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March 6, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Thursday, March 6th, 2003

by Brian Seymour

Let’s put the focus back on basketball and not on crime and punishment, shall we? (Though if you want the latest on the various scandals surrounding college hoops, go ahead and scroll down a little further).

For now, we’re going to take a quick trip around the country and visit all the teams in action Wednesday night who were facing must-win situations to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The common term is “on the bubble”, but even that doesn’t adequately describe how tenuous the situation is for some squads who want to keep their national title dreams alive.

Lo and behold, almost all of the teams that needed to post W’s on Wednesday were able to do so, including all four SEC teams riding the bubble:

N.C. State (16-10) defeated Clemson 63-60 on the road, improving its ACC record to 9-6 and probably putting it one win away from clinching a berth, in either the season finale against Wake Forest or in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

Colorado (18-10) still faces questions about its road record, but you can’t question what the Buffaloes have done at home, including a 68-56 win over No. 19 Oklahoma State. A home win against archrival Nebraska on Saturday would probably punch CU’s ticket.

Seton Hall (16-10) probably doesn’t have much to worry about with a stellar Big East record under its belt and that’s a good thing, because Pittsburgh pounded the bejeezus out of the Pirates, 86-54.

Michigan State (17-11) is probably in also, having clinched a winning record in the Big Ten after a 82-54 thumping of Iowa.

Central Michigan (20-6) clinched the Mid-American Conference title with a 73-57 win over Northern Illinois. The Chippewas are a long shot for an at-large bid, but three more wins combined with some stumbles from other bubble teams could get them in.

Tennessee (16-10) is another team which probably won’t have to sweat too much on Selection Sunday, helped in part by a 59-49 win over No. 22 Mississippi State in Knoxville.

Auburn (19-9) did what it needed to do in a 69-54 home win over Arkansas and is guaranteed of finishing no worse than .500 in the conference.

Alabama (17-9) can probably also consider itself off the bubble after a 82-59 victory over South Carolina, though a win in the season finale at LSU would prevent the Tide from having to worry about a bias against teams with losing conference marks.

LSU (18-9) picked up a key road win by upending Mississippi 77-64. The Tigers, despite a victory earlier in the season over No. 1 Arizona, will probably still need to post a couple of victories to make the field, as the SEC is unlikely to send eight teams to the tournament. The loser of their finale Saturday against Alabama will have a losing record in the conference.

Side Dishes

Wisconsin wins Big Ten: It took a long time, but Wisconsin (22-6, 12-4) is the outright Big Ten champion, the first outright title for the Badgers in 56 years. Devin Harris’ free throw with four-tenths of a second remaining gave Wisconsin a thrilling 60-59 win over No. 15 Illinois in Madison.

After a Brian Cook jumper tied the game at 59, Wisconsin inbounded the ball to Harris who drove to the basket and was fouled by Dee Brown as the buzzer sounded. Officials put the four-tenths back on the clock and Harris missed the first free throw, but made the second. Illinois (20-6, 10-5) was not able to get a final shot. The Badgers, who shared the title last season, won back-to-back titles for the first time in 79 years.

Ouch!: No one expected Vanderbilt to be able to hang with Kentucky, but I’m not sure anyone expected as savage a beating as the Commodores took with the Wildcats posting their 19th straight victory. Kentucky rolled (and rolled and rolled) to a 106-44 win, highlighted by a defensive performance that saw the Wildcats limit Vandy to 15 second-half points. Erik Daniels scored a career-high 20 points and freshman Kelenna Azubuike added 16 as Kentucky was able to get its starters lots of rest.

Wake Forest clinches ACC title: Beating North Carolina probably never gets old for any of the teams in the ACC, but beating the Tar Heels to clinch a share of the conference title must be even sweeter. The No. 9 Demon Deacons (22-4, 12-3) pounded UNC 75-60 to ensure no worse than a share of the conference crown. They can win it outright by defeating N.C. State on Saturday. Maryland and Duke are both one game back in case Wake should stumble.

Xavier keeps it exciting: Ho-hum, another exciting overtime game for the Musketeers (23-4, 14-1 Atlantic-10), who were able to hold off Saint Joseph’s 88-80 in overtime. Three of Xavier’s last four games (all wins for the X-Men) have been decided in the final seconds. The contest was marred by Hawks fans who threw towels and a bottle onto the court in the final seconds of overtime, drawing a technical foul which made the final more lopsided than it actually was.

One down, one to go?: The University of Georgia announced today it would not renew the contract of assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr. when it expires on June 30 and that he will remain suspended with pay while it investigates the allegations made against the Bulldog basketball program.

With the son of coach Jim Harrick shown the door, it increases speculation that the elder Harrick will not be roaming the sidelines for Georgia very much longer, with a firing coming perhaps as soon as the completion of the team’s season.

Alumni call for St. Bonaventure resignations: The latest salvo in the mess at St. Bonaventure was fired by alumni of the school, many of whom are calling for school president Robert Wickenheiser and coach Jan van Breda Kolff to resign. Wickenheiser hasn’t commented on the scandal, except in press releases, and was due to return to the Olean, N.Y. school last evening from a fundraising trip in California. The Bonnies were forced to forfeit six games for using an ineligible player whose transfer was approved by Wickenheiser. After being declared ineligible for the Atlantic 10 tournament, distraught Bonnie players voted to forfeit their final two games.

Another coaching casualty: Wright State coach Ed Schilling was fired by the school, becoming the first official postseason coaching victim, with many more sure to follow. WSU athletic director Michael Cusack said Schilling didn’t make enough progress with the program.

“Coach Schilling has brought many positive aspects to our program, but we do not feel it has developed to where we had hoped,” he said. Wright State will honor Schilling’s contract, which runs through June 2006. The Raiders finished the season at 10-18 after Tuesday’s loss in the first round of the Horizon postseason tournament. The highlight of Schilling’s tenure was undoubtedly a victory over eventual national champion Michigan State in 1999.

Tonight’s Menu

The siren song of the conference tournament starts up, especially in the South. Don’t forget to check the latest recaps during Championship Week.

• Top seeded College of Charleston meets Georgia Southern at noon in the Southern Conference, while Mercer and Troy State both will be big favorites to win their first round games en route to what would be an exciting Atlantic Sun final.

• All the games featuring Hoopville’s Top 25 teams are likely to be snoozers. No. 1 Arizona is home against Oregon State, No. 10 Duke hosts Florida State, No. 23 Utah will welcome Colorado State and No. 25 Memphis has a road contest against Houston.

• Wyoming’s NCAA Tournament hopes are on line as the Cowboys travel to Provo, Utah for a huge Mountain West contest against Brigham Young.

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