Seth Davis's Free Throws

January 26, 2004

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody admits he was feeling sorry for
himself on Jan. 7 after his team lost by 24 points at Michigan to
drop to 5-7. Over the next seven days, however, the Wildcats had
a remarkable string of positive developments. Not only did they
win their next two Big Ten games--including a 70-60 victory over
No. 25 Illinois, breaking an eight-game losing streak to the
Illini--but on Jan. 10 Carmody scored a major coup when he
announced that 6'10" sophomore center Michael Thompson, who was a
McDonald's All-American, was transferring to Evanston.

Thompson, who is from Joliet, Ill., averaged just 1.4 points and
3.7 minutes a game during his 1 1/2 years in Durham, but when he
becomes eligible next December, he will give Northwestern an
athletic post presence it has never had during Carmody's four
years with the Wildcats. "People are always saying we live and
die by the three-pointer," says Carmody. "Well, if you don't have
anything else, that's what you have to do."

Thompson enrolled in classes and began practicing with the team
last week, and he watched the Illinois win from the bench. "It
was killing me to see them get beat on the boards so badly,"
Thompson says. "I know there will be a lot of expectations on me
next year, but I'm willing to meet them."

FLYING HIGH

Last week Air Force exorcised some of its Mountain West
Conference demons and proved that it's a real contender. On Jan.
12 the Falcons snapped their 27-game road losing streak at
Colorado State by beating the Rams 65-57. Five days later Air
Force won at New Mexico for the first time in 42 years, behind a
career-high 18 points from 6'8" sophomore center Nick Welch. The
defensive-minded Falcons--through Sunday they were first in the
nation in scoring D, giving up 47.4 points a game--are
flourishing under fourth-year coach Joe Scott, a former Princeton
assistant, and are off to their best start in history at 11-2.

HILLTOPPER IS SMASHING

Western Kentucky center Nigel (Big Jelly) Dixon may not be quite
the 400-pound behemoth he once was, but he is still carrying a
heavy load. The 6'11" senior center, who played three years at
Florida State before transferring to Western Kentucky in 2002, is
down to 320 pounds and was averaging 15.0 points and 9.9 rebounds
a game through Sunday for the 7-8 Hilltoppers. On Jan. 7 Dixon
made his presence felt in a big way, shattering a backboard in
the first half of a loss at Arkansas State, causing a 35-minute
delay. Last week Western Kentucky athletic director Wood Selig
put his maintenance crew through a dry run in case Dixon, who
estimates he has broken five backboards over the years, breaks
one at a home game this season. Said Selig, "We feel confident
that we can replace one in quicker than 35 minutes."

THREE POINTER

1. Marquette's main weakness has been exposed. The Golden Eagles'
inability to generate offense (their scoring has dropped from
78.5 last season to 69.3) was a major reason for back-to-back
losses to Cincinnati and Southern Mississippi last week.

2. Saint Joseph's has a good chance of finishing the regular
season undefeated. After escaping with an 81-73 win at Xavier
last Saturday, the Hawks were 15-0 and well-positioned to run the
table in the mediocre Atlantic 10.

3. Kentucky has little depth. With their starters averaging 30.1
minutes a game, the Wildcats showed fatigue in the second half of
both their narrow win over Mississippi State and their loss to
Georgia, getting outrebounded by a combined 47-22 in the two
halves.

COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN KERSEY/AP (NORTHWESTERN) Northwestern COLOR PHOTO: V. RICHARD HARO, FORT COLLINS COLORADOAN (WELCH) Welch COLOR PHOTO: JOE IMEL (DIXON) Dixon

Hoop Thoughts by Seth Davis, and Grant Wahl's mailbag at
si.com/basketball/ncaa.

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