ATB: Texas the New Florida?Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2009
Damion James Makes an Early Case for POY. #2 Texas 79, #9 Michigan State 68. Four days and two games against top ten opponents for Rick Barnes. No sweat, right? Texas passed yet another difficult test prior to the winter break by imposing their hellacious perimeter defense into 22 Michigan State turnovers and allowing the future Big 12 all-time rebounder Damion James to put up 23/13 on 10-18 FG in a statement victory at home. The dynamic defensive duo of Dogus Balbay and lengthy freshman Avery Bradley confused star point guard Kalin Lucas (3-11 FG and 2:6 A:TO ratio) all night while also forcing guards Chris Allen and Korie Lucious into a combined nine turnovers of their own. In a key stretch late in the second half, reserve forward Gary Johnson drained a difficult shot and forced two consecutive Michigan State miscues around the halfcourt line that were converted into easy buckets. But the real story is the utter dominance of Damion James. He’s now been clearly the best player on the floor against two national title participants in a matter of four days, making a case ahead of Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Craig Brackins for the favorite to win Big 12 POY (and perhaps more). Texas also received four treys from freshman Jordan Hamilton and did most of their damage with center Dexter Pittman on the bench with foul trouble. One could certainly make a case for the Longhorns as the #1 team in the land. They play Kansas, right?
Down to Seven Unbeatens. Arkansas 66, Missouri State 62 (OT). The undefeated run came to a bitter end in Fayetteville for Missouri State as the enigma that is the Arkansas basketball team edged the Bears in overtime. Regulation ended in crazy fashion with a wide-open Caleb Patterson layup at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. With 18 seconds left in the extra frame, three-point mastermind Rotnei Clarke nailed a clutch trey and then sealed the game with two free throws afterwards. Missouri State struggled from the field all night, shooting just 32% from three and 31% overall in a rare positive showing for the Razorback defense. Kyle Weems led the way for the Bears with 24 points.
Cal Challenges Kansas for a Half. #1 Kansas 84, California 69. Maybe the Pac-10 is improving? The much-maligned league got three wins over BCS conference teams in the same evening; and considering that coming into tonight’s games, the league was a combined 6-20 against the other five power conferences this season, three more wins in a single night is something to be excited about. This was not one of those three wins. For about twenty-five minutes tonight, though, Cal hung right there with the nation’s #1 team on its home court, but eventually the superior talent of KU won out, as the Jayhawks hit a scorching 73% for the second half and used a 15-3 run to open some distance and ultimately put the game away. All five Kansas starters scored in double figures, led by Sherron Collins’ 17/5 and Cole Aldrich’s 10/10/5 blks. Patrick Christopher had 21 for the Bears, picking up for the struggling star Jerome Randle (3-15 FG), who had trouble finding open looks against the Jayhawk defense (including seven turnovers).
Texas Tech Loses More Than a Game. #19 Washington 73, Texas A&M 64. UW got 25/13/3 blks from Quincy Pondexter, who is putting up all-america numbers this year, but more importantly the Huskies’ defense was superb, holding A&M to 30% shooting and handling the Aggies on the boards (+10). The overarching story of this game, though, was the terrible injury that TAMU guard Derrick Roland suffered when he came down awkwardly and broke his leg after jumping under the basket in the second half. Those who saw it live compared it to the gruesome broken leg that Joe Theismann once endured on national television a generation ago. If you’re the type of person who does not handle seeing injuries well, you probably shouldn’t make the jump today (we put the video up, but you don’t have to watch it; seriously, it’s bad).
Are These Really Upsets?
- UAB 67, #18 Butler 57. The surprising UAB Blazers knocked off their second ranked foe in six days by defeating Butler at Bartow Arena behind Jamarr Sanders’ 18 points and 11/7 from Elijah Millsap. UAB did succumb to a ferocious Butler rally midway through the second half, allowing the Bulldogs to cut a 16-point deficit down to two in an eight-minute span before picking up the defense and preventing Butler from scoring on their next six possessions. Under Mike Davis, the Blazers are now 23-0 against non-conference opponents in their home gym and can boast two victories against likely NCAA teams when March rolls around. As for Butler, the only outstanding thing in their resume is a Turner-less win over Ohio State at home and a controversial victory over Xavier. With nothing to gain in Horizon play, their seed could take a hit with the lack of quality wins in November and December. Horizon League POY Matt Howard managed just six points and zero free throw attempts while fouling out yet again in a game where Butler was out-shot, out-rebounded and simply outworked by a fiery UAB squad to be reckoned with in Conference USA.
- South Alabama 67, #18 Florida 66. After starting the season 8-0 and receiving the prestigious RTC “Team of the Week” award, the Gators have lost three straight. We’re willing to excuse the first loss, which was against Syracuse in a game that was closer than the 12-point margin might indicate. The Gators followed that up with 3-point loss to Richmond in which they were unable to hold onto a 13-point lead. Billy Donovan’s squad never enjoyed such a large margin tonight as they never led by more than three. Tim Williams was the star of the game for the Jaguars with 21 points and 7 rebounds, but it was DeAndre Hersey’s follow-up with 1.8 seconds that gave them the victory and the Gators their 3rd consecutive loss. The Gators had one last chance with a desperation half-court heave from Erving Walker, but it hit back iron (bringing the Gators to 3/22 from beyond the arc compared to the Jaguars’ 7/11). Despite their great start, we are starting to wonder about this UF team and Billy Donovan who has failed to reach the NCAA tournament since the nucleus of his back-to-back title teams graduated. The Gators shouldn’t have too much trouble in their next two games (at home versus American and Presbyterian), but after New Year’s we should see what they are made of with trips to NC State and Vanderbilt before taking on Kentucky in Gainesville on January 12th.
- Nebraska 74, Tulsa 70. The preseason CUSA favorites appeared to be hitting their stride after a drubbing of Oklahoma State, but falling on a neutral floor to Big 12 bottom-feeder Nebraska has to set the Golden Hurricane back a few notches. Distributed scoring was the gameplan for the Huskers in this one as seven players scored eight or more points. With Memphis still trying to develop an identity and Tulsa looking vulnerable, will it be UTEP and UAB at the top of the CUSA?
- Loyola (MD) 72, Indiana 67. In a game that once again proves that Tom Crean’s rebuilding project still has a long way to go, Loyola (Maryland) got one of its best victories in program history by entering hallowed Assembly Hall and taking one from Indiana. It’s clear that IU wasn’t ready to play in this one, perhaps looking ahead to Christmas, as Loyola raced out to a 15-0 lead from the opening tip and led by as many as 24 points in the first half. Indiana finally got their legs under them and stormed back to take the lead with five minutes to go in the game, but Loyola responded behind Brett Harvey’s 25/4/5 assts, including several key plays down the stretch for the senior guard.
Other Games of National Interest.
- #4 Purdue 90, SIU-Edwardsville 63. Not much to say here when the #4 team in the country wins at home against a team that came into the game 2-9. Nice game from Mark Yelovich with 23 points (9/13 FG and 5/5 threes) and 6 rebounds. Couldn’t Matt Painter have put Chris Kramer (aka The Greatest Defender Ever*) on him at some point? [*Ed. Note: According to some ESPN analysts] The Boilermakers have only more cupcake (Iowa) before their showdown on New Year’s Day against West Virginia, which might end up being the biggest game of the day when you include all the meaningless bowl games.
- #5 Syracuse 92, Oakland 60. Syracuse continues to impressively roll up opponents by huge margins (25.9 scoring margin this year) even when one of their star players (Arinze Onuaku) doesn’t play much due to an injury. Freshman PG Brandon Triche scored 27 points on red-hot shooting from three (6-6) and added four rebounds and four assists, while Wesley Johnson did his thing with another double-double (19/11). Syracuse will get a test in its next game when it travels to what will be a fired-up Seton Hall next week.
- #10 UNC 98, Marshall 61. Carolina got back into the winning column tonight by getting big games from their big players, notably Ed Davis (19/10/3 blks, his sixth dub-dub of the season) and Tyler Zeller (18/4 in 17 mins). The Heels used a 17-0 early second-half run to put away the pesky Herd, who UNC outrebounded by twenty for the game (Texas was +21 against Carolina in Saturday’s game, so this was a point of emphasis for Roy Williams). UNC is now seven away from UNC2K (get your t-shirts now), which will presumably come in late January against Wake Forest, NC State or Virginia.
- #11 UConn 71, Maine 54. Jim Calhoun had to be sweating after the first 26 minutes of this game as his Huskies only led by 3 points, but he was breathing easier after a 12-0 run gave the Huskies all the margin that they would need. The Huskies were led by Jerome Dyson who scored 22 of his 27 points in the 2nd half, but the bigger story for Calhoun and their fans was the improved play of Ater Majok (5 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 blocks (and 4 fouls) in 18 minutes. To be perfectly honest, the Huskies have been less than impressive this season, but with the way higher ranked teams have been losing games this year the Huskies should be in the top 10 next week when they travel to Cincinnati.
- #17 Ohio State 72, Cleveland State 59. No Evan Turner? No problem. At least against Cleveland State that is. Led by David Lighty’s career-high 30 points, the Buckeyes never trailed against the Vikings who were unable to keep it as close as they had in their previous game–an 80-78 loss to West Virginia. The Buckeyes will likely find life a bit more challenging without Turner with their next two games in Madison and Ann Arbor.
- #20 UNLV 67, SMU 53. UNLV moved to 11-1 on the season after blowing the doors off Matt Doherty’s SMU team in the first half, using a 22-2 run to effectively put the game away early. Tre’Von Willis came off the bench for 12/4 for the Runnin’ Rebels, who will play the winner of Hawaii/Charleston in tomorrow’s semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic.
- #21 Georgia Tech 80, Kennesaw State 55. After a lackluster 1st half where they only led 27-16 at intermission that had us wondering if this Yellow Jacket team was going to rebound from their tough loss to FSU, Paul Hewitt’s crew rebounded scoring 53 points in the 2nd half and opened up a 31-point lead before finally winning by 25. Zachery Peacock led the way for the Yellow Jackets with 18 points (8/8 FG) and had three other teammates in double figures. We’re still not sold on this talented Yellow Jacket team, but fortunately for Derrick Favors and company they have until January 9th until Duke travels to Atlanta to get their act together.
- #23 Clemson 79, Western Carolina 57. We thought there was a chance at an upset here. We were wrong, as Clemson’s Trevor Booker (31/7/4 blks) dominated and the Tigers finally put away the upstart Catamounts with a late 19-0 run in the second half. Trevor’s little brother, Devin, had the best game of his short Clemson career with 10/6 on 4-4 FG in only fourteen minutes of action.
- Saint Mary’s 78, Northeastern 67. It’s becoming more and more clear who the real challenger to Gonzaga in the WCC will be this season. St. Mary’s improved to 10-1 behind a 19-point performance from star forward Omar Samhan while shooting 16 of 18 from the line and 10 of 21 from deep in the winning effort. Other double-figure scorers for the Gaels included Matthew Dellavedova, Jordan Page and Ben Allen. SMC will play USC in the semis of the Diamond Head Classic tomorrow.
- Pittsburgh 74, Ohio 49. The Panthers improve to 10-2 during a first half run that saw Pitt jump out to a 20-3 following a 1-15 shooting start for Ohio. The Bobcats did crawl back to within eight before another Pitt spurt gave them a comfortable lead. Ashton Gibbs continues to perform for Pitt, leading the way with 17 points.
- Cincinnati 74, Winthrop 57. Fresh out of Mick Cronin’s doghouse in the Lipscomb game, Yancy Gates led the Bearcats with 16 points in a game that they never were in danger of losing. After opening up a 16-point lead at half, the Bearcats’ lead never got below 9 points in their tune-up for their aforementioned game against UConn.
- USC 55, Western Michigan 51. The reason we mention this one tonight is because Mike Gerrity has come out of purgatory to possibly become USC’s best player in the span of his first two games. After a great performance over the weekend in the upset of Tennessee, he came back with 17/3/3 assts tonight on 7-11 shooting and displayed poised leadership down the stretch to help the Trojans pull out a close game in Hawaii. The Trojans advance to play St. Mary’s tomorrow, giving the WCC another shot at beating a a Pac-10 school this season.
- BYU 110, Nevada 104. Crazy shootout at the Las Vegas Classic, as both BYU and Nevada put three starters into the 20+ scoring column. BYU’s Jimmer Fredette had 33/6, while his counterpart on Nevada, Armon Johnson, had 30/5, but it was the blistering pace and shooting of both teams that was the story in this game — BYU hit 63% of their attempts while Nevada was a relatively chilly 58% from the field. It was the Cougars’ biggest points output in fourteen years.
- Texas Tech 100, Stanford 87. Pat Knight’s team moved to 10-1 with a solid home victory against yet another Pac-10 team tonight. Mike Singletary shook off a rough first half to pour in 24 of his season-high 28 points in the second and ensure that the Red Raiders would keep Coach Knight (the one doing the Cal-Kansas game) happy as he broadcast for ESPN a few states away. Stanford got 51/19 from their two-man show of Landry Fields and Jeremy Green, but it wasn’t nearly enough, as TTU shot 55% from the floor and took a mind-blowing 48 FTs (making 33).
- Washington State 72, LSU 70 (OT). In an apparently ugly game at Key Arena in Seattle tonight, LSU and Wazzu battled back and forth all night long until finally Bo Spencer’s poor shooting night (6-20) caught up with him on the final attempted three. Washington State got 26/6 from its star Klay Thompson, while LSU was led by Tasmin Mitchell (18/14) and the aforementioned Spencer (23/4 with 7 turnovers). Hey, it’s a BCS win for the Pac-10, we’re sure they’ll take it against whomever they can get one.