Jonah Keri writes the college basketball closer (more or less) daily. E-mail your questions, comments or Clarence Ceasar-related memories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Motivator. Facing Indiana for the first time in Eric Gordon's career after the superfrosh spurned Illinois to play for the Hoosiers, the Illini pulled out all the stops. That included the return of ZOOOK!!! The man who pisses intensity paid a surprise visit to the Illinois locker room before the game, urging Bruce Weber's charges to bring the hammer down on Gordon and the Hoosiers. "I want you to go out there and play like animals!" Zook spat at the mesmerized players. "The first one of you who knocks down that Gordon kid gets free waterskiing lessons and a copy of the Rose Bowl video, edited to show us kicking USC's ass and doing unspeakable things to Traveler. Now get out there and bite their heads off!!!"
OK, this never happened. And neither did an Illini win. Illinois ran out to a 34-30 lead as Indiana struggled early with their shooting. But Gordon scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half, and the Hoosiers came back to claim a 62-58 win. The loss left the Illini 0-4 in the conference, and Will in full spring training countdown mode. (Ed. Note: GLAUS!)
"He put a rock in his sling and swung the sling around by its straps..." OK, Oregon's 71-66 win over No. 23 over Stanford wasn't exactly a huge upset given the Ducks' talent and track record. But 5'6" Tajuan Porter's big steal and four points in the final two minutes of the game overcame a combined 35 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks by Brook Lopez and his twin 7-foot brother Robin, creating some serious David vs. Goliath overtones. Tune in next week for another installment of Old Testament Hoops, when Jerry Tarkanian's reign at UNLV ends with him playing the role of Job.
David Padgett is walking through that door... Juan Palacios is walking through that door...Derrick Caracter is walking through that door: Louisville's improving health, including the return of its top three big men, has helped the Cardinals start to live up to expectations. Rick Pitino's squad rolled to an easy 64-49 win over Rutgers in Piscataway, as Padgett, Palacios and Caracter combined for 25 points in 58 minutes. Louisville gets a big test Thursday at home against Marquette, before returning to Jersey Saturday night for a Newark Pants Party showdown with Seton Hall at the Rock. I've got 10-to-1 odds on Daulerio shaving his mustache and dropping it in Pitino's pre-game coffee.
Predictions. I picked Niagara over Siena by 11 and Vanderbilt over Kentucky by 14. Siena took out Niagara 94-84 at Niagara, while Kentucky claimed a 79-73 double overtime win at Rupp Arena. In the case of the MAAC battle, Niagara may have the conference's best player (and the nation's leading scorer) in Charron Fisher. But Siena looks like the cream of the conference right now, getting balanced production from multiple sources—including 18 points each from Tay Fisher and Ronald Moore and 28 from Edwin Ubiles against Niagara.
Meanwhile, Kentucky's win was a case of a rebuilding team starting to come together. Freshman big man Patrick Patterson gave the Commodores match-up problems all day, springing for 23 points and 12 rebounds and outplaying Vandy's combination of Shan Foster and A.J. Ogilvy. When making my prediction, I noted that picking from the gut can often be a bad idea. But in retrospect, taking the Cats could've been a good percentage play: No major U.S. team sport shows a bigger home team advantage than college basketball. When asked about the crowd of 23,965 fans at Rupp, Ogilvy said: "I think we got taken out of our game a little bit at the start," Ogilvy said. "We just tried to recover, but never could."
No. 8 Georgetown 70, No. 18 Pittsburgh 60. DeJuan Blair is averaging a virtual double-double as a freshman, forming a potent combination up front with Sam Young and keeping the Panthers afloat while they cope with the losses of Mike Cook and Levance Fields. But the 6'7" Blair and 6'6" Young figure to have no answer for the Hoyas' deep front line of Patrick Ewing Jr., DaJuan Summers and 7'2" center Roy Hibbert. Not just around the rim either.
No. 3 Kansas 81, Oklahoma 68. I'm going to start picking more upsets soon, I swear. Just not here. Oklahoma's coming off a draining 84-82 home loss to Kansas State Saturday. Out of the frying pan, into the fire at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where the undefeated Jayhawks are firing on all cylinders, including a healthy Brandon Rush looking most of the way back from knee surgery. Tune in to watch Kansas' cavalcade of stars, but also Oklahoma freshman Blake Griffin, who's got the talent to play well at the next level.
Results within five points: 1-6