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Starting fast

Some perfect records actually mean something

Posted: Monday December 8, 2003 5:56PM; Updated: Monday December 8, 2003 6:19PM
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By David Vecsey, SI.com

Matt Walsh
Matt Walsh sparks Florida's offense.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
With first-place votes in parentheses and previous ranking.
1. Florida (46) 2
2. Connecticut (9) 3
3. Missouri (6) 4
4. Duke 6
5. Kansas 1
6. Texas (3) 8
7. North Carolina (3) 10
8. Kentucky (1) 9
9. Arizona 7
10. Georgia Tech (4) 13
11. Oklahoma 14
12. Saint Joseph's 12
13. Stanford 21
14. Illinois 11
15. Wake Forest 18
16. Purdue 20
17. Gonzaga 17
18. Cincinnati 19
19. Syracuse 16
20. Pittsburgh 22
21. Michigan St. 5
22. Marquette 24
23. Wisconsin 15
24. Iowa
25. Dayton
Most Teams at No. 1 in One Season
7, 1983, Houston, Indiana, Memphis, UNLV, North Carolina, UCLA, Virginia
6, 1993, Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina
6, 1994, Arkansas, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA
6, 1995, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, UCLA
5, 1979, Duke, Indiana, Michigan St., Notre Dame, UCLA
5, 1990, Kansas, Missouri, UNLV, Oklahoma, Syracuse
5, 2001, Arizona, Duke, Michigan St. North Carolina, Stanford
5, 2003, Alabama, Arizona, Duke, Florida, Kentucky
 
 
"God did not bring me here to fail. God didn't put me in the positions he's put me in all my life to be anything but successful. I believe in the purpose he has in store for me. Right now, God is testing me."
-- Embattled St. John's coach Mike Jarvis. 

'Tis the season for tomato cans and patsies, when the sacrificial lambs march into the slaughter of early season tuneups for the heavyweights. It's too soon to let records dictate our feelings about a team. After all, most major programs are merely winning games they're supposed to win.

There are a few major conference teams out there, however, that warrant a little attention after a strong start.

The only unblemished records in the Big Ten, for example, belong to Iowa (6-0) and Purdue (6-0), both of which could jump up in this week's rankings. The Hawkeyes first caught our attention with a one-point win over then-No. 16 Louisville at the Wooden Tradition. With last year's leading scorer Glen Worley (broken finger) absent from the first five games, Steve Alford's club has been doing it with ferocious defense, holding four of six opponents under 60 points. It gets tougher now, however, espeically with road games upcoming at Northern Iowa, Texas Tech and Missouri.

Purdue really got our attention with its victory over then-No. 2 Duke in the final of the Great Alaska Shootout. The rest of their non-conference schedule, however, is nothing special, with only Thursday's game at Oklahoma to use as a barometer.

The ACC is 45-6 in non-conference play. Wake Forest at 5-0 is no shock and North Carolina at 5-0 is only mildly surprising. But look up a few places to see Florida State and Georgia Tech both sitting pretty at 7-0. Tech, of course, leaped into the Top 25 with consecutive victories over then-No. 1 UConn and then-No. 25 Texas Tech at the NIT in New York. The 'Noles' best wins were over Northwestern and Ole Miss; they have non-conference games left with Pittsburgh and Florida to really see how they stack up.

The SEC really has been dominant in the early going with a cumulative 55-7 record, three of those losses coming against ranked teams. Florida, 5-0 with only a win against Arizona to brag on, is likely the No. 1 team in the country this week.

Again, that's not surprising. But the play of two teams -- South Carolina (8-0) and Vanderbilt (5-0) -- really stands out.

The Gamecocks are off to their best start in 32 years and could realistically be 14-0 by the time conference play starts against Florida on Jan. 7. Behind 21 points per game from SEC Preseason Player of the Year Matt Freije, Vanderbilt counts Indiana and Michigan among its non-conference victories and stands a good chance of being 11-0 when it faces Auburn in its conference opener on Jan. 7.

Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said after blowing out Michigan by 20 that he doesn't think his team should fall into the "surprise" category.

"I told the guys after the game that I was happiest that they weren't surprised," Stallings said. "I could feel a very high level of confidence in that room. It's OK if they're surprised about the big win, but I'm happy they're not."

The key to Vandy's success? Depth.

"Our bench has been playing like a bunch of grizzlies," said the senior Freije, who is on pace to become the school's all-time leading scorer.

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Arizona (2-1) vs. Texas (4-0), Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN

Putting No. 7 Arizona and No. 8 Texas on a neutral court at Madison Square Garden will let us see who really is the better team. Arizona's past two games have come down to the final shot, prompting coach Lute Olson to say: "People wonder whether I'm kidding or not, but I'd rather have these types of games and lose them rather than have [blowouts]." Well, it should be another tight one against the hard-fighting 'Horns, who are looking to show that the loss of T.J. Ford wasn't as devastating as everybody made it out to be.

Maryland (4-2) at Florida (5-0), Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN

Florida should be playing its first game as the top-ranked team in the country, bringing up nasty memories of last year's fiasco against Kentucky. It's been open season on No. 1s so far. Maryland coach Gary Williams will make his third shot at win No. 300 wiht Maryland after dropping games to Gonzaga and West Virginia. The Terps haven't lost three in a row since January 2000.

Kentucky (4-0) at Michigan State (3-3), Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS

Tom Izzo's Spartans came into a brutal non-conference schedule hoping to find out just where they belong. So far, the answer hasn't been pleasant. The Spartans have one last chance to salvage their pride before heading into Big Ten play, taking Kentucky team in a made-for-TV Super Saturday game at Ford Field in Detroit. The Wildcats will have to shoot better than their 27.1-percent effort in Saturday's win over UCLA, their worst performance since shooting 24.5 percent in the 1984 Final Four loss to Georgetown.

Honorable Mention: Purdue-Oklahoma, Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN2; Florida at Louisville, Saturday, Noon, ESPN, Missouri vs. Gonzaga, Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS; Oregon at Kansas, Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN; Marquette at Arizona, Saturday, 4 p.m., Fox Sports Net.

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The Florida Gators became the Pope John Paul I of college hoops last year. On Feb. 1, they were voted the No. 1 team in the country for the first time in school history. On Feb. 2, they were waxed by Kentucky. Later Gators. Likely to be No. 1 again this week, the Gators hope to avoid meltdowns Wednesday at home against Maryland and Saturday at Louisville.

"Maryland's going to be a whole different atmosphere," said guard Anthony Roberson. "With them coming to the O-Dome it's going to be a big game and knowing they're capable of beating us if we don't play the way we know how to play. We've got to be on point, focused and ready to play."

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Before Sunday's game against Notre Dame, DePaul will dedicate the court at Allstate Arena to Ray Meyer and his late wife, Marge. ... UCLA will follow suit on Saturday, Dec. 20, by naming the floor of Pauley Pavilion after John Wooden and his late wife, Nell, before taking on Michigan State. ... Florida completed a five-day intra-state hat trick last week, beating Florida A&M, Central Florida and Stetson. That makes it 21 in a row against in-state teams and 40 consecutive non-conference home wins. ... UNLV (544), Vanderbilt (538) and Princeton (471) are the only teams to make a 3-pointer in every game since the rule was implemented before the 1986-87 season. ... UConn's Charlie Villanueva finished his six-game suspension and scored 16 points Saturday against Army. Meanwhile, teammate Emeka Okafor recorded only the fourth triple-double in UConn history. Donyell Marshall, Doron Sheffer and Caron Butler had the other three. ... South Carolina suspended senior F Kerbrell Brown for academics. Freshman Brandon Wallace will start in Brown's place Wednesday against The Citadel. ... Missouri PG Randy Pulley was cleared to play, but head coach Quin Snyder will hold the juco transfer out until the Dec. 21 game against UNC-Greensboro. Pulley was suspended during a review of his juco credits. "I think it's prudent for him to make basketball secondary and focus on finishing the semester strong," said Snyder. ... Two career records will soon fall at Colorado: G Blair Wilson is 21 3-pointers away from Stevie Wise's record of 214, and David Harrison is six blocks shy of Ted Allen's record of 161. ... Texas C James Thomas became the 24th Longhorn to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Elsewhere in the Big 12, Kansas' Keith Langford is 32 points shy of 1,000. ... Count Purdue coach Gene Keady out of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge fan club: "I'm just not for being told who we should play. Any Big Ten team ought to be able to play any team in the nation. We've always played ACC teams; we highly respect that league. ... We'll play anybody anyplace, but I don't want to be told to do it." ... How stunning was Hofstra's 17-point win at St. John's on Tuesday? Very. St. John's had won 21 of the previous 22 meetings by an average of 17.7 points. ... Cal freshman F Leon Powe has posted a double-double in all five games this season, including a 27-point, 11-rebound night in a victory over Cal-Irvine. He leads the team with 16.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg while playing a team-high 32.4 minutes per game. ... West Virginia junior Drew Schifino has scored in double figures in 43 consecutive games, the nation's longest active streak. Schifino is 47 points shy of 1,000 for his career. Another Big East player, Seton Hall senior G Andre Barrett has a 42-game double digit streak.

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Western Kentucky (0-5) came into the season with the nation's longest home winning streak, but proceeded to lose its first two home games to Mississippi State and Murray State. .... Murray State (6-0), meanwhile, is off to its best start since 1998-99, when the Racers opened with nine wins. ... Romain Sato's 240 3-pointers are an Xavier record, besting Lenny Brown's 236 from 1995-99. Sato had at least five threes in a game 16 times. .... Through Saturday, players from lower-profile programs were leading the NCAA in several stats: Fairfield junior Deng Gai with 5.3 blocks per game; Western Carolina junior Kevin Martin with 27 points per game; Northern Illinois senior Marcus Smallwood with 12.6 rebounds; Troy State junior Greg Davis with 9.5 assists per game; Bucknell freshman Chris McNaughton with .806 FG percentage; and Howard sophomore Louis Ford with 4.4 steals per game. ... After a 5-1 start, Bradley looked like it might be a surprise team in the Missouri Valley, but let's reserve judgment on Jim Les' team. The Braves squandered a 20-point lead in a 77-74 loss at DePaul on Sunday. BU still has solid non-conference games against Butler, at Pepperdine and at UNLV to prove itself as a bubble team before league play starts. ... New faces making big first impressions include UMass sophomore F Rashaun Freeman, who has scored in double figures in four out of five games. Freeman, academically ineligible last year, was the A-10 Rookie of the Week twice already, averaging 12.4 points in just 26.6 minutes per game.

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Here's where The Beat's readers get to have their say.

MAILBAG

This week's question: Michigan State wanted a schedule that allowed them to play quality teams early. It resulted in three losses to ranked teams. So the question is: Is this kind of scheduling good for a college team? Or does it hurt?

Last week's question: Who are the winners and losers in the upcoming conference realignments?

Thanks to everyone who wrote in; here's a sampling of the best stories and thoughts:

Is there even any question that the Big East will be the dominant conference in basketball of the future? With big-name coaches like Pitino and Calipari bringing in their big-name schools that are starting to be perennial powerhouses in the Top 25. I think we are going to see a resurrection in Big East rivalries, forget Georgetown vs. Syracuse, how about Louisville vs. Syracuse? Pitino vs. Boeheim, student vs. teacher. Now that'll be some serious entertainment. -- Matt Gleason, Utica, N.Y.

No more home-and-home hoops for everybody in the ACC? Get it outta here! -- Dean Ahearn, Burke, Va.

The additions of the "football" teams in the ACC will weaken the overall performance of the ACC. The ACC, however, still has UNC, Dook, (all Carolina fans spell it that way), Wake Forest and Maryland. All of these schools are basketball giants with hall of fame or future hall of fame coaches. It's going to be hard for any conference to take the lead with so much power in the ACC. I see the ACC leading the way into the near future. -- Steve Carr, Goldsboro, N.C.

The best basketball conference is and will be the Big 12. Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Mizzou, Bobby Knight's Tech, Oklahoma State ... all legitimate teams. Two of the Final Four last year were from the Big 12. With Barnes, Sampson, Snyder, Knight, and even the new fellow over at Kansas, the talent is in the Big 12. -- Andrew Donelan, Austin, Texas

Realignment helps no conference but hurts Conference USA. What the ACC gets in football they lose in basketball. What the Big East gets in basketball they lose in football. But C-USA lost both basketball and football, and didn't get much back. C-USA really bites the dust on this issue. -- Elliot, Buffalo Grove, Ill.

They might be good in football (notice I didn't say great) but Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College will water down a tough basketball conference with their dismal hoops programs. Maybe now the Big Ten will actually win the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. -- Joe Billups, Philadelphia

I personally am sick of people saying that the ACC has watered down its basketball quality. Did it lose a team while I wasn't looking? No? So when you keep all your current national championship contending teams and add two that have made five combined NCAA tournament appearances in the last five years, along with one patsy, that's watering down your product? Please. And while we're at it, look for those three new teams to have more success than ever in recruiting high school phenoms to play in the country's greatest basketball conference. -- J.D. Bolick, Denver, N.C.

The Big East can talk about being the new best conference, but it will always be the ACC! Until they have three teams that are as good as UNC, Duke, and Maryland they can have all the depth they want, it simply does not matter. -- J.P. Finlay, Bethesda, Md.

The Big East will have by far the best basketball conference. However, the schools in the conference are too spread out to create the intense rivalries that will always exist on Tobacco Road in the ACC. -- Zach, Morgantown, W.Va.

Boston College has been alternately vilified and and disregarded throughout this process. They are coming in under the radar with a solid young team and a great coach in Al Skinner. Look for them to be contenders, rather than pretenders in the new ACC! -- Thorpe, Newport, R.I.

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