The Week That Was: December 4-10Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2010
David Ely is an RTC Contributor
As far as TWTW is concerned, December is one of the worst months of the sports calendar, just edging out July when all there is to watch is baseball and a couple of golf tournaments. In December, you have the end of the NFL regular season and the potential of teams tanking for draft picks or teams resting players for the playoffs. You have about a 30-day break until college football becomes interesting again. And a lot of the time you have uninteresting college basketball matchups. December’s the time of the year that coaches schedule easier opponents to make sure everything is in order before conference play begins.
Yet this week, there’s plenty to talk about. We had the Jimmy V Classic featuring Michigan State-Syracuse and Kansas-Memphis. There was a basketball experiment at Illinois. And oh yeah, Duke just might have lost Kyrie Irving for the rest of the season.
Off we go …
What We Learned
- Tom Izzo is not happy with his Spartans right now. Izzo had strong words for his team after MSU’s lackluster effort against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, in which Michigan State looked soft and tentative against a physical and charged-up Orange squad and lost 72-58. Here are a few of Izzo’s money quotes from the postgame presser, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press. “I’m as disappointed in that performance as I’ve been in any since I’ve been at Michigan State. …We turned into a pretty-boy jump-shooting team instead of the blue-collar, fist-fighting team we should be. … I feel like the New York Jets.” On the bright side, Izzo at least was sensitive enough to compare his team to the Jets and not the local team — no child should ever be talked about in the same sentence as the Lions. Izzo’s concerns are justified, though. The Spartans have gone 1-3 in their four biggest tests to date with their one win being a five-point triumph over Washington in Maui. And against Syracuse, MSU got decimated in the paint as Rick Jackson exploded for 17 points and 16 rebounds. That’s not a good sign for a team that has to face Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson several times in Big Ten play.
- If Izzo is disgusted with his team’s play, then Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim has to be ecstatic with how quickly his team has adapted to life without Wesley Johnson. For anyone who thought the Orangemen were just getting by after close calls against Georgia Tech and N.C. State, their beatdown of Michigan State confirmed their legitimacy. Syracuse is 9-0, and its vaunted 2-3 zone is as effective as ever. Opponents are only hitting 37.6% of their shots for the floor (222-515) and are shooting a paltry 28.1% (68-242) from downtown. If freshman Fab Melo (2.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG in 13.4 MPG) ever gets going, then Syracuse should compete for a Big East title.
- Apparently Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings and Missouri’s Mike Anderson hate timeouts. They think they’re worthless exercises, and there’s no reason to talk to your team during the game — even to, say, draw up a final play of a tied game. That’s the only conclusion that could be made after watching the Tigers-Commodores rock-fight of a game Wednesday night. Both coaches left two timeouts on the board during regulation, and Anderson didn’t call a timeout once the Tigers crossed halfcourt down 72-71 with about 25 seconds left to draw up a possible game-winning play. Ricardo Ratliffe bailed out his coach when he hit one of two free throws after drawing a foul. In overtime. it was Vandy’s turn to neglect to talk things over on the sidelines. After Michael Dixon tied the game at 82 with 33 seconds left in the game, Vandy took the ball and decided to freelance a play. It didn’t work. Dixon stripped Brad Tinsley with about eight seconds to go, and his layup and free throw won the game for the Tigers. You know who didn’t win, though? Anyone who appreciates competent end-of-game coaching.
- Is Notre Dame a fraud? Time will tell as the Irish’s uneven performance against Kentucky did not validate their inclusion into RTC’s top 25 (The Irish checks in at #23) nor did it show that they will fade from the national scene once conference season starts. When the Irish are hitting their outside shots, they can light up just about any team in the nation. ND hung 40 points on Kentucky in the first half when Ben Hansbrough buried five 3-pointers. But in the second half, the outside shots stopped falling and the offense sputtered. Without a great inside presence, the Irish are too dependent on their perimeter game and vulnerable to shooting slumps. When Kentucky amped up the pressure, ND went 6-30 from the field. Checking in with our friends at KenPom, there are reasons to think that the Irish’s early success was a mirage. Notre Dame isn’t a great defensive team. The Irish rank 81st in adjusted defensive efficiency, and the defense isn’t forcing turnovers. According to KenPom, Mike Brey’s team forces TOs on only 15.6% of opponent’s possessions — good for 341st in the nation.
- Kansas is doing just fine without Josh Selby. Yeah, the Jayhawks just barely got past a frisky UCLA squad last Thursday, but they had no problem dismantling Memphis by 13 points at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. Eight Jayhawks scored at least six points in the win, four scored at least ten and no one finished with more than 16. That’s balance, the kind of balance that makes you believe Kansas’s 57.1% night shooting wasn’t a fluke, in fact the Jayhawks are the #1 team in the nation in effective field goal percentage (62.7%) according to KenPom. The only area in which Kansas failed to impress Tuesday is turnovers. The Jayhawks committed 22 turnovers against Memphis, but we think that problem will fix itself with the addition of another capable ball handler in Selby.
Pour This Man A Gin
Drink up Coach K, maybe the booze will help you figure out what to do without your new favorite toy — Kyrie Irving. Irving’s toe injury didn’t look all that serious when he went down against Butler last Saturday, but the news out of Durham, N.C. keeps getting worse and worse. Irving was the toast of the college basketball world after his devastating performances against Kansas State and Michigan State (17 points and six assists against the Wildcats, 31 and four against the Spartans), but now he might be done for the year and Duke is left scrambling to readjust on the fly. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, they have two things working in their favor: their schedule and their experience from last year. Duke doesn’t have a single ranked team left on their schedule (though that should change after Temple’s win over Georgetown), and the Blue Devils don’t play a big-time point guard until they face Malcolm Delaney and Virginia Tech at the end of February. Then there’s this; Duke won a national championship last year without a playmaker of Irving’s caliber. Expect Duke to revert to last year’s plodding, halfcourt style for as long as Irving is out. The Blue Devils can win the ACC with an offense that centers on Kyle Singler, the Plumlee brothers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, but it’s unlikely they can repeat if Irving isn’t out there pushing the tempo.
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 5 poll, while KenPom’s is through games played through Dec. 8).
This week’s team is Washington. The Huskies currently are ranked #21 in the AP but #5 according to KenPom.
- Why Washington should be #21: The Huskies ranking is a product of a general lack of respect for the Pac-10 among voters. No one respects the Pac-10. Only two teams from the conference were deemed worthy of receiving votes, and Washington is the only squad to make the top 25. Arizona checks in at #29 with 38 votes. The reason for the Huskies’ ranking is partly because they began the year at #17, and also because they lost to the only ranked teams currently on their schedule. UW’s two losses came in Maui to then-#9 Kentucky and then-#2 Michigan State — but only by a combined 11 points.
- Why Washington should be #5: For a few reasons, KenPom loves the Huskies. They’ve been ranked in the top 10 for the past couple of weeks despite not beating a single team of recognition. The argument for Washington centers on its offense. UW boasts the #1 scoring offense in the nation, averaging 95.5 points per game, and its adjusted offensive efficiency ranks fourth according to KenPom’s metrics. The Huskies’ offense ranks in the top 25 in three of KenPom’s four factors (#7 in effective field goal percentage, #8 in turnover percentage and #25 in offensive rebounding percentage). The Huskies are also the nation’s best three-point shooting team, hitting 47.5% of their shots from beyond the arc.
- Our Verdict: TWTW loves KenPom, and we agree that KenPom is a lot smarter than TWTW. But we just don’t think the Huskies have the look of a team that can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, which is what we expect from the #5 team in the nation. Fortunately for UW, it plays in the Pac-10. There’s a great chance Washington will finish with four or fewer conference losses, which means the Huskies will have a very attractive record come Selection Sunday. No matter what people think of the Pac-10, it will be tough to deny a Washington squad with only six losses anything worse than a 3-seed.
The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week.
Illinois should probably fire its equipment manager, or whomever was in charge of choosing the game ball for the Fighting Illini’s game against Oakland on Wednesday night. For the first seven minutes of the game, the players played with a women’s basketball, which is about an inch smaller and two ounces lighter than the men’s size 7 ball. Now we here at TWTW like using the Size 6 women’s ball whenever we go to the gym. The ball is easier to palm, and TWTW’s 3-point shot improves dramatically whenever “accidentally” opting for the smaller ball. Apparently college players don’t share similar views when it comes to which basketball they prefer. The Fighting Illini’s Demetri McCamey said that he knew something was amiss right from the get-go, and it didn’t take long for Illinois to convince the refs that they were using the wrong ball.
Everyone who hates the trend one-and-done players in college basketball got some good news Wednesday when the NBA player’s union outlined its proposed changes to the NBA’s labor agreement. In a podcast (how high-tech!) sent to players, Billy Hunter described many different ideas to include in a new CBA, but of chief concern to the readers of this site is the proposal to reduce the age limit to 18. While players could once again jump straight from high school to the NBA, Hunter said the NBA could adopt some kind of incentive for high school athletes that attend school. Would this rule be good or bad for college basketball? Many hate the concept of one-and-done players, and how it strips away the idea that elite college basketball players are also student-athletes. TWTW, though, thinks one year of John Wall at Kentucky is better than none.
Are you someone who laments the lack of must-see games early in the season? Well fear not, a new event (the Champions Classic) featuring Duke, Michigan State, Kansas and Kentucky will dominate the November water coolers. The inaugural classic will take place at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15 with Duke taking on Michigan State and Kentucky squaring off against Kansas. In 2012 the tournament will move to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Duke will play Kentucky and Michigan State faces Kansas. In 2013 Chicago’s United Center will host the Champions Classic, and the Blue Devils will play the Jayhawks while the Wildcats get the Spartans.
Your Seven-Day All-Americans
Andre Dawkins, guard, Duke — How do you make people breathe easier in the wake of Kyrie Irving’s injury? Do what Dawkins did against Bradley. Dawkins hit eight (eight!) 3-points and finished with 28 points as the Blue Devils romped to an easy win. Not a bad effort considering it was his first time in the starting lineup this year.
Ramone Moore, guard, Temple — Moore went off against one of the best backcourts in the nation Thursday night. Moore scored a career-high 30 points in the Owls’ 68-65 upset win over Georgetown. And it wasn’t a 30-point night fueled by a hot-hand from beyond the arc. Moore only made two threes against the Hoyas, the rest of his points came via mid-range Js and drives to the bucket.
Tyler Zeller, forward, North Carolina — Zeller had perhaps his best game as a Tar Heel last Saturday when he scored 27 points, grabbed 11 boards and blocked five shots in UNC’s upset win over Kentucky. Zeller feasted against the undersized Wildcats, following out Kentucky’s big men and becoming the post-presence UNC has lacked since Tyler Hansbrough graduated two years ago.
Rick Jackson, forward, Syracuse — Congrats, Rick. You’ve joined what TWTW calls the Kemba Walker Club, reserved for players to make this section in back-to-back weeks. Jackson made the Spartans look soft and timid when he exploded for 17 points and 16 rebounds Tuesday. Jackson has yet to score fewer than 10 points in a game this year.
Jared Sullinger, center, Ohio State — TWTW doesn’t care who you play (even if it’s IUPUI) 40 points is damn impressive. Sullinger put the Buckeyes on his back Thursday as OSU avoided an embarrassing home upset. Sullinger went 12-17 from the floor and 16-23 from the line in setting an Ohio State scoring record for a freshman.
- Vander Blue, guard, Marquette — It might have come against Texas A&-CC (pause … open Google … yup, that’s an actual school), but Blue finally posted a breakout game. Blue went 9-13 from the field and posted 21/5/4 in the Golden Eagles’ 36-point win. That effort, combined with his 12-point night against Longwood, gives Blue back-to-back games in double figure scoring for the first time this season.
- C.J. Leslie, forward, N.C. State — Leslie held his own against TWTW fave Rick Jackson, dropping 13 points and grabbing 11 boards. That game against Syracuse was a massive step in the right direction for Leslie, who was a no-show along with the rest of the Wolfpack against Wisconsin. Leslie scored only two points in 15 minutes against the Badgers.
- Joshua Smith, center, UCLA — Here’s another player suffering from the normal ups and downs of a rookie season. Smith was huge in the Bruins’ one-point loss at Kansas. He scored 17 points and had 13 rebounds for his first collegiate double-double, but three days later Smith regressed with a four-point, five-rebound effort in a home loss to Montana. This good-game, bad-game thing has been a problem for Smith all year. Just look at his player card. It’s mind-boggling.
- Kyrie Irving, guard, Duke — Get better.