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NEW TGS COLLEGE HOOPS...WEEKEND WINNERS AND LOSERS
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


As the calendar turns to February, the countdown to Selection Sunday begins, with several college teams playing themselves on or off of the Big Dance "bubble." Following are some looks at which teams helped and hurt themselves over the just-completed Saturday and Sunday action in the new edition of "Weekend Winners and Losers."

WINNER: Murray State...As the last unbeaten in the country and having cracked the Top Ten, the Racers moved to 21-0 with a comfy 73-58 win at Eastern Illinois on Saturday. First-year HC Steve Prohm continues to push all of the right buttons, and the backcourt combo of star Gs Isaiah Canaan (18.7 ppg) & Donte Poole (14.7 ppg) continues to dominate the Ohio Valley. Three starters are hitting better than 50% from the floor, and MSU's overall 47.7% FG shooting tops the OVC by a good margin. Barring a complete collapse over the next four weeks, the Racers appear well beyond the point where they will have to worry about an NCAA tourney bid should they lose in the conference tourney, which opens the possibility that the Ohio Valley could become a 2-bid league in March. The Selection Committee is not likely to downgrade the OVC, either, after Murray and Morehead State's sub-regional wins over Vanderbilt and Louisville, respectively, the past two seasons.

LOSER: Seton Hall...The Pirates, who looked destined for their first Big Dance since 2006 just a couple of weeks ago, have slipped into some real bubble trouble with four straight losses, the most recent a 61-52 setback at the Pru Center in Newark against Louisville on Saturday. Combined with a 55-42 home loss to Notre Dame earlier in the week, it's apparent the Pirates are having problems on the attack. Point guard Jordan Theodore's assist numbers have been dropping rapidly in recent weeks, and foes are beginning to gang up on PF Herb Pope. Coach Kevin Willard needs some help, and quickly, from frosh such as G Aaron Cosby & F Brandon Mobley, to spark things on the attack end. With three straight Big East road games on deck, the Hall could fall off of the NCAA bubble entirely within the next two weeks and start thinking about the NIT instead.

WINNER: Southern Miss...Larry Eustachy's Golden Eagles improved to 19-3 with their impressive 78-65 Saturday win at UCF and appear to be Conference USA's best bet to get an NCAA at-large bid (although Memphis, with nine wins in its last ten games, is also lining itself up in the Big Dance queue). USM continues to get good production from its bench, as reserves Neil Watson and Darnell Dodson scored 23 and 22 points, respectively, in the win at Orlando. This week's game at Memphis looms as a real showdown at the top of the C-USA table, although in our next "Bracketology" report later this week, we suspect we'll have both the Golden Eagles and Tigers into our field of 68.

LOSER: Arizona...In this year's topsy-turvy Pac-12 race, it's imperative for a contending team to hold serve at home. Which the likes of Cal, Colorado, and Stanford have been able to do thus far. Not among that list, however, is Arizona, which missed a chance at a home sweep of the Washington schools when losing 69-67 to the U-Dub Huskies, in front of Bob Knight and the ESPN cameras, on Saturday night. It's apparent that replacing departed star F Derrick Williams (who left early for the NBA), as well as sparkplug G Lamont "Momo" Jones (who transferred to Iona), left a few gaping holes the Wildcats are not going to be able to fill this season. UA doesn't have a lot of size (though 6-6 frontliner Solomon Hill continues to battle valiantly), and true frosh G Josiah Turner (just 7.3 ppg) has not proved to be the immediate difference-maker many in the Pac-12 envisioned. Depth problems could become a further concern for HC Sean Miller after versatile swingman Kevin Parrom suffered a broken foot vs. the Huskies and will be sidelined indefinitely. Most discouraging for Wildcat backers was watching their team look overmatched physically against Lorenzo Romar's troops.

WINNER: Drexel...Every year we seem to wonder how deep the Selection Committee might be looking in a mid-major loop such as the Colonial. And while some bracketologists are dismissing the notion that the CAA could be a multi-bid league as it was a year ago, we have to ask why, with two Colonial entries having advanced to the Final Four since 2006, and Virginia Commonwealth proving very deserving of arguably the last at-large invitation a year ago when storming all of the way to the national semifinals despite having to start in one of the "play-in" games at the First Four in Dayton. This season, we suggest there might be a couple of "live" at-large candidates in the Colonial, with VCU, George Mason, and Drexel among them. We would pay particular attention to Bruiser Flint's Philly-based Dragons, who have won their last nine straight up and 15 of their last 16 to at least qualify as the CAA's hottest entry at the moment. Bruiser's team ranks in the top ten nationally in some key defensive stats (forced turnovers and points allowed) and has seamlessly been able to work last year's top scorer, jr. G Chris Fouch (14.9 ppg in 2010-11), back into the rotation after he missed early action while recovering from a foot injury. Fouch gets starter's minutes off of the bench these days, while fellow Gs Frantz Massenat (12.5 ppg) and Damion Lee (11.8 ppg) became more comfy as go-to scoring threats in Fouch's absence. Interior scoring balance is provided by punishing 6-5 PF Sammie Givens (12.3 ppg & 54% from floor). Considering early-season non-CAA losses to Virginia and crosstown St. Joe's, Drexel will probably have to keep winning to get the attention of the Selection Committee, which we expect will have some members gently suggesting that the CAA warrants consideration for an extra bid in March.

LOSER: Dayton...The pattern in the Atlantic 10 has been similar in recent years as the competitive conference schedule culls NCAA hopefuls and sends them to lesser postseason tournaments instead. While we still think the A-10 could send as many as four teams to the Big Dance this March, Dayton is now in jeopardy of not being one of them after a puzzling Saturday home loss to a struggling Rhode Island team that entered UD Arena with a 3-18 record. Such bad losses in the second half of the season can really stain an NCAA profile, and HC Archie Miller must be wondering what on earth happened to his defense that allowed the Rams to hit 53% from the floor and score 53 second-half points on Saturday. Mulligans from the Selection Committee at this stage of the season are no guarantee.

WINNER: Nevada...Although the Wolf Pack had to fight for a 65-63 win on Saturday at La Tech, it boosted Nevada's win streak to a stunning 15 in a row and has moved HC David Carter's team into serious Big Dance at-large consideration. Carter knows not to expect any favors from the Selection Committee that downgraded the WAC's only Big Dance rep, Utah State, to a 12 seed last March when many expected the Utags to be granted anywhere from a 6th thru an 8th seed. But veteran regional onlookers are suddenly paying attention to the Pack, which is close to breaking into the Top 25 and moving up the list of those "others receiving votes" in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls this week. During the streak, Nevada has won seven straight times away from Reno, including wins at treacherous venues such as Montana, Utah State, and New Mexico State, but what has insiders taking note is the composition of the lineup and a stealth backcourt featuring 6-5 matchup nightmare Malik Story (14.8 ppg), who can overpower smaller guards and also strike fear into foes with his long-range shooting exploits (he's 48% beyond the arc), and freakish perimeter mate Deonte Burton (15.5 ppg), who wows with his athleticism. Keep in mind, too, that Carter's frontliners, 6-7 former Duke transfer Olek Czyz and 6-8 Dario Hunt, both play a couple of inches taller than their height because of their jumping ability and wingspans (especially Hunt). Nevada's bench isn't especially deep, but the starting five is capable of causing all sorts of matchup nightmares for a variety of foes.

LOSER: UConn...Although we are reluctant to write off any Jim Calhoun-coached team (after all, last year's Huskies finished 9-9 in the Big East and ended up winning Calhoun's third NCAA title), this is beginning to have a look of a lost season in Storrs. Calhoun's early-season suspension (covering a handful of games) from the sidelines, the distractions surrounding the eligibility of frosh G Ryan Boatright (finally reinstated for last Sunday's game vs. Notre Dame), and the slow progress of touted 6-10 frosh C Andre Drummond have combined to put UConn in a funk, reflected in the Huskies' third straight loss on Sunday when the visiting Fighting Irish scored a 50-48 win. UConn still should be able to squeeze into the field of 68, but we have seen little hint of any capabilities of making a deep run in March like a year ago, especially without the leadership skills of departed PG Kemba Walker.

WINNER: Notre Dame...Don't look now, but the Irish are suddenly one of the Big East's hottest entries after that aforementioned Sunday win at UConn. That makes it three in a row on the win side for Mike Brey's team, which also beat top-ranked Syracuse the previous weekend. The Irish have moved into fourth place in the Big East with a 6-3 league mark, and though the loop is generally considered a bit softer than it was a year ago, the consensus among many bracketologists is that any league entry that finishes above .500 in conference play is likely to be in good shape for an NCAA at-large bid. Coach Mike Brey has done a masterful job making adjustments after the early-season injury to top returning scorer Tim Abromaitis, effectively slowing the pace as Brey reinvented his team, focusing on patience and defense (the Irish allowed only 90 total points in last week's wins at Seton Hall and UConn). Brey is getting enhanced offense from soph G Eric Atkins (12.9 ppg) & RS frosh Jerian Grant (12.7 ppg) in a balanced offensive look, although many Big East insiders suggest the real hero in this South Bend edition is bruising 6-9 jr. PF Jack Cooley (10.7 ppg and 59% from the floor, plus 8.4 rpg), who is taking on all of the "bigs" in the Big East and more than holding his own in the paint.


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