Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, February 11, 2013 at 9:27 AM
Hope you made it through your first football-free weekend since July ...Heck, the Louisville at Notre Dame now-epic five-OT game this past Saturday night probably kept you busy on this wintry weekend - wait, are they still playing? - but take note that the ND Fighting Irish hardly qualified as the biggest hoop winners the past few days as once-upon-a-time #1 Indiana "got right" with Sunday's muscle-flexing 81-68 win at 1-point favorite Ohio State and let's not forget a couple of super-shockers that took place with 9-point dog Illinois State bopping mighty Creighton 75-72 last Saturday in sports-crazed Omaha or Tulsa's tasty 74-70 triumph at 11-point favorite UTEP.
Yes, indeed, it all added up to a wonderful hoops weekend from coast-to-coast - especially in mad-cap Madison where the plucky Wisconsin Badgers had the weekend's real top win thanks to not one but two monster buckets by G Ben Brust who forced OT with Michigan on a near-half-court three-pointer and than the tie-breaking triple with less than 40 seconds left in the extra session in that wild 65-62 victory - but now it's time to forge straight ahead and spend some time examining ... drum roll, please ... three of the country's "bubble teams".
Okay, so we wanted to break the proverbial seal on that saying here - our first but certainly not our last "bubble teams" reference this season - and so let's look at the Cincinnati Bearcats, the Oklahoma Sooners and the Alabama Crimson Tide - power conference squads who have games here either on this Monday night or else on Tuesday - and who need to post as many wins as possible down the stretch of this 2012-13 campaign. So here goes ...
CINCINNATI (18-6, 6-5 Big East) - Here's what you have to like about the Bearcats while heading into Tuesday night's home tilt against Villanova:
The 'Cats have beaten the non-league likes of Iowa State, Oregon and Xavier and have won on the Big East road four times including victories at Pittsburgh and at Rutgers but following last Saturday's sloppy 62-52 home loss to the Pitt Panthers, Mick Cronin's club has lost two in a row and is just 5-5 SU (straight-up) in the team's last 10 games - hardly the stuff that excites the NCAA Tournament Committee folks, right?
Toss into the mix that there appears to be a groundswell of support for not letting the soon-to-be-crumbled Big East have as many as eight or nine teams in this year's NCAA Tournament - yes, we believe it's way more likely that this league gets in just six teams and right now that would seem to suggest Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Notre Dame all are on the "inside-looking-out" at the present time - and it appears Cincy must stage a late-year run in order to convince the many "doubting Thomas'" out there.
Pure fact is you're not gonna win a lot of Big East games shooting 30.8 percent from the floor - the 'Cats drained just 16-of-52 field-goal tries against admittedly defensively-stout Pitt - but G Cashmere Wright has to do better than 2-of-12 from the field if Cronin's club wants to put its dancing shoes on next month.
Cincinnati has a treacherous trio of road games on the remaining docket - at UConn, at Notre Dame and at Louisville and home tilts here against 'Nova and versus both Georgetown and UConn ain't gonna be easy.
The magic number is 25 as in 25 wins will likely get the 'Cats an NCAA Tourney berth ... let's see if this oft-dysfunctional team can get it done.
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OKLAHOMA (15-7, 6-4 Big 12) - The Sooners lace 'em up tonight for a league home game against TCU and what these teams have in common is they both beat Kansas this past week ... so how do you do!
No question Oklahoma's 72-66 win against the 5-point road favored KU Jayhawks didn't rank as a major upset - TCU was a 16 ½-point home dog when it bested Kansas last Wednesday night in Fort Worth - but yet there were the Sooners fans storming the court following the weekend win and that lends itself to the question as to whether or not Oklahoma will suffer a post-Kansas letdown here in this evening's ESPNU affair from Norman ... it could happen!
Right this minute the OU Sooners are engaged in a three-way tie with Iowa State and Baylor for fourth place inside the Big 12 and it's becoming increasingly clear while listening to all the TV "experts" than the Big 12 probably won't be sending more than five teams into this year's 68-team NCAA Tournament field - both sliding Kansas and Kansas State are locks for bids and Oklahoma State (7-3 in league play) appears in good shape and so this might become a mad scramble of three teams vying for two tourney spots and we put Oklahoma "on the bubble" here because it doesn't own any great non-conference wins and the Sooners have gone just 3-4 SU since a nifty five-game winning streak bridged their play from late December into January.
Gut feeling is Oklahoma must crank out a winning record in its final eight regular-season games - and that sked includes tilts at Oklahoma State and at Texas - and depending on how the Sooners fare here they may also may to win a game in next month's Big 12 Tourney too.
Oklahoma's first win over a top-five club in seven years must now garner some late-season momentum - head coach Lon Kruger is usually at his best at this stage of the season and now we'll see if his past experiences as a hard-court wizard can put OU over the top.
ALABAMA (15-8, 7-3 SEC) - The Crimson Tide rolls into Georgia on Tuesday night (see ESPNU) seeking its eighth win in 10 games and, so unlike aforementioned Cincinnati and Oklahoma, this "bubble team" has a strong momentum base these days but is that rotten run (six losses in eight games between December 1st and January 8th) really gonna cost 'em and what about what's ahead as you wonder if home wins against nobodies such as Miss State and Auburn is really gonna help the overall 'Bama power rating?
If you had to make a knee-jerk statement here, than how about Alabama has to win at least two of its remaining four regular-season road games including this one here in Athens and maybe even give mighty Florida a bit of a scare come that March 2nd game in Gainesville?
The Tide's in the upper crust of the SEC standings behind only Florida (9-1) and Kentucky (8-2) and currently knotted with Ole Miss in third place but keep in mind this league - in general - is down and probably gets four or maybe five teams into the NCAA Tourney field and so there is really no room for error for a 'Bama team that really has not had a "signature win" - go see for yourself!
THE NBA REPORT
A HEAT CHECK SHOWS DEFENDING CHAMPS ARE FEELING A-OK
Forget that flu bug that zapped Miami Heat star F Chris Bosh and kept him from playing the last three games prior to Sunday's 107-97 win against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Ask the defending champs how they're feeling these days and you're liable to get back a slew of smiles:
The Heat's now won five games in a row and their MVP LeBron James misses a shot about once a leap year - James' 32-point showing (after a very quiet start) powered the 34-14 Heat who play Portland on Tuesday night before venturing out on a four-game road swing that will include a monstrous Thursday night game in Oklahoma City. Yes, most in-the-know NBA folks have taken to calling the Thunder the best team in basketball these days but if the final quarter against the Lakers was any indication that Miami might just might be hanging another NBA championship banner for this 2012-13 season.
The league's top offensive team shot 55 percent from the field (that's 44-of-80 FG makes) with G Dwyane Wade drilling 12-of-18 FGs for 30 points and the aforementioned Bosh chipping in 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Okay, so maybe you consider this latest Miami win a no-big-deal triumph considering the Lakers remain a sub-.500 team but the James/Wade tandem scored a combined 38 points after intermission and there was some truly spirited play by the likes of G Mario Chalmers (13 points) - if the season ended today we'd vote for the Heat to repeat over Okie City (probably in six games, no more) and you start to day dream about now as to whether or not Miami is gonna win three or four more titles in the next handful of years ... don't you?
Note: Catch our NCAA Basketball Mid-Week News & Notes column in the next edition of Jim Sez.