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College Hoop Thoughts

   by Larry Ness - 01/12/2005

Saint Joseph's and Stanford both finished last year at 30-2 and gave college basketball fans quite a ride! Stanford won its first 26 games before losing in the team's final regular season game at Washington, 75-62. St Joe's finished its regular season a perfect 27-0 but then lost its first game in the Atlantic-10 Tourney, 87-67 to Xavier....

Stanford rebounded from that season-ending loss at Washington to capture the Pac-10 Tournament but the Cardinal lost their second game in the "Big Dance" to Alabama, falling one win short of even a Sweet 16 appearance. However, St Joe's advanced all the way to the Regional Finals of the NCAA Tournament, where the Hawks lost to Oklahoma State 64-62!...

Are there any schools out there this year that could make similar runs? As of Jan 11, four schools remain unbeaten. Illinois is 16-0, Kansas 11-0, Duke 11-0 and the biggest surprise of all, Boston College, is 13-0. Could one of these teams make it through unscathed? No team has made it through a season undefeated since Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers did it in the 1975-76 season....

Illini fans were decidedly "under-whelmed' when Bruce Weber was named to replace Bill Self a year ago when Self left for Kansas (more on that later!). All Weber did though, was lead Illinois to its first outright Big-10 regular season title in 52 years last season! The team returned all five of its starters this year and has opened with 16 straight wins, outscoring its opponents by an average of 20 PPG. Illinois has given Wake Forest its only loss of the year (91-73), as well as Cincinnati (67-45)....

After signing a multi-year deal with Illinois two years ago, Self left Champagne-Urbana for Lawrence, Kansas when Roy Williams walked out on the Jayhawk faithful to return to Chapel Hill (you can't make this stuff up)! Anyway, in Self's first year, the Jayhawks struggled in the regular season but played well in the NCAA's, missing out on the school's third consecutive Final Four, by one game!...

Kansas lost its best player in Wayne Simien just recently and despite an outstanding backcourt (Miles and Langford) plus the all-around excellence of JR Giddens, the Jayhawks (who have currently played just ONE road game) won't stay unbeaten for too much longer....

No school (or coach) has accomplished what the Duke Blue Devils (and Coach K) have in the era of the 64-team tournament! Over the last 20 years, Duke has more national titles (3), more title game appearances (7), more Final Fours (10) and more Sweet 16s(15) than any other school. Despite losing his best player from last year's Final Four team (Luol Deng) and his most-prized recruit (Shaun Livingston) to the NBA, Coach K has his Blue Devils off to an 11-0 start. However, with SIX games still remaining in home-and-home series with ACC rivals Ga Tech, North Carolina and Wake, an undefeated season is OUT OF THE QUESTION!....

At 13-0, Boston College is easily the most surprising of the four current unbeatens. Al Skinner is a well-respected coach but few thought that this year's BC team would approach mid-January without a loss. The Eagles beat UCLA in Anaheim 74-64 in early December and won in Storrs over U Conn 75-70 on January 5. No one expects BC to keep it up though, as this team is nowhere near good enough to survive a run through the Big Eat this year undefeated.....

Next week I'll take an early look at some of the possible seeds and brackets for this year's tournament. Here's an early thought....Twenty years ago, the Big East sent three schools to the Final Four in Georgetown, St John's and Villanova (the winner). Could this be the year the ACC does the same?....

Thursday's column looks at this year's NBA and Friday I'll preview the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs....

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