2021 NCAA Tournament Preview: Friday, Early Afternoon Games

After a year without the Tournament, this is awesome!  So, let’s get right to the games…

#7 Florida (-1) vs. #10 Virginia Tech
12:15 pm, CBS
I love the first game of the Tournament.  It’s always interesting to think of what two teams are gonna tip us off.  And, this year, it’s a pretty good one.  Or, at least a competitive one.

The Gators come stumbling into this Tournament and, I think, are one of the few major seeding mistakes that the Committee made in what was a rather well-seeded tournament, in general.  This team is not a 7-seed especially after losing 3 of their last 4 with that only win a close one over a bad Vandy team in the SEC Tournament that they easily could have lost.  The big story of the UF season is the loss of Keyontae Johnson after he had a TERRIFYING collapse in a game at FSU in November.  Johnson, the preseason SEC POY, was the best and most important player on this team, and their ceiling is definitely lowered without him.  But, most importantly, it looks like he’s going to be okay.  Before the recent swoon, the Gators had been pretty good considering they lost their best player.  They are top-40 in both offense and defense, and have one of the most unsung stars of the SEC in the 6’5” SO Tre Mann (15.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 spg, 45/39/84%), who is a stud on both ends.  He is probably the best player that no one ever talks about.  They also have former McDonald’s All-American in 6’5″ SO Scottie Lewis (7.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.6 spg), but he has been surprisingly slow to emerge in now his sophomore year in Gainesville.  They have a couple of decent wings in Reisterstown’s own 6’3” JR sharpshooter Noah Locke (10.5 ppg, 41% from three) and 6’1” JR transfer from Cleve State Tyree Appleby (11.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.6 spg),.  And, losing Johnson has forced Mike White to go big and allowed for 6’11” JR transfer from Michigan Colin Castleton (12.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 59% FG) to emerge as a really good SEC big.  The Gators are 8-0 this year when Castleton scores 14 or more.

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Sweet Sixteen Picks – Thursday

I can’t remember a better first weekend of the tournament (though, I expect I say something to that effect every year, but this one seemed different), and now I can’t explain how great this Sweet 16 is looking.  There isn’t one total mismatch and all 16 of these teams are playing very well and none should be just “happy to be there.”  And, yet, there is not a clear favorite or underdog.  Obviously, Dayton and Stanford are surprises to be here, but they play each other and both are playing really well.  There is only one team that is more than a 5-point underdog and that San Diego State, who spent most of the year in the Top 10 in the country and even cracked the Top 5.  At least a dozen (maybe even 13 or 14) of these teams are legit Final Four contenders where we wouldn’t look back and think it absurd that they made it.  And, about half of them are legit title contenders.  This is going to be spectacular.  So, let’s make some picks, shall we?  The stars rate my confidence – going by a 5-star scale where 5 stars is a mortal lock.

Memphis, TN – Thursday, 7:15 – Dayton vs Stanford (-3)

These are the two “Cinderella” teams of the bunch and they happen to play each other in the region that holds the #1 team in America possibly waiting for them in the Elite Eight.  But, these two teams (particularly Stanford) are not your typical “happy-to-be-here” underdogs that we see in most years (Florida Gulf Coast in 2013, Ohio in 2012, Richmond in 2011, Cornell in 2010…well you get the idea).  Dayton is a legitimately solid team that earned an at-large bid from a 6-bid league, while Stanford has top-level talent, even though they muddled through various parts of the season.  I might be the only one, but I really like this Stanford team and think they have the talent to play with the best teams in the country.  Chasson Randle is a special point guard, and Dwight Powell is a borderline star.  Plus, when they added Josh Huestis to the starting lineup, they got INCREDIBLY big.  Their starting lineup is 6’2″, 6’6″, 6’7″, 6’10”, and 6’11”.  That’s NBA size that I think will overpower Dayton here.  A game like this usually begs me to take the points, but I am going to lay the 3 here.
The Pick:  Stanford -3 (**)

Anaheim, CA – Thursday, 7:47 – Baylor vs Wisconsin (-3.5)

Did any team in the tournament look any better than Baylor last weekend?  They pounded a good Nebraska team before absolutely annihilating Doug McDermott and Creighton in the second round.  And, this after a blisteringly hot February that led into a run to the Big XII title game.  I am not sure anyone wants to play this Baylor team right now, but you know Wisconsin won’t be scared.  Bo Ryan’s teams are always prepared (though, they seem to underachieve a bit in the tournament) and this team, in particular, does something that Bo’s teams of the past didn’t do – score.  They do give it up defensively more than usual, but the Badgers can spread you out with all 5 guys showing long-range potential, even their 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky.  This should be a fantastic game, but I am not sure that Wisconsin can keep up with the athletes that Baylor has – if the Baylor of the past month shows up…which is still a question mark.  But, with Baylor playing so well, I feel you have to take the 3.5 here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win outright.
The Pick:  Baylor +3.5 (***)

Memphis, TN – Thursday, 9:45 – UCLA vs Florida (-5)

As good as the Baylor-Wisconsin game should be, this is probably the game of the night.  A game of contrasting styles to the max, as UCLA loves to get up and down the floor, as the 15th fastest team in the country on offense without sacrificing any efficiency, as they rank 12th in the country with 1.17 points per possession.  This team is so gifted offensively with matchup nightmares all over the court, most notably their 6’8″ point-forward Kyle Anderson, who is averaging a ridiculous stat line of 15 points, 8.5 boards, and 6.5 assists per game.  Those are outlandish numbers in a 40-minute game with a :35 second shot clock.  And, what makes this game so great is that this incredibly fast and efficient UCLA offense is going up against maybe the best defensive team in the country (they are actually ranked #2 behind Arizona in adjusted dEff).  When UCLA has the ball, this is going to be unbelievably intriguing.  However, the other side is where the mismatch occurs and probably where the game will be decided.  Florida – known for their suffocating defense – is actually a very efficient offensive team – which will be going up against UCLA defense that has taken its lumps publicly this year.  The fast-paced tempo of the Bruins offense actually belies the relative effectiveness of their defense, so I think they are very underrated on that end of the court, but it is still hard to make the case that they are any better than “decent” on the defensive end.  Because of this, I think Florida makes just enough plays to win the game, but, personally, I think the right side of this is to take the points.
The Pick:  UCLA +5 (**)

Anaheim, CA – Thursday, 10:17 – San Diego State vs Arizona (-7.5)

If you like defense, take a nap this afternoon so you can stay up and watch this one.  These two teams really get after it on the defensive end.  They don’t just hold teams down because they are slow and plodding and conservative.  These two teams have long, athletic defenders all over the court and they seem to absolutely love to play straight-up man-to-man, in-your-face defense.  And, the numbers reflect this, as both teams are ranked in the top 10 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency (Arizona is #1, SDSU is #7).  The problem for the Aztecs is that they really only have two scorers that they can rely on – Xavier Thames and Winston Shephard – and if you could pick any two guys in the country to take and matchup against those two, you might pick Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, who both happen to play for Arizona.  So, the two big questions for this game are (1) can SDSU find offense from their gritty, hard-nosed role players like Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien (or off the bench from guys like Dwayne Pollee), and (2) will the defensive efforts of Johnson and Gordon still allow them to contribute on the other end or will the offensive load fall on UA’s secondary scorers like Kaleb Tarczewski and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson?  Whatever ends up happening, this is another fascinating game and, as maybe the ultimate sign of how great this tournament continues to be, is the largest spread of the round…at only -7.5.  At the end of the day, I do think Arizona will win the game, but I don’t think I can possibly give 7.5 when the game is likely to be in the 60’s.
The Pick:  San Diego State +7.5 (***)

Just How Sweet is Sweet?

So, we are down to 16 teams.  We can all rank the remaining teams based on how good we think they have been all year or what we expect them to do going forward.  And, we will all have similar – yet slightly different – opinions.  But, what if we tried to assess the 16 remaining teams strictly on their tournament performances to get here.  Who was the most impressive through the first two rounds?

This isn’t a list of who I think is the best team or who I think has the best chance of cutting down the nets.  This is strictly my assessment of how good each team looked last weekend.  Obviously, everyone is 2-0 (except LaSalle, who is 3-0), so I took am strictly basing these rankings on the quality of their opponents and the nature of their victories.  The higher seeds are at a bit of a disadvantage in this form of analysis because, by definition, they would have been playing weaker opponents, but they still had the ability to dominate these lower opponents – some did and some did not.

So, here is my list of the Sweet 16, in order of how dominant they looked in getting to this point. 

  1. Louisville – (#16 N.C. A&T 79-48, #8 Colorado St. 82-56)
    The #1 overall seed played every bit the part over the weekend.  They are a couple levels better than N.C. A&T, so that wasn’t a surprise, but their utter domination of a very good CSU team.  Yes, they earned and easier road through their #1-seed and were playing in their home state, but these two performances were head-turningly good.
  2. Wichita St. (#8 Pittsburgh 73-55, #1 Gonzaga 76-70)
    Whatever your feelings are about whether Gonzaga should have been a #1 or a #2, nothing changes the fact that they had 3 fewer losses than ANYONE ELSE IN THE COUNTRY, and were clearly a top 5 or 6 team coming into the tournament, and Wichita St. flat-out beat them.  And, that was coming off a drubbing of, what seemed to be, a woefully underseeded Pitt team.  Beating Pitt and Gonzaga over three days is very impressive in any fashion, but this team did so in dominating fashion.
  3. Florida Gulf Coast(#2 Georgetown 78-68, #7 San Diego St. 81-71)
    By no means am I saying the Dunk City Eagles are the 3rd-best team in the country.  I am not even saying that I think they have much of a shot against Florida on Friday.  But, if we are honest about evaluating the weekend’s performances, wouldn’t you say that only Louisville was more impressive this weekend?  They had double-digit wins over Georgetown and San Diego St. – and, as everyone knows – they looked like the better basketball team on each night.  With my love of low-major basketball and the fact that my parents own a place across the street from the FGCU campus, I have actually been following this team all year and consider myself a fan.  Their athleticism and bravado came as no surprise to me.  But, let’s pump the brakes on the arguments that they were underseeded.  I fully expected a 16-seed and would have been happy not to be in the First Four.  The A-Sun was one of the lowest rated conferences in the country this year – and THEY DIDN’T EVEN WIN THE LEAGUE.  They were 2nd-place, behind Mercer.  They were swept by Lipscomb and even lost a game to the lowly Black Bears of Maine.  They struggled to stop people all year and committed a TON of turnovers at various points in the season.  But, they put it together at the right time and played two phenomenal games of basketball in Philly this weekend.  They deserve this spot – not for the dunks, but for the defense they played against two loaded teams.
  4. Oregon(#5 Oklahoma St. 68-55, #4 St. Louis 74-57)
    Everyone who knew anything about the sport this year knew, without question, that Oregon’s 12-seed may have been the worst seeding job in recent history.  But, just because they weren’t your typical 12-seed doesn’t mean that the Ducks were supposed to have been THAT good.  The win over OSU was a really good – and convincing – win, but wasn’t completely unexpected.  But, the pummeling of a red-hot and incredibly-talented St. Louis team was shocking.
  5. Michigan(#13 South Dakota St. 71-56, #5 VCU 78-53)
    It is hard to say just how much The Palace helped the Wolverines, from a homecourt standpoint, but regardless of that, they looked really good.  S.Dakota St. was not quite as good as everyone might think, but they did have a future NBA draft pick in Nate Wolters, so that’s always a scary First Round matchup.  But, they beat up the Jackrabbits handily.  That wasn’t nearly as surprising as what they did to a VCU team that several people had going to the Final Four.  They Wolverines absolutely pounded VCU, looking a lot more like the #1 team in the country that they were in January rather than the 5th-place Big Ten team they were in February.
  6. Michigan St. – (#14 Valparaiso 65-54, #6 Memphis 70-48)
    The other home team in The Palace last weekend also put on a show for its faithful.  The Spartans may have played some flawed opponents, but they absolutely dominated both games.  The Valpo game was the most lopsided 11-point game I’ve ever seen, and then Memphis looked like they didn’t even belong.  Coach Izzo – as usual – has this team rolling in March.
  7. Syracuse(#13 Montana 81-34, #12 California 64-61)
    The most dominant single-game performance of the tournament so far was, without a doubt, the absolutely drubbing that the ‘Cuse put on a solid Montana team.  And, then to follow that up with a solid win over a Cal team that was coming off an impressive win over UNLV and was, essentially, playing home games here is also a nice feat.  This Syracuse team might be playing their best ball of the year right now.
  8. Florida(#14 NW State 79-47, #11 Minnesota 78-64)
    Florida wasn’t really challenged at all this weekend, but that had more to do with them than their opponents – in my opinion.  NW State was a dangerous 14-seed that the Gators just dispatched, and Minnesota is one of the scarier 11-seeds I can remember because of their gobs of talent.  But, again, the Gators had no trouble.  It will be hard to know about this team, though, as their path to an Elite Eight is through a 14-, an 11-, and now a 15-seed.
  9. Arizona(#11 Belmont 81-64, #14 Harvard 74-51)
    Games against Belmont and Harvard looks more like a November non-conference schedule for Rider than a path to the Sweet 16, but you can only play who’s in front of you, and the ‘Cats have dominated who is in front of them.  And, it’s not like these are cupcakes at any point in the season – Belmont is a very good team, and Harvard (still a year away) took out New Mexico two days prior to the pounding they took from UA.
  10. LaSalle(#13 Boise St. 80-71, #4 Kansas St. 63-61, #12 Ole Miss 76-74)
    When thinking about these rankings, I totally expected LaSalle to be higher on this list because I am counting the First Four win they had over Boise St.  They are the only team to have won three games to get here.  And, as good as they look right now (and they look really good), they didn’t blow anyone out, and they didn’t really beat any real contenders.  Boise, K-State, and Ole Miss are all very good teams and good wins, but did anyone really think these teams were going anywhere?  I’ve got a TON of love for the Big Five – with LaSalle as my little brother team – and I will be rooting hard for the Explorers the whole way, but I couldn’t put them any higher on this list, even with that extra win.
  11. Duke(#15 Albany 73-61, #7 Creighton 66-50)
    The Dukies had a bit of a tussle with Albany in the first round, but I credit the Great Danes more than I discredit the Devils.  And, then on Sunday, Duke took care of a dangerous Creighton team with no trouble.  Their defensive performance against a potent Creighton offense on Sunday was mighty impressive.
  12. Miami(#15 Pacific 78-49, #7 Illinois 63-59)
    As good as the ‘Canes looked on Friday (and they looked real good) in manhandling an overmatched Pacific team, that’s how much they struggled against the Illini.  But, this time of year is about survive and advance, and that is what they did.  And, Illinois is a feisty team with big-time shotmakers, so that is a scary recipe for a second-round opponent, so it’s hard to hold too much against the ‘Canes.  They just are going to need something from Durand Scott going forward, especially now that they are without Reggie Johnson.
  13. Indiana(#16 James Madison 83-62, #8 Temple 58-52)
    The Hoosiers handled JMU with an unsurprising ease, but we all know how much they struggled to beat the Owls on Sunday.  And, with the exception of Khaliff Wyatt (offensively), Temple wasn’t all that great.  It isn’t a stretch (or me being a homer) to say that IU is lucky to still be alive in this tournament.  That being said, they did make the plays they needed to make and have to be given some credit for holding the non-Wyatt Owls to just 21 points.  But, they will not beat Syracuse playing the game they played on Sunday.
  14. Ohio St.(#15 Iona 95-70, #10 Iowa St. 78-75)
    I have to admit, I might be low on the OSU performance this weekend because I’m kind of low on them, in general, but I will still stand firm that their two performances were underwhelming, to me, particularly if you factor that these games were being played in the backyard in Dayton.  Granted, they did beat Iona, who was probably the best of the 15-seeds going into the tournament (yes, that definitely includes the Dunk City Eagles), by 25, but they didn’t look completely dominant in that game.  And, say what you will about the block/charge call on Craft, but those calls are missed multiple times throughout every game, this one just happened to be in the final two minutes.  And, it’s not like that literally lost them the game.  There were still 80 seconds left in a one-possession game.  That said, ISU is good, but not great, and they took it to the Buckeyes – in Dayton – in the final 8 minutes of that game and easily could have found themselves near the top of this list today.
  15. Kansas(#16 Western Kentucky 64-57, #8 North Carolina 70-58)
    Here’s a bold statement for you – if I had to redo my brackets today, I would have the Jayhawks winning this tournament.  But, as bold as that is, it is not AT ALL because of how they played in the first two rounds.  They actually played 3 BAD halves of basketball.  If they weren’t playing a 16-seed, their First Round performance would have ended their season.  And, the first half of their game against UNC easily could have ended their season.  But, that second half was a thing of beauty.  If they play like that, they will win the title.  But, any more halves like those first three and my boldness will be thrown in my face.
  16. Marquette(#13 Davidson 59-58, #6 Butler 74-72)
    Marquette won two games and probably should have lost them both.  They definitely should have lost the Davidson game, as that was the biggest heartbreaker of the tournament.  Then, that crazy Butler finish could easily have gone the other way.  But, a 3-point margin – total – in two wins counts just the same as Louisville’s 55-point margin.  Both teams are four wins from a title.

College Hoops Opening Night Viewers Guide

Shot-blocker Nerlens Noel and his flat-top will debut for Kentucky on Friday night

Note:  As promised, we’re hitting college hoops hard right out of the gate.  This post overlaps with Bry’s last post, but puts a focus on some of the games that will be aired on basic cable Friday night.

The majority of D-1 basketball teams will kick off their season on Friday evening.  If you’re smart, you’ll get home from work, park yourself on the couch, and start off your college hoops season with Michigan St. vs. UConn at 5:30.  Here’s your Opening Night Viewers guide:

5:30 PM- Michigan St. vs. UConn (ESPN):  Two strange things about the first game of the 2012-13 season:  Jim Calhoun will not be the UConn coach, and the game is being played on an Air Force base in Germany.  It’s a year of massive transition for the Huskies, with Kevin Ollie taking over as coach and a lot of players gone from last year’s team, partly because the team has been banned from postseason play this year.  For the Spartans, meanwhile, it’s business as usual, with Tom Izzo at the helm and big expectations.  Stud freshman Gary Harris joins a veteran nucleus of Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, and Derrick Nix.

7:00 PM- Marquette vs. Ohio St. (NBC Sports Network):  If the Spartans are beating UConn like the Huskies are Nazis on D-Day (German Air Force Base reference, get it?), be sure to find the new NBC Sports Network on your dial for this matchup of two solid Midwest programs.  The Vs. Channel is now NBC Sports, and I was delighted to discover that a) I get the channel and b) they’ll be showing college hoops.  Marquette’s Buzz Williams is probably one of the underrated coaches in the game, and he’ll have to replace two stars this year, in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom.  Meanwhile, Thad Matta’s Buckeyes are replacing two stars of their own, but they do have 1st-Team All-American Deshaun Thomas and excellent PG Aaron Craft.

During commercials of Marquette/OSUDuke vs. Georgia St. (ESPNU):  We all know there will be more than enough chances to see the Dukies this year (especially for those of us that happen to live a mile from campus), but during timeouts in other games, may as well flip over and see how the trio of Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, and Mason Plumlee start off their senior seasons against a cupcake Georgia St. team.

8:30 PM- Kentucky vs. Maryland (ESPN):  Under John Calipari, it’s always must-see TV when Kentucky kicks off their season and rolls out the new toys for all to see.  I will always remember seeing John Wall and Anthony Davis play their first collegiate games.  Will one of this year’s touted players join them?  I will say that I already saw Nerlens Noel play in a high school game last year, and he’s the leading candidate to have a memorable start in this one.  Year 2 of the Mark Turgeon era at Maryland probably won’t get the pulse rate going much, but he’s a solid coach and will have his team ready to compete.

9:00 PM- Florida vs. Georgetown (NBC Sports):  Florida has hopes of unseating Kentucky for SEC supremacy this year, with an experienced and talented roster led by Kenny Boynton and Patric Young.  Georgetown lost three key players from last year’s solid team, but John Thompson III has the program rolling along pretty well now, and there shouldn’t be too much of a drop-off.  Many are predicting a breakout season from sophomore small forward Otto Porter.

Sleeper game during commercials of above two- South Dakota St. vs. Alabama (ESPNU):  Two teams that appear in the top ten of Bry’s Forgotten 40 list that he posted a few days ago.  Don’t be shocked if the Jackrabbits of SDSU are able to knock off this SEC foe.  They have one of the top guards in the country, Nate Wolters, who is capable of going off for a big scoring day (he dropped 34 at Washington last year) while also filling the stat sheet in other ways.  Bama has big losses from the team that ended their tourney drought last year, but they have a freshman to watch in Devonta Pollard.

First Impressions of the 08-09 College Hoops Season

The glory that is the college basketball season is well underway, and I’m looking forward to settling in tonight for two top teams in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, when Duke travels to Purdue.  Baseball is the only sport I look forward to more than college basketball, and they really get things started right with all these Invitationals in exotic locales and conference vs. conference challenges.  I’ve been catching as many games as I can so far, and here are my thoughts:

-The best start to finish game I’ve seen was Oklahoma’s win over Davidson.  Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin has established blake griffinhimself as the early Player of the Year favorite, averaging a ridiculous 26 points and 19 rebounds for the 6-0 Sooners.  Griffin was a favorite of mine last year, but I’ll have to share him with everyone now because he is just too good.  He has an amazing combination of size, strength, quickness, and all-around athleticism.  If he can keep improving his mid-range jumper, he will be an All-Star on the next level.  Of course, Stephen Curry was also featured in this game, and all he did was drop 44 points on the Sooners.  Curry’s season averages of 29 points and 7 assists could land him with Griffin on the 1st Team All-American roster by seasons end, as long as more teams don’t use the Loyola defense on him.  Also keep an eye on Oklahoma’s freshman guard Willie Warren.

-I’ve seen the best team in the land, North Carolina, dismantle Kentucky and a very good Notre Dame team.  The Tar Heels have the potential to be one of the very best college teams I’ve ever seen.  Ty Lawson is one of the most fun players to watch, as he blazes by defenders and leaves them in the dust with one the best crossovers on the planet.  The frontcourt depth did take a little hit when freshman Tyler Zeller, who started the first two games in place of Hansbrough, went down for the season with a broken wrist.  As for the Irish, they will pile up points with Luke Harangody down low and an array of long-range bombers, led by Kyle McAlarney, who will jack up a three from just about anywhere on the court.

-Syracuse topped Florida in an entertaining game.  The best player in that game was Florida’s Nick Calathes, a 6’6″ swingman who can do it all.  Last year as a freshman, he led the SEC in assists and averaged 5 rebounds.  He can score inside and out and is averaging 2.5 steals per game so far this season.  He’s one of the best pure passers in the country, and he isn’t even a point guard.  I’m often skeptical of Syracuse, but they are loaded up with a lot talent this year, especially on the perimeter, and Jim Boeheim even took his team on the road in this one and beat Florida.  Shocking.

daye-Gonzaga put the major conferences on notice last night when they beat down Tennessee to win the Old Spice Classic.  This might be the best Gonzaga team ever, and that’s saying something.  All five starters can shoot from long-range, and then they bring maybe the best shooter on the team, Steven Gray, off the bench.  But they’re not completely perimeter-oriented either, because Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt give excellent low-post presence.  Tennessee will recover from this loss.  Tyler Smith is a superstar and they have plenty of depth to keep pressing and running like Bruce Pearl likes to do.  They were lucky to get transfer PG Bobby Maze to replace Ramar Smith, who was kicked off the team after last season.  These two teams will meet again in an interesting rematch in January.

-I caught Georgetown’s rout of Maryland yesterday.  Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez is a great player in the same mold as Nick Calathes, but Georgetown kept him completely under wraps.  The Hoyas should stay in the Top 25 mix all season.  John Thompson III has done a fantastic job of resurrecting that program.  He recruits well, they always play tough defensively, and the Princeton-style offense is often a thing of beauty. 

-Duke just completed a comfortable win over Purdue, relying on some great defense and some not-so-great offensive execution by the Boilermakers.  Obviously, Duke has loads of talent and I think the weight and muscle that Kyle Singler has added will be a boost for them, but the jury is still out on whether or not they are deserving of their current #4 ranking.  A win at Purdue is impressive, but I’m not sold on Brian Zoubek as the lone starting big man for a title contender.