Tennessee, Cuse's Jackson highlight past week
Editor's note: This edition is for games played from Monday, Dec. 6, through Sunday, Dec. 12.
Team of the week: Tennessee
Last week: Beat Pittsburgh 83-76
If the Big East is the top conference in the country, as the league's coaches have professed recently, what is Tennessee? The Volunteers have beaten the conference co-favorites -- Pitt and Villanova -- away from Knoxville. Tennessee must be considered one of the contenders to get to the Final Four in Houston, and it has emerged as the SEC East favorite.
Try to find two better wins than the Vols have right now. It's probably a futile task. Tennessee won the NIT Season Tip-Off on Nov. 26 with a 10-point win over the Wildcats in New York. On Saturday in Pittsburgh, the Vols dominated the Panthers from the opening tip. The game was at the Consol Energy Center, but it was as close to a home game as Pitt has had outside the Petersen Center. Yet the game wasn't nearly as close as the seven-point final margin.
Tennessee's schedule continues to be challenging, with Oakland (a one-point loser to Michigan State) up next, then a road game at Charlotte (which shouldn't be too tough considering the 49ers' struggles, but it's still on the road). USC and Memphis will visit in the next month, and a trip to UConn on Jan. 22 is also on tap. Add in the round-robin in the SEC East, and the Vols might end up with a top-five strength of schedule in March. It's not a reach to make a case for Bruce Pearl to be the coach of the year through the first two months of the season, either. He won't win the award because he'll have to sit out eight SEC games, but if there were an award for nonconference games, he'd win it.
-- Andy Katz
More teams that impressed us
Syracuse: The Orange unleashed a beatdown on Michigan State in the Jimmy V Classic that should go down as one of the more impressive nonconference wins of the season.
Missouri: The Tigers' overtime win over Vanderbilt was one of the more entertaining games we've seen this season. Mizzou has the look of a team that few will want to play in March.
Wisconsin: The Badgers swept the in-state games, beating UW-Milwaukee and then Marquette in Milwaukee. Wisconsin was in desperate need of a quality road win after losing at UNLV and to Notre Dame at the Old Spice Classic.
Washington State: The Cougars faced a must-win game when they hosted Gonzaga after losing to Kansas State. Wazzu won handily and looks like a Pac-10 contender.
BYU: The Cougars took care of Vermont in Jimmer Fredette's homecoming in Glens Falls, N.Y., then took apart Arizona behind Fredette again (33 points) in a comfortable win in Salt Lake City.
Boston College: Is this really the same team that lost to Yale? Since then, the Eagles are 7-1 and have wins over Texas A&M, Cal, Indiana, Providence and Maryland, the last of which came Sunday night on the road behind Biko Paris' career day (22 points, 6-of-10 from 3). No one could've reasonably expected this 8-2 start for first-year coach Steve Donahue.
Xavier: The Musketeers escaped with a close shave against Butler to give them some much-needed momentum.
Richmond: The Spiders returned home from a win over Arizona State to beat in-state rival VCU by 12. Richmond appears to be the new favorite in the A-10.
Nebraska: There's no way the Nebraska team that was below-average in Puerto Rico last month looked like a team that could go on a roll. Yet Doc Sadler's Huskers have won six straight, including victories over USC, Creighton and, this past week, TCU.
Quinnipiac: The NEC favorite beat Rhode Island by seven at home after taking out Lehigh earlier in the week. Beating URI could help the Bobcats in seeding if they win the conference's automatic bid in March.
Fairfield: The MAAC favorite got off to an awful start, losing three of its first four games. But the Stags went to Siena and crushed the Saints to put themselves at 2-0 already in the league.
-- Andy Katz
POW: Rick Jackson, Sr., F, Syracuse
The preseason hype about Syracuse was focused on Kris Joseph and freshman Fab Melo. But if the Orange were to choose an MVP so far this season, it could be only Jackson. He has anchored the team, mentored the youthful big men on the back line of the zone, become the rock of this team and, most importantly, their most productive frontcourt player. Jackson was dominant in Syracuse's Jimmy V Classic win over Michigan State with 17 points and 16 boards. He was efficient in making 8 of 15 shots. The Orange crushed Colgate at home this past weekend as expected, but Jackson didn't take a day off. He was just as effective with another double-double (18 and 10), his eighth in 10 games. If he keeps up this pace, he'll be a lock for first-team all-Big East status and a real candidate to be Big East Player of the Year. Fredette's 33 points in a win over Arizona was high on the list, but Jackson's performance against the Spartans was more significant.
-- Andy Katz
Jimmer Fredette, BYU: With every eye in the gym on him, Fredette handled his much-hyped homecoming in Glens Falls, N.Y., by scoring 26 points and dishing out five assists in a 86-58 win over Vermont. Then he torched Arizona for 33 and added nine boards in a 22-point blowout in Salt Lake City. Think the Cats will be happy to see Fredette in the NBA? That's 82 points in the past two seasons against Zona.
Charles Jenkins, Hofstra: Against Binghamton, he recorded 40 points and six assists. Against Florida Atlantic, he "slumped" with 32 points and six assists. For the week, Jenkins made 23 of 36 shots, 6 of 11 3-pointers and 20 of 24 free throws. For the season, he's averaging 25.3 ppg and is shooting 59 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3. He's good, folks.
Marshon Brooks, Providence: PC had a three-game week, and Brooks probably wishes it had played more. The senior swingman started the week with a career-high 33 points plus eight rebounds in a win over Brown and closed it by posting the same stat line in a win over Alabama. Wedged in between was a 28-and-10 performance in a two-point loss at BC for the surprisingly decent 10-2 Friars.
-- Brett Edgerton
More performances that wowed us
Will Clyburn, Utah: His line of 23 points, 13 boards, 7 steals and 4 assists in a 67-60 win over Pepperdine certainly could come in handy when the Utes face that daunting elite tier of the Mountain West.
Terrence Jones, Kentucky: John Calipari's latest freshman phenom didn't do a whole lot against Indiana, but he could be excused after carrying the Cats to a victory over previously unbeaten Notre Dame with his fifth double-double of the young season (27 points, 17 rebounds).
Vincent Council, Providence: Teammate Marshon Brooks wasn't the only one to shine in the 91-64 rout of Brown. The sophomore guard from Brooklyn scored 19 points and tied a school record with 16 assists.
Marshall Moses, Oklahoma State: Want perfection? Moses, who was coming off a 30-point, 18-rebound effort at La Salle, posted a career-high 31 in a 17-point win at Tulsa. He attempted 12 shots. He made 12 shots. His only blemish was one missed free throw (6-of-7).
Klay Thompson, Washington State: Thompson seems to be over whatever shooting slump plagued him late last season. In a rousing 81-59 romp over intrastate rival Gonzaga, the Cougars star contributed in a variety of ways with 24 points, 6 boards, 6 assists and 7 steals.
D.J. Cooper, Ohio: It wasn't enough that Cooper put up 29 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists and 6 steals. He also decided to hit the winning basket in the Bobcats' 67-65 win at Illinois State.
Ramone Moore, Temple: The junior guard picked a nice time to have a career game. The Owls needed a win over Georgetown and got it thanks to 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting from a guy who hadn't scored more than 16 in any other game this season.
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: After mourning the death of his uncle, Sullinger arrived from the funeral home and threw together 40 points (12-for-17 FG) and 13 rebounds in a surprisingly competitive game against IUPUI. It was the first 40-point game by a Buckeyes player in 24 years.
Scott Christopherson, Iowa State: The Cyclones won in Iowa City for the first time in eight years, and Christopherson was the main reason. He scored a career-high 30 points, including 24 in the second half of the 75-72 victory over the Hawkeyes. He shot 7-of-12 from behind the arc.
Darius Morris, Michigan: After posting 19 points and 12 assists against an NAIA school earlier in the week, the Wolverines' emerging guard proved it wasn't a fluke by scoring 19 again and contributing 10 assists and four steals in a win over Utah.
Kenny Lawson Jr., Creighton: The senior center notched career highs in points (30) and rebounds (18) and added three blocks during his team's 82-75 win over Saint Joseph's.
Scotty Hopson, Tennessee: It took a couple of years, but the McDonald's All-American is certainly putting all that tantalizing talent to good use. In his team's thorough domination of third-ranked Pitt, the junior scored a career-high 27 points and barely missed in the process, shooting 10-of-13 from the field, 3-of-3 from behind the arc and 4-of-5 from the charity stripe.
-- Brett Edgerton
Scores that caught our eye
• San Diego State 77, California 57: It also seems clear that SDSU is the top team on the West Coast. Washington certainly has a claim, but the fact that the 10-0 Aztecs already have six wins away from home, including this one in Berkeley, gives them the label for now.
• Maine 68, Massachusetts 56: The Black Bears entered Amherst 2-5. This result, combined with the 104-79 beatdown applied by Seton Hall a few days later, renders the Minutemen's 7-0 start moot.
• Sacred Heart 56, Hartford 55: One of the craziest comebacks we can remember. Sacred Heart was down 20 (51-31) with eight minutes to go and managed to outscore the Hawks 25-4 for the miracle win, decided only after Stan Dulaire hit the winning free throw with no time left on the clock. Teammate Jerrell Thompson scored five points and grabbed a key steal in the frantic final 38 seconds.
• Michigan State 77, Oakland 76: We're not here to put down the Golden Grizzlies, because they're a solid team playing a beastly schedule. And we're not even saying the Spartans played particularly bad in this one. But is it not a little troublesome that a meager performance like the Syracuse loss was followed up with a one-point win over a Summit League team?
• North Carolina 96, Long Beach State 91: The 49ers were coming off an 81-53 loss to Utah State yet went into Chapel Hill and connected on 10 3s, shot 52 percent overall and lit up the scoreboard for 91 points. Yep, we'll put this one in the troublesome category as well.
• Old Dominion 74, Dayton 71: Maybe the Monarchs should move to the Atlantic 10. ODU is 3-0 against the league's upper tier this season with wins over Richmond, Xavier and the Flyers.
• Fordham 84, St. John's 81: As with UMass, this past week sort of exposed the Johnnies, who lost to St. Bonaventure a few days before this stunner at Rose Hill, where Steve Lavin's team blew a 60-39 lead in the final 16 minutes. Let's give proper credit to Fordham and first-year coach Tom Pecora, though. The 5-4 Rams already have matched their win total from the past two seasons combined (5-51).
• East Tennessee State 63, Mississippi State 62: It appears that someone needs Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost. Sure, this will be a different team with those two around, but back-to-back losses to Florida Atlantic and ETSU won't exactly help the résumé come March. Then again, the Bulldogs will get to play against the SEC West soon.
• UNC Wilmington 81, Wake Forest 69: The Demon Deacons had gathered a bit of momentum by winning three straight, but Big Mo was nowhere to be seen during a game that the Seahawks controlled from start to finish. In a battle of new coaches, Buzz Peterson prevailed over Jeff Bzdelik.
• San Francisco 50, Montana 48 (OT): If for no other reason than to point out that an overtime game didn't manage to reach the century mark in total points. Or that the Dons outscored the Grizzlies 4-2 in the OT session. Or that San Francisco accomplished something UCLA couldn't come close to doing the week before.
• Kent State 56, South Florida 51: Stan Heath's return to Kent, Ohio, didn't go so well. Then again, not much has gone well for the former Golden Flashes coach since he left town after KSU's Elite Eight appearance in 2002.
-- Brett Edgerton
The week in quotes
• "You can slowly see him emerging as a leader. He's talking a lot more, and guys are listening. You have to earn leadership, and he's earned it."
-- Missouri coach Mike Anderson on Marcus Denmon after he scored 21 points in an overtime win over Vanderbilt while playing with a heavy heart the day after a cousin died of a gunshot wound.
• "I don't know if it is anything against Arizona, but I was able to have another good night."
-- BYU guard Jimmer Fredette after scoring 33 points against the Wildcats on Saturday and 49 against them last season.
• "Situation not looking good and I'm not feeling good ... smh worst thing ever"
-- Duke guard Kyrie Irving in a tweet, apparently referring to a toe injury that will keep him out indefinitely.
• "It's gut-check time for us. I'm as disappointed in that performance as I've been in any since I've been at Michigan State."
-- Michigan State coach Tom Izzo after a 14-point loss to Syracuse.
• "If they're wearing short pants, they can beat you. You can't play the name on the chest. You play what's inside it. It was a huge win for us, especially after the Rider game."
-- USC coach Kevin O'Neill to the Los Angeles Daily News after a win over Northern Arizona.
Observations from the week that was
• Ohio State's Jared Sullinger has had the most impressive freshman performance: Sullinger scored 40 points and grabbed 13 boards in a win over IUPUI. He made 12 field goals and converted 16 free throws in the game. In the two road wins in Florida over the Gators and Seminoles, Sullinger was a force with double-doubles in both games. If Ohio State is to get to the Final Four, it will be because it has one of the top frontcourt scorers.
• The MWC will be a sensational four-team race: San Diego State has the look of a potential second-weekend NCAA tournament team. The Aztecs are off to a fantastic start, regardless of venue. BYU dismantled Arizona and remains undefeated as well. UNLV did lose at Louisville, but the Runnin' Rebels had been impressive up to that point with wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech. And New Mexico has only one loss (at Cal).
For more of Katz's observations, see the complete post in the Nation blog.
• Tennessee is the best team in the Big East: OK, so things don't exactly work that way. But the undefeated Volunteers are now owners of two separate road or neutral-site wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh, the top two presumed Big East title contenders to begin the season. If Tennessee belonged to the Big East and not the SEC, we'd be calling Bruce Pearl's team the new conference favorite. Instead, we have this: Tennessee is the hands-down SEC East favorite and a top-five team until further notice. And Pearl -- despite the varied issues that will continue to plague this season and his career until the NCAA rules on his decision to initially mislead investigators about his infamous barbecue with recruits -- deserves an endless amount of credit for his team's performance. No team in the country has two more impressive victories under its belt, and no team seems to consistently overachieve under difficult circumstances quite like Pearl's Vols.
• St. John's will have to wait another year: Given the senior-laden lineup that Steve Lavin inherited in his first year at St. John's, some hoped the Red Storm would get to the NCAA tournament a year or two ahead of schedule. That was optimistic, to say the least. Lavin's team lost to St. Bonaventure 67-66 at Carnesecca Arena on Tuesday, and followed that performance by blowing a 21-point, second-half lead in a 84-81 loss to Fordham on Saturday night. Lavin has a fantastic recruiting class on the way, and it shouldn't be long before the Johnnies are competing with the elite in the Big East, but it's probably time to revert to a more realistic NCAA tournament timeline.
For more of Brennan's observations, see the complete post in the Nation blog.
The week ahead
7 p.m.: Oakland at Tennessee (ESPNU)
9 p.m.: Drexel at Louisville (ESPNU)
10 p.m.: UC Santa Barbara at UNLV
8 p.m.: Oregon at Virginia (Comcast)
Noon: USC at Kansas (ESPN)
Noon: Oakland at Michigan (ESPN3)
1 p.m.: UCF vs. Miami (FSN)
2 p.m.: South Carolina at Ohio State (CBS)
2 p.m.: Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (ESPN2)
2 p.m.: Cleveland St. at West Virginia (ESPN3)
2 p.m.: Stanford at Butler (CBS)
3:30 p.m.: Kansas State vs. Florida (FSN)
4 p.m.: Texas vs. North Carolina (CBS)
4:30 p.m.: Gonzaga at Baylor (ESPN2)
4:30 p.m.: BYU vs. UCLA (FSN)
7 p.m.: Iona at Syracuse (ESPN3)
8:30 p.m.: Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State
11 p.m.: Fla. St. at Loyola Marymount (ESPNU)
4:45 p.m.: Arizona at NC State (FSN)
10 p.m.: Washington State at Santa Clara
Katz on the week ahead
O'Neil: Three questions
• Can Tennessee avoid a letdown? The Volunteers played a terrific game against Pittsburgh, out-toughing a team that has made its living out-toughing its opponents. The next game on the schedule is against Oakland. On paper, the task doesn't look too daunting -- a 5-5 team from the Summit League. But the Golden Grizzlies aren't just a 5-5 team from the Summit League. Oakland gave Michigan State all it could handle before losing 77-76 on Saturday and has a legit star in Keith Benson. UT coach Bruce Pearl knows how good the Grizzlies are; he talked about it at length after the game against Pitt. The question is, can he relay that message to his team?
• How will Kansas incorporate Josh Selby? The freshman will make his much-anticipated debut on Saturday against USC. Like everyone else, I'm anxious to see whether Selby lives up to the billing, but I'm more curious to see how KU coach Bill Self mixes Selby into a Kansas team that already is playing very well. Selby is used to having the ball in his hands and gives the Jayhawks another ball handler and a guy who can create. But Self said the offense will still go through the Morris twins. It should be interesting to see how that works out.
• Can Gonzaga get it together? The Zags have tumbled and stumbled their way out of the rankings and into a 4-5 record after losing to Notre Dame on Saturday. Not many teams are on red alert in December, but count Gonzaga among them. The Zags desperately need a win over a top nonconference foe (they're 0-for-the-season, having lost to San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois and now the Irish) and will get what amounts to their last chance at a quality victory when they face Baylor in Dallas on Saturday. (By the time Gonzaga plays Memphis in February, it could be too late.)
-- Dana O'Neil
O'Neil on Texas-North Carolina
Places to be this week
Knoxville, Tenn. (Oakland at Tennessee)
Oh, to be Greg Kampe. The Oakland coach's nonconference schedule is like Gonzaga's, only way, way worse. His team has played or will play at West Virginia, at Purdue, at Illinois, versus Michigan State, at Tennessee (on Tuesday), at Michigan and at Ohio State before Summit League play mercifully begins. To its credit, Oakland has acquitted itself well, even in losses, and especially in last week's close defeats to Michigan State and Illinois. Tennessee has plenty of blowout potential, but don't be surprised if Oakland proves as pesky as ever Tuesday night.
Las Vegas (UC Santa Barbara at UNLV)
Rebounding from a road loss is never fun, but it's always easier when you welcome a team with losses to North Dakota State, Oregon and Portland. That's what UNLV will face after its loss to Louisville on Saturday, and you'd expect the Runnin' Rebels to get back on track, despite the presense of a pair of Gaucho stars in James Nunnally (21.9 ppg) and Orlando Johnson (21.4 ppg).
Sunrise, Fla. (UCF vs. Miami)
You wouldn't expect a UCF-Miami game to harbor NCAA tournament implications, but this one does. Miami would like to avoid another so-so nonconference loss, and UCF is looking to bolster a résumé already highlighted by a Marcus Jordan-led win over Florida on Dec. 1.
(Cleveland State at West Virginia)
Is Cleveland State for real? We'll find out Saturday. The Vikings have raced out to a unexpected 12-0 start, but they've achieved that record against teams without much hope of making the NCAA tournament. West Virginia has been a lethal offensive team and a poor defensive one, and the Mountaineers don't look nearly as tough as last season's Final Four team, but they'll still be far and away the best opponent Cleveland State has played to date.
(South Carolina at Ohio State)
Speaking of sneakily good teams, South Carolina is doing just fine without Devan Downey, thank you very much. Thanks in large part to the surprising play of freshman Bruce Ellington, Darrin Horn's team is 7-1 thus far, its only loss coming in a close game on the road at Michigan State. A game in Columbus is every bit as tough as that and maybe tougher, but the Buckeyes have struggled at home recently and could get a challenge from an able Gamecocks squad.
Sunrise, Fla. (Kansas State vs. Florida)
Kansas State has had a bit of a nonconference reprieve since its disappointing performance against Duke in CBE Classic, but things pick back up with a game against Florida. The Gators have had their own struggles; poor shot selection and selfish play have plagued Billy Donovan's team even in wins. UF will need Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker to harass Jacob Pullen on defense and pressure him on offense, and the frontcourt of Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin will have to contain Curtis Kelly & Co. in the low block.
Greensboro, N.C. (Texas vs. North Carolina)
Both North Carolina and Texas struggled last season thanks to indefinable problems -- point guard play, chemistry, cohesion and the like. Both teams are having those issues again this season, but there have been bright signs on both sides, good and bad wins relative to each team's schedule. Saturday's matchup is a chance for both teams to prove their trajectories are trending upward and that last season's struggles are just that.
Dallas (Gonzaga vs. Baylor)
Two teams, two radically divergent nonconference schedules and two programs that could -- for very different reasons -- use a quality win. Gonzaga's brutal nonconference slate has left it 4-5 and with shrinking at-large hopes. Baylor has beaten everyone it's played, but none of those teams counts as a marquee opponent, and this is essentially Baylor's last chance to beat something resembling a quality opponent before Big 12 play begins in January.
Anaheim, Calif. (BYU vs. UCLA)
At this point, it's hard to figure out which UCLA team you're going to get. The team that took Kansas to the wire in Lawrence? Or the team that fell to Montana at home three days later? The former can give any team problems; the latter is capable of losing in a variety of ways. In the meantime, Jimmer Fredette & Co. are rolling along, most recently buttressing their nonconference credentials with an impressive 22-point victory over Arizona in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
Paradise Island, Bahamas
(Mississippi State vs. Virginia Tech)
Thanks to some creative scheduling in the wake of guard Dee Bost's draft-related NCAA suspension, Mississippi State will play five games in five days this week before traveling to the Bahamas for this date with Virginia Tech. The Bahamas is supposed to be a vacation, but that won't be the case Saturday; the Hokies are backed into a corner, desperately in need of something that will impress the selection committee come March.
Raleigh, N.C. (Arizona at NC State)
NC State is hoping that senior forward Tracy Smith can be back in time for Sunday's matchup with Arizona. That would be good news for Wolfpack fans not only because their team has struggled with quality opponents without Smith in the lineup -- with the nadir coming in a 39-point loss at Wisconsin -- but also because Arizona forward Derrick Williams remains as tough an interior opponent as any NC State will see all season. Arizona, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from a momentum-killing blowout loss to BYU this past Saturday.
-- Eamonn Brennan
Leung on Gonzaga-Baylor
Upset pick of the week
Gonzaga over Baylor in Dallas: The Bulldogs have failed to win any of their marquee nonconference games so far this season. They are in a desperate situation. But the Zags played extremely well in the latter part of the second half at Notre Dame and were within a possession of tying or winning the game. Baylor hasn't played anyone of note so far save Arizona State at home, and that's a bit of a reach. The Bears' schedule is soft compared to the Zags'. Baylor has a formidable front line and streaky shooting guards. And the Bears will be the home team at American Airlines Center in Dallas. But the Zags usually muster a quality win in nonconference play, especially when they are against a wall. This could be the one that gets the Zags straight.
-- Andy Katz
Brennan on Cleveland State-WVU
Unbeaten roll call
Looking to remain unbeaten (14 left): Baylor, BYU, Cincinnati, Cleveland State, Connecticut, Duke, Kansas, Louisville, Northwestern, Ohio State, San Diego State, Syracuse, Tennessee and UCF.