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November 20, 2006

What we learned last week in college hoops

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In case we forgot how good the Colonial Athletic Association has become, we got a big a reminder Sunday night.

The mid-major conference earned multiple bids to the 2006 NCAA Tournament. It features a George Mason team that went on a memorable run to the Final Four last season. And now the CAA is responsible for one of the biggest upsets of the young season.

Old Dominion, which was picked to finish fourth in the conference, went on the road and upset No. 8 Georgetown, 75-62. It was the first time the Hoyas had lost at McDonough Arena, where they have been playing sparsely in recent years, since 1982. It also marked the Monarchs' first victory over a ranked team since beating Villanova in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.

We examine that matchup and more in this version of What We Learned Last Week.

Check out an in-depth look at three top 25 teams who are coming off meaningful games and a rundown of the best individual performances (games from last Monday thru Sunday are considered):

All Eyes On ...
No. 16 Arizona: (2-1)
The Good: Just about everyone on the Wildcats' schedule is going to have trouble keeping up on the scoreboard. Arizona is averaging a nation-high 98.6 points through three games. The Wildcats topped the 100-point mark in back-to-back wins against Northern Arizona (101-79) and New Mexico State (102-87) neither of which is a cupcake. All the starters scored 15 or more points against NMSU, including stellar freshman Chase Budinger - who is averaging a team-high 22.7 ppg. Point guard Mustafa Shakur has also rebounded from his poor performance in the season-opening 93-90 loss at Virginia He is averaging 17.5 points and 9.5 assists since.
The Bad: The bench has been lackluster. The reserves combined for nine points against Virginia and NMSU. Nic Wise seems to be settling into the backup point guard spot, but they must start developing some depth.
The Ugly: The defense has been subpar at best. Playing such a fast tempo means sacrificing some easy baskets for opponents, but giving up 86.3 points per game isn't how you blaze a trail to the Final Four. The perimeter defense has been particularly weak, allowing opponents to shoot 46 percent (31 of 67) from 3-point range.
No. 5 Pittsburgh (5-0)
The Good: The Panthers proved they are for real. Pitt routed Massachusetts (one of the Atlantic 10's top teams) 85-68 at home. Better yet, the Panthers proved they can play without 7-foot center Aaron Gray. With Gray's minutes limited because of foul trouble and a cut on his lip that required seven stitches, the Panthers relied on their balance. Five players scored in double figures, but nobody had more than 14 points. Nine players have finished in double figures already.
The Bad: The balance is certainly impressive, but a go-to guy has yet to emerge a role that trigger-happy Carl Krauser played for the last two seasons.
The Ugly: None.
No. 6 UCLA (1-0)
The Good: The Bruins already possess something that no other top-10 team does a win that should significantly boost their RPI. The Bruins beat Brigham Young (1-1), which is coming off a 20-win season and picked second in the Mountain West, 82-69. Perhaps even more impressive than the win were the performances of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year last season, and new starting point guard Darren Collison. Mbah a Moute looks poised to have the breakthrough season many are predicting, scoring a career-high 24 points. Collison, Jordan Farmar's replacement, ran the offense like a veteran. Collison scored 16 points and dished out 10 assists both career-highs.
The Bad: The stifling defense that carried the Bruins to the national title game was absent for the most part. They forced 22 turnovers but gave up a slew of easy baskets. BYU, which led 39-36 at the half, shot 57 percent from the field (28-of-56) and 67 percent (10-of-15) from beyond the arc.
The Ugly: Shooting guard Arron Afflalo didn't look anything like a preseason All-American. He took just nine shots from the field (made three) and finished with nine points.
Biggest Surprises
1. Oral Roberts 78, No. 3 Kansas 71: Before everyone starts doubting the Jayhawks and all their preseason hype, remember that North Carolina lost a season opener to Santa Clara before going on to capture the 2004-05 national title. The Jayhawks ran into one of the better small schools and a very hot team. Oral Roberts guard Marchello Vealy, whose previous career-high was 12 points, hit seven of his eight 3-point attempts. Vealy probably won't have another game like that all season, maybe not ever. The Jayhawks lacked focus and played poorly, but a better test of their title contender status will be the showdown with No. 1 Florida on Saturday in Las Vegas.
2. Old Dominion 75, No. 8 Georgetown 62: Hoyas coach John Thompson III warned that his team had some major questions to solve in the preseason, but this matchup created some new concerns. Thompson III felt the backcourt might struggle, but it was his imposing frontcourt that showed flaws. The Hoyas (2-1) were outrebounded 15-7 on the offensive glass. Forward Jeff Green, one of the Big East's top players, will take much of the blame. Green scored just two points and spent most of the game in foul trouble. The bench - another supposed strength - also provided little help, combining for just three points.
More Teams Making News
Gonzaga: It looks like we may have all overestimated the loss of Adam Morrison at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are off to an impressive 4-0 start, with convincing wins over Eastern Washington (90-75), Rice (88-50), Baylor (78-69) and Texas San-Antonio (92-48). Without Morrison, they are much more balanced. Five players finished in double figures against the Baylor. That includes former role players Josh Heytvelt and Canadian import Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes, who are combining to average 26.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Freshman Matt Bouldin (ranked the No. 45 prospect in the class of 2006) gives them a new dimension on the wing with his vision and passing skills.
Winthrop: Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall's decision to return to Winthrop one day after accepting the College of Charleston job this past offseason is starting to make sense. The Eagles (3-1) look like one of the nation's top mid-major programs and an early Cinderella pick. They held a lead at No. 2 North Carolina (3-0) late in the second half before falling 73-66. Winthrop followed that by pulling off a 74-63 upset at Mississippi State (2-1). The Eagles will travel to No. 12 Texas A&M (4-0) on Jan. 2.
Player Spotlight
Maryland center Ekene Ibekwe outscored St. John's in the first half in a semifinal matchup at the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic in New York City. Ebekwe had 22 points to the Red Storm's 21 on the way to the Terps' 92-60 rout. Ibekwe didn't score again he played sparingly in the second half but did grab 14 rebounds.
South Carolina's Bryce Sheldon put on one of the best shooting displays of the young season so far, hitting six of seven 3-pointers to spoil the opening of USC's new Galen Center. Sheldon led the Gamecocks (3-1) to an 80-74 win. He finished with 22 points.
San Diego State junior center Jerome Habel had a tremendous debut with the Aztecs (5-0). Habel came off the bench to score 23 points and grab seven rebounds in an 86-79 win over visiting California (1-1). Habel, a junior college transfer, was suspended for the first four games for violating team rules.
Freshman Spotlight
Kevin Durant has wasted no time showing why he arrived at Texas with so much hype. The small forward has scored at least 20 points in each of the Longhorns' first four games, including 21- and 29-point outings against Maryland and St. John's in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. Durant has also been a major force on the boards, averaging 9.5 rebounds per game.
Iowa's Tyler Smith looks like he will be one of the Big Ten's most versatile players. In two games versus Toledo and Alabama, Smith has scored 47 points, grabbed 12 boards and handed out 10 assists.
It appears that Arizona's Chase Budinger will be in the mix for National Freshman of the Year. Budinger scored 32 points while making just one turnover against Northern Arizona. He is averaging 22.7 ppg.
With fellow classmate Derrick Caracter serving a three-game NCAA suspension, one of Louisville's three other top 100 recruits grabbed the spotlight in the Cardinals' season-opening 100-87 win on Northwestern State. Jerry Smith scored 24 points in his debut, helping the Cards (1-0) erase an 11-point halftime deficit.
There were a lot of questions about how much Kentucky's lanky Perry Stevenson could contribute because of his lack of weight, but it's clear that the power forward will help defensively. He blocked seven shots in the Wildcats' season-opening 57-46 win over Miami (Ohio).
Charlotte got some bad news when the NCAA ruled big man Phil Jones, once a top-150 prospect, is ineligible for the entire season. Many schools stayed away from recruiting Jones because of academic problems.
Stat Line of the Week
In just his second college game, Iowa freshman Tyler Smith scored 28 points, pulled down six boards and dished out five assists in the Hawkeyes' 78-65 win over Toledo. Amazingly, Smith did not start.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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