ATB: An RTC Kind of Weekend…Posted by jstevrtc on January 19th, 2010
In fact, the last one was so ugly that nobody bothered to put a video of it onto YouTube. We can only surmise that the guilt and shame of a school with five national titles RTCing against an unranked Minnesota team was too much to bear.
The RTC That Wasn’t. #9 Kansas State 71, #1 Texas 62. We know that there was an RTC tonight in Manhattan, Kansas, right? We had to have missed it while concentrating on Bob Knight’s screeds about how to cheer correctly. After all, Kansas State had only beaten a #1 team twice before tonight in its long and not-so-illustrious modern history, and the last of those wins was nearly sixteen years ago. Still, the K-State students showed an amazing amount of self-control in choosing to not rush the court tonight, and given how relatively quiet they were during the last five minutes of a game against the nation’s #1 team, we’re starting to wonder if they realized that was even an option. Ok, giving them the benefit of the doubt — they’re saving it for January 30th, right? As for the game itself, Texas was coming off an OT-win over its rival Texas A&M on Saturday night (see below writeup), and they appeared emotionally drained throughout the first half. The Horns shot 10-33 in the first half and committed eleven turnovers, often appearing that they weren’t sure who was in charge out there (a point made by Mike DeCourcy after the A&M win) as they found themselves in a 10-point hole at the half. The Horns made their run to tie the game and briefly take the lead in the second behind Justin Mason and Clint Chapman off the bench, but K-State was able to use an 11-1 run late to finish off the nation’s #1 team. What’s amazing about this win is that Jacob Pullen was terrible offensively (2-15 FG, 0-6 3FG) and the team couldn’t hit a three from anywhere (1-12), but Jamar Samuels (20/12) came off the bench to more than pick up the slack and Texas’ Damion James didn’t have his Superman cape on tonight. The Wildcats also got 17/8 from Curtis Kelly, and Frank Martin’s group served notice tonight that the race to the Big 12 title may be more than a two-horse race this season. The Longhorn offense has looked shaky the last two games, and we’re starting to wonder if teams have figured out that the key to beating this team is to deny the hell out of their interior players and defend the guards on the drive. UT travels to UConn next, while K-State will try to avoid the letdown game with a home date against Oklahoma State.
Other Big Games This Weekend.
- #5 Syracuse 72, #9 West Virginia 71. We got your life in the Big East, right here. Most of what you’re going to read about this game in other places will mention how West Virginia made this valiant comeback in the last 1:18 when Syracuse was up 65-55. That much is true, it was a nice comeback. West Virginia made exactly the plays a team needs to make to mount an 78-second comeback when down ten points. We doubt WVU is patting themselves on the back too hard for it and are most likely wondering what they did to get themselves in such a spot on their own floor. The first answer is shoot poorly. Syracuse and their familiar zone certainly had a lot to do with it, but you can’t shoot 39% (and 39% from three) in your own building and expect to beat the fifth-ranked team in the nation. Second, you’ve got to bring some semblance of defense. The Mountaineers guarded the three well, holding the Orange to 4-12. They barely bothered playing any defense inside the arc, where Syracuse shot a toasty 22-33 (67%). When a ninth-ranked team turns in that kind of lackluster performance on both ends of their own floor — especially against a big opponent — you immediately have to question if they bothered to show up mentally. Despite staying close for most of the game and actually leading Syracuse for a six-minute stretch early in the second half, the ‘Neers looked sluggish all day until the very last. Give WVU’s Darryl Bryant (18/3 on 4-8) and Dalton Pepper (15/2/3 in 20 minutes off the bench) credit for being ready to play, but the lack of help for those two is illustrated best by the fact that Syracuse only played eight players, outrebounded WVU’s twelve players 35-25, and put four of them in double-figures in terms of scoring, led by Brandon Triche’s 16/2/5 assts on 6-8 shooting. It’s our contention that if West Virginia had played even half of this game with the interest they showed in just the last 1:18, they would have defended their home court and snagged themselves an important conference win.
- #1 Texas 72, Texas A&M 67 (OT). There is now a third place setting put out at the Player of the Year candidates’ table to go along with those of John Wall and Evan Turner (and if you don’t think he’s back in it, go watch the OSU-Purdue game again), and it belongs to Texas’ Damion James. If you were watching this one on Saturday night, it had the feel of the Kansas-Tennessee game from the previous Sunday, except that the top-ranked squad was on their home floor, and that was all the difference. To be sure, the Aggies — a fine squad with big time players, probably deserving of a ranking anyway — didn’t play their best basketball in taking #1 to the wire, but they were able to keep the Longhorns from playing like a runaway #1 team. Texas came out a tad sluggish and looked surprised at A&M’s prowess early, and the Aggies took a 36-27 halftime lead. Slowly, the Longhorns scraped closer and closer until they tied it, 54-54, with 3:07 left. It was back and forth until the last moments, and Texas had three tip-in chances to win it in regulation that somehow just would not go down. Even more than the second half, the overtime belonged to Damion James. He handled the ball for most of each UT possession, and gave Texas their first lead of the game eighteen seconds into overtime. He would end up with 26/12 with nine of those coming in the overtime period. This is what POY candidates do — step up when things look darkest, and lead. He didn’t get much help from his fellow starters (12 total points), but no matter. Junior forward Gary Johnson (18/10) and freshman J’Covan Brown (14/10) were able to fill in admirably off the pine, countering big games by Aggies Donald Sloan (21/4) and Bryan Davis (17/4). Despite these great individual performances, this game was won — where else? — at the free throw line. The statistics are almost even across the board, and Texas A&M actually scored one more two and one more three than UT… but the Longhorns went to the free throw line ten more times — and hit eight of them. And there’s your ballgame.
- #2 Kentucky 72, Auburn 67. What makes this season so exciting is that there’s no obvious #1 team like we had last year. Consider any one of that cloud of, say, five or six teams at the top of the charts. If any one of them plays good basketball for a whole 40 minutes, they can beat any of the others. If any one plays for most of a game… they can lose to any team in America. OK, maybe not ANY team, but you get it. Auburn illustrated this concept to Kentucky nicely on Saturday. Kentucky took a 39-26 halftime lead, and it looked like Wildcat fans were going to get to enjoy a little Showtime for the second half. UK’s personnel looked to be thinking along similar lines. One of John Calipari’s troubles with his young stars is something he talked about more at the beginning of the year, and that’s their desire to make the highlight-reel play; that is, passes and shots that would work in high school and fast-paced AAU games that don’t work at the college level. Kentucky’s second half was marred by turnovers (John Wall had six of his seven TOs in the second half), missed layups, bad defense, and overall carelessness that didn’t seem to be a result of anything Auburn was actually doing on defense, but rather a desire by Kentucky to turn the game into a circus. The one thing Auburn did do in the second half was hit shots, nailing 16-29, mostly at the front end when they were humming along at almost a 70% clip. After tying it at 60 with 8:26 left and having a three in the air to tie it again at the 30-second mark, though, Auburn couldn’t finish the task and Kentucky managed to mentally stay in it long enough to hold off the home side, getting two free throws by Wall to seal it. DeMarcus Cousins was bigger than usual for UK, posting his ninth double-double of the year with 16/11/3 stls/4 blks, but we recommend that the Wildcats remember a man by the name of Patrick Patterson when they need stabilization. Patterson, a team leader, three-year graduate, consensus 1st- or 2nd-team all-American, and the 45th-ranked player in the nation in field goal percentage (Cousins is 253rd), did not attempt a shot in the second half. When Kentucky keeps their collective head in it for a whole game, they can clown anybody. If they keep up this habit of playing partial games, they will lose, sooner rather than later. Might it be the best thing for them right now?
Conference Wraps. Again, too many games to break down individually, so we’ll just take a look at each conference and talk about the high- (and low-) lights.
- ACC – The biggest story in the ACC this weekend was not UNC losing at home to Georgia Tech, it was Virginia decking Miami (FL) by 18 and moving to 3-0 in the early-season conference race. Everyone knew Tony Bennett could coach and that Sylven Landesberg is a stud, but nobody could have predicted how well this Cavalier team would take to Bennett’s peculiar offensive style. As for the other game mentioned above, Georgia Tech raced out to a 20-point first half lead and held on for dear life behind Iman Shumpert’s 30 points. Somehow Tech has wins over Duke and UNC, but losses against Virginia and Florida State. Carolina has lost three of four and with the continued shaky guard play for Roy Williams, the Heels are looking more and more like an 8-8 ACC team this year. Clemson (still looking good) and Maryland (showing signs) both got nice road wins over the weekend as well, while Duke utilized a ridiculous intentional foul call in the second half to put Wake Forest away with a big run in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
- Big East – Syracuse loves the Saturday/Big Monday turnaround, and the Orange got another key road win at Notre Dame just two days after the big win at WVU (discussed above). No disrespect intended to Villanova or Pitt, both 5-0 in the conference, but for our money SU is the best team in this conference, while the Irish need to be careful having lost two games over the weekend. Speaking of Pitt, Rick Pitino called it his worst loss since the Christian Laettner game (uh, sure) because his Cards left the door open by missing multiple FTs down the stretch and blowing a golden opportunity to beat the Panthers for the first time in 31 games on their homecourt. We discuss the Villanova-Georgetown game below in the RTC Live section, and UConn continues to be up-and-down after the Huskies lost to the even more volatile Michigan Wolverines. Marquette, St. John’s, South Florida and Cincinnati all got home wins.
- Big Ten – In the battle of conference unbeatens on Saturday, Michigan State outlasted Illinois by ten, and the talented Illini freshman guards got a rude introduction to Spartan defense, getting held to 3-19 from the field combined. MSU is off to a good 5-0 start, but their three toughest games have all been at home. Ohio State is now 3-1 with Evan Turner back in the lineup with the sole loss occurring at Minnesota, and even though he was in foul trouble in the game against Wisconsin over the weekend, the Buckeyes’ confidence remained high and David Lighty stepped up with 18/4 to keep OSU on track. We discuss the Indiana-Minnesota game below in the RTC Live section, and Iowa got its first conference win of the season with a close victory over still-winless Penn State.
- Big 12 – Until Monday night, it was a fairly uneventful weekend in the Big 12 other than the big scare Texas took at home against A&M (discussed above). Kansas blistered Texas Tech at home, K-State got a key road win at Colorado and Baylor took care of Oklahoma State in Waco. Oklahoma may be showing signs of getting their house in order this season, with its second solid Big 12 win in a row (granted, both were at home). Still, there are six really good teams in this league, three with potential, and three that we can pretty much write off, so every week is going to be a war in this league.
- Pac-10 – It was a good weekend on the west coast for the Washingtons and Arizonas, as UW and Wazzu both defeated the Bay Area schools on Saturday and Arizona/ASU went into Oregon/Oregon State respectively and got wins. USC also destroyed crosstown rival UCLA at Pauley Pavilion by 21, which nobody would have thought possible at the beginning of this season. It was UCLA’s worst-ever loss to the Trojans in their own building. The Pac-10 continues to elicit wild results, as seven teams have three losses, and the remainder have two each.
- SEC – Other than Kentucky getting another scare (this time from Auburn, discussed above), the story in the SEC this weekend was Tennessee’s undermanned team continuing to impress by winning another close game, this time in overtime against Ole Miss. Despite poor shooting, missed free throws and trailing for most of the game, the Vols once again showed their mettle to gut out a key win — Wayne Chism had 26/12. Mississippi State moved to 3-0 with a close win over Georgia (everyone’s new favorite hated team to play) behind Jarvis Varnado’s 14/14/6 blks. Vandy also moved to 3-0 with a road win at South Carolina, and Florida got its first SEC win of the year over LSU.
- Others – Over in the A10, both Temple and Xavier stayed unbeaten, with XU in particular battling local rival Dayton to a hard-fought 4-pt win. In the CAA, the fearsome foursome of George Mason, Northeastern, ODU and W&M all won again, moving into a four-way tie for first place at 6-1. How about Conference USA, where Memphis, Tulsa and UAB stayed unbeaten, but how about 4-0 Marshall as well? 7-0 is the number, as Butler, Siena and Northern Iowa all stayed well in front of the pack in their respective leagues. In the Mountain West, BYU moved to 18-1 (3-0), while somehow Utah got a win at UNLV this weekend, and Gonzaga got yet another road win in the WCC to sit atop the league standings there.
RTC Live. Our correspondents covered five games this weekend at the following locations: Moraga, Eugene, Chicago, Bloomington and Philadelphia. Once again, literally coast-to-coast.
- #4 Villanova 82, #11 Georgetown 77. On the day when Greg Monroe posted his career-high 29 points and grabbed an extraordinary 16 rebounds, the one he will remember is the free throw he took with Villanova on top 80-77 and 9.5 ticks left. He had just hit a layup to cut Villanova’s lead to three. It could be 80-78 with opportunities to come all the way back. His shot did not graze iron, and in a single voice, the 19,000 (paid attendance — 20,016 ) Villanova fans taunted the Hoya’s star with “Airball!” Scottie Reynolds did not have a career day. He scored 27 points on an 8-15 shooting day. It was his single offensive rebound that his coach cited to explain how the senior guard had grown over the years. “He knows when we need a play. He makes the play,” Coach Wright said as the prelude to “the rebound.” The Wildcats needed the ball and needed to keep their possession alive with a slender 72-71 lead when Scottie Reynolds literally wrestled the ball out of one of the Hoya’s hands. And before that player could recover and put his hands on the ball to contest the possession (arrow pointing to Georgetown), Reynolds hands formed the “T” and stopped the play. Corey Fisher lost the ball on a Chris Wright steal five seconds later, but a 10-second possession stretched into a 45-second possession. Forget the Villanova misses, consider the 35 seconds Georgetown would not have to set up a play for Austin Freeman (who had 22 points on an 8-15 day), or for an unstoppable Greg Monroe. Georgetown’s five game winning streak is over as Villanova ended the game with a five-point run that was not settled until Monroe’s air ball. The 67th game in the series was pretty much like most of the others — a battle until the end.
- Indiana 81, Minnesota 78 (OT). Sunday’s game was a twelve-round fight. Unlike previous games for Indiana, though, they didn’t get knocked out at the end. There are a couple of key stats I can point out that were key to Indiana’s victory: rebounds and turnovers. IU had an 11-rebound advantage and ended up with thirteen turnovers. More than that though, it was the fact that almost half of those miscues came within the first seven minutes, and then once they took care of the ball, they were able to get quality shots up the rest of the way. This was a battle that came down to the bitter end. Indiana controlled for the vast majority of the game, but they let Minnesota chip away to the point of tying it up at the end of regulation. Then, just when it looked like Minnesota had the knockout punch in overtime with Devoe Joseph knocking down threes on successive trips down the floor, Indiana battled back with the combination of Verdell Jones, Christian Watford, and Derek Elston. They clearly needed the points to have a chance to win the game, but they also needed a resurgence of the defensive intensity they started the game with. Jones capped off an 8-0 run to finish the game that resulted in the student section spilling out onto the court immediately afterward. Indiana matured today, and now they need to go on the road to take on Penn State to continue that process. Minnesota will welcome Michigan State into their home where they have proven to play their best so far this year.
- Northwestern 72, #6 Purdue 64. Northwestern got the big win it was searching for over Purdue on Saturday evening at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wildcats outhustled, outrebounded and basically outplayed the Boilermakers for the majority of the game. Purdue was hampered by the foul trouble of center JaJuan Johnson and got dominated on the boards 42-23. It was still a thriller of a game though with Northwestern needing multiple big shots from freshman Drew Crawford to pull out the win. The victory pushed Northwestern’s record to 2-3 in the Big Ten and kept their chances of program first NCAA Tournament berth alive. For Purdue it was the third loss in three Big Ten games after starting the season 14-0. After the game the Northwestern students celebrated by rushing the court from both sets of bleachers behind the basket (see below).
- Arizona 74, Oregon 60. In a battle of mid-pack teams in the wild Pac-10 (wait, everyone is mid-pack this year), Arizona used its superior athleticism and offensive firepower to repeatedly take it right at the Oregon defense and they were rewarded with a +11 difference in FT attempts, nearly accounting for the game score. Freshman forward Derrick Williams continues to impress, dropping 20/13 for his second consecutive double-double and showing that he is indeed one of the best young big men in the country. THE Nic Wise added 19/6/5 assts and Kyle Fogg also contributed 19/3, and it was clear in our viewing of these teams that the Wildcats have significantly more potential this season than the Ducks. As for Oregon, other than our first trip to the phenomenal Mac Court, there isn’t much nice to say. The Ducks struggled with offense all game long, with only the underutilized Michael Dunigan (14/3) and reserve LeKendric Longmire (18/4) showing flashes. Tajuan Porter in particular was off, shooting just 1-7 from the field for five points, equal to the amount of turnovers that he also had. When Porter is not on top of his game, Oregon stands almost no chance.
- St. Mary’s 77, Portland 72. In the fight to be first behind Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s held off a late Portland rally to win 77-72 Saturday night in Moraga. The Gaels moved to 3-1 in WCC play, while the Pilots fell to 1-2. Both teams lost to Gonzaga in early-season showdowns that left Gonzaga in its accustomed position atop the standings with a 3-0 mark after road contests against the top three challengers to cement its stranglehold on the conference. The Zags registered their third win Saturday over San Diego, 68-50. In its win over Portland, Saint Mary’s got another strong performance from 6-11 center Omar Samhan, who rang up 28 points, along with Samhan’s twin tower Ben Allen, who scored 16, and point guard Mickey McConnell, who chipped in 17. Portland was led by forward Robin Smeulders, who notched a career-best 29 points.