Road could trip teams

THE BALTIMORE SUN

No. 1 Duke at Georgetown.

No. 2 Florida at Tennessee.

No. 9 Pittsburgh at St. John's.

The nation's last unbeatens are all on the road tomorrow. Which will make the longest run at being major college basketball's first perfect team since 1976?

Hint: The only one that's ever won an NCAA title.

Cameron Indoor Stadium, the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla., and the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh are all notoriously difficult on visiting opponents. Let's assume all three run the table at home, and consider where they'll encounter danger on the road.

A fast start is nothing new for Pittsburgh, where cozy nonconference scheduling led to 18-0 and 10-0 starts the past two seasons, respectively. The Panthers still have to go to Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette and West Virginia, but they aren't looking past tomorrow.

St. John's just beat No. 17 Louisville. Granted, the Cardinals have done nothing to merit that ranking - now watch them knock off Connecticut tomorrow - but the rebuilding job at St. John's is progressing nicely. The Red Storm, however, doesn't have a roster like Pittsburgh's, where the last option in a 10-man rotation plays 11 minutes a game.

"They have quality depth," said Gary Waters, whose Rutgers team recently lost to the visiting Panthers. "Most teams step back when they go to the bench, but they stay at the same level. Out of all the teams, they may excel in the NCAA, because of that depth."

The coaches picked Pittsburgh to finish seventh in the Big East Conference. The departures of Chevon Troutman and Chris Taft, who combined for 15.5 rebounds a game last season, were a major concern, but Levon Kendall and Aaron Gray have more than picked up that slack.

Kendall is the 6-foot-9 Canadian whose 40 points beat a U.S. team that included Rudy Gay and J.J. Redick at last summer's world junior championships. Gray, the second 7-footer in Pittsburgh history has shed weight, doubled his minutes and tripled his scoring average, from 4.3 to 13.5 points a game. He leads the Big East in rebounding (10.4).

If Florida can get past Tennessee, which pounded Texas in Austin last month but is feeling ornery after road losses to LSU and Memphis, the Gators could run the table in a mediocre Southeastern Conference.

February takes Florida to Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Alabama, but after tomorrow's visit to Knoxville, its next road game against a team in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy's online replica of the Rating Percentage Index won't come until March 5, when the Gators conclude the regular season at Kentucky. By then, maybe the Wildcats will stop being a dysfunctional unit.

Billy Donovan is a leading candidate for National Coach of the Year, as Florida began the season unranked after a series of ill-advised early exits for the pro game. The Gators might have the nation's most balanced starting five, as their scoring averages range from Taurean Green's 13.7 to Lee Humphrey's 11.5.

Over the first 11 days of February, Duke has to play at No. 21 Boston College, at No. 24 North Carolina and at No. 22 Maryland. The evils of expansion make for an unbalanced schedule in the Atlantic Coast Conference, however, and the Blue Devils don't have to go to No. 14 North Carolina State, which played Duke tough Wednesday.

The Blue Devils head to the MCI Center tomorrow with a 17-0 record. Their only previous start that good was in 1992, the second of their three NCAA championship seasons.

Coppin fallout

A Jan. 14 article in The Sun reported on the roster turnover Coppin State experienced from late 2004 to last year.

Four of the five players who either left or were forced off the Eagles' team played their Amateur Athletic Union ball in Philadelphia for John Hardnett, who had a hand in the early development of former Coppin State stars Larry Stewart and Stephen Stewart. Hardnett said that he and Eagles coach Fang Mitchell had a falling out two years ago, and that he had stopped recommending the Coppin State program to his players.

Through a Coppin State spokesman, Mitchell declined to comment.

Real student-athlete

Show some compassion for Christian Moody, the Kansas forward who missed two free throws when one would have won the game at Missouri on Monday. He's from Asheville, N.C., the same hometown as Roy Williams, who coached the Jayhawks when Moody entered the program as a walk-on. A pre-med major, Moody finally is on scholarship this season.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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