Dallas Colleges: Pittsburgh Panthers
Semifinal schedule for the Legends Classic:
Nov. 25: Pittsburgh vs. Texas Tech (7:30 p.m., ESPN2); Stanford vs. Houston (9:30, ESPN2)
Nov. 26: Consolation game (7 p.m., ESPN3); Championship game (9:30, ESPNU)
Initial thoughts: Three of these four programs are in a state of flux. Texas Tech is in its first season under Tubby Smith. Houston -- although it won 20 games last season -- is still attempting to work its way back into relevancy. And Pittsburgh is dealing with the loss of four of its top players (Steven Adams, Tray Woodall, Trey Zeigler and J.J. Moore). Stanford appears to be on solid footing, as it returns virtually all of the key pieces from a 2012-13 squad that showed flashes of brilliance but could never develop any consistency. It will be a disappointment if the Cardinal doesn't make the NCAA tournament this season.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: Stanford vs. Houston. Don’t sleep on the Cougars. Even though standout shooting guard Joseph Young transferred to Oregon, Houston is hardly short on talent. TaShawn Thomas is a beast down low and wing Danuel House -- a former top-25 recruit -- should make huge strides as a sophomore. Houston's coaching staff is crossing its fingers that Baylor transfer L.J. Rose, a point guard, will receive a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play immediately. It will be interesting to see how the Cougars fare against a veteran Stanford team led by 6-foot-10 forward Dwight Powell and guard Chasson Randle.
Five players to watch:
Jaye Crockett, Texas Tech: Crockett is the leading returning scorer (11.9) and rebounder (6.5) for a Red Raiders squad that went just 11-20 last season. The 6-foot-7 forward shot 49.8 percent from the field. The third-year starter will have to perform even better this season for Texas Tech to take a significant step. Junior Jordan Tolbert is just as big of a threat down low.
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh: Patterson, who averaged 10 points last season, is the Panthers’ leading returning scorer. The 6-foot-5 small forward attempted nearly half of his shots (111 of 248) from 3-point range. He’ll be the go-to guy on a squad that’s incorporating a lot of new parts.
Dwight Powell, Stanford: Powell averaged 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds last season on a balanced team. The versatile big man has a nice touch on his shot -- he made 80 percent of his free throws -- that allows him to score from almost anywhere. And he possesses a nice arsenal of moves in the paint.
Chasson Randle, Stanford: The guard averaged 13.6 points per game last season but shot just 40 percent from the field and only 36 percent from 3-point range. His shot selection isn’t always the best, but Randle is one of the most dangerous players in the Pac-12 when he’s “on.”
TaShawn Thomas, Houston: The 6-foot-8 forward was one of the most underrated big men in the country in 2012-13. He averaged 16.9 points and 9.8 rebounds and eclipsed the 20-point barrier on 12 occasions. He could do even better as a junior thanks to an improved supporting cast.
Title game prediction: Stanford over Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders will give Tubby Smith his first signature win with a victory over Pittsburgh in the semifinals. But Texas Tech won’t be able to get past a veteran Cardinal club that should be high on chemistry and cohesion. Powell, Randle, Josh Huestis and Aaron Bright will be too much for the Red Raiders.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: Pittsburgh over Stanford
Andy Katz: Stanford over Pittsburgh
Myron Medcalf: Pittsburgh over Stanford
Dana O'Neil: Pittsburgh over Stanford
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.
Dodge was hired Monday night at Marble Falls, ending a college stint that started when the University of North Texas hired Dodge after he went 79-1 in a five-season stretch at Southlake Carroll.
The rare move from high school to a Division I program didn't work out for Dodge. He was 6-37 before getting fired in the middle of his fourth season at UNT. He was the quarterbacks coach at Pittsburgh last year.
Dodge's overall high school record is 124-46 at four schools.
Marble Falls is a Class 4A school 50 miles northwest of Austin, where Dodge has family ties and was a starting quarterback for Texas in the 1980s.
TCU is reportedly high on the Big East's expansion wish list. The Frogs, who played in their first BCS game last season, would have interest in joining the Big East because the conference currently holds the golden key to BCS inclusion as an automatic qualifier.
The MWC is a non-automatic qualifer, meaning the conference's champion does not automatically receive a bid to the far more lucrative BCS bowl games. Non-AQ conference teams must meet guidelines just to make them eligible for inclusion and do not reap the same financial windfall as AQs.
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte on Tuesday acknowledged that Big East school presidents were meeting and setting the parameters for expansion, although he had little to say to advance the subject. There appears to be some trepidation at TCU that the Big East can keep its current eight football-playing schools -- Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, South Florida, Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati and Connecticut-- together, and that subsequent replacement expansion would further water-down the league, eventually causing it to lose its AQ status.
One such school is Rutgers. Some believe the New Jersey school remains a high-priority target of the Big Ten, which will consist of 12 teams beginning in 2011-12. There are also fears that the ACC could again invade the Big East as it did earlier in the decade when Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami switched allegiances.
TCU coach Gary Patterson is solely focused on Saturday's showdown in Salt Lake City. The Frogs (9-0, 5-0 MWC) moved up to No. 3 in the lastest BCS poll with the Utes at No. 5 (8-0, 5-0 MWC). No. 4 Boise State (7-0) in the WAC gives the non-AQs three teams in the top five of the BCS rankings.
For all three, the dream of playing for a national championship is alive heading into the final month of the regular season.
If TCU beats Utah and then closes out its remaining two games unblemised, and either No. 1 Oregon (8-0) or No. 2 Auburn (9-0) lose one of their remaining games, the Frogs could move into the top two. A top-two ranking in the final BCS poll in early December would land TCU in the national championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
"[Two years ago], basically Utah was playing TCU for a BCS spot, not playing for a national championship," Patterson said. "Then last year, both Boise and us end up getting to that place [BCS game], but we didn't get a chance to [play for the national championship]. Now we're talking about, because we all started higher [in the poll], now we're all sitting in a situation where that's [the national championship game] a conversation."
If Tuesday's report in the New York Post suggesting TCU is on the Big East's radar caught Horned Frogs football coach Gary Patterson by surprise, perhaps he's had his nose buried in playbooks.
"Surprised," Patterson said via text message. "I have been working on CSU."
OK then. During football season, Patterson is a here-and-now guy and that means full-time preparations for Saturday's Mountain West opener at Colorado State. But, what if in a few years the conference opener was at Syracuse or UConn or Pittsburgh or West Virginia or Louisville? And what if the end game was an automatic bid to a BCS game? Should TCU be intrigued?
"Don't know!" Patterson typed. "Too busy to think about it right now!"
The man TCU pays to know, athletic director Chris Del Conte, did not return a phone message.
Right now, Patterson knows he can't afford to lose. One loss and the No. 5 Frogs won't be going to any BCS game. That's not the case for teams in the six major conferences that have automatic access to BCS games and millions of dollars in revenue annually.
But, does the Big East make sense for TCU? At first it would seem the Big East makes no sense logistically for sports other than football. But, that argument loses steam when you consider the new Mountain West once Utah and BYU leave and Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada come in.
"Travel is about the same," Patterson noted, and it is.
The bottom line is it might not be safe for TCU to hold out for an invite to the new Big 12 with 10 teams. And, who knows when the next major conference shakeup occurs and where it will shuffle schools. As TCU knows well, there are no guarantees.
The real winner in a move to the Big East might just be the men's basketball program, the one underachieving sport at TCU. The Big East is a college powerhouse and it could open all kinds of recruiting avenues, not to mention bringing in nationally ranked programs to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum every week, including Pitt and its coach, TCU's own Jamie Dixon.
For those concerned about TCU's baseball program, the Big East boasts a 12-team league. What's so special about MWC baseball again?
According to the report, everything is preliminary. Even so, it is intriguing.
We've seen TCU dump then-No. 24 Oregon State; Boise State beat then-No. 10 Virginia Tech, BYU bounce Washington and Utah take down Pittsburgh. On Friday night, the embarrassments continued for the big AQs as the WAC's Nevada Wolf Pack whipped the Pac-10's Cal Bears and Southern Miss routed Kansas, a Big 12 team that's already lost to a FCS foe.
The oddsmakers don't believe Baylor of the Big 12 has a chance to act like one of the big boys against the Mountain West's non-AQ Frogs. The Bears are more than three-touchdown underdogs.
What could play a major factor in the 3:30 p.m. kickoff at sold-out Amon G. Carter Stadium is the insufferable heat descending on the city. The temperature is forecast to soar to 96 degrees and well over 100 degrees on the field when taking in the heat index.
Both teams are equally adjusted to broiler-like conditions, but whichever team is in the best physical condition as the game wears on will likely have the advantage if the game is close in crunch time.
TCU has again been selected as one of 10 programs to wear uniquely designed Nike uniforms for at least one game. In fact, both teams could be wearing the uniforms in the opener at Cowboys Stadium since the Beavers were also included the group of 10.
It's not a given either team will break out the new duds then -- although it would make the most sense with the game being televised nationally on ESPN. The dates of those games that the teams will wear the uniforms will be announced at the unveiling of the uniforms Sept. 1 in New York City. TCU twice wore a special Nike Combat uniform last year, debuting it at home against Utah and then again in the Fiesta Bowl. It's not how this season's uniform might differ from last season's.
The other eight schools that will wear the uniforms are: Alabama, Boise State, Florida, Miami (Fla.), Ohio State, Oregon State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
Four among the 12-team field will advance to play at Madison Square Garden.
The other teams in the Classic are: Charleston, Illinois-Chicago, Louisiana Tech, Navy, Rhode Island, Seattle, Toledo, and UC-Irvine. Toledo and UC-Irvine will host the subregional rounds.
First, a brief look at how all of this works. The bowls that lose their tie-ins get to pick replacements. If the SEC champion is the No. 1 team in the country (very likely), the Sugar Bowl picks first followed by the Fiesta (assuming Texas is the No. 2 team). After that, the Orange selects, followed by the Fiesta and the Sugar. The Rose Bowl gets its traditional Pac-1o-Big Ten matchup.
The Fiesta Bowl will really determine how all of these teams fall because the Sugar Bowl will certainly take the SEC runner-up with the first pick. That leaves the Fiesta to choose from the remaining pool of teams. The decision they have to make is whether to take a No. 4 TCU or go with a more traditional team that is likely to bring a bunch of folks, like Penn State or Iowa, for instance. If they take one of those teams, than the Orange Bowl could take TCU. It's also possible that if the Orange Bowl takes another BCS school, the Fiesta could get TCU with its second pick. One thing does seem clear: It's a longshot for TCU to end up in the Sugar Bowl, assuming the Sugar takes the SEC runner-up with that first pick. It would mean that Orange Bowl passed up on TCU once and the Fiesta Bowl twice.
A few possibilities (Warning: This is me speculating a bit here):
* If Oklahoma State runs the table, which would include a tough Bedlam win in Norman on Nov. 28, that gives the BCS bowls two options for big BCS teams that should travel well. In that case, the Fiesta could take TCU and then take either OSU or Penn State/Iowa, whichever one the Orange Bowl didn't select. Or they could take Penn State/Iowa and then select either TCU or OSU, whichever one the Orange Bowl didn't choose. Remember that one conference can't have more than two teams in BCS bowls.
* Would the Orange Bowl take TCU if Clemson wins the ACC? I can't think they would. That would cause a rematch of an earlier game, won by the Frogs in the rain in Clemson. If OSU does not beat OU, that could mean that Cincinnati or Pittsburgh goes to the Orange instead of TCU if Clemson wins the ACC.
* If Georgia Tech wins the ACC and the Fiesta Bowl decides to go with Penn State or a team like that, the Orange Bowl would probably take TCU and avoid having a Big East team in the game again (they had Cincinnati last year). Many folks have a Georgia Tech-TCU matchup on the assumption that the Fiesta Bowl takes one of those Big Ten at-large teams with its first choice.
* Is there a scenario that sends TCU to the Sugar Bowl? Sure. You never know how these bowls might select. But it's a longshot. To me, that would have to be if Oklahoma State wins out, Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati and Clemson wins the ACC. In that case, I could see the Fiesta taking Penn State (or Iowa), the Orange selecting Pittsburgh and the Fiesta taking Oklahoma State to play one of those Big Ten teams. That leaves the Sugar Bowl to take TCU (and Boise is left out).
* Could TCU and Boise State play each other again? It's possible. And the Fiesta Bowl would be the location. If Oklahoma State loses, there's no good Big 12 at-large option. The Fiesta Bowl could choose TCU with its first pick and, assuming the Orange takes a Big Ten at-large, the Fiesta would have to choose between the Big East champ and Boise. I just don't know if a bowl wants to put two non-AQs together based on how many fans might travel and the fact that Boise State and TCU played each other in a bowl last year.
Have I completely confused you? The bottom line: TCU's chances of going to the Sugar are remote. With two picks so high up, TCU could certainly end up playing someone in the Fiesta Bowl. But if Georgia Tech wins the ACC, it wouldn't surprise me to see TCU play them in the Orange Bowl.
Of course, none of this matters if TCU doesn't win its remaining two games. And I think a BCS bowl will be pleasantly surprised by how many fans from TCU attend. The school has never been to a BCS bowl, which should get fans excited. We should know a lot more after Nov. 28. The bowls select on Dec. 6.
TCU fans: Which BCS bowl would you prefer? What do you think of these scenarios?
ESPN's BCS analyst Brad Edwards said that should Texas stumble, TCU might have an opportunity to move up to No. 2 in the BCS standings if they keep winning in impressive fashion.
"I think a lot of voters have bought into TCU as a really strong team," said Edwards, who will be in Fort Worth with ESPN's radio GameDay show. "I think they can move up depending on what happened with the other teams in front of them. This weekend is a big opportunity.
"More voters will pay attention to TCU this week than they will any of the remaining weeks. I'm not saying they should feel pressure to win big, but if they win this game impressively, even close to what they did against BYU, they'll have the attention of a whole lot of people that might not have given them full consideration before that."
Edwards said if TCU wins out, they should stay ahead of Boise State. But staying ahead of Cincinnati may mean continuing to pile up style points. Cincinnati still has games with West Virginia and No. 12 Pittsburgh, which can impress voters and boost them in the computers. Staying ahead of Cincinnati only matters if Texas loses and TCU is positioned to make an argument to get in the national title game. Texas remains on position to play for the national title if they win out, likely facing the winner of the Alabama-Florida game in the SEC Championship game (assuming both stay undefeated).
"I don't think TCU would move ahead of a one-loss SEC team because if Alabama or Florida lose and then beat the other in the championship game, that's a quality win," Edwards said. "But Texas is a different story. To me, if they lose, TCU could slip in there and play for the championship."
Your thoughts on TCU's title hopes? What margin of victory over Utah would be considered impressive enough to win over more voters?