Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tops Strike Down With Great Vengeance

(For this post, the part of Jules Winfield will be played by Courtney Lee. Vincent Vega is played by Anthony Winchester)

Act I (Cue Dick Dale surf guitar music)
Now I wanna dance, I wanna win. I want that trophy, so dance good. (Mia)
10.05: And this dance is a sixth grade sock-hop where the gangly girls tower over the prepubescent boys. It is an exercise in disjointed incoordination. It is UGLY. There is no rhythm, no tempo. It's a free-for-all and the Toppers have continued their turnover woes. Luckily, UAB cannot throw it in the ocean, so the Tops have somehow managed to hold a 2-point lead, 16-14. A Royale with cheese has more rhythm than this contest.

Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face. (Vincent Vega, er, I mean Anthony Winchester)
Winchester gets it going with a leaner +1 on a foul for an old-fashioned 3-point play. There is still little flow to this game as UAB continues to force a ridiculous amount of Topper turnovers, but cannot shoot straight against an intense WKU defense. 24-20, Tops.

I got a threshold, Jules. I got a threshold for the abuse I'll take. And right now I'm a race car and you got me in the red. (Vince/Winchester)
4.52: Winchester has been red-faced and furious all night. He's been getting in teammates' faces, murmuring to himself after poor decisions, and then he absolutely hammered a UAB player driving to the goal to send a message to the more physical Blazers, drawing boos from the surprisingly sparse crowd. He is a race car in the red...and he just drilled a Three to make it 28-25 Tops. Mike Walker added 1-2 free throws and a put back hoop to make it 31-25 Tops. Time out, Blazers.

Intermission: Tied at 36. (Cue "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon" for halftime entertainment)
The home team closes with a furious run to tie it at 36. WKU has committed 17 first half turnovers. The Tops can run with the Blazers, but they MUST stop the throwaways. Freshman PG Orlando Mendez-Valdez has done a solid job and probably needs to log the bulk of the PG minutes. He looks the calmest and coolest of the Topper ballhandlers. Is there a home court advantage for the Blazers? UAB has shot 20 free throws...WKU? THREE.

Act II (Surf guitar reprise)
Every time my fingers touch brain I'm SUPERFLY T.N.T, I'm the GUNS OF THE NAVARONE! (Jules)
13.47: After committing three turnovers in 38 seconds to start the second stanza, the Toppers fell behind 43-36. But, the Topper Armada of three-point shooters started firing at will. Orlando Mendez-Valdez, Ty Rogers, and Benson Callier all drilled longballs during a 14-6 spurt that made it 50-49, Tops.

And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. (Courtney Lee)
7.58: Lee has taken over this game in the last five minutes. He tied the game at 55 with a Three, made two $5-dollar-milkshake-quality drives to hole and 2 FT's. A Winchester 3-ball off of a Mendez-Valdez steal followed by another Ty Rogers' Three has swelled the Topper lead to 11 (67-56). This team looks like it has found its groove.

Okay man, it was a miracle, can we leave now? (Winchester/Vince)
o.oo: Yes, we can leave now because the last few minutes have been a cavalcade of Topper Threes and Lee free throws. 92-76, Tops win. And though a team that markets itself as "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball" will never admit it, this Topper team wore down UAB. Yes, the tremendous Topper shooting did in the Blazers, but those open looks came largely as a result of a fresher Topper team. Those open looks were not there earlier in the game. UAB was tired, and the Tops scorched the earth to the tune of 15-23 from 3-point land as a result of open looks.

What's inside the briefcase? A gigantic road win for WKU and an exorcism of the Georgia demons. This Topper team gained a massive 92-76 road win for their season resume. UAB had 35 free throw attempts to WKU's 17, and the Tops turned it over 27 times ON THE ROAD...and the Big Red still won by 16. That has to be a good sign. I really liked the intensity and killer instinct of this team. Sophomore G Courtney Lee was simply brilliant as well, so says the Mid-Majority.

The 3.75 hour one-way drive was absolutely worth watching this team put it all together for the last ten minutes. I expect that wild inconsistently will often be the norm for this Topper team with so many new players (Does that mean that they actually ARE consistent? Hmmm...). Jules and Vince are always going to be there with guns blazing, but there will be nights that Mia snorts heroin and needs to be saved by a giant needle to the heart. Also, there will be nights when all cylinders click and this team looks nigh unstoppable. For now, I'm just savoring the nearly flawless last ten minutes of the UAB like one might savor a Big Kahuna Burger.

Last Night's GOI
--Dayton 75, at Cincinnati 66. It's official. The Bearcats are officially on the way-too-early season Bubble Boy list.
--at Iowa State 68, Northern Iowa 61. The Cyclones righted the ship a bit and UNI missed out on a big non-conference scalp.
--at Michigan 74, Miami-FL 53. OUCH. Canes are reeling.
--Illinois 68, at North Carolina 64. 2005 title game rematch goes to the Illini.
--at Wake Forest 91, Wisconsin 88. Great early season game. These teams both look like solid tourney teams early on.
--at Middle Tennessee State 81, Chattanooga 71. MTSU (2-1) rebounds a bit after the Indiana State loss.
--at FIU 69, South Florida 64 (2 OT) . The Golden Panthers (2-2) also bounce back with a win over a Big East team.
--at Georgia State 76, UL-Lafayette 61. The Cajuns (0-3) started with three road games and took three L's. They get Charlotte in the Cajun Dome on Saturday.

Tonight's GOI
--Duke at Indiana. Indiana has steamrolled everyone so far. They get #1 Duke in Bloomington. This should be a great barometer for both teams.
--NC State at Iowa. Another nice matchup of probable NCAA teams. I need more convincing that NC State is worthy of the attention that they have received so far. I like the Hawkeyes here.
--Georgia Tech at Michigan State. I am simply curious as to how the Jackets got blasted by 22 AT HOME to Illinois-Chicago. The Flames were promptly routed by 20 at Georgia Southern. Let's see if GT is that bad.
--Utah State at Utah. Huge in-state game that cannot be ignored.
--North Texas at Arizona State. Good chance for a Sun Belt win over a Big Six school.
--New Orleans at Mississippi State. See above.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tops at UAB: Old Sun Belt Foes

WKU visits the Blazers of UAB tonight in a reunion of long-lost conference foes. The Tops (2-1) are coming off of a bitter home loss to Georgia on Saturday, while the Blazers (2-0) have defeated their first two opponents (UMass 86-77, and South Carolina State 79-48). The Tops will need more than the Big Three of Anthony Winchester, Courtney Lee, and Elgrace Wilborn to pose serious threat to UAB. Nine other players will likely play tonight for WKU, and at least a couple of them are going to have to contribute some scoring and some solid floor play.

This game should be a track meet. Both teams like to play an up-tempo, pressing style of hoops and score a lot of points off of that pressure D. UAB is led by F Demario Eddins (21 ppg, 5 rpg) and PG Squeaky Johnson (6.5 ppg, 8 apg). Eddins is one of the best frontcourt players that WKU will see all season and Johnson is one of the fastest, most disruptive PG's that the Tops will face. Click here for complete stats on UAB. They are deep, athletic, and are playing at home. This is a very tough road opener for the young Toppers.

These concerns are especially worrisome due to the horrendous PG play on Saturday against UGA. Freshmen Orlando Mendez-Valdez played solid in 14 mins of action, but fouled out in that short span. JC transfer Joemal Campbell had a terrible game and G Ty Rogers was clearly not ready to play PG against tough, athletic defenders. The Tops will need improvement at PG and some production from PF to challenge the Blazers. I will be making the trip, so I will have a full game log tomorrow.

Tonight's GOI
--Dayton at Cincinnati. In-state matchup that will tell us a lot about the Bearcats. Dayton played a very good Creighton team tough on Saturday (lost by one in double-OT).
--Northern Iowa at Iowa State. HUGE, HUGE game. UNI needs this scalp for their at-large resume and Iowa State has stumbled badly out of the gate (a 17-point loss at home to Iona).
--Miami-FL at Michigan. Two teams that figure to be on the bubble come March. This is as important as it gets in November.
--Illinois at North Carolina. 2005 title game rematch, but both have lost a lot. Illinois is better, but a win in the Dean Dome will not be easy.
--Wisconsin at Wake Forest. Why do people constantly underrate Wisconsin (4-0)? It would not surprise me in the least if they beat the Deacons tonight.

Sun Belt Games
--Chattanooga at Middle Tennessee State. MTSU (1-1) backed up a big home win over Utah State with an OT loss at Indiana State.
--South Florida at FIU. The Golden Panthers (1-2) have disappointed so far. This win could be a giant boost.
--UL-Lafayette at Georgia State. The Cajuns (0-2) have also been fairly lackluster in a blowout loss to struggling SIU and a loss at Tennessee. Then need a win badly.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Turnover, Boy! Good Dawg!

Coach Dennis Felton and the Georgia Bulldogs visited WKU on Saturday night, and honestly, I gave myself the full day on Sunday to recover before I attempted to write about this one. After a very emotional tribute to fallen Topper Danny Rumph, the Tops broke out in all black uniforms and in place of their individual names, they all had "Rumph" on the back of their jerseys. If that did not put a lump in your throat, then watching Coach Felton walk back into the UGA locker room before the game with tears streaming down his face surely did.

The irony of ironies is that Danny Rumph would have made a HUGE difference in this game. The Tops lacked a steady, level-headed PG, especially in the early going. FR Orlando Mendez-Valdez did an admirable job in his 14 mins (3 assists, 1 turnover), but he fouled out in that short span. Danny's measured passes and careful ball-handling sure would have helped the Tops on Saturday.

Thanks for everything, Danny. We still miss and on the court.

1st Half
15.29: Have I ever witnessed a worse start by a Topper team? Not that I can recall. Well, UGA hit their first four shots and have jumped all over the Tops to the tune of a 10-0 start. Some semblance of order is restored as WKU scored four straight to make it 10-4 at the first media timeout.

11.56: The Tops’ inexperience is being thoroughly exposed by a feisty Georgia defense. It’s 20-6, but it feels even worse. WKU has turned it over on nearly every possession it seems. The SOLD OUT crowd in Diddle Arena has been turned into little lambs in the pasture. There are 7,300+ plus in a small, loud arena and they have nothing to cheer about. That is truly an injustice. Panic is creeping in among the Topper faithful.

7.31: More of the same—our first-year PG Joemal Campbell (JC transfer) has been harassed into numerous turnovers and 5-second calls. Georgia’s stifling halfcourt defense is tremendous. They are making quite difficult for Winchester or Lee to find open space. They are going to force someone else to beat them…and the candidates are few at this point. 28-15, Dawgs.

3.48: Hello! The Topper defense comes alive and has been able to speed up the Dawgs and cause numerous some turnovers of their own. Freshman F Matt Maresca came in and made an immediate impact with a nice turnaround baseline shot and another nice post move resulting in a miss, but a Wilborn tip-dunk. 30-22, UGA. The crowd, and the Tops, are back in it!

Half: UGA closes on an 11-4 spurt to lead 41-26 at the half. Although the Dawgs are a young team, it is apparent that their Sophomores and Juniors are battle-tested from having to play on a very short-handed team last season. This is the first test of high-level Division I hoops for MANY Topper players including two starters (PG Joemal Campbell and F Daniel Emerson) and significant bench players (F Mike Walker, PG Orlando Mendez-Valdez, F Matt Maresca, F/G Butch Jointer). While both teams turned it over a great deal, the Tops made a lot of mental errors through throw-aways, lack of strength with the ball (especially Campbell and Ty Rogers) and blown defensive assignments. Plus, the free throw shooting was horrendous (3-8).

2nd Half
15.33: Now, this is what a coach wants to see from his seniors! Seven straight points from G Anthony Winchester and then three straight from Elgrace Wilborn sandwich a Georgia bucket to pull the Tops within seven at 43-36. The defensive intensity by WKU is on another level out of the locker room. Then, a Wilborn rejection leads to a Three by Winchester to make it 43-39. The Tops have come out breathing brimstone in the second half. The crowd is in full throat for the first time all night.

11.34: Georgia methodically cranks up the D again and forces Campbell into back-to-back turnovers. The Dawgs have responded with a 10-3 spurt of their own. The lack of confidence from the WKU ballhandlers is really thwarting any effort to take full control of this game.

7.33: Wow…the Dawgs are playing STIFLING half-court D. It’s 57-43, and once again, the Tops are on the ropes. A run needs to begin right now.

4.37: And it does. Courtney Lee just made a lay-in to cut it to 61-54. This 11-4 run did not truly seem like a huge burst, but Lee has come alive during the stretch after being silent much of the night.

2.50: Another critical missed FT by Winchester…his fourth miss of the night. He has gone weeks without missing four!

1.19: Unbelievably, WKU is still alive in this game. It’s 65-61 after UGA finally misses a FT and Lee finishes off yet another drive to rack. UGA is coming unraveled a bit on offense. The Tops just need that final push to get over the hump. It’s ripe for the taking!

0.15: A Winchester lay-in cuts the UGA lead to two (65-63), but the Dawgs’ lumbering center, Dave Bliss, somehow gets behind the defense on the press and makes an awkward lay-up and gets fouled by Benson Callier (67-63). He misses the FT and Lee cashes in two FT’s on the other end to make it 67-65. Then, in a move that must have made UGA coach Dennis Felton quake with frustration, FR G Mike Mercer hoisted up an ill-advised shot that was grabbed by WKU…and promptly thrown out directly of bounds by Callier, which in turn probably sent WKU coach Darrin Horn into an apoplectic rage.

0.10: After UGA made 1-2 at the line (68-65), WKU calls timeout and sets up an inbounds play that gets Winchester an open look, but he opts to dribble left to get a cleaner shot. His pocket is picked from behind (his seventh turnover) by UGA G Billy Humphrey, and UGA makes 1-2 FT’s for the final margin of 69-65. I am utterly deflated.

Fifty-eight is numerical theme for this season so far. Last Tuesday vs. IUPUI, there were 58 fouls called during the game. In Saturday’s game vs. UGA, there were 58 turnovers—30 by the Dawgs and 28 by the Tops. WKU’s dynamic duo of Winchester and Lee were responsible for 13 of those WKU turnovers, which is completely out of character for them. Much credit goes to Georgia for their intense, Felton-brand half-court defense. The Topper press was extremely effective in the second half (helping to force 18 Dawg turnovers) and allowed to Tops to outscore the Dawgs 39-28. The Toppers played poorly in many phases of the game, but a lot of that was because of Georgia’s in-your-face, ball-hawking defense. The turnovers were indeed horrendous, but UGA turned it over even more. The keys to the game were free throw shooting (12-25 for WKU) and spotting UGA a 10-0 lead to start the game. Giving a great defensive team a 10 spot to start the game is a tremendous hurdle to overcome. For most of the game, the Tops looked like the better team. But, crawling out of a 20-6 hole was simply too much to overcome, especially for a team still trying to mesh so many new parts.

That is danger for fans of this Topper team. We see the talent and where they are going to be in February and not where they are right now. Horn will have to put on the lab coat and play chemist for awhile with this bunch of horses. They should have his full attention after losing a very winnable game at home—again, no slight intended to UGA. WKU is a very talented team with a lot of rotation issues to figure out.

It does not get any easier as the Tops travel to UAB on Tuesday. I will have a full preview tomorrow and a game log on Wednesday as I will be on hand in Birmingham to take in the game.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

That's A Lot of Tears, Mr. Cash

“When I hear that whistle blowin’, I hang my head and cry.” ~Johnny Cash, “Folsom Prison Blues.”

It was not the dominating performance that the Tops put on display against Austin Peay last week, but WKU (2-0) did enough to keep IUPUI (1-2) at arm’s length for the duration of this whistle-prolonged game. Fifty-eight fouls were called in this affair, and it severely hampered either team’s ability to establish any offensive or defensive continuity. Johnny, if you can hear me, you would have had vertebrae damage from all of the head-hanging and crying in this game. The whistles blew every possession for awhile. There were 27 real-time minutes between media timeouts at one point in the second half. The Tops did not do a good job of adjusting to the tight foul-calling. And the end of the one hour and twenty minute second half, the Tops had earned an 89-75 victory.

1st Half
15.53: Both teams have come out with excellent defensive intensity. It is a mere 4-2 at the first media timeout.
11.14: The Tops go on a one-minute mini-burst that includes a Benson Callier leaner and an Anthony Winchester stick-back on the offensive glass to make it 14-6. I allow myself to entertain the thought of blowing this team right out the water.
7.57: Hee hee hee. No. IUPUI refocuses their defensive effort and the Jags slice through the Topper press at will. 18-17, Tops.
4.43: The Tops are starting to dictate tempo, and IUPUI seems to be just fine with it as George Hill buries a Three from the right wing. 28-25, Tops.
0.41: The next few possessions are characterized by sloppy Topper defense resulting in a bevy of open looks for the Jags. This nonsense is brought to a quick halt by my first pterosaur sighting of the season. The Great Red Pterodactyl (aka Elgrace Wilborn) throws down a monster two-handed jam that ignites the crowd and gives the Tops a 44-38 halftime lead.

2nd Half
Holiday travels…you gotta love it. I left my game notes in Bowling Green and I am now on the road. I'll do my best from memory.

Let me sum it up this way: IUPUI scored 35 second half points and only made FIVE field goals. There were 58 total fouls in the game. IUPUI shot 48 free throws as the road team. Just let those numbers sink in a bit.

With about 11 minutes to go, it was 60-56. The Tops then went on an 18-7 spurt that essentially put the game away by the 5-minute mark. Anthony Winchester and Courtney Lee both were there to make big baskets when needed…and they certainly were needed. They were the catalysts in the run that gave the Tops a comfy double-digit lead. Read more about the game and see stats here.

IUPUI played solid defense throughout and consistently broke the Topper press for the first 30 minutes, but they started to break down during the last 10 minutes. Lee and Winchester, coupled with the Tops’ depth, proved too much. The Jags should have some success in the Mid-Con this year, although Oral Roberts is likely to dominate the conference.

The Tops have a giant game on Saturday at 7 pm CT when former Coach Dennis Felton makes his return to Diddle with his Georgia Bulldogs (2-1). It will take a good effort to beat the young, but talented Dawgs. WKU made a quantum leap in Felton’s third year on the Hill, and I expect Georgia to be much better this year than most experts project them to be (it’s Year Three for Felton in Athens). Fallen Topper Danny Rumph, who died unexpectedly of cardiomyopathy this past summer, will be honored before the game. He was recruited by Felton and played under him for a year before Horn arrived. Emotions will be high for both Danny and for Felton’s return—and for a big win over a power conference opponent.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

IUPUI and Medieval Torture

Indiana University-Purdue Univerisity at Indianapolis. Now, that's a mouthful. But not only is that lengthy title more commonly known as IUPUI or "Oooey Pooey" a mouthful, but in the Mid-Con the IUPUI Jaguars have been a handful for opposing teams as well. They went to the NCAA tournament as a 16-seed in 2003, and have been at or near the top of the conference for the last three seasons. In addition to Oral Roberts and Valpo, they have been one of the most consistent Mid-Con programs over the past few seasons. They are currently 1-1 this season after splitting two games at the Marquette Blue/Gold Classic. They were hammered by a solid Winthrop club (73-50), but defeated WAC member Rice, 58-56. Tonight, they venture into Diddle Arena to take on Western Kentucky (1-0) in an 8 pm CT tip.

Blue Ribbon picked the Jaguars to finish second behind Oral Roberts in the Mid-Con this season. The Jags have a lot of talent returning and have a real shot at competing for the MCC title. Senior F Brandon Cole (14.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg last season; 18 ppg through 2 games this season) is a do-it-all, workhorse type. In addition to being the leading returning scorer, Cole logged 37 minutes per game last year, shot 40% from 3-land, and hit 86% at the free throw line. He is an All-Mid-Con level player and could challenge for the conference MVP, although that will likely go to Ken Tutt or Caleb Green from Oral Roberts. The other returning starters are senior G Maushae Byles (8.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg), 6’9” C Michael Vavrek (3.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg), and 6’2” sophomore G George Hill (10.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.2 apg). Hill put up nice numbers as a freshman last year and could be the most talented player on the team.

The big addition is Xavier transfer Angelo Smith (6’9”, 230 pounds). He is a powerful presence on the block that IUPUI has lacked on recent squads. Smith served as AP Player of the Year David West’s backup three seasons ago at Xaver, and he figures to be a major contributor for the Jags. He tallied 14 points and 13 rebs in IUPUI's recent win over Rice. In addition to this strong starting five, the Jags return a bevy of solid perimeter role players in guards David Barlow, Blair Crawford, Troy Shanks and Matt Burks. In the frontcourt, seven-footer Bill Van Senus and freshman F Andy Hampton should provide serviceable depth.

The Tops cruised over Austin Peay without either of their point guards and without freshman F Daniel Emerson. If the Tops walk over IUPUI, it will be a bit of a surprise. This is a veteran team that has played in three of the last four conference title games in the Mid-Con. After being out-rebounded 35-32 against Winthrop, the Jags out-rebounded Rice 48-28 in their last outing. The Toppers still hold a distinct advantage on paper and will have the Diddle faithful on hand to cheer them on, but the Jags should offer a much stiffer test than did Austin Peay.

Last Night's GOI (Games of Import) Results
--Texas 76, West Virginia 75. The 'Eers let a huge win slip away late. As advertised, Texas has a lot of talent. I really like Texas' team.
--Iowa 67, Kentucky 63. A point guard with 19 rebs? Despite what you may be thinking, this is NOT a good thing. UK has three seven footers, and Rajon Rondo grabs 19 boards? Big win for Steve Alford's Hawkeyes, and this loss will have Tubby-haters out in full costume in Lexington.
--Arizona 61, Kansas 49.
--Miami-OH 58, Dayton 42.
--UConn 77, Arkansas 68.
--Gonzaga 88, Maryland 76. The Zags are good. They need to deliver in March this year.
--Georgia 76, Eastern Kentucky 68.
--Wisconsin 84, Old Dominion 81. The Monarchs could have used a major scalp to start their at-large resume, but Bo Ryan and the Badgers are always a tough out. No one is talking about Wisconsin, but they will be there in the end...just as they always are.
--Middle Tennessee 60, Utah State 59. Hold the phone! This is a HUGE win for the Blue Pegasi. Maybe this group with NINE new players will jell more quickly than anticipated.
--Mississippi State 68, Arkansas State 63. Different story if this game was in Jonesboro. Alas, that is the life Sun Belt scheduling. This is why all WKU fans should relish the upcoming Georgia and Virginia games in Diddle Arena.

Tonight's GOI
--Iowa vs. Texas. For the Guardians Classic Championship.
--Kentucky vs. West Virginia. To avoid two consecutive losses in two days.
--UConn vs. Arizona. To establish themselves as Final Four contenders.
--Kansas vs. Arkansas. To bolster their at-large resumes, because both could be bubble teams when it's said and done.
--Gonzaga vs. Michigan State. For the Zags, to solidify their status as a player as a Final Four-calibre team. For the Spartans, to somewhat offset the bludgeoning that they took from the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (84-62!). And I'm talking about a good, old-fashioned, medieval-style bludgeoning with an old rusty mace in a dirty castle dungeon by an executioner named Olaf.
--Virginia at Richmond. We'll see what the Cavs (future WKU opponent) have on the road against an in-state team.
--Bucknell at Syracuse. The Bison struggled in their first game at Rider. They need to come strong if they want to start building an at-large case.

Sun Belt Games
Navy at Arkansas-Little Rock.
Central Conn at FIU.
South Alabama at Purdue.
UL-Lafayette at Tennessee.
New Orleans at Tulane.
North Texas at UNC-Wilmington.

Game log of the IUPUI game coming tomorrow.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Tops Flush Peay

Last Thursday, I blogged that APSU was no match for WKU on paper. Turns out, they were no match on the court either as the Toppers prevailed last Friday by an 83-54 count. The Tops blew the Govs' doors off with a 14-0 run in the first half that led to a 25-7 score and the home team never looked back. Florida State transfer Benson Callier exploded for 17 first half points (21 for the game) and G Courtney Lee chipped in 13 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Sophomore F Boris Siakam tossed in 12 tallies and 5 boards (4 offensive) in just 14 minutes in a most impressive display of efficiency. The Tops did this without either of their true PG's. JC transfer Joemal Campbell sat out with a busted jaw, and FR Orlando Mendez-Valdez attended his grandfather's funeral. Freshman F Daniel Emerson also sat out with an injured collarbone. Everyone should be healthy and in uniform tomorrow night against IUPUI or certainly for Saturday's game against the Georgia Bulldogs.

Of course, this rather bland recap comes as a result of my ill-timed education conference in Chicago. I had a frigid run down to Navy Pier in 19-degree weather with a 30 mph+ wind on Friday, but a much more pleasant 8-mile jaunt down to Solider Field and Grant Park on Saturday (31 degrees at 6 am! Nice!). T-minus 19 days until the Rocket City Marathon. I also took in some tremendous sushi at Kamehachi and some delicious Chicago deep-dish pizza at Gino's East while I was in town. As major cities go, I really like Chicago...and I'm not a big city guy. My home "town" was a postal area with lots of fields, cattle, tobacco, and soybeans in rural north-central Kentucky. Bowling Green, KY, a city of just over 50,000 people, seemed like a gargantuan metropolis when I came to WKU as a student in 1996. Chicago is nice. Great fun on Michigan Ave.

On with the hoops.

Tonight's Games of Importance
--Texas vs. West Virginia. 6:00 CT [ESPN2]
--Kentucky vs. Iowa. 8:30 CT [ESPN2]
--Arizona vs. Kansas. 8:00 CT [ESPN]
--Arkansas vs. UConn. 10:30 CT [ESPN2]
--Dayton vs. Miami-OH
--Gonzaga vs. Maryland.
--Eastern Kentucky vs. Georgia. The Tops host Georgia this Saturday (Nov 26) and play at EKU next Saturday (Dec 3).
--Old Dominion vs. Wisconsin. This is for the Paradise Jam title. ODU could really get onto the national map with this win and start building that at-large resume.

Sun Belt Games
--Utah State at Middle Tennessee. On Saturday, USU won at Oral Roberts in a matchup of two of the country's top non-power conference teams. This would be a BIG win for the Blue Pegasi.
--Arkansas State at Mississippi State. Tough roadie for the Indians, but this is the year to get the Bulldogs. They will be down from recent seasons, but the cavalry is coming in next year's recruiting class.

Tomorrow, a closer look at the IUPUI Jaguars.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Storm Warning

For the last couple of days, I have been assessing damage on my home due to a (probable) tornado that ripped through South Central Kentucky on Tuesday evening. Most of the damage came from shingles that were peeled off of a neighbors house and hurled at my vinyl siding like hundreds of ninja stars. That normally does not happen IN NOVEMBER in Kentucky, but 78 degrees and high humidity was tumultuously displaced by a fierce Canadian air mass that spurred some terrific storms and had us at 21 degrees this morning, just 36 hours later.

The warm bath-like atmosphere of goodtime exhibition games are past, and the cold, hard season starts tomorrow for WKU. The Tops have high expectations from fans, the conference, and themselves. The start with Austin Peay tomorrow night in Diddle Arena.

The Govs will be lead by local boy G Maurice "Squeaky" Hampton (14.7 ppg)and C Zach Schlader (12.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg). Truly, the Govs are no match for WKU on paper, but APSU always seem to play the Tops very tough. Last year, the Tops trailed by double-digits before storming back to win on the road by an 87-80 count. It should not be that close this time, but APSU is a regional rival with a local star. They will probably come out with guns blazing.

Sorry to cut this short, but I am leaving for Chi-town today. More on Monday after I return.

Also, my latest column dealing with the NCAA selection process is up on

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Wed. Random Stuff

I. We have the first major contender for this year's UW-Milwaukee. The Seahawks of UNC-Wilmington won the BCA Classic by toppling Northwestern, 56-48. The Seahawks drop-kicked Butler and Wyoming (in Laramie) on the way to the BCA crown. UNCW has games at Colorado (on Friday) and at Wisconsin (Dec 12) left on the non-conference slate. It will be interesting to see if they can compound the interest accrued on this early season tourney title.

II. There are some pretty nice games on tap tonight and tomorrow. Tonight, Seton Hall visits Duke in the Preseason NIT (6:30 CT, ESPN). Tomorrow night, there are a four fairly important early season games.

Coaches vs Cancer
Florida vs. Wake Forest (6 pm, ESPN)
Texas vs. Syracuse (8 pm, ESPN)
Preseason NIT
Memphis at Alabama (9 pm CT, ESPN2)
Temple at UCLA (10 pm CT, ESPNU)

These are particularly important for Florida, Wake, and Temple, as they could be fighting with other Bubble Boys at the end of the season. Actually, ANY of these teams COULD be, but those three are projected as middle-of-the-pack or Bubble teams in regard to preseason seeding projections.

III. The Randolph Morris saga lurches inexorably to its controversial conclusion. Hiring a legal gun is not a good sign for Morris or UK. However this goes, it is going to cause pain and finger-pointing.

IV. Have a peak at's preseason NCAA Tourney projection. They like Kansas, Wake, and Cincy a LOT more than I do, but you have to love the inclusion of San Francisco. However, after having followed current USF coach Jesse Evans at UL-Lafayette for many years, I'm fairly sure the Dons will find a way to stay out when it's said and done.

V. It's official: Michael Southall is back on the court at aforementioned ULL. Southall rang up 25 points, 10 boards, 4 blocks, 4 assists, and 4 steals in a Cajun exhibition win.

More tomorrow, and then a short hiatus for a conference trip to Chicago over the weekend.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Western Humbles Bellarmine, 91-67

I was unable to attend the Tops opening exhibition game, so ladies and gentlemen, I give you...Mr. Sivart Worfner. (Smattering of unsure applause)

S-Dub will be chronicling a couple of Topper games early in the season as I travel to conferences at incredibly inopportune times. Thanks, SW!


While it was just an exhibition game, Hilltopper fans were a little concerned about the opener against the Bellarmine Knights of the Roundball. Bellarmine stayed within seven of Louisville in what was essentially a two point game until the end. They had stayed within three of Murray State, one of the favorites to win the OVC. Tack on that WKU would be without starting center Elgrace Wilborn, redshirt freshman forward Matt “MoMo/Dirk” Maresca, and true freshman manchild Daniel Emerson, and there was ample reason for doubt.

Starting lineup of JuCo transfer Joemal Campbell, senior Anthony Winchester, sophomore Courtney Lee, sophomore Ty Rogers and sophomore Boris Siakam, WKU jumped out to a 15-0 lead. Those former doubts, frankly, seemed silly at that point. But after Bellarmine scored their first basket (with 12:42 remaining in the first half) they got re-energized and the man to man pressure defense that held the Knights scoreless was matched with a 2/3 zone that cooled the Tops’ hot hands and allowed Bellarmine to tie the game.

WKU came back to take a 41-32 lead into the break then opened the second half on a 20-8 run into the first TV timeout. The game was history and the Knights of the Roundball were humbled to the tune of 91-67. Now that you know what happened, I’ll tell you how.

Darrin Horn’s commitment to defense is no joke. WKU swarmed the floor with impressive man to man full court pressure and even a trapping zone in the fullcourt. They created turnovers, they got steals, there were runouts, and there were dunks. It was exactly the kind of output Hilltopper fans have been anticipating with this team, if only against a good DII squad. The Tops gave up some transition threes, but it wasn’t bad for the maiden voyage.

Joemal Campbell is real fast. (No, that’s not how Cort would say it.) Joemal Campbell challenged the laws of physics and the arena was often filled with sonic booms when he accelerated. (That’s a little more Cort-esque.) He ran the offense well and he flat ran well. He was the kind of the guy that seemed so committed to defense it made him furious when someone got past him, the one time that someone actually did get past him that is.

Orlando Mendez-Valdez (henceforth, “Dez”) looked solid. His shot was a bit tentative, but he also ran the team well. While Dez is not nearly the defensive gem that Campbell is, he was solid and only got beat a few times. Mostly by Illinois State transfer Matt Miller who will give fits to the GLVC this year at DII.

The other PG was Courtney Lee. I SAID, the other point guard was Courtney Lee. But that honestly didn’t last too long. Lee had a typically strong night from the floor with double-digit scoring, driving baskets, pull up jumpers, and chipped in with seven rebounds.

The leading scorer was…Winchester. How anti-climactic is that? AW did his best “Robin of Locksley” impression as he drilled shot after shot, going 4-4 from outside and finishing with 23 points. Oh, did I mention he played PF most of the night and grabbed 7 rebounds. Does this even impress Hilltopper fans anymore? Anyone? Are we that spoiled? Yes, yes we are.

As predicted by Cort, Boris Siakam will be the X-factor and on Thursday night the X variable was equal to the sum of hard work + solid defense + good rebounding + steals at the top of the press + break away dunks. Siakam may be forgotten by some Hilltopper fans, but they were quickly reminded of what a good athlete he is and his boundless potential.

If Benson Callier was a playground legend in Florida, I’m glad I never played on that playground. Callier started out 0-3 (all from outside) before finding his touch and leading WKU with ten points at the break hitting from outside, working inside, and playing good defense. In the second half, his skin turned green, his eyes white and he ripped down two massive dunks that caused at least two Bellarmine players to require a change of dress.

Butch Jointer enjoyed a solid night stroking three pointers inspiring that age-old cliché, “There’s nothing wrong with that,” from yours truly. Jointer will fit in nicely and is going to get his share of minutes with hustle, good defense and nice looking jump shot. All very impressive contributions from a late signee.

Ty Rogers was Winchester, Jr. I’m usually one who hates to label a player like that, but Rogers just fits the mold. He’s willing to get in and mix it up, but has a feathery touch from outside that exudes confidence.

The jury remains out on Mike Walker. Not because of anything Walker did, but because he didn’t get time to do much of anything. Walker fought the law and the law won all night as he stayed in foul trouble.

All in all, the Tops dispatched Bellarmine by 27 points. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 20 points better than UofL. That’s 24 points better than Murray State. And NONE of that means anything except that WKU looked better in a game that doesn’t matter than those two teams did.

Still, the press is going to be a defensive weapon that would make Patton grin, we have more outside shooting than a night at the Source awards, we have more athletes than a BALCO stockholder meeting and we’ve got a coach who is moving this team forward quickly. It’s going to be a very fun season.

Thanks to Cort for letting me fill in for him. I’ll close with the immortal words of Jerry Reed.

“East bound and down, loaded up and truckin’. We gonna’ do what they say can’t be done.”

Thanks again for the report, SW. Stay tuned for more Worfner during the season.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Tops vs. Bellarmine, New SCS Column

The WKU hoops team will be officially unveiled tonight at 7 pm. Well, most of the team will be unveiled. Two Toppers will remain veiled in street clothes. Freshman F Matt Maresca, who was redshirted last season after suffering a broken wrist, has a dinged foot and will be out. True frosh F Daniel Emerson is out with a fractured collarbone. He will be out for a couple of weeks. In addition, senior C Elgrace Wilborn will dress, but will see limited action due to a strained neck. The good news is everyone should be healthy in a couple of weeks, barring further injuries.

Bellarmine has played a couple of other D-I Kentucky schools very tough so far. The Knights lost to Louisville, 70-63, and to Murray State a 59-53 tally. With the Tops being shorthanded, it could be a good test for the home team.

Still, these questions should/could begin to be answered tonight.

1) Can newcomers Joemal Campbell and Orlando Mendez-Valdez handle the PG responsibilities? More importantly, does Coach Horn trust either of the two newbies to play the bulk of the minutes at PG?

2) How good is Mike Walker?

3) Was Benson Callier's Hilltopper Hysteria performance for real? Is he THAT good?

4) Will we really press a lot more this year?

5) Is all of the hubbub surrounding Ty Rogers' improvement legit?

My good friend, Mr. Sivart Worfner, has agreed to write a summary of tonight's game as the TBB will be prevented from attending by unavoidable circumstances. I'll post his take tomorrow.

Also, I have addressed "20 Questions" about the new season in this week's column on

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Monday Ten

1. Here's my take on the new rules changes for this season in my weekly column.

2. The season officially kicks off tomorrow night when Saint Francis-PA v. Cornell, and Syracuse v. Bethune-Cookman square off in the Coaches v. Cancer. Both games will be played in the Carrier Dome. These games are for keeps! The seasons starts tomorrow!

3. Recently watched films: Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Twelve Monkeys, In Good Company, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

4. The WKU Hilltoppers play an exhibition this Thursday night, Nov 10, against Bellarmine University (Louisville, KY). Bellarmine played Louisville (lost by seven) and Murray State (lost by six) close last week. It should be a decent test for the Tops. The first regular season game occurs on Nov 18 when the Tops host Austin Peay.

5. Check out the Mid-Majority's philosophical waxing about the state of the game, Science v. Creationism, and how Einstein was a big, fat rip-off artist. Kyle has cooked up a nice batch of thought-provoking essays during the preseason.

6. T-minus 33 days until I run my first marathon. I have a massive 21-mile training run planned for Saturday. The weather looks supreme at this point.

7. The CBS hoops schedule of televised games is up.

8. The Sun Belt is celebrating it's 30th year of basketball with some optimism about this season.

9. Need more proof that it's hoops season? Wonk is back!

10. The preseason AP Poll is out.