College Hoops Extra: Week 9

Opening Tip
The player you should be watching
Harold Reynolds likes to talk on "Baseball Tonight" about how the occasional seat on the bench can lend some much needed perspective, and that applies to all sports.

Arizona senior guard Salim Stoudamire took an involuntary one-game leave after being suspended in mid-December for what was termed as repeated negative behavior. Statistically speaking, it looks like any message delivered by Lute Olson was well-received.

In 14 games since sitting, Stoudamire's numbers are up across the board. Stoudamire already was well-established as one of the game's best perimeter shooters, but he has also succeeded in getting to the free throw line more, where he is virtually automatic.

In his first eight contests, Stoudamire took less than two free throws per contest. In his next 14, he has gotten to the stripe 5.5 times per night.

Rocking the Rim
Spotlight on team trends
Pacific is ranked in the polls for the first time since they made one appearance at 16th in the last UPI poll of the season back in 1966-1967, riding a 14-game win streak and a 25-game Big West win streak.

Pacific has succeeded by doing something that is a lost art -- defending without fouling. The difference between wins and losses for the Tigers hasn't necessarily been the team's terrific shooting from the field (better than 50 percent for the season) or its rebounding edge.

Pacific has won because it gets to the foul line and its opponents do not. The Tigers get an average of nine more free throw attempts per contest, and it makes a difference.
Whether or not they'll be able to maintain these kinds of numbers against the tougher competition they'll see in the NCAA Tournament could determine whether they are a pretender or a contender.

Matchup note of the week
A closer look at key games
Pull up a chair on Saturday, kick back and enjoy Rivalry Saturday as the ESPN family of networks televises eight games that fit the bill.

Here's what to check out on each of them:

Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has won three of the last four meetings with Notre Dame. Chris Thomas had a huge game in defeat for Notre Dame the last time the two teams met in Pittsburgh, on January 12 (Pitt won, 74-71). Thomas had 29 points (seven 3-pointers) and nine assists.

Ball State at Buffalo
Ball State has won 7 of the 10 meetings between the two teams. The rivalry dates back to the 1958-59 season, but the two have only met regularly since the 1998-99 campaign.

Richmond at George Washington
Richmond entered the week on a five-game win streak (since snapped by La Salle), a streak that began with a 70-59 win over GW on Jan. 22. Richmond has won seven of the last nine meetings between the two teams.

Austin Peay at Murray State
This is a rematch of last season's Ohio Valley Conference championship game, and is the first meeting between the two since that contest. Murray State won that game, 66-60, snapping Austin Peay's 24-game OVC win streak.

Michigan State at Michigan
Michigan State has won 11 of the last 12 meetings, including a 64-53 triumph on January 27 (Maurice Ager scored 18 points, Michigan committed 23 turnovers).

VCU at Old Dominion
Virginia Commonwealth has won the last 10 meetings between the two schools, but eight of those games have been decided by single digits.

Creighton at Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois has won three straight against Creighton, with neither team reaching the 70-point mark in any of those games. Southern Illinois won the first meeting this season, 69-63 on January 9, behind 15 points from Darren Brooks.

Duke at Maryland
Duke is 99-57 all-time against Maryland, and trying for its 100th win against the Terrapins, who beat Duke, 75-66 on January 26 (Nik Caner-Medley: 25 points). Maryland hasn't swept Duke in regular-season play since the 1994-95 season.

Shelden Williams has 3 straight double-doubles against the Terrapins, tallying 47 points and 37 rebounds in that stretch.

In the bonus
A look at some of college basketball's hidden gems
Tucked away in the snowy confines of western New York sits one of the nation's best basketball teams. It's just that the rest of the world doesn't know it yet.

The St. John Fisher Cardinals, who compete in NCAA Division III, are the nation's 'other' unbeaten, representing all of the other four-year colleges playing men's basketball in the United States.

St. John Fisher is 21-0 heading into Thursday, leads its league, the Empire 8, and is ranked No. 5 nationally in the most recent D3hoops.com Top 25 (the equivalent to the Division I polls). It's also working on a 36-game regular-season home winning streak.

Located in Pittsford, N.Y., just a few miles outside of Rochester, St. John Fisher's roster of basketball grads includes one prominent Division I name -- Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt.

Head coach Rob Kornaker's team has dominated defensively, holding opponents to a Division III-best 35.4 percent shooting from the field, and winning all but one game by at least 11 points. The Cardinals have eight players averaging better than five points per game, which makes them, and an offense that scores a lot in transition, hard for most opponents to defend.

"That (35.4 percent) is a stat that makes me proud," Kornaker said. "That's the most important reason why we're winning."

Senior swingman Jeff Sidney leads the team in scoring at 14 points-per-game, with point guard Sean O'Brien right behind him at 13.5 along with 4.8 assists. Division III is a haven for many inspirational student-athlete stories, and the Cardinals have a good one in backup center Corey Hepburn, who despite being blind in one eye, makes an impact, playing eight minutes per game. He'll graduate in May and hopes to become an English teacher.

There may not be a lot of similarities to the more-well known unbeaten -- there are no players on athletic scholarships readying themselves for the NBA -- but that didn't stop one fan from bringing a sign to the team's last home game that read "Bring on Illinois."

Kornaker and his team have been watching ESPN together a decent amount recently. They talked together about the difficulty of winning on the road as they watched Notre Dame topple previously unblemished Boston College and Illinois squeak past Michigan.
One subject was whether the pressure of being unbeaten was getting to the team. One of Kornaker's assistants said it was time for their guys to believe that they are the best team in the country. Well, at least the best, other than Illinois.

"I can tell you that we're not ready for them," Kornaker said with a laugh.

Mark Simon is a researcher for ESPN's college basketball coverage and "Baseball Tonight."