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:
Levance Fields, Pittsburgh
Fields admitted that his eyes welled up as he watched his best friend and teammate Mike Cook go down with a torn ACL against Duke. Then the junior guard went out and caused some tears of his own. His gutsy, step-back three with less than five seconds left gave Pittsburgh an emotional 65-64 OT win over the Blue Devils on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Fields finished with a game-high 21 points and added four assists and two steals as Pitt came away with a huge OOC win (and a two seed in this week’s bracket).
In a game that featured a slew of talented guards, it turned out to be a relatively unknown perimeter who made the difference, and in this case gave the Spartans a signature OOC win. Playing 15 miles from his old high school, freshman Kalin Lucas scored 18 points and added six assists and six rebounds as Michigan State edged Texas 78-72. Add that win to MSU's victories over N.C. State, Missouri, BYU, and Bradley, and the Spartans can easily claim one of the best resumes in the country as conference play begins.
Several top 10 teams made statements this week, but none did so as loudly as the Tigers. Memphis destroyed Georgetown in the second half en route to a convincing 85-71 win – their 37th straight win at home. Chris Douglas-Roberts (24 points, eight rebounds), Derrick Rose (18 points, six assists), and Joey Dorsey (13 points and 11 boards in limited PT) led the way for the unbeaten Tigers, who held Roy Hibbert to a season-low six points in the win. Our apologizes to Houston and Co., but if Memphis keeps playing like this, they have only three potential roadblocks (Arizona on Saturday and Gonzaga and Tennessee later on) left between them and a perfect regular season.
The Rebels have been ridiculed by some for their extra-fluffy schedule, but they shut those critics up in a big way Saturday by beating Clemson 85-82 to win the San Juan Shootout. Dwayne Curtis and Chris Warren each scored 19 points for Mississippi (11-0), which equaled the best start in school history with the win. The Rebels, who are up to a five seed in this week’s bracket, look like the overwhelming favorite right now to win the SEC West.
The Sooners got some Last Four Out love last week by beating Arkansas, and then went out and made an even bigger statement this week. Their four-point, down-to-the-wire win over Gonzaga on Thursday earned them a nine seed in our new Field of 65 and gave the super-deep Big XII a total of seven bids. After a few days off for the holidays, Oklahoma comes right back with another opportunity to make a splash, as they play at West Virginia on Saturday.
Also receiving votes: Michael Beasley (racked up a season-high 40 points and added 15 boards and three blocks as Kansas State crushed Winston-Salem), Brook Lopez (Stanford’s newly eligible forward had 39 points and 10 rebounds combined in two games this week), Gavin Grant (he hit two FTs with 3.9 seconds left as N.C State held off Davidson 66-65 on Friday), Stanley Robinson (had 24 of his career-high 32 points in the second half as UConn cruised past Maine on Saturday), coaches needing milestone wins (Rick Pitino picked up No. 500 as Louisville downed Marshall 85-75 on Tuesday, Bob Huggins got No. 600 as West Virginia beat Canisius 77-54 on Saturday), Providence (the Friars beat bubble mate Florida State on Saturday to get back into our Field of 65), Arizona (the Wildcats picked up a nice road win Wednesday at UNLV)
Could the SEC be a three-bid league? Probably not, but the way conference has performed thus far, anything more than four bids is looking like wishful thinking. This week alone, Florida got crushed in its championship game rematch with Ohio State, and Georgia, who came into the week with a 6-1 record, lost on back-to-back days to East Tennessee State and Tulane at the Rainbow Classic. Not to be outdone, Arkansas lost to Appalachian State on Saturday and Kentucky (remember them?) got smoked by Houston on Tuesday.
The Ducks should be thankful that they play in a stacked league – one that gives them plenty of chances at resume-boosting wins – because their almost-completed OOC slate couldn’t have gone much worse. Oregon followed up its loss at Nebraska last week by falling to (oops) Oakland this week, leaving them with only one good non-conference win (at Kansas State) as league play starts. The Ducks have slipped to a 10 seed in our bracket after beginning the year on the four line.
The Big Ten bubble
By the end of the season, the Big Ten may better than a four-bid league, but it won’t be because of anything the league did last week. Former bubble boy Purdue lost games to Wofford and Iowa State over a span of four days, and Illinois lost a look-ahead game at home to Miami (OH) on Thursday before bouncing back to beat Missouri in the annual Braggin’ Rights game. Is Minnesota, with its cupcake schedule, really the fifth best team the Big Ten has to offer?
Dick Vitale’s vocal cords
Believe it or not: Dickie V puts an above-average amount of stress on his vocal cords. That stress caught up with Vitale this past week, as he had to undergo surgery in Boston to treat ulcers on his left vocal cord – a procedure that will keep him off the air until early February. Before this setback, Vitale (as Dan Shulman is well aware) had not missed an assignment in 28 years at ESPN. We wish Dickie V. well...get back soon.
Torre Johnson’s college basketball career
Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s leading scorer and rebounder was dismissed from the team this week after he was arrested for allegedly striking a woman in the mouth and causing a cut that needed 10 stitches to fix. (In case you’re keeping track, four arrests and two suspensions have now been featured on our “Academic Probation” list so far this season…Happy Holidays, everyone!)
Also receiving votes: Maryland (the Terps’ miserable season continued with an inexplicable eight-point home loss to - yikes - American on Saturday), Florida State (lost a big bubble battle with Providence and dropped out of this week’s bracket), California (the Bears are barely in the bracket this week after losing at home to Utah on Saturday), North Carolina Central (the Eagles scored eight points in the first half in a 71-28 loss to Nebraska on Saturday)