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TGS SPECIAL REPORT...WEEKEND WINNERS & LOSERS
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


Hopping around the college basketball map as we seek to identify some of the winners and losers from last weekend’s action..

WINNER: Iowa...We have mentioned the Hawkeyes earlier this season, but believe it is time to reiterate what is going on at Hawkeye-Carver Arena. And by now it has become apparent that the Hawkeyes are due to break their 7-year NCAA Tourney drought that has endured since Steve Alford’s last Iowa City edition in 2007. Instead, it is fair to start wondering whether Iowa is going to be able to make a deep run in March after another impressive effort on Sunday against Minnesota, blowing out the Gophers in the second half en route to an impressive 94-73 win. We have touted the Hawkeyes’ impressive depth all season, and that was never more evident than on Sunday when Fran McCaffery’s reserves tallied 43 points to help the cause. Iowa’s 6-5 jr. swingman Josh Oglesby, one of several interchangeable Hawkeye parts, had 17 points off the bench on Sunday while helping to provide stellar defense as Iowa locked down in the second half on Minnesota sharpshooter Andre Hollins, who scored a game-high 20 for the Gophers but was held to no field goals in the second half as Minnesota gradually lost touch. Big Ten sources have raved about the personnel combo on McCaffery’s squad, noting the depth as well as the heavy upperclassman bent of the roster, with several veterans finally coagulating into a collective force. Senior Roy Devyn Marble (16.3 ppg), a 6-6 swingman, is the featured performer, but he gets plenty of help, and the addition of 6-8 Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff (hitting 56% from the floor) adds a real marksman to the McCaffery arsenal. It is not a stretch to envision the Hawkeyes as a “protected” (1 thru 4) seed in the Big Dance, and despite no NCAA Tourney appearances in seven years, the team has some postseason experience after advancing to the NIT finals last spring.

LOSER: Oregon...A few weeks ago, nobody in the Pac-12 was thinking that a then-unbeaten Oregon could slip into “bubble trouble” by MLK Day. Think again, however, as the Ducks have now lost four in a row after Sunday’s 80-72 loss to rival Oregon State in the “Civil War hoops version” at Corvallis. Defensive issues had much to do with consecutive losses to Colorado, Cal, and Stanford, but Oregon responded by forcing 20 Beaver turnovers on Sunday. Instead, it was the “O” that became unglued at Gill Coliseum, as the normally accurate-shooting Webfoots were only 4 of 19 beyond the arc, while UNLV transfer F Mike Moser connected on just 3 of 15 shots for the evening as Dana Altman’s team shot a subpar 38% from the floor. Yes, there is still time for Oregon to straighten itself out and land comfortably on the safe side of the Big Dance cut line. But the Ducks’ margin for error is dwindling, especially in the eyes of the Selection Committee, as suddenly there is a “quality of play” issue for Oregon. That’s because the Ducks’ resume' doesn’t look as good as it did a month ago, as earlier wins over Georgetown and Illinois have lost much their luster, meaning that for now the Ducks’ best non-league wins probably came against BYU and Ole Miss. Shockingly, Oregon might instead end up as an NIT team this season.

WINNER: Air Force...No, the Falcons did not win over the weekend, losing at Colorado State. And they might not qualify for a postseason berth this season, either. But for our purposes, the Force has become a very interesting team to watch, as the Falcs have now covered their first six Mountain West games after that competitive 74-68 loss at Colorado Springs. While still running a variation of the old Princeton offense that has been employed by past coaches Joe Scott, Chris Mooney, and Jeff Bzdelik for more than a decade, the new Falcons are more apt to push the pace for shrewd tactician HC Dave Pilipovich, who has uncovered new force in soph G Tre’ Coggins, a California product scoring at a 17.5 ppg clip while hitting an impressive 50% from the floor. The Falcs (48% field goals) can still shoot the lights out and the athleticism on the roster has been good enough to split their first six conference games outright. But it’s that pointspread mark that really has our attention as the Force prepares to face Wyoming on Wednesday night.

LOSER: Georgetown...We took some grief from a few Hoya honks who wondered how we could omit Georgetown from our latest “Bracketology” projections in our most recent issue late last week. But many other Big East observers have wondered all season if the Hoyas were in a state of decline, and there seems no more question about the downward trajectory of the program after Saturday’s limp 67-57 loss to Seton Hal. That was GT’s third loss in four games and came on the heels of an epic second-half collapse on Wednesday night against Xavier, which roared back from a 13-point halftime deficit to outscore the Hoyas 51-25 in the final 20 minutes en route to an 80-67 win. The previous week, Georgetown had put forth another dispirited effort and lost by 18 at then-struggling Providence. Now the Hoyas are dogged by personnel issues, with top defender 6-5 Jabril Trawick out until further notice with a broken jaw, and thick 6-10 UCLA transfer Joshua Smith (11.5 ppg & 65.5% from the floor) on academic suspension since early January. Which has put more pressure on top scorer G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, scoring at a 17.1 ppg clip, but prone to disappearing acts such as last Saturday against the Pirates when missing all five of his triples, and backcourt mate Markel Starks has been long prone to hot-and-cold efforts. Indeed, JT III is missing the contributions of the departed Otto Porter, a reliable scoring machine who moved early to the NBA after last season. There is still time for the Hoyas (11-6 SU thru the weekend) to straighten out and land on the safe side of the Big Dance cut line, but efforts over the past couple of weeks suggest that is going to be a tall order.

WINNER: Chattanooga...We are paying attention to teams in “added” leagues such as the SoCon, whose games are listed on the boards in most Las Vegas sports books, as well as those offshore. And we have taken particular interest in the developing storyline at Chattanooga, as the Mocs have shocked regional observers with a 6-0 break from the gate in conference play that included a 71-57 win on Saturday at Wofford that has kept UTC atop the league table. Regional sources have alerted to keeping an eye on upwardly-mobile first-year HC Will Wade, who moved from Shaka Smart’s VCU staff to a job considered an excellent stepping-stone for coaches aspiring to bigger-level assignments. White has brought some of the VCU “Shaka Ball” with him to the Lookout Mountain area, as the Mocs are scoring nearly 79 ppg with a high-pressure style. The recent surge also roughly coincides with the availability of jr. G Ronrico White, who missed the first month-plus of the season as he recuperated from a hip injury. Since his contributions became more substantial in mid-December, UTC is unbeaten in eight straight games, with White scoring double digits in all of those, capped by a 28-point effort vs. Samford. Along with ex-Ole Miss football player Z. Mason, a bruising 6-6 beast scoring 18.9 ppg, gobbling nearly 10 rebounds pg, and blocking 3 shots pg, the Mocs are one of the more interesting mid-majors as we enter the second half of the season. The win over Wofford was also UTC’s fourth cover in a row.

LOSER: Ohio State...What has happened to the Buckeyes? Last Thursday’s loss at Minnesota was OSU’s third in a row, and while not exactly putting the Bucks in Big Dance bubble trouble, it is certainly threatening their candidacy for “protected seed” (1 thru 4) status on Selection Sunday. But some Big Ten observers have been suggesting since November that HC Thad Matta might be doing it with mirrors in an unbeaten tun that llasted until recently, as OSU has often struggled on the attack end after the departure of last year’s leading scorer Deshaun Thomas, who scored nearly 20 ppg in 2012-13 and could provide instant offense when needed. Matta lacks that sort of go-to scoring threat on the current roster, as the offense often bumps and grinds. What has encouraged lately are more consistent contributions from 6-8 jr. LaQuinton Ross, who combated inconsistencies in the first half of the season as he made the adjustment from valued sixth man into the starting lineup. Back-to-back 20+-point efforts vs. Iowa and Minnesota suggest that Ross is at least finding his sweet spot in the Matta offense. But OSU’s outside shooting remains sporadic, and hardscrabble sorts such as sr. G Aaron Craft (who didn’t score in double digits in six straight affairs, including the first five Big Ten games, prior to Monday at Nebraska) have their offensive limitations. Craft and the rest of the Buckeyes still play some mean defense, but without more offensive consistency it is hard to envision this team doing a lot of damage in March.

WINNER: Northern Arizona...Here’s another under-the-radar special from an “added” league, the Big Sky, whose games, like those of the SoCon, are posted on most of the big boards at the Las Vegas sports books as well as offshore. After dominating wins at Flagstaff against Eastern Washington and Portland State last week, the surging Lumberjacks have won four straight and covered their last six on the board and now sit tied with Northern Colorado atop the Big Sky table. NAU has made significant progress in its second year under HC Jack Murphy, who came to the ‘Jacks from Memphis, where he assisted Josh Pastner. Murphy, however, has roots in the region, as he followed Pastner to Memphis from the Arizona staff, and “Murph” is a product of nearby Las Vegas. He’s also the son-in-law of former Arizona and UNLV AD Jim Livengood, so his connections in the Southwest are solid. After inheriting a nearly-bare cupboard last season, Murphy upgraded the talent base considerably, adding juco hotshots Quinton Upshur, a menacing 6-5 wing with a resemblance to Michael Strahan and scoring nearly 15 ppg, and PG Aaseem Dixon, whose flowing locks remind of Earth, Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White while also delivering a charge to the offense at 13.1 ppg. Murphy also has a legit post scoring presence in rugged 6-9 Max Jacobsen (14.1 ppg), and in combination that trio is doing significant damage in the Big Sky.

WINNER: Miami-Ohio...We continue to look well under the radar and have located a true stealth entry out of the low-flying Mid-American Conference. Las Vegas insiders, however, had already taken note of improved efforts by Miami-Ohio before last Saturday’s 64-52 win at Ball State, which marked the RedHawks’ seventh straight pointspread triumph. Miami-O is not going to be threatening for any postseason bids, but is the latest example of a team truly undervalued by the oddsmakers and the majority of the wagering public. Credit, then, to second-year HC John Cooper, who has succeeded in getting Miami to control the tempo and camouflage some poor fundamentals, including awful three-point shooting (just 26.7% beyond the arc!). But the recent return to active duty of former Penn State F Bill Edwards, who missed much of the last two seasons due to wrist and knee injuries, has provided a spark (Edwards scored 24 in his comeback game vs. Western Michigan on Jan. 11). Miami is still surprising MAC insiders after losing contributors soph G Reggie Johnson and Michigan transfer G Blake McLimans during the course of the season, but Cooper has proven especially adept at fitting the remaining pieces together and getting the RedHawks to punch above their weight.

LOSER: Illinois...Every season it seems as if there is at least one Big Ten entry that begins to lose traction once rugged conference play commences. Already this campaign, aforementioned Ohio State has had its share of problems, but not as much as Illinois, which for the moment has played its way out of the “Bracketology” discussion with four losses in a row. Things do not look much better over the immediate horizon for Illinois, with road dates at Ohio State and Indiana, then home games vs. heavyweights Iowa and Wisconsin, next in the queue. Over those last four losses, the Illini have gone stone-cold from the field, converting only 86 of 256 (33.6%) shots from the floor and even worse (23 of 82, 28%) beyond the arc. Big Ten sources say top scorer, 6-4 Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice, has been playing at less than 100% after a recent hip injury, which might partially explain his recent troubles (17.4 ppg this season, but just 10.3 ppg last three and thru Jan. 22, and only 10 of 35 from the floor in those games). The Illini have fallen into the Big Ten’s second division and appeared ticketed for the NIT unless they can reverse their fortunes...and soon.

WINNER: Purdue...It wasn’t pretty on Saturday, and it was not a pointspread cover, but it was a 65-64 win for the Boilermakers over Penn State. Which, considering how many Big Ten teams are beginning to fade as the schedule gets tougher, is a feather in the cap of Purdue, which has now won three in a row including the grinder vs. the Nittany Lions. Several tougher Big Ten dates loom ahead, but regional sources have plenty of good things to say about the progress of the Riveters, especially since HC Matt Painter might finally have a post scoring threat in 7-0 soph A.J. Hammons, who has reached double digits in four of his last five games (tallying 14 ppg over that span) and now shooting 56% from the floor on the season. Though not flashy, the team is typically “Purdue tough” on defense and on the boards. And beyond the emerging Hammons are several functional scoring threats, led by the Johnson boys, Terone and Ronnie (the only DD scorers on the team), several interchangeable parts on the wings, and good depth, with ten players averaging at least 14 minutes of court time. Big Ten sources believe that continued improvement by Hammons makes the Boilermakers an unexpected candidate to move into the NCAA “bubble” discussion in the coming weeks.


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