Posted on: March 3, 2012 3:04 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2012 11:02 pm

Poppin' Bubbles: Statement time for bubblers

Iowa State answered all remaining questions about its at-large candidacy with a win over Baylor. (AP)

By Jeff Borzello

Saturday is not just for Duke vs. North Carolina and a trio of conference championship games. The final weekend of the regular season has bubble implications galore. There are intriguing bubble battles, chances for bubble teams to get big wins and other spots where bubble teams just simply can’t lose if they want an at-large bid. For some teams, losing might mean their hopes are dashed even before the conference tournament.

Note: This page will be updated throughout the day, with bubble discussion and analysis.

Locking things up

Memphis: The Tigers are all set after clinching the outright Conference-USA regular-season title with a win at Tulsa on Saturday. They finished the conference season with a 13-3 record, have a top-20 RPI and SOS, and own nine top-100 victories. They could wear home jerseys for the first round of the NCAA tournament at this point.

Saint Louis: The Billikens essentially clinched things with their win over Xavier earlier in the week, but avoiding a loss at Duquesne – without head coach Rick Majerus – on Saturday cements things even more. There aren’t any truly marquee wins, but an 8-4 record against the top 100 and a top-30 RPI will get the job done.

Iowa State: If there was any debate about whether the Cyclones would get an at-large bid, it ended on Saturday, when Iowa State knocked off Baylor to clinch the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament. They now have four top-50 wins, including victories over Kansas and a sweep of Kansas State. The soft non-conference schedule was a question mark for a bit, but there's no keeping out Iowa State anymore.

Helped itself

West Virginia picked up a big bubble win by defeating South Florida. (AP)

West Virginia: The Mountaineers had the biggest bubble win in the first few hours of Saturday, going into South Florida and knocking off the Bulls in the final minutes. The win gets West Virginia to .500 in the Big East, and is their fourth top-50 win of the season. The bubble pecking order in the conference is completely up in the air, but two wins in the Big East tournament would likely get a bid for West Virginia.

Connecticut: The Huskies simply couldn’t lose to Pittsburgh on Saturday, unless they had plans to make a run to the Big East title game. It wasn’t pretty, but Connecticut pulled out a win in the final two minutes. 8-10 in the Big East doesn’t look great, but the Huskies have five top-50 wins, including victories over fellow bubblers South Florida, Seton Hall and West Virginia. The No. 2-ranked SOS is also a huge plus. They will need a couple of wins in the Big East tourney as well.

Dayton: Beating George Washington isn’t going to get the Flyers in the dance, but it keeps their hopes alive heading into the conference tournament. They have three top-30 RPI wins over Temple, Alabama and Saint Louis, as well as a win over bubbler Xavier. Nine top-100 wins are more than most bubble teams can say. On the negative side, the computer profile is mediocre and they have three sub-100 losses. They might need a marquee win in the A-10 tournament; could that mean a trip to the title game?

Cincinnati: For the first time in nearly a decade, the Bearcats went into Villanova and came out with a win. They improve to 12-6 in the Big East, including six top-50 wins. The Bearcats should feel pretty comfortable right now, but the three sub-100 losses and the horrendous non-conference SOS still make things shaky. The RPI is slowly getting better, and one win in the Big East tournament could be enough to get the job done for Mick Cronin's crew.

For a while on Saturday, it looked like the Musketeers were ready to see their bubble popped. They were down at home to Charlotte, before going on a huge run in the second half and pulling out the win. Xavier is currently third in the Atlantic-10 standings, which could be helpful for the profile. It looks like they will need a semifinal win to really improve the profile, though. There are good wins over Vanderbilt and Purdue, as well as victories against bubblers Cincinnati, Dayton and Saint Joseph's. They will be an interesting case.

The Wildcats escaped at Iowa, finishing at 8-10 in the Big Ten. A loss on Saturday would have ended their chances, but now they still have life heading into the Big Ten tournament. They are only 2-10 against the top 50, but suffered zero sub-100 losses and have a top-10 strength of schedule. The win over Michigan State back in January carries some weight, but there's not a ton of heft besides that victory. There is damage to be done in the tourney.

Miami (Fl.):
The Hurricanes were one of the last teams out of the field heading into the weekend, but they stayed alive with a dominant victory over Boston College. With Maryland sneaking into the top 100, Miami has four top-100 wins, including victories against Duke and Florida State. However, the 4-11 record against the top 100 is a huge eye sore and the computer profile isn't overly impressive. They need another big win for the ledger, meaning they have to win a couple games in the ACC tourney. 

Colorado State: The Rams took care of business at Air Force, avoiding a letdown after the huge win over UNLV earlier this week. Had Colorado State lost to the Falcons, most of the good vibes earned by the UNLV win would have been erased. That's irrelevant now, though. The Rams have a very solid resume, with wins over UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State, as well as a great computer profile. Moreover, Saturday's win gives them another road victory (they only have three). One in the MWC tourney should get it done. 

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs did what they needed to do to finish the season, winning their final two regular-season games and getting back to .500 in the SEC. They still have to do work in the SEC tournament, as the computer profile is mediocre. However, they do have eight top-100 wins, including victories over Vanderbilt, Alabama and fellow bubbler West Virginia. Mississippi State will need to get at least one win in the SEC tournament, and two wins would be more comforting. 

The Ducks continue to make a run toward at-large consideration, hammering Utah to finish 13-5 in the Pac-12. However, they are only 3-7 against the top 100 and 19 of their 22 wins are against teams ranked below 100. They are playing well at the right time, and the availability of Devoe Joseph is certainly something the committee will consider. They need to make a deep run in the Pac-12 tournament, though, as the profile is rather barren at this point.

Drexel: As the outright CAA champion, Drexel has a nice chip compared to some of the other bubble teams, but the Dragons need to get to the tournament title game to have a legitimate chance. They took the first step there by handling UNC-Wilmington in the quarterfinals. We’ll look again if they win in the semifinals.

VCU: Like Drexel, VCU needs to get to the title game to have a legitimate shot at an at-large bid. The Rams handled Northeastern on Saturday, meaning one more win would get them there. The Rams have a terrible SOS and two sub-100 losses, but they are very good away from home and did beat South Florida. The lack of meat on the resume could be a problem.

Tennessee: It seems there is another movement afoot to get the Volunteers some at-large consideration. I would still hold off on that talk, though. The computer profile is poor and they have four sub-100 losses. Even factoring in the arrival of Jarnell Stokes, the overall resume is still mediocre. With all that said, if the Vols get the No. 2 seed in the SEC tourney and make a run to the title game, things could get interesting.

Oral Roberts: The Golden Eagles nearly lost to IPFW in their first game of the Summit tournament, but they pulled out a win late to keep things somewhat interesting. I still think they need to win the automatic bid to get to the NCAA tournament, but a close loss in the title game could raise some questions. Zero top-50 wins is a major problem. 

Could the Crimson have survived a loss to Cornell and a second-place finish in the Ivy? We came close to finding out on Saturday night, as Harvard barely pulled out a win in the season finale. Now, the Crimson will wait and see what Penn does at Princeton this week. If the Quakers win, Harvard has a one-game playoff with Penn for the automatic bid. As far as at-large consideration, the win over Florida State looks good, but the schedule is terrible. 

Hurt itself

Kevin Willard knows his Seton Hall Pirates are in trouble. (US Presswire)

Seton Hall: The biggest bubble loser of the day has to be the Pirates. Going into the week, Seton Hall was in good shape. It just had to beat Rutgers and DePaul and things would be pretty comfortable heading into the Big East tournament. Well, the Pirates lost both games, including an absolutely embarrassing performance on Saturday against the Blue Demons. Things are now very shaky for Seton Hall. The Pirates finished just 8-10 in the Big East and have three sub-100 losses. They now have to win at least two games in the conference tournament; falling short of the quarterfinals won't get it done. 

South Florida: The Bulls had a chance to get a double-bye in the Big East tournament with a home win over West Virginia, which would have looked fantastic on the resume. However, they couldn’t make plays late in the game and dropped an important one to the Mountaineers. South Florida is only 2-7 against teams ranked in the top 50, but they have a solid computer profile and 12-6 in the Big East is nothing to scoff at. They need at least one win in the conference tourney, and most likely two.

Washington: If the Huskies had won the outright Pac-12 title, it would be a heck of a chip heading into Selection Sunday. However, after their loss at UCLA on Saturday, it's likely they will need to share the championship with California. The resume on its own is far from impressive. The Huskies have yet to beat an NCAA tournament team and 18 of their 21 wins are from the sub-100 region. The computer profile isn't awful, but Saturday's loss gives them a sub-100 loss. They need to reach the title game, at the very least.

Southern Miss:
 The Golden Eagles continue to make things difficult for themselves, after losing at Marshall to drop to 11-5 in Conference-USA. The RPI is still in the top 20 and they have a 9-4 record against the top 100, but there are also three sub-100 losses. Moreover, by finishing at 11-5, there is little separation betwen Southern Miss and the rest of the league. They have work to do in the conference tournament if they want to feel comfortable come Selection Sunday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide are still very likely to get a bid to the NCAA tournament, but they missed out on a chance to truly lock themselves in by losing at Ole Miss on Saturday. Alabama has a very solid computer profile and a 9-7 SEC record, with 10 wins against the top 100. The lack of truly good wins against the top 50 is something of a wart on the resume, but it would be tough to leave Alabama out at this point. Winning one game in the SEC tournament would solidify things, though.  

Texas: I'm not sure anyone actually thought the Longhorns were going to go into Lawrence on Senior Night and knock off Kansas, but the loss hurts nonetheless. Texas drops to 3-9 against the top 50 and 4-10 against the top 100, which doesn't compare favorably with most other bubblers. They also have two sub-100 losses. Getting the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament, Texas will have a quarterfinal matchup with Iowa State. The Longhorns need to win that one to have an at-large chance. Two wins would seal the deal. 

Long Beach State: A loss in the Big West championship game is one thing, but a loss in the season finale is quite another. The 49ers dropped Saturday night's game late to Cal State Fullerton, and now enter the conference tournament in some trouble. If they lose in the championship game, I'm not sure they can survive as an at-large team. They did beat Xavier and Pittsburgh in the non-conference, but neither win is all that impressive right now. They are 0-6 vs. the top 50 and now have a bad loss on the resume.

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: February 21, 2012 9:05 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:07 am

Poppin' Bubbles: Big chances for marquee wins

Northwestern had a chance to solidify its resume against Michigan. Instead, the Wildcats fell in overtime. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Borzello

This week is void of bubble-bubble battles for the most part, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any important games for those teams on the fence. Tuesday’s slate features seven bubble teams facing ranked teams, while two other bubblers are on the road and another team or two need to solidify their resumes by avoiding a bad loss. Simply put, this is a monster night for bubble squads.

Note: This page will be updated throughout the night, with bubble discussion and analysis. 


Seton Hall:
 The first of what could be several big bubble wins tonight. The Pirates came out with intensity and energy, and never let up en route to a 73-55 win over Georgetown. The win gives the Pirates a marquee win on which to hang their hat, a win that they desperately needed. Prior to tonight, the best wins for Seton Hall were over Connecticut and West Virginia. Moreover, the victory improves Seton Hall to .500 in the Big East, with a home game vs. Rutgers and a road trip to DePaul remaining. The Pirates are feeling confident right now.

Kansas State:
And it's time to lock the Wildcats up. After winning at Baylor to put themselves in good position, Kansas State went into Columbia and handed Missouri its first home loss of the season, 78-68. It also punches the Wildcats' ticket to the NCAA tournament. They now have two wins over Missouri and a win over Baylor, as well as victories over Long Beach State, Alabama and Texas. The two losses to Oklahoma look strange, but that will only matter for seeding now. Kansas State is in. 

Colorado State: The Rams are certainly alive on the NCAA bubble, after taking down a red-hot New Mexico team. Combined with their win over Wyoming on Saturday, Colorado State is back above .500 in the Mountain West, and the Rams' computer profile is only going to get better. Coming into the night, the RPI was 30 and the SOS was 13 -- that will improve after the win over the Lobos. This gives Colorado State two good wins on the resume, with the other coming against San Diego State. The biggest problems right now are the 2-8 road record and the three sub-100 losses. However, with games against UNLV and SDSU coming up, the Rams have chances. Win one, and they could be in good shape.


Northwestern: Oh, so close. The Wildcats -- in perhaps the biggest game in program history -- had chances to beat Michigan in regulation, but fell short. The Wolverines dominated the overtime en route to a win over Northwestern. The loss is heartbreaking for the Wildcats, which was one of the last teams in the field this week and really could have helped their resume with another marquee win. Moreover, instead of moving to .500 in the Big Ten, Northwestern drops to 6-9. Bill Carmody's club still has to travel to Penn State and Iowa, as well as play host to Ohio State. The Wildcats might need a win over the Buckeyes to look attractive to the Committee. Wins over Michigan State and Seton Hall might not be enough.

Mississippi State: It was a heck of an effort from Mississippi State on Tuesday night against Kentucky, but the Bulldogs simply couldn't make enough plays at either end of the floor in the second half. While they played well, it's now four losses in a row for Rick Stansbury and co. A couple of weeks ago, Mississippi State was looking like a potential Sweet 16 team and a No. 6 seed or so. Now, their at-large hopes could hinge on a road trip to fellow bubbler Alabama this weekend. They're now 6-7 against the top 100 and 6-7 in the SEC. Rodney Hood's injury could be something to watch as well. 

So much for taking advantage of the momentum the Musketeers built after the overtime win over Dayton. Xavier went into Amherst on Tuesday night and never seemed overly competitive against Massachusetts, losing 80-73. A win would have helped the Musketeers feel more confident; instead, they're back in trouble. The best win remains over Vanderbilt, although the victories against fellow bubble teams Purdue, Cincinnati, Dayton and Saint Joseph's could potentially help on Selection Sunday. A win at Saint Louis next week would be nice.

North Carolina State: Last week, North Carolina State was on the verge of really solidifying its at-large profile, leading by 20 at Duke. After a loss to North Carolina on Tuesday, the Wolfpack have lost three in a row and are really struggling. They needed a marquee win for their profile -- the best wins right now are over Miami (Fl.) and Texas -- and they struck out all three times in the past week. NC State now needs to win its final three games of the regular season and then pick up a big win over someone in the ACC tournament.

Miami (Fl.): The Hurricanes had stayed in the field by simply avoiding losses to non-NCAA teams. That ended on Tuesday, as the Hurricanes blew a second-half lead and lost to Maryland in the final minutes, 75-70. Turnovers by Durand Scott and Shane Larkin could come back to haunt them come Selection Sunday. Miami is only 1-6 against the top 50 of the RPI, and it only has one truly "good" win -- at Duke on Super Bowl Sunday. The Hurricanes host Florida State and then travel to North Carolina State next week in a huge bubble battle. Miami likely needs to win both.

Illinois: If you didn't think the Fighting Illini threw in the towel during their miserable blowout loss at Nebraska over the weekend, Tuesday night's loss to Ohio State should have done the trick. The Buckeyes got out to a 28-8 lead and never looked back, getting revenge for an earlier loss with a blowout win. Illinois is now essentially lifeless in terms of the NCAA tournament. The Illini have lost nine of its last 10 games and are five games below .500 in the Big Ten.
Posted on: February 21, 2012 11:52 am

Cincy-Xavier likely to continue rivalry

Cooler, smarter heads have prevailed and it appears Xavier-Cincy will continue their rivalry. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

The brouhaha that briefly marred college basketball's reputation in December won't prevent one of the most intense rivalries from continuing as (to be) scheduled.

The Cincinnati Enquirer is reporting perspective has prevailed: the Cincinnati-Xavier basketball rivalry will most likely keep on keeping on in the coming years. The fight was of course unacceptable, and people beyond the players (namely the officials who let things get past the point of civility) were at fault for the transgressions. Animosity has always been the most pungent ingredient to X vs. Cincy, but so long as 2011's Crosstown Shootout fiasco was an aberration, there's no reason to stop this once-a-year appointment.

“Every indication is that we are going to play next year,” University of Cincinnati president Greg Williams said Monday. “We’re looking at it. (Xavier University president) Father Graham and I have talked about it a number of times.”

Williams, who emphasized that a final decision has not been made, said a group of advisors is looking at “what the game should look like going forward” and that the group will make recommendations to him. Asked if any possible changes might include moving the game to a neutral site, Williams said, “There’s been a lot of issues that need to be considered. I don’t want to pre-empt any recommendations that a committee might make.”

Xavier has always been in favor of continuing the rivalry, said XU athletic director Mike Bobinski.

“I haven’t changed my thoughts, nor do I believe Xavier has changed our thoughts at all,” Bobinski said. “Absolutely, we would like to see the game continue for the good of both institutions, college basketball, the city, all of the above. We all agree we’ve got work to do to put a different feel and flavor to the thing, but it’s worth doing so. Those conversations are yet to come.”

Bobinski said he would be opposed to playing the game at a neutral site.

Those quotes are pretty relieving. You've got men at the head of the table for each school speaking matter-of-fact-like about the rivalry, its importance and the perspective of what it means to each program, its fans and the community. Williams and Bobinski are in touch with it all, and that's relieving to see.

Expect the final decision/formal word on the rivalry's continuation in March. There's still debate over whether the game should be played on a neutral court. I think keeping it in home arenas is fine, you're just going to have to up the security very noticeably in the next few years. Fans will be fans and I'm sure a few who don't even know it yet are already destined to get themselves thrown out.

But as long as the players stay in the game and basketball is basketball, one of the sports top-five rivalries deserves to continue.

Posted on: January 7, 2012 4:46 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 1:08 am

Tu Holloway isn't all the way back, but Xavier is

On Saturday Holloway scored zero points. That hadn't happened since he was a freshman. (Getty Images)

By Matt Norlander

BRONX, N.Y. — Player with All-American talent comes home, has a game in front of 70 friends and family, and takes only three shots, scoring zero points.

How do you interpret that? Bravo to said player for not trying to force the issue and make the game about him? Or is there something wrong if a guy who’s his team’s best scorer simply opts out of aggressiveness and turns his game into a one-mode mission: distribute the ball at all costs. For the first time since he was a freshman, Tu Holloway failed to score a point.

Holloway says he’s OK. Says he and Xavier got that much-needed morale boost of a win by defeating Fordham on the road 67-59 Saturday afternoon. Holloway, who grew up in Hempstead, N.Y., also had five assists and two turnovers. He looked as much the part of a natural point guard as I’ve seen him. And it looked odd.

“We didn’t want to get any technical fouls [in the last few games],” Holloway said. “Today, we had to get back to being us.”

Then, he went existential. Say what you will about Tu Holloway, at least he’s got a sense of the ethos.

“In your mind, you are who you are for so long, but you don’t realize you change sometimes,” he said.

Holloway’s definitely changed to a degree since You Know What. He said he’s back (I don’t think he’s all the way there; when we see it we’ll know it), but admitted the team was mentally rattled for the past month. That disconnect started with him and fellow guard Mark Lyons not taking control of the team.

There’s no way Xavier’s OK and all the way back if these kinds of games from Holloway become habit — not to suggest they will, either, but today’s performance was tangibly consistent with his inhibitions for the past month. Know this: The two big games Holloway was held to single digits last season, Xavier lost (to Cincy in the regular season and to Marquette in the NCAA tournament). Fortunately, Fordham, one of the younger teams in the country, is still not that strong and X could get itself right by mixing it up and trying to win in other ways. Any way to get that W was what Xavier (10-5) needed, and it got it.  

“I think today was an anomaly,” Musketeers coach Chris Mack said. “But, yeah, we need him to score. There’s no question about it. He probably went overboard the other way, but for this game, where our team is at, the only stat that mattered was the win.”

Holloway was averaging four turnovers per game the previous five games, fouling with more frequency . His scoring hadn’t dipped too much, but his on-court demeanor — and the rest of the team’s, too — altered. On Saturday Holloway wasn’t brash on the floor. His chest didn’t puff like Lyons’. Normally, the two go hand in hand in how they play, fraternal twins who dictate Xavier’s personality and mood swings.  Lyons was the reason Xavier avoided a loss — and subsequently didn’t turn this post into an obituary. Lyons remained aggressive, wanted the ball, said this was the game where he got back to not worrying about how refs would view the team and make calls. He baited Lamount Samuell into a technical after taking the ball from Samuell in a dead-ball situation and saying, “Gimme that.” It’s how Lyons plays. It’s pesky, and it showed he wasn’t afraid to be himself on the floor anymore.

It was Lyons, not Holloway, who had the ball and hit two free throws to put the game decisively out of reach, at 66-59, with 30 seconds to go after Fordham made a late-game push. Holloway’s an 83 percent free-throw shooter; Lyons 73. Yet he made sure he got those free throws.

“We’ve been worried about the media and stuff,” Lyons said. “And nowadays we’re getting back to our old ways, and we’re going to compete and be the tough and nasty team that our program is known for.”

Lyons only speaks in terms of defensive toughness. I found it refreshing that Xavier’s coaching staff and players weren’t afraid to keeping using the words “tough” and “nasty” following the win. The fight was awful PR, but it’s not going to change how the team plays. At least not anymore.

“I think a lot of people want to label our kids at times as dumb, but he’s (Holloway) a great kid,” Mack said. “He hasn’t played great at times, but I wouldn’t take any other point guard in the country.”

Here’s what’s interesting to me. Xavier was 9-5 coming into this game, and it’s Mack’s third season as coach. You know what the Muskies were last year after 14 games? 9-5. They finished the regular season 24-6. In 2009-10? Again: 9-5.  They finished 23-7. It’s what leads up to and surrounds that record that dictates how we view it, of course. Xavier could win up in the tournament and getting a 5 seed. There’s a lot left to accomplish, I just think Holloway’s got to mentally lock in and play unafraid for it to happen. Again, we’re waiting to see it come back.

“We’re gonna be fine,” Mack said as he crutched his way out of Rose Hill Gymnasium and headed to the airport; he tore his patella tendon Friday night while practicing with the team. “It’s on us to make sure the team that I see every day in practice shows up in games, and for whatever reason that hasn’t been the case.”

Out of everyone involved with the program, Mack seems the most confident and least stressed about his team’s reputation and performance and Holloway. Which is how it should be.

“If it weren’t for the fight at Cincinnati, I don’t know what our record would be, but I’m not going to apologize for it,” he said. Xavier’s done apologizing in general. Once Holloway stops feeling restricted and regains his confidence, we’ll know for sure if this team’s completely moved on.

Posted on: January 5, 2012 3:48 pm
Edited on: January 5, 2012 3:50 pm

Fixing Xavier: how can it snap out of funk?

Jeff Borzello

When Xavier lost to Oral Roberts, one could blame the suspensions of Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dezmine Wells.

When the Musketeers went 1-2 in Hawaii at the Diamond Classic, one could point to the loss of Lyons for a game and Wells for the entire trip.

What about the last two games, though?

Everyone is back in the fold for Xavier, yet the Musketeers are still losing. They dropped a game to Gonzaga over the weekend, and then lost to La Salle by 10 on Wednesday night.

Everyone figured Xavier would stumble a bit after its brawl with Cincinnati, due to the suspensions. But this? Losses in five of its last six games?

It all starts with the attitude on the court from Xavier. Prior to the brawl, the Musketeers were one of the most confident teams in the country. Holloway and Lyons were tough and talented – and they knew it. They played like it. Suddenly, the mojo is completely gone.

It doesn’t seem to be a chemistry issue, but nevertheless, there’s something obviously missing between the players.

“They’re lacking swagger and confidence,” one opposing coach said.

On the court, Xavier has been settling for too many jumpers – not a good sign from a team that barely shoots 33 percent from 3-point range. Holloway has been attacking the basket with less aggressiveness, instead taking long jumpers to the tune of 5-for-21 since his return. Lyons is just 6-for-21 from behind the arc in the last four games.

Xavier’s offense is at its best when Lyons and Holloway are taking opponents off the dribble and finishing in the lane.

“The guards are very streaky shooters,” one assistant coach who faced Xavier recently said. “They have one of the lowest 3-point makes per game in their league. The game has become 3’s.”

“We don’t respect their 3-point shooting,” a coach added.

The Musketeers are also getting fewer transition opportunities, which has made the offense stagnant. Xavier beats opponents down the court for easy baskets, going on runs and putting the other team on its heels. The last six games – save for the Gonzaga game – the defense has been forcing fewer turnovers than usual. Against La Salle, Xavier forced turnovers on just 9.5 percent of possessions.

When Xavier is forced to play in the half-court, the offense struggles.

“They are slashing guards,” an opposing coach said. “They can’t score in the half-court; they score a lot in transition.”

Another problem on the defensive end has been their inability to stop dribble penetration and opponents’ perimeter offense. La Salle hit nine 3-pointers on Wednesday night, and teams are also getting into the lane too easily. Xavier starts two inside players in Andre Walker and Kenny Frease, and teams are taking advantage of that with inside-outside forwards.

La Salle’s Earl Pettis went for 23 against Xavier, while Josten Thomas had 24 when Hawai’i faced the Musketeers. Even in their lone win in the last six games, the Musketeers still struggled to contain versatile forwards – freshman Dantiel Daniels scored 22.

“In my opinion, they are too big and don’t use their bigs well enough,” one coach said. “They never go four guards and we drove their other big every time. It’s a guards’ game and they don’t have enough guards. If they are going to be big, they need to use it to their strength.”

When Holloway and Lyons are rolling, Xavier can beat anyone in the country. The first eight games of the season proved that; Holloway was in the running for Player of the Year and Lyons was becoming one of the most underrated players around. With those two as the leaders, the Musketeers should be able to turn this around. A couple of wins in a row, and Xavier could get its momentum and swagger back.

With the talent Chris Mack has at his disposal, it’s tough to doubt the Musketeers in the final two months of the season.

“They can fix it,” one opposing assistant said. “They are good.”

Photo: US Presswire

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 2, 2012 2:36 pm
Edited on: January 2, 2012 2:53 pm

The Poll Attacks

By Gary Parrish

You think adopting a cute dog will keep you out of the Poll Attacks?

Think again, Toni.

Think again.

Let's go!

Associated Press poll: Pittsburgh is 11-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big East.

And yet the Panthers are still getting points in the AP poll.


The good news is that all four of Pitt's points came from the same voter, which means 64 of the AP's 65 voters understand the Panthers belong nowhere close to a Top 25 ballot. The bad news is that one voter isn't quite as tuned in. Her name is Toni Ginnetti, and this might be the first time I've ever Poll Attacked a woman. (Insert joke here.) Honestly, it makes me a little uncomfortable. But how can she have Pitt ranked 22nd?

Pittsburgh has no good wins and four bad losses (on the road at Notre Dame and at home to Long Beach State, Wagner and Cincinnati), which means the Panthers are in the running for the nation's most disappointing team considering they were ranked 10th in the preseason. And yet Toni has them ranked 22nd. Which is silly. She also has Xavier ranked 18th. Which is also silly considering the Musketeers have dropped four of their past five games, including Saturday's home game to a Gonzaga team that is now 11-2 and ranked 25th but somehow unranked on Toni's ballot.

In summary, Toni is the only person giving Pitt and Xavier votes.

So she's smarter than everybody or completely unaware of what's happened the past two weeks.

The latter seems more likely.

But, either way, let's end this on a good note. Seems Toni just adopted the cutest dog in the world. I'm for stuff like that. So because she's so generous I promise to never Poll Attack her again ... as long as she gets Jamie Dixon's underachieving Panthers off her ballot by next Monday.

Coaches poll: Jeff Goodman and I ranked Indiana seventh in the Top 25 (and one).

Now for the question you're asking ...

Do we really believe there are just six teams better than Tom Crean's Hoosiers?

Answer: No.

But what do you do with a team that's 13-1 with no bad losses and wins over Kentucky and Ohio State? At some point you have to throw away what you think you know and just rely on the body of work, and IU's body of work is among the nation's best. Again, the Hoosiers are 13-1. The only loss is a loss at Michigan State, and Indiana actually led that game with less than nine minutes remaining. (Michigan State, by the way, is 13-2 with losses only to North Carolina and Duke. So, like I said, IU's loss at Michigan State is not a bad loss.) Meantime, the Hoosiers have wins over Kentucky, Ohio State and Butler. That's really good at this point in the season and why I can't understand the coaches ranking IU 12th.

Let's compare the Hoosiers' body of work to one team ranked ahead of them -- Louisville.

The Cards are 12-2.

They have zero wins over teams currently ranked.

They have a loss to the Kentucky team that IU has already topped.

And, if you're into this sort of thing, the Cards are nine spots behind Indiana at KenPom.com.

So how is Louisville ranked ahead of Indiana? And why is Indiana still outside of the top 10? If the Hoosiers are fraudelant, we'll find out soon enough and adjust accordingly. But for now, they probably belong in the top 10, and they definitely belong ahead of Louisville.
Posted on: December 24, 2011 11:17 am

Xavier now 0-3 since the Cincy brawl

By Matt Norlander

Has anything gone right for Xavier since around 1:50 p.m. on Dec. 10? In the dead of the night, while you were sleeping and getting in as much rest before your Christmas Eve festivities, the Musketeers got knocked off in overtime, 84-82, by 6-5 Hawaii. Prior to last night, Hawaii hadn't beat a team ranked higher than 297 in KenPom's system. Xavier was once 8-0 and looking Final Four-caliber. Now does anyone have any idea what's happening?

It's bizarre. Only Dezmine Wells was missing from last night's game for X, still serving his four-game suspension for his involvement in the brouhaha with Cincinnati. Tu Holloway scored 26, Mark Lyons had 18. X was better on the boards, forced more turnovers and hit nine 3s to Hawaii's four. But it still lost. It still can't correct itself in the wake of college basketball's ugliest moment this season.

I've said before I would try my best to never schedule my team between Dec. 22 and Dec. 26 due to the holidays and all distraction/homesickness that comes with it, but Xavier's problems have little to do with being preoccupied by Christmas -- they'll be playing on Dec. 25 as is, only in the lowest-tiered bracket of the Diamond Head Classic. The game will be against 3-6 Southern Illinois. This is a tournament Xavier should have won; it's really something to see how everything's changed in the past two weeks.

This team is spiraling down right now, obviously. It's a turn of events no one saw coming. The power of punches and the side effects have led to three straight losses and certainly damaged this time psychologically. The last time the program lost three in a row was early in the 2004-05 season, which was Sean Miller's first year as Muskies head man.

Can you get healthy off of Southern Illinois? I don't know, but Gonzaga comes next, on New Year's Eve, and the Bulldogs will be ready and awaiting the challenge -- if it ends up being that. The good news is X gets that game at home.

I can't call it karma -- Cincy was just as at fault for the fight, and it's averaged 96 points in four straight wins since the brawl -- but in no way did I think Xavier would fall apart like this. You didn't, either. Seasons can get away from teams fast in college basketball. We've seen many examples of promising starts spin out into NIT bids. I don't think Xavier's hurtling toward that inferior tournament, but I do think a team that claimed to be proud, brash, unwilling to back down to anyone has looked rattled and intimidated for the past two weeks.

"Zip 'em up" was first a Xavier tough-guy motto. Then it became a point of criticism. Now it's a mocking call.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 19, 2011 3:42 pm
Edited on: December 19, 2011 3:46 pm

The Poll Attacks

By Gary Parrish

UNLV should be ranked ahead of Illinois.

Only six Associated Press voters don't understand this.

But hopefully those six will learn their lesson in this week's Poll Attacks.

Associated Press poll: Leaving UNLV off your ballot is wrong.

Leaving UNLV off your ballot that includes Illinois?

That's way wrong.

But six AP voters -- Bill Cole, Elton Alexander, Pete Glibert, Roger Clarkson, Ron Morris and Rod Beard -- managed to do exactly that this week, and so now they find themselves in the middle of the Poll Attacks. Merry Christmas, fellas. Did you see what UNLV did to Illinois on Saturday in Chicago? The Rebels won 64-48. And, no, head-to-head matchups aren't the deciding factor on everything. They can't be. But UNLV doesn't only have that 16-point victory over the Illini in Illinois, the Rebels also have a better overall body of work.

UNLV has wins over No. 5 North Carolina and No. 25 Illinois, and the Rebels' only losses are at No. 13 Wisconsin and at Wichita State, which is receiving votes in the AP poll.  Meantime, Illinois has zero wins over schools currently ranked. So UNLV has better wins than Illinois, no real bad losses and -- don't forget this -- a dominant win over the Illini in Chicago. In my opinion, both schools should be ranked. So I'm not killing Illinois. All I'm saying is that UNLV should also be ranked. And definitely above Illinois. Because ranking Illinois while not ranking UNLV is almost as dumb as Will Barton being an official candidate for an award given annually to the nation's top point guard.

Coaches poll:
Would you drop a team because it lost a game when three players fouled out?

Of course you would.

We all would.

Which is why I have no problem with the coaches dropping Xavier from ninth to 15th in this week's poll even though Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dez Wells did not play in Sunday's home loss to Oral Roberts, because they essentially fouled out of the game before it started via the roles they played in that brawl against Cincinnati. They were all suspended because of their actions. So why shouldn't Xavier pay a price for that?

An injury?

That's nobody's fault.

That's why Ohio State didn't suffer when Jared Sullinger's absence cost the Buckeyes at Kansas.

But Holloway, Lyons and Wells are responsible for putting their team in a bad spot just like when somebody else's starting center picks up two dumb fouls early and puts his team in a bad spot. When that team loses, we don't excuse it and say, "But that team wouldn't have lost if its center would've played smarter." So why should we excuse Xavier's loss and say, "But the Musketeers wouldn't have lost if Holloway, Lyons and Wells would've acted appropriately against Cincinnati?"

Answer: We shouldn't.

So I'm OK with how the coaches handled Xavier.

It's similar to how we handled the Musketeers in the Top 25 (and one).

And I realize this is sort of a reverse Poll Attack, but whatever. I wanted to make that point.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com