Cory Mccartney
Monday February 12th, 2007

Tommy Amaker; Ekpe Udoh
Out Of The Blue?
With Michigan in the midst of its annual February slide, you have to wonder: if the Wolverines fail to make the NCAA tournament, should Tommy Amaker -- who has led the school out of the Ed Martin scandal but has been unable to lead Michigan to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 -- be allowed to finish what he started? The Wolverines have lost four of their last five (they snapped a four-game losing streak with Saturday's 82-80 win over Minnesota) and have an RPI of 58. At 17-8 (5-5 in the Big Ten) Michigan still has a chance, but two games against Michigan State and matchups with Indiana, Illinois and Ohio State remain, meaning it may be a stretch to get to 8-8 in the conference -- which has been a benchmark for Big Ten teams to get NCAA bids. It's a surprising predicament for a team that starts four seniors who have the experience of two trips to the NIT finals (winning in 2004). The Wolverines have been too sloppy, averaging 14.6 turnovers a game (163rd nationally) and are 10th in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.97-to-1). But the problem is not Amaker, who has been rebuilding a program that was in shambles, and he's done it the right way. Michigan fans are understandably growing tired of these meltdowns, but giving up the coach who helped restore the program's reputation, is not the answer.
Sympathy For The Devils
It was Maryland's press that was Duke's latest undoing, but these Blue Devils have more pressing matters to deal with. Two weeks ago Duke was 18-3 and ranked eighth in the country, but it has lost to Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina and now the Terrapins for its longest losing streak since 1996. Now comes the nearly unfathomable question: Could Duke actually miss the NCAA tournament? As it stands, the Blue Devils are 18-7 overall and 5-6 in the ACC with trips to Boston College, Clemson and North Carolina still on the schedule. Historically, there's a big difference between 8-8 and 7-9 in the ACC in terms of earning a dance card. Only two 7-9 teams have reached the tourney in the past eight seasons, while just three of the 59 teams to finish .500 or better have been denied an at-large bid. Imagine this scenario: If Duke can win just two of its next five ACC games, the regular-season finale at Chapel Hill could be the difference in the Blue Devils' season. Brace yourself, Tobacco Road, the way Duke looked against Maryland (committing 17 turnovers that translated into 21 Terps' points) it could happen.
Aaron Gray Matter
The most attention Pitt 7-footer Aaron Gray gets comes from opposing coaches. So why isn't the Big East preseason Player of the Year, who averages 15 points and 10 rebounds, getting the attention of other centers like, say, Greg Oden? Gray's game may not be aesthetically pleasing, but there's no denying he's consistent. And so much of what he does doesn't translate to the stat sheet. His drawing of double teams allows Ronald Ramon, Levance Fields, Antonio Graves and Sam Young to get open for threes and he gives the Panthers unparalleled experience in the paint. The knock against Gray is he can't hit free throws (58.5 percent on the season) and he hasn't improved to the level many expected when he turned down NBA riches to return to Pittsburgh for one final season. But on Saturday against Providence he showed the heady and dependable play that makes him so dangerous. With the Panthers trailing, Gray picked up his third foul with 16:01 to play, but coach Jamie Dixon kept Gray in the game. Gray responded with one of his most effective halves of the season. He played all but three minutes and scored 13 of his 22 points to put Pitt ahead before leaving after a hard fall with 2:37 remaining. The problem with Gray is everyone expects more and his dependable play has gone underappreciated.
Rebel Yell
With its first win over a ranked opponent since 2004, Ole Miss grabbed a share of the lead in the SEC's wild, wild West by knocking off No. 18 Alabama in Oxford on Saturday. But the big question is whether the Rebels' rise is a byproduct of league parity or a credit to first-year coach Andy Kennedy. It may be the latter, as well as the steady play of point guard Todd Abernethy. In the Rebels' last three wins (over Mississippi State, Auburn and the Crimson Tide), Abernethy has 25 assists and just five turnovers. Kennedy has been quoted as calling his point man one of the most "undervalued" players in the conference. He might as well be saying the same thing about an Ole Miss team that was picked to finish last in the SEC West but has clinched its first winning season since '02, the last time the Rebels made the NCAA tournament.
West Virginia Mountaineers
UCLA won't forget its first trip to Morgantown. West Virginia beat the Bruins for the second straight year. Saturday's win over No. 2 UCLA was the Mountaineers' biggest since topping No. 1 UNLV in 1983.
Marquette Golden Eagles
Marquette's eight-game winning streak ended as Georgetown feasted on the Golden Eagles' outmanned frontcourt. The Hoyas mammoth duo of Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green combined for 47 points in G'town's victory.
Southern Illinois
SIU sits in the Missouri Valley Conference driver's seat. The Salukis shot a school-record 86 percent from the field in the second half (hitting 12 of 14 shots) and held off Creighton for sole possession of the league lead.
Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt has even more reason to be sick of the color orange. Bruce Pearl broke out his day-glo orange blazer as Tennessee held Vandy to season-lows in points (57) and field goal percentage (29.8 percent).
Florida Gators
It wasn't easy, but Florida became the first team to beat Kentucky five straight times since Tennessee did it from 1975-77, as Corey Brewer and the No. 1 Gators silenced the Rupp Arena record crowd of 24,465.
Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia's seven-game ACC winning streak and its share of first place in the league came crashing down on Saturday. UVA shot 33 percent from the field in losing to Virginia Tech for the first time in five meetings.
"It's like two different people. I feel refreshed. My energy's back."
--Washington center Spencer Hawes, who had 18 points and seven rebounds in the win over Stanford. In their last meeting, Hawes had just six points as the Huskies lost by one.
"He can make nine any time he wants. Eight's a lot. That's a career."
--Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie on Josh Carter, the Big 12 three-pointer leader, who matched a career high with eight treys in a 28-point performance in the win over Nebraska.
"That gives us thrills, chills, what have you, just to see those guys come back and to see how much they've achieved and accomplished."
--North Carolina senior forward Reyshawn Terry, who scored 23 points in a rout of Wake Forest on the day UNC honored the Tar Heels' national title teams from 1957 and 1982.
Julian WrightF - Kansas
What's "Beast Mode?" Just ask Missouri, against whom Wright feasted on to the tune of 33 points, 12 boards. "He was walking around saying he was going to go in 'Beast Mode' again," Brandon Rush told the Lawrence Journal World. "That's where he's doing everything, rebounding, blocking shots, running the court."
Mario BogganC - Oklahoma State
In OT, nobody's as dangerous as Boggan. He had 35 points and 14 rebounds, including the go-ahead points to beat Texas Tech in OT. In all four of OSU's OT wins, Boggan has led the way, scoring four of its last 11 to top Missouri State, notching a crucial putback vs. Pitt and nailing the game-winning trey vs. Texas.
Chase BudingerF - Arizona
Arizona looks to have found its footing -- and on Saturday so did its heralded freshman. Coming off a four-point performance at Oregon State, Budinger had 30 points, including 11 straight in the first half to go along with 10 rebounds as the Wildcats beat No. 13 Oregon for their third straight Pac-10 victory.
With his first basket in Wisconsin's victory over Iowa on Saturday, Alando Tucker became the second player in Badgers' history to score 2,000 points, joining Michael Finley.
Washington State dumped Cal for its fourth straight win to improve to 21-4 on the season, marking the first time the Cougars have won 21 games since 1991-92, when they won 22.
60.6, 19.2
Butler hit 60.6 percent of its three-pointers vs. Cleveland St. (20-of-33) but went cold in a loss to Wright St. (19.2 percent, 5-of-26), which ended a nine-game winning streak.

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