Cupcake City

An opinionated and (hopefully) entertaining look at College Basketball

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Detroit Zoo opens up Ann Arbor Aviary extension...

What he lacks in size, he clearly compensates for in "ups..."

or at least it may have seemed that way to fans at Crisler arena who had to deal with actual birds flying around the arena while watching their Wolverines fall to Wisconsin. To add insult to injury, Michigan may have lost Danny Horton to another knee injury, this one to his "good" right knee.

Oh, and apparently they shut the lights off in the upper bowl yesterday to avoid the embarassment of TV cameras catching the fact that there were several thousand no-shows. News flash, guys; the world already KNOWS Michigan can't draw.
|| St8IzGr8, 9:25 AM || link || (3) comments |

Saturday, January 22, 2005

New school rivalries...

are the topic du jour for Andy Katz at ESPN. He highlights eight of fairly recent vintage. In order...

1. Duke-Maryland - No question that this one is a product of two things; Maryland's rise to national prominence and Gary Williams' intensity. It'll never be the "big" game for Duke, but it's likely running second these days, and it's clear that the Blue Devils occupy the primary bulls-eye position in College Park. They haven't met yet this season, but that changes next week. Maryland likely needs a "notice me" win in terms of securing solid seeding, while Duke is still humming along undefeated.

2. Michigan State-Wisconsin - This one is, without question, legit. As Katz points out, it has it's roots going back to 2000, when MSU beat the Badgers an unprecedented four times that season, including a national semifnal victory. At that point, MSU was in the midst of winning 12 out of 13 over UW, plus the Badgers were just happy to be at a level where anyone outside Madison noticed that they actually played basketball, given the program's long history of futility prior to Bennett's arrival. However, when Bo Ryan appeared on the scene, things turned up another few notches for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that Wisconsin actually started BEATING MSU.

Wiscy pulled off an improbbable comeback win at Kohl last weekend. They'll meet again in February at Breslin. Expect a jihad-like atmosphere.

3. UK-Florida - Less venom than in the first two we've mentioned, I tend to think. This one is mostly a function of the fact that they've been the dominant SEC East programs over the last 5 years. I'm sure it's a big deal for Florida, but UK has bigger fish to fry in the non conference; those people get up for IU and Louisville in a way they never do for a team like Florida.

Katz is ultimately correct here (as he is in almost all of these new "rivalries"); it's health depends almost entirely upon Florida keeping up its end of the bargain and remaining competitive.

4. Cincinnatti- Charlotte - This one will die with new conference affiliations for both programs beginning next season. Not really worth talking about, IMO.

5.Kansas -Texas - Now this is more like it. Kansas is the perennial bad-boy of the Big 8/12, while Texas has FINALLY seemed to capitalize on its long standing immense potential with Rick Barnes as the head guy in Austin. Katz says that, due to Big 12 scheduling policy, they only play once a year. While that's a shame in one sense, it's also a good way to up the significance of each meeting, and therefore the bad blood.

I agree with AK; tradition, coaching, and recruiting lead one to conclude that this matchup is a grower, with great potential. Both teams and coaches like to get after it and play a physical brand of basketball. Could be another MSU/Wisconsin if someone can inject a bit more controversy into the mix.

6. Arizona-Washington - Don't buy it. Katz says that UW is recruiting well, so they ought to stay on top in the Pac 10, but I'm from Missouri on that one. Yeah, it's a fun matchup this season, but beyond that...UW has to stay at or near the top for awhile before I'll get behind this idea. A far better Pac 10 matchup to watch, IMO, is Zona-UCLA, which has been in need of rejuvination. Thanks to Ben Howland, I think it'll get that.

7.Vemont-BU - Please. Katz is reaching here. He admits that Vermont is likely heading for a fall next season. How about something like Gonzaga/Pepperdine, with a bit more history behind it?Maybe that was too obvious...

8. Wisconsin-Milwaukee- Illinois Chicago - Now this is interesting because of the coaches' histories. As Big 10 fans may remember, WM coach Bruce Pearl was the assistant at Iowa that blew the whistle on current UIC coach-then Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins over the recruitment of Deon Thomas. The Illini went on probation and the bad blood has never receeded. Both programs have been solid in recent years. I would think Pearl has a chance to move up in the world (don't see a move for Collins, given his age), but as long as they're both around, it'll be an interesting game to watch.
|| St8IzGr8, 10:36 AM || link || (0) comments |

Friday, January 21, 2005

In Top 25 action...

The big one was Illinois' OT win (at home, no less) over Iowa. Was I surprised? Very much so, for two reasons; one, the game was in Champaign, where the Illini are even tougher, and two, Iowa is not the sort of team I imagined being able to spring an upset over Illinois. I see the the Illini as being vulnerable on the interior. If you can limit the looks they get from Augustine especially, the game becomes tougher for the perimeter guys that really carry them. I didn't see Iowa as a team well put together to do that. However, they still managed to coax a 21% "effort" from Illinois from three, which had a ton to do with why this game was close. It's obvious to say now, but without Luther Head, that game is in the loss column for the Orange and Blue. From the Iowa side, great performances by Pierre Pierce (7 TOs, though, PP!), Greg Brunner, and Adam Haluska. What's going on w/ Jeff Horner, though? Pre-season, he seemed to be Scott Skiles redux. Not so much anymore...

Elsewhere, USF shocked Gonzaga. That's the second WCC loss already for the Zags, and all that Final Four talk may start to get stifled just a touch. The Dons aren't a bad bunch this year, having gone 9-0 at home, but this is still a game Gonzaga has to win if they're to be taken seriously as a national contender. Apparently, the same old bugaboo (defense) was the issue in this one, as USF rained 10 3 pointers down on the Bulldogs' heads.

Finally, DePaul beat #25 Marquette at home by a fairly comfortable margin. Not a real shocker, as the Demons moved to 3-1 in CUSA with the win. They're a legit NCAA threat again this year, and at home, you'd expect them to give Marquette all they want. Of note was the fact that DePaul had 21 offensive rebounds in this game, not a stat to make a coach like Tom Crean sleep well.
|| St8IzGr8, 6:43 AM || link || (0) comments |

Tucker out for the year...

as an academic casualty for the Texas Longhorns. That's a big, big blow for Texas, which has a relatively young (but talented) playing group to begin with. Tucker is only a sophomore, but given that he was a starter for all of last season as well, he gave UT experience and production that they're just not going to be able to duplicate.

This is a highly unusual development, IMO. Think about it; how often do you see kids lose eligibility in the middle of a season? Not very often. Usually it's the other way around, and they regain it in the fall semester. One thing you can be sure of is that Texas is likely playing everything strictly by the book, not wanting to repeat any of the shennanigans that went on in the latter stages of the Tom Pender regime.
|| St8IzGr8, 6:38 AM || link || (0) comments |

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Katz on first-year wonders...

and here, we're talking about head coaches, many of whom were a touch under the radar coming into the season. Not anymore, as ESPN's Andy Katz points out. Let's take a deeper look:

First up is Frank Heath at Miami. Heath has one of the more surprising stories going this year, even taking into account last night's loss to Duke. The Canes joined the ACC this year, which didn't look like the makings of a happy beginning for their new coach, but damned if he isn't 3-2 in the ACC, and with enough non confernce wins that an NCAA bid isn't out of the question. Personally, I expect them to slip a bit, but so far, they've looked like a team with some staying power. Robert Hite, a kid from Ohio, is the ringleader down there, and the Canes are a team worth watching. What'll also be worth watching is how Heath fares on the recruiting trails. He came from Texas, where he had a large hand in the great classes that Rick Barnes has put together in recent years. Miami isn't a tough place to recruit to (Leonard Hamilton did just fine), so Heath should be able to reel in some high level talent. He'll need to in order to stay competitive in this conference on an annual basis.

John Thompson III at Georgetown is the next to go under the microscope. They also are 3-2 in conference play, coming off a tough OT loss at the Carrier Dome to Syracuse. I wouldn't reserve a place at the NCAA table just yet, but Thompson has played enough solid teams (and won enough) that you can't count them out just yet, either. If he can get them to postseason play, that might be enough to rejuvinate the aura around the program and help him get some better talent in place in DC.

Billie Gillespie went from UTEP, a traditional basketball school, to Texas A&M,a traditional basketball coach's graveyard this season. SO far, so good, as the Aggies are hanging in there, having claimed a win over Texas so far in a nice start to Big 12 play. Gillespie is reportedly an energy guy. He'll need it at A&M, a place where basketball has never really worked very well. Still, Texas provides a nice recruiting base and he is a home state guy. Again, much as in the case of Heath, the competition is such that Gillespie will need to ratchet up the recruiting in a hurry just to keep pace in his conference.

The next group Katz looks at are guys who inherited NCAA teams:

Doc Sadler took over for Gillespie at UTEP and has done a nice job keeping things on track so far, racking up a 14-3 mark so far (4-1 in the WAC). UTEP has traditionally been a great mid-majorish job. They have great fan support and a long history of success. Sadler ought to be able to make a go of it there.

Mark Fox at Nevada is also off to a great start. They struggled a touch early, but there they are at 5-1 in the WAC. The Pack lost a ton off last year's team, but Fox is demonstrating that they weren't a one-year wonder.

Chris Lowery is the new guy at Southern Illinois, another mid major with a history of success. They too are rolling early, off to a 5-0 start in the Missouri Valley. Lowery was an assistant to both Bruce Weber and Matt Painter in Carbondale, so he knows the territory well.
|| St8IzGr8, 6:38 AM || link || (0) comments |

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Not the night to be a Top 25 team...

or so it seemed for many. Wake Forest was the most shocking in terms of result, losing on the road to a Florida State team that has frankly underacheived so far this season. Does this erase all the good the Deacons did for their ACC title hopes over the weekend by beating UNC? Maybe so...this was one they needed to get. Von Wafer, a guy who was much heralded coming out of HS but hasn't really met expectations, exploded for 30 pts, including 6-8 from three. Wake also missed a freethrow, so a record run of 50 straight makes goes by the board as well as their 10 game win streak.

That wasn't the end of the carnage, however. Mississippi State was demolished by Alabama by 49 points. The Dogs have now lost 2 straight road games after winning their previous 16. A loss on the road, to a good team in Alabama and without your leading scorer (the injured Winsome Frazier)? All understandable, but 49 points? I've been a big MSU booster this season, seeing them as a legit Top 10 team, but after this I might have to rethink things. Great teams do occasionally lose, but they don't get manhandled in this fashion, injuries or no.

Then, everyone's favorite whipping boy Pitt took another one on the chin, losing to a woeful St. John's team by 3. At this point, it's probably fair to ask if the Panthers are even a legit Top 25 team. It's difficult for me to understand what's happened there, as they returned enough key players from last year's surprising squad, and they're in year two of the Jamie Dixon regime, so that excuse is off the table. They hurt their own cause by only nailing 12 of 20 free throws, which in a tight game like this is usually the kiss of death.

Speaking of botched free throws, Michigan State narrowly avoided a horrendous upset to a truly terrible Purdue team in large part due to the fact that the Boilers can't make the freebees. Purdue went 16-29 from the line, a no-no when trying to steal a win on the road. However, Carl Landry looked like the second coming of Glenn Robinson by torching the Spartans for 31 points and 9 boards.

In other games, Syracuse pulled out an OT win at home over Georgetown, and Oklahoma continued its impressive revival by beating Texas A&M easily at home
|| St8IzGr8, 8:17 AM || link || (0) comments |

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Wake beats UNC in latest "Game of the Century"

Eric Williams feels the love of a hot Winston-Salem night after his Deacons took out UNC

...or at least, game of this week. The Deacons won by a fairly comfortable 95-82 spread, which ought to put the breaks on the "is Carolina unbeatable" talk that had taken root of late (and which I addressed on this very blog not a week ago). Yes, Wake was at home, so you'd expect them to win, and they did. However, UNC was never really a threat in this game, which might be surprising. The question marks with UNC revolve around two areas, IMO. The first is their willingness to play unselfishly. Not a massive problem yesterday (McCants didn't go AWOL), but still something worth watching. The second is how they play on the defensive end. It's all well and good to ring up the points on offense, but if you want to win a championship, eventually, you're going to have to check some people, and that's where I question UNC, as talent-laden as they may be.

Chris Paul further cemented his status as the best point guard in the nation in this game, IMO. The soph played 34 minutes, racked up 8 assists with only one turnover, recorded SIX rebounds (for a 6'1" wisp like Paul, that's impressive) and 5 steals, and, oh yeah, scored 26 points to boot. Every year we see guys emerge at that position who have that "leader" look about them. Paul is top of that list this season, IMO, and he's why I picked Wake to win it all in October. Whether they follow through on that is anyone's guess at this point, but when you have a guy like that running the show, you stand a great chance to have an enjoyable March.

Other notable elements to this game:

- Wake set an ACC record by going 32-32 from the line in this game.

- This is the only meeting these two teams will have this season, due to ACC expansion and the introduction of an unbalanced schedule (welcome to that ridiculousness. The Big 10's been living with that plague for years now, and it's always a joy to behold). Thus, advantage Wake in terms of winning the ACC title.

- Sean May was held to just 9 points. UNC needed much, much more from the big kid from Indiana to have a shot, and didn't get it. Hats off to Wake for finding ways to contain him, but May has been suspect at times in big moments. This game won't help make that knock go away.

- Wake is 6-1 against UNC under Skip Prosser

So, the verdict is:

- Wake is a legit national contender. This'll help take some of the sting out of the Illinois loss back in November.

- Chris Paul may be the best player in the nation, when you take everything into account.

- UNC is good. Very good. However, they are not the best team in the nation at this point. They are one of a group of teams that have legit national title aspiratons,but a team that's heads and shoulders above everyone else (as some were beginning to claim on their behalf) finds a way to win this game.
|| St8IzGr8, 5:45 AM || link || (0) comments |

Beaver coach in health crisis...

Tough night for Jay John. The former Arizona assistant and current head man at Oregon State had to leave the arena by ambulance at halftime of his team's game yesterday. Sounds like he's stabilized...surprising, perhaps, that we don't see more of these types of incidents, given the nature of the job.
|| St8IzGr8, 5:36 AM || link || (4) comments |

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Once upon a time...

I'm not sure why, but this rendering of Gene Keady scares the hell out of me...

an IU/Purdue matchup was a marquee game, not just in the Big 10 but nationally. Those days are gone, as the Indy Star's Terry Hutchens tells us today. This piece is basically a trip down memory lane, and does attempt to offer a reminder of the fact that, when it's a rivalry game, you can throw the record book out the window. In this case, I think Keady and Davis would love to do nothing more...
|| St8IzGr8, 4:40 AM || link || (0) comments |

Bilas on the ACC

In view of today's Wake-UNC showdown, it's as good a time as any to take a look at the ACC as a whole with Jay Bilas over at ESPN. Bilas is, in the opinion of many, perhaps as good an analyst of the college game as anyone going, and the fact that he plays the print game just as well as the talking head version is testament to that fact.

Anyway, Jay's take is a somewhat unorthodox one in this season of ACC love. His take is that, right now, only four teams in the ACC should be considered tournament locks. This from a conference that was seen to be worthy of 7 or perhaps even a record 8 coming in. He's got the obvious candidates as "locks" (UNC, Wake, GTech, and Duke). From there, though, I think he raises some good points. Bilas tries to break each team down the way the tournament selection committee claims they do, by looking at who you played AND who you beat. According to that test, there's a group of four (Miami, NC State, Maryland, and Virginia) in that middle tier. Conventional wisdom is that NC State and Maryland are sure-things, but Bilas points out that the resume to date isn't that overwhelming for either team. Miami has been a big surprise thus far, while Virginia needs to get back on track fast.

I think the obvious overriding point here is that teams like NC State and Maryland still have a lot of work to get done in ACC play. They can't afford losses to the bottom tier teams, and they probably need to rack up a win or two against that upper tier group as well to really nail a bid down. My guess is that'll happen for both of them, and barring a weird ACC tournament run by somebody, the league will get six bids.
|| St8IzGr8, 4:27 AM || link || (0) comments |