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February 5, 2007

Huggins again a contender

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With the way February started, the top 10 could end up reminiscing fondly about the good old days of January.

Five top-10 teams fell this week, with only one of those losses coming to a ranked team (No. 6 Kansas, to No. 10 Texas A&M on Saturday).

No. 8 Duke lost twice this week to Virginia and Florida State. No. 2 Wisconsin lost a midweek game to Indiana. And No. 3 North Carolina (to N.C. State) and No. 9 Oregon (to USC) all lost on Saturday.

All of those who provided major upsets this week weren't even some of the biggest movers and shakers as the 2006-07 season entered February.

The spotlight next week will be on Manhattan, Kan., Carbondale, Ill., and College Station, Texas.

We'll tell you why in A Look Back:

All Eyes On ...
Kansas State (17-6, 6-2 Big 12)
The Good: Texas A&M's 69-66 win over Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday night was big news in the Big 12 this weekend, but the biggest mover in the conference might have been Kansas State under first-year coach Bob Huggins. Consider this: The last time the Wildcats won six consecutive conference games, Texas star freshman Kevin Durant wasn't alive. On Saturday, Durant was on the court when K-State completed its latest six game conference win streak. The Wildcats' 73-72 win at No. 22 Texas tied the K-State mark last set during the 1987-88 season. The victory put Kansas State into a three-way tied for second place in the Big 12. Senior Cartier Martin scored 20 of 27 points in the second half for his third 20-point game in his last four.
The Bad: How do you feel about Kansas' chances of losing two in row in Lawrence? If the Wildcats are to stretch their conference win streak to seven, they'll have to hand the Jayhawks their second consecutive loss at home.
The Ugly: Kansas State only made it to the free-throw line six times against Texas. It's not that the Wildcats can't get there, however. K-State made 22 of 30 free throws in an 80-73 win over Missouri on Wednesday.
Texas A&M (19-3, 7-1 Big 12)
The Good: What is the Aggies' reward for beating Kansas 69-66 in Lawrence on Saturday? Facing Kevin Durant and Texas on Monday. Before Texas A&M became the first Big 12 South team to beat the Jayhawks at home, students mobbed the athletic ticket booth for Monday's game. Now those lucky fans inside Reed Arena will see a Texas A&M team that appears poised for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. After scoring 23 points (including the last five) against Kansas, Acie Law is averaging 19.5 points per game in conference play.
The Bad: Texas A&M came into the game as the nation's leader in field goal percentage defense. The Aggies stifled Kansas leading scorer Brandon Rush. He was 3-for-13 from the floor and 1-for-5 on 3-pointers. However, freshman guard Sherron Collins picked up his share open looks on the night. Collins shot 6-for-9 from the floor and 3-for-4 from 3-point range. Collins finished with 18 points.
The Ugly: There's no shame in falling behind to this talented Kansas team on the road, but the Aggies trailed 62-52 with 6:33 left in the game before staging their comeback.
Southern Illinois (19-5, 10-3 Missouri Valley)
The Good: With a win on the road over a hot Wichita State team on Saturday, Southern Illinois moved into a tie for the Missouri Valley Conference lead with Creighton. On the way to their fifth consecutive win, the Salukis held the Shockers to a season-low 46 points and 12 of 44 shooting from the floor. Defensively, Southern Illinois slowed down the Shockers and Indiana State this week, winning games by holding both teams to fewer than 50 points. Southern Illinois has a key four-game stretch upcoming. It has Bradley and Creighton at home, followed by road trips to Missouri State and No. 13 Butler.
The Bad: The next four games are critical. Southern Illinois might not have much wiggle room for its NCAA Tournament hopes. Four of the Salukis' losses this season have come on the road to Indiana, Northern Iowa, Bradley and Evansville. Southern Illinois closes the regular season with three of four on the road.
The Ugly: Jamaal Tatum led the Salukis with 18 points against Wichita State but struggled early. He was benched after turning the ball over three times in the first few minutes.
Elsewhere ...
• Suddenly Duke heads into its first game of the year against rival North Carolina with a two-game losing streak. First, Virginia beat Duke in Charlottesville on Thursday. Then, Florida State ended a 15-game losing streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium with a 68-67 win Sunday. After starting 0-3 in the conference, Florida State has won five of six. With a game on the road against struggling Clemson, the Seminoles could extend that sreak.
• USC (18-6, 8-3) moved into a tie for second place in the Pac-10 after completing a season sweep of Oregon 71-68 on Saturday. The Trojans have a three-game road swing starting Wednesday against UCLA.
• Iona's much-publicized 23-game losing streak ended Saturday with a 69-57 victory over MAAC foe Rider. The Gaels (1-22, 1-12 MAAC) had been winless since losing to LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year.
Individual Spotlight
• Marquette is enjoying its longest conference winning streak since the Dwyane Wade days with help from Jerel McNeal. The Golden Eagles won their seventh Big East game in a row with a 69-62 victory over Providence on Saturday, the same day Marquette retired Wade's No. 3 jersey. McNeal had 18 points and a career-high 12 rebounds against the Friars. He's averaging 17.7 points over the last three games, with two double doubles.
• Virginia (15-6, 7-2 ACC) is the latest team to try its hand at the ACC lead, moving into a tie with Boston College for first place. Guard Sean Singletary can take much of the credit after making a game-winning, one-handed shot against Duke in overtime on Thursday. He had 17 points against the Blue Devils and followed that with 22 against Miami on Saturday. He's averaging 20.2 points per game during the Cavs' six-game win streak.
• Iowa (13-10, 5-4 Big Ten) could find a way to sneak into the NCAA Tournament after winning three of four and moving into fourth place in the conference. Guard Adam Haluska led the charge in an 81-75 win over Indiana on Saturday with 33 points. He was 10 of 11 from the free-throw line against the Hoosiers and has averaged 22.5 points over the last four games.
• Ramel Bradley is heating up just in time for Kentucky's (17-5, 6-2 SEC) homestand against South Carolina and Florida this week. Bradley ignited the Wildcats' 14-point comeback on the road against Arkansas by scoring 20 of his 24 points in the second half. After a mere two points in a loss to Georgia at home on Jan. 24, Bradley put together back-to-back 20-point games.
Freshmen Spotlight
• Texas' Kevin Durant continues to tear up the Big 12, averaging 33.1 points per game in conference play (13.6 more than the next-best, Acie Law). Durant is also averaging 13.8 rebounds per game (4.9 more than Wesley Johnson). Durant was nearly unstoppable against Texas Tech. He recorded the first 30-20 game in Big 12 history with 37 points and 23 rebounds against the Red Raiders. He had another 32 points against Kansas State on Saturday, but it wasn't enough. The Wildcats left Austin with a road win.
• Brandon Costner is not the next Tyler Hansbrough, but the N.C. State freshman is in the same position as his cross-state rival in Chapel Hill. Costner ended the week as the Wolfpack's leader in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (8.1 ppg). In the 83-79 upset of No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday, Costner had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
• Think quick: Name another Iowa player besides Adam Haluska. If you can't, get to know Tyler Smith. In the Hawkeyes' wins this week over Michigan and Indiana, Smith averaged 20 points, 8.5 rebounds and six assists per game. He was 10 for 10 from the free-throw line with 22 points in the win over Indiana.
• Georgia Tech's two freshman stars ended the Yellow Jackets' four-game losing streak with a combined 40 points in an 80-62 win over fading Clemson on Saturday. Guard Javaris Crittenton scored a career-high 26 points with seven steals and six assists. He ended a cold streak in which he scored in double digits only once in the last four games. Forward Thaddeus Young scored 14 points.

David Fox is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com.

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