Feasting on Feast WeekPosted by rtmsf on November 26th, 2008
John Stevens is a featured columnist for RTC. His columns will appear on Tuesdays throughout the season.
Ah, Thanksgiving week. As if ESPN’s 24-hour binge of college basketball last week wasn’t enough, here comes the oh-so-appropriately-named Feast Week, another avalanche of hoops awesomeness spread out over seven days that not only launches college basketball right back into the middle of the sports radar where it belongs, but also goes great with Thanksgiving leftovers, paid days off of work, as well as pizza and garlic bread (in case you’re sick of all that turkey by Saturday’s games). Aside from the month of March, it doesn’t get much better than this for college hoops fans. The daytime games, the intriguing match-ups…good God, who would want to brave the lines on Black Friday? THIS is the way to kick off the holiday season.
The holiday tournaments are a great time to familiarize oneself with the big boys of the game – see UNC in Maui, Georgetown in the Old Spice Classic (why are these tournaments called ‘classics’ when they’re 2-3 years old?), and so forth – since some of them might be making their first appearances on national television. I’ve always thought one of the best things about the holiday onslaught of games was the opportunity to find a team that wasn’t getting much hype and, if they give one of the highly-ranked teams a game or even pull off an upset, follow them throughout the season and maybe use them in March when I’m doing way too much bracket-filling analysis, if there is such a thing. I mean, we all know about Carolina and Oklahoma and Michigan State. Who will we see that bears watching in these Thanksgiving tournaments that we haven’t been hearing a lot about? Here, in my opinion, are a couple of squads to keep an eye on not just over this holiday weekend but also to see how they mature over the course of the season:
(photo credit: Flickr)
I’ve been bugging the crap out of my friends about Baylor. I fell in love with them during the ESPN 24-hour thing and haven’t shut up about them. They’re in the 76 Classic and will play their first game on Thanksgiving night against Providence. They won their first three games by an average margin of 45 points – but it’s true, those were all at home at the Ferrell Center against the likes of Centenary, Southern, and some guy named Paul Quinn. Last night they were at home against Jacksonville and managed to squeak out a 76-68 win after letting the Dolphins shoot 52% for the game in addition to shooting 38% in the first half, themselves (this improved to 50% for the game). Last year, this was the knock on Baylor – in piling up a 21-win season and an NCAA birth they showed a tendency to totally fall asleep on defense for long stretches at a time, resulting in the worst overall defense in the Big 12. They have enough offensive weapons to make you cry (they average 89 points/game and shoot 55% from the field) and if head coach (and resurrector) Scott Drew can get this bunch to actually make defense a priority, they’ll surpass the #3 spot they were given in the Big 12 coaches’ preseason poll. But forget all that for a moment. Put aside the numbers. My God, just watch them. They’re ridiculously fun to watch, especially in transition, and with what these fellows have been through in rebuilding this program, you can practically see the team chemistry. You KNOW a team is fun when they can say that one of their players, in this case freshman Quincy Acy, hit his first 18 shots as a collegian. He finally missed last night against Jacksonville and is currently 20-21 on the season. They’ve got five guys averaging double-figures, four of them over 13.0 ppg (Acy averages 11.8). In addition to Acy, if you don’t know the names LaceDarius Dunn (17.3p, 4.3a), Henry Dugat (13.8p, 4.8r, 5.0a), Curtis Jerrells (17.0p, 2.8r, 6.8a), and Kevin Rogers (13p, 5.5r, 1.3a), then you will in a few weeks. Might as well get on the bandwagon now. Definitely some quality late-night viewing for Thanksgiving night, and it will be interesting to see how they do in their first game against a team from a major conference.
(photo credit: Flickr)
You likely remember the 21-point butt-smokin’ they put on Vanderbilt in last year’s NCAA tournament in a 13-versus-4 game – especially if you were (and I’m not naming any names, here) anywhere within a time zone of Las Vegas at the time – but it’s important to remember they had to go 23-11 to even GET to the tournament. Why is it important? Because they’ve got all five starters back from that team. You know what else they’ve got? Attitude. A couple of months ago in an interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz, head coach Fran McCaffery proclaimed, “I think we’re one of the top teams in the country right now.” Maybe he was saying that because it was September and the season hadn’t started, but we admire his moxie. I also admire returning senior guard and badass Kenny Hasbrouck (21p, 5r, 3a while shooting 64% FG and 62% 3pFG) in the same interview, announcing that “I can play against anyone in the country,” and all but predicting that Siena would win the MAAC title and “get back to the second round [of the NCAA tournament] at least.” You’ve also got to love the early-season numbers of sophomore forward Ryan Rossiter who’s chipping in 9p, 9r, 3st, 2blk per game while shooting almost 70% from the field after, admittedly, only a couple of games. A lot of folks might find such attitude off-putting and even find it reason to root against them, since all they’ve done is win one game in last year’s NCAA tournament as a 13-seed while nobody was looking. Not me, though. I encourage this sort of thinking. What are these guys supposed to say when asked questions like this? That they would be lucky to get back to the Dance, or that they MIGHT do well in their conference? If that’s what they were thinking they wouldn’t even bother getting up to practice. When you’re trying to distinguish yourself among the morass of mid-majors, I say such attitude is warranted. To paraphrase David Byrne, the Saints now find themselves in an Old Spice Classic with the likes of Gonzaga, Michigan State, Georgetown, and specifically paired against a Tennessee team still looking for identity. And they may find themselves back in that NCAA Tournament in a few months. And they might find themselves with the ball and a 2-point lead late in the game against a Kansas, or Duke, or UCLA. If that happens, Siena fans don’t want their players wondering, “My God – how did I get here?” We know what happens when that sort of thinking sets in. No, you NEED to have the mindset that you belong in games like that, and in fact should win them. Sounds like Siena has such confidence. Can they translate it to the court against their first major-conference opponent, and over the rest of the season? The test begins this Thursday night against the Vols.
Whoever you’re watching or rooting for, enjoy all the action, since we won’t have a bonanza like this until March arrives. And most importantly, have a great holiday.