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:
Wayne Ellington, North Carolina
Tyler Hansbrough may be the unofficial “face” of college basketball, but quicker than a Ty Lawson drive to the hoop, Wayne Ellington is emerging as North Carolina’s most dangerous player. His performance against Clemson on Sunday night was nothing short of incredible, as he hit huge shot after huge shot throughout the second half – including the game-winning, defender-lunging-at-him three-pointer with 0.4 seconds left. The sophomore finished 11-of-19 from the floor and 9-of-9 from the free throw line en route to a career-high 36 points. His performance not only kept the Tar Heels atop the polls and on the one line in our bracket, it also earned Ellington the top spot on this week’s Dean’s List.
Maybe Dayton isn’t the best team in the A-10 after all. A week after the Flyers got all the national love for crushing Pitt, the Musketeers let it be known that they can blow people out too. Xavier destroyed Kansas State (by 26), Virginia (by 38), and Auburn (by 23 on the road) and cracked the 100-point mark twice over a seven day stretch to pad an OOC resume that already boasts a win over Indiana. On the strength of these latest dominant wins, the Musketeers shot up to a five seed in our latest Field of 65 – up from an eight seed prior to New Year’s.
Drake & Illinois State
This isn’t your father’s Missouri Valley, folks. Drake and Illinois State may have finished a combined 12-24 in the MVC last season, but as of now, they are the best the two-bid worthy conference has to offer. This past week, Drake’s stunning start continued with wins over Southern Illinois and Evansville, and even more surprising Illinois State won at Wichita State and at home against the Salukis to add to a conference resume that already included a win at Creighton. At 3-0, both the Bulldogs and the Redbirds are in our field for the first time this week. And with the way the rest of the league has performed thus far (especially Southern Illinois), it may be a little while before either Drake or Illinois State fade away.
The Pac-10 has been hyped as a seven-bid league for months. Rarely in any of those discussions, however, was there any mention of Arizona State – until now. With an Oregon-Oregon State sweep last week, the streaking Sun Devils (who have now won eight in a row, including a quality resume builder against Xavier back on Dec. 15) are tied atop the conference standings and look like a serious threat to go dancing. Skeptics may argue that all of ASU’s big wins have come at home, and they’re right, but at this point the Pac-10 is still so unpredictable that a Sun Devil bid in March certainly can’t be dismissed.
D.J. Augustin and Damion James, Texas
The Longhorns’ phenomenal duo engaged in a little game of anything-you-can-do this past week, and the results included eye-popping stat lines and a pair of Texas wins. James stole the show early in the week, scoring 29 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, and blocking five shots in a 67-59 victory over TCU. Augustin countered with a dazzling 30-point, four assist performance against St. Mary’s on Saturday in a 19-point Texas rout.
Also receiving votes: Kansas (the oft-ignored Jayhawks reminded everyone just how talented they are in a 25-point win at Boston College on Saturday), DePaul (the Blue Demons are a surprising 2-0 in conference after home wins over Villanova and Providence last week), Notre Dame (the Fighting Irish notched home wins over West Virginia and Connecticut to jump back into our Field of 65 this week), Shan Foster (the senior swingman scored a total of 76 points in three Vanderbilt wins last week), Gary Johnson (Texas’ highly touted freshman, back on the court after sitting out the first part of the year to deal with a heart condition, had 15 points and six rebounds in his season debut Saturday against St. Mary’s), London Warren (the light-scoring sophomore guard made two clutch FTs in OT to help Dayton hold off Akron on Wednesday), Jamar Butler (the senior guard scored 32 points in Ohio State’s 74-58 win at Illinois on Thursday), Raymar Morgan (the sophomore forward had 31 points and 10 boards as Michigan State beat Minnesota 65-59 on Saturday), Malcolm Grant (the freshman had a season-high 22 points for Villanova in the Wildcats’ one-point home upset of Pittsburgh on Sunday)
One-game winning streaks
Winning two straight games is apparently soooooooo 2007. Just ask the Big East and Pac-10. This week alone, Oregon lost at Arizona State and then won at Arizona, Stanford lost to UCLA and then beat USC, Cal beat USC and then lost to UCLA, UConn beat Seton Hall and then lost to Notre Dame, Villanova lost at DePaul and then beat Pitt at home, and West Virginia lost at Notre Dame and then beat Marquette at home. Is this “good parity” or “bad parity” – or simply two conferences full of inconsistent teams? Time will tell, but for now, the final standings of these leagues are anyone’s guess.
Losing to a ranked conference opponent on the road usually doesn’t earn you a spot on the AcPro list, but Pitt’s case last week is kind of the exception to the rule. The Panthers’ one-point loss to Villanova wasn’t shocking but it was certainly telling. Thanks to their rash of recent injuries, Pitt was forced to use only seven players, and six of them went at least 23 minutes. Several players denied being fatigued afterwards, but their sloppy and sluggish last few minutes of the game and the fact that they finished with 22 turnovers speaks to the reality that, without Levance Fields and Mike Cook, Pitt is a flawed and troubled team right now.
With major conference teams losing left and right this week, the Cougars had a golden chance to finally pick up a bid in this week’s Field of 65 if they could have beaten Massachusetts in a decently-tough road game. For a half, that looked like it would happen – and then Houston blew an 11-point first half lead and gave up 58 second half points to the Minutemen in a six-point loss. The Cougars are now in a spot where they might have to beat Arizona at home on Saturday – and plan on knocking off Memphis in conference play – if they have any hopes at an at-large bid on Selection Sunday.
Creighton & Southern Illinois
It took a couple of months, but the two preseason heavyweights in the MVC have both now officially been knocked to the mat. The Salukis’ tailspin continued last week as they dropped road games at Drake and Illinois State to fall to 6-8 overall. The Bluejays, meanwhile, lost at Indiana State to fall out of the bracket after being as high as a nine seed for one two-week stretch earlier in December.
First, the General gave us a fantastic neighbor battle. Then, last week, after winning career game No. 899 and with his grandson on his knee, he gave us this.
Also receiving votes: Louisville (the Cardinals finally welcomed David Padgett back to the lineup on Tuesday…and then promptly lost at home to Cincinnati in their Big East opener), USC (the young Trojans are off to an 0-2 start in the Pac-10 after road losses at Cal and Stanford), North Carolina State (the Wolfpack managed just 17 first half points in an underwhelming 50-43 win over 1-18 Presbyterian on Saturday), Baylor (the Bears missed out on their last opportunity at a nice OOC win by losing to Arkansas in Dallas on Saturday), Providence (the Friars have some nice OOC wins, but their 0-2 start in the Big East knocked them out of this week’s Field of 65)