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:
Tyler Smith, Tennessee
There are tough shots, and then there are shots like the one Smith hit in the lane with 28 seconds left against Memphis on Saturday night. His floating, turn-around jumper over the outstretched arms of Robert Dozier gave Tennessee a late one-point lead that they never relinquished. Smith finished with 16 points and six rebounds in the 66-62 win, which vaulted Tennessee to the top of the national polls and to the No. 1 overall seed in our latest bracket.
Talk about proving you belong. A week after they barely snuck in the field by winning a pair of road games, the Hurricanes shocked – and rushed on – Duke on Wednesday and then beat Maryland on Saturday to get to .500 in conference and move all the way up to an eight seed in our latest field. Miami’s remaining schedule does feature a couple of very dangerous road games (at Clemson and at Florida State), but the way Dwayne Collins and Co. have played of late, a 9-7 finish looks very probable. If that happens, the ‘Canes are going dancing.
So much for the MAC’s inability to get two bids. Thanks to their ginormous win at Saint Mary’s on Saturday, the Golden Flashes all but locked up an at-large spot in this year’s field, provided they just make an appearance in the conference title game (which they should). Their non-conference wins over Illinois State, George Mason, and Cleveland State plus their top 30 RPI are accomplishments that the committee won’t be able to ignore on Selection Sunday. Those accomplishments already have Kent State at an eight seed in our bracket, and that’s where they’ll likely end up if they win the MAC tourney title.
The roller coaster ride otherwise known as the 2007-2008 Kentucky basketball season reached its apex this past week, as the streaking Wildcats downed Georgia and Arkansas at home to move to 9-3 in the SEC and earn an 11 seed in our latest field. At this point, remarkably, it’s impossible to see Kentucky finishing with fewer than 11 conference wins, and they very well could win 12 with their remaining schedule. Either way, we feel that it’s going to be impossible for the committee to deny Kentucky a bid in the end.
The Wildcats went from a Big East also-ran to an 11 seed in the span of four days last week, thanks to a pair of enormous resume-building wins over West Virginia and UConn. At 7-7, Villanova is still by no means safe (their fate will probably ultimately lie in how they do in the Big East tournament) but they now at least have a shot at finishing 9-9 or better. That quest begins Monday with a huge game at home against Marquette.
Also receiving votes: Nebraska (where in the world did this come from?... the Huskers, who came into the week with just three conference wins, pulled off a rush-worthy upset of Kansas State on Wednesday and then stunned Texas A&M in College Station on Saturday), Massachusetts (the forgotten-about Minutemen are suddenly back in the bracket after winning at Rhode Island on Thursday), Oklahoma State (the Cowboys pulled off a stunning upset of Kansas on Saturday, and celebrated in style with a very fast, two-sided court rush), The MVC (the Valley was the big winner on BracketBuster weekend; not only did Drake pick up a huge win at Butler, but the top six teams in the league all won their games), D.J. Augustin (the Longhorns won two more games this week and jumped up to a No. 1 seed in our bracket thanks to the play of Augustin; he had 27 points and nine assists in a win over Texas A&M on Monday, and 19 points in a win over Oklahoma on Saturday), Michael Beasley (Tyler Hansbrough’s only competition for POY scored a Big XII-record 44 points and added 13 rebounds in Kansas State’s loss at Baylor on Saturday), O.J. Mayo (Mayo shook off his recent slump to score 32 points in a win over Oregon on Thursday and 21 points in a win over Oregon State on Saturday), D.J. White (the Big Ten POY didn’t let a rough week in Bloomington affect his play; he had 19 points and 15 rebounds in a big home win over Purdue and had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and the game-saving block in the Hoosiers’ narrow escape at Northwestern at Saturday), Marqus Blakely (Vermont’s double-double machine – he now has 10 in a row – had 30 points and 20 rebounds in a win over Hartford on Wednesday and 19 points and 19 rebounds in win at UNC-Wilmington on Saturday), Tony Crocker (Crocker’s miraculous four-point play with 7.3 seconds left in overtime gave Oklahoma a 92-91 win over Baylor on Tuesday), Tyler Hansbrough (Hansbrough led Carolina to two more wins – and a No. 1 seed – this week with a 32 point, 12 rebound, five steal performance against N.C. State on Wednesday and a 29 point effort against Wake Forest on Sunday), Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney (Harangody had 23 points and 12 rebounds in Notre Dame’s win over Pitt on Thursday and McAlarney had 30 points, including nine three pointers, in a win over Syracuse on Sunday)
The Terps were sitting pretty in the ACC standings, and in the bracket, after winning five out of six games over the past two weeks. Now, they’re just another example of a big conference bubble team that is finding every way possible to play itself out of the field. Wednesday’s home loss to Virginia Tech was killer, and Saturday’s loss at Miami came against the wrong team at the wrong time. Winning at Wake Forest on Thursday is now a must if the Terps want to be back on the bubble next week.
Call it the curse of “Mike and the Mad Dog.” In the days following coach Jim Baron’s very random appearance on the popular sports talk show on WFAN radio in New York, the Rams’ at-large hopes fell apart at the seams. They lost three games in a seven day span, including resume-destroying home games to fellow A-10 bubble boys UMass and St. Joseph’s. Those losses dropped URI to sixth place in the conference standings, and all the way from a nine seed in our last bracket to the Next Four Out list.
Oregon deserves to be on this list just for the uniforms they wore this past week. But unfortunately for their at-large hopes, their play on the court proved to be equally as forgettable. The Ducks blew second-half leads against USC and UCLA and ultimately lost both games to fall to 6-9 in conference and all but assure themselves a spot in the NIT. The only way Oregon can get back into at-large consideration at this point is to win out. Doing that would mean three straight victories, which is something the ridiculously inconsistent Ducks haven’t done since the second week of January.
The fact that Ohio State was able to stay in the bracket for so long with so few quality wins really speaks to how unimpressive the rest of the bubble teams really are this year. After blowing a golden opportunity at home against Wisconsin on Sunday, though, it was finally time for OSU to be placed on the Last Four Out list. The Buckeyes could jump back into the field win a road win over Indiana this week, or a home win over Purdue or Michigan State next week, but at this point, they simply don’t have the resume of a tournament team.
There’s no need to harp on the Highlanders’ historically awful season, but a couple of stats from their winless campaign are simply staggering. They finished with more turnovers (577) for the season than they did field goals made (550), and only once did they lose game by single digits (a nine-point defeat at Stony Brook on December 10). Umm…better luck next year?
Also receiving votes: Kelvin Sampson (of all the articles written about Sampson’s disgraceful resignation, this article, by Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz, probably sums it up the best), Oregon's uniforms (seriously, Nike…black on black, green on green?...were those sequins on the names of the black unis?...does the Oregon athletic department have to be the guinea pig for all of your hideous ideas?...give them at least one nice design to wear before the end of the year…please?), Memphis’ free throw shooting (the Tigers’ Achilles heel came back to bite them again against Tennessee; they shot 8-of-17 from the line in the four-point loss), Kansas State (the Wildcats have now lost four straight conference road games; this week they fell to Nebraska and Baylor), Dayton (the Flyers’ bubble officially burst this week, as they lost to LaSalle and Xavier to fall to 5-8 in the A-10), Syracuse (we hate to say we told you so...but the Orange lost both of their games last week to fall to 7-8 in conference), Houston (the Cougars may have seen their at-large hopes evaporate on Wednesday when they lost at UAB), Clemson (the Tigers shot 3-of-27 from three in their loss at Florida State on Tuesday), the roof at Alexander Memorial Coliseum (a few inches of rain caused a leak in the arena’s roof on Thursday, and caused Georgia Tech’s game against Virginia to be postponed)
*Note: This will be our last weekly installment of Dean's List-Academic Probation this season. Next week, and in the weeks to come, it will be replaced by daily Games To Watch lists, which will essentially cover the same material.