Dean's List-Academic Probation is a weekly column that analyzes all of the highlights and lowlights from the previous week's games. The teams, players, conferences, etc. that deserve praise for what they accomplished over the past week make our Dean's List; those deserving ridicule are put on Academic Probation.
Here are this week's honorees:
The A-10 (again)
The Atlantic 10 has been the best mid-major conference in the country so far this season, and after this week, the league officially has the bids to prove it. Thanks to UMass’ win over Boston College on Thursday, the A-10 has four teams in this week’s bracket – the same amount as the Big Ten and just one fewer than the SEC. While those four bids may not hold up come March, three is looking like a near certainty – and that’s a huge step forward for a conference that had been completely (and rightfully) ignored the last few years.
Two months into the season, it’s (surprise!) the Big XII (and not the Pac-10 or the ACC) that sits atop the conference RPI rankings. The conference continued its strong play this week, as Oklahoma downed Arkansas, and upstart Nebraska shocked – and rushed on – Oregon. That win earned the Huskers a spot in this week’s bracket, and gave the nation’s most underrated league a total of six bids.
DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh
Pitt’s stud freshman is picking a nice time to play his best ball of the year. Blair followed up his 14-point, 11-rebound outing against Washington last week with a 20 point, 10 board, five block performance in the Panthers’ beatdown of Oklahoma State on Saturday. Pitt faces its toughest test of the season, and its biggest non-conference game in years, on Thursday against Duke at Madison Square Garden.
Jack McClinton, Miami-FL
McClinton’s scoring output has been pretty inconsistent this season, but one thing’s for sure – the Hurricanes wouldn’t be unbeaten without him. The junior fueled Miami’s late-game comeback against VCU back on Nov. 18, and then did the exact same thing Thursday at Mississippi State. He finished with 29 points, including three late three-pointers, as the ‘Canes stormed back to edge the Bulldogs 64-58.
Demetric Bennett, South Alabama
There’s carrying your team, and then there’s what Bennett did against Mississippi State on Saturday. The senior guard scored South Alabama’s first 20 points, hit the game-clinching free throws with nine seconds left, and finished with 39 points on 14-of-17 shooting as the Jaguars erased a 13-point second-half deficit and stunned the Bulldogs 71-67.
Also receiving votes: Syracuse’s first half vs. ETSU (the Orange put up 68 points on 76 percent shooting), Butler (nice bounce-back win at home against Florida State), Brian Williams (the freshman had 16 points and 14 boards in Tennessee’s win over Western Kentucky), Eric Gordon (had 26 points in his return to the lineup to lead Indiana over Western Carolina on Saturday), Samuel Haanpaa (had 10 three-pointers and scored 32 points in Valparaiso’s win over Chicago State), Robert Vaden (the junior had 33 points, including 28 in the second half, as UAB won at Kentucky), Todd Brown (hit a last-second, game-winning three in Wright State’s miracle win over Miami (OH))
Basketball in the state of Kentucky
When the season started, residents of the Bluegrass state probably had dreams of a late-March meeting between Louisville and Kentucky. They still might get that meeting – but at this rate it might be in the NIT. In what is becoming a recurring theme, both the slumping Cardinals and underachieving Wildcats suffered losses again this week – Kentucky to UAB and Louisville to Purdue – and neither are looking anything like an NCAA tourney team at the moment. Louisville has more excuses (injuries, suspensions, etc) than Kentucky does, but both have significant kinks to work out before conference play starts up.
Derrick Caracter, Louisville
The last thing Louisville needed was another hole in its injury-depleted frontcourt, but thanks to the selfish, idiotic behavior of Derrick Caracter this week, that’s exactly what they got. Caracter was suspended indefinitely by coach Rick Pitino Monday for what Pitino called a “curfew violation.” As is turns out, it was much more than that. Pitino had wanted to suspend Caracter for last Saturday’s game against Dayton, but Caracter’s teammates campaigned for him to play and Pitino gave in – sort of. He had Caracter sign a personal conduct contract that included a curfew. Caracter broke curfew the same night. Now he won’t play for, as Pitino put it, “a while.”
Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament hopes
Eric Devendorf may not be as athletically gifted as teammates Jonny Flynn or Donte Greene, but anyone who watches the Orange knows that the feisty junior guard is the team’s heart and soul. His season-ending ACL injury – suffered in Saturday’s 125-75 blowout of East Tennessee State – is a crushing blow to Syracuse’s already tenuous tourney chances. We won’t count the Orange totally out of the picture just yet (we kept them on the Last Four Out line), but things just got a whole lot harder for Jim Boeheim’s inexperienced squad.
Does anyone want to be the sixth, seventh, or possibly the eighth team out of the ACC? This week alone, Boston College lost to UMass, Florida State missed out on a golden opportunity for a big win at Butler, and Maryland lost at home to Ohio. Couple those results with the struggles of North Carolina State, and the middle of the ACC is very messy right now to say the least.
Are the Musketeers even the best team in the A-10 right now? They certainly didn’t show it last week, barely beating Cincinnati and then losing by (ouch) 22 points to Arizona State. In both games, Xavier’s anemic shooting did them in. The Musketeers shot just 30.6 percent from the field against the Sun Devils and just 38 percent against the Bearcats.
Also receiving votes: Southern Illinois (the Salukis finally snapped their three-game losing streak by beating St. Mary’s at home Tuesday, only to lose 56-51 to Saint Louis Saturday), Charlotte (the 49ers got passed on the A-10 bubble by UMass after losing by two at Hofstra Saturday), Mississippi State (the Bulldogs’ disappointing season continued this week with two more losses), George Washington (the Colonials followed up their 36-point scoring effort against Virginia Tech last week with a 12-point loss at Binghamton on Thursday), Tyler Hansbrough’s head (the All-American suffered a concussion after taking a charge in UNC’s win over Rutgers), Roger Clemens (the Rocket and his steroid habits have nothing to do with college basketball, but including him on the list gives us an excuse to show you this)