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  PREVIEW 2002
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March 17
2004

  Hoops and Helmets for 2003/2004  
  Which schools have the best combination of football and hoops? 


By Richard Cirminiello | 2002 Hoops & Helmets | 2003 Hoops & Helmets | All-Time Greatest Hoops &  Helmets

If you�re an alum or an ardent supporter of a particular school�s football program, the odds are really  good that you closely monitor the hoops team as well.  Especially this time of year.  If that program happens to be Oklahoma State, Texas or Maryland, the odds are even better that you�ll be needing cosmetic surgery to remove the smile from your mug.  As a fan, you�ve had plenty of reasons to cheer over the past six months.

Some campuses like USC, Ohio State and Miami have had little to crow about since the bowl season ended.  Countless others like Duke, Stanford and Mississippi State couldn�t wait until the football season was over and Midnight Madness commenced.  Only the truly fortunate have feasted their eyes and their emotions on quality products in both major sports.

The focus of this unorthodox Sweet 16 is on those fans who have had their cake and dunked it too.  They bowled in the winter and now they�re preparing to dance on into the postseason.  They�re the schools that have been home to the best combination of football and basketball programs for the 2003-2004 season.
- 2004 Hoops & Helmets Teams 9 through 16 

1. Texas

Hoops � �Horns have yet to win a title of any kind this winter, but they have been the only program in the country to boast two teams that have consistently flirted with the top 10.  Consistency has been their calling card.  Rick Barnes has this once football-only school thinking hoops again in March.  Texas rode a 23-7 record to a No. 3 seed in the Atlanta bracket.  

Helmets �
Ten wins, a non-BCS bowl game and one highly publicized loss in Dallas.  Just your typical Texas football season.  �Horns had their moments, beating Kansas State and finishing the regular season on a tear, but the loss to the Sooners and weak Holiday Bowl effort left the faithful unfulfilled. 

Nothin� But Net � It was a small ounce of redemption for four straight football defeats, but �Horn fans will take it.  On a night when T.J. Ford became the first Texas basketball player to have his jersey retired, UT suffocated Oklahoma 66-37, holding the Sooners to their lowest point total in nearly half a century.

Layin� a Brick � Red River losses have become old news around Austin, but the 65-13 drubbing at the hands of the hated Sooners was a collapse of historical proportions for Mack Brown�s kids.

Winter MVP � When Texas was pillaging its Big XII opponents in the second half of the year, it was running back Cedric Benson who led the brigade.  In his final five regular season games, Benson ran amok for 919 yards and 13 touchdowns.

2. Oklahoma State

Hoops � Picked fifth in the Big XII preseason media and coaches' polls, Cowboys took the league by surprise by winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles.  Taking this Oklahoma State team to 27-3 and 17-2 in league play has been one of the best coaching jobs in Eddie Sutton�s long and illustrious career.
 
Helmets �
Cowboys weren�t able to break into the upper echelon of the Big XII, but still managed nine wins and a New Year�s Day bowl game for the first time in more than half a century.  The trio of Josh Fields, Tatum Bell and Rashaun Woods was worth the price of a ticket most weekends.

Nothin� But Net � There have been plenty of great moments at Gallagher-Iba Arena this year, but maybe none sweeter than the mid-January dismantling of Oklahoma in front of a electrified Stillwater crowd.  The 77-56 win over then No. 11 Sooners started an 11-game winning streak for the Cowboys.

Layin� a Brick � Nov. 1 was payback time for rival Oklahoma, losers of two straight in the Bedlam Series.  With much of the nation watching and Big XII South supremacy at stake, the Cowboys were helpless spectators in the 52-9 loss to the Sooners.  State followed that gem up with an equally ugly 55-16 loss to Texas a week later. 

Winter MVP �
Woods and Bell were sensational most Saturdays, but no individual has meant more to his team than point guard John Lucas III.  The Baylor transfer was the heart, soul and engine of the Pokes� meteoric rise to the top of the Big XII standings.
 
3. Maryland

Hoops � In just two short weeks, Terps went from a likely host of an NIT game to ACC champs and a No. 4 seed.  Maryland caught fire at a most opportune time, shaking off a pedestrian 7-9 league mark to win its last five games, including the three necessary to receive an automatic NCAA bid.

Helmets
� The football resurgence under Ralph Friedgen showed no signs of letting up in College Park.  For the second straight year, Terps shook off a slow start to finish with 10 wins and a flawless blowout victory in a bowl game.  


Nothin� But Net � It�s been two decades since Maryland won an ACC Tournament title, so Sunday�s unlikely upset of Duke in overtime ranks as much more than the highlight of the past six months.  It was a memorable, one-for-the-ages moment for the university.

Layin� a Brick � The low point of the football season came in an ugly 7-3 loss at Georgia Tech.  The offense performed as if it was an early  preseason scrimmage, coughing up the ball five times, throwing a pair of interceptions and generating a mere 253 yards of offense.

Winter MVP � Sophomore John Gilchrist has done a magnificent job of replacing four-year starter Steve Blake at the point.  In his first year as a starter, he�s stepped up to lead the Terps in scoring and assists and is fresh off being named ACC Tourney MVP.

4. Pittsburgh

Hoops � Head coach Ben Howland left for UCLA.  The recent winning tradition at Pittsburgh remained a constant.  Without any major stars, first-year coach Jamie Dixon has done a terrific job of leading the defensive-minded Panthers to a 29-4 record and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.  

Helmets �
Larry Fitzgerald made the Panthers a must-see attraction, but the season was a disappointment.  Hopes for the school�s first-ever league title in football were displaced by surprising early losses to Toledo and Notre Dame and a 1-3 mark to finish the season.  At 8-5, they finished outside the Top 25.  

Nothin� But Net � Six days removed from their first conference loss of the year, Pitt rebounded on Feb. 15 with a hard-fought 75-68 win over then-No. 5 UConn, which avenged a loss to the Huskies a month earlier. 

Layin� a Brick � The second half of a tight Backyard Brawl with West Virginia deteriorated into a one-sided beat down.  The Mountaineers physically mauled their rival to the tune of 307 yards rushing and a rousing 52-31 victory.  Pitt was never the same after that loss.   

Winter MVP �
No one in any sport�pro or college�had a better year in the Steel City than Fitzgerald.  The sophomore�s 92 catches, 1,672 yards, 22 touchdowns and NCAA record streak of 18 games with a touchdown catch resulted in a one-for-the-ages type season.

5. Florida

Hoops � Gators persevered through a brutal schedule and the disruptive mid-year defection of forward Christian Drejer to a European pro team to win 20 games and earn an NCAA bid for the sixth straight year.  Florida is just 9-8 over its last 17 games, including three losses to top-ranked Kentucky. 

Helmets �
Florida endured a schizophrenic season, marked by no shortage of huge wins, heartbreaking losses and frenetic finishes.  Save for the Outback Bowl loss to Iowa, the young Gators were competitive every Saturday, however, back-to-back 8-5 finishes won�t be tolerated in Gainesville much longer.    

Nothin� But Net � Behind quarterback Chris Leak and the play of its defense, Florida was the only team to solve LSU in 2003, beating the Tigers 19-7 in a game that triggered an impressive and unexpected five-game winning streak.

Layin� a Brick � With a chance to snap Miami�s 22-game home winning streak, the two-touchdown underdog Gators blew a 33-10 third quarter lead and lost 38-33 in one of the most thrilling games of the year.  It was the kind of inconsistent, up-and-down performance that typified their season.

Winter MVP �
Sophomore Anthony Roberson struggled early with the transition to point guard before getting real comfortable in February.  Gators� mad bomber leads the team in scoring, assists and three pointers, en route to being named first team All-SEC.

6. NC State

Hoops � Picked to land somewhere in the middle of a tight ACC before the year began, the Pack were regular season runner-ups to Duke, their highest finish in 15 years.  Behind the stellar play of junior guard Julius Hodge and senior center Marcus Melvin, State surprised everyone by becoming a Top 25 fixture.    

Helmets �
Pack had their sights set on an ACC title, but wound up with a disappointing fourth place tie with Virginia and Georgia Tech and a Tangerine Bowl invite.  While the program continues making strides under Chuck Amato, so much more was anticipated in Philip Rivers� final year.  Overtimes losses to Ohio State and Florida State were particularly excruciating. 

Nothin� But Net � Beating Duke on the hardwood doesn�t happen frequently, so when it does, it�s often the high point of every ACC team�s season.  NC State got the best of the Blue Devils last month, ending their 18-game winning streak and knocking them from the top of the polls.   

Layin� a Brick � With the much-anticipated showdown with the Buckeyes in the on-deck circle, the entire tone of the season changed when State was shocked by Wake Forest in week two.  Deacons toyed with their in-state rival in a game that was more one-sided than the 38-24 final score indicated.

Winter MVPHow in the world do you choose between Hodge, a candidate for national player of the year, and Rivers, the best quarterback to ever play at Carter-Finley?  You don�t.  You cop out and name them co-MVPs.

7. UConn

Hoops � Jim Calhoun has the Huskies back in familiar territory as one of the favorites heading into the NCAA tournament.  The No. 2 seed out of the Phoenix bracket stands at 27-6 with plenty of momentum, courtesy of their recent three-game sweep of the Big East tournament.

Helmets �
Huskies� postseason absence was a product of conference independence, not on-field incompetence.  They were good enough to play in December, yet never received one of the few precious at-large bids.  2003 was a breakout year for the program, one that saw them win nine games and debut a brand new stadium.

Nothin� But Net � Saturday�s come-from-behind win over Pittsburgh did more than give the Huskies the Big East championship.  It gave them confidence they could beat top teams when star center Emeka Okafor was at less than 100%.

Layin� a Brick � Driving for what might have been the biggest football win in school history, NC State linebacker Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay returned a Dan Orlovsky pass 56 yards for the game-winning touchdown with five seconds left in the game.  The interception negated a gutsy fourth quarter rally by Orlovsky and the offense.

Winter MVP �
In Okafor, UConn has a big man, who can dominate on both ends of the court.  Despite suffering with back spasms throughout the season, the junior center leads the Huskies in scoring and rebounding and the nation in blocked shots.
   
8. Utah

Hoops � With a Big Dance berth still an uncertainty, Nick Jacobson drained a last-second three-pointer Saturday night to win the Mountain West championship.  In an emotional season that saw popular coach Rick Majerus step down for health reasons, the Utes� 24th victory gave the school a league crown in both football and basketball, a feat no other program in the nation has duplicated.

Helmets �
It did not take new head coach Urban Meyer very long to make an impact in Salt Lake City.  The Bowling Green transplant guided the Utes to ten wins, a Top 25 finish, a shutout in the Liberty Bowl and the school�s first outright league title in almost half a century. 


Nothin� But Net � The back-and-forth slugfest with Air Force in early November was an instant Mountain West classic.  Utes blew a 16-point advantage in the fourth quarter before finally putting the Falcons away in the third overtime.  The 45-43 win gave Utah sole possession of first place, a spot they�d never relinquish.    

Layin� a Brick � Utes� only flop last fall came in a 47-35 home loss to New Mexico.  Lobos made the Utah defense look helpless, accumulating a whopping 623 total yards, more than 400 of which came on the ground.

Winter MVP � Jacobson�s
shot to beat UNLV last weekend was a microcosm of the clutch senior leadership he displayed throughout a trying season.  He leads the Utes in scoring and earned All-MWC first team honors.

- 2004 Hoops & Helmets Teams 9 through 16



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