March 2, 2004
By Brian Litvack
Team Of The Week
Def Villanova, 64-59
Def No. 3 Pittsburgh, 49-46
The defending national champs proved their mettle last week by taking down No. 3 Pittsburgh in overtime and introducing defeat to the fans of the Peterson Events Center. Pittsburgh had won 40 straight home games including the first 34 in their new arena.
The Orange finally look ripe after some mid-season stumbling. Guard Billy Edelin took an unannounced hiatus from the team, and Syracuse promptly dropped four of its next five, fell out of the rankings and was in danger of running into bubbles.
But experience still counts for something and the men of Orange are red hot. The turning point in their season may have been Gerry McNamara's game-winning heave over three Georgetown defenders to escape our nation's capital with a victory. The Orangemen then took out underachieving Villanova last Monday before gritting out a 49-46 win at Pittsburgh.
The Syracuse zone is once again stymieing all comers. Hakim Warrick continues to impress as his offensive moves have become more polished and his defensive aggressiveness is a key to the zone's success. The absence of Edelin has given freshman Demetris Nichols and Louie McCroskey some burn, but both are still looking to find their shooting stroke. For Syracuse to have any shot of coming close to matching last year's success, they need Edelin in the lineup. Edelin is a big point guard, in the Andre Miller mold, who can penetrate to the basket and create shots for himself and his teammates.
Player of the Week
Ricky Paulding, Missouri
Mizzou's senior guard finally broke out after being held in check longer than Bobby Fischer's opponents. Paulding scored 31, nailing five-of-six trifectas, and played 45 minutes in leading the Tigers to victory in a double-OT thriller over first place Oklahoma State. He followed that up last Saturday by engineering a second half comeback against Kansas State. With Mizzou down eight points, Paulding slammed home a breathtaking dunk that ignited a 19-1 Mizzou run. He tallied a season high eight assists to go along with 17 points; all coming in the second half. On the week, Paulding hit 9-of-13 from downtown to go with an average of 24 points, 4.5 boards, and 4.5 assists.
Quin Snyder is trying his darnedest to prove that controversy and winning are not mutually exclusive. Distractions stemming from an NCAA investigation and the fallout from Ricky Clemons' accusations of a pay-for-play scandal (in which he implicated Paulding) have hindered Mizzou's success for most of the season. But Snyder has whittled his rotation to a manageable seven and the Tigers have reeled off five straight. If Paulding continues his stellar play, the Tigers will make the dance and then can cause some serious damage.
Line Of The Week
Stanford Forward Josh Childress is quietly asserting himself as a superstar on the best team in the country.
Games To Watch
No. 6 Pittsburgh at No. 12 Providence, Tuesday
A share of the Big East title is on the line when the Panthers visit the Friars. Pittsburgh is coming off its first home loss of the century and must come out sharp or Providence will once again show folks they belong at the top. The victor will also add an impressive win to their resume, which may mean a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance. A big game by Ryan Gomes may solidify his place as a first team All-American.
No. 1 Stanford at Washington, Saturday
To be perfect or not to be perfect? All the Cardinal have to do to sweep the regular season is defeat the Huskies. But Washington has proven to be the second best team in the Pac-10 behind the diminutive yet explosive Nate Robinson. This is a great test for Stanford, a road game against a quality opponent which desperately needs a win to try and earn a tournament bid.
The Oscar Goes To... (Best Dramatic Performance)
Guns Don't Kill, Billets Do
Virginia Guard Todd Billet has been hotter than a smoking gun. He hit last minute, game-deciding 3-pointers in three out of four games. On Feb. 14, Billet drained a trifecta to beat Georgia Tech with 2.4 seconds left. Against Clemson, Billet's bomb broke a tie with 16 seconds left giving the Cavs a 58-55 win. Finally, last Tuesday Billet connected on his only field goal of the second half by hitting a trey with 12 seconds remaining to upend UNC, 74-72.
When asked about his game-winning heroics, Billet shrugged it off by saying, "I just wanted to give it a shot."
Perhaps that's a shot of champagne, because all of a sudden the Cavaliers are all bubbly. Coach Pete Gillen, who has endured much speculation about his job security, has become a believer in Billet.
"There was no doubt in his mind he was going to shoot it... I don't want to wake up," said Gillen.
Center Elton Brown astutely stated, "I just say he's clutch.".
Recently, a slew of suspensions, dismissals and desertions have caused turmoil for some programs around the nation. Last week, I wrote about Christian Drejer's trans-Atlantic voyage and earlier in this column I discussed Billy Edelin's mysterious departure from the Orangemen.
Here are a few other cases in which you won't see students in uniform
Double The Trouble
USC junior guards (and twin brothers) Errick and Derrick Craven each served a one-game suspension for separate incidents in which the players "committed an unsporting act toward an opposing player" in the Trojans' victory over Cal.
Sophomore shooting guard Salim Stoudamire was suspended for last Thursday's loss to Oregon for "failure to meet team responsibilities". Stoudamire spends as much time in Lute Olson's doghouse as he does chucking up treys from behind the arc.
This saga does have a happy ending though, as the suspension was lifted after only one game because, according to Olson, "he was great on the bench. He was great in the locker room". Stoudamire even admitted that his suspension was a result of "immature actions on my part that were detrimental to the team".
Johnny Be Bad, Again and Again
St. John's senior captain Andre Stanley was declared academically ineligible to play last Sunday against Providence. Stanley had been a beacon of light in a season filled with scandal, controversy and legal troubles.
Stanley passed up scholarships at other schools to walk-on at St. John's so that he could take care of his diabetic mother. His work ethic and leadership earned him a scholarship, playing time and often a position in the starting lineup. Now, Stanley's status for the remaining two games of the season is up in the air. It would be a shame if he misses Senior Night, after all the hard work that he has put in. Senior Kyle Cuffe summed it up best when he remarked, "This can't get any worse."
Whaley Ever Be Back?
Cincinnati JUCO transfer Robert Whaley has left the Bearcats because of the "need to get my head cleared and think about some things". Unless Whaley is a Philosophy major, one can only wonder what it is he actually plans on thinking about. It's probably not hard work, a subject that coach Bob Huggins often chides Whaley.
Whaley was one of the nation's top JUCO players and Cincinnati had high expectations that he could fill the lane and be the athletic center that would fit perfectly into the Bearcats' pressure attack. But Whaley never bought into Huggins' system and fell behind after Huggins believed that he didn't rehab hard enough from minor knee surgery in December.
Syracuse's Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara will try to lead Syracuse back to the Final Four.