Thabeet casts shadow on Michigan's upset bid as Huskies win 11th straight

STORRS, Conn. -- When will teams learn that taking the ball right at Hasheem Thabeet might be the only option they have to score in the post?

Thabeet can't block every shot. The UConn Huskies center will alter countless ones, though, and he's changed who knows how many before the offensive player crosses midcourt. Still, there always is hope that Thabeet will bump you, foul you or do something to keep the possession alive.

Michigan launched 29 3s against Connecticut on Saturday in the Huskies' 69-61 win. The Wolverines made nine to stay in the game and were especially helped by the six made by freshman guard Stu Douglass -- who had a shot fake on a 3 that made it look as though he had studied a skill-development tape to perfection.

But the Wolverines didn't dare take the ball to Thabeet. Michigan forward Zack Gibson had a few open looks at the basket but hesitated for a few seconds, and once he did, a 7-foot-3 shadow had engulfed his line of vision. At that point, he was scared of his new shadow. Thabeet finished with 17 points, 12 boards and six blocks Saturday night to continue his dominance for the top-ranked Huskies.

"No one is prepared for him until they see him,'' Michigan coach John Beilein said. "He had a tremendous presence.''

So why not at least attempt to challenge him?

"That's one of the big taboos, 'God forbid you get your shot blocked.' It's a man thing, but people have to understand that if it happens, you get the ball back and go again,'' Beilein said.

Michigan guard Manny Harris said he thought the Wolverines were going at Thabeet, but it sure didn't look that way live.

"You can't put a percentage on how many shots he changes,'' Connecticut senior guard A.J. Price said. "How many minds is he in before they go to the basket? I don't know where we would be without him.''

I do. The Huskies would have no shot at being ranked No. 1, the Big East leader at 11-1 and a favorite at this juncture to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament's East regional, which will be played in nearby Boston.

"He's got to be considered for the player of the year in the Big East,'' Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "We beat Louisville without making a 3, and we beat them pretty good [68-51 on Feb. 2].''

Thabeet blocked four shots in that game and seemed to affect countless others. Louisville's Samardo Samuels attempted just two shots. Earl Clark was 2-for-16.

"He's developing into something special,'' Calhoun said of Thabeet. "The people that understand basketball can see how important he is. Hopefully it continues to get better.''

The Huskies embrace the top ranking but also welcome playing against different types of styles. Michigan forced UConn to grind out a win. Pitt, which will play Connecticut twice in the coming weeks, may do the same and certainly would provide a more comparable inside game with DeJuan Blair and Sam Young. Running with Marquette and dealing with Syracuse's zone also will be unique challenges for the Huskies before the Big East tournament. Still, the ultimate goal of a top ranking on Selection Sunday isn't lost on this team.

"We're paying attention, watching a lot of ACC basketball,'' Connecticut senior forward Jeff Adrien said. "We don't play them, but to get a No. 1 seed, we've got to watch what Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina do. We want to get that No. 1 in the East, in Boston. It's a long way to go, but we're definitely watching.''

What else did we learn Saturday?

Welcome to the NCAA discussion, Cincinnati. The Bearcats beat Georgetown on Saturday 64-62 in overtime, sweeping the Hoyas this season to improve to 6-5 in the Big East and 16-8 overall. Cincinnati is ranked higher in the conference standings than Providence, West Virginia, Georgetown and Notre Dame, and is tied with Syracuse. The NCAA tournament selection committee can easily leapfrog teams whose overall résumés aren't as strong as other teams', but it might not be able to do so with Cincinnati. The Bearcats beat UNLV on the road, and their three nonleague losses look as though they'll be to NCAA tournament teams: Florida State, Xavier and Memphis.

"We're giving ourselves a chance to make a run,'' Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said by phone after the win in D.C. "We're getting better. It's going to be hard to keep us out if we're 10-8 in the Big East. You can't take Georgetown or Notre Dame over us, since we beat them.''

The Bearcats have games they should -- or rather must -- win against St. John's and Seton Hall at home, and then they might have to beat Louisville and West Virginia at home, too. Doing so would give Cincinnati 10 league wins, with plenty of depth on the résumé, too. If the Bearcats hold serve at home, losing at Pitt, Syracuse and maybe even South Florida could be palatable. The beauty of this squad is its improvement, as Deonta Vaughn gets more help than he once did from Mike Williams, Alvin Mitchell and Dion Dixon.

"This is a young team that is playing hard,'' Cronin said. "If we can hold our position, finish in the top six, then we're a lock. I could write a book about coming back from the ashes here.'' Not sure how well it would sell, but it'd be worth at least a short story, with the Bearcats in play for a tournament bid despite losing freshman point guard Cashmere Wright to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.

Villanova has found its groove. The Wildcats, notably Dante Cunningham (31 points), are scoring at a high-octane pace. Nova put 102 on Syracuse, which will slide closer to the bubble if it doesn't shake this road funk soon. The Wildcats should be in comfortably at 19-4, 7-3 in the Big East.

Notre Dame and Georgetown are flirting with an NIT versus CBI decision. The Irish's slide continued, as Luke Harangody scored just five points in the loss at UCLA. Notre Dame's 12-10 record doesn't look even remotely NCAA tournament-worthy. Georgetown, meanwhile, has been swept by Cincinnati, lost at Seton Hall and, at 13-9, 4-7, must go on a major run to be considered even a bubble team again.

UCLA's defense has powered the Bruins' offense. UCLA scored just 58 points in an overtime loss to Arizona State at home on Jan. 17. It went on to beat Washington State with just 61 points in Pullman, then lost the usual track meet with Washington 86-75. Since then, UCLA has forced 21 turnovers against Cal, 19 against Stanford and 23 against USC, and it didn't need much more than 11 against Notre Dame on Saturday. UCLA has scored 81, 97, 76 and 89 points in its current four-game win streak.

"We're getting out in transition because we're forcing those turnovers,'' UCLA assistant coach Scott Duncan said by phone after the Bruins throttled Notre Dame 89-63 Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. "The difference in our team is our defense. We're getting easy baskets.''

UCLA was running as well as it has been all season with guards Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday leading the break. Forward-center Alfred Aboya is becoming much more offensive (19 points versus Harangody's five), and forward Nikola Dragovic has become a tough matchup with his long-range shooting. UCLA appears to be on a mission to win the Pac-10 and still merit a high-enough seed to warrant being placed in Portland as the top team in the West in the first and second round of the tournament.

Duke is done with feeling sorry for itself. Duke assistant coach Chris Collins said by text message late Saturday that the Blue Devils were still feeling the effects of the Clemson loss (74-47) in the first half against Miami. It showed. The Hurricanes took the game right to Duke and led 32-19 at the half. But Duke's fight in the second half, in which it outscored Miami 49-36 before overtime, was proof enough for Collins and the staff that Duke is back after its three-half hiatus -- just in time for Wednesday's showdown against North Carolina. The Blue Devils couldn't stop Miami guard Jack McClinton (34 points), but he wasn't able to carry Miami in overtime. The Canes (15-8, 4-6) have the look of an NCAA team, but they must win more games -- and beating North Carolina at home would be a clincher. Taking out Florida State on the road could be a must if the Tar Heels beat Miami on Feb. 15. Road wins at Virginia and Georgia Tech are imperative as well.

Leonard Hamilton may finally be at an NCAA tournament podium the third week of March. The coach has had nine lives at Florida State, sticking around in Tallahassee despite never making the NCAA tournament. Well, the Seminoles finally won a significant road game in February by beating Clemson 65-61 to move to 5-3 in the ACC, 18-5 overall. The Seminoles have bankable wins over Florida, Cincinnati and Cal that could pay dividends when the selection committee makes its decisions. Playing Pitt will help the profile, too, even if the Seminoles lose a close game.

Wayne Ellington is scorching. North Carolina's best 3-point shooter scored 20 points, making four 3s in a 76-61 win over Virginia. He was coming off 34 points and seven 3s against Maryland.

Texas will have better talent than its seed. The Longhorns lost their third straight game, this time to Nebraska 58-55. The Horns have an NCAA tournament profile and are talented enough to be a top-four or top-five seed. But the more the losses rack up, the more likely Texas will be a double-digit seed. If the Longhorns play up to their potential, they'll present a tough chore for any higher seed Texas may face.

Kansas State has joined the party. The Wildcats won at Texas A&M 65-60 on the heels of beating Texas in Austin a week ago. The Wildcats are in play for an at-large bid at 5-4 in the Big 12, 16-7 overall as they enter the stretch run in league play.

The Kansas-Missouri rivalry is on. The Tigers beat Iowa State 82-68 to improve to 7-2 in the Big 12. Kansas beat Oklahoma State 78-67 to stay undefeated at 8-0. The teams will play on Big Monday in Columbia. When this rivalry is heated and actually means something, the game and the conference are better off.

Arizona is still breathing. The Wildcats swept the Oregon schools to push themselves above water at 6-5 in the Pac-10. The Wildcats still have some of the best nonconference wins in the Pac-10, with victories over Gonzaga, Kansas and San Diego State on their résumé.

Jim Boylen's crew can shoot. Utah made 11 3s and beat Wyoming by 10 in Laramie, sweeping a TCU-Wyoming road trip and staying atop the Mountain West at 7-2. The Utes are a serious threat to earn a bid, even if they don't win the MWC.

Memphis' regular-season league winning streak is hard to top. Davidson lost to College of Charleston to end its streak of 43 straight wins in the Southern Conference. Xavier saw its undefeated Atlantic 10 season go down at Duquesne. Siena lost at Rider to see its undefeated quest in the MAAC dissolve. On Friday night, Marquette, which probably had no shot at going undefeated in the Big East, lost at South Florida. Earlier in the week, Butler saw its undefeated season in the Horizon League end at Green Bay. Cornell lost its first Ivy League game at Princeton on Friday. That's why Memphis' winning 50 games in a row against Conference USA opponents has to be one of the most impressive streaks in recent memory. Beating Gonzaga handily in Spokane in a key nonconference matchup isn't bad for the Tigers' résumé, either. The Tigers aren't going anywhere, America. Get used to it.

Northwestern won't make the NCAA tournament yet again. The Wildcats' streak of never making the NCAA tournament is likely to continue after they lost to Iowa 56-51. Taking out the Hawkeyes isn't a prerequisite for a bid, but the Wildcats couldn't afford to lose to lower-level Big Ten teams and still earn a bid. NU is 4-6 in the Big Ten, 13-8 overall.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.