ATB: Upset Weekend, But Don’t Act Surprised…

Posted by rtmsf on January 11th, 2010

Upset Weekend.  Let’s get one thing out of the way right away.  It was a great weekend of college basketball, with over 175 games of juicy goodness, starting with Friday evening’s Sunshine State battle of A-Sun foes Jacksonville and Stetson, and ending with tonight’s Civil War game in Eugene between the Ducks and Beavers.  If you didn’t get enough hoops over the last 54 hours, then you probably need your head checked (our appt. is Tuesday morning).  But let’s not get too excited about this weekend just yet.  By our count, there were ten upsets involving ranked teams, and a host of others barely survived.  But this is something we all knew was coming.  It’s called life on the road in conference play (note: we realize, of course, Kansas was on the road in non-conference play), and it’s what makes the next ten weeks so much more fun than the previous ten.  No longer will teams be able to play Holy Names and Penn Central and St. Augustanus to pick up easy Ws.  No, they now have to face conference foes — the family — and like your nutty Grandma at the holiday dinner table, the family can be harsh in its brutal honesty.  If your team has a weakness, the family will find it and exploit it.  If your team has multiple question marks, your days of skating by with superior athletes and a friendly home crowd are over.  If your team has been using smoke and mirrors to get it done this year, well, the seven years of bad luck are about to begin.  This phenomenon happens every single year, and every single year we all get all fluttery and hyperbolic talking about the early upsets, but the fact of the matter is that there are no dominant teams in the 1-and-done era and truthfully the real surprise would be if we didn’t have great weekends of parity like this one.

Hopson Crushed It on Aldrich (credit: Saul Young)

Now, About That Kansas Thing#15 Tennessee 76, #1 Kansas 68.  This was going to be one of the tougher games of the season for Kansas regardless of the Tennessee personnel issues, but you can almost imagine Bill Self fretting about his team’s focus when he found out that 40% of the Vol offense would not be available for this game.  There’s no question that Kansas has elite talent, but they’re not robots, and it’s understandable that all the news about the UT players might have led to a bit of a letdown.  Bill Self referred to his team’s lack of aggressiveness as manifested in the worrisome fact that KU’s all-american center Cole Aldrich (7/18/4 blks) only took five shots in 30 minutes despite a considerable size advantage inside.  Repeated post-ups in the halfcourt offense resulted in few touches for Aldrich, as Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor in particular were more interested in chucking threes and calling their own number throughout (20 and 11 shots, respectively).  Tennessee, to its credit in using just six scholarship players and several walk-ons, kept hustling and scrapping for loose balls and hitting big shot after big shot every time it seemed that the superior KU talent was surging.  Skylar McBee’s step-through three from the left side as the shot clock expired and UT up three very late was the stuff of legend (see below), and we doubt the walk-on marksman will be buying his own meals in Knoxville for many a year after he graduates.

In a game where the odds were repeatedly stacked against the Vols — the missing players, the foul trouble of Wayne Chism and JP Prince, the horrid FT shooting (15-29) — Pearl’s team was able to take to heart what has always made the colorful coach such an interesting guy.  He sees himself as an underdog, but his teams only seem to take on that scrappy mentality when they are actually sitting behind the eight-ball.  Tennessee always comes strong when they’re not expected to win — the game at Memphis in 2008, the wins over the national champion Gators in 2006 and 2007 — but it’s the games where they’re considered the heavy favorite that give Pearl’s teams trouble (last year’s two blowout Ls against struggling Kentucky come to mind).  You could very reasonably argue that in the Vols’ two wins this week with six scholarship players (vs. Charlotte and the Jayhawks), they’ve looked better than they did when they went ten deep.  The problem is that the underdog role can only be embraced and milked for so long, and there’s still an entire sixteen-game SEC slate ahead of them.  Today was a tremendous, mood-lifting sort of win for the UT basketball program, but it won’t mean much if the Vols finish at 8-8 in the SEC East.  Still, Bruce Pearl’s charges should be incredibly proud of themselves and by all means should stay away from rental cars and various weaponry after this big win (Pearl didn’t mention that, but he did mention complacency in his postgame speech below).  Final thought: Scotty Hopson (17/4).  Kid looked like a superstar today; his dunk over Aldrich was ridiculous.  Keep it coming, young fella.

RTC Meets Ashley Judd.  RTC editor John Stevens got to meet Kentucky Superfan Ashley Judd after Saturday’s Georgia game, and given that this may be a once-in-a-lifetime event, it deserves its own space.  Here’s John:   

I have to include the fact that I got to meet Kentucky alumna Ashley Judd at this game…and by “meet,” I mean shake her hand, stand beside her with my recorder (one of about 30 total) in her face, ask her a question, and smile dumbly at her like a mental patient who knows it’s almost pill time.  Let me tell you something, folks.  I don’t usually get star-struck (when you’ve sat behind Goodman, Bozich, DeCourcy, and Forde in a media room, hell, you’re ready for anything, heh), but when Ashley Judd looks you dead in the eye?  Ballgame.  Good night, everybody.  Yes, she’s very attractive.  But it’s not just that.  She’s got that “star quality,” meaning that when she’s looking at you and talking, it’s morphine.  You are tractor-beamed, and you’re very aware of it when your time is over.  This is not something she’s trying to do, it’s something with which you’re born or you aren’t.  They say politicians have this ability, too, though I doubt I’d feel the same effect if I were standing in front of, say, Strom Thurmond.  As for my question, because she had been asked every possible hoops-related question by the 30 or so reporters around her, I asked her how that frenzy in the media room compared to the scene on a Hollywood red carpet.  She replied like someone who, though she was glad her Wildcats escaped, was even happier to be home, even if temporarily.  She smiled, thought for a second, and said with relish,  “This is better!  This is the blue carpet!”

Ashley is Happy to See RTC There

Moving On… Obviously, there were a bunch of other upsets this weekend beyond #1 Kansas going down, but we don’t have time to discuss them all so here are some of the key takeaways as we see them.

  • #17 Georgia Tech 71, #7 Duke 67.  If Tech played as hard all the time as they do against teams like Duke and North Carolina, they’d be in the top ten all season long.  Duke’s depth (or lack thereof) is going to catch up with them sooner rather than later, but Jon Scheyer is having a phenomenal season.
  • #20 Wisconsin 73, #4 Purdue 66.  Only an upset in terms of the rankings (UW was favored), but Bo Ryan continues to find guys from seemingly out of nowhere, and this game it was sophomore Jordan Taylor who had 23 off the bench to knock Purdue from the ranks of the unbeaten.
  • Notre Dame 70, #8 West Virginia 68. WVU solved its turnover problems in this game (4 TOs), but they were the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, hitting only 38% from the field and rallying from a 22-pt first half deficit to have a shot at the buzzer by Da’Sean Butler to win the game.  The Irish haven’t made much noise this year, but at 3-1 in the Big East we have to keep an eye on them.
  • Missouri 74, #10 Kansas State 68.  Notice anything about these games?  All ranked teams losing conference road games.  Mizzou hasn’t won 30 in a row at home for nothing, but K-State is going to nee more than ten points from its starting frontcourt if it wants to be taken seriously as a Big 12 contender.
  • UNLV 74, #14 New Mexico 64.  This might have been the biggest upset of the weekend beyond the UT-Kansas game.  New Mexico rarely loses at The Pit, yet UNLV took control early and held on late to send the Lobos hurtling to 0-2 in the Mountain West Conference.
  • Mississippi State 80, #16 Ole Miss 75.  MSU guard Dee Bost had a big second half (17 pts) and MSU came from behind to drop Ole Miss in their building and serve notice to the SEC West that the road to the division title will run through Starkville, with or without Renardo Sidney.
  • Maryland 77, #19 Florida State 68.  The erratic Terps got by far its best win of the year behind a good game by Greivis Vasquez (22/3/5 assts) and calls into question again whether FSU is a pretender away from Tallahassee.

Conference Wraps.  We’ll try to refer to some of the other games this weekend through brief rundowns of each of the major conferences.

  • ACC – The best game of the weekend in the ACC was in Coral Gables between Wake Forest and Miami (FL).  Ish Smith’s shot with three seconds remaining was off, allowing the Hurricanes to move to 15-1 (but the schedule ranks in the bottom fifty, so take that record with a grain of salt).  UNC pulled away from Virginia Tech late, but the Hokies impressed us with Malcolm Delaney (26/6), Dorenzo Hudson (14 pts) and fifteen offensive boards against the UNC frontline.  Virginia Tech should surprise again.  The upset of the weekend may have been Virginia going to Raleigh and coming back from ten down to beat NC State 70-62 for Tony Bennett’s first ACC victory in his first game.
  • Big East – #6 Villanova beat Marquette for the second time in a week by two points, as the Wildcats held off a furious MU rally from 23 down to move to 3-o in the conference.  Buzz Williams’ team at 1-3 now in the league needs to be careful to avoid becoming this year’s Notre Dame/Georgetown, where a tough schedule wears down a solid team and breeds a culture of losing from within.  Speaking of comebacks, Georgetown had a sizable rally itself, coming back from 19 down in the first half to win at home behind Austin Freeman’s 28 second-half points (33 total).  The Hoyas would not have been mentally capable of this last season.  Notre Dame, referred to above, and Seton Hall, discussed in the RTC Live section below, also had big home wins.  It’s tough at the bottom of this league — St. John’s, Rutgers and South Florida all remained winless over the weekend and DePaul appears set to fire its coach.
  • Big Ten – The best game in this conference outside of Purdue-Wisconsin was the Minnesota home date with Ohio State and Evan Turner in Minneapolis.  Turner did what he does, going for 19/8/7 assts/4 stls/2 blks (yeah, he’s hurtin’), but he didn’t get much help and the OSU defense couldn’t contain Blake Hoffarber (7-9 from deep).  Michigan State (expected), Illinois (sorta expected) and Northwestern (unexpected) all got road wins, but it was the NW win that we care most about in trying to get the Cats to the NCAA Tournament this year.  Their next two are against Purdue and Wisconsin at home — need at least one of those.
  • Big 12 – #2 Texas will move to #1 in most ballots tomorrow with its domination of Colorado behind Avery Bradley’s 29/9 and Damion James’ 20/12.  The two eyebrow-raisers from this weekend, though, were the pair of annihilations by Baylor over Oklahoma (91-60) and Oklahoma State over Texas Tech (81-52).  The Bears are clearly one of the most improved teams in America this year and the Oklahoma defense is a total disaster right now (#230 def efficiency), but the OSU destruction of Pat Knight’s team was the bigger surprise.  We’re having trouble figuring out just how good both those teams are, but we have a sneaky suspicion that Texas Tech is a total mirage.
  • Pac-10 – Just forget about trying to predict this conference this season.  The teams are just all equally mediocre.  Seriously, can we have every team finish 9-9 this year?  The only ranked team left, #22 Washington, dropped two games and looking bad in doing so, at the Arizonas to start out 1-3 in the league.  The SoCal schools — USC and UCLA — split games in NorCal this week, and somehow Oregon State, a team coming off a FIFTY-ONE point loss at home to barely-D1 Seattle, went into one of the toughest Pac-10 venues and beat its bitter rival by seven.  After two weekends of play, there are no teams unbeaten, none winless, and five with 2-2 records.  This league is utterly ridiculous and there’s no sense in even trying to figure it out.
  • SEC – Other than beating #1 with six players?  Well, as you are probably aware, Kentucky struggled with Georgia (recapped below) and Mississippi State got a big road win at Ole Miss (above), but did you know that Vanderbilt is showing signs of being a menace again, especially on their weird home court?  The Commodores took down Florida at home (Gators are super-average) behind AJ Ogilvy’s 24/8 and Jermaine Beal’s 22/5 assts, and we see five pretty good teams in the SEC with Vandy being one of the five.  Alabama also got a nice road win at LSU, and Auburn should just go ahead and get rid of Jeff Lebo now and save everyone the trouble after losing to South Carolina at home as well.
  • Others – #18 Gonzaga held on against Portland Saturday after blowing a ten-point lead in the final minutes.  Jared Stohl very nearly hit a turnaround three at the buzzer to tie the game but it wasn’t to be, as the Zags once again start off strong in the WCC race.  #24 Butler moved to 4-0 in the Horizon by getting  a road win against one of its biggest competitors, Wright State, 77-65.  #25 Temple needed OT, but they got past a tough Rhode Island team to move to 2-0 in the A10 today, while Xvaier, Charlotte and Dayton all notched nice wins as well over the weekend.  One of the bigger upsets at the mid-major level was Western Carolina losing at Georgia Southern 81-76 — the SoCon co-faves came in at 12-2 while the GSU Eagles had a 3-13 record including a single D1 win on its resume.  In a MWC-CUSA tilt, #23 BYU got a great road win over UTEP 83-77 to move to 16-1 even though Jimmer Fredette didn’t play due to strep throat.  Over in the Valley, Northern Iowa stayed unbeaten at 5-0 with a strong road win at Illinois State, and Wichita State kept the pressure on by knocking off Creighton to move to 4-1.  In the CAA, a four-way tie at first, with Northeastern, George Mason, Old Dominion and William & Mary all notching wins this weekend.

RTC Live.  Quite a few RTC Lives this weekend.  Here are the recaps…

  • #3 Kentucky 76, Georgia 68.  It was role-reversals galore at Rupp on Saturday.  Kentucky came in as the sixth-hottest shooting team in the country at 50.2%, with Georgia somewhere in the mid-100s (44.4%).  Yet, it was Kentucky shooting the lower percentage from the field on Saturday (43.3% to UGA’s 47.2%), including a frosty 2-14 (14.3%) from behind the three-point line.  Normally, it’s John Wall dominating anything and anyone in front of him while others watch with mouths agape.  But yesterday it was a Georgia guard, namely Travis Leslie (20/6/2/1 stl/2 blks), who had the best overall game on the floor, aside from maybe his teammate Trey Thompkins (17/13).  That in mind, usually it’s DeMarcus Cousins administering punishing dunks on people.  This time, it was Cousins getting a whiff of Leslie’s sneakers (and getting called for a block in the process), falling victim to what might be the dunk of the year so far.
  • It’s the sign of a special team, though, that finds a way to win when things aren’t going as planned.  Cousins (16/7/3 stls/2 blks) might have gotten YouTubed and Wall may not have given the Rupp Arena crowd the usual ESPN highlight-laden performance (though we agree with John Calipari that 17/4/5 assts in 34 under-the-weather minutes is darn good), but they and the rest of the Wildcats turned up the defensive intensity and exhibited better shot selection in the last three minutes of this one, and hung on to win.  Cousins got most of the touches late for Kentucky, but it was the steady and often forgotten Patrick Patterson (17/6 on 8-13 shooting) who was probably the most important Wildcat on the floor, playing all but three minutes and playing his best defense over Georgia’s last few possessions.  The freshmen might get all the headlines, but people (especially future opponents) should remember that Patterson is a lottery pick and a possible first-team all-American for a reason.
  • Seton Hall 83, Cincinnati 76.  Down 26-14 nine minutes into their game with the Cincinnati Bearcats, the crowd at the Rock was nervous. “We have been here before” seemed to be a shared thought. Good plays were met with tepid applause, but when the PA announced the (football) Jets were up 14-7 on the Bengals, the crowd erupted. “We want a winner,” the claps and cheers told the Pirates. And with 10 minutes left in the half, Seton Hall’s Pirates ripped off a 25-4 blitz to take a nine-point lead into the locker room. Jeremy Hazell exploded with 21 second half points to lead Seton Hall to the win. The Pirates posted their first Big East win, as Hazell led all scorers with 33 points on 10-22 (5-10, 5-12) and 8-9 shooting. Senior guard Eugene Harvey coming off the bench dished 5 assists with no turnovers.  Cincinnati’s scoring triumvirate, led this night by Deonta Vaughn (20 points), Lance Stephenson (15 points) and Yancy Gates (14 points), paced the Bearcats throughout, but after offering minimal resistance at the five-minute mark of the first half (tying the game for the second time in two possessions), they fell behind by nine and never saw the lead again. Lance Stephenson’s homecoming was not the one the freshman star had planned. And the Rock finally felt like a home court.
  • California 67, USC 59.  For roughly thirty-four minutes of this game on Saturday night, USC looked like the superior team.  Dwight Lewis for the Trojans was getting any shot he wanted, and he was making them.  Then Nikola Knezevic came into the game for Mike Montgomery with a single directive — shut Lewis down.  Knezevic denied the ball from Lewis and frustrated him into forced shots through the remainder of the game, and behind Theo Robertson’s hustle and generally strong foul shooting, Cal went on an 18-3 run to put away the Trojans and move to 2-1 in the conference race.  It was a nerve-wracking game for the Bear fans who repeatedly watched as USC ran the clock down to the last ten seconds before running a play for Lewis or Alex Stepheson inside to sustain the lead.  Jerome Randle had 21/4/5 assts in the winning effort, coming back strong form a subpar game mid-week against UCLA, and the aforementioned Robertson had 20/7 with arms and legs seemingly all over the court all night long.  USC, who leaves the Bay Area trip 0-2 after learning there would be no postseason for them this year, got a mediocre game from its usually-steady point guard, Mike Gerrity (4 pts, 0 assts).
  • #12 Georgetown 72, #13 Connecticut 69.  UConn controlled the first half of this one. The rebounded the ball, they defended, and they capitalized on the Hoyas’ bad shots and turnovers by scoring in transition. Basically, they played UConn basketball, and played it to perfection, going up by as much as 19 points in the first 20 minutes. But the second half was a completely different story. Georgetown stopped rushing shots, forced the Huskies to play in the half court, and saw Austin Freeman score 28 of his 33 points as the Hoyas came roaring back, setting up an exciting final five minutes. Julian Vaughn happened to tip in the carom of Gavin Edwards blocking a shot, and at the other end the Huskies missed two shots before a Kemba Walker turnover resulted in a Greg Monroe layup. Stanley Robinson missed a desperation 28 footer, and the Hoyas won.
  • Maryland 77, #19 Florida State 68.  Maryland may have needed this win more than anyone in the entire league. Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne both played great in the first 20 minutes, combining for 22 points and 9-13 shooting (4-5 from deep) as the Terps jumped out to a 41-27 halftime lead. That lead was aided by Florida State’s lottery-bound center Solomon Alabi playing just five minutes due to foul trouble. He came alive in the second half, scoring 10 points and grabbing seven boards, as he and Deividas Dulkys sparked an FSU run that cut the lead to as little as three. Up 51-47, Greivis Vasquez finally came alive. On four straight possessions he hit a three, hit a 15 footer, found Hayes for a three, then hit a pull-up three in transition. All of a sudden Maryland was back up 13, and this one was over. Vasquez finished with 22 points, his seventh straight game with at least 20.


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