Jan. 8, 2010

By Anthony Oliva III
NCAA.com

PLAYING THE HEEL:
College of Charleston came into its matchup with defending champion and ninth-ranked North Carolina on Jan. 4 with a 7-6 record. The Cougars had already lost to Coastal Carolina, East Tennessee State, Hawaii and Western Michigan. They had lost to ranked teams Clemson and Tennessee by a combined 56 points.

But, all it took was a clutch 3-pointer by Andrew Goudelock and a hard-fought overtime period for the Cougars to pull off the improbable – a win over UNC. The final score was 82-79 in one of the biggest upsets of the season.

This was the first time Charleston beat a ranked team since it defeated then-No. 3 UNC in 1998. All five Charleston starters scored in double figures led by Goudelock’s 24.

This was North Carolina’s fourth loss of the season, but the previous three losses came against powerhouses Syracuse, Kentucky and Texas.

RAM TOUGH: The Atlantic 10 is one of the toughest conferences in the nation this season and you don’t need to look further than Rhode Island to see it.

The Rams are 12-1 and have won their last eight. Their only defeat was a two-point decision to Virginia Commonwealth, 82-80. Since the loss, the Rams have beaten teams from the Big East, ACC and Big 12 in Providence, Boston College and Oklahoma State respectively.

The Rams are led by Keith Cothran and his 16.5 points per game. Delroy James is another consistent scoring threat, and Lamonte Ulmer serves as a presence in the post, averaging over 12 points and seven rebounds a game.

With teams like Temple, Dayton, Richmond and Charlotte all off to good starts as well, the A-10 race may be one the nation’s finest. Rhode Island takes on Temple on Jan. 10.

PITT IS LEGIT:
Perhaps no team in the country has looked better than Syracuse this year. All Pittsburgh did on Jan. 2 was go into the Carrier Dome and come away with a 10-point victory versus then-No. 5 Syracuse – an astonishing fourth time in a row the Panthers have accomplished that feat.

Then, Pittsburgh followed that win up with a road triumph against previously ranked Cincinnati, which already defeated No. 13 Connecticut. This win improved Pittsburgh’s Big East record to 3-0.

All this from a team that lost its three best players - two of which were second round NBA draft picks. Ashton Gibbs has assumed a bigger role and is averaging 17.5 points a night. The Panthers are getting contributions from everyone since nine players average at least 16 minutes a contest.

With this hot start, Pittsburgh has made itself a contender in the Big East; something not many thought was possible at the beginning of the year.

CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN:
It’s only early January but it appears BYU has made it to the top of the mountain. The Mountain West Conference that is. At 15-1 and on a 10-game winning streak, the Cougars are declaring themselves the class on the MWC.

Fresh off a win against conference foe UNLV on Jan. 6, the Cougars look as if they could be on top of the conference for a while this year. BYU’s winning streak also includes a 30-point road win over Arizona, and victories over Arizona State, Nebraska and Nevada.

One of the best kept secrets in the nation is Jimmer Fredette and his 20.3 points per game average. The junior guard scored 49 points against Arizona and also averages over five assists a game.

UNLV and No. 15 New Mexico figure to be BYU’s main competition in the Mountain West, but as of now, nobody is playing better than the Cougars.

BLOCK PARTY: File this under the category of improbable. Amazing actually. But, despite losing 7-foot-3 shot blocking menace Hasheem Thabeet and intimidating post player Jeff Adrien, Connecticut is once again leading the nation in blocked shots. UConn has inexplicably led the nation in blocks the previous eight seasons.

The thirteenth-ranked Huskies are averaging 9.8 blocks per game, nearly a block and a half more than the second placed team, Rutgers.

Senior Gavin Edwards is finally getting some significant minutes and he is responding by leading the team with 2.9 blocks per game. Freshman Alex Oriakhi has also made an immediate impact with an average of 2.4 blocks.

UConn’s frontcourt only got better once 6-foot-11 freshman Ater Majok became eligible six games ago. Majok has nine blocks in six games. The Huskies take on No. 12 Georgetown on Jan. 9.