Saturday, December 30, 2006

Baby TBB Has Arrived!

Sorry for the slow post-Christmas posting, but my first child was born on Wednesday! Mom and baby are doing well.

I will resume as time and sleep allows. New bracket soon after New Year's.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Duke/Gonzaga Highlights GOI

No time for a long post today. More coming tomorrow and/or Friday.

Last Night's GOI
--at Arizona 79, Memphis 71. The win over Kentucky is likely the best win Memphis is going to have this season.
--at Texas 80, Arkansas 76. Solid win by the 'Horns, and not damaging to Ark.
--at Washington 88, LSU 72. Tigers end Pac-10 swing on a sour note.
--Nebraska 73, Wyoming 58. Huskers have been money at home. They will need some road wins for serious At-Large consideration. This neutral court win helps a bit.
--at Utah 94, Virginia 70. Whoa. Cavs are getting plowed under in San Juan (by 11 to Appalachian State and 24 here).

Tonight's GOI
--Gonzaga vs Duke. Duke is 1-1 away from Cameron. Zags are 2-3 away from the Kennel.
--Pittsburgh vs Oklahoma State. Huge neutral court win for one of these teams.
--Tulsa vs Oklahoma. In-state rivalry alert!
--San Diego State vs Washington State. Both have realistic At-Large hopes.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Lockbox Is Born

Many conferences have started play at this point, and that means that it is time to start seriously thinking about teams' accomplishments in the non-conference. Therefore, I have put some teams into the Lockbox for thought. This first Lockbox is merely a list of teams from each conference that have put themselves in some sort of a position to make a run at an At-Large bid, so there is no color-coding at this point. It is still too early for that. I have plugged in the conference favorite in some of the "one-bid" conferences even though some of them have no real shot at an At-Large bid. There will be a Lockbox link to the right for the rest of the season. I will take a crack at a bracket sometime between Christmas and New Year's.

I also should mention that WTBB is 36 weeks pregnant. Keep an eye out for the big announcement in coming days/weeks.

Meanwhile, enjoy this first stab at the 2007 Lockbox. I realize that there are some teams that I may have left off that have a legitimate shot. I will continue to think through teams in the coming days. Feel free to email and make suggestions. I like nice people, so keep that in mind when you write in.

Tonight's GOI
--Memphis at Arizona. MUCH bigger for Memphis. There are not many quality wins to be had in CUSA this year.
--Arkansas at Texas. Someone will snag a quality non-conference win.
--LSU at Washington. The Tigers took down a lesser Pac-10 team in Oregon State on Sunday. Much tougher row to hoe in this one.
--Wyoming at Nebraska. Both on the fringe of At-Large hopes.
--Virginia at Utah. Dicey game for the Cavs.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Weekend Forecast

First, we need to praise the REAL forecast: 67 degrees and sunny tomorrow in Bowling Green, KY! Folks must take advantage of these days in December.

OK, onto the weekend in college hoops.

Weekend GOI
--Texas Tech at Arkansas. Knight is closing on Dean Smith. I do not think he gains in Fayetteville, though.
--Utah State at BYU. In-state rivalry alert! Cougars have not lived up to expectations. USU is 8-1.
--Creighton at Fresno State. Creighton has also struggle a bit early, but the Bulldogs are blazing at 8-1, albeit with no impressive wins.
--Gonzaga vs Georgia. Both Bulldog teams have looked good early. UGA lost its only game a stiff competition, however (a home loss to WKU).
--Kentucky at Louisville. See yesterday's post.
--Western Kentucky at Tennessee. WKU needs a signature win to bolster At-Large hopes.
--Pittsburgh at Wisconsin. Probably the game of the weekend. These two are a combined 20-1.
Wooden Tradition
--Purdue at Bulter. Who would have dreamed this game would mean this much?
--Ohio State vs Cincinnati. Big test for the Bearcats.
--Southern Illinois at Indiana. Indiana gets a chance to upset SIU at home.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dream Game Nightmare

As veteran readers of this blog know, I am a Kentucky boy through and through. Born and raised in the rural, rolling land of central Kentucky, I grew up driving tractors, working on farms, and enjoying the beautiful woods and rivers (Rough River was my local body of water) of our great state.

Growing up in Breckinridge County also meant that your college basketball team was the Kentucky Wildcats. That, in turn, meant that it was your duty to hate Louisville. And, every year, these two clubs hook up for the "Dream Game" in December. The two did not play in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. Louisville accused Kentucky of dodging them for most of those years. But, when UK and UL met in the 1983 Mideast Region Final of the NCAA Tournament, their relationship changed. The two clubs played to a draw in regulation, but Louisville ran away in overtime for an 80-68 victory. The two clubs have played every year since the original "Dream Game."

I have never failed to watch a "Dream Game." Although my heart lies with Western Kentucky, this is still one of the most important non-conference games in the country. But, I cannot a remember a game with less national impact than this year's edition which will take place on Saturday. Kentucky is 6-3 with losses to UCLA, Memphis, and North Carolina. Their best win is over 5-3 Indiana. Coach Tubby Smith is, rightly or wrongly, under intense pressure from fans due to his lack of deep tournament runs and multiple double-digit loss seasons. Many fans feel that his style simply turns off top recruits and that UK lacks elite talent. The situation is becoming more tumultuous at Louisville as well. The Cards are 4-3 with losses to Arizona, Dayton, and a home loss to UMass last night. All of their wins have occurred in Freedom Hall and only Ohio has a winning record to date. For most of the college basketball world, it was unthinkable that Rick Pitino's sixth Cardinal team would be unranked at any point during a season.

Neither team is ranked. Neither will be ranked regardless of the outcome on Saturday. Neither figures to challenge for their conference title. Louisville is coming off of an NIT and fears are growing that they will return there. UK was an 8-seed last season and fans fear a similar fate or worse this season.

But, in a strange, bizarro-world way, this "Dream Game" has MORE meaning than many past meetings. Most years, both teams are ranked and will clearly dance in March. Alas, the loser of this game will be in full panic mode. UL could conceivably drop to 4-4 with two straight home losses. UK could drop to 6-4 with a loss to a struggling rival.

One team will put out the fire at least for the short term. One team will have kerosene poured on its already spreading blaze.

The game is on CBS at 12.30 CST on Saturday.

Last Night's GOI

--at Cincinnati 67, Xavier 57. The Bearcats sprung an upset in Mick Cronin's first big win. Great timing for the Bearcats.
--UMass 72, at Louisville 68. This looks like a huge road win for UMass, but something is up at Louisville. A loss to Arizona is one thing. A neutral court loss to Dayton is not disastrous. A loss at home to UMass alone might not break their backs, but the three combined are puzzling. And the three combined say that UL is not an NCAA team right now.
--at Florida Atlantic 91, Troy 87. FAU wins their Belt opener at home.
--at New Orleans 80, UL-Lafayette 76. Bo McCalebb went for a career high 36 in this one. He fires the salvo in Courtney Lee's direction for Sun Belt POY honors.

Tonight's GOI
Sun Belt Slate
--Denver at Arkansas State. The Pioneers (1-9) have been playing some of the worst basketball in the country. ASU's (3-7) preseason buzz has been silenced.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

State of the Sun Belt Address

Greetings my fellow Americans and Sun Belt enthusiasts...

Hello? Is this thing on? Oh. OK.

The start of conference play normally brings excitement, anticipation, and the general feeling that basketball is in full swing. Unfortunately, for the Sun Belt Conference, the swing resides on a broken-down playground overgrown with weeds and chiggers.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, the Belt was consistently ranked #14-16 in Conference RPI. It was the classic hard-nosed one-bid conference. Then, the Belt started to slide in 2000, falling to #19 by season's end. Part of this can be attributed to WKU's slippage after Matt Killcullen's disastrous, soul-crushing tenure. It makes sense that the conference would slip with one of the conference stalwarts hobbled. Plus, Denver (is that in the "sun belt"?) was added to the conference and promptly went 6-22, further damaging the conference RPI. However, the Toppers were back to their old 20-win tricks in 2001...and the conference still slipped to #20. In 2002, WKU was in the top 30 RPI, yet the conference only moved up one slot to #19.

This is where is gets interesting. From 2003 to 2005, the conference looked to be on the uptick by moving from #19 in '02, to #15 in 2003, #16 in 2004, and up to #13 in 2005. Then, the conference added Troy last season and the conference slipped back to #18. This season, the Belt has added both Florida Atlantic and UL-Monroe and the conference currently sits at #20.

Division I-A football has been the motivating factor behind the addition of Troy, FAU, and UL-Monroe. In the short run, it is hurting basketball. In addition to bringing in poor hoops teams, some traditionally strong basketball schools are in disarray or transition. UALR has struggled mightily early on. South Alabama's NCAA team from last season was gutted by graduation. UL-Lafayette lost three senior starters from a fairly mediocre team. MTSU is trying to mesh a lot of young players. Denver has hit rock(y mountain) bottom after losing C Yemi Nicholson. Hurricane Katrina has left an indelible mark on New Orleans' program. Arkansas State and FIU have not been relevant for a long time.

The Belt currently has only TWO teams with winning records: WKU (8-2) and North Texas (6-2). It remains to be seen what will happen in the long run with the IA football additions. Hopefully, those schools will improve and the old conference standard-bearers will again find their way. But, even through the sunny-beltiest of lenses, this looks like a bad year for the league.

That said, conference play begins tonight. On the bright side, many of this year's clubs are young, so this season could lay a good foundation for some good teams in the next couple of years, especially at WKU, MTSU, UL-Lafayette, and South Alabama.

May God bless you, and may God bless (have mercy on?) the Sun Belt.

Tonight's GOI
--Xavier at Cincinnati. In-city rivalry alert! The Crosstown Shootout usually plays out nicely. The X is certainly the favorite this season.
--UMass at Louisville. If the Minutemen are going to make a serious run at an At-Large bid, they could use this one. The Cards simply need a win over a solid team, and they are tough at home.

Sun Belt Slate
--Troy at Florida Atlantic
--UL-Lafayette at New Orleans

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

It is just 13 days until Christmas, so I figured I had better get my letter in the mail. I have been a very good boy this year. I watched a lot of November basketball even when most folks were more concerned with that sport with the oblong ball and chattering about which teams will play for its (pseudo) "championship." I have attended all of my team's home games. I have endured Dukevision as gracefully as any boy should. I religiously scour and and will continue to do so on a daily basis as those numbers become more and more relevant. I am wearing my Mid-Majority shirt as I type this letter. Like I said, I've been the model fan so far this year.

As a college hoops junkie, I have several items on my wish list this year.

1. A Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Now, Santa, I know that YOU know that I do not play baseball. This is for me to use in case the NCAA Selection Committee shafts the Missouri Valley again this season. I could use this bat to either A) smash my television in frustration or B) drive to Indianapolis and use said bat to bludgeon Gary Walters and the Selection Committee in person. I realize that this could jeopardize my "very good boy" status for next Christmas.

2. A Magic Muzzle. To be used on Digger Phelps, Dick Vitale, or Billy Packer as I see fit.

3. An NCAA bracket line for Western Kentucky. And, if it's not too much to ask, could it come opposite a bloated, overrated, power conference team?

4. Continued success and high "rankings" for Wichita State and Butler. We need to know what the committee will do with Top 15 (Top 10?) teams from non-power conferences.

5. A "sleep bank." My first child arrives in a month and I'd like to save some sleep in the coming weeks. Or, better yet, a "basketball-to-sleep converter," which cashes in "hours of basketball watched" for sleep. Yeah, that's the ticket!

6. An All-American card for Courtney Lee.

7. A white Christmas.

8. A "make-up" call. From: The Selection Committee. To: Missouri State.

OK, that is enough for now, Santa. I hope that you enjoy the milk and cookies that I left out for you. They are organic, fat-free, trans fat free, and tempo-free. Safe travels.

Your friend,


Monday, December 11, 2006

Salukis Survive Toppers

When Egyptian dogs and Big Red Blobs collide, something wonderful has to happen. Coming into the contest, Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky both had just one loss on their otherwise pristine resumes. SIU had a tough overtime loss to Arkansas on Thanksgiving Day and WKU was walloped by Florida on November 25. These are two teams are expected to be playing in the NCAA Tournament in March. This match up had a lot going for it and it did not disappoint.

It was widely understood that the winner of this game would be the team that dictated the pace and terms of the contest. The Salukis came into Diddle and set their methodical pace right out of the gate. They rolled up a 33-17 lead with under five minutes to play in the first half with some blistering shooting in addition to their ballyhooed half-court defense (If there is a team with better half-court defense than SIU, I have yet to see them.). WKU responded behind a raucous crowd and some demonic D of their own to storm back and actually take a one-point lead late in the game. Ironically, they never truly pushed SIU out of their comfortable tortoise pace during this run. The Toppers chipped away by letting All-American candidate Courtney Lee do this thing: read, score the ball. He did it from Three, with stop and rise mid-range jumpers, with gliding forays to the rim, and with one of the filthiest follow-up dunks in the history of humankind.

A comeback from 16 down, a seething crowd in a foamy frenzy, and a team with depth is too much for most road teams to overcome. But SIU calmly regrouped and do what championship teams do. Senior PG Jamal Tatum hit a fade-away 16-footer with a defender draped all over him as the shot clock expired. Senior 2G Tony Young saved a ball from going out of bounds that led to a Saluki threeball. Tatum sank critical free throws down the stretch. Ballgame.

The young Toppers undoubtedly learned a lot in this game. While this loss stings, it is a loss that should pay dividends as the season wears on. SIU is a team that should be carefully watched this season. It will become easier to keep tabs on them because they likely will have little numbers next to their name this week. If their outside shooting holds up, the sky is the limit. More on Saturday's WKU/SIU tilt here, here, and here.

It's finals week for most of the country, which means fewer games and a lot more grading (for me, at least). The GOI is going to be sparse this week. There is a big Saturday coming up. More on that later this week.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Weekend Forecast

It's been a busy week. The recording of my band's (Redfoot) album begins tonight, so I must head out of town. I'll be in the studio all night tonight and tomorrow, but will return to Bowling Green for the monster game between WKU and Southern Illinois in Diddle Arena tomorrow night. That should be a great one. I'll have a full report on that game on Sunday or Monday.

Enjoy the weekend.

Last Night's GOI
--at Eastern Kentucky 72, Murray State 66 (OT). EKU trailed by 10 at the break before storming back in the 2nd half and winning in the extra frame.
--Michigan 62, at Miami (OH) 56. The Wolverines held off a late surge to win a road game.
--at Notre Dame 99, Alabama 85. ND is officially an At-Large contender.
--at Vanderbilt 59, Lipscomb 50. Vandy gets a not-so-easy win.

Weekend Forecast
--Iowa State at Iowa. The consolation game of the Iowa State Championship. Northern Iowa has already beaten both of these teams.
--Xavier at Creighton. The Jays could use a big win about now. This certainly qualifies.
--Washington at Gonzaga. Should be a battle royale. Zags lost to Wash State earlier this week.
--Indiana at Kentucky. This stakes have been much higher, but it's still a big game for both.
--Wisconsin at Marquette. In-state rivalry alert! Simply a great college hoops match up.
--Missouri at Purdue. Two teams that have been off the NCAA radar for awhile that are off to blazing starts.
--Arizona at San Diego State. Massive game for SDSU. This would go a long way on their resume.
--Southern Illinois at Western Kentucky. One of the top non-power conf games of the early season.
--Wichita State at Wyoming. Dangerous roadie for the juggernaut Shockers.
--Texas A&M at UCLA. TAMU took an "L" at LSU and has a second chance to collect some quality road hide.
--Maryland at Boston College. The Eagles need it more.
--LSU vs Texas. Great bowl game or hoops match up these days.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

WKU Runs Past Montana

The Hilltoppers (8-1) scored a huge road win over the Montana Grizzlies (2-5) last night in Missoula. Wooden candidate Courtney Lee racked up 25 points, 12 rebs, and 5 steals to power the Tops to victory. Reserve forward Matt Maresca came off the bench to toss in a career high 16 points in the win as well.

The Tops got off to a slow start and trailed 27-15 with just over 8 mins to play in the first half. But, from that point, the Topper depth did it's job and methodically wore down the Grizz. Montana was outscored 66-38 the rest of the way. Read the WKU take here and Montana's thoughts here.

In other news, the Sun Belt is still struggling. Although, the conference did go 2-2 last night including two road wins. In addition to the Tops' win at Montana, North Texas won at Stephen F. Austin by a 76-70 count. The Mean Green are getting it done despite missing their best player. Kendrick Davis tore a flexor in his wrist after punching a window following the Green's loss to TX-Arlington. He will be out a couple of more weeks at least. He may even miss North Texas' game in Diddle Arena on December 19. Temper, temper.

Last Night's GOI

--UMass 56, at Boston U 54. In-state games rarely disappoint.
--at Dayton 60, Creighton 54. The Rhyme Game goes to Dayton. The Flyers have been solid in the non-conference. The Jays will have to pick it up to compete in the MVC.
--Villanova 67, at Oklahoma 51. Oklahoma looks to be in official rebuilding mode.
--at Tennessee 76, Memphis 58. Chris Lofton is a one-man-gang. Definitely UT's best game of the season to date.
--at Utah State 60, Utah 57. Another tight in-state rivalry game. The Aggies are 7-1.
--at Virginia Tech 72, Old Dominion 55. Good win for VT that they desperately needed.
--at West Virginia 71, NC State 60. 'Eers are 6-1 now. Pack has dropped two straight.

Tonight's GOI
--Murray State at Eastern Kentucky. In-state rivalry alert! Cross state OVC rivals kick off their conference season.
--Michigan at Miami (OH). Why this game? Because this is a game that NCAA teams win. Michigan has a good record (8-1) but ALL of those wins came at home against weak competition and the Wolverines lost their only road game at NC State.
--Alabama at Notre Dame. The Irish are stirring up some talk. A win here would send a clear message that they are for real this year.
--Lipscomb at Vanderbilt. In-city rivalry alert! Vandy has been shaky and Lipscomb is probably the best team that the Atlantic Sun has to offer.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jimmy V Classic

Were we watching four NCAA Tournament teams in the Jimmy V Classic last night? My Magic 8-ball says, "yes." Oklahoma State defeated Syracuse and Arizona held off Louisville in Madison Square Garden last night amidst the annual celebration of the life of Jim Valvano and the V Foundation for cancer research.

To say that these four will be tourney teams is no stretch, but remember that neither OK State nor UL made the Dance last year. Furthermore, the Cuse was OUT of the bracket until their monster run through the Big East Tournament. So, these were not teams that were in great position last year.

I wrote about the state of basketball here in Kentucky yesterday and I also said that we would know more about Louisville after tonight. What did we learn?

1. The Cards have young talent. Guard Edgar Sosa (FR), wing Terrence Williams (SO), and freshmen forwards Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter have loads of athleticism. Coach Rick Pitino still has work to do into making them basketball players.

2. Perpetual injury. Center David Padgett has two surgically repaired knees that may never be 100%. PG Andre McGee was out with injury as well. The Cards have had LOTS of injury problems over the last two seasons.

3. Where is the defense? So far this season, the Cards are ranked #190 in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy. They also play a slow pace (#243). Let's see, poor defense and slow ball...their coach is Rick Pitino, right? Maybe this will turn around as the season wears on.

The Cards now settle in for TEN (10!) straight games at home in Freedom Hall. I guess that is good for a young team, but how will that look when Big East play begins with two straight road games at Notre Dame and South Florida? The Cards were terrible on the road last season (1-8) and they made no effort to get any road experience before conference play this season. We shall see if this hinders them in conference play again this year.

Last Night's GOI

--at LSU 64, Texas A&M 52. Aggies first real test results in an "L." No real shame in losing in Baton Rouge, however.
--at Washington State 77, Gonzaga 67. The Cougars recovered from their loss to Utah to grab a huge non-conference win. We'll be watching Wash State.
Jimmy V Classic
--vs Arizona 72, Louisville 65. Not quite the statement Louisville wanted to make, but the potential is there with this team if these youngsters learn to defend a bit better. 'Zona's Chase Budinger and Ivan Radenovic were both impressive.
--Oklahoma State 72, Syracuse 68. Cowboys are going to contend in the Big XII.

Tonight's GOI
--UMass at Boston U. In-state rivalry alert! UMass is supposed to win, but this is a rivalry game.
--Creighton at Dayton. Both have just one loss and starting to have At-Large thoughts dance in their heads. Plus, they rhyme.
--Villanova at Oklahoma. Two teams that figure to need all of wins they can get for at-large purposes.
--Memphis at Tennessee. In-state rivalry alert! As far as the east is from the least within the borders of Goreland. Should be a dandy.
--Utah at Utah State. In-state rivalry alert! Always a nice match up.
--Old Dominion at Virginia Tech. VT was a sexy pick to make noise this season, but they aree just 3-3 and ODU is dangerous.
--NC State at West Virginia. See Villanova at Oklahoma.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

State of the Bluegrass

The state of Kentucky can undoubtedly be called a "basketball state." Football in the Bluegrass is on the rise on both the high school and college levels (see Louisville's BCS game, Kentucky's bowl trip, and WKU's recent move to I-A status), but this is still basketball country. For most of the state, they fly the flag of the Big Blue Flagship in Lexington. A healthly number of Louisville folks fly cardinal red and a good number have the WKU Hilltoppers in their heart in south central Kentucky. Murray State, Morehead State, and Eastern Kentucky all have a handful of diehards, too. Most seasons, it is only Kentucky and Louisville that enjoy the little numbers next to their names when their games show up on the tube.

This season is a bit different. For the first time in a very long time, Western Kentucky garnered more votes than either UK or UL in the AP popularity contest, I mean, poll. Readers of this site know that TBB pays virtually zero attention to the polls, but this does serve as a marker since both UK and UL have been virtual mainstays for decades. After Kentucky's 13-loss season last year and their 4-3 start this season, many bluebloods in the state are foaming at the mouth. Louisville has already lost to Dayton in the early going and received zero votes in the latest AP poll. WKU, EKU and Morehead State are on the uptick this season. Murray State is rebuilding, but has cleaned up their image. UK and UL have plenty of season left to move in a positive direction, but while the rest of the state seems to be improving, fanbases for the two traditional powers are becoming restless. Both have highly paid, highly visible coaches who had subpar seasons last year and are off to less-than-stellar starts this year. UK, UL and WKU all have huge games coming up:

Kentucky: Sat., host Indiana
Louisville: Tonight vs Arizona
WKU: Wed., at Montana; Sat., host SIU

We will learn a lot about these three this week.

Last Night's GOI

--at Kansas 72, Southern Cal 62. The Jayhawks bounce back after their loss to DePaul.
--at Wisconsin 82, Winthrop 79. The Eagles missed another big upset by a hair. They have played North Carolina and Wisconsin very tough in road games. They were handled more easily by Maryland, but beat Mississippi State in Starkville. They still have trips to ODU and Texas A&M left.

Tonight's GOI
--Texas A&M at LSU. The Aggies have yet to lose, but this is their first game against high-caliber competition.
--Gonzaga at Washington State. In-state rivalry alert! This one would have a lot more luster if WASU had not lost to Utah on the weekend.
Jimmy V Classic
--Louisville vs Arizona. Louisville needs to make a statement in this game to get back onto the national scene.
--Oklahoma State vs Syracuse. Cowboys are back in the national picture and this game could establish them as a contender.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Sorry for the brevity, but TBB is under an avalanche of papers and other commitments this week. I will set aside time for a "real" post tomorrow.

Tonight's GOI
--Southern Cal at Kansas. Every game is interesting for the up-and-down Jayhawks.
--Winthrop at Wisconsin. The Eagles continue their punishing tour versus top teams. And they are a threat to the Badgers.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Battle for the Bluegrass/Weekend Forecast

One of the best moves of the Darrin Horn era at WKU was the renewal of the basketball series with Eastern Kentucky University three years ago. WKU holds a monster lead in the all-time series, but EKU has a couple of historic wins that sting Topper souls. This cross-state rivalry game brings loads of fun for the players, fans, and alumni of both schools. The Tops have taken the first two games of this renewed series by handling Travis Ford's NCAA-bound EKU team two years ago, and the Tops held off Eastern in Richmond last year despite a furious second half comeback by the Colonels. Another edition of the Battle for the Bluegrass heats up tomorrow night in Bowling Green. WKU again will be favored to win, but EKU will undoubtedly pack a lunch and come to play. EKU is off to a decent 3-1 start including two road wins, but WKU's depth is going to be tough to overcome in this one.

Last Night's GOI

--at Missouri 86, Arkansas 64. Mike Anderson has Mizzou in a nice spot. They are 8-0 and seem to be recovering from the Quin Snyder debacle more quickly than expected. These are the kinds of losses that keeps pressure on Stan Heath in Fayetteville.
--The Sun Belt has been so bad to this point, readers can just assume that all Belt teams lost unless otherwise noted. Enough with me giving you the painful game-by-game embarrassment. Hey, by the way, Middle Tennessee won at home over Indiana State last night, 65-58. That secured a 1-3 record for the Belt last night. Yippee.

Weekend Forecast (All times CST)
--Illinois vs Arizona. [4.15 pm, ESPN]. The Illini are likely to be without Jamar Smith.
--Northern Iowa at Bucknell. This figured to be another nice home win for the Bison, but the Panthers have performed better in the early going. Bucknell is 2-4 and desperately needs this one.
--Georgetown at Duke. [6 pm, ESPN2]. The Hoyas could really use a prestige win. Indiana nearly got Duke in Cameron earlier this week.
--Texas vs Gonzaga. [2pm, ESPN]. Tasty little matchup that is a great resume builder.
--Boston College at UMass. This is the Minutemen's chance to announce their NCAA At-Large viability.
--Kentucky at North Carolina. [11 am, CBS]. Battle of Bluebloods looks to have a powder blue tint this year. Kentucky still seems to be searching at this point.
--Villanova at Penn. Ah, a Big Five matchup. College hoops is officially in full swing.
--Clemson at South Carolina. [12 noon, FOX South]. In-state rivalry alert!
--Wichita State at Syracuse. The Shockers have already won at LSU. The Orange have not been challenged to date.
--Eastern Kentucky at Western Kentucky. In-state rivalry alert!

--Nevada vs California. Both off to blazing starts.
--Florida at Florida State. In-state rivalry alert!!!
--Bradley at Michigan State. I'm not sure how good either of these teams are.
--NC State at Virginia. [2.30 pm, FOX]. Important ACC opener for both clubs.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sleep With One Eye Open...

...grippin' your pillow tight." ~Metallica, "Enter Sandman" (1991)

Here is a list of surprise teams or low profile teams that are off to great starts. Butler does not count because they have even managed to crack the polls. I know that there are more undefeated teams, but most of these teams possess sterling records along with a big win or two. TBB will be keeping an eye on this group in the coming weeks.

Air Force (7-1)
. One bad half against Duke is the only thing keeping them from being undefeated. They outplayed K's boys in the 2nd half of that game. They also have chargrilled Stanford by 34 and Wake by 36. They currently have the highest offensive efficiency rating in the entire country, too.

Oklahoma State (8-0). They have not played a tough schedule, but they beat Missouri State on a neutral court. That's the Bears only loss so far.

San Diego State (6-0). Undefeated and handed Cal their only loss to date.

New Mexico (4-0). They have HAMMERED Colorado and Kansas State, but the Lobos have yet to leave The Pit.

Nebraska (3-0). Handed highly-regarded Creighton a double-digit loss, the Blue Jays' only blemish to this point.

Oregon (6-0). They took out G'town in DC last night. That probably will not happen many times this season.

Clemson (8-0). No huge wins yet, but the Tigers possess road wins at Old Dominion and Minnesota.

Purdue (6-1). The Boilers have already beaten Oklahoma, DePaul and Virginia. Their lone loss was to Georgia Tech.

Washington State (7-0). Lack a signature win, but has a road win and three neutral court wins in tow. The Cougars have a mammoth game on Tuesday when they host Gonzaga.

Western Kentucky (6-1). I am not just playing homer here. They were roasted by Florida, but have won at home over UAB and on the road at Georgia (the Dawgs only loss). Lots of meat left with SIU, Tennessee, and Nebraska still to come.

Last Night's GOI

--at Air Force 94, Wake Forest 58. Uh, AFA is good at basketball.
--at California 78, Kansas State 48. Bears are red hot, and let's cool the Huggy At-Large talk for now.
--Oregon 57, at Georgetown 50. Quack Attack is back! HUGE game at Nebraska on Dec 9.
--at Marist 84, Old Dominion 71. This is why you read TBB. Marist is a very good team that folks should follow. Plus, they are the Red Foxes. Who doesn't love a red fox?
--at Northern Iowa 70, Iowa State 57. The MVC looks to be quite deep (again) this year.
--at Oklahoma State 95, TAMU-CC 73. Sean Sutton is off to an 8-0 start in Stillwater.
--Butler 60, at Valparaiso 47. No letdown for the Dogs. There are not a lot of games on Butler's schedule that look like losses at this point.
ACC Big Ten Challenge
--at Boston College 65, Michigan State 58. This helps BC right the ship after a rocky start.
--Clemson 90, at Minnesota 68. Losing by 22 at home does not bode well for the season.
--at North Carolina 98, Ohio State 89. This one lived up to the hype. One cannot imaging these two being near the top of the seeding heap at season's end.
--at Purdue 61, Virginia 59. Purdue is quietly building a nice pre-conference resume.
--Colorado State 81, at Denver 73. It's going to be a long year for the Pioneers.
--at Memphis 86, Arkansas State 60. A-State hung in there for awhile, but it was all Memphis in the 2nd half.
--at Nebraska 76, North Texas 57. The Huskers could be the surprise of the Big XII this season.
--Nevada 86, at UL-Lafayette 74. Cajuns went 0-2 in their big games at home (Tennessee and Nevada).

Tonight's GOI
--Arkansas at Missouri. A combined record of 12-0 makes this a very meaningful game. Missouri has yet to be challenged and The Ark has exceeded expectations to this point.
--UL-Monroe at Auburn. ULM played 'Bama tough and Aubie is not nearly as good as 'Bama.
--UALR at Centenary. A road game that the Trojans and the Belt desperately need.
--Indiana State at Middle Tennessee. Trees are 3-1. This would be a nice win for MTSU.
--New Orleans at Mississippi. It will take more than Bo McCalebb to beat the Rebels.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

UAB Tangled in Spider's Big Red Web, 69-54

Wooden candidate Courtney Lee had an off night (4-11 from the field). Starting PG Daniel Emerson was saddled with foul trouble (just 9 mins of PT). Against a worthy opponent, the Tops needed a hero and they found one in a young freshman forward that they call "Spider."

Jeremy Evans is 6'9" tall...and weighs 184 pounds. He also possesses a 7'2" wingspan and was a state high jump champion in high school. His tarantula-like appendages serve him well when on the front of the press, tipping in misses, and blocking/altering shots. Last evening, Evans spun a web that netted 18 points and 6 rebs to lead WKU past UAB last night in Diddle Arena. Not only that, but he kept the Toppers afloat when they were struggling late in the first half. He scored 10 straight Topper points during one stretch.

While Evans was the solo star, the real difference in the game was the Topper depth and pace. UAB was gassed fairly early in the second half. Tied at 28 at the half, WKU ripped off a 15-2 run early in the second stanza to take a ten point lead and used another 14-3 run to put the game away. UAB wilted under WKU's fullcourt press and committed 11 2nd half turnovers.

Click here for more on the game.

Last Nights GOI
--at New Mexico 79, New Mexico State 76. This one did not disappoint. The Lobos are off to a 4-0 start.
--at Tulsa 75, Oral Roberts 57. Your love is like a (golden) hurricane.
ACC Big Ten Challenge
--at Duke 53, Indiana 51. It was not pretty, but Duke held on despite allowing Indiana to claw back from a double-digit deficit.
--Maryland 72, at Illinois 67. Terps look like a solid NCAA team to me. Their early resume is packed with wholesome goodness.
--at Wisconsin 81, Florida State 66. Badgers are so tough at Kohl. Read more from Wiscy guy Chris West.
--at Alabama 75, UL-Monroe 61. The Warhawks hung around for a LONG time in this before succumbing to the Tide.
--at Western Kentucky 69, UAB 54. See above.

Tonight's GOI
--Wake Forest at Air Force. Wake took down Bucknell at Sojka, so AFA needs to be on their game to avoid the upset.
--Kansas State at California. The Bears are off to a good start. This is a good resume game for both teams.
--Oregon at Georgetown. Let's see if the Ducks are for real.
--Old Dominion at Marist. Two of the stronger non-power conference teams in the country.
--Iowa State at Northern Iowa. In-state rivalry alert! Plus, ISU coach Greg McDermott faces his old homies. Good stuff.
--TAMU-CC at Oklahoma State. TAMU-CC is the Southland favorite, but going into Gallagher-Iba is never easy.
--Butler at Valparaiso. The Crusaders nearly clipped Marquette's wings. Bulldogs need to be ready.
ACC Big Ten Challenge
--Michigan State at Boston College. Two teams searching for an identity after losing major components from last season.
--Clemson at Minnesota. Tigers are 7-0; Gophers have lost four straight.
--Ohio State at North Carolina. Two teams with very real national title hopes.
--Virginia at Purdue. Two upwardly mobile teams that could be Bubble Boys down the road. That makes this one quite important.

--Colorado State at Denver. Both teams are off to slow starts.
--Arkansas State at Memphis. This could be the longest short trip the Indians make this year.
--North Texas at Nebraska. Two teams off to surprisingly good starts.
--Nevada at UL-Lafayette. The Cajuns took Tennessee to the wire. We'll see what they can do with Nick Fazekas and company.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


It is still very early in the season, but enough games have been played to recognize that the Sun Belt is not good this season. It is worse than last season and that is not good news for the league. Being a IA football league is supposed to lift all boats, but the Belt has added fledging programs and RPI anchors in FAU and UL-Monroe this season. In addition, Denver and UL-Lafayette look to be way down from the past few seasons and only two teams have any real early season optimism: Western Kentucky (5-1, only loss to Florida with a road win at Georgia) and North Texas (4-1, wins over Charlotte, Rice, and Tulsa). If North Texas had not laid an egg at home against TX-Arlington, they could be causing some serious buzz.

Last night, the Belt had it's worst night to date, going 1-5 on the evening. UL-Lafayette played Tennessee tough at home, but lost by ten. UALR was annihilated by Texas A&M and FIU was buried by George Mason. Arkansas State lost to previously winless South Dakota State. Troy scored a whopping TWELVE first half points on their way to a loss at Alabama State and Denver lost to Southern Utah. At least Middle Tennessee was able to defeat Belmont at home. WKU will try to continue carrying the banner when they face Mike Davis' UAB Blazers tonight. The Tops extinguished the Blazers last season in Birmingham by 16, so UAB will have revenge on their minds. Recap coming tomorrow.

Last Night's GOI
--at Syracuse 72, Holy Cross 64. It was not easy, but the 'Cuse hung on. HC is going to be a factor in the Patriot this season.
--Tennessee 77, UL-Lafayette 67. The Cajuns dug a double digit hole and climbed all the way back, but could not get over the hump in this one. Chris Lofton singlehandedly save the Vols' bacon.
--Marquette 65, Valparaiso 62. This one was tied LATE in the game.
ACC Big Ten Challenge
--at NC State 74, Michigan 67. Crazy game of runs. Michigan led by double digits early, NC State stormed back and took a 20-point lead, then Michigan rallied to make it close at the end.

Tonight's GOI
--New Mexico State at New Mexico. In-state rivalry alert!!!
--Oral Roberts at Tulsa. Cross-town rivarly alert!
ACC Big Ten Challenge
--Indiana at Duke. Always a fun game, but Dukies are in Cameron.
--Maryland at Illinois. Both are 7-0. Maryland has looked good early on.
--Florida State at Wisconsin. This could be the signature win that the 'Noles need for their resume come March. However, the Badgers are terribly tough in the Kohl Center.
--UL-Monroe at Alabama. Another tough matchup for the Belt.
--UAB at Western Kentucky. Someone will come away feeling like they have a quality win in tow.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Turkey Hangover

After fully flexing my flexitarianism over the long holiday weekend (I indulged in four turkey dinners), my food pendulum will undoubtedly swing to the meat-free side for quite some time. While indulging in the turkeyfest and subsequent turkey hangover, the formless mass of college hoops took a bit of shape.

1. Butler is full of P-NITy goodness. They rolled up a pile of good wins that will make their resume hard to ignore if they hold form during the Horizon season.

2. Florida is outstanding (see game vs Western Kentucky), but not unbeatable (see Kansas).

3. Arkansas deserves a second look as a contender for the SEC West title.

4. The ACC looks deep and balanced at this point, while the Big East looks to be down overall from last season.

Congrats to these winners of early season events:
--2k Classic (Coaches vs Cancer): Maryland
--CBE Classic: Marquette
--Preseason NIT: Butler
--Great Alaska Shootout: California
--Las Vegas Invitational: Kansas (4-0 record)
--Old Spice Classic: Arkansas
--Paradise Jam: Alabama
--Top of the World Classic: Utah State
--South Padre Island Classic: Oklahoma State

Tonight's GOI
--Holy Cross at Syracuse. If Bucknell falters, the HC is right there to pick up the Patriot League.
--Tennessee at UL-Lafayette. Dangerous game for the Vols in the Cajundome.
--Marquette at Valparaiso. Big Six teams do not make road trips like this one too often.
ACC Big Ten Challenge
--Michigan at NC State. Both are undefeated going in, so someone will suffer their first blemish.
--Troy at Alabama State. The Trojans are coming off a good showing in the South Padre Island classic (2-1 with wins over Drake and Rhode Island) and Saturday's win over Southeast Louisiana.
--FIU at George Mason. The Golden Panthers are 3-1 in their last four after an 0-2 start.
--Belmont at Middle Tennessee. Blue Pegasi are 0-4 and still seeking that first W.
--Arkansas State at South Dakota State. Indians have won four in a row after an 0-3 start.
--Denver at Southern Utah. Pioneers are licking their wounds after a recent 41-point pasting at Stanford.
--UALR at Texas A&M. Trojans have another Texas-sized task on the road.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Topper Phalanx Marches Over Towson

The phalanx was one of the most feared battle formations of ancient times. Soldiers would line up in ranks four or so lines deep and lock their shields together while pointing all spears forward. This created a wall of shields with many pointed spears protruding out in front. The opposing army's options were to either try to break the formation or find its weakness.

Last night, the Topper phalanx poked holes in Towson to the tune of 95-72. The Tops had ten players play double-digit minutes and two others logged eight minutes. There were simply too many spears for Towson to avoid. Furthermore, the Tigers' superstar guard Gary Neal was held to just 13 points (half his average coming into the game) on 3-13 shooting. WKU's star, Courtney Lee, certainly outplayed Neal in this game. Lee pierced the Tigers for 21 points and 5 rebs on 9-16 shooting including 3-6 from downtown. The Tops ran fresh bodies at Neal all night and kept him on the run throughout the entire game.

As good as the Toppers were, the weakness of their phalanx was exploited. Granted, the game was never in doubt after the Toppers used a 13-2 run to go up 22-10 with under 11 mins to in the first half, but Towson shot 16-22 from the field in the second half and most of those buckets came by getting into the halfcourt and tossing the ball over the Topper defenders. Much like the Greeks' phalanx, the weakness of the Topper army is its backside. WKU will have to shore up the interior defense before they meet the vaunted Florida Gators on Friday (Sun Sports and FOX South at 9.30 CST). I am no fan of polls, but most everyone in the country believes Florida is the best team in the land. This will be a great opportunity and important experience for WKU.

Let's hope the Topper phalanx is not countered by a Gator atomic bomb. Spears tend to be ineffective against more advanced weapons.

Last Night's GOI
--at Clemson 69, Mississippi State 66. Clemson is 6-0, but they did this last year and faded in ACC play.
--at Michigan State 66, Vermont 46. Sparty at home was too much for the Catamounts.
--at Penn 68, Drexel 49. Are we back to Old Dominion as the CAA fave?
CBE Classic
--Air Force 67, Texas Tech 53. AFA should have been left out last year, but they look like an NCAA team right now.
--Marquette 73, Duke 62. Marquette's experience and intensity were the difference at the end in a close game.
Maui Invitational
--Georgia Tech 92, Memphis 85. GT trailed by 19 early before roaring back to take down the Tigers.
--UCLA 73, Kentucky 68. UK's freshmen looked solid, but a late turnover by junior PG Ramel Bradley halted a big comeback win. UCLA should be happy, but they frittered away a 17-point lead in this one.
--Purdue 74, Oklahoma 71. Boiler fans have cause to feel good about their squad for the first time in awhile.
--at North Texas 65, Tulsa 63. IF not for that inexplicable hiccup at home against TX-Arlington, the Mean Green would be turning some heads. They have beaten Charlotte, Rice, and Tulsa already this season.
--at Oral Roberts 54, UL-Lafayette 51. Much closer than most would have dreamed.
--at South Florida 79, FIU 50. Fortunately, margin of victory does not hurt the conference.
--at Western Kentucky 95, Towson 72. See above.

Tonight's GOI
--Boston College at Providence. Old Big East rivals hook up.
Maui Invitational
--Purdue vs DePaul. The fifth-place game in Maui.
--Kentucky vs Memphis. For third place and to gather up a quality non-conference win.
--Georgia Tech vs UCLA. For all the Maui marbles.
Preseason NIT
--Gonzaga vs North Carolina. There will be a lot of talented youth on the court.
--Butler vs Tennessee. The Bulldogs have made noise, now they look to amplify it on a national scale.
--UL-Monroe at SMU. The Warhawks (2-2) have performed better than expected.
--UALR at Texas State. The Trojans need this roadie to help heal the nationally televised whipping they took at Texas Tech and the subsequent loss at Tulsa.
--New Orleans at Lamar. Bo McCalebb needs help for UNO to succeed.
--Florida Atlantic at North Florida. Someone will get their first win tonight.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Give Thanks

TBB will be in full-on holiday travel mode Wed-Sun, so I truly do not know what this blog will look like for the remainder of the week. I will try to find time to maintain the GOI, but even that may prove to be a challenge. So, let me take this opportunity to set up the Thanksgiving hoopfeast.

1. WKU (3-0) welcomes Towson (2-1) to town this evening. Gary Neal (26.0 ppg) will bring his high-falutin' game to Diddle Arena in an attempt to besmirch the Toppers' currently blemish-free resume. As good as Neal is, Towson may lack the depth to hang around for the entire game.

2. Also, to tide you over, click here for the full listing of home and away teams for this year's ESPN BracketBusters event. In a couple of weeks, I will start posting full standings for the Buster teams.

3. Looking ahead to some tasty treats later this week:
--Maui Invitational games beginning at 12 pm CST (5th place), 2 pm (3rd place), and the championship game is at 8 pm tomorrow. All games on ESPN2.
--Preseason NIT Final Four plays on Wed. as well. Gonzaga vs North Carolina and Tennessee vs Butler will be two games that feature fours teams with a combined 14-0 record at this point.
--Great Alaska Shootout and the Old Spice Classic will be in full swing on Turkey Day.

Lots more on the weekend, but there will be an update before then. Hopefully. Safe travels to all and a Happy Thanksgiving.

Last Night's GOI

--at Maryland 71, Winthrop 60. The Terps are playing well early on. They built a nice lead and kept the Eagles at bay for the entire game.
CBE Classic
--Duke 71, Air Force 56. AFA got off to a rough start, then cut Duke's lead to five in the second half, but never could quite get over the hump. Duke's freshmen delivered in a big way.
--Marquette 87, Texas Tech 72. MU looks like contender. TX Tech...
Maui Invitational
--Kentucky 87, DePaul 81. Both teams looked better than expected. But, where was the D?
--Memphis 77, Oklahoma 65. Memphis is picking up where they left off last season.
--Georgia Tech 79, Purdue 61. Purdue stayed close for most of the way, but GT's young 'uns were too much late in the game.
Paradise Jam
--Alabama 63, Xavier 56. Close game that will turn out to be a nice win for Bama when NCAA selection time rolls around.
--Villanova 89, Iowa 60. Curtis Sumpter found his groove. Iowa has a long way to go.
--Arkansas State 68, at Tennessee-Martin 63. Any road win is a good road win, especially for a team struggling early on.

Tonight's GOI
--Mississippi State at Clemson. This is a meaningful game for two teams that figure to be mid-pack in their respective power conferences.
--Vermont at Michigan State. Rematch of a great NCAA Tourney game two years ago.
--Drexel at Penn. CAA and Ivy faves go head to head.
CBE Classic
--Texas Tech vs Air Force. Both look to bounce back from their first losses last night.
--Duke vs Marquette. Fancy early season match up.
Maui Invitational
--Memphis vs Georgia Tech. LOTS of athletes on the floor in this one.
--UCLA vs Kentucky. LOTS of history on the floor in this one.
--Purdue vs Oklahoma. LOTS of rebuilding pieces on the floor in this one.
--North Texas at Tulsa. NT already has a road win over Charlotte.
--UL-Lafayette at Oral Roberts. Eagles looking to build on Kansas win.
--FIU at South Florida. FIU has won two in a row after a rough start.
--Towson at Western Kentucky. Gary Neal (Towson) and Courtney Lee (WKU) are two of better non-power conference players in the land.

Monday, November 20, 2006

WKU Depth and Chelonaphobia

I. Tops Wear Down Tennessee State, 87-69
Playing a dizzying array of bodies, coach Darrin Horn's Hilltoppers put the cement shoes on the Tennessee State Tigers in the second half of Sunday's game. TSU played the Tops tough for 20 mins, but an intensified defense and the contribution of fifteen players were too much for the wearied visitors. Thirteen Toppers scored and nine players played double-digit minutes (two others played nine mins) as WKU used a monster 25-3 run early in the 2nd half to put away the Tigers.

II. ACC foes may have a case of chelonaphobia (fear of turtles) this season. Maryland is your 2k Classic champion. After a couple of years of hiding in their comfy shell, the Terps have now taken care of Vermont, St. John's, and Michigan State in the early going. They welcome a very tough Winthrop team coming off a win at Mississippi State into College Park tonight.

III. Speaking of Winthrop, I had this to say on Friday (see post below):
--Winthrop at Mississippi State. Everyone now knows how capable Winthrop is of winning this game.
And they pulled it off. They have now played UNC-Chapel Hill to the end (lost by seven) and defeated Mississippi State in Starkville. Winthrop has had near misses in the NCAA Tourney in each of the last two seasons (Gonzaga in 2005, Tennessee in 2006). This may be their best team to date.

IV. Tonight's GOI. It's fortified with nine essential vitamins and minerals.
--Winthrop at Maryland. Is this the best team Maryland has played so far?
CBE Classic
--Air Force vs Duke. AFA has been razor-sharp early on and this is in Kansas City, not Durham or New Jersey. Big opportunity for the Falcons.
--Marquette vs Texas Tech. Good barometer for both teams.
Maui Invitational
--DePaul vs Kentucky. DePaul looked horrid in their opening two games. Then, they routed Eastern Illinois by 30. UK has not been overly impressive, either.
--Oklahoma vs Memphis. Both have creamed lesser teams in their opening games.
--Georgia Tech vs Purdue. Two teams that expect to be much improved over last season.
Paradise Jam
--Xavier vs Alabama. A couple of clubs that are likely to be solid NCAA teams.
--Villanova vs Iowa. Two teams in revamping mode after major personnel losses from last season.
--Arkansas State at Tennessee-Martin. ASU has struggled mightily early on. They did beat Bowling Green last week.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Game

Most of America cares only about "The Game" this weekend. It's that other sport with the oddly shaped ball and the one that refuses to have an undisputed national champion. Apparently, a lot folks care about the game between Michigan and Ohio State. I even hear it will be televised. There are rumors that tickets are very expensive. There are charges that this has pseudo-National Championship ramifications.

Well, I'll leave all that to the experts. Here is the good stuff in college hoops.

Last Night's GOI

--Maryland 92, St. John's 60. Maybe it actually is time to fear the turtle again.
--Michigan State 63, Texas 61. This one surprised me a bit. Maybe Izzo can do more with less.

Weekend GOI
--Texas at St. John's [6 pm CST, ESPN2]. To salvage something in MSG.
--Maryland vs Michigan State [8 pm, ESPN2]. For all the 2k Classic marbles.
--Indiana State at Indiana. In-state rivalry alert! Note to Kelvin Sampson: might want to win this one.
--College of Charleston vs Villanova. CofC is up and Villanova is adjusting. Dangerous game for 'Nova.
--Sacremento State at Denver. Both teams are 0-2 and Denver has been awful.
--Middle Tennessee vs Alabama. MTSU is ravaged by injuries. Tough game for the Blue Pegasi.
--Alcorn State at FIU. FIU hosts their own invitational this weekend.

--Wichita State at George Mason [3 pm, ESPN2]. The return game from last year's BracketBusters classic.
--Air Force at Colorado. In-state rivalry alert! AFA just ripped Stanford. Colorado was recently buried by 41 at New Mexico.
--Northwestern State at Lousiville. NW'n State will not be a pushover. Cards must play well, and they usually do at home. If this were neutral or on the road...
--Creighton at Nebraska. In-state rivalry alert! CU is a heavy favorite even on the road.
--California at San Diego State. In-state game alert! Very important for SDSU's long-term at-large hopes.
--Drexel at Vermont. VERY nice non-TV conference match up.
--UMass at Pitt. Monster game for the Minutemen. Good chance to show that they are worth of at-large and A-10 title chatter.
--North Texas at Rice. NT has won at Charlotte and lost at home to TX-Arlington. Wow.
--UALR at Tulsa. UALR looked awful at Texas Tech. Hopefully, they can right the ship here.
--Morehead State at South Alabama. Jags look to go 3-1.
--MTSU vs TBA.
--FIU vs TBA.

--Winthrop at Mississippi State. Everyone now knows how capable Winthrop is of winning this game.
--Bucknell at Saint Joseph's. The Bison desperately need a W. SJU is never an easy place to get a win.
--Northern Colorado at Denver. In-state game alert.
--New Orleans at Florida State. Tall test for struggling UNO.
--UL-Monroe at LSU. In-state game alert...another tough test for a Belt team.
--FAU at Marist. The Red Foxes are really up this season.
--Tennessee State at Western Kentucky. Early games connected to the Vegas Invitational.
--Troy vs TBA.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

900 Foot Tall Jesus

The buzz around many a water cooler this morning centers on Oral Roberts' shocking win in Lawrence, Kansas, over the highly touted Jayhawks. Now, in most cases, an upset like this is chalked up (pun intended) to an anomaly of some sort. Like, say, a sophomore named Marchello Vealy going Bonkers fruit candy from Threeland. The giant fruit just kept dropping on the Jayhawks as he drained his first SEVEN treys and finished 7-8 for the game. This from a guy who was only 1-13 from downtown all of last season. This makes one wonder if something more than statistical anomaly was at play here. Maybe something supernatural was at work for ORU; maybe it was 900 Foot Tall Jesus redux.

The namesake of Oral Roberts U. was a popular television evangelist in the 1980s. Oral Roberts founded the university in 1963, but it was not until 1977 that he met 900 Foot Tall Jesus. It was then that Roberts claimed that he had a vision of Jesus, all 900 feet of him, that told him to build a "City of Faith." Roberts opened his City of Faith medical center in 1981. Then, in 1986, Roberts said that God had told him:

"I want you to use the ORU medical school to put My medical presence in the earth. I want you to get this going in one year or I will call you home [meaning, he would die]. It will cost $8 million and I want you to believe you can raise it."
By April of 1987, Roberts supporters has sent in $9.1 million to simultaneously build this medical school and save Oral's life. But, in November, Roberts shut down the medical center and the medical school at ORU, leading to massive criticism of Roberts and accusations of financial chicanery.

So, did Marchello Vealy see a 900 Foot Tall Jesus before the game in Lawrence? We may never know. But more likely, this is ORU making good on a stockpile of talent. Ken Tutt and Caleb Green are tough, seasoned seniors with talent. Vealy had a great night, but ORU has been a good team for several years. This is merely one of those November games to savor when a lesser known, veteran club took down a powerhouse program built on youthful future pro's.

But, we are watching you, Mr. Vealy.

Last Night's GOI
--Georgetown 86, at Vanderbilt 70. Hoyas somewhat validate their lofty status with a win in a tough venue.
--at UCLA 82, BYU 69. The Cougars led by three at half before UCLA turned it on in half #2.
--Nevada 75, at Oregon State 47. No sweat for the 'Pack. They look strong again this season.
--Air Force 79, at Stanford 45. A surgical offensive performance by AFA.
--Kansas State 55, at Rutgers 41. Two middling Big Six schools looking to establish early momentum.
--at North Carolina 73, Winthrop 66. Once again, Winthrop looks poised to send some 3/4 seed into a clammy sweat on Selection Sunday.

Tonight's GOI
--St. John's vs Maryland. Let's see if the Terps are as good as they looked in College Park.
--Texas vs Michigan State. Both of these teams lost a lot from last season. A win here helps them get their footing.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

O Brother! Tops Clip Dawgs, 70-67

“Sing in me, O muse!”

The Toppers/Dawgs match up came only as a result of a clause in former WKU and current UGA coach Dennis Felton’s contract at WKU. Said contract automatically enacted a four game home-and-home series with Felton’s new school if he ever left WKU, thus instituting this current series. Both teams had high hopes going into to the third installment of the series. Both had walloped their opening opponents much like Big Dan Teague might club an unsuspecting Everett McGill at an impromptu outdoor picnic. For a November match up, this felt like big game—say, a 9,000 hectacre-lake-sized game.

Say, any of you boys smithies?
The Tops were shackled early by turnovers. They played like their legs were chained to one another. They committed 16 first half miscues which allowed UGA to get up nine more first half shots than did WKU. Both teams shot over 50% from Three, but UGA made five more field goals en route to a 43-36 halftime lead. The Tops got up two more shots than did UGA in the second half and held the Dawgs to 27% FG shooting.

I am the Man of Constant Sorrow.
And the man we are referring to is Dennis Felton. For a team to lead literally 99% of a game and not come away with a victory is painful. To do it at home in an important non-conference game against your former employer is enough to make a man choke on his gopher.

He's bona fide.
Watch lots of games this season and make a list of wing players that are better than WKU guard Courtney Lee. He is a super athlete, can shoot the Three, drives the ball, has a mid-range game, shoots 85% from the line, and plays great defense. He is for real.

Well, I don't want Fop! I'm a Dapper Dan man!
Topper F Daniel Emerson does a lot of work inside, but he carried WKU in the first half with 3-4 Three-point shooting that kept Western in the game early. He finished with 14 points and 6 rebs.

We're in a tight spot!
With 6.07 to play, UGA led 65-55 and looked to have finally put the Toppers in the noose. But, the Tops were able to dam the river and sweep the dogs away with a rush of eight straight points helped by some slippery UGA turnovers in crunch time. From there, Tyrone Brazelton tied the game with a floater, and WKU made 3-4 FT's down the stretch to pull out the win.

The sy-reen song of victory was sweet for Darrin Horn’s Hilltoppers last evening. WKU has opened the season with two straight road wins for the first time since 1953-54. I've spoken my piece and counted to three, so click here for more on the WKU-UGA tilt if need be.

Last Night's GOI
--Wake Forest 86, at Bucknell 83. Tough loss for the Bison. WF has hope.
--at Northwestern 49, DePaul 39. And I had DePaul in my preseason bracket.
--at Texas Tech 93, UALR 59. UALR backs up the Akron win with a huge dud.
--Air Force 69, vs Long Beach 68. The Falcons did get a test as predicted, but survived.
--at Marquette 87, Detroit 45. MU sent a clear message that the Idaho State game was not indicative of their team.
--at Butler 60, Indiana 55. Butler now owns wins over fellow in-state clubs ND and IU.

Tonight's GOI
--Georgetown at Vanderbilt. Good early test for the highly ranked Hoyas.
--BYU at UCLA. A lot of folks like BYU in the Mountain West this season. Tough match up here.
--Nevada at Oregon State. These are the types of games Nevada needs to keep the at-large resume in neat order.
--Air Force at Stanford. This is a nice game out West. Whoever wins makes a statement.
--Kansas State at Rutgers. Two middling Big Six schools looking to establish early momentum.
--Winthrop at North Carolina. The Eagles SHUT DOWN Iona last night 57-38.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

It's Simply November

Every year, November offers some eye-popping scores. Most of the time, it is eye-popping due to the ridiculous lopsided-ness. For example, Georgia 97-Southern U. 37 , or Illinois 80-Austin Peay 35. Other times, it is of the Big Six Upset variety, like say, Northern Arizona 75-Arizona State 71, Butler 71-Notre Dame 69, or Bradley 78-DePaul 58. Of course, the most ballyhooed results are when ranked teams getting unexpectedly beaten: Virginia 93, Arizona 90. Or not just beaten, but, well, BEATEN: Vermont 77, Boston College 63. All of this is part of the wonderful mosaic of college hoops. It is partly what makes November fun.

There are some other surprising wins that have flown under the radar and ESPN cameras that could have lasting impacts later this season. Albany's win over Bucknell is great for the Danes, but could negatively impact Bucknell's at-large resume if the Great Danes do not make good on their American East favorite role. The Am East is off to a good start at the top. Vermont is also an Am East team and they have looked good early in wins over UNO and BC. They lost to Maryland in College Park, but so will lots of teams.

UALR topped MAC favorite Akron on a neutral court in Lubbock, TX. The Trojans were picked to win the Sun Belt West, but that division looked like a scramble among four or even five pretty average teams in the preseason. Now, with UALR's win and North Texas' 18-point walloping of Charlotte on the road, those two have created some early season buzz.

Duquesne's 81-75 victory over Youngstown State has to be considered a bit unexpected due to the Dukes' 3-24 record last year and the fact that several of their players were wounded in a shooting incident two months ago. Here's to a good season for the Dukes and a speedy recovery for the wounded players who continue the long road to recovery.

These things happen in college hoops. And, prepare yourself for more of the same in the Thanksgiving tourneys. It's not unusual and it's not puzzling. It's simply November.

Last Night's GOI
--UALR 81, Akron 79. BIG win for the Trojans and for the Belt. Akron should be a good club this season.

Tonight's GOI
--Wake Forest at Bucknell. The Bison endured a tough loss at Albany. They certainly do not want an 0-2 start.
--Western Kentucky at Georgia. Both teams annihilated their opening opponents. Both teams have outside hopes as at-large teams, so they really need games against fellow potential Bubble Boys.
--New Orleans at Tulane. In-city rivalry alert!
--DePaul at Northwestern. In-city rivalry alert! Again!
--UALR at Texas Tech. The Trojans should not be taken lightly by Knight's Raiders.
--Air Force vs Long Beach. Keep an eye on this one. This is probably Long Beach's best club in awhile. The Falcons could get a test in this one.
--Detroit at Marquette. MU was taken to OT by Idaho State last night before surviving. I repeat: Idaho State.
--Indiana at Butler. In-state rivalry alert! IU vs. Butler in Conseco. Gene Hackman in character as Norman Dale HAS to be in attendance, doesn't he?

Monday, November 13, 2006

High Five

1. The Louisville Courier-Journal posted a season TV guide for college hoops games in their college basketball preview section yesterday. Who knows how long this link will be active, so my advice is to print one of these dudes. Prime hoops viewing time is rapidly approaching now that the BCS is close to (once again) making a mockery of itself.

2. To quickly pick up a Bracket Board theme from seasons past, let me once again reiterate how difficult it is to win on the road. Especially against competitive teams. See: Arizona's loss at Virginia. The Cavs were a 10-seed in my preseason bracket, so it's not totally unexpected, but 15,000+ fans certainly helped UVA open the new John Paul Jones Arena in a winning fashion.

3. Buzzer beaters are powerful events. Miami-OH was on the receiving end of a body blow by a Wright State buzzer beater this weekend. It's too early to feel this kind of pain.

4. While a parade of Belt teams went down in road games against Big Six-type opponents, North Texas scored a nice win on the road at Charlotte. The Mean Green lit it up from downtown (13-23) and outscored the 49ers by nine in each half. Charlotte star F De'Angelo Alexander suffered a miserable shooting effort (5-22, 2-13 from 3) in the loss.

5. The WKU Hilltoppers pummeled the Kennesaw State Owls on Saturday night, 96-55. Lots of Toppers saw extended action as Wooden List G Courtney Lee led the way with 20 points. True FR guard A.J. Slaughter rang up 18 points off the bench in support. Nine players logged double-digit minutes and two others played nine minutes.

Tonight's GOI
--Akron vs UALR. There are lots of lopsided matchups tonight, but both the Zips and Little Rock figure to be in the mix at the top of their leagues.
--Loyola Marymount at Mississippi State. FOX South at 7 pm CST. The Lions are probably the second best team in the WCC behind Gonzaga. Miss State is looking to bounce back from a subpar year last season. This is probably the most competitive game on the tube tonight.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Opening Weekend

It is finally here. The basketball calendar is stuffed with games for the first time in what seems like an ice age. The 2K Classic has given us some hors dourves this week, but dinner is served starting tonight. The vast majority of DI teams are in action this weekend.

I have sorted through them all and flagged many games of import. Enjoy.

Last Night's GOI
--at Michigan State 86, Youngstown State 61. The Spartans bounced back from Wednesday night ghastly performance against Brown to prevent a march of the Penguins.
--at Texas 103, Alcorn State 44. This one, uh, was not close.

Weekend GOI
--Eastern Washington at Gonzaga. Rodney Stuckey is about as good as it gets. No Adam Morrison means a different kind of Zag squad than we've seen the last two years....for better or worse.
--Hawaii at UNLV. One of the more evenly matched contests on the docket this weekend.
--UTEP vs Pennsylvania. This is a nice opening game between two solid clubs.
--Bucknell at Albany. Patriot fave vs Am East fave. This is an early land mine for the Bison's at-large profile.
--DePaul at Bradley. DePaul is trending upward and Bradley lost a lot from last season's Sweet 16 club. The Braves will be tough in Peoria, though.
--Hofstra at Charlotte. Immediate road test for a Hofstra team with CAA title and possible at-large hopes.
--Toledo at Missouri State. MAC favorite against a good MVC team. Tasty game for Nov 11.
--Marist at Ohio. The Red Foxes are the MAAC preseason darling and Ohio is a talented MAC club that underachieved last year.
--Siena at Stanford. The Saints are good and Stanford has had some problems in the early going in recent seasons.
--Arizona at Virginia. In TV Conference Land, this might be the game of the weekend.
--UAB at UW-Milwaukee. Two perennial non-BCS, NCAA teams.

Sun Belt Slate
--Troy at Auburn. Not quite the Iron Bowl, but an in-state game alert, nonetheless.
--Denver at Colorado. Another Belt team against another Big State U.
--Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma State. The Owls are new to the Belt and have a tall order tonight in Sean Sutton's debut as the Cowboy coach.
--Middle Tennessee State at Tennessee. Yet another in-state game alert for a Belt team.
--South Alabama vs UC-Irvine. Good early opportunity for a Jag win. This game is at Fresno State.
--Arkansas State vs Clemson. Game played at Old Dominion. Big game for an Indian club with some preseason buzz.
--Western Kentucky at Kennesaw State. KSU has billed this as the biggest home game in their history to date. WKU opens the season as the Belt favorite.
--Florida International at Miami-FL. In-state game alert, yada yada...
--Jacksonville State at New Orleans (0-2). UNO had a rough start in College Park, MD. They need find their groove and pick up a win here.
--South Alabama at Fresno State. USA's Part II out in Fresno this weekend.
--Arkansas State at Old Dominion. A-State's Part II at ODU this weekend.
--UL-Monroe at Iowa State. The Warhawks' first game as a Belt member.
--North Texas at Charlotte. The Mean Green will try to improve by 0.6% this they have for about 38 seasons in a row.
--Arkansas State vs Monmouth. A-State's Part III at ODU.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

2K Classic Results

Last Night's GOI
--Hampton 74, New Orleans 73. UNO had a shot at the end off a missed FT to win it, but it was not to be. Tough loss for the Privateers.
--at Michigan State 45, Brown 34. Games at this slow of a pace should come with a prescription and should be viewed ONLY under a doctor's supervision. The Spartans only got up 32 shots the entire game!!! Both teams made just 13 FG's each. Oy.
--at Maryland 81, Vermont 63. The Catamounts' blistering shooting did not continue. The Terps broke free near the end of first half and kept Vermont at arm's length the rest of the game.

Tonight's GOI
--Alcorn State at Texas. This is not the Texas team of the past couple of years, but they are still a player in the Big XII.
--Youngstown State at Michigan State. The Penguins rolled up Central Michigan by 24 last night. Any team capable of scoring 74 points has to scare MSU a little after last night's game.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tops Defeat Kentucky State, 80-58

WKU started slowly, but early substitutions sparked some excellent defensive pressure that put the Tops in the driver's seat midway through the first half. In total, the Tops forced 29 KSU turnovers and scored 32 points off of those TO's. In typical exhibition fashion, lots of players played lots of minutes, and the Tops looked disorganized at times. The glaring weakness was rebounding, as the Thorobreds outrebounded WKU 46-31. Read more about the game here.

The Tops open the regular season on Saturday night at Kennesaw State.

Last Night's GOI
--at Maryland 102, Hampton 75. The Terps put six into double figures and made 39 FT's in this lopsided affair.
--Vermont 82, New Orleans 65. The Catamounts barrelled straight into plaid by making 16-21 from Three.

Tonight's GOI
--Hampton vs New Orleans. UNO need one for themselves and for the Belt.
--Vermont at Maryland. The Catamounts may need to replicate last night's spectacular display from downtown to have a chance in College Park.
--Brown at Michigan State. Our first look at the new-look Spartans.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Season Tipoff Tonight

The beloved WKU Hilltoppers will be playing an exhibition contest against Kentucky State tonight, but four teams also play for keeps this evening. Thus, here is the first installment of the GOI (Games of Importance).


The 2k Classic
--Hampton at Maryland. Terps have been absent from the nation's elite for a couple of seasons.
--New Orleans vs Vermont. The early game in College Park. UNO tries to bounce back from their insane misfortune last season (hurricanes, displacement, broken wrists, torn ACL's, coach leaving...).

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Early Season Event Guide

Links to/commentary on some early season and holiday hoops tournaments/events. I'll probably add a few more and make this a permanent link at some point. But, this can whet your appetite for now. Some of these events tip off in less than two weeks.

2K Classic (Coaches vs. Cancer)
This one is set up for the four host schools (St. John's, Maryland, Texas, and Michigan State) to get through to MSG on November 16-17.

Basketball Travelers
They have put together six four-team sites to host round robin games.

BCA Invitational
All games are at Syracuse. The 'Cuse, St. Francis (NY), UTEP, and Penn will play a round robin.

Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Ohio State at North Carolina is the big headliner, but barring a significant shift in the cosmos, those teams will be in the bracket come March. Just as meaningful for NCAA profile purposes are:

--Florida State at Wisconsin. The 'Noles can make an early statement.
--Maryland at Illinois. Maryland has missed the NCAA Tourney two straight seasons. They could use a big start.
--Michigan State at Boston College. The Spartans can show that they cannot be written off as a rebuilding team with a win here.
--Indiana at Duke. What a start to the Kelvin Sampson era if the Hoosiers pulled off an upset in Cameron.
--Virginia at Purdue. Both teams looking to make a move upward.
--Iowa at VA Tech. Tech returns five starters and Iowa lost a ton.

Games are played Nov 27-29.

CBE (College Basketball Experience) Classic
Formerly known as the Guardians Classic, the CBE pods are hosted by Duke, Marquette, Stanford and Texas Tech. Pod winners will meet in Kansas City, MO, on November 20-21. Duke and Marquette should have easy roads, but Texas Tech will likely have to get through a seasoned Akron club. In fact, on a neutral court, I would favor the Zips. Even in Lubbock, Akron may be favored. Stanford's pod is a tossup, as both Air Force and Long Beach State reside in their section.

Great Alaska Shootout
Hofstra can get on the map in a hurry on Thanksgiving weekend. They look like the team to beat in this field.

Las Vegas Invitational
Teams will play at campus sites, then head to Vegas where the headline games include Western Kentucky vs. Ball State. Oh yeah, and Florida vs. Kansas. Not a bad November matchup, I guess.

Maui Invitational
This maybe the strongest of the in-season event fields. Oklahoma, Memphis, Purdue, Georgia Tech, DePaul, Kentucky, UCLA and Chaminade will do battle in Maui from Nov 20-22.

Old Spice Classic
This field is almost as strong as your Uncle Fred's scent after slapping on a boatload of Old Spice aftershave. Arkansas, SIU, Marist, Minnesota, VA Tech, West Virginia, Montana and Western Michigan will do battle in this Disney event. This is like a preseason Bubble Boy heaven. This one is also on T-giving weekend. Also, do NOT pull Uncle Fred's finger.

Paradise Jam
The PJAM is stacked! Alabama, Middle Tennessee, Toledo, Iowa, Xavier, VCU, College of Charleston, and Villanova comprise a meaty set of teams. Five of those eight figure to challenge for their conference titles. Games are played in the U.S. Virgin Islands November 17-20.

Preseason NIT
Regional rounds are played on Nov 13, 14, and 15, with the final four in MSG on Nov 22 and 24. The P-NIT also packs some heft and this year is no different. North Carolina, Gonzaga, Indiana and Tennessee are all in the bracket. Winthrop, Baylor, Rice, Butler, and Belmont all have the potential to score a big early season win.

South Padre Island Classic
I could not track down a good link to a bracket for this one. The field is solid with Sam Houston, East Tenn St, Wisconsin, Missouri State, Auburn, OK State, Delaware State, and Southern U. meeting up during T-giving.

SportsTime Ohio BCA Classic
Ohio State hosts VMI, Princeton, Loyola-Chicago, Kent State, South Dakota State, Alabama A&M, and IUPUI.

Top of the World Classic
This Nov 16-19 tourney includes Belt member Troy. Utah State looks like an early favorite.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Preseason Pitter-Patter

The foot pads of the 2006-07 season can be heard with clarity.

1. The MVC coaches like Creighton to win the league. SIU, Wichita State, and Missouri State are tabbed as top challengers.

2. Big Televen coaches picked Ohio State. I like Wisconsin to win the regular season, although the Buckeyes might be the favorite to win the conference tourney by the end of the season when all of the youngsters have had time to work out the kinks.

3. Games that count begin in just 8 days with the Coaches vs. Cancer. Maryland plays Hampton and the Sun Belt's own New Orleans takes on Vermont. Links to a slew of early season events are coming later this week.

4. Think the MVC is a johnny-come-lately on the hoops scene? Think again.

From the end of World War II through 1979, no league sent more different member institutions to the Final Four than the MVC.

Read the full story on Oscar Robertson and the Cincy-Bradley rivalry of yesteryear.

5. WKU's Courtney Lee is on the Wooden Award Preseason list. Forty of the fifty players listed hail from Big Six conferences.

A look at the early season and holiday hoops events are coming soon.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Preseason Bracket

It is simply guesswork at this point, but I've been tinkering on and off with a preseason bracket. After consulting many a website, Blue Ribbon Basketball Yearbook, and the Urim and Thummim, here is my opinion. Have a look at the first bracket of the season--and the only one until around New Year's. That is about the time the non-conference season wraps up. At that point, we can have a reasonable evaluation of which teams actually accomplished something before the conference slates begin.

The 1-seeds: Florida, North Carolina, Kansas. Nearly everyone is picking these three at the top of the heap. The early debate is about the 4th 1-seed. I'll go with the team that wins the Big East. Right now, I like Georgetown. They have great bigs, just like Hoya teams of yore. Pitt, Marquette, and UConn will surely have something to say about the Big East title before it's said and done.

Surprise teams: Virginia, Virginia Tech, DePaul. I am not seeing these teams get a lot of love. UVA and VA Tech return all five starters. DePaul returns four. I am a sucker for experience, I guess.

Anyway, this is mostly just for discussion purposes. I'm not going to vehemently defend any of these selections because there are no results on which to base an argument. It's just for kicks. Feel free to sound off.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sun Belt West Preview

Last season's champ (South Alabama) has shifted to the East division and the West looks as wide open as it has been recently. Let's have a look, shall we?

1. Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans (14-15, 5-9 Belt)
The Trojans were snakebitten by the injury bug last season, but they still played some of the roughest hoops in the Belt. Rebounding machine Rashad Jones-Jennings (12.2 ppg, 11.3 rpg) returns and is a likely All-Conference performer. He is flanked up front by beefy, 6'7" 252-lb Byron Ray (8.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and 6'6" SO Lekheythan Malone (9.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg). Malone has the ability to be the go-to guy this season. That trio should form a solid starting frontcourt. Rashad Moss (JC) and Brandon Nichols will provide depth. The Trojans were hampered by horrid shooting last season and they figure to be much-improved in that respect. De'Andre Eggins (7.4 ppg, .386 from Three) played on a hurt knee all season and still managed a decent FR campaign. Coach Steve Shields loves Tarance Akins' shooting ability, but he missed all but two games with a foot problem last year. Those guys will help, but there are major concerns at the point. Zack Wright (12.2 ppg, 5.8 apg, 5.0 rpg) jumped ship in the off-season and Buddy Harding saw limited minutes last season. Freshman Steven Moore will need to deliver for UALR to climb to the top in the West.

2. Arkansas State Indians (12-18, 7-7 Belt)
Coach Dickey Nutt loves his recruiting class. After a yearly questioning of Nutt's status as coach for several seasons, A-State signed him to a 3-year deal and he says it allowed him to haul in what might be his best recruiting class. The Indians have 6'8" SR F Isaac Wells (14.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) back to anchor the frontcourt. Big Theo Little (6'10", 255) returns, but he has been spot player throughout his career. ASU also likes newcomers Abayomi Ajasin, a 6-7 JUCO, and Detroit transfer Shawn Morgan. The frontcourt looks to be in decent shape, though a tad green. Senior guard Jim Jones (12.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and junior Yual Banks (7.1 ppg) were solid last season at the guard position and the Indians have added a host of talented backcourt running mates. Ryan Wedel, a 5'11" PG and Kansas Mr. Basketball, is aboard as is 2nd team All-American JUCO Adrian Banks. Chris Brown, another highly rated JUCO guard, has also been added and can shoot it. If these parts come together, A-State has the talent to make a run in the West.

3. New Orleans Privateers (10-19, 6-9 Belt)
The Privateers endured a 7th-level-of-Hell season in 2005-06. Not only was their campus and arena battered by Hurricane Katrina, but star PG Bo McCalebb (22.6 ppg in 2004-05) injured his wrist in the fourth game and was forced to redshirt. Coach Monte Towe packed his bags to assist Sydney Lowe at Towe's alma mater, NC State. New coach Buzz Williams is now at the helm to reshape the Privateers. This season, with McCalebb's return and experience guards James Parlow (10.6 ppg) and Jamie McNeeley (9.2 ppg, 5.7 apg) back, UNO may have the top backcourt in the league. C Ben Elias also had to redshirt last season with a knee injury (remember, 7th level, people) and apparently was woefully out of shape at the end of the year. Much will depend on how much the 6'10" Elias, 6'7" Jacob Manning (4.7 ppg, 4.1 ppg), and former Bob Huggins recruit 6'9" Asrangue Souleymane can provide up front. If they are serviceable, UNO could surprise people a bit.

4. North Texas Mean Green (14-14, 6-9 Belt)
The improvement has happened at a glacial pace, but NT gets a little better each season under Johnny Jones. They can improve again this year, but they will have to replace dynamo PG Isaac Hines and shotblocking C Jeffrey Simpson. They return a Sun Belt POY contender on the wing in Kendrick Davis (16.8 ppg) as well as G Calvin Watson (9.8 ppg) in the backcourt. They have signed San Jacinto JC PG Ben Bell who racked up 7.9 apg last season to fill Hines' slot. Michael Sturns (9.7 ppg) was kicked off the team during the season last year, but has been welcomed back. As with most Belt teams, the real questions are up front. Quincy Williams, Harold Stewart, Harold Edwards, Jonathan Jackson and Justin Howerton will not have to score a lot, but they do have to pose some kind of threat to keep teams honest and they must play some defense if NT is to continue their incremental improvement.

5. UL-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (13-16, 7-8 Belt)
These are not the Cajuns of the last few years. There are no proven players like Orien Greene, Tiras Wade, Brian Hamilton, Antoine Landry, Dwayne Mitchell, or Michael Southall to rely upon this season. There are an astonishing TEN new faces and EIGHT freshmen and many are homegrown boys from Louisiana. In fact, only 16 ppg returns from last season and that's if the injured Maurice Barksdale can go. G Elijah Millsap (yes--Paul's brother) was a big-time scorer in high school and will get a chance to ring it up immediately. Coach Robert Lee will be playing chemist all season to find out which newbies can play right away. ULL hosts the Belt tourney, and that is a shame for them, because this could be their least competitive team in years. Or, maybe the talented youngsters can surprise everyone.

6. Denver Pioneers (16-15, 7-8 Belt)
See Lafayette above. Mount Yemi (20 and 11) is now dormant at the college level for all eternity. The frontcourt has some veterans returning, including DeShawn Walker (13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Walker will be relied upon heavily for scoring this season. Senior forwards Antonio Porch (7.8 ppg, 4.2) and David Kummer (6.2 ppg, 3.8 ppg) have plenty of Belt battle scars and internationl JC additions Adam Tanner (Aussie) and Chris Timms (English) will help. The backcourt is much more concerning. PG Steve Wetrich (6.9 ppg, 3.4) values the ball and will need to play well, because the real experience pretty much ends with him. A host of newcomers will jockey for playing time at the 2G. JC transfer Cedric Hill appears to be the most likely candidate. This will be a much different team than the Yemi-led squads of the last three seasons.

7. UL-Monroe Warhawks (10-18, 6-10 Southland)
Let me extend a hearty Belt welcome to ULM. The 'Hawks were not a good team in the Southland last season, so the step up to the Belt could be rough on them. Twelve players on the roster will be in their first or second season of college hoops. They do have some talent in redshirt FR PG Brandon Roberts and combo G Tony Hooper (10.6 ppg). James Perkins and Lance Brasher also saw significant time at G last season. The frontcourt has veterans (Darien Bynum, Dalky Melendez), but no one who looks to be a major threat. Like ULL, ULM will need some of the newcomers to step up to compete in the league.