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Hoops Quickies

Posted by davefowkes on 03/31/2009

A bit late to react to the weekend’s basketball but what the heck!

— Count me as one that thinks the Pittsburgh Villanova game was a great one. But part of the greatness of the finish was rewarding stupidity. As great as that final drive and bucket was by Scottie Reynolds, how horrible was the baseball pass turnover only amplified by the mid-court foul. Dumb! Yet Villanova moves on!

–North Carolina looks awfully good! I really thought Oklahoma would put up a better fight, but the Tar Heels dominated early and never let up. Ty Lawson is the man! The Heels are long gone in this tournament if he does not play through his toe pain.

–Big props to Michigan State. I am real down on the Big Ten, but they did have one good team in that league and they are on the way to the Final Four. Louisville could never get in rhythm. The Spartans forced that by dominating on the offensive boards the middle 10 minutes of the 2nd half when they made their run. Very impressive.

–Turning point in the Louisville/MSU game: The Cardinal came out strong after halftime and took a two point lead. They forced a turnover and began to run. I started to think, this was the time they would finally open it up. Instead the long outlet pass was overthrown, Michigan got the ball, quickly returned the ball up court for a quick shot and foul. Momentum was turned, Louisville fell apart and the Spartans never looked back.

–Did not see UConn/Missouri but the game sounded similar to what I expected.

–I think Villanova is capable of giving UNC a run for their money. Their style of play could match up well and and upset would not be surprising to me. That said, I picked UNC day one, I am not backing down on that prediction. Expect a lot of points in this one though!

–It has been a great run for MSU, but UConn can rebound with them. I look for a double digit win for the Huskies!

–John Calipari to Kentucky is a no-brainer. Pitino Jr will continue to follow in his idle’s shoes. How do you say no to Kentucky and all that money? It has been a great run at Memphis but Calipari won’t get the respect until he wins at a top school in a BCS conference.

–Speaking of Pitino, there is NO way that Rick Pitino takes the Arizona job. Despite all the rumors, Arizona is on a down cycle thanks to poor recruiting, while Louisville has invested a ton of money in the facilities and are competing at a high lever with another great recruiting class on the way.

–I look for Arizona to make a big west coast splash. Mark Few of Gonzaga or Randy Bennett of St. Mary’s would be what I would expect.

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First Weekend Reaction

Posted by davefowkes on 03/23/2009

48 games on four TVs in four days! Now that is the way to celebrate March Madness! Now it is Monday and here are a few thoughts that stick out in my mind.

I am sure we all picked Arizona to be the last Pac Ten team standing! I was surprised to see the Pac Ten go 5-1 in the first round. But do answer that with a 1-4 in the second round left me with a bit of an empty feeling for the conference. We all knew the Pac Ten was down this year, I guess it was just proved. But then there is Arizona.

I will not listen to any arguments that use Arizona’s two game run as justification for them being in the tournament. St. Mary’s, Creighton or others easily could have put the same two game run together against Utah and Cleveland State. The key is once you make the tournament it is a clean slate, anything can happen on any given night. Match ups, experience, desire, to name just a few items all come into play. The point is that based on the season’s “full body of work,” Arizona did not belong in the tournament. That fact has not changed. That fact would not change even if Arizona runs the table to a national title! But it sure is a good thing for the Pac Ten that Arizona made the tournament.

Cal was just what I thought they were. Live and die by the 3-pointer but when Maryland forced them into an inside game they could not keep up. Cal needs another big man or three, but with everyone expected to return next year, things look good in Berkeley.

The Big Ten is just what I thought they were. An overrated conference with arguably two good teams: Michigan State and Purdue. Those two teams are good enough to continue their run. The rest of the over hyped conference is right where they belong too, back at home!

The Big East is just what I thought as well. Best conference in the land! Marquette gave a great fight against Missouri, but with UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Villanova and Louisville dominating the remaining brackets, you could really see two or even three teams making the final four from the Big East.

Thank you ACC but that is still a league that is all about UNC and Duke.

Not much action in terms of upsets which is always disappointing. Surprise of the weekend was clearly Cleveland State over Wake Forest. Not so much that the win itself was so shocking, but the way Cleveland blew them out start to finish! The other two big surprises came in losses. We all had East Tennessee State taking Pittsburgh down to the wire and Northridge giving Memphis all they could handle!

I still like UNC with a healthy Ty Lawson to win it all, but any of the remaining Big East teams could do it and not surprise me at all!

Funny that with all those games this weekend, the game that I look forward to most based purely on a viewing basis, is tonight’s NIT clash between St. Mary’s and Davidson! Patrick Mills and Stephen Curry? I so wish I could go!

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How To Fix NCAA Tournament

Posted by davefowkes on 03/17/2009

If I could be boss for a day of the NCAA Tournament Committee, I would make a couple of adjustments to the tournament:

1. No conference can send over half of its members.

2. It is somewhat redundant, but all teams must be at least 500 or better in their conference to be eligible.

Just because there are super conferences it does not mean that everybody should get to go to the tournament. The tournament should be a reward for a great season. It should not be automatic just because your conference is strong any given year. Had it not been for all the surprise tournament winners this year, there is a good chance that Penn State would have made the field and that would mean 8 teams from the Big 10. 8 or 11 teams would go to the post season. Why play a conference schedule then?

By limiting the field to just half of each conference it puts a huge emphasis back on to conference play. You may look good on paper, you may have had a great pre-season, but if you can not finish in the top half of your league, why should you go to a playoff? The non-conference schedule is clearly important for resume building and the likes, but this would put a lot of pressure back into conference play making January and February that much more interesting!

In terms of the “eye” test that we hear so much about this time of year, do we really need 7 or 8 teams from the Big 10? Do we really need 6 teams from the Pac Ten?

By making sure everyone is at least 500 to qualify, you again insure that successful teams are making it rather than just good teams that are not playing well the last 2 months of the season.

Sure, every year there will be a few really good teams in really good conferences that will be left out, but bottom line, each team will have the opportunity by just winning HALF of their conference games.

Now if we implemented my new rules this year, we would lose Arizona and then two out of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin Big 10 representatives and Maryland who was under 500 in the conference and the 7th team in a 12-team league. That opens up four spots. My hunch is St. Mary’s, Creighton, Auburn and South Carolina would fill the void. But San Diego State, Niagara, UNLV and others would still be in the conversation.

Now by my system, I have limited some of the mediocrity out of the big conferences, and I have spread the wealth to two mid-majors and two other mediocre BCS schools. But by providing limitations on each conference, at least it will open the field up more to new teams, more mid-majors, and the potential for more exciting match ups of David vs Goliath which is what makes the first two rounds of the tournament so special!

Okay, now I will wake up from my dream because we all know the BCS schools would never relinquish such control as above. But it certainly would be nice if they could!

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Initial Bracket Reaction

Posted by davefowkes on 03/15/2009

The announcement has been made, the brackets are set, and now we have four days to whine, cry and cheer for those that got in or got left out. So here are my first thoughts:

I am a huge Pac Ten fan. But this was a down year for the Pac Ten, so how did they send 6 teams? Arizona does not belong! That is a terrible pick by the committee. Arizona is 19-13, 500 in conference and slumped their way to the end of the season. If USC does not win the conference, sure, Arizona is in the conversation on the bubble. But when USC won, that should have knocked out Arizona. Five teams is enough.

I find the Big Ten to be so mediocre. 7 teams is way too many. I could have Minnesota or Wisconsin being held out. At least Penn State did not make it.

Hard to argue with anyone in the top three seeds. No surprises there.

The second biggest surprise to me after Arizona was not so much that Maryland was in the tournament but all the way up at a 10-seed.

Now for those left out, St. Mary’s is a tough sell but they clearly seem to be the odd man out. I am also a big Creighton fan. The Missouri Valley Conference is a VERY good conference. Creighton has always been a very solid program and they had a great year that just ended too early in the MVC tournament. If St. Mary’s and Creighton were in the tournament this year, I would put my money on both of them to advance to the second round. Instead, more mediocrity from the BCS conferences. ESPN’s Jay Bilas – the big conference apologist – keeps asking, or those teams better than some of the teams that made it in right now? My answer is yes.

Just about every year this decade the committee has offered up fewer and fewer at-large bids to the smal-conferences. This year only FOUR of those bids went to the smaller conferences. Granted some of the at-large bids were eaten up by surprising automatic bids in conference tournaments. But the Tournament’s greatness in the first two rounds is all about the David Vs the Goliath. Davidson last year? How about George Mason’s run to the final four a few years back? VCU over Duke? And that is just naming a few. How can the tournament committee look at “the best 34 at-large teams” and not consider more of these smaller schools? Who is to say Niagara is a lesser team than Arizona or Wisconsin? I’d like to find out!

The system of selecting teams is broke. Mid-majors can not get games against the bigger conferences, certainly not at home. Big conference teams schedule a ton of home games that guaranty them 20 plus wins if they are any good. So we get here to March and St. Mary’s does not have a good enough schedule to qualify, while a mediocre Arizona does get in?

It just gives the impression to me that the big conferences try to keep the money to themselves and lock out the mid-majors as much as they can. So now rather than Creighton vs someone we get more mediocre big conference match ups like Texas vs Minnesota.

David vs Goliath, that is what makes those first two rounds so special! I wish the committee would figure that out and spread the wealth a little more! And if it really is about scheduling in the preseason, then let’s figure out a way to standardize the scheduling a little bit more to make it more fair for all!

All this said, I can’t wait for Thursday! Bring on the Madness!!!

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The Dream Ends For Stanford

Posted by davefowkes on 03/12/2009

The Cardinal gave it a good run but in the end they came up well short against the Pac Ten Champion Washington Huskies. Stanford kept it close much of the way before finally falling 85-73.  Anthony Good almost willed the team to success with  26 points. Landry Fields was the star of the first half scoring 11 of his 16 points.  But in the end the desperation three pointers would not fall and despite forcing 21 turnovers the defense could not keep the Huskies out of the net.

Stanford shot fairly well as a team but Lawrence Hill had a bad day going just 2-14 from the field for 4 points which really hurt. Stanford impressed me in the first half on both the offensive and defensive rebounds. That kept the game close. But in the second half the Huskies imposed their physical superiority and Jon Brockman and Isiah Thomas took over the game.

Stanford would not go away thanks to Goods but in one stretch with about three minutes to go Goods, Hill and Jeremy Green all took ill-advised quick three pointers. None of them went in, and the Huskies extended the lead.

Bottom line, despite a solid effort from the Cardinal, the Huskies eventually took advantage of the Cardinal’s weaknesses in terms of an interior game both on offense and defense. The better team won the game!

What next for the Cardinal? Well they are clearly out of the NCAA and NIT tournaments, but with two other lesser known tournaments there is a chance the career’s of Goods, Hill, Mitch Johnson and Kenny Brown may continue to another day! Let’s hope so! Despite a disappointing run this year, it has been a good four years for all four of them!

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Stanford Lives For Another Day

Posted by davefowkes on 03/11/2009

A very nice win for the Cardinal tonight. After getting blown out by Oregon State in each of the first two match ups it was a shock to see the Cardinal favored by six points. I guess someone knew something somewhere! Stanford wins 62-54.

In a season filled with “what could have been” with three one-point road losses, it is great to see the seniors step up for the Cardinal and get an extra game for the team. Winning the first round match up earns them a date with Washington tomorrow afternoon.

But for one night it is a nice win for Stanford. Anthony Goods stepped up wtih 23 points, 17 of those points coming in the second half. Landry Fields added 13 points.

The keys for Stanford this year has been to shoot well and play perimeter defense. They do not have a good inside game on offense or defense. So playing well on the outside is critical. Stanford only shot 43% tonight, but unlike so many other games when they really needed that big shot, Goods delivered. His final three from the corner to put Stanford up by 7 with just over a minute to go was pretty much the game. That is the shot Stanford has missed all season long until tonight.

On defense the Cardinal limited a cold Beaver team to just 39% shooting. It was not the best game in the world by Oregon State, a team that has had such a great year by Beaver standards.

For the Cardinal it will be a tough task to beat the top-seeded Huskies, but at least they will get the opportunity. Seniors Goods, Lawrence Hill, Mitch Johnson and Kenny Brown have seen a lot on the Farm the last four years. This year has been such a disappointment that it is nice to seem them get that one win and give them the chance to play another day.

And who knows, one of those one point losses was at Washington to open the Pac Ten season. Maybe things can come full circle?

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College Hoop Thoughts

Posted by davefowkes on 02/22/2009

The hype yesterday was on bracket-buster weekend, but it was the big boys that made a lot of the news:

–I think we can officially call Stanford a bad basketball team right now. It is hard to know where it all went so wrong. Three one-point road losses in a row? The home shellacking to Oregon State? Bottom line, there is no excuse for losing to Oregon this year. And that is what the Cardinal did yesterday. It is a brutal year on the farm and with three seniors departing and not much fresh talent coming in, it could be a long couple of years for Stanford.

–By the way, how far has the Oregon program fallen that the Duck faithful decided they needed to storm the court after beating Stanford! Can we all say it together, “Oregon now introduces Mark Few as new basketball coach….”

–Bad loss by Cal. OSU is clearly better than it has been but the Bears could be in 2nd place today. Instead they need at least one win either at home against the LA schools or on the road in Arizona to secure that tournament bid.

–Kudos to OSU for sweeping the Bay Area this year. 4-0! That is impressive. I am quite sure that has not happened since the Ralph Miller era!

–Losing at home to WSU is bad enough but how the heck did UCLA give up 81 points? It usually takes WSU a game and a half to get 80 points. Yet they did it on the Bruins home court against a traditionally strong, defensive minded team. UCLA will find themselves out of the top 25 this week. A true sign of how far behind the Pac Ten is this year.

–That said, the Huskies keep rolling. Nice road win for them over USC.

–Big game tonight in the state of Arizona. The Cats are one of the hotter teams. Can they keep the streak alive? ASU seems to have rebounded from a mid-season slump. For ASU 2nd place is on the table, for AZ it is about getting to the tournament.

–A win by Maryland is bad for those of us dreaming about mid-major conferences getting at-large bids. By rallying to beat UNC (and shocking me) Maryland is right back in the tournament talk. The more of these mid-level big conference schools that make a run, the less opportunity for the mid-majors to participate in March.

–Congrats to USF for getting the big win in OT over Santa Clara. Since USF suspended 4 players last week they have been competitive in all their games, including Gonzaga last weekend. It was nice to see them get rewarded for their efforts last night. Maybe Rex Chapman knows what he is doing after all?

–With a recent loss to Boise State (who got pounded last night by Portland State) and then losing at St. Mary’s last night, Utah State has proved the WAC will only get one team into the tourney. They better win their conference tournament! As for St. Mary’s, they are playing well and have a shot at winning the WCC tourney if Patty Mills comes back. They will need to because their losses when he first went down will keep the Gaels from an at-large bid. But if they do manage to win the berth, Gonzaga would get an at-large bid!

–I know nobody else west of New York cares, but I would love to see Niagara beat Sienna in the MAAC tourney and then the tournament reward Sienna with an at large birth. Both teams could create match up issues in the big dance and shoot their way to potential first round upsets.

–Butler vs Davidson was a good game but I wonder what would have happened had Stephen Curry not been hurt last week. He clearly was not the same player yesterday that he has been. Butler plays good defense so give them some credit but Curry just did not seem to have his legs under him. Anyone else catch how young that Butler coach looks? They pick him up out of high school?

–How do I know that Oklahoma is a great team? On the road, with the best player in college hoops on the bench (Blake Griffen left early with a concussion), they still almost beat Texas. With good health Oklahoma wins that game by 10.

–Three of the top four teams lost this past week. Still, this is a four team race as far as I am concerned with the top four teams being much better than the rest. After yesterday’s results, this would be my top five if I had a vote: 1. Pittsburgh 2. UConn, 3. Oklahoma 4. UNC 5. Memphis.

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Terry Porter Firing Is Just Wrong

Posted by davefowkes on 02/17/2009

I just don’t get it. The Phoenix suns are 5 games above 500 and they decide to fire their coach? Talk about pressure to win!

Terry Porter was fired by the Suns yesterday with a 28-23 record. Now in the Western Conference that is only good enough for 9th place and that would not get them to the playoffs if the season ended today. I admit to not being a huge NBA fan, so I can not tell you the details of what is wrong with the Suns, but Porter was in his first year with the Suns. And in his first year, they are 5 games over 500.  And that is a fireable offense?

New coach Alvin Gentry says the Suns will return to the run and gun style the Suns have had the past few years under Mike D’Antoni. So if the issue is the style of play then isn’t it the GM who should get fired for hiring Porter to begin with?

It is all about winning championships in sports, but when a winning record midway through your first year is not good enough, then wow! Suns management must have some seriously gaudy expectations. I’ll be laughing if the Suns go on to miss the playoffs despite the change at coach!

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Big Game Recap

Posted by davefowkes on 02/15/2009

That one hurt yesterday! A tale of two halfs. Stanford blows up Cal in the first half with a lead that reached 22 points at one point. Cal responds in the second half to pull out the 82-75 win and a season split with the Cardinal.

I could feel it coming. Despite how much the Cardinal dominated in the first half, the fact is they did it with 77% shooting. They could not miss. And they weren’t turning the ball over. The reality is all those numbers were due to come back to earth in the second half. They key to the game was a late run by Cal in the first half. Rather than going to half down 20+ they were able to make a quick run and cut the lead to 14. That gave them a manageable number in the second half and a little momentum.

Then in the second half, they just dominated. While they never seem to hit their first shot, they dominated the boards getting second and third attempts until they got the bucket. They wasted no time in coming back and while Stanford tried to fend them off, eventually they caved in.

Stanford again showed their team weakness. NO inside game. Cal won the game when the crashed the offensive boards. Stanford could do nothing to stop them. On offense, Stanford showed they are only as good as their outside shooters. In the first half they could do no wrong, but in the second half when the laws of averages hit and they started missing their shots, they really could not do anything to manufacture good shots. Stanford has a long season in front of them and with 4 outgoing seniors and only 1 incoming freshman next year, it could be a down couple of years for the Cardinal program. Johnny Dawkins is going to have to prove just how good a coach and recruiter he is. If he doesn’t….

As for Cal, Jerome Randle is an amazing point guard and he just seems to get better every time I watch him play. Cal turned their game (and maybe their season) around by playing tough perimeter defense, challenging the Cardinal on the outside. If Cal is willing to commit to playing Mike Montgomery’s defense, and they continue to hit shots, and Randle stays healthy, they really will compete in a down Pac Ten. Jorge Guttierrez looks like a great freshman and I don’t believe there are any seniors on the team. The future for Cal looks pretty bright!

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PAC TEN (and wcc) THURSDAY

Posted by davefowkes on 02/12/2009

No Stanford or Cal tonight but still some good matchups:

UCLA at ASU: Game of the night. UCLA is hot, but ASU won the first matchup at Pauly Pavilion. On top of that, ASU has not exactly played all that well since beating UCLA. Should be a tough defensive struggle but I’ll go with the hot team over the road team:  UCLA 68-61

USC AT ARIZONA: Don’t have a clue about this game. I can not figure out USC for the life of me. Arizona is playing better but they weren’t exactly dominating during their Oregon swing. When in doubt go with the home team:  Arizona 65-62

OREGON AT WSU: Bad team on the road vs a good defense. The only question here is can Oregon cover the double digit spread: WSU 66-54

OSU AT WASHINGTON: The Beavers are much improved this year but on the road there is just no way they will be able to keep up with the Huskies: WASHINGTON 69-51.

How about some bonus coverage of the WCC. Some fun games tonight for those following the league closely:

GONZAGA AT ST MARY’S. The Gaels are only 4.5 dogs at home. That would make sense if Patrick Mills was still playing. But with arguably the best player in the league on the bench with an injured wrist, I just don’t see how St. Mary’s can keep this close: GONZAGA 78-65.

PORTLAND AT USF: If it weren’t for Loyola, USF would be the worst team in the WCC. Portland is highly underrated with former Stanford assistant Eric Revano at the helm. Pilots should have no problmes visoting the city by the bay: PORTLAND 70–53.

SANTA CLARA AT PEPPERDINE: Broncos have really come on of late and Pepperdine has no one to stop John Bryant. It is a road game so maybe closer than it should be, but look for another Bronco victory.  SC 72-62

SAN DIEGO AT LOYOLA: Loyola is horrible. SD  70-50

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Pac Ten Weekend Plays

Posted by davefowkes on 02/07/2009

I was so spot on for Thursday I decided I would try again today. Granted, being spot on means I picked every winner!  LOL.  Not sure I can say I hit every spread. But there is always today:

Washington State at Cal: Despite a stretch of games where they lost four out of five games, Thursday night’s win over Washington put Cal right back in contention in the Pac Ten. Cal is now in a three way tie for third with USC and Arizona, one game behind the Huskies and two behind UCLA. This is a dangerous matchup for the Bears. On paper they should win this game easily. But WSU makes teams look ugly with their defense. The key for the Bears is to not get caught up playing ugly ball with the Cougars. If they limit turnovers and hit a few 3’s they really should win this game easily. I like Cal at home, but this is a trap game I could see shocking some people at the end. CAL 67-57.

Washington at Stanford (Sunday): Very big game here. Washington is trying to prove they belong in the upper echelon of the Pac Ten. To do that they cant get swept in the Bay Area. Stanford meanwhile had a nice win at home against WSU. Can they make it two in a row? Jon Brockman’s layup in January gave Washington a 1-point win over the Cardinal in Seattle. That said, I dont think Stanford is palying as well as they were then. And I am quite sure Stanford still does not have an answer for Brockman, the best big man in the Pac Ten. For Stanford to win, they need to shoot well, especially beyond the arc, and play very tough perimeter defense. Brockman will beat them so they can not afford to give up many 3’s. Let Brockman score his 30 points, grab is 20 rebounds, but if they shut down everyone else, they have a chance. My heart bleeds red, but I am not a believer right now.  Washington 78-72.

The other games:

Notre Dame at UCLA: Huge game here and mostly it is for Pac Ten bragging rights. We all know the Pac Ten is down this year! Well this is UCLA’s opportunity to prove that the league is improving and is better since the preseason. UCLA must beat the Big East school. Especially since that Big East school comes to town riding a six game losing streak. If Notre Dame wins this one on the road, it could mean bad things for UCLA in terms of seating, and maybe even for the conference in terms of how many teams go to the tournament. A must win for UCLA and the Pac Ten. That said, UCLA is playing better, they will take care of business!  UCLA 78-69.

Arizona at Oregon: How is Arizona only favored by 5? Oregon is bad. Playing at home keeps from a huge blowout!  Arizona 77-64.

Arizona State at Oregon state:  This could be ugly to watch. OSU is a legitimate team this year. But in the end, ASU has better players. ASU 64-58.

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Pac Ten Thursday

Posted by davefowkes on 02/05/2009

It seems like I say it every Thursday when the Pac Ten schedule pops up, here is another huge weekend of games. When you have a conference that is clearly down compared to past years, every weekend seems to be huge. Especially for teams that look fabulous one week, and then lay the egg the next week:

Washington at Cal: Huge match up here for Cal! Are the Bears a good team or a bad team? They started off so hot and when they played Washington in Seattle they won in triple overtime. But since those opening couple of weeks, Cal has not dropped four of their last five, and that only win was against a very bad Duck team. The Huskies meanwhile are clearly the surprise of the Pac Ten this year and need a win to keep pace withUCLA. Sweeping the Arizona teams on the road last week was huge. This game should be a good one that goes down to the wire – but probably not to triple overtime. The key for Cal, play better defense and cut down turnovers. With their backs to the wall and playing at home, I think Cal gets the much needed win!  CAL: 78-73

This is truly a what could have been season for Stanford. Three road losses by 1 point. The could be atop the standings in the Pac Ten, instead they are in 9thplace and coming off a 34 point loss at UCLA. With WSU coming into town this is gut check time for Stanford. Win at home, pull some upsets on the road and maybe they can salvage the season. But if they are beat and demoralized, they will live in 9th place the rest of the way. WSU plays great D, so Stanford must play better defense than they have in weeks to try and keep up. STANFORD: 65-60.

The other two games tonight:

Oregon state has been a huge story this year in the Pac Ten and even nationally. Unfortunately I fear their win streak may come to an end tonight – although i will be routing for them!  ARIZONA 68-61.

Oregon is just a bad team. ASU has got to be embarrassed after getting swept at home. If ASU is for real as some of us believed two weeks ago, they win this easily by double digits even on the road.  ASU 74-59.

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