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Inside College Basketball

Feb. 25, 2002
Feb. 25, 2002

Table of Contents
Feb. 25, 2002

Inside College Basketball

Exorcising Devils
Maryland proved that it's a national title contender with an
impressive rout of Duke

This is an article from the Feb. 25, 2002 issue Original Layout

The official box score indicates that Maryland guard Juan Dixon
didn't have an assist during the Terrapins' 87-73 win over Duke
at Cole Field House on Sunday. The day before, however, Dixon
provided something more valuable when he suggested to coach Gary
Williams before practice that 6'10" sophomore Chris Wilcox, not
6'6" senior Byron Mouton, guard Mike Dunleavy, the Blue Devils'
6'9" forward. Dunleavy scored 19 second-half points in Duke's
99-78 rout of Maryland when the teams last met, on Jan. 17, and
he creates matchup problems for most teams because of his height
inside and his shooting ability outside. "Dunleavy's not that
quick," Dixon said after Sunday's game. "He can shoot and put
the ball on the floor, but Chris is very athletic. I knew he'd
have a good shot at stopping him."

Wilcox did more than stop Dunleavy, who scored only five of his
15 points in the game's final 31 minutes. He also punished the
Blue Devils on the offensive end, with a career-high 23 points to
go along with 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals. Wilcox's
performance helped lead Maryland (21-3, 11-1 in the ACC) to a
resounding wire-to-wire win that gave it sole possession of first
place in the conference through Sunday (the Terps haven't won an
outright regular-season title since 1980) and a No. 2 ranking.
"Chris is quick enough that if he makes mistakes, he can
recover," Williams says. "Usually only guards can do that."

With Dunleavy locked up, Wilcox's teammates could focus on
containing Duke guard Jason Williams, who was thoroughly
outplayed by his Maryland counterpart, Steve Blake. Williams
finished with 17 points but made only 6 of 22 shots and had six
turnovers to four assists. Blake, meanwhile, had 13 assists and
only one turnover to go with eight points. Their matchup was
neatly summed up during the waning seconds of the first half
when Blake sneaked up on Williams--who was dribbling the ball
while holding for the final shot and had turned to get
instructions from coach Mike Krzyzewski--stole the ball at
midcourt and went in for a layup. "We were a little bit
flustered," Krzyzewski said. "You can get away with that if the
other team isn't playing well, but Maryland was playing well."

Wilcox has played well at other times during his two seasons in
College Park, but too often he has made spectacular plays while
failing to complete routine ones. As his consistency has
improved, so have his stats: He was averaging 11.0 points, an
increase from 3.6 a game last season, and his rebounding had
improved from 2.1 a game to 7.7. On Sunday, Wilcox, a 51.6% free
throw shooter entering the game, made 7 of 9 from the line. He
also brings an impish personality to the Terps. Says junior guard
Drew Nicholas, "Chris is probably the one guy who can calm Coach
down when he's trying to be real serious."

For Maryland, Sunday's game wasn't only a win, it was an
exorcism. For all the talk of how terrific a rivalry this has
become, Duke (23-2 and 11-2) had beaten the Terps in five of
their previous six meetings, and after twice blowing leads
against the Blue Devils in epic fashion last season--including a
22-point advantage in the Final Four--Maryland needed to clear
this psychological hurdle to establish itself as a national
championship contender. Gary Williams tried to downplay this on
Sunday, saying, "We didn't win anything today. All we proved is
that we can beat Duke."

Given the Terps' history, that's not an insignificant feat.

Pitt Back on Track
Panthers on The Prowl

Back in the fall, when Pittsburgh was picked by the media to
finish sixth out of the seven teams in the Big East's West
Division, coach Ben Howland's first thought was, Perfect.

"From the outside I can see why they did that," says Howland,
who had lost his top two scorers and rebounders from a team that
had gone 7-9 in the conference (19-14 overall) last season. "I
liked being picked low because it meant we were a bit under the
radar."

Nobody is overlooking Pitt now. Led by the stellar play of
junior point guard Brandin Knight, who was averaging 15.6
points, 6.8 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals through Sunday,
the Panthers were atop the Big East's West Division with a 10-3
record (22-4 overall) and ranked 11th in the nation.
Pittsburgh's success can be traced to the end of last season,
when the Panthers played their best ball and clawed their way to
the Big East tournament championship game by upsetting Notre
Dame and Syracuse before falling to Boston College. In that loss
Howland saw a blueprint for the future. "BC just pushed us
around," Howland says. "It was obvious that we had to get
stronger."

Last year's starting center was senior Isaac Hawkins, who was
6'8", 210 pounds; now the center is 6'10", 282-pound Toree
Morris, who teams with 6'8", 238-pound forward Donatas Zavackas
on an imposing front line. Howland also made sure the Panthers
hit the weight room during the off-season, and the results are
evident: Pitt led the conference in rebounding margin (+7.2) and
scoring defense (59.8 points a game). "Coach wants us to make
our opponents uncomfortable," says sophomore guard Julius Page.
"That means slowing down the up-tempo teams and pushing it
against the slower teams."

The key to controlling tempo is the play of the 6-foot Knight,
whose brother, Brevin, plays for the Memphis Grizzlies. He is
Pitt's emotional leader and the player the Panthers turn to in
the clutch. After Pitt trailed Syracuse by 14 points with 13
minutes left at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 10, Knight scored 11 of
his team-high 16 points as the Panthers rallied for a 75-63
victory. "I'm lucky to have Brandin," Howland says of Knight, a
Big East MVP candidate. "He makes us go."

That Pitt is in position to win its first Big East title in 14
years is a testament to Howland, who made a name for himself at
Northern Arizona before taking over a Panthers' program in
disarray three years ago. Pitt was an embarrassment on and off
the court in the season before he took over. It lost 15 of its
final 22 games, and guard Fred Primus was arrested for grand
theft on a road trip to Villanova. Later that season forward
Attila Cosby had been suspended for fighting with an assistant
coach during a practice.

Under Howland, such transgressions have become things of the
past, and Pitt appears to be a lock to earn its first NCAA
tournament bid since 1993. The future looks bright as well: The
Panthers will lose only one player to graduation (backup
swingman Chad Johnson) and will move next year from antiquated
Fitzgerald Field House to the $70 million, 12,500-seat Petersen
Events Center. But as far as Pitt has come, Howland is quick to
point out that the program has a long way to go. "We can't start
thinking about next week, let alone next year," he says. "At
this point we're not guaranteed anything."--Josh Elliott

Diminishing Returns
Stars with Lost Luster

After testing the NBA waters last spring and finding them cold,
guard Keith Bogans returned to Kentucky to try to boost his NBA
stock. Instead his value has fallen. The low point came on Feb.
9, when Wildcats coach Tubby Smith benched Bogans for the final
18 minutes, 12 seconds of Kentucky's 68-56 win at LSU after
Bogans had taken an ill-advised shot. Asked the next day to
compare Bogans's play this season with last year's performance,
Smith said, "There is no comparison. I can't put a finger on
what's wrong, except there's been more pressure on him."

Bogans is one of several stars, including Illinois point guard
Frank Williams and Iowa's Reggie Evans and Luke Recker, who have
performed well below expectations this season. Bogans's scoring
average of 11.8 points per game through Sunday was down 5.2 from
his sophomore year, and his field goal percentage (39.1%) and
three-point percentage (32.8%) were lower than those of his
freshman season. Many observers around the SEC believe that
Bogans never recovered from his mediocre performance at the
NBA's predraft camp in Chicago last June. "It looks to me as if
he's pressing too hard," one conference assistant coach says.
"When kids come back who couldn't get drafted, sometimes they
try to improve their stock instead of letting the game come to
them."

Williams, who unlike Bogans might have been a first-round pick
had he entered the draft last spring, has had his troubles as
well. Last season the Illini's two best inside players were
seniors (and Williams's old high school teammates) Marcus
Griffin and Sergio McClain. Without them this year Williams's
scoring average was up nearly two points a game, to 16.7, but he
had seemed listless at times, and his shooting (38.7% from the
floor and 30.5% from three-point range) had been dismal. In a
particularly poor stretch for Williams, from Jan. 5 to Feb. 3,
Illinois lost five of eight games. Williams attributes his poor
play to tired legs, and while the Illini seemed to have regained
their footing with four straight wins, Williams still has to
prove he can consistently carry a team. "His teammates were
better last year, so his weaknesses weren't as glaring," one NBA
executive says. "If Frank is trying to impress NBA scouts, he
hasn't done it."

Iowa's disappointing season--the Hawkeyes were a preseason
favorite in the Big Ten but were tied for ninth place in the
conference with a 4-9 record--can be attributed in part to the
poor play and lack of leadership shown by senior captains Evans
and Recker. During a recent span of three games Recker shot
32.2% from the field. He was benched for the start of last
Saturday's 72-66 home loss to Ohio State along with Iowa's other
starters and finished with a season-low three points.

Though Evans, a 6'8" forward, was third in the nation in
rebounding (11.5 a game), his scoring average had dipped from
17.9 points in nonconference games to 14.3 in league play, and
he had often disappeared late in games. Evans, who was benched
for the Ohio State game for not attending class, also had argued
openly with his teammates on several occasions, and he had
almost twice as many turnovers (73) as assists (38). Even after
Evans had one of his best games of the season, with 23 points
and 13 rebounds in a 71-65 loss to Penn State on Feb. 13,
Hawkeyes coach Steve Alford offered him a backhanded compliment.
"Reggie probably played the best game of anybody on our team,"
Alford said. "Yet those last three minutes, he gets dominated."

The upshot is, Iowa will have to repeat as Big Ten conference
tournament champion if it's going to go to the NCAA tournament
this year, an unlikely prospect unless its stars begin to shine
again.

For complete scores and stats, plus more from Seth Davis
and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Wilcox (right) was a stopper on defense and a scourge on offense, with a career-high 23 points.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Though his scoring is up, the Illini's Williams has shot poorly and often hasn't been on the ball.

Weekly Seed Report

Maryland's win over Duke was even more significant because it
gave the Terrapins the inside track for the No. 1 seed in the
South, which might be more desirable than the East. Maryland
will play its first- and second-round games in Washington, D.C.,
regardless of what region it's in, but if the top seeds all
advance to the Final Four, the East champion would have to play
Kansas in the semifinals, since the Jayhawks figure to be in the
Midwest. So, with Duke and Maryland having split their two
games, the team that wins the ACC tournament--or advances
further--should get the more desirable region. In other
developments, an Oklahoma loss allowed Cincinnati to grab a No.
1 seed, and Indiana dropped out to make room for Stanford.

EAST
1. Duke (23-2)
2. Pittsburgh (22-4)
3. Georgia (19-7)
4. Ohio State (18-5)

MIDWEST
1. Kansas (23-2)
2. Florida (19-5)
3. Marquette (22-3)
4. Stanford (17-6)

SOUTH
1. Maryland (21-3)
2. Alabama (22-4)
3. Gonzaga (24-3)
4. Miami (21-5)

WEST
1. Cincinnati (24-2)
2. Oklahoma (20-4)
3. Arizona (17-8)
4. Kentucky (17-7)

Player of the Week

ROMAIN SATO,
SOPHOMORE, GUARD, XAVIER

The 6'5" Sato scored a career-high 34 points and had seven
rebounds in Xavier's 89-75 win over George Washington last
Thursday. Two days later he had 22 points and grabbed 11
rebounds in the Musketeers' 84-77 defeat of St. Joseph's. Here's
his dossier.

Major: International Business

Hometown: Bangui, which is the capital city of the Central
African Republic. I came to the United States in 1999.

How did you end up in Ohio? An organization in Africa placed me
at Dayton Christian High.

Favorite class: English

Favorite american food: McDonald's

Least favorite American food: Pizza

Favorite TV show: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. It's a good way
to learn about America.

In the CD changer: Principes Devin and Kirk Franklin

Languages you speak: Sango (official language of the Central
African Republic), French, Swahili, English and two African
dialects

Favorite road-trip reading: The Bible