ATB: Thanksgiving Leftovers…

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2009

atb

Ed. Note: sorry for the delay on Sunday’s ATB, but the travel schedule got in the way…

Over the weekend, there was something in the neighborhood of 145 college basketball games.  Many were several times more compelling than watching Tim Tebow praise God one more time in another blowout Florida win or seeing the Charlie Weis Bataan death march at Notre Dame (although the Iron Bowl was good).  With that in mind, we’re here to sort through our Thanksgiving leftovers to award the teams that most and least deserve a scrumptious plate of tofurkey and leeks (ok, maybe that menu was at your house, not ours).

Turkey Sandwiches.  Usually better the second time around.  And the third time.  And the fourth…  Unless you’re Ben Howland and UCLA, and you’re starting to wonder if that mayo tastes a little spoiled after the fourth helping.  After UCLA dropped its third game in a row at the 76 Classic (and fourth on the year), questions are swirling as to what is wrong with his Bruins.  It’s not just that UCLA has four losses; it’s that these losses are to mid-majors like Cal State Fullerton, Portland, Butler and now Long Beach State.  Butler and Portland are NCAA-worthy, but the others?  Let’s examine what’s wrong, and see if anything can be done to fix it.  For starters, the UCLA offense — often a challenge in Howland’s era — is on life support this season.  Nobody on this team appears to be able to shoot the ball, and that includes from the field (44%), three (26%) and the line (56%).  Guards Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson were hot-shot recruits in the backcourt, but neither of them can break 40% from the field; there was a big fuss about Nikola Dragovic’s return to the team after an accusation of assault, and he’s hitting a frigid 25% of his attempts.  Good grief – when Michael Roll (23 pts in the LBSU game) is your “star” player, you have serious offensive issues.  But it’s not just the offense this season, as bad as that has been.  It’s also the defense, which is traditionally a Howland staple and has him contemplating changing his usual tough man-to-man for a zone.  UCLA is giving up 45% shooting to teams (worst in the Pac-10) and when they’ve needed to get the stop — witness the CS Fullerton and Butler games — they came up empty.  So the question is whether this team can turn it around, and we’re not sure that it can in time to stop the bleeding.  #1 Kansas is on the agenda next weekend, and Mississippi State and Notre Dame soon thereafter.  The Pac-10, as we all know by now, is incredibly weak, but if you can’t beat Long Beach and Fullerton, you’re not going to beat Arizona and Washington either.  There is a ton of work to be done here, and if Howland can turn it around by March, we’ll be right there at the front of the line to give him accolades.  Until then, though, UCLA basketball doesn’t take kindly to this stuff, so he’d better get moving quickly…

Pumpkin Pie.  A meal unto itself, making yourself fat and happy with pasty goodness.  Has anyone — and we mean anyone — looked better than West Virginia through the first three weeks of the season?  Let’s look at the short list: Syracuse and Duke.   That’s it – those are the only two teams who have looked as dominant as WVU in our estimation.  Yesterday Bob Huggins and his Mountaineers left Anaheim with what they were expected to do: win the 76 Classic.  Few expected them to do it by facing upstart WCC foe Portland in the championship game, as the Pilots crushed UCLA and outlasted Minnesota to get there, but there was Eric Reveno’s crew facing off against WVU in the finals.  The Pilots ran into a buzzsaw on Sunday, though, as Tournament MVP Da’Sean Butler posted 26 points and Portland shot just 5-24 from behind the three-point arc, clearly bothered by West Virginia’s athleticism and close-out pressure defense.  With the return of sophomore Devin Ebanks – after his mysterious stint in coach Huggins’ doghouse –- the Mountaineers look fine-tuned and ready to compete with anyone in the nation.  Of course, it’s only November, and we’ve been down this road with Huggins before, so stay prepared for anything.

Mac n’ Cheese.  Gooey deliciousness.  That’s how Northwestern must be feeling after winning the Chicago Invitational over two tough teams, Notre Dame and Iowa State.  Maybe that NCAA Tournament bid isn’t a pipe dream after all since losing Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan to injuries, because it’s clear that Northwestern has decided that it will not go quietly.  John Shurna led the Wildcats with 23/7/4 assts while helping to harass ISU star Craig Brackins into a 6-16 FG, 18/9 night (he’s capable of much more).   As it stands, Northwestern is now 5-1, with its sole loss to Butler and a good chance to enter Big Ten play at 11-1 (tomorrow night’s ACC/B10 game against NC State is winnable). 

Green Bean Casserole#2 Michigan State gets the green bean casserole leftovers because, like the dish, they held up fairly well after a disappointing start in the Legends Classic.  The Spartans recovered from their shocking upset loss to Florida on Friday night in the semifinal round by taking it out on UMass in the consolation game 106-68 on Saturday.  RTC Live was there if you want more details, but MSU used a 30-3 first half run to dominate the Minutemen, and ended up the game shooting a red-hot 58% and hitting fourteen threes.  Tom Izzo set a new record for wins at Michigan State with his 341st win on this night, passing his mentor Jud Heathcote.

Warm Rolls. It’s comforting and makes you feel all fuzzy inside, just like family; the First Bro-in-Law had his warm fuzzies at Oregon State’s game in DC with GW on Saturday.  Craig Robinson’s Oregon State team got its first decent win of the season 64-57 against the previously unbeaten Colonials as the First Family looked on.  OSU’s Seth Tarver lit up the stat sheet with 18/7/3 assts/3 stls, but given how badly the Beavers have played to this point, President Obama may want to make plans for several visits to the west coast in January and February. 

Obama

Cranberry Sauce.  It’s a little sweet and a little tart, sorta like siblings, so the cranberry sauce goes to BC for defeating its nearby and former Big East rival Providence 82-77 in a New Englandy matchup on Saturday.   BC’s Josh Southern put the Eagles ahead 78-77 on a traditional three-point play with 44 seconds remaining, and Keno Davis’ Friars never scored again.  BC was 0-10 from three, while PC was 10-24 from long distance, and still BC eked out the win on the road.  It will be interesting to examine how this ACC win holds up over the course of the season.

Holiday Fudge.  It’s extremely bad for you, but you love it anyway.  The good news is that you can only eat one piece at a time because it’s so rich, which means the fancy tin seems to last forever.  That reminds us of Florida State this weekend at the Old Spice Classic — they came into this tournament as one of several teams considered among the “best,” but they never really looked very impressive in any of their three gaems, and yet they walked away with the trophy.  It was a story of two halves.  Marquette totally outhustled the bigger Seminoles in the first; Lazar Hayward (19/10) was everywhere early and helped Marquette run out to a 17-8 advantage that turned into 30-18 at the half.  The second half was a different story.  Marquette expanded the lead to 40-24 but then FSU started to take advantage of their superior size, showing better discipline on offense and taking advantage of 3-11 free throw shooting from Marquette to tie the game at 50-50 with 3:47 left.  The lead changed hands four times the rest of the way as Solomon Alabi, silent for most of the game, scored the last four points for the Seminoles who improved to 6-1.  FSU was led by Singleton with 18/10 and Kitchen added 14 points.  Marquette had three players (Hayward, Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom) score 48 of its 56 points and had two players with double-doubles (Butler 12/11); a more complete team effort would probably have kept Marquette from its first loss.

Spinach Salad.  Yeah, it’s healthy but nobody wants it on their plate.  Washington State took out three weeks of Pac-10 frustrations on San Diego Saturday night, whipping the WCC foe into submission 93-56 behind Klay Thompson’s 43/5/4 asst performance.  Yeah, that says 43 points.  But just like the salad remaining unnoticed and unwanted, we fear that Thompson, a sophomore guard who is currently the nation’s leading scorer at 28.3 PPG, will get similar treatment this year.  Wazzu’s schedule has been extremely light, and nobody quite knew what to expect from the Cougars this season with a new coach and all, but they are 6-0 and this destruction of San Diego to win the Great Alaska Shootout officially puts us on notice — remember, USD had just beaten Oklahoma and Houston there on previous nights.   

Fruitcake.  Someone always thinks this is a good idea.  It’s not.  These teams were presumably “upset” victims over the weekend, but maybe they’re just not as good as everyone thinks?

  • UNLV 76, Louisville 71.  For the second consecutive season, UNLV knocked off the Cards based on a poor-shooting night from Rick Pitino’s club — 40% overall and 29% from deep.  Tre’Von Willis did it all for the Runnin’ Rebels, dropping 16/6/9 assts, as UNLV held off a furious Louisville second-half run (30-11) tie the game after getting down nineteen points. 
  • Bradley 72, Illinois 68.  The Illini took their second loss in two nights in the Las Vegas Invitational with another poor-shooting effort (40%/22% from deep) that led to an ill-timed drought after Illinois took a 66-61 lead.  Bradley scored the next nine points, including a huge three from Andrew Warren (16/3) that allowed the MVC school to get a key RPI-boosting win over a Big Ten school.
  • William & Mary 78, Wake Forest 68.  Don’t get your hopes up, but could W&M make some noise in the CAA this season?  One of the few original NCAA schools to have never experienced the Big Dance, the Tribe now sits at 4-2 with a nice resume-enhancing win on its record.  Wake apparently sleptwalked through this one at home, shooting 35% and suffering a wretched offensive game from its start, Al-Farouq Aminu (11/20 on 4-18 FG and 5 TOs). 
  • Richmond 59, Missouri 52.  Mizzou couldn’t throw it into the ocean from the S. Padre Island beach, shooting 32% and only 2-11 from three Saturday night, making it difficult for the Tigers to set up their press to harass Richmond into careless turnovers.  Richmond’s David Gonzalvez was the Tourney MVP, contributing 18/3 stls and hitting the big three at the 4-minute mark to give UR some breathing room down the stretch.  Richmond comes out of this weekend with two very nice wins over high-majors Missouri and Mississippi State to move to 6-1 overall. 
  • Alabama 68, #15 Michigan 66.  Michigan came out of the Old Spice Classic at 1-2 and was dangerously close to pulling an oh-fer with its one overtime win versus Creighton on Thursday the difference.  Manny Harris (26/10/5 stls) and DeShawn Sims (16/6) carried the Wolverines, who are clearly struggling to find a consistent third option in their offense.  Bama’s JaMychal Green once again had a great game (20/7/4 blks) and it was his dunk with three seconds remaining that won the game for the Tide. 
  • Iona 63, Creighton 55.  Creighton returns home with the dreaded 0-3 record from the Old Spice Classic this weekend, and there are clear questions as to the long-term viability of this team.  Star guard P’Allen Stinnett had only two points and four turnovers and Justin Carter left the game with an injury to his knee (not considered serious).  Iona used its effective offense to find open looks to the tune of nine threes, sending Creighton to it’s worst start (2-4) in fifteen years. 
  • Baylor 69, Xavier 64.  Despite a miserable shooting night from LaceDarius Dunn (2-14 FG), Tweety Carter picked up the slack with 27 pts and six threes to lead Baylor over the young Musketeers in the Old Spice Classic.  Xavier returns home with two losses, and they will need to learn on whom they can rely for consistent offensive production (Jordan Crawford and Jason Love have been up-and-down). 
  • Texas A&M 66, #16 Minnesota 65.  We think TAMU is better than their ranking, so this really was a battle in our view of two evenly matched teams in the 76 Classic.  And it played out that way, as A&M took advantage of Lawrence Westbrook’s benching (undisclosed reasons) at the start to run out to a 9-pt halftime lead.  Minnesota made a late run due to A&M’s poor FT shooting (50%)  to cut the lead to one, but Paul Carter’s ensuing shot was blocked off his body by Bryan Davis, and Mark Turgeon’s team was able to secure the victory. 

Other Games of National Interest.

Saturday

  • #4 Villanova 81, LaSalle 63. Villanova devastated LaSalle with their pressure defense, forcing 27 turnovers for the game and allowing the Wildcats to win their twentieth Big Five matchup of the last twenty-one games.  Scottie Reynolds had 14/3 assts/3 stls, and Antonio Pena continues to impress inside, with 14/8/3 stls off the bench.
  • #6 Purdue 64, Central Michigan 38. Purdue used an early tip time (11:30 am) to its advantage, pressuring CMU into a very cold 28% shooting day and a record-low number of points given up in the Matt Painter era (tied with Michigan State in 2007).  Robbie Hummel had a dub-dub with 11/11.
  • #18 Ohio State 110, St. Francis (PA) 47. Absolute and utter destruction of the Red Flash, and Evan Turner (16/8/5 assts) didn’t even go triple-double on them.  Jeremie Simmons came off the bench with 18/4 stls to lead the Buckeyes.
  • #19 Georgetown 97, Lafayette 64.  Georgetown put all five starters in double figures, plus reserve Hollis Thompson (16/3) who came into the game with only one FG all season.  Jason Clark paced the Hoyas with 19/5/6 assts.
  • Kansas State 70, IUPUI 57.  Jacob Pullen dropped 25/6/7 assts in a win for the Wildcats to move K-State to 5-1.  A late second half 15-1 finished off the game for KSU.
  • Notre Dame 64, St. Louis 52.  ND hasn’t looked all that great so far this season, and Luke Harangody has been slumping (15-35 in his last two games), but the Irish were able to hold off the pesky Billikens and get the win to move to 6-1 overall.  ‘Gody with 18 pts last night now moves within two from becoming the seventh Irish basketball player with 2,000 points in his career.
  • Mississippi State 69, Old Dominion 55.  Dee Bost had 25/4/4 for the Bulldogs and Jarvis Varnado contributed 15/6/5 blocks to beat ODU in the third place game of the South Padre Island Invitational.  Varnado only logged 19 minutes due to dislocating his left pinkie less than a minute into the game, but no matter.  To make up for it, Bost decided to hit six threes and the MSU defense clamped down to stymie ODU into 38% shooting, including one stretch late in the game of almost eight minutes where they held the Monarchs scoreless.
  • Florida 73, Rutgers 58.  Despite being on full letdown alert after knocking off #2 Michigan State the night before, Kenny Boynton put up 19 points including three treys and Vernon Macklin added 14/8 on 7-9 shooting as the Gators came out and claimed the Legends Classic title with a confident win over the Scarlet Knights.  Florida moved to a perfect 6-0 on the year.
  • Missouri State 83, Tulsa 75.  We’ve been touting Tulsa around these parts, and this one was indeed played in Springfield, Missouri, but this is one the Golden Hurricane should have had.  They got 22/10 from Jerome Jordan and 20/5 from Ben Uzoh, outrebounded the Bears by 13 boards, and shot great percentages.  What went wrong?  Missouri State played efficient basketball, got hot early, and got up by as much as 21 in the first half; they committed only five turnovers for the whole game and capitalized frequently on Tulsa’s 14 miscues.  The difference:  a three, a pair of twos, and three free throws more than their opponent.
  • Oklahoma State 77, Utah 55.  Oklahoma State continued making its case for a Top 25 spot with a startlingly easy win over Utah in the Las Vegas Invitational.  The Utes just couldn’t find the same magic they had on the previous night on which they knocked off #20 Illinois.  OSU, up 18 at the half, held Utah to 33% from the field including 3-14 from beyond the 3-point arc.  James Anderson led the Cowboys with a very impressive 26/5/3.

Sunday

  • #2 Texas 77, Rice 59.  Rice came into this one at 4-1, and it was in their house, but this game was a good illustration of why Texas is a team that deserves every ounce of consideration it’s getting as a national title contender.  Dexter Pittman dominated the inside with 21/9/3 blks on 7-9 shooting; Damion James (8/8) and J’Covan Brown (15/5) also helped spark the Longhorns, who moved to 5-0.  Texas didn’t shoot particularly well — 41.2% FG, 23.5% from three, and 67.4% FT — and Rice deserves some credit for making a second-half run and shaving Texas’ lead down to 7 with about 6 minutes remaining, but the Longhorns used their deep, athletic bench to wear down the Owls. 
  • #19 Clemson 70, #10 Butler 69.  The #19 Clemson Tigers overcame a slow start to come back and beat #10 Butler on Sunday when guard Demontez Stitt nailed two clutch free throws with only 3.3 seconds remaining.  Senior forward Trevor Booker blocked a corner three-point attempt by Shelvin Mack to seal the 70-69 victory as time expired in the consolation game at the 76 Classic. Stitt had 19 points and Booker posted 12/8 for Clemson. Questions will be raised about Butler after this weekend, as the Bulldogs finished the weekend 1-2, surprisingly losing to #22 Minnesota and barely getting past UCLA (whom everyone beats these days) before losing to Clemson on Sunday. 
  • #10 Washington 63, Montana 59.  Montana went navel-to-navel with Abdul Gaddy and Quincy Pondexter and pressured them into terrible shooting nights; Gaddy was held scoreless on 0-4 from the field and no free throw attempts, and Pondexter only contributed seven points on 2-10 shooting (UW as a team was at 31% from the field).  But Pondexter made up for it with his defense on Montana’s Anthony Johnson, holding the Grizzly star to 10/2/5 assts on 5-14 shooting, and blocking a last-ditch three that would have tied it at the end of the game. 
  • #11 North Carolina 80, Nevada 73.  Nevada actually had a one-pt lead in this game with about eight minutes to go, but the Heels, behind their big men Deon Thompson (23/8) and Ed Davis (16/15), were able to hold off the pesky Wolfpack down the stretch after Larry Drew II (12/10 assts) nailed two threes to put UNC back in the lead.  It was clear that the UNC size bothered Nevada center Luke Babbitt (18/11), who struggled from the field (5-18) among all the long arms in the paint.  Roy Williams’ 600th career victory did not come easily, and he cannot be pleased with UNC’s FT shooting in this one (12-24). 
  • #25 California 81, Princeton 60.  Cal got 22 each from Jerome Randle (22/9 assts) and Jamal Boykin (22/7), but it is the play of Patrick Christopher once again that has Bear fans worried.  The big guard was 2-8 from the field for only five points as he battled foul trouble.  In six games this season, the preseason all-Pac-10 player has arguably only had one breakout game — last week against Jacksonville, where he went for 23/4 in a win. 
  • South Alabama 74, Arkansas 61.  When it rains, it pours for the Hawgs, as they lost star forward Michael Washington in the pregame warmups, and proceeded to get smoked again by a mid-major on its home floor.  South Alabama used a 15-0 second-half run to blow the game open.  John Pelphrey has to be feeling the heat right now, with all the offseason problems followed by a team that appears to have tuned him out this year.  Will he survive a total meltdown season?
  • Nebraska 51, USC 48.  In a very ugly Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series game at the Galen Center, Nebraska outlasted USC when Eshaunte Jones hit a three with 11.7 seconds remaining.  USC got its best performance yet from transfer Alex Stepheson (13/12/3 blks), but the Trojans have minimal depth and it showed as they only played eight players in this one.
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