ATB: Thank God We’re Not the BCS Weekend RecapPosted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2010
The Lede. Thankfully We Decide Our Champions on the Court. And we don’t use awful naming conventions when doing it. Imagine if the First Four was actually called the Toys “R” Us First Four, or the Final Four became the Batesville Casket Company Final Four? That’s essentially what we’re looking at with some of these absurd bowl names — our favorites: the Beef “O” Brady Bowl and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Maybe the two bowls should morph together and then they’d have the whole eating thing figured out. On to more serious issues, though. For seemingly the fourteenth consecutive year, the BCS national title game featuring Auburn and Oregon is not without controversy, as there are three unbeaten teams left standing with only two spots available. Perhaps you’re of the opinion that a school like TCU (12-0), with its weak schedule and lack of gridiron pedigree, is not worthy of playing in that sports’ marquee event. To this we say: neither was Butler. Yet somehow the small college from the north side of Indianapolis that didn’t belong there found itself capable of beating two of basketball’s best coaches (Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo) and come within a hair of beating its best (Mike Krzyzewski). It’s an absurd system that if used in basketball would guarantee that Duke would have won at least ten “mythical” national titles in the last twenty years, while robbing us of the magic of schools like George Mason and Butler along the way. Critics of the system correctly point out that FBS college football is the only NCAA sport that does not have a playoff system to determine its champion, but it’s also the only American sport that becomes less interesting as the season progresses. The single most exciting time is kickoff weekend, when anything seems possible. Enjoy your BBVA Compass Bowl featuring a 2-6 SEC team, folks — we’ll be over here watching games that actually build up to something.
- Over 4,000 Wins in Chapel Hill. But it was the embattled Tar Heels of North Carolina who added win #2009 on this day, as Tyler Zeller reminded us how good he can be when he asserts himself (27/11/5 blks). In a wrinkle we’ve never seen before, Zeller fouled out the entire Kentucky frontline with his play inside; his length (along with teammate John Henson’s) frustrated UK star forward Terrence Jones for the first time all season (3-17 FG for nine points). The Carolina guard play still left something to be desired, shooting 6-24 from the field and totaling 21 points, but this is a known commodity — Carolina’s rise and fall this season will generally rest on how well their big men play each night out. We came away from this game thinking that we were viewing two flawed teams — Kentucky on the inside, and UNC on the perimeter — but that Kentucky, despite losing the game, has the greater upside.
- National Title Rematch. Butler proved for more than a half that it wasn’t going to quietly skulk away into the night after its run to the national championship game and a shaky start to this season. As our correspondent Matt Patton wrote from the game: “First off, Butler can play: people have been down on the Bulldogs after they were blown out by Louisville and upset by Evansville, but they showed that they still have some star power and one of the smartest coaches in the game in Brad Stevens. I thought Stevens really kept Duke on their heels the first half, giving the Blue Devils fits with a triangle and two zone and expertly controlling the tempo during the first half. Butler also showcased some impressive depth, outscoring Duke’s talented bench 33-13 (a large amount of that credit goes to Shawn Vanzant, who had a spectacular second half). If the Bulldogs take care of the ball like they did today and keep their stars on the court (i.e. minimize fouls and injuries), they can still surprise some people come March.” We don’t disagree at all. Butler isn’t a top ten team, but they will always play legitimate defense, and once they get their sea legs under them, nobody will want to face the Bulldogs (again) next Spring.
- Battle of Seattle. We haven’t been as high as many others have been on Gonzaga this year, and any injury to Elias Harris notwithstanding, the reason was fully on display Saturday in the Battle of Seattle game against Illinois: the Zags don’t defend. Illinois has never traditionally been a high-octane offense under Bruce Weber, but against a Gonzaga defense that would rather reach than move, Illinois repeatedly picked Mark Few’s team apart for wide-open threes (12-23) and dunks. Giving up twelve treys is a problem against any team, and this is the second time this season that the Zags have done so in a loss (Kansas State was the other). This definitely appears to be Weber’s best Illini squad since the 2005 national runner-up, and it helps in that Illinois has six players capable of putting up double figures any given night. The maturation of Brandon Paul in particular from a gunner incapable of taking a good shot in the flow of the offense (33% last year) to a disciplined shooter (52% this year) has been a pleasure to watch. This Illinois team is capable of big things this year.
SoCal Upsets. The most surprising upsets of the weekend came at the very end of it, as the two biggest Los Angeles programs made news in one way or another. First, UCLA, coming off a loss against top-five Kansas on Thursday night that universally slammed the officials for bailing the Jayhawks out, must have still been feeling the effects. They allowed Montana (without Anthony Johnson, mind you) to come into Pauley Pavilion and shoot 52% in a 66-57 victory that must have UCLA fans scratching their heads perplexed. The two stars of the Kansas game, Tyler Honeycutt and Joshua Smith, combined for 4-20 shooting and 15 total points. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, USC, a team who had already racked up bad losses against Rider, Bradley, TCU and Nebraska, managed to completely flummox the young Texas Longhorns for an easy 73-56 victory. If you saw either one of these results coming, then you’re well beyond the scope of this site. Unbelievable.
Actual, Verifiable Conference Play. That’s right, blame unbalanced schedules and the rest of it, but 11 of the 32 conferences have already played games within the family, including the ACC (Virginia beat Virgina Tech on Sunday). We understand the sentiment behind it, but it still feels a little wrong to be playing league games well before Christmas, especially those in the BCS leagues. It’s getting more and more difficult to talk about the non-conference portion of the schedule when conferences are scheduling league games at the first of December!
Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. After taking a 5-0 lead heading into Saturday’s games, the Big 12 went 1-4 on Saturday and Sunday to come out of the weekend with a chance to blow what looked like a certain win. We’ll have to wait until next week’s Washington visit to Texas A&M and the following week’s Stanford visit to Oklahoma State, but if both Pac-10 teams can notch wins on the road, they’ll have tied the series at six-all. It’s still an unlikely scenario, but it’s a far cry from last year’s 9-3 shellacking at the hands of the Big 12. The surprise of the series, of course, came on Sunday night when Texas got blindsided by USC, 73-56, at the Galen Center. If anything, we have to give credit for the much-maligned Pac-10ers for battling back and keeping this series somewhat interesting.
This Weekend’s Hits…
- Kemba Kemba Kemba. Quite possibly the nation’s NPOY after the first month of the season, Walker showed his all-around skill set on Friday night by dropping a triple-double (24/13/10 assts) on overmatched UMBC. It was the first of Walker’s collegiate career, but somewhat surprisingly, the eighth in the school’s. His 29.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 4.3 APG on 53% FG, 43% 3FG and 89% shooting make him the most efficient in addition to the most unstoppable player in America right now.
- Out Like a Lamb. Much like Eric Bledsoe in last year’s Kentucky wunder-class, Doron Lamb has been largely the forgotten man amongst discussions of Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter. But it was Lamb on Saturday who came off the UK bench to drop 24 points, hitting several timely threes and providing much needed offense with Jones on the fritz. On the young season Lamb has gone for 13.3 PPG while taking and making good shots to the tune of 53% from the field and 58% from deep, outstanding numbers for a guard.
- Coach K Ties Rupp. In his inexorable march to become the second-best collegiate coach of all-time behind John Wooden (in effect, the top coach of the modern era), Duke’s victory over Butler gave Coach K his 876th victory as a D1 head coach. He’s now only three behind the venerable legend of the state of North Carolina, Dean Smith, and will without question pass him later this month. If you had told anyone back in the mid-1980s that a day would ever arrive where a young upstart coach at Duke would eventually eclipse the deity-like Smith in the holy trinity of national titles, wins and overall reputation, you might as well have called yourself a card-carrying member of the Communist Party — that’s how crazed the average citizen of the Tar Heel state would have looked at you.
- Mountain West’s Big Three. After the weekend, the MWC’s big three of UNLV, SDSU and BYU (the all-initial conference!) sits at a combined 24-0. Only San Diego State has played a top-notch schedule so far, but all three teams have shown signs of putting together dynamite seasons this year. Each of these teams are getting it done in different ways, but all three are superb offensive teams and should stay in the top 25 all season long. This could truly become a breakthrough year for the MWC if the Runnin’ Rebels, Aztecs and Cougars make runs into the Sweet Sixteen. They’re certainly capable.
- John Henson’s Consecutive Airballs. Out of the thousands of games we’ve watched in our entire life, we don’t think we’ve ever seen a player throw up two consecutive airballs at the free throw line, yet John Henson did exactly such a thing on Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t just that they were airballs, it’s just how badly off they were. The first one was just short, but the second attempt was a good two feet right of the goal. For what it’s worth, Henson has a history of throwing up foul line ducks, but the career 41% free-thrower managed to hit three against Kentucky, good enough to account for the margin of victory plus-one.
- Seth Greenberg. Is it too early to call a moratorium on Seth Greenberg’s whining about getting left out this coming March if Virginia Tech is once again cl0se-but-no-cigar with an NCAA Tournament bid? After a Sunday night loss to rival Virginia, of all teams, the Hokies are currently 4-4 with its only marginal win a neutral court victory over Oklahoma State. In any year, the ACC isn’t a conference where you can give away home games, and VT has already put itself in a hole by losing against a team that will presumably finish in the lower third of the league. If Greenberg’s team drops either of the next two games versus Penn State or Mississippi State, it’s safe to say that the Hokies will be in serious trouble.
- Missouri Valley. Wow, this league has really fallen off in recent years. It’s been a one-bid conference for some time now, but at least it was competitive with the other mid-majors. No longer, at least not with its peer, the Mountain West. The MWC dominated the MWC-MVC Challenge this year with an 8-1 record, the only Valley victory coming with Northern Iowa defeating TCU, 64-60, on Saturday. This is only a year removed from a 5-4 victory, which shows that the strength of the bottom of the MWC has improved relative to the Valley. In other words, the league appears to be going backwards.
- Syracuse’s Outside Shooting. Last year the Orange, behind Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins, were one of the best outside shooting teams in America (39% from beyond the arc). This year, they’ve been dreadful (30%), and it was on display Saturday against NC State as brick after brick echoed around the Carrier Dome (2-16). Freshman Dion Waiters has shown the most acumen in low volume (9-23), but the starting backcourt of Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche are struggling to break 30%. Even though the Orange are 8-0, we fear they’re in for a rude awakening on Tuesday night at MSG vs. Michigan State.
- Jacob Pullen. Pullen suffered another miserable shooting night on Friday in Pullman, and we’re starting to worry that the preseason All-American guard has a case of senioritis. Even though K-State got the hard-fought victory against Washington State, Pullen wasn’t the reason for it. His miserable 2-11 shooting was offset by five assists but even the dimes were mitigated by six accompanying turnovers. We wish it were only one game, but his previous 1-12 performance against Duke shows that he’s slumping and very often seniors with the burden of expectations have trouble relaxing and playing their game. We hope he breaks out of it soon but right now he’s been one of the more disappointing players in the country so far.
RTC Live. Quite a few games on Saturday… here are the recaps.
Colorado 83, Oregon State 57. Saturday night’s game between Colorado and Oregon State had the makings of an ugly contest early. The Buffaloes struggled to find their offense early against the Oregon State zone, while the Beavers were cold from the floor a problem that wouldn’t go away all night. Oddly enough Colorado finally started to find their way when senior guard and team leader Cory Higgens had to be helped to the locker room with an injury. Once the Buffaloes started settling in offensively they were able to knock down several outside shots led by senior Levi Knutson who finished the night 6-8 from the three point line leading to a career high 22 points. The outside shooting extended the zone and opened up the lane for dribble penetration and from that point forward the Buffaloes were in control. Colorado looked like a well coached disciplined team once they found their groove. They made life difficult for the Beavers on the offensive end forcing 17 turnovers and holding Oregon State to just 39% shooting. Once the lead was secured Colorado just kept playing smart basketball, scoring in transition and working their offense for the right shot. The Buffaloes were able to score 44 of their 83 points in the paint despite facing an Oregon State team with a noticeable size advantage. The reason for that? Dribble penetration, ball movement and generally speaking an all around better effort than their future Pac 12 counter parts. The result of that effort, a 71% second half shooting performance and a nearly 60% hooting performance for the game. With a 19 point lead at half the Buffaloes were never threatened in the final 20 minutes and in fact extended the lead to a 26 point win 83-57. Despite the big lead, Colorado coach Tad Boyle was intense, demanding and pushing his team for the full 40 minutes as he continues to mold a bit of a work in progress. The 1st year Colorado coach talked defensive effort and rebounding when he arrived on campus and his team rose to both of those challenges on Saturday night and looked like a team turning a corner. “I think guys are starting to buy in. I can sense it, I see it. At timeouts, they’re talking about it. They’re encouraging each other about it.” commented Boyle when asked about his teams growth. The statement is something that was visibly noticeable watching the game and a welcome sign for the 6000+ fans at Coors Event Center on Saturday night. For a team that had been billed in the preseason as a potential sleeper tournament team in the Big 12, this was the type of game they needed to get back on track. Oregon State isn’t a particularly good team, but the way Colorado played on Saturday night did represent the type of basketball many expected out of Boulder this season and that brand of basketball handled a future conference foe in convincing fashion.
Morehead State 75, Murray State 65. “They shot 59.5% against us. They shot 29 free throws. You’re not going to win many games like that.” So lamented Murray State head coach Billy Kennedy in the post-game talk after his Racers fell to Morehead State on Saturday, but there was something else in his voice besides the sting of a defeat to a conference rival. His team was picked first in the OVC by almost every pre-season prognosticator (including us), and it was assumed in many places that they’d eventually set up camp in the Top 25 this season. Sure, those things may still come to pass, but as he sat in the media room and spoke about how his defense let him down and wondered aloud why he wasn’t getting the type of effort he needs from a few upperclassman guards (to his credit, he put most of the blame on himself), you could tell from Kennedy’s voice that he knew those aforementioned predictions were farther away now than they were at the beginning of the season. Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall, however, beamed during his time at the mic. He knew that a win such as this, even on his own floor, was important in the OVC climate. He happily gave away all the credit to his players, the crowd, his daughters (who accompanied him to the post-game presser), pretty much anyone who wanted any, but he was careful to temper any over-excitement, noting that Murray State “won’t be the same team in late February when we see them again at their place.” Kenneth Faried (21/10) notched yet another double-double — ho hum, just the 64th of his career — and no Racer could stay in front of the photon-like Demonte Harper (22/5 assts). After the game I jumped on I-64 West en route to my next RTC Live, slowing down to ensure safe travel through the late-night snow. About five miles outside Morehead, a charter bus whizzed by my driver’s side window, and I assumed it to be the Racers. You can’t blame them for wanting to get home quickly; because of travel, they’ve had two practice days in the last ten, and, despite loads of talent and expectations, this is a team that needs to take some time and figure out exactly what they expect from this season.
Memphis 77, Western Kentucky 61. You can only fault No. 14 Memphis for not putting its collective foot down a bit more than the Tigers did in a 76-61 win over visiting Western Kentucky on Saturday at the FedEx Forum. After forcing WKU into 16 first-half turnovers, Memphis (7-0) jumped out to a 20-point lead and looked as if it would coast to an easy win. Eventually the Tigers did, but not before the Hilltoppers (3-5) pieced together a 12-0 run and came within eight points of tying in a game they didn’t lead after the 16-minute mark of the first half. Memphis native and WKU senior Sergio Kerusch led all scorers with 16 points in his homecoming, but three Tigers — Joe Jackson, Tarik Black and D.J. Stephens — all scored in double figures. Stephens came into Saturday’s game averaging less than three points per game, and Black’s performance was the freshman’s first ever in double figures. The only thing the Hilltoppers could seemingly draw from the game was that they edged the Tigers on the board, 43-41. But Memphis out-paced WKU with 12 blocks and 11 steals. The Tigers next play a much-anticipated road game at No. 4 Kansas on Tuesday. WKU travels to Bowling Green State on Wednesday.
Pittsburgh 87, Rider 68. There were three things that really determined the game between Pitt and Rider: depth, turnovers, and free throws. Pitt has been said to have one of the deepest teams in the Big East, if not the country. I am not sure about the deepest team in the country, but there were certainly deeper than Rider. For most of the first half, Rider only had two scorers in Mike Ringgold and Novar Gadson. Pitt, on the other hand, was able to look to several people to score. In terms of turnovers, Rider finished with 14 turnovers to Pitt’s 6. That’s 8 extra possessions right there, and a potential 16 points. The final score was a 19 point victory for Pitt, which isn’t too far off. Last, but definitely not least, Pitt shot 27 free throws to Rider’s 11. Pitt made 11 more free throws than Rider. Combine those 3 things, and you have at least a 19 point ballgame in Pitt’s favor.