The Week That Was: December 18-27

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

It’s that time of year again: Conference season. UConn and Pittsburgh opened up the Big East slate Monday night with the first of what will be many highly-anticipated conference matchups over the next couple of months. It won’t be much longer until we get Pitt-Georgetown, Duke-Maryland, Washington-Washington State, Ohio State-Purdue and plenty over other mouth-watering games. It’s definitely a more appealing prospect than watching Kentucky pummel Winthrop or Texas beat down North Florida.

What We Learned

Taylor & Pitt Easily Ripped UConn

  • It might have been wise for Jim Calhoun to schedule some true road games for his young UConn squad before its Big East opener at Pittsburgh. The Huskies certainly played as though they weren’t prepared for what was waiting for them in the amped up Peterson Events Center. But honestly, there was little reason to think that this game was going to be anything other than a wakeup call for UConn. The Huskies boast seven freshmen, and only three players in its rotation that had ever played at that venue. No surprises here that the Panthers jumped out to an early double-digit lead and cruised to a 78-63 win. At least the Huskies can take solace in the fact that they don’t have to face Pittsburgh again until possibly the Big East Tournament. The Panthers’ length along the perimeter makes them a tough matchup for Kemba Walker, who needed 27 shots and 11 free throws to score 31 points against the likes of Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker.
  • After a less-than-stellar start to its season, in which Butler got smoked by Louisville and lost in overtime to Evansville en route to a 4-4 record through its first eight games, it now looks like Brad Stevens’ squad has righted the ship. The Bulldogs have won five in a row and just beat Washington State on Christmas Day to win the Diamond Head Classic. Key to the Bulldogs recent surge has been their improved play on the defensive end. Butler has not allowed more than 68 points since Mississippi Valley St. put up 71 on Dec. 11, and in their last four wins, the Bulldogs have allowed their opponents to shoot the following percentages: Stanford, 31.4%; Utah, 39.6%; Florida State, 38%; and Washington State, 40.7%. The Bulldogs’ defensive numbers still aren’t great, they rank 48th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings and they’re #272 in turnover %, but they’re on their way back to being a squad that can win games on the defensive end. As the schedule shifts to Horizon League play, the Bulldogs again are a safe bet to claim another conference championship.
  • When we last checked in with Tennessee, the Vols just had erased most of the momentum gained from a win over Pittsburgh with a home loss to Oakland (nothing to be embarrassed about, but not what we like to see from one of our top-10 teams). As it turns out, that loss to the Golden Grizzlies was a harbinger for what turned out to be a very unhappy holiday season for Bruce Pearl. The Vols lost their next two games, both to unranked opponents. Tennessee lost 49-48 to a Charlotte squad without leading scored Shamari Spears, who was kicked off the team a few days earlier. Then the Vols lost again by one point, this time to USC. To make matters worse, their win to halt the three-game skid did little to make people believe the Vols aren’t in the middle of a tailspin. Tennessee blew a 13-point lead to Belmont and needed a layup from Scotty Hopson with 5.7 left to escape with a 66-65 win. Despite his last-second bucket, Hopson’s recent play has been a major reason for the Vols’ struggles. Hopson scored a combined 28 points his losses to Oakland, Charlotte and USC on 8-31 shooting. He rebounded to score 19 points against Belmont, but he’s still suffering from a shooting slump. Hopson is 2-14 from three in his last four games.
  • TWTW isn’t a huge fan of making sweeping proclamations before conference play begins, nor do we like to divulge its national championship favorite until the most opportune moment. (Personally, TWTW prefers to wait until about 10 seconds left in the title game to announce who we think will win it all). But if TWTW was forced to name a team it would be Ohio State. UConn, Duke, Syracuse and Kansas are all fine choices, but there’s something about the Buckeyes that separates them from the pack. Everything starts with Jared Sullinger, who is first on the team in points (17.5) and rebounds (10.1) and is the clubhouse leader for national freshman of the year. Sullinger has owned the paint from Day 1 and has shown a knack for dominating games like few other big men this year (see his 40/13 against IUPUI and his 30/19 against South Carolina). What’s remarkable about Sullinger, though, has been his ability to avoid foul trouble. Sullinger hasn’t fouled out of one game this season and only has one game (his first) in which he had four infractions. But OSU isn’t just limited to Sullinger. The Buckeyes boast five players who average at least 10 points a game. They can beat you just as easily outside as they can inside with shooters like David Lighty and Jon Diebler, who shoot 45.5% and 47.4% from three, respectively. And freshman Deshaun Thomas is the kind of athletic wing that can score in bunches off the bench. Could Ohio State be better without Evan Turner? TWTW thinks so.
  • People wondered how Kansas would be able to integrate freshman phenom Josh Selby into its rotation once he returned from his NCAA-imposed nine-game suspension, the question being whether Selby’s presence would disrupt the Jayhawks’ chemistry from their 9-0 start. After two games, two wins and two electric performances by Selby, it’s obvious there was never a need to worry whether his addition would be anything but welcome. In his debut against USC, Selby scored 21 points and drilled a go-ahead three with 26 seconds ago to lead the Jayhawks to 70-68 win. There was no need for any late heroics in his second game, but Selby still made his presence felt, to the tune of 18 points and a 3-4 shooting night from beyond the arc. Selby’s already established himself as one of Kansas’ go-to scorers, and the fact that Bill Self had Selby not only on the court in the waning seconds against USC but shows how important Selby will be to any title run for KU.

Media Blackout

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

Sidney Embarrassed Himself and MSU Last Week

  • Right now Renardo Sidney has generated more with his fists than for anything done on the court in his college career. This story was hands down TWTW’s favorite Christmas present from the holiday week… TWTW loves a good fight between teammates. Mississippi State’s Sidney and Elgin Bailey both were suspended indefinitely because of their role in the altercation, which spilled into the stands, and TWTW doesn’t see how Sidney could ever suit up for the Bulldogs after this. It’s not like this is Sidney’s first incident, drama seems to follow the ex-McDonald’s All-American. Sidney sat out all of last year amid investigations by the NCAA and MSU into his amateur status, after it was reported by the Los Angeles Times that he received improper benefits while in high school. And Sidney was suspended for one game prior to the fight because of an outburst during practice on Dec. 20. At this point, the best move for Sidney would be to go somewhere he can play professionally. College definitely isn’t working out.
  • Do you think Rick Pitino regrets his lecture on the issue of concussions on college basketball? Pitino recently lamented that concussion diagnoses are much more widespread in the game than they were in the past saying:  “It’s the seventeenth concussion we’ve had this year. I’ve been coaching now 35 years. I’ve seen maybe five concussions in 35 years. The new thing is everybody has a concussion. If you walk out and slightly brush the door, you have a concussion. That’s the way it is today.”  It’s true that doctors are more liberal with diagnoses than in previously, but in phrasing that fact as a negative makes Pitino seem insensitive to the risks associated with brain injury. While football gets all the attention on the concussion front because of the violent hits and helmet-to-helmet collisions, it’s not like basketball is immune from physical play. Players crash to the floor all the time, and an elbow to the head can be just as devastating as any hit on the gridiron. We should all be thankful that all head injuries (even ones that aren’t severe) are taken seriously, and that players aren’t coming back too soon, putting themselves are further risk.
  • Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell is OK despite getting shot during an attempted robbery on Christmas night. According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Hazell was shot in the right armpit, and the bullet also hit his ribcage. The report said that Hazell spent the night in the hospital for precautionary reasons and was released the following morning. It’s pretty fantastic that Hazell escaped the whole ordeal with what was only described as a flesh wound. Things could easily have turned out much worse for Hazell, but thankfully he should be fine after a little R&R. Hazell, Seton Hall’s leading scorer each of the last two seasons, already was on the shelf because of a broken left wrist, which required surgery on Dec. 2. The senior guard was eyeing a January return to the court, but that looks less likely now. The best option for Hazell might be to medical redshirt this year and focus on the 2011-12 season.

Pour This Man a Drink

Tough Week For the UNC Faithful

There are plenty of people out there who could using something to take the edge off what was a rough week for some college hoops programs. Times are not fun for Bruce Pearl at Tennessee or Rick Stansbury at Mississippi State. But the there are people out there that had to suffer something worse than three straight losses to unranked teams or a intrasquad fight: those people are the members of Tar Heel nation. UNC fans this week definitely need something now that hated Coach K tied Dean Smith for career victories when Duke beat Elon on Dec. 20 for K’s 879th career win. Next up for the Blue Devils is a date with UNC-Greensboro on Wednesday, a game Duke should easily win, which would put Kryzyewski alone at #2 and just 22 wins short of Bobby Knight. If there’s anything that’s worse than a Duke victory in the eyes of a Tar Heel fan, it’s a win that gives the Coach K camp ammo in the “Who’s the better coach” argument. The pendulum of the Duke-UNC rivalry has definitely swung back in Duke’s direction these past 12 months. The Blue Devils’ national championship cancelled out UNC’s 2009 title, and while Duke looks poised for another deep run in March, the Tar Heels are looking like a squad that would be lucky to win a game in the tournament.

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 8 poll, while KenPom’s is through games played through Dec. 26).

This week’s team is Arizona. The Huskies currently are unranked in the AP but #14 according to KenPom.

  • Why Arizona should be unranked: Arizona has played two games this year against ranked opponents and lost both of them. On Nov. 27 the Wildcats put forth a respectable effort in an 87-79 loss to Kansas, but on Dec. 11 they were embarrassed in a 22-point blowout loss to BYU. Arizona has two wins over teams from the big six conferences, but they’ve come against Oklahoma and N.C. State — two teams that won’t be anywhere close to the bubble this season. Until they get that statement win, the Wildcats can’t be taken seriously as a top team.
  • Why Arizona should be unranked: From a statistical standpoint, Arizona doesn’t have a glaring weakness. The Wildcats check in at #9 in effective field goal percentage (56.3%), and their adjusted offensive efficency ranks 12th in the nation. Defensively, they’re solid but not great. Arizona is above the national average in three of KenPom’s four factors (effective fg %, offensive rebounding % and FTA/FGA). Their opponents might not have been very impressive, but the Wildcats have been in their 11 wins.
  • Our verdict: We’ve gotta side with our writer friends. Arizona’s signature win to date is a 10-point victory against N.C. State, a team that lost by 39 to Wisconsin. The Wildcats need to establish themselves as a serious contender in the Pac-10 (which shouldn’t be a difficult task) before we give them any credit.

Your Seven-Day All-Americans

Jordan Hamilton Has Been Outstanding

  • Darius Morris, guard, Michigan – Morris lit up Bryant for 26 points and 12 assists on Dec. 23 in the Wolverines seventh consecutive win since losing to Syracuse and UTEP on back-to-back days in late November. Morris has scored in double figures in all but two of Michigan’s games this year, and his 15.8 ppg are an 11.4 improvement over his average from last season. He’s also averaging 7.5 apg (up from 2.6), establishing himself as the Big Ten’s most improved player,
  • John Shurna, forward, Northwestern – Shurna had a subpar (by his standards) outing Dec. 23 against Mt. St. Mary’s and still came within two assists and two rebounds of a triple double. Add in his 26-point night against St. Francis (NY) and 28-point game against St. John’s and you get a week worthy of All-America honors. Shurna has been beyond lights out from the field this year, shooting 61.1% overall and 62.3% from downtown. For a guy with such a sweet stroke, though, he isn’t exactly automatic from the line. Shurna is averaging a career-worst 70.8% from the free throw line this year.
  • Ashton Gibbs, guard, Pittsburgh – It’s amazing how Gibbs had the energy to put up 21 points and dish out seven assists, all while helping force Kemba Walker into a 10-27 shooting in the Panthers win over UConn. Gibbs has scored in double figures in all but one game this year.
  • Jordan Hamilton, forward, Texas – Hamilton was a monster in the Longhorns to a come-from-behind win over UNC in Greensboro, N.C., on Dec. 18, posting a 24-10 and went 4-7 from three against Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson. For an encore he scored 21 points and pulled down eight boards in Texas’ win at Michigan State.
  • Markieff Morris, forward, Kansas – Morris was named the Big 12’s Player of the Week after he scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ win over Cal. The 21 points are career best for the junior from Philadelphia, and Morris now has four double-doubles on the season. The rich just keep getting richer at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Frosh Watch

  • Josh Selby, guard, Kansas — We’ve already covered Selby’s addition to the Jayhawks and the impact he’s had in just two games, so we’ll just leave you with this nugget: Selby’s 21 points against Southern Cal are the second most points scored by a freshmen in his first game in Kansas history. Xavier Henry is #1 with a 27-point debut in a game against Hofstra last year.
  • Tristan Thompson, forward, Texas —Thompson was named the Big 12’s Rookie of the Week on Monday. Thompson scored a career-high 17 points and had 15 rebounds (six on the offensive end) in the Longhorns’ win over Michigan State. Thompson leads Texas in rebound with eight rpg.
  • Doron Lamb, guard, Kentucky – Lamb exploded for 32 points in the Wildcats’ win over Winthrop on Dec. 23. Lamb, who’s either run hot or cold for Kentucky this year, was definitely in the zone that game. Lamb shot 11-12 from the field and 7-8 from 3-point land as he beat Jamal Mashburn’s school record for most points in a game by a fresh
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