Give Ohio State a lot of credit for clawing its way into a tie for fifth place in the Big Ten, with a 7--6 record (18--9 overall) at week's end. The Buckeyes are ineligible for the NCAA tournament and the NIT because of a self-imposed, one-year ban instituted in December as part of the school's response to alleged violations committed by former coach Jim O'Brien. (The NCAA is still investigating the program and could impose further sanctions.) After opening conference play 1--4, Ohio State had won six of its last eight by following coach Thad Matta's lead. "This is a chance to teach our kids a life lesson," says Matta (above). "We know we're not going to the NCAA tournament, but we can still practice hard every day and compete hard every game." The Buckeyes will play in the Big Ten tournament, but the biggest game of their season takes place on March 6 in Columbus, when Illinois comes to town likely trying to finish an undefeated regular season.
WHAT'S THE RUSH?
On Feb. 12 Martez Walker, a 15-year-old, 6'5", 200-pound freshman swingman from Central Park Christian School in Birmingham, orally committed to play for Louisville starting in 2008. As young as Walker (below) is, he's still older than Taylor King was two summers ago when the 6'7" California forward committed to UCLA just weeks after completing eighth grade. Both players said they made a commitment partly to avoid the pressures of the recruiting process, but it's hard to see the benefit to the player or the school in such an early announcement. Too much can happen between now and when the player can sign his letter of intent, in November of his senior year, to make the exercise worthwhile. And you can be certain that competing coaches are still recruiting King and Walker, with three long years to make their cases. As former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell once said, "The only thing an oral commitment does is let me know who I have to beat."
1Michigan State has been overshadowed by Illinois in the Big Ten, but the Spartans are 19--4 and have five straight double-digit victories since Tom Izzo decided to start freshman point guard Drew Neitzel and bring senior Chris Hill off the bench.
2Providence is the best team with a 1--11 conference record in Big East history. Eight of those losses have come by five points or fewer, including two last week: 94--89 in double overtime to UConn on Feb. 15 and 62--61 to Notre Dame last Saturday.
3A weak SEC is hurting its top team. Kentucky was 11--1 in conference play through Sunday, but because Alabama is the only other SEC team ranked in the top 25 of the RPI, the Wildcats will have a hard time landing a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.
More Hoop Thoughts from Seth Davis every Tuesday at SI.com.
MATTHEW EMMONS/US PRESSWIRE (MATTA)