Weekly Hoop Scoop: Conference Play Heats Up

Contenders will soon be separated from pretenders.

Iowa State's Curtis Stinson (1) splits Rickey Paulding (23) and Jimmy McKinney for two of his 22 points against Missouri.

Iowa State's Curtis Stinson (1) splits Rickey Paulding (23) and Jimmy McKinney for two of his 22 points against Missouri.

Jan. 13, 2004

By Brian Litvack
CollegeSports.com Columnist

The fun and games of non-conference action and tournaments in extreme weather climates have been left behind. Now begins the stretch where the contenders are separated from the pretenders. The first week of conference play proved that Stanford is for real, while UNC and UConn both picked up impressive victories and are primed for their clash in Chapel Hill this Saturday.

Team of the Week:

Iowa State Cyclones
1/10 Iowa St. 89, Nebraska 74
1/7 Iowa St. 70, Missouri 65

The Cyclones' (9-2, 2-0) impressive week was highlighted by two Big 12 victories, including a win over preseason favorite Missouri. First year coach Wayne Morgan has righted the ship after Larry Eustachy's departure.

But the major reason for Iowa State's hot start is the play of freshmen guards Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock. Stinson was brilliant last week, scoring 37 points in the two victories, including 16 during the second half against Missouri. Blalock complements Stinson perfectly and averaged 10 points and four assists in the wins. In addition, senior leader Jake Sullivan caught fire against Nebraska, hitting 7-of-11 from downtown to total 23 points.

With a hot start, a talented starting five and a quality win over Xavier, the Cyclones may be able to compete for a bid to the dance.

Player of The Week
Herve Lamizana, Rutgers

Lamizana, Rutgers' versatile senior forward, was sensational in leading the Scarlet Knights to a near-upset of UConn before providing some last-second heroics to knock off Providence.

Lamizana scored 20 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked six shots against the highly-touted UConn frontcourt. Rutgers was leading for most of the game and the Huskies were lucky to escape with the 75-74 victory.

Providence wouldn't be as lucky, as Lamizana went bananas in the final minute to give Rutgers a 65-64 victory. He hit the game-winning 3-pointer from the corner with less than a second left to play. This came after Lamizana banked in a 3-pointer with 10.6 seconds left to set up his game-winning shot. He finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.

Why College Basketball Rules

  • Scott Drew's bunch hasn't given up even though they will go into every game for the rest of the season as the ultimate underdog. Baylor -- already short-handed to begin the season because of tragic offseason circumstances -- has lost four more scholarship players so far this season. The Bears go into Big 12 play with five scholarship players and are combing the student body for kids who can rebound.

  • Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones joined this basketball team last week, and in one of his first practices ripped down the basket on a slam. Jones, a 6'6" junior, scored two points and had two assists in a win over North Texas.

  • "I'm sure Rutgers has a math department" -- Jim Calhoun complaining that star center Emeka Okafor had more than the six blocks that showed up in the box score.

  • After three seasons of playing sparingly as walk-on under Steve Lavin at UCLA, Janou Rubin received a scholarship this season and has stepped up to be a major contributor for the Bruins. Rubin was recently named Pac 10 player of the week, leading the Bruins to a 4-0 conference start.

    Games of the week

    No. 5 Kentucky at No. 20 Mississippi State, 9 p.m.

    The Bulldogs sport a spotless record (13-0) and a deadly inside-out combination of Lawrence Roberts and Timmy Bowers. Their first major test will come when they welcome the Wildcats into Humphrey Coliseum. If it beats Kentucky, which last week ruined Vandy's perfect record, then Mississippi State will establish itself as one of the top dogs in the SEC. Despite lacking a superstar, the Wildcats went 9-1 in a challenging non-conference schedule and will be near the top of the SEC East all season long.

    No. 10 Cincinnati at No. 21 Marquette, 7 p.m.

    Uh-oh. The Bearcats have gotten off to a hot start and the swagger is back. Cincinnati (13-0) has won every game by at least 19 points and are demolishing teams by an average of 26 points. When asked about matching up against Marquette's star point guard Travis Deiner, Cincinnati reserve Tony Bobbit replied; "he knows he's got 10 wild, crazy Bearcats that want him. We're not going to let up on him because we owe him."

    Marquette has been adjusting to the post-Dwyane Wade days with some success (11-2, 2-0), but a true test will come versus the Bearcats. Cincinnati goes eight or nine deep and has tremendous athletic ability. Marquette will try to slow down the Bearcats and let Deiner control the show.

    No. 1 Connecticut at No. 9 North Carolina, 3:30 p.m.

    This should be a shootout with some of college basketball's most talented players showcasing their stuff. UConn's Jekyll-and-Hyde play (squeak by Rutgers, blow out Oklahoma) can get them in trouble but if they are hitting on all cylinders, the Huskies are almost unstoppable.

    The Tar Heels can put up a lot of points, but must play better defense if they want to hang with the Huskies. Raymond Felton should thrive in this contest and a strong showing by UNC will prove that it is a legit Final Four contender.

    No. 2 Duke vs. No. 4 Wake Forest, 1 p.m.

    Wake Forest puts its (11-0) perfect record on the line this week with a trip to Austin to face Texas before hosting the Blue Devils. Chris Paul is establishing himself as a dynamic point guard and Wake has the athletes to challenge for the ACC title. Duke is playing as well as any team in the country and Chris Duhon is finally playing like the leader that Coach K needs him to be.

    The weekly Oscar (most dramatic storyline):

    The NCAA was denying Florida State's highly touted Argentinean recruit Diego Romero his eligibility because he "compromised his amateur status" by signing two pro contracts while in Argentina.

    Like most top foreign teenagers, he signed an agreement with a club team (for peanuts, no less). After coming to the States, He enrolled in a Texas junior college to improve his English and get acclimated to our nation's system of higher education.

    While at the JUCO, the NCAA made a new rule severely restricting the eligibility for foreign amateurism violations. Florida State argues that Romero should be "grandfathered" into the new rule because he was already playing in the collegiate basketball system when the rule was passed.

    Romero made an emotional plea at a news conference last week, explaining how his mother's dream is to see him be successful in the United States and how he is following in the footsteps of his boyhood idol Pepe Sanchez. FSU, the media and all of college basketball jumped on the "Free Diego" bandwagon.

    All stories should have a happy ending and this one does. On Sunday, the NCAA management council decided to evaluate each student-athlete on a case to case basis and has decided to restore Romero's eligibility. Even in the paradigm of big time college basketball, the "American Dream" shines through.

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