College Basketball: The Spin
Saint Joseph's is off to a school-record 12-0 start following an impressive victory at Richmond on Tuesday. It's the Hawks' first 12-game winning streak since the '64-65 team won 16 in a row under Dr. Jack Ramsay.
This Saint Joseph's edition is coached by Phil Martelli, who has arguably the country's best backcourt in Jameer Nelson and Delonte West. However, the key in making this a legitimate top-10 team has been the maturation of sophomore center Dwayne Jones. Jones' offensive game has grown, but it's his rebounding and defensive presence that Martelli values most. The Hawks' perimeter game is boosted by Pat Carroll, brother of former Notre Dame star, Matt Carroll. He is among the best three-point marksmen on this unselfish team that should run through the Atlantic 10 without too many speed bumps.
Beat the Light, Not the Clock
I'm sure by now many of you have seen or heard about Texas freshman P.J. Tucker's coast-to-coast game-winning lay-in to beat Providence on Monday night. If nothing else was gleaned from the play, the value of a good electrician can't be understated.
It was so difficult to tell if Tucker's release came before the horn, the top-notch officiating crew of John Clougherty, Bob Donato and Tim Higgins had to go to the replay monitors. Seven long minutes later, it was ruled the basket was good because the release conclusively beat the red backboard light, albeit by a hair. While the officials handled the situation fairly well, considering the emotion in the Dunkin' Donuts Center and on both sidelines, the fact that the clock appeared to hit :00 well before the light went on was disconcerting to me as a fan. I would expect more schools to make it a common preseason practice to ensure that the horn, light and clock are in sync when the double-zeros appear.
Altman at it Again
Dana Altman just keeps churning out W's in Omaha. His Creighton Bluejays are 10-0 entering Wednesday's road tilt with Illinois State, with road wins over Wyoming and Bradley and a home win over Nebraska. This great start comes despite losing three key players from last season's 29-win team that set a school record - Two-time MVC Player of the Year Kyle Korver, the athletic Larry House and sixth man DeAnthony Bowden.
These Bluejays are doing it with amazing balance. No player averages more than Brody Deren's 11.8 points per game, but seven different players average at least seven points per game. Only two players average more than 25 minutes per game.
An Underrated Team from the ACC?
I'm amazed at how quietly Wake Forest has risen in the polls. For some unknown reason, this team seems to be flying under the radar when talk of the Final Four comes up. Skip Prosser lost ACC Player of the Year Josh Howard, but this team has all the ingredients needed for successful tournament play. Efficient guard play is supplied by Justin Gray, Taron Downey and fabulous freshman Chris Paul. And Jamaal Levy and Eric Williams are no fun for opponents to handle up front. Another frontcourt force, Vytas Danelius, has been out with an ankle injury, but the Demon Deacons continue to roll as they begin ACC play this weekend.
With all the attention Duke and North Carolina get on the national scene, don't be surprised if this is the ACC team that does the most damage in March.
Five Players Who Deserve More Love
Now for a quick individual "Under the Radar" starting five from the first couple months of play. These players don't receive much national attention, but have been instrumental in their teams' early success.
C - Rafael Araujo (BYU): The Cougars center is averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in just 28 minutes per game. And he's shooting a healthy 63 percent from the field as BYU is off to a 10-2 start.
F - Jaime Lloreda (LSU): The Tigers are 10-1 thanks to Lloreda's 19 pts and 12 boards per game. He's a beast on the offensive glass and has teamed with freshman Brandon Bass to form a tough front line for SEC opponents to deal with.
F - Matt Freije (Vanderbilt): Kevin Stallings would rather not think about where his Commodores would be with Freije and his 19 points per game. At 6-9, he can shoot over anyone with his fine perimeter skills, and when the game's on the line, just give him the ball - he's an 89 percent foul shooter.
G - Francisco Garcia (Louisville): This sensation sophomore has handled the point with aplomb for the Cardinals, handing out six assists per game, while still remaining Rick Pitino's go-to scorer. He provides his teammates with a great deal of confidence and it shows in Louisville's 9-1 record.
G - Ben Reed (Western Michigan): In his second season following ACL surgery, this former MAC Freshman of the Year has been spectacular from behind the arc and has joined forces with senior forward Mike Williams to form a solid 1-2 punch for the 8-1 Broncos, who own wins at Arizona State, at Akron and a 23-point wipeout of Miami (OH). Reed averages 20 points per game and is lighting up opponents with his 58 percent shooting from 3-point land.
Box Score Bits
This week, we focus on the number two. That's the number of times Akron's Derrick Tarver has scored 44 points in a game this season (versus Hampton and Wright State).
It's also the number of triple-doubles Arizona forward Andre Iguodala has this season (versus Texas and Liberty).
And it's the number of times top-ranked UConn has shot under 50% from the free-throw line this season (10-for-30 in their lone loss to Georgia Tech and 13-for-27 in Tuesday's one-point victory at Rutgers). If the Huskies don't get their free-throw woes corrected, they definitely won't finish the season as the nation's top team.