The Week That Was: November 19-26

Posted by jstevrtc on November 27th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Introduction

TWTW hopes everyone out there had a great Thanksgiving, gorging on turkey, stuffing and football. I truly hope you got enough football because this is a football free zone. No news about Tom Brady’s hair, Brett Favre’s retirement plans or Vince Young’s texting habits. There’s way too much hoops to discuss.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving is without a doubt one of my favorite weeks of the college basketball season. The Maui Invitational, Preseason NIT, the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic…need I say more? All of the preseason tournaments serve up must-see non-conference matchups, the likes of which you won’t see again until March. #10 Kentucky and #15 Washington staged a fine duel on Tuesday night in Maui. #1 Duke vs. #5 Kansas State might have disappointed for just over a half, but you still learned plenty about each squad.

Walker's Performance In Maui Still Has Hoopheads Buzzing

More than prime-time matchups, though, I love these tournaments because every year someone makes the leap from relative hoops obscurity to household name status. This year that player is Connecticut’s Kemba Walker. Now, Walker wasn’t exactly an unknown commodity prior to this week, but no one ever viewed him as the most formidable offensive player in the nation. 90 points in three nationally televised games and back-to-back wins over top-10 squads tends to raise your profile, though.

What We Learned

  • Kemba, Kemba, Kemba. Forgive me if my head is still swimming from Walker’s three-game run in Maui (actually you could call it a two and a half game run; Walker scored 29 of 31 points against Wichita State in the second half). Walker is getting it done both inside and out for the Huskies and is shooting a blistering 52.7% from the field through five games. For me, though, one sequence from UConn’s win over Kentucky shows that Walker might not be just a flash-in-the-pan scorer but someone capable of leading the Huskies to big things this season. After burying back-to-back threes to put UConn up 48-29 late in the first half, Walker found himself wide open along the left wing. Normally this would be the perfect time for a heat check, and no one would have blamed Walker for launching another trey, but he whipped the ball into the paint to Jamal Coombs-McDaniel for an easy layup. Plays like that will keep Walker in the player of the year discussion all season. Bravo, Kemba. Bravo.
  • Considering Walker’s performance out in the middle of the Pacific, it’s no surprise that I’m staying with the Huskies for my second nugget of the week. Is UConn back after a disappointing 2009 campaign? Right now you have to think Jim Calhoun & Co. have found the prescription for whatever ailed the program last year (even if that prescription is just more Kemba Walker). The Huskies didn’t look overly impressive in their wins over Vermont and Wichita State, but no team boasts two better wins than UConn’s triumphs over Michigan State and Kentucky. A big reason for Connecticut’s success — apart from Walker — is the low post play of Alex Oriakhi. The sophomore big man had 15 points and 17 boards against the Spartans followed by an 18 and 11 night against the Wildcats. Maybe people were too quick to write off UConn before the season started. Calhoun certainly believed that and had no problem expressing those feelings after the win over Kentucky. “It’s letting people know that we are Connecticut, have been Connecticut for the past 20-something years and we think we’re a pretty good basketball team,” Calhoun said of the win.
  • All the Duke haters out there should feel pretty nervous. There’s no discernable chink in the Blue Devils’ armor, at least not after their 82-68 drubbing of Kansas State, which gave Coach K 800 career wins at Duke. Unlike last year’s squad, which won due in large part to defense, rebounding and timely clutch shooting, these Blue Devils have plenty of offensive firepower. Duke dropped 47 first-half points on a KSU group that ranks #17 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. In Seth Curry and an older Andre Dawkins, the Blue Devils have two more players who can extend the defense with their long range shooting. Dawkins was 3-3 from beyond the arc against KSU, while Curry currently is hitting 52.9% of his 3-balls this year. It’s pick your poison against Duke. Either load up on the perimeter (where I haven’t even mentioned Nolan Smith or Kyrie Irving), and leave the paint open for Kyle Singler and the Plumlee brothers, or key on Duke’s big men and leave yourself vulnerable on the outside. Neither has shown to be an effective game plan.
  • We have a Tubby Smith sighting. Minnesota won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off after taking down Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia. The #16 Golden Gophers are now a team that must be taken seriously in the Big Ten race, and it’s because of their bullish play in the paint. Minnesota’s trio of Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III and Colten Iverson pushed around the Tar Heels’ and Mountaineers’ frontline to such a degree that their play was the main takeaway from the tournament for SI.com’s Luke Winn. Winn gives us this gem quote from WVU’s Kevin Jones that sums up Minnesota’s play: “They were the aggressor, and they had us on our heels the whole night.” Minnesota’s big three forwards all currently average at least seven boards a game. That style of play is a formula for success in the Big Ten, and the Gophers look well equipped to handle the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue come conference season.
  • Something about Jacob Pullen appears off. His scoring is down almost three points a game from last year (16.5 PPG down from 19.3), and he has ten turnovers through four games compared to 16 assists. While those numbers aren’t exactly bad, Pullen just doesn’t seem to be the same force of nature that he was last year during Kansas State’s run to the Elite Eight. Pullen was awful in the Wildcats’ loss to Duke, shooting 1-12 from the field (1-8 from downtown). Pullen’s off night came largely against Duke’s Kyrie Irving, and no preseason All-American should let a freshman push him around like that, no matter how good the rookie in question is. There’s another issue, though, that concerns me. Frank Martin called out Pullen’s leadership chops after the Wildcats’ less-than-impressive 76-67 win over Presbyterian (S.C.) College on Nov. 19. “Leadership is not about telling people what to do,” Martin said. “Leadership’s about doing your job and you do your job the right way. Every day. When you do your job the right way every day, people respect that.”

How Will Pullen Respond to Coach Martin's Early Call-Out?

Someone Buy This Man A Bourbon

Bourbon is the perfect drink for a man sitting alone at the bar, contemplating everything that’s gone wrong in his world. I can imagine that’s how Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel feels after his disastrous trip to the Maui Invitational. No team had a worse three-day stretch than the Sooners, who lost to Kentucky and Virginia and Chaminade. The first loss is forgivable. When the Wildcats play their best, not many teams can keep up. But the other two? Come on. I don’t know what’s worse, losing by 18 to a Virginia squad which lost to Washington 106-63 the night before, or losing to Chaminade. Both losses are embarrassing, but I suppose Chaminade wins considering the Silverswords are a Division II program and all. In all seriousness, these are dark days for Oklahoma hoops, and Capel isn’t helping the matter with his explanations for his team’s shortcomings. Capel said the Sooners’ problem against Virginia was overconfidence. Really? Just what has Oklahoma done to merit any feelings of confidence this year? Any team that needs overtime to beat North Carolina Central at home shouldn’t expect to automatically beat anyone. Get your team in order, Jeff, or this season will feel even longer than it undoubtedly does right now.

KenPom vs. the AP

Here we address one team whose ranking in the KenPom and AP Top 25 polls* just doesn’t match up. Then we try to determine which ranking more accurately reflects where the squad in question should be placed in the nation’s hoops hierarchy. (Disclaimer: The rankings are based off the AP Top 25’s Week 3 poll, while KenPom’s is through games played through Nov. 23).

This week’s team is BYU. The Cougars currently are ranked #23 in the AP but #9 according to KenPom.

Why BYU should be #23: Just who have the Cougars beaten this year? A six-point home win over Utah State counts as BYU’s marquee win for the young season — certainly a fine victory, but not one that’s going to impress many voters. Despite last year’s win over Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, BYU doesn’t have the national clout to command a lofty early season ranking like a Butler or a Gonzaga. It’s not fair, but the Cougars need to beat a “name” school to be taken seriously. BYU will get that chance Dec. 11 against Arizona and Dec. 18 at UCLA. Yes, the Cougars should be favored in those games, but in the weird world of the polls those would be impressive wins.

Why BYU should be #9: The Cougars have the nation’s 19th best offense and ninth best defense according to KenPom’s adjusted ratings. Only nine teams in the nation rank in the top-20 in both statistics, so BYU obviously is doing something right. Plus the Cougars have a bona fide stud in guard Jimmer Fredette. Fredette’s is averaging 23.3 PPG and is showing that he can do more than shoot. Fredette has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio to 3.50 this season, up from 1.71 in 2009-10. Kemba Walker and UConn proved this week that one player is enough to vault a team into the top-10, and Fredette definitely capable of similar feats at BYU.

Our verdict: Can I opt to split the difference between the two polls? I know that’s a weak move, but BYU is a tough read. I don’t think they’ve proved enough to merit top-10 status, and at the same time I don’t think you’ll find 20 better teams in the country. At gunpoint I’d err on the side of KenPom’s. What does everyone else think?

Media Blackout

The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week:

  • SEC Commissioner Mike Slive drops the hammer on Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl. On Nov. 20 the SEC suspended Pearl for the Volunteers’ first eight conference games of the season. Pearl cannot coach in SEC games between Jan. 8 and Feb. 5, nor can he participate in any team activities or practices on game days. It will be strange to watch the Vols without Pearl’s animated presence on the sidelines, and one wonders if associate head coach Tony Jones will be able to keep the ship afloat until Pearl returns.
  • As Luke Winn said in his weekly power rankings column, the Kansas-USC game on Dec. 18 is now must-see TV. And it’s not because the Trojans have a chance to pull off an upset. The game marks the debut of highly touted freshman Josh Selby. The NCAA announced Nov. 19 that Selby would be suspended for nine games and pay a fine for accepting impermissible benefits from Robert Frazier, Carmelo Anthony’s business manager. Now that the off-court drama is (hopefully) behind him, Selby can concentrate on being a difference maker for our #7 team in the country. In Selby, the Jayhawks get a 6’3 guard whose offensive abilities should vault KU into the “best team in the country” discussion.
  • It’s already been mentioned, but Coach K’s 800th win at Duke deserves to be singled out. Krzyzewksi reached the 800 plateau after the Blue Devils dismantled Kansas State in the championship game of the CBE Classic. He’s now 800-220 in 31 seasons at Duke. Remember those years of Duke underachieving in the NCAA Tournament and all the articles detailing how Coach K had lost his touch? That sure feels like a long time ago. Coach K got his mojo back during the 2008 Olympics and then reasserted himself as the nation’s premiere coach with the Blue Devils’ title run last year.

The SEC's Sanctions Against UT/Pearl Might Just Be a Formality, As Likely NCAA Penalties Loom

Your Seven-Day All-Americans

  • Kemba Walker, guard, UConn — 31 points against Wichita State, 30 against Michigan State and 29 against Kentucky — not a bad three-game stretch. The best part about Walker’s play in Maui is that he shot at least 50% from the field in every game. The Week That Was doesn’t want to brag, but we were on the Kemba Walker bandwagon a week ago.
  • Corey Fisher, guard, Villanova — The mark of a good player is that he still finds a way to get his points when he’s not shooting well. Fisher scored 26 points in ’Nova’s 82-70 win over UCLA despite a 6-19 night. Fisher made up for all those bricks with 15 trips to the line, hitting 14 of them.
  • Ashton Gibbs, guard, Pittsburgh — It’s funny how the Panthers seem to be flying under the radar, but more people should pay attention to the work Gibbs is doing. Gibbs scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half to help Pittsburgh avoid a loss to Texas on Nov. 19, and then put up 20 in a win over Robert Morris. The junior from Scotch Plains, N.J., is off to a ridiculous start from 3-point range, hitting at least two shots from downtown each game this year.
  • Terrence Jones, forward, Kentucky — For the week Jones posted two double-doubles in wins over Oklahoma and Washington, only to “drop off” a bit with a 24-point, four-rebound effort against UConn. In all seriousness, Jones is one of the most NBA-ready freshmen in the nation. At 6’9, 230 pounds he has the size and strength to body up defenders in the paint, and against UConn he showed his range going 4-4 from beyond the arc.
  • Trevor Mbakwe, forward, Minnesota — His numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping (18 and 10 vs. Western Kentucky; 12 and nine vs. UNC; and 16 and seven vs. West Virginia) but without Mbakwe down low the Golden Gophers would not have won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Whether it’s scoring, rebounding or playing D, Mbakwe is a difference maker. All you need to know is UNC’s Harrison Barnes shot 0-12 against Minnesota in large part because of Mbakwe’s defense.

Frosh Watch

  • Brandon Knight, guard, Kentucky — Knight’s 24 points against Washington in Maui were impressive and showed the damage his speed can inflict. Less impressive were these numbers: eight assists and 18 TOs in the three tournament games, zero assists and eight turnovers against UW, and 3-22 from downtown during UK’s stay on the island. The quickness is there, but will Knight show us the shooting and distribution these young Wildcats will undoubtedly need down the road?
  • Cory Joseph, guard, Texas — The point guard was the No. 14 player overall in Scout.com’s Class of 2010, but he’s averaging just 6.8 points and a little over three assists a game — despite playing more than 30 minutes a contest. The Longhorns don’t need him to light it up on O, but they can expect a bit more production in the coming weeks as he gets acclimated to the college game.
  • Patric Young, forward, Florida — The No. 5 PF in this year’s class hasn’t made much of an impact yet with Billy Donovan’s club. That 4.6 ppg needs to go up if the Gators hope to grow from the beating Ohio State laid on them — coincidentally, the biggest blow in that game was the 26-10 line from impact Buckeye freshman forward Jared Sullinger.
  • Will Spradling, guard, Kansas State — I wanted to include Spradling in this section last week, but I thought it would be too bold to include a bench player right off the bat. TWTW can’t ignore him anymore. Spradling had 13 points and three assists in 21 minutes of action against Gonzaga, cementing his status as one of this young season’s bigger surprises.
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