Five observations from the week that was:
1. Spoke with Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried after he snapped Tim Duncan’s modern-day career rebounding record Saturday at Indiana State (he’s now at 1,576). Faried could not be more humble. He was incredibly awed that he had broken a record held by someone as esteemed and respected as Duncan. Faried almost couldn’t believe that his name would be in the same sentence as Duncan. This guy is a special talent who loves to do the dirty work and said he simply loves to board. He cherishes his college experience, too. He said he can’t wait to get Morehead State back to the NCAA tournament. If he can do that at the expense of quality OVC teams like Murray State and Austin Peay, then the nation will be treated to one of the hidden gems before his name is called early in the NBA draft in June.
2. Nebraska coach Doc Sadler told me Saturday night that the Cornhuskers had been so close, so many times to knocking off an elite team (notably at Kansas earlier this season). He realized until the Huskers could do that, nobody would take them completely seriously. “To get it to another level here, you’ve got to get a win like this one and it’s the first one we’ve had,’’ Sadler said. Nebraska looked like it couldn’t score when I saw the Huskers in Puerto Rico in November. I had no faith that this team would eventually compete for an NCAA tournament bid. There has been some attrition, but the Huskers have grown on Sadler and others and are poised to make an interesting run here as the bubble continues to soften.
3. Harvard could make history on March 5 and it needs to send a thank you note to Brown. The Bears upset Princeton on Saturday to allow the Crimson and Tigers to be in a first-place tie in the loss column. Now all Harvard has to do is win at Brown and Yale next weekend and then take out Penn on Friday, March 4, to set up a potential monster showdown with Princeton. If the Tigers also win out against Cornell, Columbia and at Dartmouth, then the Crimson have a chance to win the Ivy title outright on March 5 at home regardless of what happens between Princeton and Penn on March 8. If Harvard does all of this and beats the Tigers, it would mean the first NCAA tournament berth since 1946 and the second-ever in the history of the program.
4. If you’re looking for a team that could find its way into contention as a possible at-large berth, then check out Michigan. The Wolverines have top-50 wins over Harvard (yes, the Crimson are No. 43), at Michigan State and won road games at Clemson, Penn State and Iowa (Michigan State couldn’t beat either of the final two on the road). The Wolverines have one bad loss, by 17 at Indiana. But they have a favorable schedule down the stretch after beating Iowa on the road Saturday. Michigan hosts Wisconsin, goes to struggling Minnesota and finishes at home with a chance to sweep Michigan State. At the very least, Michigan could go into the Big Ten tournament needing one more quality win to secure a possible bid if it wins its two remaining home games.
5. We debated coach of the year on the site a few weeks ago and I pushed for Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun, who took a team picked 10th in the Big East during the preseason to 12-0 in the nonconference with an all-American at guard in Kemba Walker and a cast of freshmen. One thing hasn’t changed a few weeks later -- the national coach of the year probably should come from the Big East. Any list of finalists should include Calhoun, Steve Lavin (St. John’s), Mike Brey (Notre Dame) and Rick Pitino (Louisville). I still see tremendous value in looking at Texas’ Rick Barnes for the honor and I understand any and all love bestowed upon San Diego State’s Steve Fisher, BYU’s Dave Rose and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. But all were expected to be near the top of their respective conferences. And none are having to deal with a gauntlet that is the Big East.