ATB: Tennessee Dominates Pitt Behind Scotty HopsonPosted by rtmsf on December 13th, 2010
The Lede. It was a relatively quiet weekend in college basketball, as most schools scheduled lightly because they are either already taking or heading into exams. There was only one matchup between ranked teams, and most everybody else in the Top 25 rolled (17-2 this weekend). In the two losses — UNLV and Washington — both squads played good teams in their own right in Louisville and Texas A&M on the road. As we head into the holiday season, the next three weeks will be hit-and-miss (mostly miss) in terms of quality games, with the majority of the pre-conference tournaments finished and schools preferring to not kill themselves immediately before conference play. Keep this in mind over the next few weeks, though. With the onset of winter break, teams will have a couple of things going for them. First, if they’re waiting on a key player who might have been a transfer or academically ineligible, guys such as New Mexico’s Drew Gordon or USC’s Jio Fontan or even Missouri’s Tony Mitchell, there’s a good chance that player will be back and ready to help his team soon. Second, with classes over and NCAA hours restrictions lifted during the break, coaches can practice as much as they want. It shouldn’t surprise you in the least if some teams that looked shaky during the first month of the season come back much more polished and stronger after the break.
Your Watercooler Moment. Tennessee Throttles Pitt on the Road. You have to give it to Bruce Pearl. When he perceives that his back is against the wall, he comes out with guns blazing, repeatedly doing things considered nearly impossible by those of us who remember how the Vols collapse when the burden of expectations is placed upon them. Who can forget, for example, the victories over #1 Kansas and #2 Kentucky last season; or, the win at #1 Memphis in 2008; or, the victories over the back-to-back Florida teams in 2006 and 2007? The man gets it done when he’s playing the role of woebegone underdog, and Saturday’s 83-76 victory over Pitt in their own backyard is just the latest example of this trend. With Pearl set to miss the first eight games of the SEC season and still-untold penalties looming from the NCAA masters, he has his team believing in one another and they’re once again shocking the basketball world in the process. So how are the Vols doing it this year? Try defense and a junior who has finally reached his potential. Pitt learned quickly on Saturday that this Tennessee team wasn’t just another soft SEC squad more interested in scoring than getting back and moving their feet on the other end — these Vols actually play defense. With athletic size and length across the front line in the form of Brian Williams, Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson, the Pitt bigs had trouble finding openings, but it was the specific work that Melvin Goins put in on Pitt’s star Ashton Gibbs that made the biggest difference, holding the guard to 4-13 shooting. On the other side, no Panther seemed to have a clue as to how to defend the lithe Hopson, who for the first time in his career on a national stage looked like the top ten recruit in the Class of 2008 he once was. He was 10-13 from the field, hitting all three of his bombs and slicing and dunking his way to a 27-point performance befitting a significantly improved and more efficient player this season. Sometimes it just takes certain players longer to figure out how to play this game at a high level, and Hopson’s better understanding of what a great shot is has been one of the primary reasons that UT sits at 7-0 and presumably in the top five at this point in the season. With a light home-heavy schedule until the SEC season starts, Pearl has his team poised to remain unbeaten and near the top of the rankings when he goes on hiatus.
Quit Calling It a Court Storm!!!! Hehe, regardless of the chosen nomenclature, we had another RTC over the weekend as Fordham came back from 21 down in the second half to beat crosstown rival St. John’s. The Johnnies suffered not one, but two separate 16-0 runs by Fordham (who, remember, only won five games the last two seasons) before succumbing down the stretch. It was Fordham’s first win over a Big East team since the first Reagan administration (1982) and clearly a massive win for Tom Pecora’s program looking for some traction in a crowded NYC sports market. Somewhere on the left coast, UCLA fans knowingly nodded in quiet unison… (h/t to The East Coast Bias for sending along the clip)
More Teams Should Do This. We understand completely that dollars drive everything, but with Ohio State choosing to play a home game at historic St. John Arena on Sunday instead of the modern, much larger Value City Arena it normally uses, we hope that this is a trend that takes hold across the country. The reason for the game was OSU’s December graduation, but harkening back to last spring when UNC played an NIT game at old Carmichael Arena, we really want to see some schools do this at least once a year. Imagine Kentucky playing one game at Memorial Coliseum each year, or Maryland tearing it up in Cole Field House every now and again. This needs to happen. ESPN could even make it a part of Throwback Week, replete with uniform changes and the like.
- Louisville at 8-0. The Cards have yet to play a game outside its brand-new Yum! Center, and why would they? They’re now 8-0 in the new digs, with a legitimate win coming on Saturday over UNLV in a battle of unbeatens. Even though Vegas isn’t the second best team in America behind Duke (one of Pitino’s more ridiculous assertions before the game), his Cardinals are doing it without a true star and instead through his tried-and-true formula of sending waves of players at opponents (over 40% of minutes go to his bench) and forcing multitudes of turnovers (26% of possessions). The question is whether that can continue on the road — the first true road test for Pitino’s team probably won’t be until Jan. 12 at Villanova. So we wait.
- Jimmer. Arizona must be thrilled that BYU’s Jimmer Fredette is graduating after this season, as the All-American guard dropped 82 points in the last two seasons against Sean Miller’s Wildcats (49 last year; 33 this time around). BYU punched Arizona right in the mouth from the beginning of its 87-65 blowout win for the Cougars, proving once again that the elite of the MWC is significantly ahead of its counterparts from the Pac-10. Oh, and Fredette also added a career-high nine boards in this one, proving that he isn’t just a scorer.
- Keith Benson’s Stock. In another example of Oakland center Keith Benson stepping up his game against high-major defenses, the 6’11 senior went for 17/12/3 blks against the bruising Michigan State front line in a one-point loss to the Spartans. You might recall that Benson has had similarly large games against Purdue and Illinois this season, in addition to his monster games against Pittsburgh and the same MSU team last year.
- Kalin Lucas’ Injury. We’re hopeful that Lucas’ healing injury to his Achilles is progressing, and it appears to be with his comments that he had played two pain-free days in a row in practices leading up to Saturday. His game backed up his comments, as Lucas knocked out 25 points and five assists against Oakland in a game that the Spartans could have easily lost without him. Let’s hope that he continues to get the rest and rehab he needs to be at 100% for the Big Ten season.
- Enjoy It, Cleveland State. The first team in the nation to get to 12-0 after this weekend’s win over Sam Houston State should enjoy it for what it’s worth. They’ll now take a week off for exams before traveling to Morgantown to take on West Virginia for their next game. As much as we’d love to see the feel-good story continue, we don’t think it will last beyond that one.
- Marshon Brooks. The Providence guard is killing it right now, going for a career-high 33/8 on Saturday against Alabama for his sixth consecutive game above 25 points. The Friars are now 10-2 with losses to BC and LaSalle, but it says here that Keno Davis’ team is going to have enough nights in the Big East schedule where Brooks goes off to surprise a few teams.
- Mark Turgeon. His Texas A&M teams just continue to find ways to win through their defense, and there was no greater example than David Loubeau’s facial stuffing (see below) of Isaiah Thomas at the end of a one-point victory over Washington on Saturday. Otherwise, how do you explain beating a team that hit all sixteen of its free throws and TAMU not hitting a single trey it took — getting stops, that’s how.
- Gonzaga & Butler. The two mid-major/not-mid-major stalwarts are currently 9-9 after the weekend where GU lost at Notre Dame and Butler defeated Mississippi Valley State two days after losing to those Musketeers. Chances are quickly dwindling for these two teams to put together a solid non-conference resume that will impress the NCAA Selection Committee should either one drop several in their respective conferences. It’s unusual to be talking about this, but we wouldn’t bet against Mark Few and Brad Stevens to turn things around soon.
- Big East/SEC Invitational. The SEC won the Invitational 3-1; does anyone care? On Wednesday night, Kentucky defeated Notre Dame and Arkansas beat Seton Hall; on Saturday Tennessee upset Pitt and the Big East got its only win in the series as Rutgers knocked off Auburn. The concept isn’t a bad one, but the execution is terrible. There are enough good teams in both leagues that these double-headers could include the top six or eight and still be interesting, but they’d need to be done on consecutive nights using the formula of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. We’re honestly not sure why this is so difficult for people to figure out.
- Jacob Pullen. The K-State All-American returned home to Chicago for the Wildcats’ game against UIC, but he had a rough afternoon there as his team struggled to put away the overmatched team. He shot 5-17 from the field and missed all four of his three attempts in front of “over 100″ family and friends in attendance, and then capped off the day with a tweet ripping the KSU fans (see below: TOTD #2). We bet that he’s looking forward to a new day tomorrow.
- Mississippi State. How much longer until Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney get to play? The Bulldogs dropped its second home game of the season to a mid-major on Saturday as ETSU rebounded its own miss on a free throw attempt to set up a last-second jumper for Micah Williams in the lane. Look, we understand that MSU isn’t at full strength, but these are games that SEC teams shouldn’t be losing. Granted, the entire SEC West is a sticky hot mess this year, but MSU should still have enough talent to avoid these kinds of Ls.
- Colgate’s 8er. Syracuse is good and getting better, but an eight-point first half and an 18% shooting night against the Orange must have former Raider Adonal Foyle turning over in his grave. And he’s not even dead yet (although Warriors fans may beg to differ!).
- ACC Games Too Early. Boston College defeated Maryland in College Park and FSU beat Clemson on Sunday, but these ACC games on FSN are just too damn early. Virginia played Virginia Tech last week, and it didn’t feel right then either. Surely there are enough interesting inter-conference matchups out there that FSN doesn’t need to get this going so early, do they? It just doesn’t feel right, and we’re sure the coaches don’t like it. While on the subject, new BC head coach Steve Donahue is already earning his stripes — beating Maryland on the road is no easy task, especially in your first season in the league.
Photo Fav. Our favorite photo from the weekend came from the Marquette student section, who apparently is comprised of everyone from the Anchorman to Harry Potter to Dwight from The Office. It didn’t help much, though, as Wisconsin went into Milwaukee and walked away with the key intrastate rivalry win.
Tweet of the Weekend. As one of the biggest trash-talkers of the collegiate game in the Twitter-verse, it was only natural that Washington’s Isaiah Thomas would get killed by fans around the country for his final play of Saturday’s UW-Texas A&M game (where he pulled up and got stuffed on the final shot). His response:
Tweet of the Weekend, Vol. II. In another example of a player expressing his frustration through social media, K-State’s Jacob Pullen took to the tubes and dump trucks to call out the “fans.” KU people are of course having a field day with this one… Write on!
RTC Live. We had several games going this weekend, and although none of them came down to the last play, they were all instructive in terms of watching these teams play.
Tennessee 83, Pittsburgh 76. It was a tremendous game to watch between Pitt and Tennessee. Everyone expected this one to be a close game, but Tennessee ran away early and never looked back. The keys to the game were as follows: Tennessee’s lights out shooting, Pitt’s poor free throw shooting, Pitt losing the rebound battle, and Scotty Hopson scoring a career high 27 while Ashton Gibbs didn’t get going until the second half. Many teams playing the Panthers can’t say they shot above 50% for the game let alone hovering close to 60% for most of it, including a ridiculous 63.6% from long range. Pitt did a great job getting to the line by drawing contact, but like I have said during the other Pitt games I have covered, they shot poorly. This was further exacerbated due to the high number of free throws they shot today. Pitt was ranked #1 in rebounding margin going into today’s game, and not only did they lose the battle, they were behind in terms of rebounds going into the second half. Last, but definitely not least, Scotty Hopson looked like a man possessed out there today, and played as well as anyone in the country. Just to show how ridiculous he played, here are some of his stats for his career day: 10-13 from the field, 3-3 from 3 point range and 4-5 from the charity stripe. Meanwhile Ashton Gibbs might have ended up with 15 points, close to his average, but the majority of those were when the game was out of reach. Gibbs was a complete non-factor in the first half when Pitt really needed to stay close. All in all, I would much rather see two quality teams battle it out in the early going instead of seeing higher ranked teams dominate teams that are clearly undermatched. A great all-around day for Tennessee in Pittsburgh.
BYU 87, Arizona 65. The Arizona Wildcats came into Salt Lake City on Saturday looking for a marquee win to put on their postseason resume. Instead they got another beatdown courtesy of Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars, 87-65. The crowd repeatedly chanted the senior guard’s name, including chants of “you got Jimmer’ed”, and Fredette did his best to please scoring 33 points, grabbing a game-high nine rebounds, and dishing three assists. Arizona is now 8-2 but the wins have come against a pretty unimpressive slate. The Wildcats still look good enough to challenge the Huskies for the Pac-10 title, but they cannot allow themselves to get down 18 points early in the game against a quality opponent like they did on Saturday. The Cougars improved to 10-0 on the season and look as if they might be 15-0 when they begin Mountain West Conference play in a few weeks with a huge game at UNLV. As long as Jimmer keeps hitting NBA-range threes then the Cougars will compete with UNLV, SDSU and New Mexico for the conference crown.
Notre Dame 83, Gonzaga 79. In a hotly contested battle, the 23rd ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish were able to hold off a late Gonzaga surge to top the Bulldogs 83-79. The Irish led by as many as 14 before a Gonzaga charge brought the game to within two points late. Irish senior guard Ben Hansbrough was able to ice the game by nailing four clutch free throws with under a minute to play. Notre Dame held a six-point halftime lead thanks to Carleton Scott’s 19 first half points. Those 19 points established a new career high for Scott, whose previous career best had been 17. Scott finished with 23 for the game. The lead surged to 14 thanks to an 8-0 run where all eight points were scored by Tim Abromaitis. Abromaitis scored 12 key second half points and finished the game with 21 along with eight rebounds and four assists. Gonzaga’s late run was spearheaded by the hot shooting of Steven Gray and Mangisto Arop. Gray, who battled foul trouble throughout the second half, finished the game with 18 points along with eight assists. Arop played 32 important minutes off the bench and added 16 points and five rebounds in the losing effort. Sophomore forward Elias Harris led all Gonzaga scorers with 19 — 11 of which came in the first half. The win brings Notre Dame to 9-1 on the season, while the loss drops Gonzaga to a disappointing 4-5 record and looking for answers.
Harvard 87, Boston University 71. After a very close first half, Harvard exploded offensively in the second half to beat the Boston University Terriers decisively, 87-71. After a disappointing first half, Christian Webster dominated the second half, finishing with 18 points. All in all, six of the Crimson’s seven man rotation scored in double figures. Sophomore Kyle Casey (who is still recovering from a foot injury) was the lone Crimson player with significant minutes to finish in single digits. Boston University was lead by John Holland and Jake O’Brien, who scored 21 and 20 points respectively. The Terriers’ struggles came because they did not have a legitimate post presence. While Jake O’Brien matches up on paper with Harvard’s Keith Wright (both are 6’8), he’s too skinny to be a consistent low-post threat. Even penetrating the Terriers were very unsuccessful, as Harvard’s bigs blocked and altered many of the drives. Thus the Terriers were reduced to a pure jump-shooting team. As Boston University started missing shots, Harvard caught fire. The lead went from manageable to nearly 20 points in a matter of possessions (a couple of turnovers did not help the Terriers). In the end Harvard was too talented and too large for B.U. to stand a chance. If the Terriers are going to win the America East, they are going to have to find someone to provide a solid presence in the post. They don’t need points necessarily, but they need someone to help keep them from being outrebounded (today Harvard won the rebounding margin 38-23). The Terriers also need to learn to win on the road: after the loss to Harvard they are 0-5 away from home this season. As for the Crimson, this team looks poised to win the Ivy League title for the first time in school history. They still have to beat a talented Princeton team, but Tommy Amaker’s squad has plenty of weapons to win the conference crown.