PLAYER OF THE WEEK: KEVIN PITTSNOGLE
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Elsa/Getty ImagesPittsnogle & Co. had reason to thump their chests against the Sooners.
By Andy Katz, ESPN.com
The week was a bit light and the choices were few, so there could be arguments for who deserved the honor this week.
Putting up a case for Memphis' Rodney Carney or UConn's Rashad Anderson is fine, but neither of those guys had a game as significant as Pittsnogle's, whose West Virginia Mountaineers sliced up Oklahoma 92-68 in the Sooners' backyard in Oklahoma City.
Pittsnogle scored 25 points, converting 8 of 11 shots. Pittsnogle was 3 of 5 on 3s, but he scored more points from below the 3-point line than beyond -- a sign that he's not as one-dimensional this season as everyone perceives him to be. He also led the team with six boards.
West Virginia torched the Sooners, making 67 percent of their shots while limiting OU to 22 percent from 3-point range. The win was by far the Mountaineers' best of the season after they lost three earlier games against teams of equal value: Texas, Kentucky and LSU. West Virginia was a few free throws away from beating the Longhorns, but until it actually won one of these games, it was hard to jump back on the bandwagon.
The Mountaineers get another crack at a big-time nonconference opponent when they go to UCLA on Jan. 21. Prior to that, the Mountaineers must play at Villanova on Jan. 8, a game that should show even more about how far this squad has come since the three-game slide in late November.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: CINCINNATI
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AP PhotoDowney continued his roll in Vegas.
By Andy Katz, ESPN.com
It's time for all of those Cincinnati fans to grow up and get back to the Shoemaker Center to support this team. The whining about Bob Huggins no longer being the coach is old now and you're missing one of the better success stories of the season.
The Bearcats have won six straight since losing to then-No. 9 Memphis by 10 at home. That loss came on the heels of the one dud this season: a nine-point home loss to Dayton. Cincinnati went out to Las Vegas last week and crushed the Flyers in a payback game, winning by 18. Then, 24 hours later, the Bearcats came back to beat LSU by three.
Interim coach Andy Kennedy might not have a shot at this gig full-time, but he's putting on one heckuva audition. He has brought this team together through all the garbage going on with Huggins' dismissal and player and assistant coach defections, and put one of the more exciting teams in the Big East on the court.
Freshman point guard Devan Downey continues to make his case for Big East freshman of the year, notching 21 against Dayton and then 11 points and eight assists against LSU. Senior James White is starting to stand out as well. He had 19 against the Flyers and then another 19 against the Tigers, including two key free throws with 17 seconds left. White also hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:51 left in the win over LSU.
The 9-2 Bearcats are a product worth purchasing if you're in the Cincinnati area. Those who are protesting by no-showing will have to wait awhile to see a quality team. The rebuilding begins next season in Cincinnati, not this one.
The old Dean Smith concepts of points per possession (and offensive and defensive efficiency) are starting to take on cult status, but we need to be careful not to overdo it. Several of us have been using that formula for a long time and it can be revealing; however, it is not the be all and end all of basketball. It is one tool in evaluating teams and players that can be useful.
One of Dean Smith's books, Basketball Multiple Offense and Defense, which I read in the 1980's, sets it out pretty well and is great reading for any serious basketball fan. Moneyball was all the rage in baseball a couple of years ago, and the concept is a useful tool as well, but there is no one statistical measure for basketball, the ultimate team game. There are too many variables, moving parts and dependencies in the game to look to any statistic to tell you the whole story.
How many NCAA bids should the Big 12 get? Oklahoma and Texas are supposed to be the class of this league and they have struggled against quality competition. Texas Tech and Iowa State were supposed to be in the next tier and they both have several home losses in addition to poor road performances. Oklahoma State and Kansas are both very young. Their potential is undeniable, but how will their early-season losses be held against them? The truth is that this may be a four-bid league at best.
The Missouri Valley is the best basketball league outside of the big six conferences. The strength of this league is not in the Northern Iowas and the Creightons but moreso in the depth of quality play, which includes Indiana State, Missouri State, Southern Illinois and Wichita State.
It's not hard to understand how it has become a three-bid league in recent years, despite the lack of exposure the power conferences and other solid leagues like the A-10 have. It's the out-of-the-way college teams that help keep this league in obscurity but most basketball people have an appreciation for how good the Valley has been over the past 10 years.
For more of our experts' 3-point shots, click here.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
By Andy Katz, ESPN.com
Gonzaga at Memphis, Tuesday, ESPN2, 7 ET: The Zags' last Top 25 matchup of the season (unless Stanford somehow gets on a major roll) comes in Memphis. The Zags and Tigers probably will have this game in the 90s and produce one of the most entertaining games of the nonconference season.
Pittsburgh at South Carolina, Wednesday, 7 ET: The Panthers are undefeated. Ho-hum. Let's see what happens when they leave the city for the first time this season.
George Washington at NC State, Friday, 7 ET: This is the Colonials' last major nonconference test before the A-10. A win here and it's not too crazy to think GW could pull off a serious run through the league (along with having two ACC wins away from home on its at-large resume). NC State has quietly put together a stellar nonconference season.
Ohio vs. Kentucky in Cincinnati, Friday, ESPN2, 8 ET: The Bobcats failed in their first game against an elite team when they got blown out at Cincinnati. This is their second and final chance to build up some credits for a possible at-large berth out of the MAC. Ohio is 6-1 and a win over Kentucky would certainly look good on that resume in March.
Arizona at Washington, Saturday, 2 ET: These two schools have played some of the best games in the country the past few seasons. If Arizona wins Thursday, it sets this up one of the must-see Pac-10 games, and we're not even into January yet.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
By Mark Simon, Special to ESPN.com
Villanova has made a significant jump in the scoring column this season, with its scoring guards being the primary reason why. Junior Mike Nardi and seniors Allan Ray and Randy Foye tallied just under 40 points per game last season, but have combined to average better than 54 points a game through the Wildcats' first eight games.
The game story summarizing the school's thrashing of La Salle referenced the debate of whether Ray was better than Foye or vice versa, but no combination of guards have been better than Villanova's.
At 82.8 points per game, the Wildcats are 14th nationally in scoring. The schedule gets significantly tougher over the next three games with Temple, Louisville and West Virginia looming, but Villanova showed in its win over Oklahoma that it is rightfully ranked among the best in the country, both scoring-wise and in the Top 25.
Rocking The Rim
Indiana has recovered nicely since its surprising loss to Indiana State, which may end up serving as the turning point in the Hoosiers' season.
Senior forward Marco Killingsworth has had a monster season, putting up big numbers regardless of the opponent and living up to the reputation he set prior to transferring in from Auburn. Killingsworth has been among the most significant newcomers in the country. He single-handedly kept Indiana in its game with Duke last month, and his play the last two weeks has enabled the Hoosiers to rebound quite nicely, in both senses of the word.
• Averaging 22.3 ppg in last three games (after Indiana's loss to Indiana State)
• Ranks 12th nationally in field goal percentage (65.7 percent), helped by a 15-for-20 performance against No. 1 Duke
• Has been almost as good on the road (19.8 points, 7.4 rebounds) as he has at home (21.5 points, 8.8 rebounds)
Matchup of the week
UCLA and Stanford have met 212 times, so it figures that there are some pretty memorable matchups in their history. The two clash again on Thursday and the ranked Bruins figure to have a significant edge, although the Cardinal appear to be getting things together after a start that included losses at Montana and UC Davis and against UC Irvine.
Stanford has had the recent advantage in this rivalry, winning the last six meetings, but to make it seven straight figures to be a very tough task. The Cardinal have persevered through tough ones in the past, though, having pulled off some very narrow victories against the Bruins in the ESPN era.