what should be a near-desperate Oklahoma State team in Stillwater Tuesday night.

 

7. (8) Kansas 23-4

Frank Says: The Jayhawks have had a four-game "they should get to the Final Four" stretch, outscoring Kansas State, Missouri, Colorado and Nebraska by an average margin of 31.8 points.

 

8. (9) Nevada 24-2

Frank Says: Three consecutive WAC road games on tap for the Wolf Pack.

 

9. (10) Washington State 22-4

Frank Says: The Cougars need a sweep in Oregon to be able to come back to Pullman with at least a share of the Pac-10 title within their grasps.

 

10. (6) Pittsburgh 23-4

Frank Says: The Panthers looked anything but "sharp" while losing by 13 at home to Louisville and then struggling to beat a team that is 6-8 in the Pac-10 (Washington) by four in Pittsburgh.

 

11. (12) Memphis 23-3

Frank Says: The Tigers' performance while hanging on to beat an undermanned Gonzaga team in overtime Saturday didn't exactly scream "this is a team that should be a 3 or 4 seed in the tournament!"

 

12. (14) Southern Illinois 23-5

Frank Says: Based on how well the Salukis played in Indianapolis while beating Butler Saturday, I'd almost be surprised if they aren't playing in the second week of the NCAA Tournament.

 

13. (17) Georgetown 20-5

Frank Says: For the time being, at least, the Hoyas look to be the best team in the Big East.

 

14. (18) Air Force 23-4

Frank Says: With a Tuesday night Mountain West Conference contest at UNLV on tap, the Falcons' national rating – and conference title hopes – could be in serious jeopardy in Las Wages.

 

15. (19) Texas 19-7

Frank Says: Amazingly enough, the Longhorns are still in the thick of the Big 12 Conference championship race. Well, with Kevin Durant wearing uniform No. 35, maybe it's not quite that amazing after all.

 

16. (20) Boston College 18-8

Frank Says: The Eagles dropped a pair of home games (to Duke and North Carolina) and still climbed four slots in the Top 25? The logic used, of course, is that some teams ranked about them last week lost games to teams not nearly as good as Duke and North Carolina.

 

17. (21) BYU 20-6

Frank Says: Here is one of the hottest clubs in the country (with five wins in a row and 15 in the Cougars' past 17 games) and yet very few people seem to be abuzz with BYU conversation. Go figure.

 

18. (ur) Duke 20-7

Frank Says: I haven't heard or read anyone suggest in the past few days that "Duke might miss the NCAA Tournament this season".

 

19. (ur) Louisville 19-8

Frank Says: What an impressive pair of Big East road wins (Pittsburgh and Marquette)!

 

20. (16) Marquette 21-7

Frank Says: Three consecutive losses and suddenly it's Georgetown and Louisville that are stealing a lot of the Big East national thunder.

 

21. (13) Indiana 17-8

Frank Says: Maybe it's time to ponder the suggestion that there are two very, very good teams in the Big Ten and several "just OK" ones.

 

22. (ur) Vanderbilt 18-8

Frank Says: Oh, the rewards a SEC team can pick up by sweeping South Carolina and Florida in the same week!

 

23. (ur) Winthrop 23-4

Frank Says: It's time for some national props to a team that has lost only on the home floors of North Carolina, Maryland, Wisconsin and Texas A&M.

 

24. (ur) Virginia Tech 18-8

Frank Says: The Hokies are leading candidates for the "most unpredictable team of the season" honors. You win at North Carolina and then lose by 25 points at North Carolina State five days alter? I don't get it.

 

25. (ur) Stanford 17-8

Frank Says: This ranking could be a bit precarious, since the Cardinal must take a Southern California road trip puts Trent Johnson's team in the Galen Center (against USC) on Thursday and Pauley Pavilion (vs. the No.1 UCLA Bruins) on Saturday afternoon.

 

Dropped out: Oregon (15), Kentucky (22), USC (23), Oklahoma State (24) and Arizona (25).



 

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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