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February 12, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Wednesday, February 12th, 2003

by Michael Ermitage

I voted for Louisville as the top team in the Hoopville Top 25 poll this week. Why? Why not? The Cardinals are the only team in the nation with just one loss. They routinely clobber weaker teams in Conference USA and I figure if Miami can ascend to the top in college football, why not Louisville in college basketball. Besides, no other team in the nation has really solidified itself as the nation’s top club. And don’t say Arizona, who skims by mediocre teams displaying the interest level of a supermodel confronted by Carrot Top.

But wait, there is one other team that has staked claim to being the best team in the nation and that’s Louisville’s state-mate Kentucky. The Wildcats are hotter than Jambalaya, winning 13 consecutive games including nine in the rugged SEC. This streak includes Tuesday’s night’s spanking of Georgia. The Wildcats dominated Hoopville’s 22nd rated team, 87-67. It was finished almost as soon as it started. Kentucky built a 12-point halftime lead, struggling a bit offensively against Georgia’s zone defense. But the catalyst for Kentucky’s amazing streak – defense – keyed the Wildcats yet again. The Bulldogs, who entered the game as the SEC’s leading offensive club, managed just 30 points at halftime. They finished the game shooting 43 percent and a woeful 14 percent from three-point range.

The victory moved the Wildcats’ record to 8-1 against ranked opponents. The only loss – Louisville. The Cardinals are also the last team to beat the Wildcats hence me ranking Kentucky number two in the Hoopville poll. To me, there is no debate to the top two teams in the country. And who are the others outside of the lackadaisical Arizona Wildcats to garner first-place votes? There’s 16-4 Oklahoma, whose offense is sickly, and who already dropped a game to Texas this week. And lo and behold, someone voted Creighton number one. Creighton? They’re good but I’ve got one word for them – Evansville. The chances of Creighton winning the NCAA tournament are about as likely as Joe Millionaire’s Evan Wallace joining MENSA.

Side Dishes

Kansas keeps on rolling: It is hard to believe but Roy Williams’ Kansas squad seems to be flying under the radar this season. A slow start to the season scared away the usual media throng following around the Jayhawks. But the team has rebounded, thrashing Baylor Tuesday night, 79-58, to move to 18-5. Kansas chimed in at number eight in the Hoopville Top 25 this week. However, they still find themselves behind conference co-leaders Texas and Oklahoma in the rankings. Strange since Kansas topped Texas previously this season.

Anonymous Big Ten: Tuesday night featured a pivotal Big Ten matchup between Michigan State and Wisconsin. The question is, however, does anybody care? Both squads entered the game unranked. In fact, only one Big Ten is ranked in the Hoopville Top 25 – third place Illinois at Number 15 . . . go figure. It seems the Big Ten is getting little national respect this season as the conference lacks a dominant team. In Tuesday night’s matchup, Wisconsin held off Michigan State, 64-53, to move within a half-game of conference co-leaders Purdue and Michigan. The loss places Michigan State firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Spartans are just 13-9 and 5-5 in the Big Ten. Michigan State’s RPI ranking is in the mid-30s, which should serve them well come Selection Sunday.

The Big Ten may actually get six teams in the Tournament. Consider that Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin seem to be locks. Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota are in place to secure bids in the next couple of weeks. Also, Michigan, who is currently tied for first place in the conference, is ineligible for the NCAA tournament and thus won’t be selected. However, if the Wolverines had not self-imposed the penalty, the Big Ten could easily be sending seven teams to “the dance.” Certainly an impressive feat. However, will any of them make the Sweet 16 . . .

Woman enough for the job: It is about time. For the first time in men’s college basketball history, a woman will be coaching a Division-I team. Teresa Phillips will take over at Tennessee State for the team’s Thursday night contest against Austin Peay. Tennessee State is the school that first employed Nolan Richardson III before he decided it was a good idea to pass on the crowbar and take his pistol to intimidate and threaten an assistant coach. Upon his firing, the University hired Hosea Lewis as interim coach. Lewis then saw his team get into a nasty brawl with Eastern Kentucky in which 19 players were ejected. Phillips, the athletic director for the team, suspended Lewis and decided to take over the reigns herself for one game. Good luck to her.

Tonight’s Menu:

• Beware of the letdown! Eleventh-ranked Marquette and second-ranked Louisville meet in a huge game on Saturday afternoon. But before the two CUSA powerhouses matchup in Milwaukee, the pair has to play on the road Wednesday night. The Cardinals play at St. Louis where high-paced Louisville will have to contend with the slow-paced Billikens. The Golden Eagles face a DePaul team they dominated just a couple weeks earlier. Certainly Rick Pitino and Tom Crean are pleading with their teams to maintain their concentration, but it’ll be interesting to see if the players can keep their heads in their respective games.

• Southwest Missouri State is desperately trying to stay with Missouri Valley co-leaders Creighton and Southern Illinois. Perhaps the Bears last chance to stay in the race is tonight’s game at Creighton. A win by SMS will pull them within a game of the BlueJays, but a loss would likely eliminate the Bears from the conference race.

• Remember when Florida was the top ranked team in the country? The Gators are now ranked fifth, having been rudely punished by voters for their lackluster performance at Kentucky last week. Florida hosts 12-8 Ole Miss tonight in its quest to get back into the good graces of the Hoopville voting contingent.

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