ATB: Big Ten Battles in DecemberPosted by rtmsf on December 29th, 2010
The Lede. There were a good number of games across the college basketball landscape tonight, but few of them held much interest to the casual observer. The most important aspect of tonight (and really, this week) is that some of the power conferences are gearing up. We have a fundamental aversion to pre-New Years conference games, but the honchos tend to not listen to us, so we take the smattering of Big East, Big Ten and Pac-10 games dropping this week as yet another sign that the apocalypse is just around the bend and bearing down on us.
Your Watercooler Moment. Wisconsin & Purdue — Still Pretty Good. Tonight’s marquee games were both Big Ten battles, and notwithstanding the fact that it’s still 2010 and these games shouldn’t be happening so early, that won’t erase the fact that they did in fact occur and two teams that are always pretty good are still pretty good. The bigger game was Minnesota visiting Wisconsin, and even though many of the news outlets looked at the rankings (#13 visiting #24) and subsequently called a Wisconsin eight-point win an “upset,” anyone reading this site knows better. In fact, the Badgers were a heavy favorite in Vegas (eight points, a-ha!), and few teams go into the Kohl Center and defeat Bo Ryan. Despite getting dominated on the boards (-13), Ryan’s team played just enough sticky possession-defense and took the care of the ball (only two TOs) to stymie a Gopher attack that is as diversified as it has been in Tubby Smith’s era in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, across Lake Michigan in Ann Arbor, Purdue rode its two all-Americans JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore to a nice road win over a surprising UM team in convincing fashion. The dynamic duo went for 43/17 combined, and contributed as they always do to one of the nation’s most effective defenses in tandem. Many people wrote off Purdue as a national title contender and Final Four threat when Robbie Hummel went down with a knee injury in October, including us, but the Boilermakers are playing such impressive defense right now that we could be convinced that Matt Painter’s team could make a run to Houston after all. Mind you, we’re not talking about cutting down the nets, but if the Boilermakers can continue to get offensive production beyond Johnson and Moore — and several players have stepped up at various times as a third option — then with the right matchups, Purdue could still be a darkhorse F4 contender. Matt Painter’s defense and his two seniors are that good.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Mike Montgomery, Really? The California coach earned his 600th career victory tonight against Hartford, which puts him in a group of seven active coaches to have done so. Without a doubt, he would be the last one you’d think of — the top six are: 1) Mike Krzyzewski; 2) Jim Boeheim; 3) Jim Calhoun; 4) Bob Huggins; 5) Gary Williams; 6) Roy Williams. Pretty selective company there, as all but Huggz has won a national title.
- 30 at the Cintas. With tonight’s easy win over Albany, Xavier continued its second-longest homecourt winning streak in the nation to 30 games. This is particularly amazing considering that, well, XU isn’t all that good this year. The Musketeers have hosted six games at the Cintas Center so far this year, and already four of them have gone down to the last possession — a three-point win over Western Michigan, an overtime over IUPU-Fort Wayne, a triple-overtime win over Wofford and a two-point nailbiter over Butler. The Muskies go for #31 on New Year’s Eve against Florida, a team with a definite upgrade in talent than most of the teams they’ve played so far this season.
- Cincy Not Unlucky at 13. Yes, we realize that Cincinnati’s schedule so far this year is amongst the very worst in the nation, but winning games you should win is never a bad thing (ask Auburn), and Mick Cronin’s crew is already 65% of the way to a twenty-win season before the new year. The next three teams the Bearcats play will be better in succession, starting with Seton Hall, followed by Xavier and ending with Villanova, but the first two are at home and winning habits that have been formed over the past seven weeks of action can be drawn upon in those contests. If UC can get two of them, this team could cause problems in the Big East this year.
- Marshon Brooks as the New Kemba. This is going to be fun. Kemba Walker has made a habit of going for 30+ this year, as we all know; but just fifty miles east on US Route 6, Providence’s Marshon Brooks is giving the UConn guard a run for his money in the scoring column. With tonight’s 27 points at Syracuse, the senior guard has gone for 25+ in eight consecutive games, lifting his season average to an impressive 23.4 PPG, a mark good for ninth in the nation. If he keeps this up, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t, we could have a tremendous Northeastern scoring battle brewing.
… and Misses.
- UCSB’s James None-ally. In the Big West opener between the two teams expected to compete for the title, UCSB laid an egg at home against Long Beach State in losing by sixteen points. The key difference in the game was the performance of UCSB star James Nunnally, who came off the bench to chuck up eleven shots (eight from deep), only one of which found the net. The 6’6 junior who was an all-Big West selection last season came into the game averaging 20.2 PPG while shooting over 51% from the field, so tonight’s 7-point, 1-rebound and 4-foul performance was without question his worst of the year. For UCSB, it came at the wrong time, as the Beach has taken early control of the BW only one game into the slate.
- Harrison Barnes’ Breakout Game. We keep waiting for it, and we had an inkling that an overlooked game in Madison Square Garden against a low-level Big East team might have been it. Nope. Another 3-9 shooting and three-rebound performance from the nation’s #1 recruit, and it has us wondering if Barnes is one of those players for whom the college game and the structure of it doesn’t really suit them. We’re not saying that they’re at all the same type of player because they’re not, but a good case in point is Rajon Rondo. He was at best an above-average collegian, but you knew the athletic tools were there if he ever found the focus and sustainability to do it on a nightly basis. Barnes might be that kind of a kid, and if so, we guess we’ll find out in a year or two at the next level.
Tweet of the Night. Agreed… perhaps WhisperDome, or even better, WhimperDome, is more appropriate?