At this time last year, Gerald Henderson and Wayne Ellington were best friends and teammates at Philadelphia’s Episcopal Academy. They’re still best friends, but they’ve wound up on opposite sides of one of the most intense rivalries in sports.
Henderson and Ellington — both of whom were rated among the top 20 prospects in last year’s high school class — will meet as rivals for the first time when No. 16 Duke and No. 5 North Carolina, their respective teams, square off tonight.
“That’s why you choose a place like Duke or North Carolina,” Ellington told the Philadelphia Daily News. “You want to be part of something special.”
The pair could have played together for hometown Villanova or any number of other schools but decided to go through the recruiting process independently.
Henderson, an athletic slasher and son of the former NBA player of the same name, headed for Durham. Ellington, a long-range shooter who could eventually develop into a point guard, picked Chapel Hill.
“We’ll talk a little bit of trash, definitely,” Ellington said. “We knew what it was going to be like, ever since we made our decisions. It’ll be intense. But I don’t think either of us would want it any other way.”
Florida was a unanimous choice on Associated Press ballots as the top team in the country this week, but if the NCAA tournament field were revealed today the Gators might not even be a No. 1 seed.
The 21-2 record and 14 consecutive victories are both impressive, but Florida is ranked just 12th in the RPI and its strength of schedule is ranked around No. 80.
Florida has played two teams in the top 80 of the RPI outside of Gainesville and lost both times, falling to No. 9 Kansas on a neutral floor and Florida State on the road. (The Gators do own home wins over No. 3 Ohio State and Tennessee, which was playing without SEC scoring leader Chris Lofton).
One could argue based strictly on achievement that UCLA, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin deserve the top seeds over Florida.
That argument could lose steam quickly though. In the next two weeks, the Gators play at Georgia, at No. 20 Kentucky and at No. 23 Vanderbilt. They also play at Louisiana State Feb. 24 and at Tennessee Feb. 27. By then we should have a better idea of where the Gators stand in their title defense.
The lineup for ESPN’s “BracketBusters,” which annually pairs teams from minor conferences looking for late-season exposure and RPI boosts, was released last week.
The 51-game event (yes, it used to be considerably smaller) is scheduled for Feb. 16-17. Of the 14 games slated for broadcast by ESPN, highlights include Winthrop at Missouri State, Northern Iowa at No. 12 Nevada and No. 21 Southern Illinois at No. 10 Butler.
The event is great for the 28 teams who make it onto ESPN. For the other 74 teams that don’t get on television, the ever-expanding “Bracket-Busters” concept is getting a bit old.
“I think when it began, it served its purpose,” Siena’s Fran McCaffery told the Boston Globe. “But I don’t know of any coaches who really think it is a good idea. Do I need James Madison in my life right now? I don’t think so.”
WINLESS NO MORE
After a brutal three months in which it lost 21 straight games, Iona finally broke into the win column Saturday with a 69-57 victory over visiting Rider.
It was bound to happen eventually for the defending Metro Atlantic champs. In the Gaels’ previous seven games they had lost three times in overtime and twice by one point in regulation.
“Coach (Jeff Ruland) has always said this streak would end if we played 40 minutes,” said senior Justin Marshall. “The last couple games, we played 39:57 and it hasn’t worked out. But we knew if we played hard and didn’t let up, this would be the result.”
The pressure now falls on North Florida, which counts two home wins against Division II opponents as its only victories this season.
The last word
“There’s been no dissension. I think the kids like each other. Nobody likes us losing. We don’t like it, and the fans are going frickin’ nuts. But there aren’t internal problems.”
ARIZONA ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH RESPONDING TO THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR WHEN ASKED IF PAST PERSONNEL HEADACHES HAVE RETURNED DURING THE WILDCATS’ 3-6 SLUMP
Texas A&M is ranked sixth in the country and owns a commanding lead in the Big 12 standings thanks in large part to the floor leadership of Acie Law IV. In the last week, the 6-foot-3 lefty from Dallas scored 23 points and dished out seven assists in a narrow road upset of Kansas, then racked up 21 points and 15 assists in a blowout of Texas. After Law hit the gamewinning 3 against the Jayhawks, Kansas coach Bill Self called him the conference’s best clutch shooter. Maybe that’s why he’s one of a handful of seniors who’s expected to be picked in the first round of this year’s NBA draft.
Southern California at UCLA, 8:30 p.m. today on Fox Sports Net Arizona. Fresh off their fifth win over a ranked team and second over a top-10 squad this season, the No. 19 Trojans venture into Pauley Pavilion looking to add to their postseason resumé. With a win, USC, which is tied with Washington State for second in the conference, would forge a tie with UCLA atop the Pac-10 standings. The secondranked Bruins, the only team in the Pac-10 not to lose at home this season, won 65-64 when the teams met at USC on Jan. 13.
It seems we spoke a bit early when we damned Brigham Young to the NIT two weeks ago. The Cougars have posted five consecutive wins with home victories over conference favorites Nevada and UNLV. Since inexplicably losing to Lamar on Dec. 13, BYU has won 13 of 15 games and surged into the top 30 of the RPI rankings. Perhaps we’ll see East Valley products Austin Ainge, a senior from Gilbert Highland, and Lee Cummard, a sophomore from Mesa, in the Big Dance after all. Our top seeds: UCLA (20-2); North Carolina (20-3); Wisconsin (22-2) and Florida (21-2)