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College basketball notes

Early Sweet talking

Sixteen teams that have the potential for advancement

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / January 23, 2009
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We don't have a clue what will happen when the regular season goes into March Madness mode. We can guess which four teams will wind up in Detroit the first weekend in April. We can also fathom a guess as to the 2009 national champion. But this season, more than any other, it's a shot in the dark.

You could roll the dice 10 times and come up with 10 winners and we would say, "OK, sounds good to us." Check out Wednesday night's results. Northwestern upset No. 7 Michigan State, snapping the Spartans' 28-game home winning streak, and visiting Virginia Tech handed No. 1 Wake Forest its first loss.

Now it's official. No unbeaten teams remain in Division 1 and the speculation about who will be No. 1 in April continues.

Let's look at some Sweet 16 candidates, listed alphabetically:

Butler - Longest of long shots. But George Mason made the Final Four a couple of years ago. The Bulldogs are off to the best start in school history (17-1), play tough defense, and know how to win in March.

UConn - A preseason favorite with talent in the backcourt, up front, and on the bench. Also hungry, which is always a factor.

Davidson - Stephen Curry took the Wildcats within a basket of making the Final Four last season. Davidson might not be as good this season, but Curry is.

Duke - Coach K is on a role, and so is his team.

Georgetown - Young and talented. Hoyas will go as far as freshman center Greg Monroe can carry them.

Illinois - Big Ten sleeper, but watch out for coach Bruce Weber's team, which uses a nine-man rotation to wear down opponents.

Kansas - Sophomore center Cole Aldrich is the best big man not named Blake Griffin in the Big 12.

Louisville - If the Cardinals can survive the Big East, the NCAA Tournament might be a cakewalk - until they meet another team from the Big East.

Michigan State - Lost to North Carolina early. Might not happen if the teams meet in March or April, although the Spartans' loss to Northwestern is a puzzler.

North Carolina - Was two-game Atlantic Coast Conference losing streak a speed bump or a sign of vulnerability?

Oklahoma - Blake Griffin, Blake Griffin, Blake Griffin.

Pittsburgh - Panthers need to play in March the way they do in January and February.

Syracuse - See Louisville.

UCLA - Final Four fixture.

Wake Forest - Young, talented, and knows how to beat North Carolina. The Demon Deacons get a pass on the loss to Virginia Tech.

Xavier - Sean Miller can coach, X Men can play. It all depends on the bracket.

Who's hot
John Holland, Boston University - The sophomore forward played all 60 minutes in BU's 99-97 four-overtime win over Stony Brook Monday, scoring 29 points and pulling down seven rebounds.

Purdue - The Boilermakers are 15-4 and have won four straight, including a 73-53 demolition of Iowa Sunday in which they made 49 percent of their shots. Even more telling is this stat: 19 assists on 25 baskets, which means the team concept is working again. The Boilermakers are on the outside in terms of Big Ten contenders, but we should know more in the next few weeks, which include four league games, three on the road against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Illinois.

Louisville - The Cardinals have won six straight, a stretch that consisted of victories over Kentucky, Villanova, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh.

New Jersey Tech - Ended a 51-game losing streak with a victory over Bryant Wednesday night.

Who's not?
Clemson - Tigers have lost only two games - to Wake Forest last Saturday and North Carolina Wednesday night. But their recent history after fast starts is not good. A year ago, the Tigers started 13-1, then lost four of their next seven. And Clemson has never beaten the Tar Heels (0-54) in Chapel Hill.

Arizona - The Wildcats are 2-5 in the Pac-10, 11-8 overall, and lost to Arizona State Wednesday night for the third consecutive time. Arizona has qualified for the NCAA Tournament 24 straight seasons, the longest active streak in Division 1.

This week's Sweet 16: Duke, UConn, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Louisville, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Georgetown, Xavier, Marquette, Memphis, Texas, Syracuse, California, Clemson.

Who's No. 1?: Duke.

New England teams with best chances of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament: UConn, Northeastern, Harvard, Boston University, Vermont.

Boston-bound: 1. UConn; 2. Michigan State; 3. Xavier; 4. California.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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