With a week to go in the regular season, here are some things to ponder:
*The spectacular play of Kevin Durant and fellow freshman D.J. Augustin has drawn most of the attention. But kudos have to be tossed Coach Rick Barnes' way for his ability to direct a club relying on freshmen and a sophomore (A.J. Abrams) to within striking distance of a Big 12 championship, especially in a season when Kansas and Texas A&M are Final Four contenders.
*Washington State, a near-unanimous choice of the media and coaches to finish in last in the Pacific-10 Conference, has a mathematical opportunity to share the conference's regular season championship with UCLA. Tony Bennett will be the conference's Coach of the Year and it will be hard to pick anyone else for the national honor as well.
*UCLA's Bruins, despite losing three starters to the NBA (including sophomore point guard Jordan Farmar), could still end up with the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament while winning the Pac-10 by three or four games.
Yet the Tigers are 25-3 and, barring an upset in Conference USA play, will take a 30-3 record into the NCAA Tournament.
Bagging Individual Kudos for the Week of Feb. 18-24
*Zabian Dowdell (6-3, Sr., Virginia Tech)
The Hokies are still in the hunt for an Atlantic Coast Conference championship after he averaged 21.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.0 per games in home victories over Boston College (79-62) and Miami (73-57).
The Ducks snapped out of their slump, picking up Pacific-10 Conference victories over Washington State (64-59) and Washington (93-85) in Eugene. Brooks averaged 23.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
*Torey Jackson (5-10, Fr., Notre Dame)
The Irish solidified their NCAA Tournament at-large resume with a pair of Big East Conference wins over DePaul (78-54) and Marquette (85-73), as the freshman point guard averaged 17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.
*Acie Law (6-3, Sr., Texas A&M)
If anyone is going to challenge Kevin Durant for Player of the Year in the Big 12, it's apparent that this is going to have to be the guy. Law went averages of 25.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, while committing just one turnover over 72 minutes in the wins against Oklahoma State (66-46) and Baylor (97-87).
This Week's Cool Games
(A look at the weekend games will be posted Friday)
Frank Says: The Hoyas take an 11-game winning streak into the Carrier Dome and are clearly the best team in the Big East. But if they don't leave the building with the streak at 12, winning the regular-season title outright is going to be tough. Snapping that streak would do wonders for Syracuse's NCAA at-large aspirations.
Frank Says: What's with the slumping Gators? If they don't snap out of it in a hurry – and Knoxville would be an ideal place to start – they could fall to a No. 2 or, just maybe, a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I'm not leaping off any bandwagon just quite yet, though. The Volunteers have won five of six games and are working on improving their NCAA Tournament seed right now.
Frank Says: The Mountaineers would have reason to feel much more comfortable about which of the two post-season tournaments they'll be invited to by knocking off the Panthers. But West Virginia has won just twice (against Seton Hall and Rutgers) on Big East opponents' home floors this season.
Frank Says: The Spartans swept their four-game Big Ten home stand and look NCAA Tournament ship-shape. But they've been anything but spiffy on the road in conference, with their only Big Ten victory as a victory coming against Penn State – which has all of one conference win. The Wolverines are 7-7 in the conference. What do they have to do to create a strong argument for getting into the NCAA Tournament via the at-large route? Knocking off the Spartans and then Ohio State in Ann Arbor on Saturday would be a nice start.
Frank Says: The winner of this one maintains its hopes of at least sharing the Mountain West Conference championship with UNLV. Since the Falcons have reeled off 30 home victories in a row, I suppose we've got to give the edge to Air Force, right? But UNLV doesn't figure to lose at New Mexico or at home to Colorado State, making everything else moot.
No. 3 Texas A&M at No. 14 Texas
Frank Says: The freshmen-laden Longhorns still have a shot at the Big 12's regular-season championship. And who thought was going to be the case after Rick Barnes lost so much talent to the NBA last June?
Frank Says: After five consecutive ACC victories, the Terrapins have blown past the "trying to build an at-large bid case'' to the "trying to build up our NCAA Tournament seed" stage of the season. The Blue Devils' are also adding plenty of heft to their seeding argument of late.
No. 1 UCLA at No. 9 Washington State
Frank Says: The Bruins clinched a share of the Pac-10 title in Pauley Pavilion last week. But the host Cougars can snatch a piece of it away from Ben Howland's team by knocking off the Bruins and USC (Saturday) in Pullman, and then seeing their buddies from the West (Washington) stun UCLA in Seattle (Saturday). There is a whole lot to that equation, isn't there?
Frank Says: Even at 6-8 in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets are still hanging onto hopes (albeit of the slender variety) of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels, smarting after a loss at Maryland Sunday, could pretty much dash what is left of those hopes if they bounce back the way they have after their first four losses this season.
No. 18 at Virginia Tech at No. 21 Virginia
Frank Says: The Hokies and Cavaliers share the ACC lead with North Carolina heading into the final week of the regular season. Can I get an ``Amazing!'' out of the audience?
Frankhoops.com Top 25
(Includes last rating and record as of Feb. 25)
1. (1) UCLA 25-3
Frank Says: In reality, barring losses at Washington State and Washington this week, and another in their first Pac-10 tournament game, the Bruins have a No. 1 seed sewn up.
2. (3) Ohio State 26-3
Frank Says: Mike Conley, the best freshman point guard in the country (and, yes, I'm aware of Tywon Lawson, D.J. Augustin and Javaris Crittenton), bailed the Buckeyes out, big time, Sunday against Wisconsin.
3. (5) Wisconsin 26-4
Frank Says: The more critical loss in Columbus Saturday was that of post player Brian Butch to a dislocated elbow.
4. (6) Texas A&M 24-4
Frank Says: Like Big 12 co-leader Kansas, the Aggies could be in position to grab a No. 1 seed by winning out (the Big 12 Tournament included).
5. (7) Kansas 25-4
Frank Says: The Jayhawks have beaten six consecutive Big 12 opponents by an average margin of 28.8 points. That's impressive.
6. (4) Florida 25-4
Frank Says: The Gators have dropped consecutive SEC road games by 13 and 10 points.
7. (5) North Carolina 24-5
Frank Says: The Tar Heels may have to sweep Georgia Tech (Thursday night in Atlanta) and Duke (Sunday in Chapel Hill) just to get a share of the ACC regular-season championship.
8. (8) Nevada 26-2
Frank Says: Has anyone else noticed that Coach Mark Fox's team has the best record in the country?
9. (9) Washington State 23-5
Frank Says: The Cougars are guaranteed no worse than the No. 3 seed in the Pac-10 Tournament and could get the same seed in the NCAA Tournament.
10. (11) Memphis 25-3
Frank Says: Only one of the Tigers' Conference USA victories has come by a margin of less than double figures.
11. (11) Southern Illinois 25-5
Frank Says: The Salukis' Chris Lowery should be on all short lists of National Coach of the Year candidates.
12. (12) Georgetown 22-5
Frank Says: Based on the past month of play, the Hoyas should be a No. 1 seed.
13. (10) Pittsburgh 24-5
Frank Says: The Panthers need a healthy and bouncier Aaron Gray for the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
14. (15) Texas 21-7
Frank Says: The debate should now be "Has Kevin Durant had the greatest freshman season ever?"
15. (18) Duke 22-7
Frank Says: No one should be ripping the way Greg Paulus is playing these days.
16. (19) Louisville 21-8
Frank Says: Like Georgetown, the Cardinals certainly seem to be peaking for the NCAA Tournament.
17. (23) Winthrop 25-4
Frank Says: Win, lose or draw in the Big South Tournament, this team belongs in the Field of 65.
18. (24) Virginia Tech 20-8
Frank Says: Seth Greenberg could bag his second ACC Coach of the Year honor.
19. (ur) Maryland 22-7
Frank Says: The Terps will get NCAA Tournament rings for the first time in three seasons.
20. (ur) Michigan State 21-8
Frank Says: We'll call the Spartans a potential "Sweet 16 team" if they can win at Michigan and knock off Wisconsin in Madison to close the regular season.
21. (ur) Virginia 19-8
Frank Says: The Cavaliers removed any NCAA Tournament mystery by beating Georgia Tech in Charlottesville Saturday.
22. (ur) Notre Dame 22-6
Frank Says: Torey Jackson has given the team a big boost as a freshman point guard.
23. (ur) USC 21-8
Frank Says: The Trojans could get another shot at UCLA in the Pac-10 Tournament final in Los Angeles on March 10.
24. (22) Vanderbilt 19-9
Frank Says: Kevin Stallings should be the SEC Coach of the Year.
25. (ur) Oregon 22-7
Dropped out: Air Force (14), Boston College (16), BYU (17), Marquette (20), Indiana (21) and Stanford (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