Chris McHugh joins us as a periodic guest columnist. Enjoy!
I attended the Coaches vs. Cancer first round last night, and Maryland's performance certainly was a surprise. Ekene Ibekwe grabbed the headlines with 22 points and 14 boards, most of which came in the first half of a 92-60 romp over St. John's. D.J. Strawberry and James Gist also had huge nights, and the excitement from Terp Nation at MSG was palpable. Is Maryland back?
Not so fast. St. John's laid a complete egg. It is unfathomable that they came out as flat as they did. For a program supposedly on the rise, this loss must be considered an enormous and shocking setback. National TV, home court, big name opponent-St. John's had EVERYTHING to play for and never even hinted at being competitive.
While Maryland should be pleased with the win, the true test comes tonight against Michigan State. Michigan State, though not overly impressive in its win over a young and at times shaky Texas squad, will provide a truer test. The Spartans are vastly more talented than St. John's and will certainly battle every possession. Beat Michigan State and Maryland has road/neutral site victories over two big conference clubs (St. John's/Michigan St.), and a convincing victory over mid-major Vermont that looks like it may have some chops after its win over Boston College. Those three victories would be a nice start towards compiling the successful Tournament resume that has eluded the Terps for the past two seasons. Lose to Michigan State, and a win over what looks to be a lousy St. John's team will hold little significance come tournament time.
Durant-Catch Him While You Can
Kevin Durant is as advertised. He was well worth braving the nasty storm hitting Manhattan on Thursday night. 6'9" but with a giant wingspan similar to Luol Deng, this kid is a surefire Top 5 pick in next year's NBA Draft. He possesses an inside-outside game and looks comfortable shooting the trey, penetrating, and posting up. He is also a gamer, only taking one blow on the bench the entire game. Durant could benefit from putting on a few pounds, and he fell in love with his outside shot a bit too much against the Spartans on Thursday at the expense of getting to the rack, but he is a special player not to be missed.
Kudos to Prosser
Wake Forest escaped with a tight 86-83 victory over pesky Bucknell this week. Wake coach Skip Prosser agreed to travel to Bucknell not as an olive branch to the mid-majors but as a favor to his son, Mark, who is an assistant at Bucknell. Nevertheless, Prosser's decision should be lauded as should his team's victory.
Major programs, Duke included, have refused to schedule the Bucknells and Kent States as anything but home games. Traveling to a mid-major and losing is the type of blemish that can sink a tournament bid. Hopefully, the stigma attached to a loss at a mid-major is beginning to dissipate.
Wake won in a hostile environment against a solid mid-major team that knocked off Kansas in the 2005 Tournament. Wake's win, or even a close loss for that matter, is far more valuable, entertaining and impressive than Duke beating up on UNC-G at home, or Florida taking on North Florida. The Committee should reward teams like Wake who are willing to travel to mid-majors, and they should be more tolerant of losses to these underrated programs. It makes for better basketball to watch, provides marquee games for the fans of mid-major programs, and ultimately offers better opportunities for teams to improve before conference play through improved competition.
Ohio St.-What Am I Missing?
Look, I believe in Greg Oden. I accept that he is the best center prospect since Patrick Ewing. I cannot wait until he is healthy enough to suit up. But, how can Ohio St. start the season ranked #4, especially given Oden's injury? Should they not have to prove themselves at least a little before reaching their current ranking?
Ohio State lost its best player to graduation in Terrence Dials. The success of this team hinges entirely on freshmen. Highly touted freshmen perhaps, but still freshmen. UCLA, Wisconsin, and Georgetown-teams that return their core group or at least a significant part of it from teams that were successful last year-are more deserving of Ohio State's ranking. I will be the first one to shoot the Buckeyes up the polls if they knock off UNC or Oden's return leads to an impressive win streak, but for now they belong between 12-20 in the polls.