Referee czar clears up confusion; plus musings across nation (cont.)
I am rooting like heck for Sidney Lowe to get it going at N.C. State, but with the Wolfpack off to a shaky 4-3 start -- and to be fair, they're without their best big man, Tracy Smith, right now -- you have to wonder if there are a few reasonable N.C. State fans who appreciate how wrong it was to run Herb Sendek out of town. Sendek could have kept his job because the administration was backing him, but he chose to bolt four years ago for Arizona State, where he has led a revival. I always cite Sendek as a great example of a coach who fired his fans.
It has happened pretty quietly, but Southern Illinois has really fallen on hard times. In 2007, the Salukis played in their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament and reached the Sweet 16 for the second time during that span. Since then, SIU has gone 50-51 overall and 25-29 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Their 4-4 start this season includes two embarrassing losses in Carbondale, where the Salukis used to be near invincible (by one point to Northeastern and by 15 to New Mexico).
How about the terrific week that Virginia had? Road wins at Minnesota and Virginia Tech. Mike Scott has really become a player. The 6-foot-8 senior forward had a combined 38 points and 25 rebounds in the wins.
How about the lousy week Virginia Tech had? Two tough losses at home. First the Hokies blew a late lead and fell in overtime to Purdue. Then they lose their ACC opener. Malcolm Delaney had 26 points in the loss, but I don't see him doing a lot to make his teammates better. Things are starting to get late pretty early for Bubble U.
Zen Hoop Thought: A good player should be able to play well when he's not playing well.
I love that ESPN's Doris Burke provides color commentary on men's college basketball games yet no one ever remarks that she's the only woman who has ever done that so consistently. She's just another broadcaster, and a good one at that.
The very definition of a circle-your-calendar game will occur Jan. 22 in Hartford when UConn hosts Tennessee. The game will take place smack dab in the middle of Bruce Pearl's eight-game SEC suspension, but since it's not a league game he'll be permitted to coach. It should be billed as the Furlough Game.
The one call I wish was whistled more often is palming. I can't tell you how often I see a player casually palming the ball as he walks it up the court. That has been a point of emphasis in recent years, but unless a player is blatantly palming the ball to get by his defender, the refs usually let this go.
Florida State might have the nation's best defender in 6-foot-9 junior Chris Singleton, but the Seminoles have a really hard time scoring, especially in their half-court offense. Singleton, who is the only member of the team averaging double figures, isn't much help in this regard. He prefers to roam the perimeter, but he has only made five three-pointers all season.
Keeping it in the Sunshine State, I was a little surprised to see Miami upset West Virginia at home over the weekend, especially considering the 'Canes were down by 13 points with 12 minutes left. Props to Malcolm Grant for going 13-for-14 from the foul line en route to a career-high 26 points. You guys know how much I love point guards who get to the free-throw line.
I got a lot of tweets asking why the referees did not review the monitor toward the end of the first half of the Georgetown-Missouri game when Hoyas guard Austin Freeman was credited with a three-pointer that clearly came after the shot clock had expired. The answer is that referees are never permitted to use the monitor to review whether a player beat the shot clock. They can only use it to see whether he beat the game clock at the end of each half or overtime.
Gilbert Brown is Pittsburgh's version of Michigan State's Durrell Summers. Both players are talented seniors with a similar skill set, and they are both maddeningly inconsistent.
I'm really not a fan of calling a time out as you're falling out of bounds, unless it's an endgame situation. If I'm the coach, I'd rather lose possession at that moment and have the extra time out down the stretch.
Keep your eye on BYU sophomore forward Brandon Davies. He scored just 13 points in the Cougars' two games at the South Padre Invitational, but he had a career-high 24 points (on 9-of-11 shooting) in BYU's win at Creighton last week. If that's a sign of things to come, a good team is going to get better.
I don't think Old Dominion's loss at Delaware was as fatal to the Monarchs' NCAA chances as others seem to think. It was a league game on the road, and the Blue Hens are not bad. It shrinks ODU's margin for error, but I still think they'll have a strong enough case that if they need an at-large bid on Selection Sunday, they'll get it.
(Last week's ranking on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Duke (1)
2. Kansas (2)
3. Ohio State (3)
4. Kansas State (4)
5. Pittsburgh (5)
6. Tennessee (6)
7. Syracuse (7)
8. Villanova (8)
9. Michigan State (9)
10. Illinois (11)
11. Connecticut (12)
12. Kentucky (13)
13. Baylor (15)
14. San Diego State (16)
15. Georgetown (22)
16. Washington (17)
17. Gonzaga (18)
18. Texas (10)
19. Minnesota (14)
20. North Carolina (NR)
21. Purdue (20)
22. Missouri (21)
23. Memphis (23)
24. Vanderbilt (24)
25. UNLV (NR)
Dropped out: Florida (19), Wichita State (25)
There were a few losses by ranked teams last week, but it was hard to mete out major penalties. Michigan State shouldn't get dinged for losing at Duke, and even though Kentucky fell to unranked North Carolina, the Wildcats hung tough in Chapel Hill despite major foul trouble. I preferred to reward the Tar Heels with a No. 20 ranking. I also demoted Texas after the Longhorns lost at USC late Sunday night.
I admit that I was epically wrong about Florida. On my preseason ballot, I ranked the Gators ahead of most voters at No. 6 (they ended up ninth that first week), but I watched from courtside as they folded in the last 10 minutes against Ohio State, and last week they lost at UCF by three points. (Though UCF isn't half-bad.) There's still plenty of time for Florida to turn it around, but it looks to me like the Gators still have many of the same problems (read: soft as pillows) that plagued them last season.
For me the more interesting decision came at the bottom of the ballot. I've been a lone wolf howling for Wichita State, and even though a loss at San Diego State is no great shame, to fall by 14 points was pretty disappointing. So the Shockers are out. I took another long look at BYU, which has been ranked all season, but I went with UNLV at No. 25 instead because its best wins (Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Nevada) are more impressive than BYU's (Saint Mary's, at Creighton).
Meanwhile, I'm a long way from buying into 10-0 Cleveland State. The Vikings have played nobody in the nonconference, and their two Horizon League wins came against a pair of middling foes (Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Wisconsin-Green Bay). We'll get a better idea of how good the Vikings are when they play at West Virginia on Dec. 18.
Notre Dame got ranked last week by my fellow AP voters, and the Irish are knocking on the door on my ballot. Their best wins came on a neutral court over unranked Georgia, Cal and Wisconsin -- hardly a murderer's row. But this is a big week for them. The Irish play at Kentucky (in Louisville) and at home against Gonzaga. If they can earn a split, I'll rank them next week for sure. I don't know that they can have a bigger incentive than that.
Click here to send your questions to Seth Davis for his upcoming Mailbag column.