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Reports of These Teams’ Demises Greatly Exaggerated

by David Mihm | February 12th, 2007

We’re channeling Mark Twain this week here on Bracketography.  Upon learning that his obituary had been published in the U.S. while he was abroad in London, the humorist sent a cable back home in which he famously stated “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Well, a number of obituaries have mistakenly been written by the college basketball media over the last several weeks.  It seems it’s no longer possible for a team to lose two or three games in a row without speculation arising about its NCAA Tournament at-large hopes

But, it’s a 30-game season (or more) for just about every team in Division I.  Even four or five losses in a row are not necessarily the end of the world, particularly if those losses come in the middle of the season and a team is able to win against quality competition down the stretch.

This week let’s take a look at five teams whose reported demise has been (at the very least) a bit premature, if not “greatly exaggerated.”

Arizona

The eulogies for the Wildcats (and their coach) were flying fast and furious after Arizona’s home debacle against UNC on January 27th.  That blowout marked the Cats’ fifth loss in seven games, and they would go on to lose a sixth against Washington State at home.  But Arizona has responded nicely, picking up an extremely rare win at Oregon’s McArthur Court over the weekend, and now sits at a healthy 8-5 in the Pac-10.

All the negative attention has focused on Arizona’s defense, but let’s be honest: Lute Olson-coached teams have never been known for their outstanding defense.  What they have been known for is superior talent, out-hustling opponents, and making open shots in transition.  All three of those things were lacking in Arizona’s recent slump.  But as they proved Saturday, this team remains the most explosive crew on the West Coast.  Former 6th-man Jordan Hill is even providing some meat inside that Arizona lacked in the non-conference season.

If the Washington and Oregon games are any indication, this team could be starting to fire on all cylinders at just the right time.  The LA schools come to Tucson next weekend, and a sweep would lock up not just an NCAA bid, but a protected top-four seed in a Western pod.

Boston College

Though I never once questioned Arizona’s NCAA Tournament standing, I had pretty much written off BC after Al Skinner dismissed Sean Williams and Akida McLain.  Boy, was that a mistake.

Boston College has responded by going 4-2 since the dismissals, including a sweep of Florida State and a home blowout of Virginia Tech.  Jared Dudley was simply fantastic in Sunday’s win in Tallahassee, converting a four-point play late in the second half that has to go down as one of the best individual efforts of the season.  In my mind, Dudley and Virginia’s Sean Singletary are the only two logical choices for ACC POY at this point in the season.  (Al Thornton has been great as well, but Dudley’s team just swept his.)

The road ahead is not easy for the Eagles, as they host desperate Duke and league-leading North Carolina this week, and still travel to VaTech and GaTech later in the year.  But this team has proved beyond any doubt that it is still NCAA-Tournament worthy without its former leading shot blocker and rebounder (Williams).

Tennessee 

Some members of the media saw Bruce Pearl’s bare-chested appearance at the Lady Vols game against Duke as an attempt to distract hoops devotees from his team’s ongoing struggles.  At the time, Tennessee was in the midst of a bad 1-5 stretch that included road losses at Auburn and Ole Miss and a squeaker at home against South Carolina.

But three of those six games were played essentially without injured star Chris Lofton, and Tennessee lost the other three by a combined six points.

Lofton is now back, and Tennessee seems to be rolling.  UT has gone 3-1 in its last four, with the only loss to red-hot defending national champion Florida.  Remember, this is a team that defeated Memphis, Oklahoma State, and Texas in the non-conference season.

The Volunteers host Kentucky Tuesday night in Chris Lofton’s final regular-season appearance against his home-state school.  Watch for a potential 30-point performance against the team that didn’t even offer him a scholarship out of high school despite his “Mr. Basketball” title.

Pearl will be fully-clothed for the game, so you can set the Kiddie filter to “off,” but the dreaded orange sportcoat may be making yet another appearance.  (I suppose we should be thankful that Digger Phelps hasn’t yet found the number of Pearl’s tailor.)

Washington

Look who has climbed to within a game of .500 in Pac-10 play: that’s right, it’s Lorenzo Romar’s Washington Huskies!  UW started the conference season at 1-6 and was left for dead by just about everyone after an end-of-game meltdown against Cal and a blowout loss in Pullman.

The Huskies are still just 1-7 on the road, but they picked up two critical wins over the Bay Area schools this weekend at Hec-Ed Pavilion, and neither game was really all that close.  Jon Brockman stood out with his rebounding and ability to draw fouls inside.

It’s not an easy remaining slate for UW by any means—the Huskies host Wazzu on Wednesday and fly across the country to visit Pitt on the weekend, a trip similar to the one that worked out so poorly for UCLA last Saturday.  A split in those games would either get Washington to 7-7 in the Pac-10, and well within striking distance of the NCAA Tournament, or provide a marquee road win that its résumé sorely lacks right now.

With said split, manageable wins at Oregon State and at home to USC in two of the Huskies’ four final regular-season games would then be enough for Washington to make the Tournament.

Drexel

The Dragons were the hot CAA name in the non-conference season after beating Syracuse, Villanova, and St. Joseph’s, all on the road.  But after just a 6-4 start in CAA play, Drexel was quickly supplanted by VCU, and then Old Dominion, as the team most likely to make the NCAA Tournament as a Colonial at-large.

Recently, the Dragons have reeled off three straight wins, including an impressive OT thriller at Hofstra last week.  Drexel was given a dream matchup in the BracketBuster as well: a road test at the MVC’s likely runner-up, Creighton.  Beating CU at the Qwest Center is by no means an easy task, but a fourth Top-100 RPI road win would be a monumental achievement for Drexel to be able to list on its NCAA Tournament résumé.

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