Conference Tournaments Rapidly Approaching
Tyler Hansbrough
Tyler Hansbrough
National Basketball Columnist
Posted Feb 20, 2006


With conference tournaments just around the corner, there are plenty of critical matchups this week that could help determine tournament seedings, as well as regular-season championships.

There is a little less than three weeks remaining before March 12 and the unveiling of the NCAA Tournament bracket.

 

And, with conference tournament play just around the corner, critical conference matchups will take place almost every night, with Wednesday hanging with Saturday as the key days of play this week.

 

There isn’t any mystery remaining as to who is going to win the Atlantic Coast Conference.

 

Duke cinched no worse than a share of the ACC title (holding a three-game lead with three to play) with its 92-71 victory against Miami Sunday night.

 

And the win over the Hurricanes (their eighth in a row since suffering their only defeat of the season at Georgetown) secured their return to the top spot in the Scout.com Top 25 ratings.

 

Connecticut, which lost at Villanova (69-64) on Feb. 13, only slipped to second after bouncing back with an 80-75 win at West Virginia Saturday.

 

Glen Davis (LSU), Nick Fazekas (Nevada), Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), Dominic James (Marquette) and Courtney Lee (Western Kentucky) are Scout.com’s top players for the week of Feb. 12-18. And, in case you missed it last week, Adam Morrison (Gonzaga) and J.J. Redick (Duke) are no longer eligible for the weekly honors, in order to free up two spots for other deserving candidates in each of the remaining weeks.

 

A look at some of the week’s better matchups:

 

Monday

West Virginia at Syracuse: This is a “must win” game for the host Orange, although that could pretty much be said about each of its games the rest of the regular season. And the Mountaineers are trying to avoid a three-game losing streak that would take a big bite out of its potential NCAA Tournament – and Big East Conference Tournament – seedings.

 

Tuesday

Notre Dame at Connecticut: Coach Mike Brey’s team has won three consecutive Big East games. Of course, the competition (Rutgers, South Florida and Seton Hall) doesn’t have a lot in common with the Huskies, other than that they belong to the same conference.

Illinois at Michigan: The Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament at-large resume hasn’t deteriorated as much as Indiana’s has – but, with four losses in five games, it’s rapidly approaching that level.

Alabama at Arkansas: Both teams are coming off of critical Southeastern Conference victories (at home and over Tennessee and Florida, respectively). But this game is more important to the Hogs’ NCAA Tourney at-large hopes than it is to the visitors’.

 

Wednesday

North Carolina at North Carolina State: Two of the four best teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference hook up in a rematch of a game that the Tar Heels won in Chapel Hill on Jan. 7, 82-69.

UTEP at Memphis: Finally, a Conference USA game with the Tigers that is worth getting excited about it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be a close game.

Tennessee at Florida: Here’s another groovy rematch, this time in the Southeastern Conference. The Volunteers won the first time around (80-76 in Knoxville on Jan. 21).

Ohio State at Michigan State: Rematch of the Night, Part III. The Spartans won in Columbus on Jan. 15, 62-59.  A loss doesn’t spell “elimination” from the Big Ten title race for the Spartans (now 7-5) but it’s just “ion” short of doing so.

La Salle at George Washington: The Colonials have won 14 in a row while the Explorers have bagged seven in a row. In reality, this shapes up as the Atlantic 10 Conference’s best player (La Salle’s Steven Smith) against its best team.

 

Thursday

Stanford at Washington: Losses to Cal, Gonzaga and Arizona (by a combined 11 points) have put Stanford’s final four Pac 10 regular-season games solidly in the “must win” category to keep the Cardinal from needing to get to at least the conference tourney final to be in decent at-large bid shape.

 

Saturday

Kansas at Texas: Could someone please explain one more time how the Longhorns lost by 21 points at Oklahoma State Sunday? The hottest team in the Big 12 is playing in this game and it isn’t Rick Barnes’ crew.

Iowa at Illinois: The Illini can’t afford a loss in their final home game and still be in strong contention for a Big Ten Conference championship.

Boston College at North Carolina State: A second-place ACC finish in their first season in the conference is possible for the Eagles – assuming they can avenge an 18-point home loss to the Wolfpack on Jan. 10.

Syracuse at Georgetown: An Orange win in Washington, D.C., would do wonders in taking some of the wrinkle out of Jim Boeheim’s brow. It would enhance his club’s NCAA tourney at-large posture as well.

Kentucky at LSU: The Wildcats are still in search of a victory over one of the SEC’s “elite” teams. A victory in Baton Rouge would qualify as such.

Nevada at Utah State: The Western Athletic Conference’s best team will all but cinch the regular-season championship with a victory in Logan against a squad that beat the Wolf Pack in Reno (59-53, on Jan. 24).

 

Players of the Week

(Based on play during Feb. 12-18 games)

 

Glen Davis (6-8, So., LSU): The 300-pounder led the Tigers to a pair of SEC victories, going for 19 points and 12 rebounds in the 72-59 home win over Mississippi State and following that effort with 24 points and 11 rebounds as his team edged host Auburn, 65-61.

For the season: 18.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocked shots per game; .506 FG%.

 

Nick Fazekas (6-11, Jr., Nevada): His follow shot Tuesday night gave the Wolfpack a 50-49 Western Athletic Conference victory over second-place Louisiana Tech and capped a 12-point/15-rebound performance. Friday night, in a Bracket Buster contest with visiting (and Mid American Conference-leading) Akron, he had 24 points and 14 rebounds as his team rolled to its seventh consecutive victory, 88-61.

For the season: 21.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game; .526 FG%.

 

Tyler Hansbrough (6-8, Fr., North Carolina): The 25 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots during the Tar Heels’ 80-70 ACC win at Miami on Feb. 12 proved just a warm-up for what he did in Chapel Hill three nights later. That’s when he went for 40 points (hitting 13 of 17 from the field and 14 of 19 from the free-throw line) with 10 rebounds and only one turnover as his team came from 20 points down to knock off Georgia Tech, 82-75.

For the season: 18.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game; .607 FG%.

 

Dominic James (5-11, Fr., Marquette): The Golden Eagles opened the week with an 91-84 Big East loss at Rutgers on Feb. 12 (during which James had 22 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals). But they came back to score back to back wins over nationally ranked opponents Georgetown (57-51) and Pittsburgh (84-82) in Milwaukee as James went for 16 points, three rebounds, five assists and three steals, and 16 points, five rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers, respectively.

For the season: 15.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game; .450 FG%.

 

Courtney Lee (6-5, So., Western Kentucky): He provided the heroics, via an 18-foot jump shot with 1.7 seconds to play, during the Hilltoppers’ 74-73 Sun Belt Conference victory at Arkansas-Little Rock on Thursday. He had 16 points, six rebounds and three assists. Two days later he went for 24 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals as the team blew out Big Sky Conference-leading Northern Arizona, 79-58, during a Bracket Buster contest.

For the season: 18.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.6 steals per game; .460FG% (.413 on 3’s).

 

Scout.com’s updated Top 25

(Last week’s ratings in parentheses; records of Feb. 19)

1. (2) Duke (25-1) Next game: at Georgia Tech (Wednesday)

2. (1) Connecticut (23-2) Next game: vs. Notre Dame (Tuesday)

3. (3) Memphis (24-2) Next game: vs. UTEP (Wednesday)

4. (4) Gonzaga (22-3) Next game: at Pepperdine (Monday)

5. (6) Villanova (21-2) Next game: at Cincinnati (Thursday)

6. (5) Texas (22-4) Next game: at Kansas State (Wednesday)

7. (7) George Washington (22-1) Next game: vs. LaSalle (Wednesday)

8. (8) Pittsburgh (20-4) Next game: vs. Providence (Saturday)

9. (14) Boston College (21-5) Next game: at Virginia (Tuesday)

10. (15) North Carolina State (21-5) Next game: vs. North Carolina (Wednesday)

11. (18) North Carolina (17-6) Next game: at North Carolina State (Wednesday)

12. (19) Illinois (22-4) Next game: at Michigan (Tuesday)

13. (9) West Virginia (18-7) Next game: at Syracuse (Monday)

14. (10) Ohio State (19-4) Next game: at Michigan State (Wednesday)

15. (11) Tennessee (19-4) Next game: at Florida (Wednesday)

16. (12) Florida (22-4) Next game: vs. Tennessee (Wednesday)

17. (20) LSU (18-7) Next game: at Vanderbilt (Wednesday)

18. (22) Kansas (19-6) Next game: vs. Baylor (Tuesday)

19. (16) Georgetown (17-7) Next game: vs. Rutgers (Wednesday)

20. (25) Washington (20-5) Next game: vs. Stanford (Thursday)

21. (13) UCLA (20-6) Next game: vs. Oregon State (Thursday)

22. (17) Iowa (20-7) Next game: at Illinois (Saturday)

23. (ur) Marquette (18-8) Next game: at Notre Dame (Saturday)

24. (ur) Wisconsin (18-7) Next game: at Northwestern (Thursday)

25. (ur) Nevada (20-5) Next game: at Idaho (Monday)

Dropped out: Oklahoma (21), Northern Iowa (22) and Michigan State (24)

 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at www.FrankHoops.com



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