With conference season, the meat of the College Basketball schedule, starting this past week, BIAH will become much more focused on the NCAA. Instead of doing a top-25-type post on Mondays, I am going to instead do a run-down of all that happened in the past week and will happen in the upcoming week.
GAME OF THE WEEK:
North Carolina holds on the beat Clemson 90-88 in OT thanks to a three-pointer by Wayne Ellington with 0.4 seconds left. The story of this game, however, wasn't that UNC held on to its undefeated record and #1 ranking. What you should take from this game is that the ACC has a third contender in Clemson (the other being Duke). Clemson really should have won this game. They held Tyler Hansbrough to 12 points on just seven shots. UNC hit big shot after big shot, including two three's in the last two minutes to erase a seven point deficit. Ellington's final shot in overtime almost should not have happened. Watch the play. David Potter gambled and missed a steal on Ty Lawson's pass that setup Ellington's three by mere inches, and James Mays', flying at Ellington, barely missed blocking the shot. But like they say - great teams win games when they don't play well. More on this below.
CO-PLAYERS OF THE WEEK -
Wayne Ellington, UNC and Kyle McAlarney, Notre Dame
Ellington averaged 26.5ppg, on 70% shooting from the floor in two wins, for UNC, including a career-high 36 in the win over then No. 19 Clemson. As I mentioned above, Ellington hit the game winner with 0.4 seconds left in OT, and carried a team struggling offensively. Clemson spent the whole game collapsing on Hansbrough and the rest of the UNC frontcourt, daring their perimeter players to beat them. Ellington did.
As much as it kills me, I have to put McAlarney on this list. He carried Notre Dame to conference victories over West Virginia and my UConn Huskies. Other people, including teammates, put up better numbers than K-Mac did this week, but it was his complete role reversal in the two games that convinced me. Against the Mountaineers', Notre Dame PG Tory Jackson spent the whole game in foul trouble, and K-Mac responded with 9 assists to just 1 turnover. In first half where ND built a nine-point lead, K-Mac had 7 assists (with no turnovers) and stabilized the offense. Although he only scored 7 points on the game (3-11), it was this lack of a second point guard that killed ND last year (McAlarney was suspended last year after being caught with pot). Against UConn, K-Mac exploded for 32 points, including 6-7 from deep, and 5 assists with no turnovers. He was responsible for the huge lead ND built against the Huskies (in the first eight minutes ND went on a 26-10 run, he had 14), but he also hit two daggers at the end of the game when UConn had come back - a pull-up 3 with 2:39 left and a floater, over 7'3" Haseem Thabeet, with 37 ticks left to put ND up four and essentially end the game. All told, these were his numbers: 19.5ppg, 7apg, 0.5 t/o, 64% 3pt, 38.5mpg.
CO-TEAMs OF THE WEEK -
Vanderbilt and Xavier
Vandy remained undefeated after big wins over Iona (97-73) and Rice (76-58), and pulling out a dogfight against a very good UMass team (97-88). The Commodores have had an incredible season on the backs of Shan Foster (21ppg, 55% 3pt) and Andrew Ogilvy (19ppg, 7rpg). Vanderbilt had been largely untested, with their best win being at DePaul, before the game against UMass, but they were able to beat the Minutemen after falling behind by 13 in the first half and not taking a lead until 9:40 was left in the game. Vandy should still be undefeated when they visit Tennessee on the 17th.
Xavier earned TOTM honors by blowing out Kansas State (103-77), Virginia (108-70), and Auburn (80-57), three major conference teams, two of which (KSU, UVa) at at-large hopefuls. The three wins boosts Xavier's record to 12-3 heading into league play in a very strong A-10. Xavier's M-O has been the same all season - balanced scoring from an experienced, unselfish group. 19 times a player reached double figures in scoring in the three games, with 8 different players reaching that mark. Xavier, a team that has had a lot of tournament success in the last few years (remember that elite 8 run in '04), has the make-up of a team poised for postseason success again this year.
MATCHUPS OF THE WEEK:
1/9 - Mississippi @ Tennessee: Ole Miss puts its undefeated record on the line in Knoxville. I, for one, haven't had an opportunity to see Ole Miss play this year. Should be a very entertaining matchup, pitting the up and down play of Tennessee with the pressure defense of Old Miss.
-Players to Watch: JaJuan Smith/Ramar Smith, Tennessee - With Chris Lofton not playing up to All-American standards, the rest of the volunteers backcourt need to raise their game.
Chris Warren, Mississippi - As the freshman PG goes, so goes the Rebels. Really looking forward to seeing this guy play for the first time.
1/9 - Arizona @ Arizona State: Arizona State tries to stay undefeated in the Pac-10 against the visiting Wildcats. Arizona is a much different team with Jerryd Bayless (has already missed three games this year) than the team that lost to Oregon.
-Players to Watch: Jordan Hill, Arizona and Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona State - The perimeter players from both teams dominate the headlines, but if Bayless is out, then the game will be played closer to the deliberate pace of the Sun Devils, meaning this battle in the paint could determine the winner.
1/9 - Rhode Island @ Dayton: Gotta love the A-10 right now with five teams vying for an at-large bid. This is the first of many great league match-ups.
-Players to Watch: Brian Roberts, Dayton - One of the best players noone knows about. Has carried this team to a few victories, including the 31 he put on Pitt and the 28 he dropped on Louisville.
Will Daniels, Rhode Island - Big, strong swing man that has been getting NBA scouts recently. Reminds me alot of a Josh Howard when he was at Wake Forest. Not sure who from Dayton will be able to match his strength inside and quickness of the perimeter.
1/10 - Washington State @ USC, 1/12 Washington State @ UCLA Danger game for the Cougars against USC. I really doubt that Wazzu will make it through this trip undefeated. I don't think they have enough scoring power to beat the high-octane Trojans or score against the stalwart D of the Bruins.
-Players to Watch: Russell Westbrook, UCLA - Everyone knows about Kevin Love, Darren Collison, and Josh Shipp, but the athletic freshman is really coming into his own. Did anyone happen to see the dunk he had at Cal this weekend?
1/12 - UConn @ G'Town, Notre Dame @ Marquette: Each of these four Big East teams are still trying to find out how good they really are. UConn and ND both looked good this past weekend so this is a real gauge for both. Everyone knows abut G'Town and Marquette.
-Players to Watch: Hasheem Thabeet, UConn and Roy Hibbert - 7'3" vs. 7'2". Thabeet controlled the lane against ND's Luke Harangody (10 blocks, held him to 5-23 shooting). Will be interesting to see if he can do the same against a struggling Hibbert. The match-up may favor Hibbert, however, because he finally gets a chance to pay against another lumbering center.
Kyle Mcalarney, Notre Dame and Dominic James, Marquette - Coming of POW honors, K-Mac looks to match-up with the Marquette's great backcourt.