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November 12, 2006

Virginia, Bradley open with big wins

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Either Bradley is much better than we believed, or DePaul isn't nearly as good as we thought. That was perhaps the biggest lesson that the first week of the college basketball season produced.

Bradley rolled to a 78-58 upset on Saturday in the season opener between the Chicago area schools. It was a surprising outcome, even during this time of year when teams are learning how to replace veterans and tinkering with lineups.

The Braves, who lost their top two players from last season's Sweet 16 run (including lottery pick Patrick O'Bryant), were picked to finish eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference coaches' poll.

The Blue Demons were picked eighth in the 16-team Big East preseason poll and expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth.

So, what happened? We explore that question in much more in this first version of What We Learned Last Week

Biggest Surprise: Bradley 78, DePaul 58. There might be a simple explanation here - the Blue Demons ran into a team that was extremely hot from 3-point range. The Braves went 13 of 25 (52 percent) from beyond the arc. The rebounding battle was almost a dead heat, with Bradley grabbing 29 boards to DePaul's 28. DePaul power forward Wilson Chandler scored only two of his 12 points in the first half - when the outcome was still in doubt. Blue Demons center Wesley Green, a highly touted recruit, continues to be a disappointment. Green went scoreless and grabbed just two rebounds in 14 minutes.

Runner-up: Virginia 93, Arizona 90 - Unranked Virginia opened up John Paul Jones Arena in grand fashion by edging No. 10 Arizona in the first game ever played there Sunday night. The Cavaliers' star point guard Sean Singletary outplayed Mustafa Shakur. Singletary scored 25 points, dished out six assists and made two steals. Shakur went 0-of-5 from the field and fouled out. The Cavaliers sophomore wing Mamadi Diane was the difference maker, scoring a career-high 25 points.

All Eyes On (a look at the start of three important programs)

OHIO STATE

The Good: Greg Oden won't have to be the savior when he joins the team in January. OSU rolled to an easy 107-69 win over VMI, beat Horizon League favorite Loyola-Chicago 87-75 and then crushed defending MAC champ Kent State 81-59 without the big man. Junior college transfer Othello Hunter did a solid job on the inside, grabbing 26 rebounds. Freshman Daequan Cook looks like he's going to be the major scoring weapon they need, averaging 16.0 points per game off the bench.

The Bad: Kent State, which lacks the imposing front lines of Big Ten programs, outrebounded the Buckeyes 33-27. Makes you wonder what will happen when they face Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina on Nov. 29 in Chapel Hill.

The Ugly: None.

GEORGETOWN

The Good: The inside tandem of Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert got off to a good start and came through when needed in their 69-59 win over Hartford. They combined for 33 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Green and Hibbert should create all sorts of problems for Vanderbilt on Wednesday.

The Bad: Top 10 teams aren't supposed to start their seasons by getting locked in a tight game with the likes of Hartford, but the Hoyas don't have the firepower to blow out most teams. As our recruiting analysts expected, freshman Vernon Macklin (he was ranked the No. 10 power forward in his class despite being a McDonald's All-American) appears a year or two away from contributing. Macklin did not play against Hartford.

The Ugly: The big question over who would start in the backcourt alongside Jonathan Wallace got a little bigger. Tyler Crawford, formerly a little-used reserve who won the starting job, went 3-of-12 from the field and 1-of-8 from 3-point range.

KANSAS STATE

The Good: Athletic wing Lance Harris looks like a great fit for Bob Huggins' style of play. The senior, who has never averaged more than 10 points a game per season, scored 22 points and made several big plays in their 70-60 win over William & Mary.

The Bad: Forget about the final score. Huggins was more upset with the team's lack of effort, particularly early. That translates into a very tough couple days of practice before their road trip to Rutgers on Wednesday.

The Ugly: Cartier Martin, who was indefinitely suspended for much of the offseason, might be back in Huggins' dog house. The team's best player racking up four fouls in 12 minutes and finished with just five points - 10 below his average from last season.

Player Spotlight

Oregon big man Maarty Luenen scored 18 points and grabbed 17 rebounds - the most by an Oregon player in 17 years - in the Ducks' 84-73 win over Cal State-Northridge.

Texas A&M rolled to an easy 81-49 win over Prairie View A&M in its season opener, but little of it had to do with star point guard Acie Law. His senior year got off to a rough start. Law fouled out in 20 minutes and went 2-of-10 from the field. Perhaps Law is still feeling the affects of a tailbone injury suffered in A&M's first exhibition game.

Freshman Spotlight

No freshman got off to a better or more shocking start than Oregon point guard Tajuan Porter. The former three-star recruit scored 27 in his debut against Lehigh, 28 versus Cal State-Northridge and then dropped a 38 on Portland State, the most ever scored in a single game by a Ducks freshman. The 5-foot-7 guard was 10-of-12 from 3-point range against Portland State, and is 21-of-33 (63 percent) overall from beyond the arc. More performances like that could be enough to save the job of coach Ernie Kent, who is on a very hot seat.

Arizona's highly touted wing Chase Budinger flashed his scoring ability and versatility in his debut, finishing with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Mississippi State guard Ben Hansbrough, the younger brother of UNC star Tyler Hansbrough, came off the bench to score 10 points in the Bulldogs' 90-55 win over Nicholls State.

Stat Line of the Week: Wake Forest senior Kyle Visser played the best game of his career in the Deacons' 91-82 win over James Madison. Visser went a perfect 10-of-10 from the field, scored a game-high 23, grabbed nine boards, blocked three shots and picked up two steals.



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