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February 19, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Wednesday, February 19th, 2003, 2003

by Michael Ermitage

What is wrong with Alabama? The Crimson Tide have taken a serious nosedive. The once-dominant club is now in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. It would be a first for a team previously raked atop the AP poll. On Tuesday night, in a must-win game at home, the Tide never came in. The Georgia Bulldogs dominated the first half of play, building a 12-point advantage, and won the game, 74-69. Actually, the improving Bulldogs dominated all but the final two minutes of the game. That’s when Georgia crumpled at the free throw line, allowing a trio of three-point baskets by the Tide to trim a 13-point lead to four. However, as the old saying goes, it was too little, too late.

It is hard to put a finger on Alabama’s problems. Although, for the most part, it seems that its offense has been sputtering during its slide. After a breakout 84-point performance against Auburn, the Tide had no such fireworks on Tuesday. Summing up the Tide’s frustrations was a terrible final 8:30 of the first half, in which Alabama made just one field goal and missed eight consecutive three-pointers. It really is a shame for such a talented team. Alabama still has time to turn it around, with a two-game road trip on the horizon. Sweeping Tennessee and Mississippi State may be their last chance at the Big Dance.

In other bubble news, Michigan State did nothing to impress the selection committee Tuesday night. The Spartans were absolutely dominated by the Illinois Fighting Illini in Champaign, 70-40. Michigan State was unable to put together any sort of offense; often turning the ball over and watching Illinois’ star freshman Dee Brown take the ball the other way for a layup. In total, Sparty had 18 turnovers and Brown finished with 24 points. The loss keeps Michigan State firmly on the bubble at 6-6 in the Big Ten. However, Izzo’s crew has four of its final five games at home. Plus, the committee may be a bit forgiving considering some of State’s injury problems.

Side Dishes

Senioritis: Prior to Tuesday night’s contest at Georgetown, it seemed that Pittsburgh guard Brandin Knight may be suffering from a case of senioritis. But the talented point guard snapped out of it in scoring a season-high 23 points in leading the Panthers to an 82-67 win. Knight, who has been struggling to match his third-team All-American season from a year ago, was 7-for-12 from the field and 6-for-6 from the free throw line in scoring more than 20 points for only the second time this season. The win moved Pittsburgh to 8-3 in conference play.

Notre Dame on the road: Notre Dame’s season began with several heartbreaking losses on the road. There was the 17-point loss at Pittsburgh and the 15-point loss at Kentucky. Things have only slightly improved. While the Domers have been unable to knock off a top team on the road, such as Syracuse or even Seton Hall, Notre Dame has become adept at beating the middle-of-the-pack clubs, such as Tuesday night’s 56-55 win against West Virginia. Despite blowing a 15-point lead, the Irish hung on, thanks to a late Dan Miller basket. Miller’s basket was just his second of the game on 13 tries.

Notre Dame’s victory didn’t do anything to clear up the muddled Big East picture. Six teams in the conference have three or four conference losses. Early front-runners Connecticut and Pittsburgh have struggled of late, while surprise teams Villanova and Seton Hall have refused to fade. All of this should make for an interesting stretch run and Big East tournament.

Mizzou Legal Troubles: About mid-day Tuesday, Missouri junior guard Ricky Clemons pleaded not guilty to felony charges. He is accused of choking a woman and not letting her leave his apartment. The whole scenario must of fired up Clemons because he went for 20 in Mizzou’s 67-50 win against Nebraska. The Clemons case is another black mark against men’s college basketball as he joins Iowa’s Pierre Pierce, former Southern Illinois Saluki Rolan Roberts and current UIC student Marcetteaus McGee who have run afoul of the law in crimes against women. I say let them play until proven guilty, but banish them from the game if they are convicted of even a negotiated misdemeanor in these deplorable crimes.

BYU to retire first jersey: Former BYU star and Celtic great Danny Ainge will be the first Cougar to ever has his basketball jersey retired. Ainge played for BYU from 1978-81 and took the Cougars to the NCAA quarterfinals his senior season.

”A tradition of retiring jerseys is long overdue at BYU,” BYU Director of Men’s Athletics Val Hale said. ”This is one more step we are taking to try to bring the past and present together for the benefit of our fans and our former and current athletes.”

Tonight’s Menu:

• When Maryland and Duke meet Wednesday night, it will not be the titanic matchup of the 2002 season. Both clubs have struggled enough that they are both now considered fringe candidates at winning the national title. But, nonetheless, both are entertaining good teams. And much is on the line tonight. The Terrapins sit atop the ACC at 8-3, with Duke a game behind at 7-4. Certainly a win by the Terps would go a long way in securing the conference title and top seed in the always-entertaining ACC tournament.

• Nothing revs up a rivalry like a meaningful game. In what looks like an elimination match in conference play, the Oklahoma Sooners host rival Oklahoma State Wednesday night. Both sit a game back behind conference leader Kansas. In addition to chasing a conference crown, both of these top-20 teams are seeking high seeds come NCAA tournament time. These teams are going in opposite directions, however, with the Sooners winning seven of eight and the Cowboys losing three of five.

• Every week seems like there is some matchup between two of the Big Ten’s top teams and that’s what happens again Wednesday night. Conference co-leaders Michigan and Purdue meet in West Lafayette, Ind. Home court has ruled the conference race thus far.

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