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Thursday, December 11, 2008
Quick hitters: Cowboys forced to go small


Quick hitters for Thursday:

Since 6-foot-11 center Ibrahima Thomas has been dismissed from the team, Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said the Cowboys will go with four -- and often five -- guards. Thomas was the only true center on the squad.

"We've done it for four or five minutes, sometimes eight to 10 minutes in a game," Ford said. "We're just trying to survive. These are the growing pains of taking over a program."

Ford said that after Thomas was dismissed, the center told him that he doesn't want to play basketball anymore; the school would not give details of the dismissal. Thomas was contributing 20.6 minutes a game, averaging 8.3 points and 3.9 rebounds.

Ford said when he needs a big man, he'll go with 6-6 Anthony Brown (15.7 mpg, 4.4 ppg, 3 rpg), 6-8 Malcoln Kirkland (8.2 mpg, 0.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg) or newly eligible 6-11 freshman Teeng Akol from the Sudan, by way of IMG Academy. The Cowboys have lost three of their last four games and play at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Sunday.

• USC is hoping to get UConn transfer Marcus Johnson eligible for the Dec. 22 Georgia Tech game. He'll likely become eligible once the fall grades are posted, meaning the 6-6 forward will have one semester to play as a senior. Johnson would help offset the departure of Marcus Simmons, who decided to transfer this week. Simmons suffered through a year-long ankle sprain that never seemed to heal. The Trojans were high on Simmons, but the sophomore forward from Alexandria, La., never got healthy enough to truly evaluate him. Simmons played in seven games this season, averaging just two points and 1.3 rebounds a game.

The Trojans are also hoping to get a ruling on 6-10 freshman Nikola Vucevic. At issue is the time he spent as a 14-year-old amateur on a professional team in Montenegro. USC assistant Gib Arnold has been singing the praises of Vucevic for months. USC coach Tim Floyd has liked his skill level, too. The Trojans became thin up front after Kasey Cunningham went out with a season-ending ACL injury and North Carolina transfer Alex Stepheson was unable to get a waiver to play right away. The USC team that I saw in practice in October came out in the one-point loss at Oklahoma last Thursday. Expect USC to get fat and happy over the next few weeks with home games against Pepperdine, North Dakota State, Georgia Tech and Oral Roberts before beginning the Pac-10 at Oregon and Oregon State.

• Morgan State 79, DePaul 75: I could spin this and say that Todd Bozeman is doing a fine job making Morgan State into a very competitive unit. I could also tell you DePaul could be headed for a downer of a season. The Blue Demons started out 4-0 but have hit the skids lately, losing road games at Cal and Northwestern and then at home to Morgan State. The schedule gets even rougher with UCLA on Saturday in the John Wooden Classic in Anaheim. Beating Liberty after that game will be a tall task, too. DePaul wasn't going to be an NCAA team this season, but the Blue Demons can't get buried too deep before the Big East begins. We all know wins will be hard to find there.

• Some sleeper teams to keep an eye on remained undefeated Wednesday: Butler (8-0) after beating Bradley; Minnesota (9-0) after beating South Dakota State; BYU (9-0) after handily beating Boise State, 94-56.

• Can't underscore how impressive it is that Gonzaga has beaten three straight physical teams -- Tennessee, Indiana and then at Washington State in a true road game Wednesday night. It's the first time since 2004-05 that the Cougars have lost back-to-back nonconference games and the first time since 1985 that it's happened at home (WSU lost to Baylor on Saturday). The only Cougar born then was Taylor Rochestie ... now that makes me feel incredibly old. The 22-point loss is the largest margin in Tony Bennett's tenure as head coach (this is his third season).

• Dayton's undefeated run crashed in Omaha with a 77-59 loss to Creighton. Expecting the Flyers to win this game would have been a reach.

• Give Tom Crean tons of credit. Indiana beat TCU Wednesday to move to 5-4. The Hoosiers are finding ways to win by playing their tails off throughout the course of the game.

• Quality win for Arizona at home, beating San Diego State to move to 6-2. Jordan Hill continued to be a rock for the Wildcats with 25 points and 13 boards.

• Xavier got guard Terrell Holloway back (stress fracture in his left foot) Wednesday against Ohio. Holloway played 15 minutes in the 22-point win. He had missed the previous two games.

• Charlotte is back from the dead. The 49ers opened 1-6 but have won the past two -- on the road, at difficult places to play. Charlotte won at Southern Illinois and took out Mississippi State in Starkville on Wednesday. Lamont Mack was the team's go-to guy and scored 19 points and grabbed eight boards. The 49ers were able to beat SIU with Mack going 1-for-9 for only two points.

• One of the most impressive wins this week came in Salt Lake City, where Cal beat Utah 72-69 on Wednesday. Mike Montgomery has the Bears playing highly competitive basketball, save not being able to handle pressure at Missouri on Sunday. The turnaround from a blowout loss to the Tigers to winning at Utah behind Jerome Randle's 21 points is good news for the Bears' postseason hopes.

• South Carolina State beat Idaho 66-59 at home Wednesday night. Why am I referencing this random score? Well, the two schools are playing a bizarre home-and-home. The two teams will turn around and play on Dec. 17 in their next game -- at Idaho. This isn't meant to offend the MEAC, but a WAC school shouldn't be doing a straight home-and-home with the MEAC, let alone within the same week. I know scheduling isn't easy, but there needs to be a better model than this to fill the schedule.

The answer may be what Kerry Keating of Santa Clara figured out. He set up a scheduling partnership with one team from each of the western conferences outside the Pac-10. So next season, Santa Clara (WCC), Northern Arizona (Big Sky), San Diego State (MWC), Pacific (Big West) and Fresno State (WAC) will each play each other: two home games and two road games. All the matchups haven't been determined yet, but Santa Clara will play at San Diego State and at Pacific and get Northern Arizona and Fresno State at home. The rest of the rotations are to be determined. There will not be return games the following season. But if everyone is pleased, then there could be new matchups with other programs. The purpose is to ensure an equitable way to get home games with like-minded schools.