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Monday, February 13, 2006
Vols' Lofton keeps loftin' up the 3s

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CHRIS LOFTON
Chris Lofton
AP Photo/John Bazemore
Lofton's tough on the defensive end, too.


What a week for Lofton and the Vols.

Tennessee won at Kentucky and Georgia to solidify its hold on first place in the SEC East. The Vols are not only looking like the team to beat in the SEC, but also like a No. 2-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

A lot of this has to do with Lofton. He averaged 32 points in the two wins while shooting 72 percent from 3-point ranges (16-of-22). He also grabbed 6.5 rebounds a game. So, tell us why Lofton, who stuck it to his home-state Wildcats last Tuesday, isn't the lead candidate to be SEC player of the year? No reason? We thought so.

Lofton has been perfect for Bruce Pearl's system and isn't getting enough national recognition. If he keeps this up, he'll probably be the SEC player of the year and be a second-team All-American.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: OHIO STATE
Terence Dials
AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
Terence Dials holds down the Buckeyes' fort inside.


Ohio State had the most impressive week by our account. The Buckeyes stunned Michigan in Ann Arbor with a hailstorm of 3s and then took out Illinois at home in Columbus to move to within a half-game of first-place Iowa in the Big Ten. The two teams are tied in the loss column with three each.

Ohio State has a great shot to win the Big Ten. Sure, the Buckeyes still have to go to Wisconsin and Michigan State, but the remaining home schedule of Northwestern, Michigan and Purdue provides three winnable games, and the other road game at Northwestern is as well.

Ohio State has had balance, poise and plenty of pop when it matters most. The win over Illinois on Sunday was as convincing as they come for a team in the balanced Big Ten.



3-POINT SHOTS
Jay Bilas
Jay Bilas
While Bruce Pearl is doing a great job at Tennessee, don't overlook the great job Buzz Peterson is doing at Coastal Carolina in the Big South Conference.

Peterson has been successful at each stop in his career, starting at Appalachian State, Tulsa, then Tennessee, and he has instilled a winning attitude at Coastal. The Chanticleers have won five straight games, including two straight on the road at Winthrop and at Charleston Southern for the first time since 1997, and Coastal Carolina has its best 22-game record since 1994.

Coastal Carolina has not had a rich history of great success, and Peterson's 13-9 record is a major step forward for the program and a great accomplishment. Peterson did not provide the spark Tennessee wanted, but he could coach then and he can coach now.

Fran Fraschilla
Fran Fraschilla
I don't know Quin Snyder well, but I've watched him handle the last couple of seasons with grace.

Everyone knows he has been on the hot seat -- one he brought upon himself because of NCAA violations and the Tigers' mediocre play -- but over the past two seasons, I saw a coach whose players believed in him and worked hard at every practice I attended. I can't honestly say that for every practice I've seen.

Whether you work for Mike Krzyzewski, Gregg Popovich or Larry Brown, becoming a first-time head coach in a league like the Big 12 is not easy -- or even desirable. All of us who were fortunate enough to start their careers at places like Manhattan, Oral Roberts and Hofstra were able to develop a head coaching style and make mistakes without the glare of the bright lights. Snyder's job at Missouri was made doubly difficult by the fact that he was replacing a Tiger legend in Norm Stewart.

Did Snyder make some major mistakes? Yes. Hopefully he will learn from his difficulties in Columbia and emerge a more adversity-tested, mature coach. It might not be at the Big 12 level, but I firmly believe Snyder will get another opportunity.

Doug Gottlieb
Doug Gottlieb
First Indiana, now Michigan State ... if I were Iowa and Illinois, I would watch out for Minnesota. Vincent Grier, Mo Hargrow and Adam Boone might have begun Big Ten play with a bizarre 0-6 start, but the Gophers, more than any other team, may decide who wins the regular-season championship in the Big Ten.

For more of our experts' 3-point shots, click here. Insider

FIVE GAMES TO WATCH


Connecticut at Villanova, Monday (ESPN, 7 ET): This was a mega-game when the season started and it has survived the hype, with both teams in position to win the Big East and competing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs over the final month of the season.

Creighton at Wichita State, Tuesday, 7 ET: The winner will be right there in the Valley with Northern Iowa while the loser will drop a step in the most competitive conference race in the country.

Michigan State at Iowa, Tuesday (ESPN, 9 ET): The Spartans could go a long way toward winning the Big Ten by getting the sweep of Iowa. A win by the Hawkeyes would give them some clear separation from the Spartans.

Oklahoma at Colorado, Wednesday (ESPN2, 9:30 ET) The Buffs desperately need a signature win. This would suffice. The Sooners need this one to stay within striking distance of second-place Kansas.

Miami at Boston College, Thursday, 7 ET: The Canes really need a road win like this in their quest to get an NCAA bid. For the Eagles, a win over the Canes keeps them within a shot of catching N.C. State for second place in the ACC.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS


Opening Tip
Indiana is struggling and its coach is ailing, and that's not a good combination in that basketball-crazy state. The Hoosiers, after a 4-1 start in the Big Ten, have stumbled, losing four of their last five in league play.

Yes, the Big Ten is having a nice year, but perhaps Indiana wasn't as good as initially thought. A couple of signs point to that -- most notably an unimpressive assist/turnover ratio, even when the team was winning. Even with Marco Killingsworth back on track after recent struggles, Indiana couldn't beat Iowa at home. The Hoosiers have taken their medicine, so to speak, but have a chance to recover slightly, with two of the next three against Penn State. That might help stabilize what is turning into a bad situation.

Decline in Big 10 fortune
FIRST FIVE GAMES LAST FIVE GAMES
W/L 4-1 1-4
PPG 69.6 59.0
Opp. PPG 67.6 67.8
FG% 46.0 37.6
A/TO 61/69 52/77
Killingsworth 21.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg 13.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg

Rocking The Rim
If you want to beat Oklahoma, the numbers tell you the player you'll most likely have to stop is point guard Terrell Everett.

Right now, Everett is rolling along pretty well, but if you look at the common thread of the Sooners' five losses this season, it's that Everett got a little out of control.

The Sooners are 7-1 in their last eight games and a lot of that can be attributed to Everett's play, as he has raised his level when needed. His 14 assists Saturday against Baylor were a new career high.

The Everett impact
OU'S 16 Ws OU'S FIVE Ls
PPG 12.6 11.0
FG% 42.8 34.4
A/TO 103/56 31/26

Matchup of the Week
We ran afoul of some Wake Forest fans regarding a misprint in this space a year ago and heard about it via e-mail from some Rabid Demon Deacons fans. We imagine that the Wake Forest fan base isn't too happy these days, either, with the way that the team has struggled this season.

There's a chance to make up for that this week with matchups with Duke and North Carolina. With that in mind, we offer up some feel-good thoughts to the school's followers -- the Deacons' recent moments of greatness against those two squads.

Recent meetings with Duke, UNC
DATE GAME RESULT SKINNY
2/2/05 Wake 92,
Duke 89
Chris Paul scored 23 points in the win and Eric Williams added 19 points, helping offset three late 3-pointers from J.J Redick, who missed another trifecta at the buzzer, allowing Wake Forest to escape.
1/15/05 Wake 95,
UNC 82
Chris Paul played a near-perfect game with 26 points, eight assists and five steals, but the bigger story was that he and his teammates combined to shoot a perfect 32-for-32 from the free throw line in pulling off the win.
12/20/03 Wake 119,
UNC 114 (3 OT)
Wake Forest spoiled Roy Williams' ACC debut in a crazy contest in which North Carolina allowed its most points ever. Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser told the media after the game, "I've been doing this for 30 years and I have never seen anything quite like that." Eric Williams scored 24 points in the win and Chris Paul made two of three free throws with a second to play in the first overtime to extend the game another 10 minutes.
2/13/03 Wake 94,
Duke 80 (2 OT)
Wake Forest snapped a 14-game losing streak to Duke as Vytas Danelius had 20 points and 14 rebounds. The Deacons got 10 points from Trent Strickland in the second overtime, enabling them to outscore Duke 20-6 in that five-minute span.
1/12/00 Wake 66,
UNC 57
North Carolina failed to hold a 10-point lead as Robert O'Kelly bounced back from early struggles to score 13 points in a decisive 28-9 run that allowed the Deacons to prevail.

MOMENT OF THE WEEK
It wasn't in a game. It occurred somewhere in Columbia, Mo., when Missouri coach Quin Snyder was informed he wouldn't be retained. Snyder's resignation ends a tenure that was filled with so much promise but ended in a downward spiral that clearly had gobbled up much of his charismatic personality.
-- Andy Katz

CLIMBING
Teams on the Rise
Kansas: The Jayhawks are rolling. They swept through Nebraska on the road and Iowa State at home to stay within one game of first-place Texas in the Big 12. Kansas once had the look of a bubble team and now is looking at a high NCAA seed. Bill Self has done his best coaching job in his brief KU tenure.

Alabama: The Tide beat Vandy and won at Ole Miss to move to within one game of SEC West-leading LSU. The job Mark Gottfried has done without Chuck Davis (ACL) is remarkable. The Tide are rolling toward an NCAA bid.

La Salle: The Explorers are in fourth place in the Atlantic 10. That's right, La Salle is 7-4 in the league after shocking Xavier in Cincinnati to move to 15-7 overall. La Salle is going to have a winning record. That's tremendous.

Hofstra: The Pride (18-4, 11-3 CAA) has climbed into a second-place tie in the Colonial with UNC Wilmington, just one loss behind leader George Mason.

UTEP: The Miners had an NCAA Tournament-type week by beating UAB and winning at Southern Miss. Those wins put the Miners one game behind Memphis in the loss column, all alone in second place. Now, UTEP's game at Memphis on Feb. 22 -- more so than Memphis' return game at UAB in early March -- is looking like the showdown of the C-USA season.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers nipped their two-game slide quickly with a huge win over West Virginia on Thursday and then rolled Cincinnati on Saturday to move into fifth place in the Big East. The Panthers are still within striking distance of second and a decent seed in the NCAAs.


FALLING
Rough Weeks
Indiana: Losing to Wisconsin on the road and to Iowa at home equals a three-game slide and likely no shot at winning the Big Ten.

Michigan: So much for winning the Big Ten. The Wolverines dropped games to Ohio State and Purdue, the latter on the road, to make it three straight losses.

Xavier: Remember when all these coaches (and our editor) were telling us how good Xavier was? Well, they were either wrong or this team has gone south faster than anyone could have imagined. Xavier, shockingly, is in eighth place in the A-10 after losing to La Salle at home.

Kentucky: The Wildcats have lost three straight, including at home to Tennessee and then at Vanderbilt this past week. Digest that and the Cats' remaining schedule for a second and realize they are in serious trouble.
-- Andy Katz

LOOKING BACK
Katz: Joy and pain
At the expense of a Stanford team lacking Tourney cred, Gonzaga continued its climb up the NCAA seeding ladder Saturday. Story

LOOKING AHEAD
• Here are the latest rankings.

• What else is on tap for this week? Here's the schedule.

ESPN/ABC TV schedule