Thursday College Hoops Previews + NFL DL Prospects

EXTRA, EXTRA … WE’RE CHECKIN’ OUT THE THURSDAY NIGHT MENU IN COLLEGE HOOPS LAND WITH ARKANSAS-KENTUCKY, MARQUETTE-GEORGETOWN & OREGON-UCLA ALL QUALIFYING AS GOTTA-HAVE-IT GAMES (FOR ONE TEAM OR THE OTHER!) …

PLUS WE WEIGH IN ON THE NFL DRAFT, TOO

AS IT’S TIME TO EXAMINE THE TOP DEFENSIVE ENDS

Step right up if you’re one of the many College Basketball teams facing a proverbial “must-win” situation on this next-to-last day in February.

The very busy Thursday night card in college hoops-ville includes a slew of teams that must pile up some late-season wins if they’re gonna be on the NCAA Tournament list of 68 teams next month and so we’ll get right to it here in today’s Jim Sez column:

ARKANSAS (18-9, 7-7 SEC) at #17 KENTUCKY (21-6, 11-3 SEC)— 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

No doubt the college basketball talk shows on TV, radio and the internet have been buzzing for weeks now regarding the Southeastern Conference— just how many teams crack the NCAA Tournament field of 68 right now?

Our best guess-estimate would be the three teams with twin-figure conference wins— that’s Florida, Kentucky and Georgia— are in (yes, the Bulldogs’ cinched it with Wednesday’s 71-56 victory against Missouri as that gave Georgia a clean sweep of the season’s series) and at least two others will get invitations and no question the Arkansas Razorbacks are high on that wish list.

Still, the Hogs— who entered last night’s action among five SEC teams standing in there with 7-7 marks in league play— know they are no lead-pipe cinch yet even with this impressive and current three-game winning streak (and wins in five of their last six games overall).

True, Arkansas does own a “signature win” already this season against Kentucky as the ‘Backs snagged a wild 87-85 overtime win against John Calipari’s kids back on Jan. 15th when G Michael Qualls slammed home a rebound with .2 seconds left that set off a night of pandemonium and partying in/around Fayetteville.

Remember Kentucky tried to in-bound the ball following the dunk and the pumpkin wound up lodged somewhere inside the overhead scoreboard— and the folks at Arkansas say they have no plans on getting it down!

Well, when Arkansas-Kentucky Round II takes place at noisy Rupp Arena here, the ‘Cats will be the ones champing at the proverbial bit— especially after Kentucky missed 14-of-40 free throws the first time around— and so it’s all about keeping the game within reach early for Mike Anderson’s visiting team that somehow between now and the end of regular-season play must find a way to get 20 wins on the docket (note that home games against Georgia and Ole Miss are on deck followed by a finale at Alabama before we get to the SEC Tournament in Atlanta) and really can’t afford to have a 20-point loss here.

Kentucky is one of those teams pretty well assured of getting onto the #2, #3 or #4 seed line— in fact, we really can’t see much of anything happening that would change that unless the Wildcats roared through the rest of the regular season, won the SEC Tourney and had a favorite or two stumble in the other leagues … and even then we realistically can’t see the ‘Cats getting higher than a #2 seed.

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GEORGETOWN (16-11, 7-8 Big East) at MARQUETTE (16-11, 8-6 Big East) -- 9 p.m. ET, Fox 1

The general feeling in/around the newfangled Big East is that five or six squads from this 10-team conference will get into the NCAA Tournament but we’ve got our own little theory here:

Have a winning record in league play and you’re likely getting in— a .500-or-poorer mark in conference action will keep you out.

So, here’s what must be considered an absolute must-win for the Georgetown Hoyas who have won five of their last seven games since the start of February but consider that John Thompson III’s team must play its final two regular-season games at home to Creighton and at Villanova and— as everyone knows— those two teams are the league leaders by leaps and bounds in this year’s Big East.

The Hoyas already lost once to Marquette this season— an 80-72 overtime home setback on Jan. 20th when G-town was a 3-point betting favorite— and that game featured a major second-half collapse by the Hoyas who surrendered a seven-point lead with three minutes left in regulation.

Note that Georgetown’s Markel Starks registered 28 points in that tilt while D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera pumped in 24 points, but it wasn’t enough as the Hoyas suffered yet another second-half meltdown.

Now, Georgetown looks to “get even” here at Marquette where the Golden Eagles look to leading scorer Davante Gardner (14.7 ppg) to help the cause in looking to cement an NCAA Tourney berth. Maybe Marquette is no “sure thing” to get into the NCAA Tournament with just 16 wins right now so this has major implications for ‘em too and note the sked ahead includes a Sunday road game at Villanova, followed by a road tilt in Providence and a home game against St. John’s.

OREGON (18-8, 6-8 Pac-12) at UCLA (21-6, 10-4 Pac-12)— 9 p.m. ET, espn2

Okay, so let’s shift the talk to just how many teams the Pac-12 can expect to get into this year’s NCAA Tournament field … we say six is a “lock” and you might even get a seventh team from this left coast league into the party and so the Oregon Ducks are right there in the mix but with little room for error.

In truth, Oregon enters the evening in ninth place in the Pac-12 standings (second-place UCLA’s playing catch-up to front-runner Arizona but could drop as low as fifth place if Steve Alford’s crew isn’t careful) and the Ducks may finally have gotten into their first real positive rhythm thanks to the current three-game winning streak.

Dana Altman’s team did lose 8-of-10 games during one prolonged Pac-12 stretch from Jan. 5th through Feb. 8th but appears to be righting the ship even though all sorts of distractions keep popping up— the latest being the case of G Damyean Dotson, who missed the team’s 67-53 win/cover against 13 ½-point pup Washington State last Sunday night after he was cited and released for trying to use a fake I.D. card to enter a campus-area bar the night before.

We’ll see if Dotson plays here or if Altman is pressured to sit him for a game or two as punishment, but Mike Moser— who drained five triples and scored 21 points in that win against Wazzau may have to be a real stat-sheet stuffer here against a Uclans bunch that leads the Pac-12 in scoring (82.9 ppg) and already nabbed a 70-68 win at Oregon back on Jan. 30th when Travis Wear scored on a putback with 5.3 seconds remaining— yet another game where injuries sapped the Ducks’ depth.

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THE NFL DRAFT REPORT

Our NFL Draft coverage continues in today’s edition of Jim Sez and so let’s roll on with the top Defensive Ends:

JADEVEON CLOWNEY, SOUTH CAROLINA— No doubt this 6-foot-5, 266-pound pass-rushing freak made plenty of noise at this week’s NFL Combine even when he wasn’t running some insane 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash as the former Gamecocks’ star refused to participate in or at least complete some other drills and that set off a media firestorm. Still, put that aside and consider that Clowney remains the No. 1 prospect in this year’s draft (though it’s not likely he’ll be picked #1 by the Houston Texans) and his upcoming pro day could bolster his stock to the point that someone right below the Texans made an offer the AFC South club “can’t refuse”. Clowney registered 29 ½ sacks and 29 tackles for losses in his career at South Carolina but remember that head coach Steve Spurrier didn’t exactly give his star player a ringing endorsement lately and hinted his work ethic was not great. Still, go ahead and tell us what defensive end has come out of college the past decade-or-so who combines size, speed, strength and solid technique at the position.

KONY EALY, MISSOURI— Maybe it was Mizzou LB Michael Sam that drew the most media attention at this NFL Combine, but it’s the 6-foot-4, 273-pound Ealy who had the NFL folks salivating as he’s generally regarded as a top 15-to-20 pick who could move up should the expected race for pass-catchers lose some steam on Draft Night. Ealy mainly played right defensive end for the Tigers but he could make the other to the more-heralded left side on this next level but he must avoid getting cut-block and has to show more versatility when dropping back into coverage. Gut feeling is Ealy will get gobbled up somewhere in the top 13 or 14 picks— the Chicago Bears at pick #14 could be an ideal destination— and while Clowney remains the head-and-shoulders class of this DE group it’s Mr. Ealy who could offer the best bang for the buck when it comes to a mid-round draft pick.

DEE FORD, AUBURN— Expect this 6-foot-2, 253-pounder to find his way into the back half of Round I in this year’s NFL Draft and his stock could be rising even higher after he captured the Senior Bowl MVP with a pair of sacks (also recorded two sacks in Auburn’s national championship game loss to Florida State). No question that Ford is stronger than his size and his quick burst makes him nearly impossible for back-tracking tackles to handle him one-on-one. Not a completely polished player yet, but anyone looking for a disruptive force on their “D” should think of Ford is he’s still available from pick 20-on-down— are you listening, San Diego Chargers at pick No. 25? One thing to keep in mind here is that Ford played his best when the lights were on bright and we’re talking about the games against Alabama and national champ Florida State.

SCOTT CRICHTON, OREGON STATE— Don’t expect more than three defensive ends to make their way into the first round of May’s NFL Draft but a pair of Pac-12 studs should be early-to-mid second-round selections beginning here with this 6-foot-3, 273-pounder from Tacoma. Crichton sports a never-ending motor but he’s still on the raw side and actually may interest NFL teams as a DT/NT should he be willing to pack on another 50 pounds. Good hands and a decent run-stopper, expect Crichton to land somewhere in the 40-through-50  draft pick range.

TRENT MURPHY, STANFORD— The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder has his share of problems lining up as a defensive end in the Senior Bowl but his college days proved he can turn the corner in a heartbeat and has a variety of moves to get at opposing quarterbacks. Some folks believe he has a lot of Jared Allen (Minnesota Vikings) in him but probably doesn’t have the speed/strength combo of that perennial Pro Bowler. Would expect Murphy to get drafted inside the top 50 picks with New Orleans a potential landing spot.

NOTE: Catch more College Basketball News & Notes plus NFL Draft bits in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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Nov

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