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Keep an eye on the mid-majors

Posted: Monday February 7, 2005 1:08PM; Updated: Monday February 7, 2005 2:39PM
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Ike Diogu
Arizona State center Ike Diogu is averaging a double-double with 22.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
AP

CLICK HERE FOR PART I OF STEWART MANDEL'S INSIDER

Thoughts for the week

• After compiling SI.com's first Bracket Watch of the season, I believe there will be an unusually high number of mid-majors to receive at-large bids this year. Some of the bloated major conferences -- read: SEC -- don't have all that many compelling offerings, while the Missouri Valley (Wichita State, Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa) and the WCC (Gonzaga, St. Mary's and San Francisco) could both make legitimate arguments for three each.

• You can see the early stages of another Tom Penders' turnaround taking shape at Houston. The Cougars, 8-20 and 9-18 the past two years, are 5-4 in Conference USA and 14-9 overall after beating Memphis on Saturday. They still endure their share of butt-whippings away from home but can play with anyone at home, as evidenced by their win over Louisville..

• Can we all agree that Stanford (12-9) simply isn't that good this year? I noticed a lot of Pac-10 and national media members jumping on the bandwagon during the Cardinal's recent six-game winning streak, but give me a break. If last year's Josh Childress-led team couldn't make it out of the second round, this one -- which lost to Arizona and Arizona State over the weekend -- will be fortunate to avoid the NIT.

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• I turned on the television Sunday afternoon hoping to watch Illinois-Indiana, but apparently CBS feels that New York City hoops fans would rather watch Army-Navy (basketball, not football) than the No. 1 team in the country. Hate to sound unpatriotic but ... are you kidding me?

• This week's "Act like you've been there before" award goes to Charlotte fans, who not only stormed the court but showered it with confetti following the 49ers' 91-90 win over No. 18 Cincinnati. I'm fully aware that Charlotte fans considers the Bearcats their biggest rivals, but a little crack research shows that they have a better record than Cincinnati and they've beaten them at least once in four of the past five seasons.

Player of the Week

Ike Diogu, Arizona State. Diogu is living proof that East Coast-bias is alive and well in college-sports coverage. If he were having the kind of season he is (22.6 points per game, 10.1 rebounds) in the ACC or Big East, he'd be a shoo-in for player of the year. As it is, he's no guarantee to make first-team All-America (though, for some reason, Hakim Warrick is).

Then again, if he were playing in the ACC or Big East -- or on a team that actually has a second scorer -- there's no guarantee he'd be putting up those kind of numbers.

Nevertheless, this past week did nothing to hurt Diogu's All-America cause. On Thursday, he scored 39 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 74-67 win over Stanford, then followed it up with 35 and seven against Cal.

Team of the Week

Texas Tech. Road wins of any kind are at a premium this time of year, so you have to tip your hat to the Red Raiders for going into Norman and knocking off 14th-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday, 88-81, behind a career-high 32 points from Jarrius Jackson. The victory was particularly significant because, despite the program's considerable improvement in the four years since Bob Knight's arrival, playing on the road has always remained its Achilles heel. The Red Raiders were 4-7 last year. This season they're 4-2, and with Saturday's win improved to 6-2 in the Big 12, a half-game out of second place.

Games to Watch

Boston College at Notre Dame, Tuesday. Dick Vitale said during Saturday night's Notre Dame-Syracuse game he believed the 20-0 Eagles would suffer their first loss in South Bend, and I don't disagree. Then again, I've picked the Irish to go to the Final Four each of the past two preseasons, so what do I know?

North Carolina at Duke, Wednesday. With UNC's lean years having come to an end, this is probably the strongest the two teams have been collectively going into a meeting since 1998, when Carolina had Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and Ed Cota. Duke had Elton Brand, Shane Battier and Steve Wojciechowski.

North Carolina at Connecticut, Sunday. The Huskies have been somewhat of a disappointment -- losing Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon will do that -- but there's no denying the amount of talent still on hand. An upset here would really reenergize their season.

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