Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 10:54 AM
Hey, it's not easy sitting all alone at the top of the College Basketball world.
As the Kentucky Wildcats discovered last night, everyone's taking their best shot and for 36-or-so minutes it certainly seemed as if the 'Cats were gonna get knocked from that top perch as M-State charged out to a 41-28 halftime lead (the largest deficit that Kentucky has faced this season) and John Calipari's club didn't push across its first lead till there was 4:11 remaining in the game. No doubt that Kentucky-which has lived off lopsided wins en route to this 27-and-1 start isn't used to be threatened inside the game's final five minutes but let's just say this was a big-time growing-up party for the visiting side from Lexington.
Not only did Kentucky silence a rowdy, noisy and somewhat crazed crowd but the Wildcats did so many "little things" right like shoot 17-of-21 from the free-throw line (that's 81 percent) and they got a big game off the bench from G Darius Miller who canned half of his six triple tries en route to an ultra-important 12-point performance. Finally, there was the gutsy showing by forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who hit the basket to put Kentucky ahead to stay late and really played with a major "tick-tock" under his jersey as ESPN color analyst Jimmy Dykes said late.
Kidd-Gilchrist-who might be the country's best player that doesn't get major attention-finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds (yes, F Anthony Davis chipped in his usual numbers of 13 points and 11 boards) plus he added two blocks and two steals as Kentucky closed the game on a 20-4 run and gave folks out there thinking this club can be beat something to ponder in the coming days.
You have started hearing the first whispers out there ... bubble teams, bubble teams, bubble teams.
Believe us that before we get through this month of February you'll likely hear another gazillion references to who exactly are the "bubble teams" out there in the good ole USA and so we figured to chuck in our two cents worth here and give you a pair of teams that squarely are on that NCAA Tournament fence as we speak and we'll let you know what's ahead these next few days because these could e the real make-or-breakers even before they get to their respective conference/league mini-tournaments.
So, here's the first three "bubble teams" that come to mind in today's Jim Sez ...
CONNECTICUT (17-10, 7-8 Big East)-Just keep in mind that last year's UConn Huskies (a very different product than this here-and-now Connecticut squad) really did not start percolate until the Big East Conference Tournament rolled around in early March and so eternal optimists of the 2011 defending champs claim UConn should be given the proverbial benefit of the doubt in terms of a potential at-large bid to the "Big Dance" while naysayers believe this Huskies bunch has been way too inconsistent to draw any nods.
Here's what we know as Connecticut readies itself for its down-the-stretch games against Syracuse (this Saturday), at Providence (Feb. 28) and home to Pittsburgh (Mar. 3):
The Huskies have not strung together back-to-back wins since January 9th and 14th (versus West Virginia and Notre Dame, respectively) and needed a three-point bomb by G Shabazz Napier with 0.6 seconds left in overtime to turn back 3-point home underdog Villanova 73-70 this past Monday night. Otherwise, if that game foes into a second overtime session than five guys who already had played 30-or-more minutes would have had to deliver Connecticut from evil and that may have been a problem.
Don't count on Connecticut-still without head coach Jim Calhoun-to best #2-ranked Syracuse this Saturday night in Hartford and so that means it's imperative that the Huskies bang out wins against Providence and Pitt prior to getting to the Big East Tournament. Hey, the Huskies currently reside in 10th place in the 16-team Big East and no way-we repeat, no way-does this oft-overrated league get more than eight teams into the NCAAs this year and we're actually starting to think that the Big East will get just seven (that's Syracuse, Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown, South Florida, Louisville and Cincinnati with West Virginia and Seton Hall on the outside looking in right now).
ALABAMA (17-9, 6-5 SEC)-Go ahead and ask yourself what we've been asking ourselves for much of this 2011-12 College Basketball campaign: Is the Southeastern Conference really any good at all after you get past the #1-ranked Kentucky Wildcats?
No doubt the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee folks are gonna have to wrestle with that $64,000 question from now till the second weekend in March 'cause there is a major logjam right now from fourth-through-ninth place and there is some public sentiment out there for allowing only three or maybe four teams-tops-from the once-mighty SEC into this upcoming tourney and so here's Alabama's opportunity to make a case for itself with four remaining regular-season games on the docket: At Arkansas on Thursday night, than home to Miss State and Auburn and a season finale at Ole Miss.
Pin us down right now and we'll tell you 'Bama could split these four tilts and still be bubble-icious and than might just need to win one game in the SEC Tournament to get to 20 wins and make the decision-makers feel a bit better about what they are seeing but can you tell us what Crimson Tide squad you'll be seeing after the rash of recent suspensions?
It's already been announced by head coach Anthony Grant that star JaMychal Green (team-leading 14.1 points per game) will miss this Thursday's game against the Hogs although he is expected back for the weekend and you already knew that Alabama suspended Tony Mitchell (averaged 13.1 ppg in his 22 games played this year) for the remainder of the season and so a batch of freshmen have tried their best to keep 'Bama afloat and let's see what all learned about winning in the next week or so.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers are red-hot these days and they'll get you wall-to-wall College Basketball and NBA Winners each and every day when you check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Note that the check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET for all the Monday-through-Friday weeknight action and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays/Sundays/Holidays. Memo to one and all: Stop messing around with all these round-ball selections and let America's #1 Handicapper point you in the right direction.
MORE COLLEGE B-BALL NEWS & NOTES: WATCH FOR THESE POTENTIAL "HOT COACHES"
It's that time of the year again-the time when many mid-major conference coaches out there make a splash in either their late-season/conference tourney games and/or the NCAA Tournament and thus land themselves big-time jobs at some big-time schools. Here's who you may want to watch for in the days/weeks ahead ...
TIM CLUESS, IONA - There are lots of folks claiming that the Gaels (22-6 and a MAAC-leading 13-3) will be a "tough out" come March thanks to star guards Momo Jones and Scott Machado and so if this New Rochelle (NY)-based squad makes some real noise than the well-respected Cluess could be Big East-bound with some chatter that DePaul might be looking for a new commander-in-chief this spring. Cluess lets his Iona guys race up and down the court at a break-neck pace but he's got a Midas touch as made evident in last weekend's 90-84 non-cover Bracket Buster win against 9-point dog Nevada-Cluess settled down his amped-up Iona team and got 'em to take better/smarter shots. Keep any eye on him these next few weeks.
GREGG MARSHALL, Wichita State-Here's a real no-brainer as this fifth-year coach of the Shockers (24-4, 14-2 Missouri Valley Conference) is ready to make the next big leap and he might be in a position of name-the-job if W-State grabs a couple of wins in this year's NCAA Tournament. Wichita State last weekend blasted Davidson 91-74 in Bracket Buster action and let's keep in mind that the Shockers last year won the NIT championship by beating Alabama.
Some of the places that Marshall might wind up include Illinois or possibly Ole Miss as both of those schools likely will have a coaching change in mind.