Bob Asmussen: Boston College plays with heart
Team of the Week
The Syracuse fan in the building knew the joke was coming: Dana Barros must have had a big game. Can you name another Boston College player? Doug Flutie and Matt Ryan don’t count. Somehow, the then-7-19 Eagles went to Syracuse and stunned the undefeated Orange in overtime. Steve Donahue’s guys trailed by 13 in the second half before an improbable rally. The Boston College players pointed to a source of inspiration: longtime sports information assistant Dick Kelley, who died last week after a two-year battle with ALS. The players wore a DK patch to honor Kelley’s memory. The win goes down as one of the most shocking in recent basketball history. After a string of close calls against good/great teams, Syracuse got knocked off by one of the weakest teams on its schedule.
Team of the Weak
We can forgive the loss to Wisconsin. It happens. The Badgers have been a pain for many Big Ten teams through the years, including the one that plays on First Street. But losing to Minnesota, which just lost at home to that same team from First Street, is harder to overlook. A couple weeks ago, the Hawkeyes were squawking about playing for the Big Ten title. But after the back-to-back bummers against the Badgers and Gophers, Iowa is simply hoping for a bye in the Big Ten tournament. The team still is worthy of an NCAA tournament bid but no longer has the look of a potential Final Four sleeper. But, hey, the wrestling team is top-notch.
SCHOOL LAST WEEK
1. Wichita State 1
Hoop It Up has a cast-in-stone policy when it comes to rankings: If you are the only undefeated team left in the nation, you should be No. 1. Those nonbelievers will compare playing in the Missouri Valley to the Corn Belt (no offense to our friends there). The nonbelievers need to watch more basketball. The Shockers are for real. Good enough to reach the Final Four last season. Good enough to handle all their games to this point with relative ease. It isn’t Wichita State’s fault that the Missouri Valley was weakened by a defection to the Big East. It isn’t Wichita State’s fault that nobody else in the Missouri Valley has risen to an NCAA tournament-worthy level. All the Shockers can do is play well, which they have done every game this season. They improved to 30-0 with Tuesday’s 20-point win against Bradley. Wichita State will try to end a perfect regular season Saturday with a home game against improving Missouri State. Stop laughing. Mark H.I.U. as a believer and pencil the Shockers in for a second consecutive trip to the Final Four.
2. Florida 3
As easy as it is to defend Wichita State at No. 1, it is just as easy to understand those who have the Gators ranked at the top. This is by far the best team in Gainesville since Billy Donovan led the team to consecutive national titles. Florida has size, strength, athleticism and skill. Enough to make it a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Enough to consider it a strong favorite to reach the Final Four. Since a 10-point win against Kentucky, the Gators have been letting opponents hang close. There was a five-point win against Auburn, a four-point game against Mississippi and a three-pointer against Vanderbilt. Not exactly a way to build confidence in your program. But they really only care if you win, and the Gators have been doing plenty of that all season. Saturday’s game against LSU could be a test.
3. Arizona 4
The recent struggles by Syracuse (see No. 4) reminds us how well Arizona played during the first half of the season. For weeks, the Wildcats were considered the nation’s best team. Now that we are down to one undefeated team, Arizona’s efforts look even better. The Wildcats damaged Colorado’s NCAA hopes with a 27-point win Saturday at Boulder. Never easy to beat the Buffs at home. Especially by such a wide margin. Sean Miller’s team has gotten over the disappointment of earlier losses to Cal and Arizona State. Time to get ready for the most important part of the season. If Wichita State and Florida are at the top of the Final Four list, Arizona is next in line.
4. Syracuse 2
And that leaves the fourth spot open. Maybe for the Orange, if Jim Boeheim can control his temper when a call doesn’t go his way. Had Boeheim stayed calm late in the game against Duke, his team might have been able to rally. But the 57 free throws the Blue Devils shot in the final minutes put an end to that. Maybe all of those close games got to Boeheim. To his credit, he admitted that he might have overreacted a bit. You think? Hey, Bob Knight Jr., why don’t you toss a chair next time? After surviving a two-point win against Maryland, Boeheim will need to be fully functional for Saturday’s game at Virginia. Might be a good idea to strap him into a chair. Just in case a call goes against the Orange.
5. Kansas 8
The Jayhawks got even for all those football losses to Texas through the years. The 95-54 decision against the Longhorns ought to count as two wins for Kansas. It was that dominant. In fact, Texas should be forced to give Kansas a couple of football recruits after the way the basketball team played. Bill Self and his fun bunch clinched yet another Big 12 title. Like it was ever in doubt. Maybe this will be the year the Jayhawks struggle in the conference tournament. Doubt it. Before they go about the business of winning the tournament title, the Jayhawks wrap up the regular season with games against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia. Don’t see any losses there.
6. Louisville 5
When Louisville needs a late basket, the choice is pretty obvious: get the ball to Russ Smith. Shouldn’t Cincinnati have known that? The Cardinals got their star an open 18-footer in the final seconds of Saturday’s game at Cincinnati. And Smith made the shot, giving Louisville a 58-57 win and revenge for an earlier home loss to the Bearcats. The defending national champs moved within a half-game of first place in the American and look prepared to make a long run in March and April. After Thursday’s late game against Temple, the Cardinals will try to get revenge against Memphis on Saturday. Is the ACC sure it wants the Cardinals to join? Life is going to get a whole lot harder for Boeheim, Roy Williams and Tony Bennett.
7. Duke 6
And life is going to get harder for Mike Krzyzewski. Sure, he will try to talk Jabari Parker into staying for another season in Durham. Maybe he can promise a spot on the Olympic team. It is, after all, in Rio. Parker and the Blue Devils had an up-and-down week, losing to North Carolina before taking out Syracuse (thanks Jimbo) and crushing Virginia Tech (For $1 million, name the Hokies’ coach. No, it isn’t Seth Greenberg. It is James Johnson.). The Blue Devils will rest during the weekend before they rout Wake Forest on Wednesday. Then, North Carolina makes the short drive from Chapel Hill on Saturday.
8. Villanova —
The Wafers apparently don’t want a bunch of teams from the Big East making the NCAA tournament. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have edged St. John’s by three. That game might keep the Red Storm out of the Big Dance. Pity. Villanova has the experience to be a dangerous team in March. But it is far from perfect. It can shoot and pass with the nation’s best. But if you take the rebounding battle against the Wildcats, you have a chance to win.
9. Saint Louis 9
Who is rooting for the Billikens to keep winning? Wichita State, for one. The 70-65 win in early December is the most impressive of the season for the Shockers. Every Saint Louis win makes Wichita State look just a little bit better in the eyes of the computers (Do computers have eyes? Hope not.). The Billikens needed overtime to beat 9-17 George Mason, and they stumbled Thursday night against Duquesne (12-15). On Saturday, the Billikens visit VCU. You might remember the Rams, who are coached by some guy named Shaka Smart.
10. Creighton —
The Bluejays moved into the Top 10 for the first time since Dana Altman was in charge. They are going to have to bulk up if they want to stay there. Starting Saturday, the less-than-physical Bluejays play games against brutes Xavier and Georgetown. Creighton beat both teams earlier in the season at home, but neither game was easy. The back end of the Big East schedule has been especially difficult for Creighton, which built its lead in the Big East against some of the league’s lesser teams. Creighton continues to lack defensively. There is no shot blocker able to intimidate opponents. Defense is where Creighton is most vulnerable.
Five more to watch
1. Virginia — Defense is no problem for the Cavaliers, who gave up 49 points in a win against Notre Dame. And they held Virginia Tech to 53. But offense can be a problem for Virginia, which ranks among
the nation’s bottom 50 in scoring average. The leading scorer, Malcolm Brogdon, is averaging 12.3 points.
2. Cincinnati — No question about the Bearcats’ go-to guy: senior guard Sean Kilpatrick. He is averaging 20.5 points per game and had 28 in the loss to Louisville. But Kilpatrick took 26 shots against the Cardinals. Not the kind of efficiency Mick Cronin was looking for. Hit one more shot and the Bearcats win the game. It won’t get any easier Saturday at UConn.
3. San Diego State — Two road losses in a four-game stretch (Wyoming and New Mexico) didn’t stop Steve Fisher’s team. The Aztecs pounded San Jose State by 26. Next, they will try to end a road losing streak with Saturday’s game at Fresno State. We will learn a lot about the bouncebackability of San Diego State (sorry, Clark Kellogg temporarily took over H.I.U.).
4. Wisconsin — What in the name of Michael Finley is going on with the Badgers? After five losses in six games, they have won six in a row, including victories against Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa. But we don’t quite believe. If the Badgers can win at Penn State after the long trip to the desolate outpost, we will be impressed.
5. Michigan — The Wolverines know all about streaky. After winning 10 in a row, they went through a stretch of win one, lose one that lasted six games. They are back on the right side of the scoreboard after a weekend win against Michigan State and a comeback victory against Purdue. Take their final three games and the Wolverines are Big Ten champs. Somewhere, Antoine Joubert is smiling.
Ranking the best leagues in the land:
LEAGUE LAST WEEK
1. Big 12 1
2. ACC 4
3. Big Ten 2
4. American 3
5. Pac-12 5
6. Missouri Valley 9
7. Big East 6
8. Atlantic 10 8
9. SEC 7
10. Mountain West 10
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton — The coach’s kid scored 29 points Sunday at home against Seton Hall, and Creighton needed every one of them. The Bluejays held on for a one-point win, keeping Doug McBuckets way ahead in the trophy race. For the season, he is averaging 26 points and 6.9 rebounds and
is hitting 52 percent of his shots from the field. Plus, we hear he makes a mean plate of tuna casserole.
2. Russ Smith, Louisville — His numbers weren’t glaring against Cincinnati. Just 10 points and three rebounds. But when the Cardinals needed him to win the game, he nailed it. The best player on the defending national champion has been steady during the season. Just a hunch he comes up big in the final month.
3. Jabari Parker, Duke — Hate to be so boring, but you can’t have a Wooden watch without the freshman. Last week, he had double-doubles in three tough games. Give him extra credit because Duke won two of the three. Rarely does a player live up to the hype. But this is one of those times. A special player who is going to be a great pro. Michael Jordan II? The next Larry Bird? “Jackie Moon” from “Semi-Pro”? We’ll see. Soon enough.
It’s in the game
If you see the term “Ed O’Bannon case” in a newspaper headline or on a “SportsCenter” teaser, you might want to pay attention. Last week, a judge ruled the case against the NCAA can move forward. A trial date was set for June. If O’Bannon wins, it could have a sweeping impact on college sports. Nobody would benefit more than the players. Still, there is a chance that a settlement could be reached be-fore the case reaches trial. This is one that the NCAA can’t afford to lose.
Speaking of ‘Semi-Pro’
The Will Ferrell movie does not rank among the best basketball movies of all time. It might be in the Top 50. It’s close. But what are the best? “Hoosiers” is on everybody’s list. “Hoop Dreams” ranks a close second. No. 3 isn’t as easy. “Glory Road” was pleasant enough with a good story and decent acting. “Blue Chips” and “He Got Game” looked at the dark side of basketball recruiting. But the kid in me can’t overlook “One on One.” I wanted to be Henry Steele.
Keep your distance
An Auburn fan got ejected during Wednesday’s game against South Carolina. Guess which official tossed him? Pat yourself on the back if you said Ted Valentine. Something the fan said didn’t go over well with the veteran official. The fan promised he didn’t use profanity. As the fan incidents start to pile up, it might be time to put moats around the courts. It is only a matter of time before something really ugly happens.