Ten Tuesday Scribbles…Posted by zhayes9 on January 12th, 2010
RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.
1. Other than Kansas students, graduates, former players and all former or current residents of Lawrence, was there anyone in this fine country of ours rooting for the #1 Jayhawks to beat a depleted Tennessee team, a group of kids and a stunned head coach that just dealt with the suspension and/or dismissal of four of its regular rotation players? All of the events that occurred in that two-hour window in Knoxville Sunday was a release of pent-up frustration and anxiety from a tumultuous week in which Tennessee was considered a prime threat to upend favorite Kentucky in the SEC one day and counted out as a SEC contender that must scratch and claw the final two months for an NCAA berth the next. Renaldo Woolridge banking in a three, the Vols maintaining their lead with Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince on the bench with four fouls, the coach’s son Steven taking a critical charge, a miracle Skyler McBee (one of three walk-ons playing substantial minutes) leaning trey that iced the game, and coach Bruce Pearl aiding the Volunteer mascot in waving the orange Tennessee flag while the sounds of Rocky Top reverberated throughout Thompson-Boling Arena summed up what college basketball should be about. Bill Self pointed this out after the game, but there are some moments during a season when a team officially becomes a team instead of a group of individuals. Even though Pearl would gladly reset the timer to New Year’s Eve and prevent four scholarship players from getting in that car, sometimes it takes a catastrophic occurrence that truly tests the mettle of a unit for them to band together and accomplish lofty goals. I think it’s fair to say Tennessee became a team Sunday night.
2. As long as Mike Anderson is employing his Forty Minutes of Hell hellacious press on demoralized opponents, especially on a home floor where his team has won 30 consecutive games, Missouri should never be totally counted out of the Big 12 race. Losing DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence from an Elite 8 squad isn’t easy to overcome, and certainly the ceiling for the Tigers isn’t nearly as high, but the ultra-talented and quick Mizzou backcourt should have enough firepower to carry them to an NCAA berth. Missouri carried an impressive 12-3 record into their Big 12 opener with #10 Kansas State Saturday, yet their overall resume wasn’t incredibly awe-inspiring with their best wins over Old Dominion, Illinois, Georgia and Oregon and opportunities lost in defeats at the hands of Richmond, Vanderbilt and Oral Roberts. The win Saturday was clearly a statement that Missouri will be a contending force in the Big 12 for that #3 spot behind Texas and Kansas. Anderson looks to have a workable combination with experienced seniors J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor (evident by Taylor’s tie-breaking 3 with under a minute to play) making plays in late-game situations, a promising sophomore backcourt duo of Kim English and Marcus Denmon carrying most of the scoring load, and a defensive unit that ranks seventh overall in D efficiency, first in turnovers forced and gives Missouri a fighting chance on any night.
3. Two huge developments in a competitive Mountain West this weekend: BYU marching into Conference USA contender UTEP without their mono-stricken star Jimmer Fredette and leaving El Paso with another win and UNLV earning the much sought after split of BYU and New Mexico with a Kendall Wallace three-point barrage in the second half. First let’s discuss BYU, a team that gets my vote for the most under-appreciated program in the country on a yearly basis. Here are their final records the last four seasons: 20-9, 25-9, 27-8, 25-8. The number one reason why BYU isn’t talked about more prominently on a national level (besides their location and conference) is the fact that Dave Rose’s club has lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons. I’d be shocked if the Cougars fall that early this season. They have the numbers to suggest this 16-1 start is no fluke as BYU ranks seventh in offensive efficiency, 16th in defensive efficiency, fourth in effective FG%, eighth in 3PT% and first in the nation in FT%. When MWC POY frontrunner and 20+ PPG scorer Fredette has to sit out with a sickness, it’s the freshmen Brandon Davies (14 points, 5-6 FG) and Tyler Haws (20/11 on 5-9 FG, 9-10 FT) that step up their game in his absence. Rose has the depth, leadership and talent to finally upend their competitor in the first round this March (as long as they don’t play Texas A&M). UNLV vaulted past New Mexico as the likely second seed in the Mountain West by accomplishing what few teams manage to accomplish: leaving the Pit in Albuquerque with a sticker in the win column. If you’d never heard of UNLV’s Kendall Wallace before Saturday, you’re not alone. But the 6’4 junior, who only scored double-digit points once this season against USC Upstate, hit 7/10 from deep to vault the Rebels to a monumental road win.
4. Two programs that most pushed to the cellar of their respective conferences may be better than we expected: Georgia and Stanford. Despite his roots on the other side of the continent, Mark Fox was absolutely the correct hire to resurrect a deflated Bulldog basketball program mired in irrelevancy. Behind the stardom of underrated sophomore Trey Thompkins, the consistent scoring production and otherworldly athleticism of Travis Leslie (check out the dunk of the year on DeMarcus Cousins) and the shooting of Ricky McPhee, Georgia nearly knocked off their third straight high-quality opponent by challenging Kentucky to the very end at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Despite dropping games to UAB, Virginia Tech and St. John’s, the Bulldogs were finally able to corral a signature win against Illinois on December 19 and then knocked off in-state rival Georgia Tech last Tuesday, a win that will surely endear Fox to the Georgia faithful and looks even more impressive after Tech downed #5 Duke on Saturday. Another relatively new coach is showing some improvement with his team: Johnny Dawkins and Stanford. Sure, this comes with a Pac-10 asterisk, but the Cardinal have been a pesky bunch in 2009-10. They nearly knocked off Kentucky early, Oklahoma State at home and stayed in the game at Northwestern before translating those stellar efforts into wins with a sweep of the LA schools in Palo Alto. College basketball fans know senior Landry Fields can play (averaging 22/9) but it is sophomore Jeremy Green that will be the future of this program. Green has scored in double figures in every game this season but one and broke out in a big way against UCLA, scoring 30 points on 11-18 FG and 5-8 3pt.
5. Speaking of Stanford, the Pac-10 just continues to become more and more of a laughing stock. Normally when teams in a BCS conference beat up on each other, it’s easy to point to competitive parity as the primary factor, In most cases, NCAA bids aren’t lost, but instead the resumes of the muddled center of these conferences are compared and dissected with the more impressive garnering a bid. In the Pac-10, with its current state of Cal, Oregon and Stanford at the top at 2-1 and five teams forming a mess at 2-2 in the middle, it’s entirely plausible the Pac-10 will only receive one bid this season: the conference tournament champion. Prepare yourself for the Pac-10 Tournament acting in identical fashion to the SWAC, NEC, Big South, Patriot or any other mid-major conference where one measly bid goes to the tournament champion. Of course there’s plenty of season yet to be played and a team like Cal or Washington State could very well emerge from the cluster, but the results thus far have been utterly puzzling. How does Oregon sweep the Washington schools on the road then fall to an Oregon State team at home that just lost by 51 to Seattle U? How does UCLA get blown out by Arizona at home, win at favorite Cal then lose convincingly at Stanford? How does Arizona State score 37 points at USC then destroy both Washington schools in a three-day span? Good luck trying to figure out this confusing conference.
6. I’ll use this space to lend a shout out to Louisiana Tech, a 16-2 (4-0) team off to an impressive start in the WAC with three quality conference wins already under their belt, knocking off Utah State and Nevada at home before traveling to Idaho and downing the Vandals. Sure, the record is grossly inflated by a weak non-conference schedule (only two losses in their two tough games at New Mexico and at Arizona) but the Bulldogs and their high-powered offense deserve some love. With Utah State apparently missing Gary Wilkinson much more than expected and Nevada simply unable to stop anyone or force turnovers (bottom 15 in the nation in that category), it is likely Louisiana Tech may be able to win the regular season title and head into the WAC Tournament as the top seed in what will be a one-bid league. Senior guard Kyle Gibson has been an offensive machine this season, scoring more than 15 points in every single game except the loss to New Mexico including 28 on 7-14 FG in the win over Idaho. Gibson has improved on a disturbing turnover rate while boosting an already remarkable scoring average to 21.4 per contest.
7. More negative than positive may have emerged from Wisconsin ending Purdue’s undefeated run Saturday at the Kohl Center. The Badgers second-leading scorer and top rebounder Jon Leuer fractured his wrist and will be out an indefinite period of time, likely around a month as the best case scenario. The timing could not have been worse for Bo Ryan and a Badger team that appeared to be prepared to challenge Purdue and Michigan State for conference supremacy. Leuer is a talented 6’10 forward with the ability to bang down low for tough rebounds or flash outside and hit the mid-range shot (more on Leuer’s importance numbers-wise here). The Badgers now enter a stretch in which they face road games at Northwestern, at Ohio State, at Purdue and at Michigan and a home date with Michigan State likely without Leuer. Something for Ryan to fall back on is that Wisconsin handled Purdue with Leuer scoring just four points on 2/15 FG in his worst game of the season. If Trevon Hughes, Jason Bohannon, Keaton Nankivil, Jordan Taylor and other Badgers step up in the absence of Leuer, Wisconsin may be able to tread water and sneak out two victories in that difficult mass of games.
8. If Oklahoma State is going to reach the NCAA Tournament in Travis Ford’s second season at the helm, they need James Anderson to carry the team. Okay, not exactly novel stuff here. The Cowboys’ game against Rhode Island on January 2 saw Anderson notch just 10 points on 2-9 FG and struggle with foul trouble throughout. It’s no coincidence they lost. In the throttling of Texas Tech on Saturday, Anderson scored 28 points on 9-17 FG. It’s no coincidence they won. Ford has some decent role players such as Obi Muonelo, Marshall Moses, Keiton Page and Ray Penn, but none of those players provide a true secondary option alongside Anderson that opposing defenses must always account for. In fact, Anderson uses 30% of Oklahoma State’s possessions on offense heading into the Big Monday duel with Oklahoma. One can certainly make a case Anderson and his 21.9 PPG is the most important player in the nation for his respective team. Jump on his back, fellas.
9. I mentioned in my column last Friday that the third spot in the ACC behind Duke and North Carolina appears very wide open. Any team out of this group - Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Maryland - could finish as high as third. Call me crazy, but I have that nagging feeling it’s the last team on that list that will emerge in that spot. I know they have a looming deficiency inside with two freshmen big men that need to develop, but every other team on that list has a distinct flaw. Georgia Tech doesn’t receive enough offensive production around Gani Lawal on a consistent basis, Florida State lacks any semblance of a point guard, Miami has achieved their gaudy record behind a nothing schedule, Wake Forest is playing with less pure talent and experience, Virginia Tech has questions about whether they can win close games and Clemson has that choke job against Illinois in the back of everyone’s mind. Maryland has the best player of the pack in Greivis Vasquez, who has scored 20+ points in seven of eight games, and two emerging pieces in Sean Mosley and Landon Milbourne to compliment the shooting of Eric Hayes (career high 47% 3pt). Whenever we tend to deem the Terrapins forgettable, Gary Williams always seems to rally the troops and shock us all.
10. Despite the home win over top-ten West Virginia, you can bet on Notre Dame coach Mike Brey imposing a rough week of practice on his players in preparation for a very important week when it comes to the Irish’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament in Luke Harangody’s final season. The first test is on Saturday when ND travels to Cincinnati, a reeling team that seemingly lost that luster gained from downing Connecticut by falling to Pitt at home and at Seton Hall. The Bearcats will want that game, but a win would look huge for Notre Dame come March in what could be a crucial bubble contest. Then Notre Dame returns to the friendly confines of the Joyce Center for a Big Monday battle against another top ten opponent in Syracuse. Win at Cincinnati and lose to Syracuse and the Irish are probably still on the outside looking in due to a total lack of non-conference wins. Lose to Cincinnati and win vs. Syracuse and the Irish are likely bubble-in due to the West Virginia and Syracuse victories. Earn a sweep and Notre Dame would look extremely strong for a bid at 5-1 in the Big East and an eight-game stretch next that includes just one team currently ranked in the polls.