This relatively slow week in the college basketball world finally allowed this Insider to go back and attempt what he should have done two weeks ago. Namely, play Pac-10 pick ’em.
You can’t say the conference is unpredictable, since that was (correctly) predicted in October, so barely halfway through the Pac-10 portion here’s the great known:
Everyone not named Oregon State can beat everyone else not named Oregon State.
And everyone can beat Oregon State.
UCLA and Stanford are tied at 9-2, three games ahead of everyone else, with a whopper of a rematch coming March 6 in Southern California.
Here, then, is my projected order of finish entering the Pac-10 tournament. Of course, it’s way too early to bother with standings or seedings, Big Dance chances or bubbles.
But here’s what I think is going to happen:
1. UCLA (should be healthy in the next week or two, which equals another Final Four); 2. Stanford (moved up to No. 7 in the polls); 3. Washington State (Stanford likely the only loss in final five games); 4. USC (loss of Daniel Hackett hurts big, but schedule gives them a chance until finale with Stanford); 5. ASU (one more “signature” win, a win in the Pac-10 tournament and not losing to Oregon State should get them into the Dance); 6. Oregon (lots of seniors, lots of good shooters); 7. Arizona (Stanford, Washington, Washington State, USC, UCLA in a row. Without Nic Wise or a defense); 8. California (the contest is on with Arizona as to which team despises defense more); 9. Washington (tame schedule, but too many teams to hurdle); 10. Oregon State (can’t even beat itself).
It’s foolproof. Trust me.
SWALLOW THE WHISTLE
Each conference’s officiating takes it on the proverbial chin nightly (sometimes whether there’s a game or not). The Pac-10 is no exception, but this week, it’s the mighty Big East.
With the Georgetown-Villanova game tied at 53, Wildcats guard Corey Stokes was called for a bumping foul on the Hoyas’ Jonathan Wallace, 80 feet from the basket, with less than a second to play in regulation.
Wallace made both free throws and the Hoyas won a foul-fest.
Big East officials coordinator Art Hyland concurred with the call and told ESPN.com that referee Bob Donato will continue his schedule as usual.
“A foul is a foul,” Hyland said. “It’s a judgment situation.”
Don’t tell that to Arizona State coach Herb Sendek. James Harden drove to the basket for the potential game-winning layup against Washington State and got no call. Eric Boateng was called for a 3-second violation 80 feet from the play in that same game.
Regardless, the win kept the eighth-ranked Hoyas (20-3, 10-2) narrowly ahead of Notre Dame atop the Big East, and dropped Villanova (14-9, 4-7) into a three-way tie for 12th place.
Why such a big deal? This is the final season in which only the top 12 teams in the Big East play in its conference tournament.
HACKETT GETS HACKED
Rough news from USC, where the school announced sophomore point guard Daniel Hackett has a stress fracture in his lower back.
He won’t have surgery, opting for rehabilitation instead, but he’s out against UCLA, probably out next week against the Oregon schools, and could be out for the season if the spasms don’t subside and his core strength doesn’t return.
Hackett originally injured his hip in late January, but still played nearly 25 minutes per game with the injury until he basically went out on one leg against Washington State last weekend.
The Trojans have O.J. Mayo, Davon Jefferson and the underrated Taj Gibson, but Hackett makes them go. His nearly 10 points, four rebounds and four assists per game get lost behind Mayo and Jefferson, but the Trojans are down to three scholarship guards, none of whom has played significant minutes at the point.
With the current standings a logjam between third and eighth place in the Pac-10, there should be an interesting and important matchup when the Trojans open March in Tempe.
Charron Fisher isn’t the most efficient player in college basketball, but the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder at Niagara has plenty of material for the blog he writes for the Niagara Gazette. The nation’s leading scorer (27.6 points per game) is only shooting 40 percent, but can hit the 3-pointer and is terrific at getting to the line. He had 45 points and nine rebounds (his season average) in a win at Loyola on Sunday. Fairfield (18 points) and Marist (17 points) are the only teams to keep Fisher under 20 points this season, and he’s topped 30 points nine times.
In early January, Louisville won the big one against Kentucky, but both teams were going nowhere, plagued by injuries and unremarkable nonconference schedules. Six weeks later, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are 17th in the RPI, with only a road loss to Seton Hall as a question mark since New Year’s. The Cardinals are fresh off big-time wins at Marquette and against Georgetown. Louisville is 8-2 in its last 10 games and 5-4 this season against the RPI top 50. Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and a rematch with the Hoyas are the big three left before the Big East tournament.
USC at UCLA, 6 p.m. Saturday. The Trojans were the first Pac-10 team to stun UCLA with a win last month in Westwood. Both teams are reeling. The Bruins lost at Washington on Sunday (0-4 the past four years in Seattle). The Trojans’ bus barely made it to Pullman in time to get whacked by Washington State on Saturday. Without injured point guard Daniel Hackett, all the pressure falls on O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson. A sweep does wonders for USC’s NCAA tournament chances from here on out.
“He wrote ‘Now is the time’ on the board and walked out. This was one of the first games we actually got ourselves a little riled up to play.”
Washington State guard on coach Tony Bennett’s pregame “speech.” It worked, since the Cougars beat USC by 24 points on Saturday
Our top seeds North Carolina (22-2), Memphis (23-0), Kansas (23-2), UCLA (20-3)