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CBB Notes: Look Who's Back!

   by Larry Ness - 02/25/2011

Duke was 17-4 at the beginning of February last year but went on to close the season by winning 18 of its final 19 games (the last 10 in a row), capped by a thrilling 61-59 win over Butler on April 5. Duke’s win snapped Butler's 25-game winning streak and brought a fourth national title back home to Cameron Crazies. Coach K has been there for all four titles and moved into a tie with Adolph Rupp, leaving him behind only John Wooden and his 10 national championships. Duke opened as the nation’s No. 1 team in both preseason polls and stayed No. 1 through the first nine regular season polls, extending its winning streak to 25 in a row before the Blue Devils lost 66-61 at Florida St on Jan 12. Ohio St took over at No. 1 on Jan 17, holding the top spot four the next four weeks. The Buckeyes’ 71-67 loss at Wisconsin on Feb 12 opened the door for Kansas to take over the top spot on Feb 14.

However, all four of the nation’s top-four teams (Kansas, Texas, Ohio St and Pittsburgh) lost a game last week. That marked the first time since Nov of 2003 that the top four teams in the coaches' poll had all lost in the same week of the regular season since November 2003. The week of Nov 25, 2003 saw No. 1 UConn, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Michigan State and No. 4 Arizona all lose. UConn (which lost to No. 15 Ga Tech) and Michigan St (which lost to No. 14 Kansas) lost to ranked opponents, while Duke and Arizona lost to unranked teams. In comparison, Ohio St was the lone top-four school to lose to a ranked opponent this past week, falling on the road at then-No. 11 Purdue (now No. 8 in both polls). So who’s the New No. 1? They’re baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

Duke re-took the No. 1 ranking last Monday and Wednesday beat No. 24 Temple 78-61 in Cameron, earning its 35th straight home win. The win also marked the Blue Devils’ 86th consecutive home win against a non-conference opponent. Both major polls have the same 15 schools in their top-15 this week with only minor differences. At the top, the AP has Ohio St No. 2 and Kansas No. 3 while the coaches’ poll has those teams reversed. Texas is No. 5 in both polls but while the AP has Pittsburgh at No. 4 and San Diego St at No. 6, the coaches have San Diego St at No. 4 and Pittsburgh at No. 6. in the AP. Kansas beat Oklahoma St 92-65 on Monday and Ohio St beat Illinois 89-70 on Tuesday. Pittsburgh beat West Va 71-58 on Thursday and San Diego St has been idle, awaiting its showdown with No. 7 BYU on Saturday.

When Texas lost at Nebraska last Saturday afternoon and Princeton lost later at Brown, we were left without a single unbeaten team in any conference for at least the first time in the last 10 years, going back to the 2001-02 season (it could be longer but ESPN.com doesn’t go back any further than that and as I’ve mentioned over the years, I have a research staff of one, ME!). At the other end of the ‘food chain’ we find Fordham and Towson but no longer Centenary. The Gentlemen (now 1-28, 1-16 Summit League) shot 62.5 percent from the floor in the second half to beat Western Illinois 73-60 Thursday night, for their first win since defeating IPFW 80-78 on Feb 6, 2010. Centenary was the last winless team in Division I and was within one loss of tying the Division I record losing streak. Some of you may remember that NJIT went 0-29 in the 2007-08 season and lost 51 straight games between beating Longwood on Feb 18, 2007 and Bryant on Jan 21, 2009 but NJIT was a reclassifying school (transitioning to Division I), leaving the official NCAA record for consecutive losses at 34 by Sacramento State from 1997 to 1999. Towson now owns the longest active losing streak at 17 in a row and Fordham has lost 15 consecutive games. Towson is 0-17 in the CAA and would become the first team to go winless during conference play in league history by losing at home to Drexel (19-9 / 10-7 in the CAA) on Saturday. Fordham is 0-13 this year in the A-10 and has now lost 39 consecutive A-10 games. The Rams have three more league games this year, the first of which comes Saturday at home vs Rhode Island (17-10 / 8-5 in the A-10).

Getting back to the winners, George Mason extended the nation’s longest-active winning streak to 14 in a row with a 67-61 victory over Northeastern on Thursday. However, the Patriots, 16-point favorites in the game, saw their 14-game ATS winning streak come to an end. GMU is now 24-5 overall (15-2 in the CAA) and finishes its regular season at Georgia St on Saturday. The Patriots seem assured of getting into this year’s “Big Dance” but it’s a stretch to think they can recreate their ‘Cinderella run’ to the 2006 Final 4. The Patriots were briefly ranked in the top-25 coaches’ poll that year (the school's first ranking ever) and were on the brink of making it to the AP poll but lost to Hofstra in the semifinals of the CAA tourney. However, the NCAA committee put the Patriots in the field, making them the first at-large team from the CAA in 20 years. The Patriots entered the tournament as a No. 11 seed but made it all the way to the Final 4, where they lost 73–58 to eventual the national champs Florida in the national semifinals. Déjà vu this Year? Seems hard to believe. What also seems hard to believe is the school with the nation’s second-longest active winning streak, UL-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns beat Denver 58-52 in OT last night, giving them 10 straight wins (9-1 ATS).

There are five games this weekend involving top-25 teams (I’m using coaches’ poll rankings because I have the least respect for them). None is bigger No. 4 San Diego St (27-1) hosting No. 7 BYU (26-2) on Saturday. Also on Saturday we have No. 11 Georgetown hosting No. 20 Syracuse, No. 13 at No. 22 Kentucky and No. 14 Villanova at No. 23 St John’s. No. 6 Pittsburgh is at No. 16 Louisville on Sunday. By the way, let’s give a ‘shout out’ to Steve Lavin of St John’s. The Red Storm (formerly the Redmen, which is now politically incorrect) haven’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2002. The last time St John’s was ranked in the coaches' poll was the final poll of the 1999-2000 season, when it was 18th. St John’s has beaten then-No. 13 Georgetown, then-No. 11 Notre Dame, then-No. 3 Duke, then-No. 9 UConn and then-No.4 Pittsburgh this year in Madison Square Garden.

Have a great weekend, Larry

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