The Week That Was: December 11-17Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2010
David Ely is an RTC contributor.
It’s the holiday season, and this past week teams in the top 25 definitely got into the spirit of giving. Now these squads weren’t giving away toys to needy girls and boys. Instead #4 Tennessee, #20 Louisville and #21 UNLV gave the gift of an RPI-boosting upset, and in the college hoops world that’s a pretty nice present. TWTW hopes that Oakland, Drexel and UC Santa Barbara enjoyed their gifts this week, they certainly came at a hefty price — a chance to be the last undefeated squad standing. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, and we’re sure that deep down our ranked friends knew they did the right thing given the season.
Now if only #22 Memphis wasn’t such a Grinch …
What We Learned
- Last week we openly wondered if Notre Dame’s hot start was an aberration or the start of a strong season for the Irish, and their loss to Kentucky made TWTW more inclined to label them a fraud rather than a legit power. This week we get to dissect another Big East squad that just suffered its first loss of the season — Louisville. The Cardinals’ eight-game winning streak to open the season came ended in disastrous fashion Tuesday night when Louisville fell 52-46 to Drexel. Yes, you read that correctly. The Cardinals could only muster 46 points against Drexel of all teams. Louisville connected on only 15 of 47 shots from the floor and struggled to adjust once it was apparently the Dragons weren’t going to let the Cardinals get out and run up and down the court. While shooting 33.3% is bad, what’s more troubling is Louisville’s 12-25 effort at the free throw line, and its -20 rebound loss on the boards. Those two things could haunt the Cardinals in Big East play and make TWTW hesitant to think they’re dramatically better than last year’s team that lost to Cal in the first round of the NCAAs.
- What a week for Tennessee. On Saturday the Vols scored arguably the best win of the young season when they traveled to Pittsburgh and beat Jamie Dixon’s squad at the “neutral” Consol Energy Center. TWTW was ready to join the rest of the nation in singing Bruce Pearl’s praises and declaring the Vols the team to beat in a down SEC. While UT still may be the top dog down South, TWTW can’t fully endorse Tennessee right now. Not after the Vols lost at home to Oakland 89-82 on Tuesday night. That’s no knock against the Golden Grizzlies, who made the NCAA Tournament out of the Summit League last year and fell one point short of beating Michigan State this past weekend. Oakland is good, but we expect more from Tennessee. And we at least expect better defense. The Vols shouldn’t give up 89 points to any squad, especially not at home, and Oakland hit 54% of its shots (30-56) led by Keith Benson’s 26. Pearl better hope this loss refocuses his squad. Tennessee will definitely need all the mental strength it can muster when he begins his eight-game suspension at the start of conference play.
- Gonzaga just might have overextended itself with its scheduling. Mark Few at least is entertaining that idea after his Bulldogs’ 4-5 start to the season, the worst record in Few’s 12-year tenure at Gonzaga. Four of Gonzaga’s five losses came in games against teams currently ranked in RTC’s top 25 (San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois and Notre Dame), and the Bulldogs still have to play Baylor on Saturday and Memphis in February. TWTW wonders why that kind of scheduling is necessary for a team with Gonzaga’s cache. It’s tough to think of the Zags as a mid-major anymore based on their 12 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and their consistent presence in the top 25 (at least until this year). Gonzaga doesn’t need to prove itself with a murderers’ row schedule. Sure, schedule a couple of games against elite competition, but there’s no need to have a slate of games that could shatter a team’s confidence. Gonzaga isn’t a program that’s used to struggling in December, it will be interesting to see how the Zags respond to this adversity once play begins in the WCC.
- Think you know all there is about Coach K? Think all of your hate is justified? Well you should do yourself a favor and sit down and read the first two parts of Dan Wiederer’s mega-feature in the Fayetteville Observer. Part one delves into K off the court and his family life. It includes this incredible anecdote of the Duke coach at the beach during a family vacation and declaring that he’s the “Black Mamba of Beach Bocce” after pulling off a game-winning bocce toss. The second part discusses all the hate Coach K and the Duke program endures from the rest of the nation. While that angle has been written before, Wiederer’s piece comes off fresh because of all of his great tidbits and inside access. And there’s more to come with Part 3 scheduled to run this Sunday. So check it out. TWTW guarantees you’ll learn something new about K, and maybe it will open your mind to the notion that he’s not that bad of a guy. After all, with Krzyzewski likely to become college basketball’s all-time wins leader either this season or early next year, it’s the perfect time to dissect one of the most polarizing characters in the sport.
The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week.
- Like many of you out there, TWTW watched the basketball competition during 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and thought, “Boy this is great. But you know what’s missing? Rick Pitino.” We kid, we kid. But it looks like there’s a real possibility Pitino will coach the Puerto Rican nation team during next summer’s pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in Argentina. Carlos J. Beltran, president of the Puerto Rican Basketball Federation, said the national team is in “very advanced talks” with Pitino, and J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks told ESPNDallas.com that he and fellow nation team member Carlos Arroyo would meet with Pitino on Sunday if any deal with the Louisville coach is finalized. With Pitino on board, Puerto Rico would instantly become one of the most compelling squads in the Olympics should it qualify. That’s a big if, though. Puerto Rico failed to qualify for the 2008 Games and was eliminated in the first round during this summer’s World Championships in Turkey. Should a Pitino-led Puerto Rico squad make the Olympics, TWTW has but one request. Puerto Rico must face Team USA (and Coach K) at some point in round-robin play.
- Bad news for Missouri fans. It was announced Wednesday that point guard Michael Dixon has been indefinitely suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules, according to a report from the Associated Press. The news comes just one week after Dixon scored 15 points (including a game-tying layup in the waning seconds of overtime) in the Tigers’ overtime defeat of Vanderbilt. Dixon leads the Tigers with 4.3 assists per game, and his 10.7 ppg rank fourth on the squad. The loss of Dixon is a huge blow to #13 Missouri’s Big 12 title hopes. Dixon was one of two Mizzu players to start every game, and his backup is a talented but green freshman, Phil Pressey. While Dixon is only a sophomore, he had a year of experience in Mike Anderson’s uptempo system that is so dependent upon end-to-end pressure from its guards. The question now is how the Tigers’ #12 scoring offense (83.1 PPG as of Wednesday) will be affected without Dixon there to run the show.
- Charlotte’s Shamari Spears needs a new home. Spears was kicked off the 49ers squad on Tuesday. The announcement comes about two weeks after Spears was suspended for the third time in two seasons for violating unspecified rules (a common theme among suspensions these days). Spears must have done something bad to merit such a severe punishment. The 6’6 senior forward was the 49ers’ leading scorer, averaging 17 points a game. One wonders where Charlotte now will get its points. The 49ers only averaged 71 ppg with Spears on the court, without him their 164th ranked scoring offense should get only worse.
Pour This Man A Bourbon
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive might own the college sports world win it comes to football — and the SEC has a stranglehold of college football in a way no conference ever could in basketball — but when it comes to hoops this year, his conference is by no means a national power. Much of the blame for the SEC’s woes can be pinned on the teams from the SEC West: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Not one of those teams looks worthy of an NCAA bid, and right now they’re a combined 34-19 as of Thursday morning. Arkansas is the clubhouse leader with its 7-1 mark, but the Razorbacks haven’t beaten a single squad of consequence. They’re also the owners of a 70-65 overtime loss to Alabama-Birmingham. Every team in the SEC West has a bad loss on its resume as Campbell, Jacksonville, ETSU, UNC-Asheville, Nicholls State, Samford, St. Peter’s and Florida Atlantic all have wins that would be the envy of their football programs. It isn’t pretty in the SEC right now, but to be honest, TWTW isn’t sure Slive even notices. Maybe he’ll turn his attention to basketball the day after Auburn’s National Championship game. At that time he’d be best served to have a sip of a hard drink before looking at his conference’s standings.
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 6 poll, while KenPom’s is through games played through Dec. 15).
This week’s team is Connecticut. The Huskies currently are ranked #4 in the AP but #29 according to KenPom.
Why UConn should be #4: The Huskies burst onto the national scene after their wins over then-#2 Michigan State and then-#9 Kentucky in the Maui Invitational. Before those games UConn was viewed as a program in rebuilding rode, and Kemba Walker was just another decent guard in the Big East. Now? UConn is a national title contender and Walker is the early clubhouse leader for the Wooden Award. UConn hasn’t faced a top team since Maui, but the Huskies just keep winning. While other teams have fallen victim to the upset bug, UConn remains undefeated.
Why UConn should be #29: KenPom does not think very highly of the Huskies. UConn checks in at #8 among the 12 undefeated teams in KenPom’s ratings, ahead of only #38 Central Florida, #39 Cincinnati, #51 Northwestern and #63 Cleveland State. Why isn’t Jim Calhoun’s squad getting any love? Well for one thing, aside from MSU and UK, the Huskies haven’t beaten a squad ranked in KenPom’s top 50. UConn struggled to beat Wichita State on Nov. 22 and eked out a seven-point win over New Hampshire on Nov. 30. The Huskies two most recent wins came against #329 Maryland-Baltimore County and #307 Fairleigh Dickinson. You’d think that against such a soft schedule the Huskies would be near the top of just about every statistical category, but UConn comes up short in a couple key areas. The Huskies are allowing opponents to shoot 38.6% from beyond the arc (289th in the nation), and they aren’t forcing many turnovers (186th in turnover %) or taking care of the defensive glass (187th in opponent’s offensive rebounding %).
Our verdict: TWTW wants to side with the hard numbers on KenPom’s site (we after all can’t wait to see the IBM computer crush its human counterparts in Jeopardy! next February), but that would entail turning our back on Mr. Walker. It’s impossible to discount how much of a game-changer Walker has been this season. Walker’s 28.1 PPG rank second in the nation, and there doesn’t seem like there’s a defender out there with the chops to check him for a full forty minutes. Is UConn for real? TWTW thinks so. We’ll definitely get a better feel for the Huskies after they travel to Pittsburgh for a Dec. 27 date with the Panthers.
Your Seven-Day All-Americans
- Jon Diebler, guard, Ohio State — Diebler didn’t bother to take a shot from inside the arc Wednesday night against Florida Gulf Coast University. It was right decision. Diebler went 9-14 from three (making nine in a row!) and finished with 29 points in the Buckeyes’ romp. Diebler is shooting just a hair under 50% from long range this year, making him one of the best 3-point specialists in the nation.
- LaceDarius Dunn, guard, Baylor — Dunn only played one game this week, but he played it pretty darn well. Dunn scored 24 points on 6-11 shooting (4-8 from three), and hit all eight of his free throws in another ho-hum blowout for the Bears. But this honor is more about his seamless transition back into the Baylor lineup after his suspension than what Dunn accomplished in just one game. Dunn has scored at least 20 points in all four of his games this year, and he’s hitting a ridiculous 51.3% of his threes. He’s also dishing out assists at a higher clip this year (3.0 APG up from 1.9).
- Justin Hurtt, guard, Tulsa — Who’s Justin Hurtt? He’s a guy who just (insert Gus Johnson impersonation) makes buckets. Hurtt lit up Princeton for 25 points on Monday, and then he put up a 36-point burger against Weber St. on Thursday. Say what you want about the level of competition, or that Tulsa lost to Princeton and barely beat Weber St. TWTW doesn’t care. Take a bow Hurtt, your team might be pretty bad, but at least you aren’t.
- Gary Flowers, forward, Southern Mississippi —Flowers scored the final 12 points, including a game-winning turnaround J with three seconds left, in his team’s 80-78 win over Cal. Flowers finished the game with 28 points on 10-16 shooting, and his 21.7 PPG lead the Conference USA.
- Keith Benson, center, Oakland — Benson did work this week. Straight work. He posted 17 points, 12 rebounds against Michigan State and then raised his game with a 26/10 performance in the Golden Grizzlies’ 89-82 win at Tennessee. Remember Benson’s name come March if Oakland again makes the tourney. At 6’11, 225 pounds, Benson is the rare mid-major big man that can go toe-to-toe with premier post players from major conference schools.
- Phil Pressey, guard, Missouri — Pressey did just fine in his first game as Tigers’ starting point guard. Pressey had seven assists to just one turnover and scored eight points in an 81-62 win over Oral Roberts. If Pressey can play with that kind of offensive efficiency on a nightly basis, the Tigers just might not miss Michael Dixon as much as TWTW thinks they will.
- Joe Jackson, guard, Memphis — The Tigers almost made it three nights in a row in which a ranked team suffered a shocking defeat when they needed overtime to edge Austin Peay 70-68 on Thursday night. A large portion of the Tigers’ struggles can be attributed to Jackson’s off night. Jackson scored only six points on 2-10 shooting to go along with his five turnovers. That stink bomb follows Jackson’s welcome-to-the-big-leagues moment against Kansas when he finished with only one point in 22 forgettable minutes at Madison Square Garden. Jackson needs to snap out this funk if the Tigers are to reassert themselves as the alpha male of the Conference USA.
- T.J. Taylor, guard, Oklahoma — Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel announced Wednesday that Taylor decided to leave the Sooners’ program for personal reasons. Taylor, a highly touted recruit from Denison, Texas, never played for Oklahoma this season because of a concussion he sustained in the preseason. Taylor plans to transfer to a junior college.