Fieldhouse Confidential is a regular college basketball feature from Will Leitch, Mike Tanier and Matt Brown.
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Coming home to see La Salle basketball on the back page of the Philadelphia Daily News was like coming home to 1990.
If I was not in Mobile covering the Senior Bowl for Sports on Earth, I might well have been at the Tom Gola Arena on Wednesday, where La Salle beat ninth-ranked Butler 54-53 on the strength of 16 points by Tyreek Duren and a layup by leading scorer Ramon Galloway, who otherwise had a miserable day from the field.
Gola Arena was the only place to get a good look at the game. The highlights look like something from the ESPN Zapruder network. Gola Arena is about as palatial as the shed where they keep the rock salt for the Carrier Dome parking lot, but you would figure that there was space for a center court camera somewhere. Galloway’s layup looks like a last-second buzzer beater from East Battleblimp Regional High School, as seen on “SportsCenter’s” top plays.
The Explorers had not beaten a top-10 team since 1980. Some articles have called the Butler upset La Salle’s biggest win in 33 years, which is stretching things. The Explorers themselves were often ranked during the Lionel Simmons/Doug Overton years of the late 1980s and 90s, and they once won an NCAA tournament game. Still, the Butler upset was huge for a team that began its decline in 1992 and did not start to bounce back until a 21-10 season last year.
For a long time in between, La Salle had the distinction of being the sixth best team in Philadelphia’s storied Big Five: Drexel University began upstaging them when Malik Rose made the Dragons more than five tall engineering students in shorts in the mid-1990s. Drexel also tried to upstage the Explorers on Wednesday night, as Frantz Massenat beat Hofstra with a half-court heave at the buzzer. Massenat may have traveled before launching his shot -- heck, he may have qualified for the Olympic Triple Jump -- but it is hard to tell for certain from footage that makes the La Salle tape look like James Cameron’s IMAX Basketball. There must be better footage of these games somewhere, something Skyped or streaming or buried in an ESPN archive where the interns row triremes around vast seas of unused basketball tape, but I cannot find it. All of the high-definition cameras in America must be trained on the Pro Bowl.
If Villanova had its way, the Big Five would be renamed Jay Wright and the Blowfish, and the Wildcats got a head start on the Sound of Philly upset medley by beating fifth-ranked Louisville on Tuesday night. It was one of those nights for Louisville -- shoot 50 percent from the line against a good team, and you are going to get upset -- and a big night for a very young Wildcats team which is now 3-3 in the Big East and 12-7 overall. This game took place at the Wells Fargo Center, so footage exists which is of higher-than-“Paranormal Activity” quality.
The Big Five is still a big deal in Philadelphia. There is still a little trophy, and local papers/blogs are more likely to list a team’s Big Five record than its conference record in those parentheses we are supposed to put in our college basketball stories. Thus, when Temple defeated Penn 76-69 earlier in the week, the Owls (13-5, 2-0) had their Big Five record listed next to their overall record, ignoring the existence of the Atlantic-10, while the Quakers dropped to (3-15, 0-4), ignoring the existence of the Ivy League. Everyone ignores the existence of Drexel, even though an ever-growing number of locals now work for Drexel graduates.
But the week in Philadelphia college basketball belonged to La Salle, now 13-5, 3-2 in the A-10, and 2-0 in the Big Five, with wins over Penn and Villanova. The Explorers are 32nd in the RPI ratings, and the Galloway-Duren backcourt is the best the Explorers have had since Overton and Randy Woods 20 years ago. John Giannini’s team is strong in the paint (Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack provide a steady inside presence) and at the line. Could La Salle have beaten Butler if Rotnei Clarke was healthy? No one knows, but the typical Explorers team of years past would not have stayed on the court with Butler, with or without Clarke.
The battle for the Big Five will likely be at stake when La Salle faces Temple on Feb. 21. The way things are going, that game could also have real bubble implications. Unfortunately, I will not be there. The game takes place during the NFL Scouting Combine. (Ironically, I will be in great position to catch a Butler game.) That game will be held at Temple’s arena, and it should be important enough for someone to spring for a decent camera.
-Mike Tanier (La Salle University, Class of 1992)
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Wednesday night was one of those nights in college basketball that reminds you why you love it so much. Duke, the No. 1 team in the country, gets blown away by Miami -- not causing Coach K to run his team from 1 to 5 in the morning, despite reports -- and there were upsets raining from the sky, with Minnesota, Butler, Creighton and Bucknell going down to presumably inferior opponents. It continued a bit last night with VCU’s stunning loss to Richmond, vivid reminders that:
- There is no dominant team, or teams, in college basketball this season. (Or maybe any season.) Any team can go down on any night, and because this isn’t the NBA, those losses can cause some real pain.
- It will always be funny when Coach K is upset about something.
- Projecting the tournament every week is extremely fun, to both write and read, but probably doesn’t provide any real, useful information in the long term. Of course, that’s pretty much true of anything fun.
So, let’s go to it. Remember: The S-Curve lets you know the top team on each line, the one closest to the next seed. There are geographic and regional concerns with the seeding that must be accounted for, but we won’t worry about those until we get closer to Selection Sunday. And, as always, remember: The main purpose of fake brackets is to remind us that, sometime very soon, we will get a real one.
S-CURVE (automatic qualifiers in CAPS)
No. 1: KANSAS, MICHIGAN, SYRACUSE, DUKE
No. 2: Indiana, FLORIDA, Arizona, Louisville
No. 3: GONZAGA, NEW MEXICO, Michigan State, Miami (Fla.)
No. 4: Oregon, WICHITA STATE, Minnesota, Ohio State
No. 5: N.C. State, BUTLER, Cincinnati, Creighton
No. 6: Kansas State, UC Los Angeles, Virginia Commonwealth, San Diego State
No. 7: Nevada-Las Vegas, Marquette, Mississippi, Missouri
No. 8: Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Colorado State, Illinois
No. 9: Notre Dame, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Temple
No. 10: Pittsburgh, MEMPHIS, North Carolina, BELMONT
No. 11: Boise State, Baylor, Georgetown, St. Louis
No. 12: Maryland, Southern Mississippi (play-in), Wyoming (play-in), MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE, LOUISIANA TECH
No. 13: St. Mary’s (play-in), Iowa (play-in), STEPHEN F. AUSTIN, AKRON, HARVARD
No. 14: LEHIGH, WESTERN ILLINOIS, DAVIDSON, VALPARAISO
No. 15: IONA, NORTHEASTERN, MONTANA, LONG BEACH STATE
No. 16: SOUTHERN, STONY BROOK, BRYANT (play-in game), CHARLESTON SOUTHERN (play-in game), NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (play-in game), STETSON (play-in game)
Last Four In: Southern Mississippi, Wyoming, St. Mary’s, Iowa
Last Four Out: Kentucky, Alabama, Iowa State, Virginia
Next Four Out: La Salle, Florida State, Indiana State, Xavier,
For what it’s worth: I still think Kentucky’s getting in, somehow. Also: Eight Big Ten teams.
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State
Probables: Michigan State
Bubbling: Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa
Not Entirely Dead: Northwestern
Locks: Louisville, Syracuse, Cincinnati
Bubbling: Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame
Not Entirely Dead: St. John’s, Villanova, Rutgers, Seton Hall
Locks: Duke, North Carolina State, Miami (Fla)
Bubbling: North Carolina, Maryland, Florida State, Virginia
Not Entirely Dead: None
Locks: New Mexico, San Diego State
Bubbling: Wyoming, Colorado State, Boise State
Not Dead Yet: Air Force
Locks: Arizona, Oregon, UCLA
Bubbling: Arizona State, Colorado
Not Dead Yet: Washington, California, Stanford
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State
Bubbling: Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma State
Note Dead yet: None
Locks: Florida, Missouri, Mississippi
Bubbling: Kentucky, Alabama
Not Dead Yet: Texas A&M, Arkansas, South Carolina
Probables: Virginia Commonwealth, Temple
Bubbling: St. Louis, Xavier, La Salle
Not Dead Yet: Charlotte, St. Joseph’s, Massachusetts, Richmond
Any questions or obvious omissions, leave ‘em in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And enjoy the games this weekend.
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What to Watch
No. 13 Michigan State at No. 7 Indiana (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
For those with Harbaugh fatigue, this seemingly harmless, likely competitive college basketball game will not cure you. This is the best game of the first football-free college basketball weekend of the year, but if you’re already sick of the Harbaugh brothers Super Bowl storyline, you’re not going to avoid it in Bloomington. One reason, of course, is that CBS will be broadcasting the Super Bowl a week later. The other reason is that Indiana coach Tom Crean just happens to be married to Joani Harbaugh, the sister of John and Jim. Fieldhouse Confidential does not condone a drinking game involving how many times this connection will be mentioned. Nevertheless, it’s worth stomaching the Harbaugh hype (or, well, to just appreciate what really is an incredible story, either way) to watch a Sunday matinee between two Big Ten powers, Indiana coming off two wins over Northwestern and Penn State since its loss to Wisconsin, and Michigan State fresh off a brilliant four-day stretch in which it beat Ohio State by three at home and Wisconsin by two in the Kohl Center.
Pick: Indiana 67, Michigan State 62
Maryland at No. 1 Duke (1 p.m. Saturday, CBS)
In a wholly unpredictable season, perhaps Duke would be the biggest certainty if Ryan Kelly were playing. Alas, he’s not, and the Blue Devils have dropped two of three, including an embarrassing 40-minute meltdown Wednesday at Miami in which Kelly wouldn’t have made a difference. Duke shot a miserable 29.7 percent from the field and missed 19 three-pointers against Miami’s ferocious defense, which is a good recipe for losing 90-63. Miami is very good, but nobody is expected to mop the floor with a team ranked No. 1. Hoping to nip at Miami’s heels is Maryland, which beat N.C. State by a point last week but has lost three of five, to Miami, Florida State and North Carolina. The Terps have had a scoring problem most of the season with only center Alex Len and wing Dez Wells averaging double figures, and the 7-foot-1 Len will of course have his hands full with Duke’s player of the year candidate Mason Plumlee. Wednesday’s shocker in Coral Gables was an exclamation of Duke’s vulnerability, especially without Kelly, but the Blue Devils won’t shoot under 30 percent again, especially at home against a Maryland team that has struggled at Cameron Indoor the last several years.
Pick: Duke 71, Maryland 61
No. 15 New Mexico at San Diego State (4 p.m. Saturday, NBCSN)
One of the great things about cable’s expanded sports lineup, from NBC Sports Network to CBS Sports Network, is the ridiculous plethora of college basketball and football games available. Duke-Miami was terrible on Wednesday? Oh well. CBS Sports had a Lehigh-Bucknell thriller in which the Mountain Hawks won on the road without C.J. McCollum, then followed with a Mountain West doubleheader. It just so happens that the Mountain West may be as a deep as any conference in the country aside from the Big Ten. There’s no truly elite team deserving of a top-10 ranking just yet, but New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Colorado State and Wyoming are all potential top-25 teams. New Mexico sits alone atop the league standings with a 4-0 record, while nobody else has lost fewer than two as the Mountain West beats up on itself like you’d normally expect the ACC and Big East to do. The Lobos beat Boise State, UNLV and Colorado State by five points each, while San Diego State dropped back-to-back games to UNLV and Wyoming last week and is looking to get back on track. If you like guard play, San Diego State is the team for you, as Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames lead one of the best groups in America.
Pick: San Diego State 75, New Mexico 70
No. 5 Louisville at Georgetown (Noon Saturday, ESPN)
Based purely on the subjective notion of watchability, there are two teams I’d rather watch than anyone else in America. One is Trey Burke’s Michigan Wolverines. The other is Russ Smith’s Louisville Cardinals. Michigan, of course, is much more than just Burke, but he in particular is one of the best and most exciting players in the country. The same goes for Louisville, which is a deep and talented team featuring Peyton Siva, Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock and Gorgui Dieng. But nobody is quite as entertaining -- if not occasionally maddening -- than Smith, the 6-foot-1 guard nicknamed Russdiculous, who, in his last four games, has scored 23 and 25 points in two and shot 2-of-13 from the field in the other two. There are good days and bad days for one of the nation’s best players, and the same goes for a Louisville team that has suddenly dropped back-to-back games to Syracuse and Villanova since rising atop the polls. Going on the road in the Big East is never easy, and Georgetown did start off with a brilliant nonconference season, but the Hoyas are just 3-3 in conference play with a terrible loss to South Florida. This is the type of game Louisville needs to win.
Pick: Louisville 61, Georgetown 54
North Carolina at No. 18 N.C. State (7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)
Don’t look now, but there’s North Carolina beating Florida State on the road, beating Maryland and Georgia Tech at home, finally starting to look like a legitimate UNC team. OK, so none of those wins are anything to get truly excited about, but it’s a start for a young Tar Heels squad that lost three nonconference games and its first two ACC games. They lost four of their top five scorers from last year, but they appear to be trending upward now, setting up a pivotal game Saturday in Raleigh. N.C. State is loaded with talent, but the Wolfpack have thrown away their apparent momentum after beating Duke, losing to Maryland and Wake Forest -- by a total of three points -- in two of their last three games. The ACC is a winnable league, and N.C. State is still as well equipped as anyone to win it. North Carolina, meanwhile, could use a big road win as it tries to solidify a place in the NCAA tournament.
Pick: N.C. State 82, North Carolina 77