|NCAA Basketball Power Rankings|
Oh, the sacrifices one is willing to make to spend New Year's Eve in Sin City: The top-ranked Illini faceCincinnati on Dec. 31 at 8:30 p.m. MST in a high school gym -- LasVegas' Valley High -- and not the Thomas and Mack Center, the city's venue for reputable collegebasketball games, as well as the site of Phish'sVelvet Underground-themed Halloween show in 1998. For Bruce Weber's Illinois team, rocking Valley High and then hitting the Vegas strip was clearlypreferable to, say, an afternoon at Assembly Hall followed by action at
Next two: 12/27 vs. Longwood,12/30 vs. Northwestern St. (in Las Vegas).
Grant Wahl made the trekto Stillwater for a solid piece on Joeyand Stephen Graham in last week's SI. My favoritepart: "Joey's [defensive] intensity remains a work inprogress. The Graham brothers can't help but laughwhen recalling, in spot-on imitations of theirgravel-voiced coach, Eddie Sutton, something he yelledduring a practice last season: 'Joey, you're playinglike you're from the suburbs. You've gotta play more ghetto!'"
Next two: 12/28 vs. Gonzaga (in Oklahoma City), 1/3 vs. TAMU-CC.
NorthCarolina Tar Heels (9-1)
Editor's note: Because he was caught in traffic and missed the filing deadline, Luke isserving out a one-team suspension in this space. As a testament to his new-found maturity, he bounced back from the suspension and wrote blurbs for the remaining 13 teams; last year, or the year before, this would not have been the case. He would've quit.
Next two: 12/28 vs. UNC-Wilmington, 12/30 vs. Cleveland State.
Arguably the two biggest"seeding" wins of the year belong to Gonzaga (whichbeat Georgia Tech on a neutral court in Vegas onSaturday) and Oklahoma State (which beat Syracuse atan Orange-tinted Madison Square Garden on Dec. 7). Andin a belated X-mas gift for hoops fans, the Bulldogsmeet the Cowboys on Dec. 28 in Oklahoma City's Ford Center in the Touchstone Energy Classic. Think of that, a holiday "classic" not in a high school gym. What a novel concept.
Next two: 12/28 at Oklahoma State (in Oklahoma City), 12/30 at Missouri.
The Jacketsdidn't fold against Gonzaga, but they couldn't handlethe zone Mark Few threw at them (Luke Schenscher wasespecially baffled). And they did not have a defensiveanswer for Adam Morrison, who is a difficult matchup,or Derek Raivio, who should not have been adifficult matchup. Paul Hewitt's squad ranks behindthe Zags here, but I leave the Wreck ahead of Duke andWake because I'm still convinced Tech is one of theACC's top two.
Next two: 12/28 vs. Lafayette, 1/1at Kansas.
Yes, I now have the Deacs ranked ahead of Duke onlyfour days after I said the Blue Devils were the betterteam. But things have changed -- a lot -- since Sundaynight. The Dukies lost a big man they could not affordto lose in Shavlik Randolph, who is out indefinitelyafter coming down with mononucleosis. And Wake, whichwas starting to gel again in its win over Texas onDec. 18, went into one of the nation's toughestvenues, The Pit in Albuquerque, and beat a New Mexicoteam that was no pushover on Wednesday. Skip Prosser &Co, take a few steps forward.
Next two: 12/30 vs.North Carolina A&T, 1/2 at Virginia.
You've gotta feel for SteveAlford. In his final pre-Christmas game, the Hawkeyesdestroyed Texas Tech to improve to 10-1. He's coachedhis squad to wins over Louisville, Texas, Northern Iowa andIowa State, and coached himself a great distance awayfrom anything resembling a hot seat. But he couldn'tkick back and enjoy it on Tuesday night -- because hisformer coach, Bob Knight, was lurking on the opposingbench. "It's a little bit bittersweet for me," Alfordsaid. "In fact, coaching against Coach [Knight] ismore uncomfortable than comfortable."
Next two:12/28 vs. Air Force, 12/31 vs. St. Louis.
DukeBlue Devils (8-0)
I already mentioned theRandolph situation, which is the reason for Duke'sdemotion, so I'll refrain from additional analysis andbring up something tangential. This being a weekdominated by Rick Majerus news, and me being one of aminority who enjoy his work at ESPN, I bring you hisbest line of TV stint No. 1 (relevant in thisspace because it was said to ex-Dukie Jay Bilas, who eschewed a Hawaiian shirt for a polo at the MauiInvitational): "Jay, only a guy who gets out of theshower to take a piss would wear a shirt likethat."
Next two: 1/2 vs. Clemson, 1/5 vs.Princeton.
Tough Guy of the Week honorsgo out to Brandon Roy, the Husky guard who returned tothe court against N.C. State on Sunday, just 19 daysafter a Nov. 30 knee surgery that was supposed to keephim out for 4-6 weeks. He finished with 10 points on5-of-5 shooting and two big second-half highlights: afollow of a Tre Simmons miss with a spectacularone-handed lefty slam (bum knee and all), and then adefensive stop on Julius Hodge's game-tying shotattempt in the final seconds. Roy then, regrettably,made a choke sign in Hodge's direction.
Next two:12/24 vs. Houston, 12/31 vs. California.
Hakim Warrick is the Orange'sleading scorer and rebounder, but he's yet to satisfycoach Jim Boeheim. "[Warrick] has got to be moredominant," Boeheim told The Post-Standard."He's got to go to the basket more. He's not gettingto the foul line, and he's got to get to the foulline." The stats back it up. Warrick has been to theline 75 times in 12 games (6.25 FTs/game), a numberthat pales in comparison to his fellow All-Americacandidates in the post: Arizona State's Ike Dioguaverages 11 FTs per game, Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf 10.
Next two: 12/28 vs. Albany, 12/30 vs. Hofstra.
While the Blue part of theBluegrass State waxes poetic about the UK's comebackwin over rival Louisville on Dec. 18, Tubby Smith cameup with a way to keep his kids from getting caught upin the drama: In the Wildcats' video review of the Uof L game, they were only shown the first half.A half in which they shot 20.8 percent, scored just 16points and played "horrible" (Smith's word)defense.
Next two: 12/29 vs. Campbell, 1/5 vs.South Carolina.
This is a temporarydowngrade, factoring in the loss of Wayne Simien andhis 17.4-point, 12-rebound-per-night average for 4-6weeks. Remember, back in the spring, when everyone wassaying, "Hey, losing David Padgett won't matter?"Well, it matters now, with none of Bill Self'sfreshmen forwards -- C.J. Giles, Sasha Kaun andDarnell Jackson -- yet ready for prime time.
Nexttwo: 1/1 vs. Georgia Tech, 1/5 vs. Texas A&M.
Colonials,you're boring me. Since that sick weekend at the BB&TClassic on Dec. 4 and 5 -- beating Michigan State andMaryland on back-to-back days -- you've played justtwo games ... against St. Francis (Pa.) and Towson. SoI cannot move you up nor down. The only moving andshaking has been done by forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu,who, with double-doubles in his past two games, movedahead of Nik Caner-Medley to become the nation's MVHP(Most Valuable Hyphenated Player). In other news, TeamZissou tag-along JaneWinslett-Richardson remains the world's No. 1hyphenated journalist.
Next two: 12/23 at Fla. International, 12/29 at West Virginia.
Mark Jan. 22 on yourcalendar. That's how long we have to wait to get anidea of how good the Panthers actually are, when theytravel to UConn. In the meantime, we can talk about scintillating matchups with Richmond, South Carolina and Bucknell ... or speculate on whether Pitt is realistically in danger of losing Jamie Dixon to USC. I think it's a real long-shot; he's only an outside candidate, and he's got a good thing going with assistant Barry Rohrssen, luring NYC-area talent to Steel City. Dixon is a North Hollwood guy, but does he really want to compete against mentor Ben Howland in L.A.?
Next two: 12/23 vs. Richmond, 12/29 vs. South Carolina.
NorthCarolina St. Wolfpack (9-1)
The 'Pack, atNo. 14 last week, only deserve to drop one spot aftertheir loss to Washington. They played admirably on theroad against a top-10 team, and you've gotta think, ifthat game is played in Raleigh, Julius Hodge gets afoul call on his final shot attempt. Tony Bethel, whomI was curious to see against the Huskies' stellarguards, shot a disappointing 1 for 10 from the field-- and then redeemed himself with 15 points in aTuesday win over BYU.
Next two: 12/28 at Columbia,1/2 vs. West Virginia.
Duquense coach DannyNee, on Eagles star Craig Smith, who rocked the Dukesfor 30 points Wednesday: "We saw him on film, and itslike he's a battleship with alot of little ones on it." Name Smith's ship theU.S.S. RPI, because although his team can't manage tocrack the AP Top 25, they are No. 1 in collegebasketball's secretive mathematical formula. Pollvoters were pessimistic, and rightfully so, that BCneeded two overtimes to beat Yale, and one extraperiod to down Holy Cross. But I think the Eagles canrise to the occasion when the going gets tougher,starting on Dec. 29, when Kent State, a mid-major thatcan't be overlooked, rolls into town.
Next two: 12/29 vs. Kent State, 1/2 at UMass.