Originally Published: January 18, 2010

Virginia, Texas' James take home honors

Katz By Andy Katz
Sylven LandesbergAP Photo/Erik S. LesserIt's still early but give Virginia credit for being unbeaten in the ACC.

Editor's note: This edition is for games played from Monday, Jan. 11, through Sunday, Jan. 17.

Team Of The Week: Virginia

Last week: Beat Georgia Tech 82-75; Beat Miami 75-57

There's no way I thought UVa would nab this honor in mid-January.

I knew coach Tony Bennett could take a collection of players, mold them into his style and maximize the talent. But he's clearly exceeding the expectations for this squad.

Virginia was projected to finish with NC State at the bottom of the ACC. Three games into conference play, the Cavaliers are the only undefeated team in the league and looking as confident as any other squad in the conference.

Virginia isn't just squeezing out wins, either. This past week the Cavs beat Georgia Tech after the Yellow Jackets had beaten Duke. Tech then went on the road and beat North Carolina. Clearly, the Jackets are one of the most talented teams in the ACC. So taking out Georgia Tech, keeping the Yellow Jackets off the free-throw line (3-of-11) and playing an unselfish game, was no fluke.

Virginia is getting balanced scoring from Sylven Landesberg, Mike Scott, Sammy Zeglinski and Mustapha Farrakhan. But it's the defense down the stretch that is winning games.

In the win over Miami, Virginia blitzed the Hurricanes with a 33-21 halftime lead and never looked back.

That means the Cavaliers have won three games against teams that were ranked in the AP poll at one point (UAB, Georgia Tech and Miami).

Virginia is still fragile. The Cavs could easily lose to anyone remaining on their schedule. But if the home court continues to be a staple for them, then it's not unrealistic to think they can win at least six more ACC games. If they do, the Cavs would be 9-7 in conference play and right there to get an NCAA berth. That in itself was unthinkable two months ago, a credit to Bennett and to the players who believed in him like the ones who did at Washington State. The Bennett hire was questioned, only because he came from outside the region. It was never an issue about his coaching.

Other Contenders

Pitt: A road win at Connecticut and then a great comeback victory over Louisville at home, and the Panthers are the surprise team in the Big East at 5-0. They are a true contender to win the title.

Syracuse: The Orange, the original surprise team in the league, continue to roll since being clipped by Pitt. Syracuse had a solid win at West Virginia, holding on late to preserve a road victory that maybe no one else will get this season.

Michigan State: The Spartans are proving once again to be the class of the Big Ten. Michigan State easily dispatched Illinois and has already created some distance in the race with Purdue (three games).

Ohio State: The Buckeyes picked up one of the biggest road wins of the season in beating Purdue at Mackey Arena, where I thought the Boilermakers wouldn't lose. Ohio State then avenged a loss without Evan Turner at Wisconsin, taking down the Badgers in the second half to prove that the Buckeyes, maybe more than Purdue, will be Michigan State's biggest challenger.

Clemson: The Tigers pounded North Carolina to snap a 10-game losing streak to the Heels and enjoyed a worthy court-storming. But what the Tigers did at NC State, without Demontez Stitt for much of the second half (sprained foot making him questionable at Georgia Tech) was just as impressive. The Tigers didn't wilt at NC State on the road, getting off to a fantastic start to erase the issues of their being "paper Tigers" on the road.

Kentucky: The Wildcats are clearly the runaway favorite in the SEC. But holding on at Florida and at Auburn proves they can handle difficult road assignments. The Wildcats will get everyone's best shot, and Kentucky isn't being fazed in the final possessions.

Player Of The Week: Damion James, Texas

[+] Enlarge
AP Photo/David KohlNotre Dame's Luke Harangody is averaging 24 points and 10 boards a game this season.

Kentucky's John Wall seems to have favored status for national player of the year. It's hard to argue with his ability to dominate games with sensational plays.

But if the voting were held today, it might be hard to argue against Damion James as the choice.

James made a POY-type 3-pointer and then blocked a shot in the corner to lead Texas to a 72-67 win over Texas A&M on Saturday. The victory kept the top-ranked Longhorns undefeated and atop the Big 12. James finished with 26 points and 12 boards in 40 minutes in the overtime game. Earlier in the week, he scored 23 points and grabbed 14 boards in 30 minutes in a victory at Iowa State, no easy place to win.

James made the right call to come back to school since he wasn't going to be a lock for the first round. He is now having a senior year that might end up being his most memorable as a basketball player. Ask Jameer Nelson about decisions to return to school and you'll likely get the same answer. Nelson has had a solid NBA career when he's been healthy, but he'll never have a season like the one he had as a senior at Saint Joe's. The same is shaping up for James, who has a chance to win the national player of the year award and win a title.

The Rest Of The Rotation

Evan Turner, Jr., G, Ohio State: Prior to James' end-of-game play against the Aggies, I had Turner as the player of the week. He single-handedly took out Purdue on the road with 32 points at Mackey Arena, outshining Robbie Hummel's stellar effort. The win at Purdue puts Ohio State back in the conversation for Big Ten title contender. Turner is also right in step with James and Wall for national player of the year honors. This is turning out to be a three-person race. Turner has made up for lost time since his fractured back injury. The Buckeyes are 3-1 since he returned. He scored 15 points in the win over Wisconsin to complete quite an impressive week.

Trevor Booker, Sr., F, Clemson: James returned to school and can win player of the year honors. Booker has a shot to challenge Jon Scheyer of Duke for ACC player of the year honors after deciding against declaring for the draft. Booker was the more dominant big man against the heralded Tar Heels. He controlled the paint with a 21-point, nine-rebound effort against the Tar Heels. He also contributed a solid 20 points and six boards in the win at NC State.

Hassan Whiteside, Fr., C, Marshall: The 6-foot-11 center continues to be the sleeper player in the country, with another impressive performance to push the Herd to a 4-0 start in Conference USA. Whiteside scored 20 points, grabbed 12 boards and had eight blocks in the win over Tulane. That came after putting up 14 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks -- the freshman's second triple-double of the season -- in a win at Central Florida. Whiteside and his Marshall teammates have a real chance to show they're legit with Wednesday's game against West Virginia.

Scottie Reynolds, Sr., G, Villanova: Reynolds, who like James once committed to Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma, has had quite a career at Nova. He has become the big-shot guard in the country with his Elite Eight layup to beat Pitt, his play against Marquette and now his consistent play as a senior. Reynolds scored 36 points in 30 minutes, making 10 of 13 shots, 13-of-17 at the free throw line and all five 3s in the comeback 92-84 win at Louisville. On Sunday, he tossed in 27 points, making four 3s and 7 of 8 free throws in the 82-77 victory over Georgetown.

Significant Wins

Cincinnati: The home win over Notre Dame was, let's just say, a must. The Bearcats are just holding their heads above water, and a loss here would have meant even more trouble.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores are quietly putting together a run for an NCAA bid. Beating Alabama and South Carolina on the road is just two more steps. Vandy has quietly won eight in a row.

Tennessee: Cleaning up at home over Auburn and Ole Miss were necessity wins for the Vols before they get Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum back to make it eight scholarship players.

Texas and Kansas: The Longhorns and Jayhawks continue to be the standard in the Big 12 and are heading for their monster showdown on Feb. 8, unless Kansas State disrupts the entire process.

Northwestern: The win over Purdue gave the Wildcats the signature Big Ten win they desperately needed to move toward an NCAA berth. There is still plenty to do, but at least the Wildcats have a quality conference win on the résumé.

Places To Be This Week

Manhattan, Kan., Monday: Kansas State should feel like it can still win the Big 12. The Wildcats get Kansas and Texas at home, beginning with the No. 1 Longhorns on Monday night. Texas looked vulnerable against Texas A&M, which is a team that was willing to play as hard as the Horns. K-State isn't as talented at UT, so it'll have to dig deep for a similar effort.

South Bend, Ind., Monday: The Irish beat West Virginia at home. Taking out Syracuse, hardly an easy chore based on how road-tough the Orange have become, would certainly move the meter for the Irish on Selection Sunday.

Champaign, Ill., Tuesday: The Boilermakers, losers of three straight, are suddenly in desperation mode heading to Assembly Hall. The Illini looked like pretenders in the title race Saturday at Michigan State. Beating Purdue would certainly raise their profile within the league and push the Boilermakers into second-tier status in the conference race.

Atlanta, Tuesday: Clemson is as hot as any team in the ACC, but the Tigers have rarely picked up a major road win like the one they could grab at Georgia Tech. The problem for the Tigers is that point guard Demontez Stitt is questionable with a sprained foot.

Wichita, Kan., Tuesday: The Shockers are two games back of Northern Iowa in the MVC. If Wichita wants any shot at taking out the Panthers, they must win this game. For those who have never been to WSU, this is one of the more underrated venues. The atmosphere should be as good as any other on this night.

Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday: Northwestern and Ohio State are feeling good about themselves after huge wins last week over Purdue. No one would expect a Northwestern win here, but the Wildcats are now back in the tourney chase.

Chapel Hill, N.C., Wednesday: The Tar Heels can't lose three straight ACC games, right? North Carolina is hosting Wake Forest in what is arguably a must-win for the Tar Heels.

Philadelphia, Wednesday: The A-10 race is hardly over, but the two best teams appear to be Xavier and Temple. This game will decide which will take the lead in the chase for the title.

Memphis, Tenn., Wednesday: UTEP could be a real player in the C-USA title chase if it can beat Memphis at the FedExForum and end the Tigers' seemingly endless conference winning streak.

Newark, N.J., Thursday: Suddenly, the Louisville at Seton Hall game has taken on major proportions. The Cards lost two games they could have won, and Seton Hall is in desperate need of a winning streak.

Clemson, S.C., Saturday: If the atmosphere is anywhere close to what it was for North Carolina, then the Duke game should be quite an orange affair. The Tigers are one of the best home teams in America when the press is on.

Storrs, Conn., Saturday: Texas continues a difficult road week by following up the trip to Manhattan, Kan., with the game at Connecticut, a team that desperately needs something positive.

Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday: This is one of the last big-time nonconference games as Ohio State goes to West Virginia. Some of the top players in the NBA draft will be on display with Ohio State's Evan Turner and West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks.

Los Angeles, Saturday: If Washington wants to overtake Arizona State and win the Pac-10, the Huskies might have to win at USC, which has decided it still wants to win the regular-season title despite the self-imposed postseason ban.

Tallahassee, Fla., Sunday: Some of the top big men in the country will be on display as Florida State and Solomon Alabi host Georgia Tech and Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors. This is also a game with significant ACC ramifications.


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