Dallas Colleges: Lsu Tigers
NEW ORLEANS -- Running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine), the No. 1-rated prospect in the Class of 2014, has planned a surprise recruiting visit to Texas A&M on Saturday for the Aggies’ meeting with Alabama, according to another top player.
No. 1-rated athlete Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) said he was informed by A&M coaches that Fournette would attend the big game. Noil is visiting the College Station, Texas, campus with teammate Gerald Willis III, No. 29 in the ESPN 300 and the third-ranked defensive end.
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When and where: Nov. 28-Dec. 1 at the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Fla.
Initial thoughts: The Old Spice Classic field has rarely, if ever, approached the density or strength of the Maui Invitational (historically) or the Battle 4 Atlantis (more recently). It typically, though, has plenty by which to recommend it, and in 2013 more than most. Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart will lead a Cowboys team determined to unseat Kansas at the top of the Big 12 into the Wide World of Sports Complex as the undeniable favorite, but Memphis won't be that far away.
Meanwhile, we'll get a very early look at whether new Butler coach Brandon Miller will be able to field a tournament-ready team just a few months after Brad Stevens' departure to the NBA's Boston Celtics. We'll see if Purdue can bounce back from an ugly (but in many ways promising) 2012-13 season. Will Saint Joseph's' band of returning seniors be ready to make the leap everyone anticipated and gave up on a season ago? LSU has an intriguing rebuilding group that might push the top half of the SEC. We'll also see if Washington State, after losing seniors Brock Motum and Mike Ladd, is going to be so bad as to put coach Ken Bone on the proverbial hot seat. There are a variety of things worth watching in this bracket, and that includes the hoop.
The Hawks were everyone's vogue pick to win the Atlantic 10 last season, based primarily on the assumption that 2011-12's cadre of sophomores -- the Hawks returned all five starters -- would improve and coalesce as juniors. Instead, the Hawks became merely the latest example of why the muddy mix of "returning players" and "experience" and "chemistry" doesn't always translate into improvement. But Phil Martelli still has a good chunk of those players back for another go at this, and if he can coax better defense from everyone, then Saint Joseph's might transform its narrative yet again.
Meanwhile, LSU probably wasn't as bad as you think in 2012-13. The Tigers weren't great, of course, but they finished in the top 100, and they bring in a surprisingly talented recruiting class. Johnny Jones got "yes" answers from three ESPN 100 players, including No. 3-ranked power forward Jarrell Martin -- the program's best recruit since Glen Davis.
Potential matchup I’d like to see: Oklahoma State versus Memphis. When it comes to early-season tournaments, there is very little reason to root for anything but the best basketball. Every now and then there's a backstory baked into the proceedings, like an old rivalry given a random renewal in November. But, for the most part, our desires can be expressed in the simplest of terms: good basketball. That's the case here. This early before the start of the season, Memphis appears to be the second-best team in this bracket, and its backcourt (Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford, both excellent offensive players) should be a fascinating matchup for Smart and running mate Markel Brown. Recently, Memphis has often stumbled out of the gate before otherwise-solid seasons, which has cost the Tigers valuable lines on their NCAA tournament seed in March. Reversing that trend isn't as important in their first season in the American Athletic Conference, but quality nonconference wins are still utterly crucial, and it's going to be hard to find better chances than this.
Five players to watch:
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: NBA scouts really like Smart's game, but they're in love with the intangibles -- his work ethic, his drive and his desire to succeed. Those qualities have earned raves from coaches as long as Smart has played basketball, and they helped transformed Oklahoma State from the defensively soft 2011-12 group into one of the nation's best defenses last season. Smart turned down a shot at being a top-five pick to return to Stillwater. If he has developed the skills to go from "really good" to "frighteningly dominant" -- slightly better ballhandling and much better shooting -- they'll be on display at the Old Spice Classic.
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis: Goodwin's freshman season wasn't quite as good as his recruiting hype foretold, but there were tantalizing bits littered throughout. Now with Memorial Never-Got-There Club member Tarik Black having transferred and Adonis Thomas having left for the NBA draft, the keys to the Memphis frontcourt are decidedly in Goodwin's hands.
A.J. Hammons, Purdue: The Boilermakers weren't the easiest team in the country to watch last season. When they were good, it was usually because they were guarding, not because they were setting the scoreboard alight. But Matt Painter has one thing most coaches don't: a legitimate 7-foot NBA prospect. Hammons is that guy, and it's not just because he's big. He's also athletic for his size, with good ball skills and footwork. If he returns from the summer with a bit less big-man baby fat and a bit more low-post polish, well, look out.
Jarrell Martin, LSU: As mentioned above, Martin is the No. 3-ranked power forward prospect in the class of 2013. What wasn't mentioned is he is also the No. 11 overall talent. In many incoming classes, this would be worth noting, but little more. With the 2013 class regarded as the deepest and most talented in a decade, if not longer, it is something more. In fact, Martin is the highest-ranked 2013 prospect to not choose Kentucky, Duke, Arizona or Kansas. His situation at LSU will be different and arguably more interesting for it. Can the long-dormant Tigers rise again?
Kellen Dunham, Butler: Former coach Brad Stevens earned the reputation for not needing talent -- that he almost had to find unsung players and mold them for his system to work. That's probably true in general, but there were already signs before his departure to the Celtics that Butler's recruiting had gone up a notch or two since the back-to-back title-game runs in 2010 and 2011. For one, Indiana forward Cody Zeller listed the Bulldogs as among his final three recruiting options (North Carolina being the third). For another, he landed Dunham. Sure, Dunham wasn't Zeller, but he was an ESPN Top 100 player, and he was solid and efficient in big minutes as a freshman. Dunham will have to be even more efficient in even bigger minutes as a sophomore, particularly from 3-point range from which he ended up shooting just 34.5 percent, but he's capable.
Title-game prediction: Oklahoma State over Memphis.
As I wrote above, you just root for good basketball in these things, and Memphis' backcourt (especially if Michael Dixon is able to play) by far looks like the most interesting challenge to Smart and Co. in the Old Spice. But I don't think it would be much of a challenge. Jackson can really put the ball on the floor, and Crawford is a lights-out shooter (even off the dribble), but Smart and Brown look like they're going to lock down pretty much everyone in the sport this season. The Tigers included. Cowboys win.
Who others are picking:
Andy Katz: Oklahoma State over Memphis
Jeff Goodman: Memphis over Purdue
Seth Greenberg: Oklahoma State over LSU
Jason King: Oklahoma State over Memphis
Myron Medcalf: Oklahoma State over Memphis
Dana O'Neil: Oklahoma State over Memphis
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Tuesdays aren't Spencer Nealy's favorite.
The Texas A&M defensive tackle doesn't always look forward to practices on Tuesday. But with Alabama, the No. 1 team in the country, on deck for a showdown with the Aggies on Saturday, his feeling was different.
Coach Kevin Sumlin has been adamant about having a consistent approach weekly and keeping the team's routine the same. But there's no denying that the feeling in the pit of the Aggies' stomachs is just a little different with the opportunity that awaits at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
When it comes to playing Alabama, the team that has won two of the past three BCS championships and annually produces numerous NFL draft picks, there's often a David-versus-Goliath feel. Coming into this season, that would have applied for Texas A&M, too, when observers looked at the schedule and saw the trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium coming as the third of a three-game SEC road swing.
Expectations for the Aggies weren't extremely high. A seven-win season would have been considered respectable by many pundits nationwide, considering the caliber of the league Texas A&M entered. The Aggies have already met that total and are staring at the possibility of a nine or 10-win campaign.
And what once might have been considered a sure Alabama win is now a game that could very well be anybody's come Saturday.
"It's a big challenge for us," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "They've got a really good team on both sides of the ball. Really explosive on offense, probably the best offensive team in our league, especially in their presentation, and their quarterback has played phenomenally well for them. Very athletic and it's going to be a real challenge. I think it's a real challenge for anybody that plays against them."
Sitting at 7-2 and second place in the SEC West (4-2), the Aggies have been lauded for what they've done so far but might still be flying under the radar. They're behind three other two-loss teams (LSU, South Carolina and Oklahoma) in the human polls (No. 15) and also behind Stanford in the BCS rankings (also No. 15). They aren't considered juggernauts by any stretch of the imagination.
Part of that could be attributed to the fact that their two losses came at home to two teams that are now ranked in the top 10: Florida (No. 6 BCS, No. 7 AP) and LSU (No. 7 BCS, No. 9 AP). But make no mistake, the Aggies showed they were capable of going toe-to-toe with each.
In both instances, the Aggies led those teams by double digits. In the season opener against Florida, the Aggies took a 17-7 lead in the second quarter. Against LSU, they jumped out to a 12-0 lead. Each team came back to take control, but the Aggies remained in the game until the final minute both times.
With a redshirt freshman at quarterback (Johnny Manziel) and receiver (Mike Evans) and two true freshmen starting on defense (defensive end Julien Obioha and cornerback De'Vante Harris), it hasn't always been perfect. There have undoubtedly been mistakes made, and that's part of the deal when you have young players in key spots, particularly when new schemes are installed, which the Aggies did on both sides of the ball this season. Turnovers were an issue against LSU. Against Florida, the offense stalled and there were many missed tackles on defense.
This is a different team now than it was in Week 1, or even on Oct. 20 when it faced LSU. Sumlin said the Aggies were able to take away something positive from both games.
"I think if there's anything out of it that we've gotten as a team, even though we were disappointed to lose those two games, I think that there's a little bit of confidence out of our football team from being able to handle the physical nature of this league," Sumlin said. "Understanding that Florida and LSU had a lot to do with the mistakes we made, but we can certainly play better. Our guys understand that.
"We haven't played a complete football game yet. I'm not talking about playing a perfect game, I'm talking about playing a complete game. Some of our games, our starters have been out in the third quarter. Other games we've turned the ball over and won or found a variety of ways to win, but we still haven't played a complete game yet. If we can do that, I think we can be dangerous for anybody."
Their past two outings have been resounding road victories at Auburn and Mississippi State. This Saturday's affair will be a completely different animal altogether. The Crimson Tide are the nation's best and right now are the gold standard in college football. Just the thought of the matchup has Nealy and his teammates fired up.
"We talked about it; we haven't played a No. 1 team ever [in our careers]," Nealy said. "Oklahoma State last year, we played them and they were No. , but it didn't feel like that. This is the No. 1 team. We've played the No. 5 team, which was cool. But this is big time, and we need to come out there and shock the world."
That is a question that many fans, observers and pundits posed or tried to answer when Texas A&M initially announced it was moving to the Southeastern Conference.
Are the Aggies good enough to compete with the best the SEC -- college football's premier league -- has to offer? There were many skeptics and there still will be some after the No. 18 Aggies' 24-19 loss to No. 6 LSU on Saturday at Kyle Field.
But if you watched closely, one thing became evident as the events unfolded in front of the 87,429 in the building. Not only are the Aggies good enough to compete with a top-10 team from the SEC, they're good enough to beat said team.
The Aggies lost for many reasons, some self-inflicted, some imposed by the Tigers. But it wasn't because they were outclassed or simply weren't good enough. The Aggies proved to be more than up to snuff against the physicality of one of the SEC's traditional powers, LSU, a two-time BCS champion since 2003.
Saturday was evidence that Texas A&M, by the looks of it, is ready to go toe-to-toe with the SEC's big boys. But it was also evidence that the Aggies have a long way to go.
"This one hurts a lot," senior center Patrick Lewis, a Louisiana native, said. "I know a lot of those guys on that team and it would have been real nice to get a win, not only for myself but for our team and for Kyle Field. It's a win that Texas A&M has needed for a real long time. But we've got to get over it. We have a lot of ball to play. We go on the road next week in another hostile environment. We're going to learn from the mistakes we made today and we're going to continue to get better."
The Aggies left points on the board when a chop block penalty on offensive lineman Jarvis Harrison and Luke Joeckel erased a throwback screen pass to Ben Malena that would have been a 34-yard first-quarter touchdown. That would have given Texas A&M a possible 13-0 lead fewer than 10 minutes into the game.
Instead, it had to settle for a field goal and it took until the 7:24 mark in the second quarter before the Aggies pushed the lead to double digits.
Redshirt freshman kicker Taylor Bertolet missed 2-of-4 field goals, one of which came from 33 yards in the fourth quarter after a 76-yard kickoff return by freshman Trey Williams. So after starting from the LSU 16-yard line and cutting into a 17-12 Tigers lead, the Aggies came away with no points.
"We left some points out there, obviously, with a couple missed field goals," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Against a team like that, you want to score touchdowns in the red zone."
And Saturday was also a learning experience for redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has dazzled onlookers with his ability to improvise and make plays with his legs and his right arm and appeared on the verge of taking college by storm.
The Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product still showed some of his signature playmaking ability, but LSU kept the young man dubbed "Johnny Football" from breaking the game open. The speed of the Tigers defense was able to run him down and prevent big ground gains (he finished with a season-low 27 yards on 17 carries) and when he tried to force passes while scrambling -- like the one Tharold Simon picked off with 3:20 to go in the game -- they made him pay.
Earlier this season when the Aggies defeated SMU, Manziel made one of many highlight-worthy plays when he was able to spin out of a sack, throw off one foot and complete a touchdown pass to Kenric McNeal. Against LSU, there was a moment where Manziel scrambled left, switch the ball to his left hand and threw it and was nearly intercepted by an LSU defender.
It was a learning experience for the young quarterback, who was appearing in just his seventh game.
"He learns from everything," Sumlin said. "He learns from every series. Every experience is a learning experience for him right now. This is game seven for him. It's a completely different environment. He's as hard on himself as we are as coaches. [Offensive coordinator] Kliff [Kingsbury's] doing a great job with him. We just have to keep getting better and he'll continue to do that."
Sumlin said the mistakes can be attributed to a combination of youth, lack of execution and the caliber of the Aggies opponent.
"Where we have to get over the hump is execution and being consistent," he said. "It's no different than what I've said from Game One. Against a very talented team the margin for error gets really, really slim. We made too many today."
It's clear that the Aggies aren't there yet, but potential for success against the SEC's elite is there if the mistakes made on Saturday are corrected.
"I think we're very close," Aggies senior receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu said. "We're a team that defensively, they're excited, they're jumping around, they're running to the ball. We have a great defense and offensively, the sky is the limit for us. We just have to focus down on the little things that make great things: turnovers, penalties and things like that. We have to harp on that and if we want to get to elite status, that's what we have to do."
The Aggies are thrilled to be in the Southeastern Conference, but their approach is still very much Big 12.
|Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin looks ahead to Saturday's matchup against No. 6 LSU, the health of the team, becoming acclimated to the SEC and more. |
SEC fans scoff at this, insist defense wins championships, and point to the six straight national titles the conference has won as proof.
As with many arguments, there is truth on both sides. But the debate seems to be more heated than ever because there is such a clear style difference between the top teams in the SEC (Alabama, LSU, Florida and South Carolina) and those in the Big 12 (especially West Virginia, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech).
Texas A&M can score a victory of sorts for the conference it left behind over the next few weeks.
The Aggies lead the SEC and are tied for sixth in the nation in total offense at 543 yards per game, behind fabulous redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel (aka Johnny Football). They average 47 points, run a fast-paced spread offense and are everything that makes fans (and coaches) of a more traditional approach to football cringe.
The Aggies lost 20-17 to open the season against No. 3 Florida, coached by former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Chalk one up for old-school football. Since then they've scored 88 points combined in victories against Arkansas and Mississippi, two teams that prove not everybody in the SEC plays big-time defense.
After LSU, A&M plays three straight road games against Auburn, No. 15 Mississippi State and No. 1 Alabama.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban made news a few weeks back when he responded to a question about up-tempo offenses by suggesting there were safety issues to consider when teams run so many plays, especially for defenses that can't substitute as often.
"I just think there's got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, `Is this what we want football to be?" he said.
Aggies first-year coach Kevin Sumlin, who served as an assistant for seven seasons in the Big 12 before becoming the head coach at Houston, was asked about the fairness of the no-huddle. His dismissive response was, basically, his team plays by the rules.
Saban is not the only defensive-minded coach feeling a bit, well, defensive these days.
You can be certain that those on that side of the ball will push for some rules changes in the next few years to slow things down a bit. And you can be just as sure that the guys on the offense side will push back.
Whether it goes anywhere, who knows?
Grant Teaff, the former Baylor coach who now heads the American Football Coaches Association, said his group annually surveys coaches for ideas about tweaking rules.
"It's a legitimate concern our defensive coaches have about being able to substitute," Teaff said. "But that's part of the challenge. The game changes; offenses catch up to defenses.
"That's what football is. It's in a constant cycle of change."
Though defensive coaches are correct to contend it's been cycling in favor of offense for years.
"The thing I hear from my defensive friends is all defensive coordinators are either on the way in or on the way out (of a job)," Teaff said. "Defensive coordinator is a tough job in some leagues right now."
It's not every day that any recruit decommits from Texas.
It's even rarer that the nation's No. 1 receiver reneges on the Longhorns.
That's what Ricky Seals-Jones has done, though, just two days after attending a camp in Austin with the rest of the Longhorns' 2013 recruiting class, HornsNation reports.
It is believed that this decision could have something to do with his desire to play both football and basketball in college, which LSU and Baylor both have given him the option to do. When reached by phone Tuesday night, Eric Thomas, Seals-Jones' AAU basketball coach, had no comment on Seals-Jones' decision.
Texas isn't out of the Seals-Jones sweepstakes just yet, but the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, who is rated the nation's No. 7 overall recruit, has reopened his recruitment with a host of other schools. The Sealy, Texas, native shocked many recruiting experts with his decision, but fellow commits weighed in and weren't too worried about the news.
Texas four-star quarterback pledge Tyrone Swoopes (Whitewright, Texas/Whitewright) has perhaps the strongest relationship with Seals-Jones of the Longhorn commits, and he reached out to Seals-Jones on Tuesday evening to offer his support.
"I'm a little surprised," Swoopes said. "I told him I would respect his decision if he does want to decommit, but it would be good for him if he would stay just because we can do great things at Texas with our recruiting class, and he's a big part of it.
"He said Texas is still No. 1 but he just wanted to see what other schools had to offer. I told him I respect that."
Still, pretty surprising stuff. Texas now has 14 commits for its class, whose members can't sign letters of intent until national signing day in February.
2. North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal said Thursday night that he has a policy that he doesn’t release players who have signed with North Texas or leave the program during their career. Conversely, he won’t allow his coaches, even new ones like men’s basketball coach Tony Benford, to cut a player based on ability. He said the only way a player will be released is if there is an academic or behavior issue. This is relevant because signee John Odoh may want to follow former coach Johnny Jones to LSU. Villarreal said Odoh hasn’t asked for a release yet. If he does, don’t expect a release -- or at least not one to LSU. Villarreal was adamant that Odoh was recruited by Jones with Mean Green funds. Players may leave, but without a release, meaning they would then have to pay their own scholarships.
3. Incoming NCAA tournament selection committee chair Mike Bobinski said that 2013 East Regional sites were discussed Thursday in Indianapolis, and that a decision is due in two weeks. Syracuse and Brooklyn, N.Y., appear to be the favorites. The initial four candidates also included New York City (Madison Square Garden) and Newark, N.J. MSG is booked. Newark hasn’t been eliminated yet.
2. Now LSU athletic director Joe Alleva needs to make the right hire to replace Johnson. North Texas coach Johnny Jones has strong ties to LSU and to the region. Jones tried to get the job before Johnson but to no avail. He has done wonders at North Texas, a school that is consistently in the Sun Belt chase. Alleva went out of region in luring Johnson from Stanford. This time, he should go with someone familiar with the area and especially the SEC. This is a critical time in the league: the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, Frank Martin now coaching at South Carolina, and an increase to 18 conference games. Not to mention, of course, the dominant teams already at the top of the league led by Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt.
3. Thomas Robinson is a great example of a player who maxed out his career in college over a three-year period and is now ready to play in the NBA. He wasn’t a year ago. He had an exemplary season, led Kansas to the national title game, and now enters the NBA as a player who can contribute, not just be a high draft pick.
Let’s change the rules, based on what we’ve seen today. If you survey the weekend slate and you can’t find any meaningful games and potential upsets that you’re overly interested in, that means it’s time to call Earl and the crew (everybody has a friend named Earl), stock the fridge and get ready for some good basketball. If this was a lukewarm weekend in college basketball, what qualifies as a great one?
Iowa State 72, No. 5 Kansas 64
Many laughed when Fred Hoiberg began his tenure at Iowa State by recruiting from a pool of players known for their checkered pasts. Royce White, who left Minnesota two seasons ago after a tumultuous stay, led the bunch. But Hoiberg looks like a genius right now after the Cyclones handed No. 5 KU its first Big 12 loss of the season. The win snapped both the Jayhawks' 13-game winning streak over Iowa State and their 10-game overall winning streak (they hadn’t lost since Dec. 19).
The postgame court-storming was well-deserved for the 'Clones and their fans. Hoiberg has as much job security as any coach in the country based on his legendary career in Ames, which allowed him to pursue so many transfers without worry. In other words, he’d get a mulligan if things didn’t work out.
Against Kansas, however, Hoiberg proved that he’s more than a risk-taking recruiter. He can coach, too. Iowa State, a squad that suffered an 82-73 loss at Kansas on Jan. 14, led by three points at halftime. But that didn’t last. The Jayhawks scored 11 unanswered points early in the second half. The crowd’s energy dropped after that KU run, but Iowa State kept fighting, something it had failed to do down the stretch in its earlier loss to the Jayhawks.
White led the charge. With his team leading 56-53 and five minutes to play, he scored the Cyclones' next eight points (three straight layups and a pair of free throws). He entered the game as a 51 percent free throw shooter -- ISU was the Big 12’s worst free throw shooting team at 61 percent overall -- but he was 6-for-8 from the charity stripe in the second half. He finished with a team-high 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists, making up for his six turnovers. The team was 25-for-34 from the charity stripe.
So yes, the same Iowa State squad that lost at Drake Nov. 15 looks like an NCAA tournament team right now -- no matter what my colleague Doug Gottlieb might tweet. At 5-3, the Cyclones are off to their best Big 12 start in a dozen years and sure seem like they won't be fading away anytime soon.
No. 4 Syracuse 63, West Virginia 61
It just can’t happen. Not in late January with the stakes so high. Not when it’s so blatant. Officials in this game missed one of the more obvious and critical goaltending calls of the season. In the final seconds, West Virginia's Truck Bryant air-balled a 3-pointer that ended up in Deniz Kilicli’s hands with his team down by a bucket. Kilicli’s layup was swatted away in mid-air by Syracuse's Baye Keita, but replays showed what looked like a clear goaltending violation by Keita. Officials never blew their whistles.
West Virginia got the ball back and Kevin Jones (20 points, eight rebounds) missed a deep 3-pointer to win the game, but the final outcome might have changed had that crew flagged Keita for goaltending. Now granted, WVU had its chances. Brandon Triche (18 points) hit a pair of free throws with a minute and a half to play and the Mountaineers missed four consecutive shots. But the no-call clearly impacted the game.
Syracuse struggled in its third consecutive game without Fab Melo. The Orange just haven’t looked like the same squad without him and his defensive presence. West Virginia secured an astounding plus-21 (41-20) rebounding edge over the Cuse and had nearly as many offensive boards (19) as the Orange had total. How does that happen? It’s not like the Mountaineers are the biggest team in the country. They were just tougher than Syracuse most of the afternoon. And had it not been for that missed goaltending call, West Virginia might have avoided its 13th loss to the Cuse in 14 meetings.
No. 7 Baylor 76, Texas 71
With 4:09 to go, Texas' Myck Kabongo hit a 3-pointer as Pierre Jackson committed a ridiculous foul to put him on the line for a four-point play opportunity. Texas had been down by 12 points early in the second half, but Kabongo’s shot cut Baylor’s advantage to just one. Cameras panned to Baylor coach Scott Drew on the sidelines. He had the “I can’t believe this is happening at home” look on his face.
Perry Jones (22 points, 14 rebounds) was far more aggressive than he’d been in some of his efforts, but Baylor couldn’t keep the pressure on the Longhorns and nearly blew one at home. J’Covan Brown scored 32 points (11-for-22), his third consecutive 30-point effort. But he had way more time to create a better shot than the deep 3-ball he took with 14 seconds on the clock. His team was down by three points in the closing seconds, so I understand why he’d take a deep shot, but he didn’t have to shoot it when he did. He had more time on the clock.
Here’s where you have to have more question marks about Baylor, though. The Bears are at home. Texas shot 36 percent from the field in the first half and was 1-for-12 from beyond the arc before halftime. Seemed like an opportunity for Baylor to flex its muscle. But it turned into another lukewarm finish for the Bears.
No. 13 Florida 69, No. 16 Mississippi State 57
The Bulldogs just couldn’t handle Florida’s inside-outside attack. Patric Young (12 points, six rebounds) was solid for the Gators, especially after halftime. Bradley Beal led the Gators’ talented backcourt with 19 points. The nation’s leaders in 3-point field goals hit 11 of them as they won their fifth straight and 17th in a row at home.
Arnett Moultrie was 4-for-10 and scored 12 points for a Bulldogs team that committed 14 turnovers. It was MSU's third SEC road loss of the season. At 5-3 in league play, they’d better find a way to compete away from home. They’re certainly talented, but the Bulldogs have really struggled on the road. Thought this one would have been a closer game, but give the Gators credit. They can spread teams out with their guard play and minimize their size disadvantages, a tactic they used to perfection against the Bulldogs.
No. 1 Kentucky 74, LSU 50
The Wildcats are in Beast Mode right now. They’re just crushing teams. LSU entered this game following a tight road loss at Mississippi State. But the Wildcats are just a different animal. Terrence Jones led all scorers with a season-high 27 points and the Wildcats held LSU to a 1-for-9 clip from the 3-point line. Just two Tigers reached double figures.
Although LSU is only 2-5 in the SEC, you have to wonder how dangerous the Wildcats can be in March when a guy like Jones can explode despite some inconsistency this season. He entered the game averaging 11.6 ppg and he only scored five points against Georgia on Tuesday. But this game was further proof that Kentucky is a “pick your poison” kind of opponent. How do you defend a team with that number of studs? The Wildcats have so many weapons.
Syracuse is deep. Ohio State has balance. But no team in America looks as potent as Kentucky right now.
Some more observations from the afternoon games ...
- It Happened! It Happened! It Happened! Towson wins! The Tigers had set a record with 41 consecutive Division I losses, but on Saturday, a miracle happened when the Tigers beat UNC Wilmington 66-61 despite a 1-for-8 mark from the 3-point line. Marcus Damas scored 18 points. There were shaky moments late -- the Seahawks hit some late 3s after Towson took a 60-53 lead with 1:25 to play -- but the Tigers held on and a justifiable celebration ensued. For reaction from coach Pat Skerry and the Tigers, read Andy Katz's story in the Nation blog.
- Marquette did its normal slow-start/big-finish thing at Villanova, but Dana O'Neil was at the game, so I'll let her tell you more about it.
- Duke nearly squandered a 22-point second-half lead against a young St. John’s team. The Blue Devils' 83-76 victory over the Red Storm was nothing to hang their hats on. The Devils should be disappointed that they gave up a late run that could have cost them the game.
- Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt clashed Saturday in a tight game between the two Tennessee schools. MTSU, 20-2 entering the game, has been one of the bigger surprises on the national scene. The Blue Raiders start four transfers who weren’t with the team last season. But their story hit a roadblock in their 84-77 loss at Vanderbilt. The loss snapped Middle's 12-game winning streak and gave Vandy its fourth win in its past five games.
- Is Pitt about to launch a big comeback this season? I’m not sure. But the Panthers have won two in a row after an impressive 72-60 win over No. 10 Georgetown, their fifth win in their last six meetings with the Hoyas. They lost their first eight Big East games, but Lamar Patterson scored a team-high 18 points and Ashton Gibbs added 13 for the Panthers, who have now won an incredible 12 straight home games against top-10 opponents.
- The Mountain West Conference is legit. Proof? No. 12 San Diego State took a tough 77-60 road loss at Colorado State on Saturday, despite Jamaal Franklin’s 24 points. After a brutal travel week in the Rockies, the loss snapped SDSU’s 11-game overall winning streak and its 58-game win streak against unranked foes, which had been the longest such run in the country. Colorado State’s dwindling at-large hopes certainly got a huge boost with this victory, the school's first over a ranked team since 2004.
You know: The conference that can count!
But the Pac-12, which has, yes, 12 teams, and the Big 12, which has 10 teams (though it's often hard to keep up with which ones), play each other in three bowl games this holiday season.
Joy to the world.
So it seemed like a good time for the Pac-12 and Big 12 bloggers -- Ted Miller and David Ubben -- to say howdy and discuss all the coming fun.
Ted Miller: Ah, David, the bowl season. Pure bliss. Unless you’re the Pac-12, which is expected to get a whipping from your conference over the holidays. We have three Pac-12-Big 12 bowl games with the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State, the Valero Alamo with Baylor and Washington, and the Bridgepoint Education Holiday matching California and Texas. And the Big 12 is favored in all three!
Poor ole West Coast teams. What are we to do? It’s almost like the Big 12 is the SEC or something. Speaking of which, how are things with your Cowboys? Are they over not getting a shot at LSU for the national title? Are they excited about getting a shot at Andrew Luck and Stanford? We might as well start with that outstanding matchup in Glendale.
David Ubben: You know, I was actually a little surprised. I stuck around Stillwater for the BCS bowl selection show announcement, and the players took the news pretty well. They found out an hour before, but there wasn't a ton of down-in-the-dumpiness from the Pokes. When you've never been to this point before, it's a bit difficult to develop a sense of entitlement. If Oklahoma had OSU's record and was passed over by Alabama and sent to the Fiesta Bowl for the 17th time in the past six years, you might have had a different reaction.
But Oklahoma State's first trip to the BCS and first Big 12 title aren't being overlooked. These players are looking forward to this game. There's no doubt about that.
I know the Big 12 seems like the SEC, but I have a confession, Ted. I wasn't supposed to tell anybody, but I can't hold it in anymore. When the Big 12 began back in 1996 ... wow, I'm really going to do this ... then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer graciously allowed the league to keep two of his teams. The league made a similar arrangement with the Big Eight a century ago, and the Southwest Conference around the same time. Missouri and Texas A&M are really wolves in sheep's clothing: SEC teams just pretending to be in other leagues. So, that might explain the Big 12's recent dominance.
These should all be fun games, though. I ranked two of the matchups among the top three in my bowl rankings.
As for the big one, they say you learn more by losing than by winning. Stanford got its first BCS win. How do you think that experience plays into this year's game? I hate to ruin the surprise, but Oklahoma State's a bit better than the Virginia Tech team Stanford beat last season. OSU's loss to Iowa State this season is bad, but it's nothing like the Hokies' loss to James Madison last season.
But that's 2010. The difference this year is the season-ending knee injury to middle linebacker Shayne Skov, who was an All-American candidate, a slight step back on the offensive line and a lack of top-flight receivers. But if Oklahoma State fans are looking for something to worry about it is this: Stanford's running game.
The Pokes are bad against the run, and they haven't faced a team that is as physical and creative in the running game as Stanford. As much as folks talk about Luck's passing, it's his run checks that often ruin a defense's evening.
The Fiesta Bowl matchup looks like a great one, perhaps the best of the bowl season. But I’m excited to see Mr. Excitement Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl against Washington. Of course, I’m not sure that the Huskies, their fans and embattled Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt are as thrilled. First, tell us about what Washington should be most worried about with Griffin. Then tell us about Baylor in general. Such as: Can the Bears stop anyone?
David Ubben: Nope. Not really.
Oklahoma State's defense unfairly gets a bad rap. Baylor's bad rap is earned. This is the same team that won five consecutive games late in the season -- but became the first team ever to win four consecutive in a single season while giving up 30 points in each.
The man is a nightmare. Top to bottom, he's the most accurate passer in a quarterback-driven league. Then, you add in his athleticism, which he doesn't even really need to be extremely productive. It sets him apart, though, and forces defenses to account for it, and it buys him time in the pocket. How many guys break a 20-plus yard run before hitting a receiver for a game-winning 39-yard score to beat a team like Oklahoma for the first time?
How do you think Washington will try to slow him down? What has to happen for them to have some success?
Ted Miller: This game matches the 99th (Washington) and 109th (Baylor) scoring defenses. It has a 78-point over-under, the biggest of any bowl game. The offenses are going to score plenty, at least that's the conventional wisdom.
How does Washington stop RGIII? His name is Chris Polk. He's a running back. Baylor gives up 199 yards rushing per game. Polk right, left and up the middle is a good way to contain Griffin. The Huskies' best hope is to reduce Griffin's touches with ball control. It also needs to convert touchdowns, not field goals, in the redzone. The Huskies are pretty good at that, scoring 36 TDs in 45 visits to the red zone.
The Huskies also have a pretty good quarterback in Keith Price, who set a school record with 29 touchdown passes this year. He and a solid crew of receivers have prevented teams from ganging up against Polk. But Polk is the guy who burns the clock.
Should be a fun game. As should, by the way, the Holiday Bowl. David, Cal fans are still mad at Texas coach Mack Brown and his politicking the Longhorns into the Rose Bowl in 2004. Every team wants to win its bowl game, but the Old Blues really want to beat Brown.
Of course, neither team is what it was in 2004. Cal has an excuse. It's not a college football superpower. Sure you've been asked this before, but give me the CliffsNotes version of why the Longhorns have fallen so hard since playing for the national title in 2009.
David Ubben: Cal fans are still mad? Really? I'd suggest they get over themselves. What's anybody on that Cal team ever done anyway? It's not like the best player in the NFL missed out on a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Now, if that were the case, we might have a problem. But honestly, I don't think Tim Tebow cares all that much about the Rose Bowl.
As for Texas' struggles?
The easy answer is quarterback play. Texas relied on Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley more than anyone realized. When they were gone, Texas couldn't run the ball, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert never made it happen. Two seasons later, the Longhorns still don't have a quarterback.
The other big answer last season was turnover margin. Gilbert threw 17 interceptions and the Longhorns were minus-12 in turnovers, which ranked 115th nationally.
They were still only 90th this year, and without solid quarterback play in a Big 12 dominated by passers, they scored five, 13 and 17 points in three of their five losses. Texas keeps people from moving the ball and runs the ball better this year, but without a solid passing game and a defense that changes games, it's tough to rack up wins in the Big 12.
It's been awhile since Cal was in the mix for the BCS, even as USC has fallen. Oregon answered the call and rose, but what has prevented Cal from winning the Pac-10 and Super Pac-10 since the Trojans' swoon?
Ted Miller: You mention quarterback play. Cal fans ... any thoughts? You mention Aaron Rodgers. Cal fans? Oh, well, that's not very nice during this festive time of the year.
Cal has become a solid defensive team, but it's lost its offensive mojo, and that can be traced to a drop in quarterback play since Rodgers departed. The latest Bears quarterback, Zach Maynard, started fairly well, stumbled, but then seemed to catch on late in the season. It's reasonable to believe the team that gets better quarterback play -- mistake-free quarterback play -- is going to win this game.
Nice to cover a conference where quarterback play matters, eh David?
Speaking of quarterback play and winning, let's wind it up. Our specific predictions aren't coming on these games until after Christmas. But we can handicap the Big 12-Pac-12 side of things. We have a three-game series this bowl seasons.
I say the Pac-12, underdogs in all three games, goes 1-2. What say you?
David Ubben: And to think, before the season, all I heard was the Pac-12 had surpassed the Big 12 in quarterback play. Did somebody petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility for Jake Locker and/or clone Matt Barkley? You West Coast folk are geniuses; I figured you'd find a way. We can't all be Stanford alums ...
Clearing out all the tumbleweeds here in middle America, I'll go out on a limb for the Big 12 in this one. Every matchup is a good one, and I don't think Cal has seen a defense like Texas' and Washington hasn't seen an offense like Baylor's. People forget that, yeah, RG3 is outstanding, but the Bears also have the league's leading receiver and leading rusher.
Stanford-OSU is a toss-up, but I'll go with a perfect sweep for the Big 12. The Cowboys haven't played poorly on the big stage yet, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt in this one, and they clean up for the Big 12 against what was almost its new conference this fall.
Oh, what could have been. Ubben and Miller on the same blog? Divided ultimately by a little thing we call the Rockies.
So, can TCU actually sneak into a BCS game?
Technically, yes. The odds, though, are heavily stacked against them.
First, a reminder how a non-AQ team earns an automatic BCS berth: By winning its league championship (and being the champ is the key, not the final ranking, see Boise State); finishing in the top 16 of the BCS standings; and finishing higher than a champion of an AQ league. West Virginia is the highest-ranked Big East team at No. 23, and it isn't assured of winning the league.
By the time the Frogs (9-2) kick off their finale in Forth Worth against UNLV (2-9) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, they'll have a pretty good idea if there's any hope. No. 6 Houston (12-0) controls its destiny: Beat No. 24 Southern Miss (10-2) in the Conference USA title game (11 a.m. Saturday, ABC), and an automatic BCS berth belongs to Case Keenum and the Coogs.
Lose, and suddenly the door flings open for the Frogs.
Here's the three-step process that must happen for TCU to seal a third consecutive BCS berth:
1. Houston must lose to Southern Miss -- which seemingly killed its BCS dreams with an awful loss to UAB two weeks ago.
2. TCU must beat UNLV (2-9) to win the Mountain West Conference title outright and do so in an overpowering way to make gains with voters (playing UNLV could actually hurt TCU in the computers, just see its 34-10 win over Colorado State that dropped it from No. 19 to 20).
3. TCU must move up two spots to No. 16 in the BCS rankings released next Sunday night.
If the first two dominoes fall, how plausible is a move into the top 16?
Well, No. 17 Baylor, with banged-up quarterback Robert Griffin III, plays host to No. 22 Texas. No. 16 Michigan's regular season is over. No. 15 Wisconsin faces No. 13 Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. No. 14 Georgia gets No. 1 LSU in the SEC championship game. Would loses to ranked teams, two of which will be in conference title games bump those teams down far enough to help TCU?
How charmed are these Frogs? We'll soon find out.
» BCS standings reaction: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | Non-AQ
Oklahoma State's spirits were at an all-time low Friday night while the Cowboys watched Iowa State storm the field after ruining their perfect season and — or so we thought — ending all hopes at a national title.
Additionally, the Cowboys fell to sixth in the coaches poll, which makes up one-third of the BCS standings; the Harris poll and the computer rankings each make up another third.
But don't turn the lights out just yet. Oklahoma State — by way of upset losses suffered by Oregon, Clemson and Oklahoma — fell just two spots to No. 4 in the latest BCS, released Sunday night, behind three teams from the SEC West. LSU, Alabama and Arkansas occupied the top three spots.
Computers love the Big 12. As I've referenced several times, its 27-3 record in nonconference play is paying off. Oklahoma State is still No. 2 in the computers and has a matchup in two weeks with No. 9 Oklahoma, which might also get a bump if teams lose next weekend. OSU ranks No. 2 in four of the computer polls and third in the other two.
For now, Oklahoma State must hope for SEC shenanigans or voter sentiment against an SEC rematch in the national title game. The top three teams in the SEC West have lost only to each other, and LSU hosts Arkansas on Friday. Alabama must also beat Auburn on Saturday.
The Cowboys' best chance would play out like this: Arkansas beats LSU and Alabama loses to Auburn. Then Georgia beats Arkansas in the SEC championship game on Dec. 3.
Not impossible, and you'd see LSU and Oklahoma State in the national title game after all.
Oklahoma State will sit and wait this weekend and hope for chaos that would buoy it back into the BCS driver's seat, but 48 hours after the most crushing loss in school history, there's reason to believe The Big Game is still within reach.
Other notes on the latest BCS standings:
- Oklahoma is No. 9 and No. 6 in the computers.
- Kansas State hopped to No. 11.
- Baylor is No. 18.
- Texas is still hanging on at No. 25.
» BCS standings reaction: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | Non-AQ
Oklahoma's national title hopes got two big breaks Saturday.
Boise State and Stanford both broke down and lost on their home fields — just like the Sooners did last month.
So here Oklahoma sits at a tidy No. 5 in the latest BCS standings, with a date against No. 2 Oklahoma State coming into focus.
The biggest problem?
The two teams ahead of the Sooners have only one blemish: A loss to the nation's No. 1 team, LSU.
Would a victory over Oklahoma State on Dec. 3 in the de facto Big 12 title game slingshot the Sooners into the national championship game?
Ultimately, it's going to depend on voters, who make up two-thirds of the BCS standings. The Sooners are strong in the computers — they're in the top five in five of the six computer rankings (and sixth in the other) and below both Alabama and Oregon in just three. Oklahoma State is No. 1 in three of the computer rankings.
Oklahoma's best hope? A voter mutiny against a rematch between LSU and Oregon (LSU won 40-27 in Dallas on Sept. 3) or Alabama and LSU (LSU won in overtime in Tuscaloosa, 9-6) and an impressive closing stanza for voters to remember the Sooners before coaches cast their ballots in the USA Today poll and before Harris poll voters send their ballots in.
Oklahoma, if it wins out, would have an impressive five victories over top-25 teams. Oregon would have two. Alabama would have four.
The Sooners, though, will have difficulty outrunning that Texas Tech loss, which gets worse and worse by the week. The Red Raiders have lost five of six games, and have been outscored 159-33 in losses to Iowa State, Texas and Oklahoma State.
Call it a fluke if you want, but championship teams don't have fluke losses. It could cost Oklahoma a shot at the title.
That is, unless the Sooners win out and voters say Alabama and Oregon don't deserve another chance to knock off Les Miles' team.
Nobody likes sounding relentlessly redundant, but if the story doesn't change the story doesn't change.
For all that Oregon has accomplished in two years under Chip Kelly, it has flopped against highly rated nonconference foes who have had extra time to prepare for the Ducks high-tempo, spread-option attack.
- In 2009, the Ducks opened at Boise State. While that game is most remembered for LaGarrette Blount's post-game meltdown in Kelly's debut, Boise State fans will be glad to remind you the Broncos held the Ducks to 31 yards rushing in a 19-8 victory.
- The Ducks righted themselves dramatically in 2009 and earned a berth opposite Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. But the Buckeyes held the Ducks to 260 yards in a 26-17 victory
- And, finally, in the national title game against Auburn, the Ducks only scored 19 points. They gained 449 yards but only 75 on the ground.
If you have ever played football, you surely understand that when a football player has his physicality doubted, well, that's pretty galling.
Before all you Ducks get bent over this, keep in mind that Kelly has been a stand-up guy about this very point. In all three instances, he admitted the Ducks got beat at the point of attack. Further, during preseason camp, I asked running back LaMichael James about what went wrong against Auburn.
"Their defensive line was overpowering our offensive line," he said. "That was just the way it was."
How do you think this goes over with a Ducks offensive lineman? Department of "Truth Hurts."
Here's the good news: Oregon can end such talk on Saturday. All it has to do is take it to No. 4 LSU, a program as physically talented in terms of future NFL potential as any in the nation.
That's the micro-economic level of the super-cool-awesomeness of this marquee season-0pener in Cowboys Stadium.
Any one else curious to see what Kelly's got up his sleeve to counter LSU's extra prep time to school itself on the Ducks misdirection?
The macro-economic level is this: Pac-12 versus SEC. One game for a regular-season's worth of trash talking.
You might have heard the SEC has experienced some football success of late. On occasion, SEC fans will take a moment to remind you of it. There is a rumor, in fact, that five consecutive seasons have ended with a happy ending in some SEC outpost, the latest against the Pac-12's newest top-dog.
That would be Oregon.
To be honest, last January, I though Oregon was going to pound Auburn. I didn't think a two-player team -- no matter how good those two players were -- could beat the Kelly and the Ducks. The last time I had such a strong hunch about a game and was so completely wrong was when Washington pushed Miami around in 2000. (This is not to say I've had a long run of correct strong hunches about games before January. They just don't come by very often before marquee matchups).
Even if you throw out the stakes specific to Oregon and the Pac-12, this game has huge meaning nationally. The winner could -- should, in my mind -- rise to No. 1 in both major polls. Voters should reward the winner for showing the courage to play this game, which is great for college football at a time college football needs something great to distract fans from a stunning onslaught of scandals. A couple of which, rumor has it, might involve these two teams, territory we're choosing not to explore at this moment.
So if Oregon wins, it could rise to No. 1. If LSU has a successful season in the rugged SEC West, that win will grow in value. But even if LSU falters, the Ducks will be in position to play again for the national title if they keep winning.
Further, the odds aren't terrible that Oregon could arrive at Stanford on Nov. 12 and we find ourselves eyeballing two unbeaten teams. It could be a One-Two matchup even. At the worst, if the Ducks and Cardinal face each other without a blemish on either slate, it will be the biggest Pac-12 game in years (last year's game also matched unbeaten teams but was much earlier -- Oct. 2 -- in the season). If Stanford prevailed, it also could crow about beating the team that beat LSU and likely would play for the national title if it finished 12-0.
If Oregon loses to LSU, the Ducks could still have a great season. They could rally and perhaps get back into the national title hunt. And there's always the Rose Bowl, hardly a terrible destination. One nonconference game can't completely make or break a season.
But an Oregon victory would give the program a level of early-season gravitas it has never had. It would silence any remaining doubters, both of the Ducks and the Pac-12.
So, yes, you have heard correctly: This game is very, very big.
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