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College Basketball Notes

   by Larry Ness - 02/26/2010

CBB Notes: Three Sundays out

The first NCAA tournament was played in 1939 and featured just an eight-team field. Oregon beat Ohio State 46-33 in the title game played in Evanston, Illinois. The Ducks have not only never won a second title but they've also failed to even reach another Final 4. However, that's nothing compared to the drought the host school (Northwestern) for the initial event has suffered. The Wildcats have never made an appearance in the NCAA tournament, giving them the distinction of being the only school from one of the current "Big Six" conferences to be able to make that unwanted claim.

"Selection Sunday" is just around the corner (March 14) and unless the Wildcats somehow win the Big 10 tourney (at Conseco Fieldhouse this year), they'll be NIT bound this postseason (at best). Optimism was running high back in November, as Northwestern had tied the school record for regular season wins (17) last year, including victories at Michigan State (league champ and national runner-up to North Carolina) plus at Purdue (Sweet 16 team which won 27 games). The Wildcats are 11-1 in non-conference play (lost to Butler) but are 7-9 in the Big 10 and 18-10 overall.

Sunday's 70-63 loss at Wisconsin was survivable but Northwestern's 13-point road loss at Iowa on Feb 10 (Hawkeyes are 9-19 overall, 3-12 in the Big 10) and its 81-70 home loss to Penn State on Feb 17 could be 'killers.' Penn St entered that game 0-12 in league play and won at Evanston by 11 points even though its best (only?) player, Talor Battle (19.0-5.6-4.0), made just 2-of-8 FG attempts while scoring only 10 points. Bill Carmody's team will now likely have to set its sights on winning the school's first postseason game since 1983 in the NIT, CBI or College Insider.

Taking a cheap shot at Northwestern is easy, so I'll aim a little higher. Since the beginning (1939), 35 schools have won just one national championship, eight others have been able to win two titles and two schools, Duke (1991, 1992 and 2001) and Kansas (1952, 1988 and 2008), have won three apiece. Just four schools have been able to win more than three. Starting at the top is UCLA with 11 (1964-65, 1967-73, 1975 and 1995), Kentucky with seven (1948-49, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996 and 1998), plus Indiana (1940, 1953, 1976, 1981 and 1987) and North Carolina (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009) with five each.

Kentucky (the nation's No. 2 team with a 27-1 record) is the only one of those four schools which will even be in this year's tourney field. North Carolina has gone from winning its fifth national title last season to a 3-10 ACC mark (tied for last a 12-team league) and an overall record of 14-14. Ben Howland's UCLA teams went to three straight Final 4s from 2005-08 and last year won 26 games but the Bruins are just 13-14 overall this year, including 8-7 in the weakest Pac 10 in decades. As for Indiana, Tom Crean went 6-25 in his first season at Bloomington last year and his Hoosiers are 9-18 this season, including 3-12 in Big 10 play.

The most recent AP poll came out last Monday (2/22) and No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 5 Duke and No. 8 Villanova stand as the only four schools to have been among the top-10 all season long. Kansas and Kentucky look like 'locks' as No. 1 seeds while both Duke and Villanova are both still 'alive' for a spot on "the top line." Both schools chances were helped by Purdue's recent misfortune. The No. 3 Boilermakers won 59-58 at Minnesota this past Wednesday, giving them 10 straight wins (all in the Big 10) and an overall record of 24-3 (12-3 in the Big 10).

However, the team's most versatile player, Robbie Hummel, injured his knee on a drive to the basket in the first half against the Golden Gophers. The do-it-all 6-8 junior forward will miss the remainder of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Hummel ranks second on the team scoring 15.7 PPG and by pulling down 6.9 RPG. The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten and are enjoying their highest national ranking since 1994. Purdue now heads into Sunday's showdown with Michigan State (21-7 / 11-4), one of three huge "showdown games" this weekend, without one of its biggest stars.

The other two games are being played on Saturday. No. 4 Syracuse (26-2/ 13-2) will host No. 8 Villanova (23-4 / 12-3) while No. 10 New Mexico (26-3 / 12-2) visits No. 13 BYU (26-3 / 11-2). While games of this nature are 'old hat' in the Big East, The Lobos/Cougars game is arguably the biggest MWC in-season game ever played. Both schools are 26-3, the best 29-game starts-ever in their respective histories. New Mexico has won 12 straight conference games (matching the MWC record set by Utah in 2004-05) and is just two wins shy of a single-season school record. The Lobos went 28-5 in 1995-96 under head coach Dave Bliss, a name the school would likely want none of us to bring up.

BYU improved to 15-0 at home this season with its 82-68 win over San Diego St on Wednesday and will take a 21-game home winning streak into Saturday's contest. It's being billed as "the biggest regular season showdown in Mountain West history," as a No. 10 vs No. 13 matchup is the biggest-ever (based on rankings) in conference history. Now let's return to the Big East. While Villanova has been ranked in the top-10 all season (opened at No. 5 in the preseason and climbed to as high as No. 2 earlier this season), Syracuse opened unranked in the AP poll (was No. 25 in the coaches' poll).

Syracuse shocked then No. 13 Cal 95-73 in the semifinals of the Coaches vs Cancer Classic at MSG (12/19) and followed the next night by crushing then-No. 6 Carolina, 87-71. The Orange would go from unranked after the season's first regular season poll to No. 10 in the poll of November 23. Jim Boeheim's team has hardly "looked back." Syracuse would climb to No. 2 in the AP poll on Feb 8, the school's highest ranking since it held the No. 1 spot in the polls for six weeks back in the 1989-90 season.

Syracuse's 23-1 start to open the year marks the best in school history and its current 26-2 mark does not include a road loss. The Orange are 8-0 on the Big East road this year (3-0 in neutral site games) and a win at Louisville on March 6 would give the school its first perfect regular season mark in road games in 92 years. However, first things first. Syracuse will host Villanova on Saturday, a school which made the Final 4 last year (first Final 4 since its championship season of 1985) and like Syracuse, opened the 2009-10 season with the best start in school history by going 20-1 through Feb 2. 'Nova's 74-49 win over USF on Wednesday snapped a two-game losing streak (three of five slide as well) and sets ups Saturday's "first-place showdown."

Duke was No. 5 in the latest AP poll this past Monday and incredibly was the only ACC team in the top-25. The last time that had occurred was back in December of 1977 when No. 5 North Carolina was the only ranked ACC team in what was then a top-20. Duke beat Tulsa 70-52 on Thursday night, giving the Blue Devils their 77th straight home win over a non-conference foe, as well as their 41st straight home win over an unranked opponent. Duke's "Big Three," guards Scheyer (18.8-3.4-5.4) and Smith (17.9-2.7-2.9) plus forward Singler (16.9-7.2), could just lead the 24-4 Dookies to another No. 1 seed.

No. 15 Butler will attempt to finish its Horizon League season unbeaten on Friday night at Valparaiso. The Bulldogs are 25-4 (17-0 in Horizon play) and own the nation's longest active winning streak at 17 straight (Murray St had won 17 in a row as well before its 70-65 los at Morehead St on Thursday). Butler's 17-game winning streak is already a school record and a ninth straight win over the Crusaders would give the Bulldogs the Horizon's first unbeaten regular season since Wisconsin-Green Bay went 16-0 back in 1995-96, when it was known as the Mid-Continent Conference.

If Butler were not to win, that would leave just No. 1 Kansas as the nation's lone conference unbeaten. The Jayhawks are currently 13-0 in the Big 12 and have no 'cakewalk' the rest of the way. They visit Stillwater, Ok on Saturday to face the Cowboys who are 14-1 at home this year. Kansas State (23-4 and No. 6 in the AP) follows on March 3 and while Kansas is 31-2 against the Wildcats since the inception of the Big 12, the Jayhawks just barely escaped Manhattan back on January 30 with an 81-79 OT win.

If the Jayhawks can make it past the Cowboys and Wildcats, the Tigers of Missouri await in Columbia, Mo on March 6. Missouri beat Kansas last year 62-60 in Mizzou Arena, where the team had won 32 straight games before it lost 77-74 to Texas A&M on Feb 3. I'll be back next Tuesday with a closer look at the prospective 2010 NCAA-field.

Good luck, Larry

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