Impressive wins keep Mountaineers unbeaten
Editor's note: This edition is for games played from Monday, Dec. 21, through Sunday, Dec. 27.
Team Of The Week: West Virginia
Last week: Beat Ole Miss 76-66; beat Seton Hall 90-84 (OT)
In the preseason, I made a bold prediction that the Mountaineers would win the Big East by two games. That was when I assumed it was a two-team race between West Virginia and Villanova. I was wrong.
Syracuse is a contender, too, and teams like Georgetown will be in the thick of the Big East race. But one thing I don't back down from is how tough West Virginia can be when pushed. I saw it in Anaheim for a week when the Mountaineers handled different styles of play and steamrolled through their competition in the second halves of games. Their defense is efficient, long and disruptive. Their offense is still a work in progress, and bookend forwards Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler can be as tough to guard as any tandem in the country.
Beating Ole Miss convincingly in the second half and withstanding a furious Seton Hall comeback (while maintaining composure on the road to win in overtime to start conference play) should send a strong message to the rest of the Big East about what coach Bob Huggins' squad is capable of.
Player Of The Week: Mike Gerrity, USC
USC coach Kevin O'Neill knew he needed a point guard. But he admitted last week he had no idea that Mike Gerrity would be this good this fast and have this much of an effect on the Trojans.
It's no joke to say that Gerrity could be the single biggest midseason addition to any team this season -- and the reason his team is in contention for a conference title.
Gerrity is no star. He's not going to be an NBA player. He's not going to shock you with his speed or athleticism. But he knows the game, can get the ball where it needs to be, knows when to take the midrange shot, the perimeter shot or penetrate to score. The facts are hard to dispute.
USC hasn't lost since the two-time transfer (Pepperdine and Charlotte) became eligible. In the four games he's played for the Trojans, they've beaten Tennessee at home and then went to Hawaii and won the Diamond Head Classic with wins over Western Michigan, Saint Mary's and UNLV. He's already the team's leading scorer, averaging 14.8 points, 4.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and a steal per game while shooting 57.1 percent on 3s. He has 17 assists and 10 turnovers through his first four games.
Now, the pieces are in place with Alex Stepheson up front, Marcus Johnson, Dwight Lewis and Leonard Washington at the wings/forwards, and Gerrity at the point. The Trojans are a threat to challenge for the Pac-10 title.
The Rest Of The Rotation
Damion James, Sr., F, Texas: James followed up a double-double against North Carolina (25 points, 15 boards) with an All-American performance against Michigan State (23 points, 13 boards, 10-of-18 shooting). The race for Big 12 Player of the Year should be one of the closest in any major conference.
Devin Ebanks, F, So., West Virginia: Ebanks played 45 minutes in an overtime win over Seton Hall, recording 22 points, 17 boards, seven assists and no turnovers. He handled the ball quite a bit and continues to be one of the tougher Mountaineer players to stop offensively. Earlier in the week, he scored 14 points and grabbed 13 boards -- albeit with seven turnovers -- in a win over Ole Miss.
Chris Wright, Jr., G, Georgetown: Where did this come from? Wright scored 34 points in a win over Harvard after scoring just four in a loss to Old Dominion. The most Wright had scored earlier in the season was 18. If Wright can regularly score in double figures, the Hoyas can be a true contender in the Big East.
Nic Wise, Sr., G, Arizona: Wise saved the Wildcats from an embarrassing loss with a last-second (and questionable) 3-pointer to beat Lipscomb at home and followed that up with a much more legitimate buzzer-beater (a layup with one second left) to beat NC State. Wise averaged 22 points and three steals in the two games, making 18 of 20 free throws.
• Jacob Pullen, Jr., G, Kansas State: For scoring 30 in a win at Alabama and thrusting himself into the Big 12 Player of the Year race.
• Randy Culpepper, Jr., G, UTEP: For scoring 27 in an upset win over Oklahoma in Oklahoma City (although I wouldn't call it that much of an upset since I had the Miners as my sleeper team).
• Cornell: For winning the Holiday Festival over St. John's on the Red Storm's home court and proving the Big Red may be second-round bound in March.
• Jared Stohl, Jr., G, Portland: For making 10 3-pointers in a revenge win over Idaho after the Vandals beat the Pilots earlier at home.
• Brandon Triche, Fr., G, Syracuse: For scoring 27 points against Oakland to show that the Orange have plenty of scoring options.
• James Anderson, Jr., G, Oklahoma State: For scoring 28 points in consecutive games -- a win at Stanford and a win over La Salle in Oklahoma City -- adding yet another candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year.
• Jimmy Patsos, Loyola (Md.) head coach: For blowing out Indiana in the first half before holding on for a road win at Assembly Hall. Patsos has been trying to break through for years and deserves something good to happen to his program.
• Jeremy Hazell, Jr., G, Seton Hall: For doing everything he could to try to get the Pirates past West Virginia. Hazell scored 41 points in 43 minutes, making 14 of 33 shots and 9 of 12 free throws. It wasn't enough, but Hazell, who also scored 33 points in a win over VMI, will be a major scoring threat in Big East play.
• DeMarcus Cousins, Fr., F, Kentucky: For becoming much more of a force inside to complement Patrick Patterson. Cousins scored 18 points and grabbed 13 boards in a rout of Drexel and then had another double-double (15 points, 10 boards) in a win over Long Beach State.
Places To Be This Week
Newark, N.J., Tuesday: Seton Hall has to split its two opening Big East home games. The Pirates already lost to West Virginia in overtime, so they desperately need to beat Syracuse.
Albuquerque, N.M., Tuesday: New Mexico and Texas Tech head into this matchup on the heels of losses at Oral Roberts and Wichita State, respectively. But that only dampens this game for those who don't give schools like these a bit of a leash. No one should have expected them to go undefeated. This is still a quality affair between two one-loss teams with serious NCAA aspirations. This is an especially big week for the Lobos, who follow up this game with a visit from Dayton on Friday.
Cincinnati, Wednesday: The Big East continues its slugfest opening schedule with Connecticut going to Cincinnati. The Bearcats need to get a good jump on the conference season after a mini-skid recently on the road in nonconference play.
Spokane, Wash., Thursday: Oklahoma and Gonzaga could use a good vibe going into their respective conference seasons. The Zags were awful in losing to Duke while OU got clipped by a more efficient UTEP. This game is in the Spokane Arena, not the Kennel, but that shouldn't matter for the Zags. Gonzaga continues its high-major run by playing Illinois at the United Center in Chicago on Saturday.
Memphis, Tenn., Thursday: The Memphis-Tennessee game will be an intense affair no matter the coaches or the records. The Vols were recently humbled at USC while Memphis got clipped by UMass in Boston on a last-second play. Memphis needs this win more than the Vols to bolster its chances for a bid (or to improve its seeding).
Winston-Salem, N.C., Thursday: Richmond has quietly knocked off Mississippi State and Florida and will aim for its third win against a likely NCAA team when it travels to face Wake Forest. A-10 teams have shown little fear on the road and the Spiders probably won't either against the Demon Deacons.
Los Angeles, Thursday: New USC coach Kevin O'Neill goes against his former team, Arizona -- the one he was supposed to be coaching. The Trojans are hot, but so is Nic Wise of Arizona after two last-second, game-winning shots. If USC is a true Pac-10 contender this season, it will sweep the Arizona schools at home this weekend.
West Lafayette, Ind., Friday: West Virginia survived the overtime Big East opener at Seton Hall to remain undefeated. Purdue has to get by Iowa, and if it does this should be a quite a showdown on New Year's Day between two schools that could be Final Four-bound.
Philadelphia, Saturday: There's no way that anyone in the preseason would have given Temple a shot at beating top-ranked Kansas. But Temple has already knocked off Villanova at home and Seton Hall on the road. So why not think the Owls have a chance?
Lexington, Ky., Saturday: Louisville is scoring at a higher clip. Kentucky is cruising, with DeMarcus Cousins playing even more efficiently. What am I talking about? The drama for this game is all about the pregame handshake and then the potential griping during the game between the two head coaches who privately would like nothing better than to squash the other. You know them as Rick Pitino and John Calipari. They'll say all the pleasant salutations publicly, but don't believe a word.
Uncasville, Conn., Saturday: Originally, this game didn't look like it had much meaning. But Rhode Island's win at Boston College and its ability to score quickly will make this Mohegan Sun event against Oklahoma State a good watch. Expect this game to be nonstop action.
Cedar Falls, Iowa, Sunday: Missouri State, which lost its first game of the season at Arkansas in overtime, will find out if it's a contender or a pretender in the Missouri Valley. If it can pull off an upset of conference favorite Northern Iowa, the Bears will be taken quite seriously in the Valley.
Durham, N.C., Sunday: Clemson has found a groove of late and Trevor Booker can put up bunches of points. But can the Tigers be composed and score in Cameron Indoor Stadium against a stingy Duke defense?
7 p.m.: DePaul at Pittsburgh (ESPNU)
8:30 p.m.: Rutgers at North Carolina (ESPN2)
9 p.m.: BYU at Arizona (FCS)
7 p.m.: Marquette at West Virginia (ESPN360)
8 p.m.: Cleveland St. at Kansas St. (ESPN360)
9 p.m.: Syracuse at Seton Hall (ESPN360)
9 p.m.: Penn State at Minnesota (ESPN2)
9 p.m.: Texas Tech at New Mexico
7 p.m.: Connecticut at Cincinnati (ESPN2)
9 p.m.: Baylor at Arkansas (ESPN2)
9 p.m.: Northwestern at Illinois (Big Ten Network)
9 p.m.: South Carolina at BC (ESPNU)
Noon: Michigan at Indiana (ESPN2)
2 p.m.: Ohio State at Wisconsin (ESPN2)
4 p.m.: Tennessee at Memphis (ESPN2)
4:30 p.m.: Arizona State at UCLA (FSN)
7 p.m.: Richmond at Wake Forest (ESPNU)
7 p.m.: Arizona at USC
8 p.m.: St. John's at Georgetown (ESPN2)
10 p.m.: Oregon State at Washington
10 p.m.: Oklahoma at Gonzaga (ESPN2)
2:30 p.m.: West Virginia at Purdue (ESPN)
8:05 p.m.: Illinois State at Missouri State
9 p.m.: Dayton at New Mexico
Noon: UAB at Arkansas
Noon: Baylor at South Carolina (ESPN360)
Noon: Notre Dame at UConn (ESPNU)
Noon: Pittsburgh at Syracuse (ESPN360)
1 p.m.: Gonzaga at Illinois (CBS)
1 p.m.: Arizona at UCLA (CBS)
2 p.m.: Oklahoma State at Rhode Island (ESPNU)
3:30 p.m.: Louisville at Kentucky (CBS)
3:30 p.m.: Villanova at Marquette (ESPN2)
5:30 p.m.: Kansas at Temple (ESPN2)
6:30 p.m.: Michigan St. at Northwestern (BTN)
7 p.m.: Georgia Tech at Charlotte
8:30 p.m.: Seton Hall at Virginia Tech (ESPN2)
10:30 p.m.: Arizona State at USC
2 p.m.: Houston at Iowa State (ESPN360)
2 p.m.: Wisconsin at Penn State (BTN)
2 p.m.: Georgetown at DePaul (ESPN360)
2:05 p.m.: Missouri State at Northern Iowa
3 p.m.: Florida at NC State (FSN)
3 p.m.: UTEP at Texas Tech (ESPN360)
4:30 p.m.: Ohio State at Michigan (BTN)
5:30 p.m.: Xavier at Wake Forest (FSN)
7:45 p.m.: Clemson at Duke (FSN)
USC beats UNLV, wins DHC
• Derrick Roland, Texas A&M: If the senior guard is able to play again in a year, the NCAA should give him his second semester back in 2011. It's the right thing to do. His injury was so gruesome, and it happened early enough in the season (in the spirit of the rule, even though it's not the letter of the rule, since more than 30 percent of the season has been completed). Roland has a long road to recovery, and no one knows if he'll be able to play effectively again after suffering a compound fracture in his right leg.
Time For A Ranking
• UAB: The Blazers are 11-1 with wins over Cincinnati and Butler at home. Granted, the Blazers don't have true road wins of note, but those are Top 25 wins.
• Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are 10-1, with the one loss at Wichita State (a team that will not lose many games at home this season, I guarantee you). Beating Washington should still prove to be a quality win. The Red Raiders have two other true road wins (Stephen F. Austin and TCU) and a home win over Stanford.
• Northwestern: The Wildcats are 10-1, with the only loss at home to Butler. Northwestern won at NC State and beat Iowa State and Notre Dame on neutral courts.
West Virginia tops Ole Miss
The Good, Bad and Ugly
• Good: Oral Roberts: How did this happen? Give credit to Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton for getting Missouri and New Mexico on the home schedule. ORU won both games. For a Summit League school to get two quality home games like these is somewhat unheard of in this protective period for schools in the top eight conferences.
• Bad: Tulsa: Maybe this is unfair on the eve of the new year, but the Golden Hurricane needed to have done more than just beat Oklahoma State to feel a bit better going into Conference USA. Tulsa lost to Nebraska and then got hammered by Nevada in Las Vegas. That means Tulsa better finish in the top two in Conference USA if it wants to dance. The road game at Duke on Feb. 25 looms large. Beating UTEP, Houston and Memphis in C-USA will be of high importance.
• Ugly: DePaul: No other way to say this: If you're going to go on the road to a place like Florida Gulf Coast, you better win the game if you're from the Big East. It's just a bad loss.
If you want to know the difference between Michigan State's Tom Izzo and many of the other coaches around the country -- let alone the Top 25 -- it rests with the ability and the desire to take his team on the road for a true elite nonconference game.
Look at the Top 25 through Saturday night's games and dissect the true road games so far (of course, there are more to come like Tennessee's New Year's Eve visit to Memphis). I'll count Villanova's trip to Saint Joseph's as a road game, even if it was played at the Palestra, since that is much more the Hawks' home court than the Wildcats'. I'll also give K-State a true road game against UNLV since the game was at the Orleans Arena due to the rodeo in Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack. These are the kind of road games that the NCAA selection committee will closely examine come March.
Here's the breakdown:
1. Kansas (1) -- UCLA (W)
2. Texas (1) -- Rice (W)
3. Kentucky (1) -- Indiana (W)
4. Purdue (1) -- Alabama (W)
5. Syracuse (0)
6. West Virginia (1) -- Cleveland State (W)
7. Duke (1) -- Wisconsin (L)
8. Villanova (2) -- Saint Joseph's (W), Temple (L)
9. Michigan State (3) -- North Carolina (L), The Citadel (W), Texas (L)
10. North Carolina (1) -- Kentucky (L)
11. Connecticut (0)
12. New Mexico (3) -- Hawaii (W), San Diego (W), Oral Roberts (L)
13. Georgetown (2) -- Savannah State (W), Tulane (W)
14. Tennessee (1) -- USC (L)
15. Kansas State (2) -- UNLV (W), Alabama (W)
16. Butler (4) -- Northwestern (W), Evansville (W), Ball State (W), UAB (L)
17. Ohio State (1) -- Butler (L)
18. Florida (1) -- Jacksonville (W)
19. Washington (1) -- Texas Tech (L)
20. UNLV (4) -- Arizona (W), Santa Clara (W), Southern Utah (W), Hawaii (W)
21. Ole Miss (2) -- Arkansas State (W), West Virginia (L)
22. Georgia Tech (1) -- Chattanooga (W)
23. Clemson (3) -- Liberty (W), UNC Greensboro (W), East Carolina (W)
24. Gonzaga (1) -- Michigan State (L)
25. Temple (5) -- Delaware (W), Georgetown (L), Western Michigan (W), Miami of Ohio (W), Seton Hall (W).