After the Buzzer: The Opening Night That Isn’t

Posted by rtmsf on November 13th, 2010

College Basketball comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over the BCS and NFL
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

The Season Surrounds Us, But Where Is It?

We’re reminded of this (slightly modified) poem every year when one day we wake up and find ourselves facing an “opening” Friday night of 135 games with nearly zero hype and fanfare ahead of it.  Like the fog in Carl Sandburg’s world, the game creeps up and appears all around us rather damp and sticky, but unless you have an alt-network like ESPN-U or the Full Court package, you probably missed the whole thing.  And that’s sad.  We’re certainly not the first and we won’t be the last to belabor the point of just how badly the NCAA needs to work with its television partners so that there is a real opening night that celebrates the sport’s return.  But it’s only four days until the ESPN 24 Hours of Hoops extravaganza — why not make that the season opener each year?  We hear it every day, folks — everyone is happy that college hoops is back on their sets and in their local gyms, but nobody is pleased with the week-long trickle followed by the firehose way in which the season begins every year.

Your Watercooler Moment. Tonight’s watercooler moment is that there were a handful of teams on opening night who already have pretty bad home losses on their NCAA Tournament resumes, regardless of how they do the rest of the season.  Let’s take a closer look.

  • Wake Forest.  Stetson chalked its first win over an ACC opponent in nearly thirty-five years by taking advantage of the Deacs’ weakness on the boards (+11) and the obvious adjustment of having a new sheriff in town (Jeff Bzdelik).  We knew Wake would struggle, but this is beyond expectations.
  • Tulsa.  Tulsa is not an easy team to beat in their house, but Appalachian State and its brand-new young coach, Jason Capel, pulled off the feat tonight behind 35/4 from Omar Carter.  There was some heat given over App’s hire of the 30-year old Capel, but after one game it looks like a grand slam, huh?
  • UTEP.  Tim Floyd’s first game in El Paso didn’t go so well as his star guard Randy Culpepper shot poorly (6-15) and Pacific picked up a very nice RPI booster win for the Big West over CUSA.
  • Auburn.  Nobody expects much from the Tigers this year (or, ever), but losing to UNC-Asheville in the christening of your new building isn’t the best way to start a hoops renaissance.  We have a feeling that Tony Barbee is going to rue the day he ever ventured onto the Plains of Alabama.
  • St. Louis. Rick Majerus’ Billikens sans its two knuckleheads dropped a home game to Austin Peay, 64-62, they type of game that SLU would have never lost had Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed still been on the team.  Even if Mitchell returns to the team in January as expected, St. Louis could be too far behind the eight-ball at that point to catch up.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Class of 2010. It was a very solid first night for the rookie class in college basketball tonight, with many players stepping right into productive roles from the opening tip.  More details on this below.
  • Temple. Despite not being able to hit anything from outside, the Owls manhandled Seton Hall on the glass and held the Pirates to 30% shooting in a good intrasectional matchup between A-10 and Big East.
  • Tu Holloway’s Second Half.  Holloway scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half when it appeared that XU was going to drop its opener to Western Michigan.  The Muskies have really struggled so far this year (losing an exhibition last week), but we have faith in Chris Mack that he’ll figure it out.
  • Brad Tinsley. The junior guard recorded Vandy’s first-ever triple-double tonight with 11/10/10 assts and 3 stls.
  • Morgan State.  Todd Bozeman’s team went west and eked out a win against a game Loyola Marymount squad that many believe can contend with Gonzaga and St. Mary’s this year in the WCC.  Great RPI win for the Bears.
  • Alex Oriakhi.  UConn will need its talented post to have a bunch more nights like tonight (11/18) if the Huskies hope to get back into the NCAAs this year.
  • John Henson.  The 6’10 sophomore resembled a young Tayshaun Prince in UNC’s win over Lipscomb tonight, going for a near triple-double with 10/16/7 blks.
  • Markieff Morris.  Forget his more-hyped brother — Markieff blew up the stat sheet with 14/15/5 assts/4 stls/2 blks in a dominating KU win.
  • Georgetown Backcourt.  Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark combined for 54 of the Hoyas’ 62 points in a really nice road win at ODU.  Georgetown is really going to struggle inside, though, as they were -11 on the boards and looked lost inside without Greg Monroe.
  • Keith Benson.  The Oakland center and legitimate pro prospect put up nice numbers against the bruising front line of West Virginia (21/15/2 blks), but his team simply wasn’t competitive (tough night for the Summit).
  • Kalin Lucas’ Return. Lucas showed no signs of his nasty Achilles injury from March as he dropped 18/3/6 assts in 26 minutes of action against EMU.
  • John Shurna.  The Northwestern big man dropped 31/9/3 assts in the first game of the latest NW attempt to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time.  Gotta win games like these, though (and they did).
  • UMass Comeback.  The Minutemen came back from 21 points down at the half versus Rider to win comfortably by ten, 77-67.  Anthony Gurley had 31/4 in the winning effort which featured the student section exiting en masse at halftime.  Guess they shoulda stuck around?
  • Brandon Bowdry.  The talented Eastern Michigan forward exposed a soft spot in the Michigan State defense with a 32/15 effort that still ended in a loss.

… and Misses.

  • UNC Due For Another Fall? We’ve had our concerns about this team, and tonight’s lackluster win over Lipscomb didn’t change those feelings.  The Heels were out-assisted (15-12) by Lipscomb, made only four threes for the game and its starting backcourt of Dexter Strickland and Larry Drew came up with only six points.  This cannot continue.
  • Auburn Arena.  Ok, maybe the brand-new $86M arena is in fact nice, but the result for the home team in its first game there wasn’t.  The Tigers lost to UNC-Asheville in overtime and somewhere, very quietly, new head coach Tony Barbee is thanking Cam Newton for his existence.
  • Jelan Kendrick.  Kendrick didn’t play tonight in Memphis’ 64-point win against Centenary and according to Dan Wolken, he had yet another incident at today’s shootaround that may have been the straw that breaks Pastner’s back.
  • K-State’s Frontcourt.  The ballyhooed duo of Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge combined for two points (1-7 FG), five rebounds, six turnovers and seven fouls tonight.  It didn’t take us long to see the Frank Martin scowl, but the bigger Cats are going to have to do a lot better than that if K-State has visions of Final Four.
  • Georgia.  Even without injured superstar big man Trey Thompkins, the Dawgs should be able to dominate a team like Missisippi Valley State on sheer SEC athleticism, yet MVSU had a seven-point lead late before UGa managed to sneak by 72-70.
  • SMUReally, Matt Doherty?  Arkansas-Little Rock?
  • Fab Melo.  The Syracuse big man fouled out in eighteen minutes of action while only contributing 5/4 — it may take him a while to get used to the speed of D1 basketball.
  • Georgia Tech’s Shooting.  Try this on for size: 29% from the field, 14% from three, and 54% from the line in a 52-39 win over Charleston Southern.  Yep, this is going to be Paul Hewitt’s last year in Atlanta, alright.

Welcome to College Basketball.  Many first-year players had impressive debuts tonight.  Here are some of the most notable.

  • Jared Sullinger, DeShaun Thomas & Aaron Craft, Ohio State.  Sullinger’s 19/14, Thomas’ 24/8 and Craft’s 8/9 assts constituted quite an impressive debut for a group unfazed by the pressures of big-time college basketball.  Sullinger in particular nearly outrebounded the entire NC A&T team (the Aggies had 17).
  • Harrison Barnes, UNC.  Barnes looked better than he did in the preseason, with a 14/4, zero-turnover evening, but he didn’t look dominant.
  • Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight & Doron Lamb, Kentucky.  Jones (25/12), Knight (17/5), and Lamb (20/5) contributed 70% of Kentucky’s points including 9-15 from beyond the arc.
  • Perry Jones, Baylor.  Jones had a nice debut with 11/8/4 assts/2 blks, but he’ll need to cut way down on his turnovers (7) against better teams.
  • CJ Leslie, Ryan Harrow & Lorenzo Brown, NC State.  Sidney Lowe’s new crew of Leslise (21/6), Harrow (16/4) and Brown (14/5/4 assts) are the reason folks are projecting the Wolfpack into the NCAA Tournament this season.
  • Tobias Harris, Tennessee.  Harris had a strong 18/5 debut in a blowout win for the Vols where they looked much more involved than they did in the exhibition game disaster earlier this week.
  • Scottie Wilbekin, Florida.  5 assts/4 stls in 17 minutes for the 17-year old who graduated a year early to get to Gainesville, upstaging the debut of his far more hyped teammate Patric Young (2/1 and three fouls in 12 minutes).

An RTC Special Mention.  Tonight’s special mention goes to Gardner-Webb.  Three short years ago the Bulldogs went into Rupp Arena and beat Kentucky in one of the first signals that Billy Gillispie was in way over his head in Lexington.  Tonight, G-W went into local rival Charlotte’s arena and did it again, beating the 49ers, 78-70.  Now, nobody will ever confuse Charlotte with Kentucky and the fact of the matter is that the 49ers were down to seven players as a result of suspensions, injuries and so forth… but it’s still a huge debut win for new head coach Chris Holtmann, and Gardner-Webb is making a name for itself with these November upsets.

Tweet of the Night. On a night that includes 135 college basketball games, there’s bound to be something funny out there.  RaphielleJ at CHN found it (and yes, they are real).

RTC Live.  There were three RTC Lives tonight — here are those recaps.

  • Northeastern 66, Boston University 64.  In another exciting meeting between the crosstown rivals, Northeastern held on to beat Boston University 66-64. The Huskies jumped on the Terriers after a fairly even first 10 minutes, with explosive playing by senior guard Chaisson Allen. Allen finished the game with 20 points and 6 rebounds (he had a relatively quiet second half). Freshman Alex Harris really stepped up in the second half for the Huskies. He iced the game with 5.4 seconds left (up two) when he hit both free throws. Sophomore Kauri Black had his first career double double with 11 points and 12 boards.   Facing a 12 point deficit after the first half, the Terriers came out swinging in the second half, behind stellar performances from senior John Holland (25 points) and freshman D.J. Irving (14 points and 5 assists). Irving especially showcased unparalleled speed and showed flashes of brilliance. If he had been able to penetrate as successfully in the first half, the Terriers easily could’ve won this game. They struggled with shot selection in the first half, settling for too many jump shots. But this is a young team; in the post game interviews, coach Patrick Chambers seemed confident they would develop and make better decisions as the season progresses.  In the end it was a great win for Northeastern, who had lost the two previous meetings against the Terriers. The series stands at 71-67 in favor of the Terriers.
  • #14 Kentucky 88, ETSU 65.  ETSU was already coming into Rupp Arena shorthanded, with leading scorer and rebounder Tommy Hubbard recovering from knee and ankle injuries, but the Buccaneers figured that if they could just stay in front of those Kentucky guards, they’d at least have a shot. After all, Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, and all-purpose Terrence Jones may be highly-touted, but they’re still freshmen. ETSU started out in a man-to-man but Knight, Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins got into the lane much too easily. ETSU changed to a 1-3-1 zone, taking a page out of West Virginia’s book from last year’s UK vs WVU Elite Eight game in which Kentucky went 0-for-20 to start the game from three-point range. In fact, ETSU also tried a 2-3 and a slightly-extended 2-1-2 at various times and dared Kentucky to shoot over it — and shoot over it they did. UK hit 13-26 from deep prompting Terrence Jones to tell reporters after the game that Kentucky was “the best team for shooting threes…in the country.” Now, it’s just one game, so we’re sure he wasn’t serious, but you’d have to forgive Jones for being a tad over-confident. Despite outstanding debuts by two fellow freshmen — specifically Brandon Knight’s 17 point/5 assist/4 rebound performance and Doron Lamb opening his UK account with 20 points and 5 boards — Jones was the story, scoring from everywhere. He hit 10-19 from the field, including 2-3 from three, and started the second half with a personal 12-0 run against the Bucs that effectively ended this one. ETSU was led by Isiah Brown who had the game of his life with 25 points and 14 rebounds on 12-19 shooting. That the 6’8 Brown posted such a great game against the Wildcats, however, brings into further relief the decision the NCAA handed down Thursday that obliterated Enes Kanter’s eligibility. UK got a fair defensive showing from center Josh Harrellson (2 pts/7 rebounds/3 blocks in 16 minutes) but minimal output from new transfer Eloy Vargas (0 pts/4 rebs/1 block in 13 minutes). No disrespect to Isiah Brown, but without Kanter it’s plainly evident that UK’s interior defense needs some patchwork. In the post-game presser, the first question John Calipari faced was from a local reporter who asked, “So what can you tell us about Kanter?” Calipari looked around the room and asked rhetorically, “Didn’t we just play a basketball game?” deferring the Kanter issue until the end, saying only: “I respect the NCAA’s decision. I don’t agree with it, but I respect it. But they’re just trying to get this right, you know? But listen, Enes Kanter…never took money but anyone but his father. And his father didn’t do anything wrong.” The most important Wildcats this season might not be wearing blue and white uniforms — they might be whoever’s representing Kentucky in the upcoming appeal to the NCAA.
  • Cornell @ Albany.  Full recap located here.
rtmsf (3998 Posts)

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5 responses to “After the Buzzer: The Opening Night That Isn’t”

  1. bevo says:

    I am sure Kentucky would love to open the season against Duke. Michigan State would travel to Los Angeles to play UCLA in the season opener. The same lousy scheduling in college football permeates college basketball.

    Do you think Syracuse would ever leave New York for an out of conference game?

    You do not notice it because there are so many games. Look at each in isolation. How many teams travel out of state and out of time zone to play an out of conference game against a team from a multi-bid conference? I would be shocked if it is more than 20%.

    The other 80% of games are home games against Twinkie opponents.

  2. garik16 says:

    Bevo, this is why the preseason tournaments are so big. Gets teams off their home floors.

    That said, I’d argue that the good teams know you can’t be like VT and schedule no one, or you can be screwed in your seeding.

    And then of course, there’s the tournament, which unlike college football requires 6 wins on a (mostly) neutral floor.

  3. WakeFan says:

    I believe Jeff Bzdelik just had the shortest honeymoon period in the history of college basketball. First ever home opener loss at the Joel. The team looked to be just as poorly coached as they did in Dino Gaudio’s worst game (which I would consider to be vs Miami in the 2010 ACC-T or @NCSU 2010). We were completely ineffective against Stetson’s zone (which was pretty good actually), kind of ironic given that if Dino could have figured out how to crack a zone he would likely still be employed. The defense was atrocious. Bzdelik’s system is focused more on forcing turnovers than on forcing bad shots. Well that’s fine if you are effective in forcing turnovers, but we weren’t, not even against a Stetson team almost as young as us.

    Our half court offense was atrocious. Pretty much the same thing we saw under Dino. Lots and lots of dribbling, very little passing.

    I know it’s one game with a very young team and new offensive and defensive systems, but my optimism just went out the window. We looked bad.

  4. Andrew says:

    I for one don’t mind the soft roll-out of the season. It usually gives the teams to get a chance to get a game or two under their belts before the more marquee matchups and let’s them work through their rustiness and sloppiness. I would hate to see, for instance, Michigan State/Duke on opening night for fear that what would otherwise be an excellent game anywhere else in the season would be diminished by the characteristic poor play of the opener…

  5. rtmsf says:

    Let me clarify my stance on this, because it seems to be that folks are confusing what I’m calling an “event” with having a bunch of marquee games. I honestly don’t care if most teams are playing Nothern Iowas at home in their first games. What I do care about is that it’s stuck on a Friday night with almost no television coverage to speak of. Many of the games in next week’s 24HoH are not marquee games, but they’re still part of the event whose express purpose is to get people fired up. This is the problem. Whether it’s 135 games of cupcakes is of lesser importance to me — what I want is the fanfare. Every other sport gets it because they think it through correctly.

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