Five observations from the past week:
1. Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury justified reinstating Renardo Sidney after the fight with Elgin Bailey in Hawaii by saying that Sidney tried to walk away and that his teammates backed him in the decision. Bailey transferred with a nudge from the coaching staff. Sidney was reinstated. But the Twitter incident this past week was another example of poor management and enabling of Sidney while in Starkville. Stansbury suspended guard Ravern Johnson for his tweet after the loss to Alabama that was critical of the coaching staff and fans. Fine. That’s justified. But Sidney didn’t just retweet the Johnson message, but he also added his own line of “It’s a Shame how our fans turn they back on us when we need them the most….#sad.”
Sidney should be fortunate that any fans are still in his corner after two suspensions, an embarrassing nationally televised fight in which he literally could have put some innocent fan in the hospital with his wild swings, and this latest debacle. Sidney played in a win over LSU on Saturday. He at times looked dominating inside, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 31 minutes in the 58-57 win. Great. But if Johnson didn’t play, why exactly did Sidney? Stansbury decision was worse than the one that reinstating Sidney after the fight. If Johnson was out of line for tweeting critical comments, then so was Sidney. The double-standard here lessens Stansbury’s credibility with the fan base, the rest of his colleagues in the league, and one would think the players in the locker room. Stansbury has had a tremendous run at Mississippi State, especially given the limitations of the school. But this wasn’t one of his finest hours. This season can’t end soon enough for the Bulldogs.
2. When Arizona was looking for a coach two years ago, the Wildcats were staring at a decimated roster and what could have turned into an Indiana-like implosion. But then Tim Floyd resigned at USC and the Trojans’ recruiting class migrated to Tucson. The addition of Xavier’s Sean Miller ended up being the perfect marriage. What looked like a five- to seven-year reclamation project has turned into a two-year turnaround. The quick fix has Arizona atop the Pac-10 and almost certainly back into the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats are 9-2 in conference play after the weekend sweep in the Bay Area, including a triple-overtime thriller at Cal. Arizona couldn’t rely on Derrick Williams since he fouled out toward the end of regulation. Yet the play of Lamont Jones and Kevin Parrom ended up being the difference for the Cats, who were poised throughout every run by Cal. Arizona still has to go to UCLA, but the schedule is favorable from this point forward. The Wildcats have four home games, including a visit from Washington. Even though Zona has only a one-game lead on UCLA in the loss column, anything less than a Pac-10 title at this juncture would be deemed a disappointment by the passionate UA fan base. That’s how high Miller has raised the bar in such a short amount of time. And don’t expect Arizona to slide back one bit in the future either.
3. Alabama coach Anthony Grant and star forward JaMychal Green both said during SEC media day in Birmingham that it was going to take a year-plus to get on the same page in Grant’s system. The Crimson Tide had to adjust to being much more defensive-minded and at times offensively challenged. It looked like the team still didn’t get it in the nonconference season, especially at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, where their 0-3 trip included a loss to Saint Peter’s College. But the Tide is now rolling in the SEC, off to a league-best 7-1 start. Alabama will be a good test case for the selection committee. The team has nothing to show for itself in the nonconference, losing also to Seton Hall and Iowa in St. Thomas, as well as Oklahoma State, Providence and Purdue. But if the Tide can roll to at least 11 or 12 wins in the SEC, then it would be hard to keep out a team on that hot of a streak in a major conference. This is an example where the body of work may be judged by how much Bama improved from November to March. Regardless, barring a collapse, Grant can clear space for an SEC coach of the year trophy.
4. The Arizona-Cal triple-OT game certainly got most of the play Saturday night, but lost in the shuffle was a multiple-OT game in Philly -- Harvard’s 83-82 win at Penn in double overtime behind Keith Wright's 25 points and Oliver McNally's jumper with 11 seconds remaining. The Crimson lost 65-61 Friday night at Princeton for their first loss of the Ivy League season. With Princeton beating Dartmouth, the Crimson couldn’t afford to get swept on this road trip and fall two games behind the Tigers. Princeton still has two games against Penn remaining, starting with Wednesday’s game against the Quakers at home, so there is a potential for another loss. If Harvard wants to be in the NCAAs for only the second time in its history (1946), then it can’t afford to be more than one game down against Princeton heading into the rematch on March 5. The Ivy doesn’t have a conference tournament and a split between the two league favorites would mean a one-game playoff. Harvard needs to be in position to force that if needed.
5. UCLA coach Ben Howland has quietly pushed back his critics and has the Bruins in position to be back in the NCAA tournament after a disappointing finish a year ago left his team out of the postseason all together. UCLA has one of the best nonconference wins of the season -- beating BYU in Anaheim. The Bruins beat St. John’s at home Saturday to add another top-25 RPI win. BYU is currently No. 1 in the RPI, St. John’s No. 22. The Bruins’ overall RPI has crept up to 40 and the nonconference strength of schedule is at 32, which can mask that home loss to Montana on Dec. 5. But most importantly, UCLA can still win the Pac-10 regular-season title, now a game ahead of Washington and just a game back of Arizona in the loss column. The Bruins are at least in the thick of the race. The schedule is more difficult with road games in the Bay Area and in Washington. Finding a way to get three of those four will be tough. Just splitting the four games probably won’t win the Pac-10. But the Bruins can finish ahead of the Huskies for second place and be in great position for an at-large berth. It’s not ultimately what UCLA wants to be fighting for, but it is progress.