ATB: Upset Weekend or Just Conference Play?Posted by rtmsf on January 10th, 2011
The Lede. Despite the constant presence of NFL football, this weekend just felt like the first “real” weekend of college basketball around the country. Conference play was in effect almost everywhere, with the three holdout power conferences (ACC, Big 12, SEC) finally jumping headfirst into the family pool. The takeaway from this weekend’s action is clear — there are no dominant teams. If Duke gets Kyrie Irving back into the fold, we’ll be happy to re-visit this statement, but each of the top three teams were seriously challenged by up-and-comers and a host of other ranked teams took losses against unranked foes. This weekend could have been simply an anomaly; or, it could portend that we’re in for a rather wild ride over the next eight weeks of the regular season. In comparison with last season, the quartet of Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Duke stayed near the top of the polls from early January onward — will this year’s group of Duke, Ohio State, Kansas and Syracuse enjoy a similar track? For reasons we can’t yet explain, we don’t think so.
Your Watercooler Moment. Everybody’s Vulnerable. Saturday was one of those days where we realized once again (it happens every year) that the margins between teams with a little number beside its name and those without really aren’t that far when you get to conference play. It’s sometimes easy to forget this maxim of college hoops during November and December when teams roll up vastly inferior teams without breaking much of a sweat, but when we get to a day like Saturday where eight ranked teams lose, we’re reminded that the beauty of this sport is in its relative parity among the top 50-75 teams. “On any given night” and all that. Even the most elite teams were not immune — on Sunday the top three teams, all unbeaten, were taken to the wire by schools that on paper didn’t look capable — Duke vs. Maryland, Ohio State vs. Minnesota and Kansas vs. Michigan (you can also include Syracuse vs. Seton Hall on Saturday to bolster the point). The Terps gave Duke all it wanted in Cameron Indoor for 38 minutes; the Gophers had a shot in the air to tie OSU at the buzzer; and, Kansas was forced into OT at Michigan. All of them pulled through to stay unblemished, but our sense after watching these games is that each of these teams is going to suffer a few Ls before March roars into our lives.
This Weekend’s Quick Hits…
- Kemba Walker’s Heroics. Saturday’s game between UConn and Texas had a little bit of everything: fantastic athletes, big-time shots, powerful finishes, boneheaded plays and a raucous home crowd in Austin to take it all in. It also had another superb game-winning performance from a guy named Kemba Walker. His crossover leading into a step-back jumper over an excellent defender in Dogus Balbay was NBA-quality in its execution, and even though he had previously missed two shots for every one that he’d made, it didn’t detract from his confidence to take and make the game-winner. UConn’s having a gamer like Walker in the clutch cannot be overstated; the Huskies are not good enough to blow many other quality teams out this season, but if they can hang around until the last five minutes of the game, they have arguably the best player off the bounce in college basketball capable of getting points in many different ways. Walker’s already shown against Wichita State and Michigan State that he can take games over down the stretch, and so long as he doesn’t wear out (34 MPG), Jim Calhoun has at his disposal something that few other teams can boast.
- Maryland, But Be Careful With the Terps. We’ve been down this road with Maryland before. They play great against Duke — either beating or nearly taking down the Devils — and everyone jumps on the bandwagon and expects them to push for an ACC title and make a big run into March. And then they turn around and lose to someone like Miami (FL), causing Gary Williams’s head to turn purple and nearly explode. Even though the Terps look great on paper — they defend well and have a beast like Jordan Williams inside to get points and rebounds (23/13 tonight) — we just want to warn you to be careful with this team. They are prone to offensive troubles when Williams is having an off night, and the best team they’ve actually beaten this year is Penn State (with losses to non-slouches Pitt, Illinois, Temple and BC). The Terps have the talent to make a run at second place in the ACC, but we’ve said that many times before only to watch them bob and weave to an 8-8 (or thereabouts) league record. And don’t forget they’re already 0-2 this season.
- Well, Hello, Mr. Singler. No team has more offensive weapons than Duke, and luckily for Coach K’s 25-game winning streak, it was Kyle Singler’s turn to step up tonight against Maryland. His 25/10 represents his best performance of the season against quality competition, and with midseason NPOY candidate Nolan Smith cold on this evening (5-18 FG), Duke needed the preseason NPOY candidate to amp up his game. We still have issues with Duke’s complete lack of consistent inside play, but they proved last year that in the college game it’s not necessary to have an elite post man anymore.
… and Misses.
- Roscoe Smith. “Oh God, Roscoe…” was the phrase on everyone’s mind, according to teammate Shabazz Napier, when the UConn freshman corralled a Texas miss with 11 seconds to go in regulation and took one dribble before mis-reading the clock and throwing up an 80-footer that finally came out of orbit with 7.5 seconds still remaining on the game clock. The boneheaded play was one of the most hilarious mistakes we’ve ever seen in this game — and we’ve watched a lot of basketball over the years — although it was none too funny for UConn fans who were hopeful that the Huskies would have a chance to win in regulation. We literally had to rewind this play and watch it a dozen times for maximum comedic effect; it’s doubtful we’ll ever see something quite so ridiculous again. Luckily for Smith, UConn won the game in overtime in no small part due to his contributions (13/6).
- Josh Selby’s Shooting Woes. From what we’ve seen from Josh Selby in his all-too-young six-game collegiate career, he’s prone to streaky shooting. In four of his games (USC, Cal, Miami (OH), UMKC), he’s converted 14-20 threes for a ridiculous 70% rate. In two other games (UT-Arlington, Michigan), he’s shot 1-12 from deep and 2-19 overall. Michigan’s weird 1-3-1 defense is sure to fluster any young player, but the troublesome part of Selby’s game from what we’ve seen so far is that his mid-range and finishing ability has been awful. Selby’s only 9-29 (31%) on the season from within the arc, while he’s 15-32 beyond it (47%). Memo to Big 12 defenses, you might want to play Selby for the jumper and force him into the lane — when he’s inside the arc, he’s much less dangerous a player.
- Mark Emmert’s Fumbles. We really want to like the new NCAA head honcho and are hopeful that he directs the organization into an unprecedented era of success; but, we continue to wonder if his ivory tower background makes him somewhat out of touch with the realities of the sport. You might recall that we criticized him last summer for his comments about 1-and-done players, and on Sunday in an interview with Seth Davis he embarrassed himself further in defending the NCAA’s decision to render the recruit ineligible by suggesting that “very few” schools recruited Enes Kanter from Turkey. This was a true statement on its face, but Emmert evidently failed to recognize that his own school Washington (where he was president until November) under head coach Lorenzo Romar was actively involved with Kanter’s recruitment as one of those schools. It’s just another example of Emmert perhaps not having a full command of the facts before he tries to discuss something relating to the game — this is a problem.
- Penn State’s RTC on Saturday. Penn State defeated Michigan State on Saturday, and we understand that the Spartans are still a huge name in the Big Ten and nationally despite its struggles this season. But the Nittany Lions have played the Spartans tough for a few years now — even in bad seasons — and we’re just not sure that beating MSU for its fifth loss of the season is RTC-able. Plus, it appears that there are only about fifty people on the court in the below video. Here’s a fairly solid rule of thumb for students around the country — if the game isn’t worth filling your building for, it’s probably not worth rushing the court if you win that game (see empty end zones and corners).
Photo Fav. Utah’s David Foster is this weekend’s choice, as he personified intense focus by flying through the air after the loose ball against SDSU.
Tweet of the Weekend. Texas A&M’s Dash Harris took on his critics in an unusual manner on Sunday. TAMU is 13-1 and playing great — what’s the problem?
RTC Live. Very busy weekend of coverage around these parts, with eight games all around the country…
Villanova 72, Cincinnati 61. Cincinnati found the reception inside Villanova’s Pavilion chillier than the Philadelphia weather, and the temperature at game time was 29 degrees. After going down by 16 at the half, 39-23, the Bearcats overcame a spate of early second-half fouls and a technical that put senor forward and starter Ibrahima Thomas on the bench, to close the game to seven points twice in the space of a minute and a half before Villanova regrouped and pushed their lead back out to double figures. As the second half wore on, Villanova piled up fouls and all five Wildcats starters had four fouls apiece by the four-minute mark, forcing Coach Jay Wright to use a line-change version of substitution. A second line (Dominic Cheek, Isaiah Armwood, Maurice Sutton and James Bell) would sub in and out in exchange for four of the starters (Mouphtaou Yarou, Corey Fisher, Antonio Pena and Maalik Wayns), giving Villanova a very tall lineup at times without a point guard. Senior guard Corey Fisher led the Wildcats with 21 points while sophomore point guard Maalik Wayns had 15. Senior forward Rashad Bishop paced the Bearcats with 14 points, while junior Yancy Gates and senior Ibrahima Thomas had 11 points apiece. Thomas was the victim of three quick second half fouls, all coming within the first 2:22 of the half. Thomas was called for a defensive foul and on Villanova’s possession the Senegalese import, who prepped at Stoneridge and spent two years at Oklahoma State before transferring into Cincinnati, picked up his fourth on contact with Mouphtaou Yarou. Thomas’ immediate reaction to the call brought his technical and fifth foul. Villanova senior Corey Stokes and sophomore Mouphtaou Yarou hit all four free throws to push their lead out to 21, and it was all over but the final score after that.
Northwestern 93, Indiana 81. Indiana (9-8, 0-4) had no answer for Northwestern’s (10-4, 1-3) offense on Sunday night in a 93-81 loss. The Wildcats scored 1.35 points per possession, including 27-38 shooting from the free throw line and 10-20 shooting from three-point range, and left Tom Crean visibly frustrated with his team’s effort. John Shurna got back on track for the Wildcats with 24 points on just nine shots and Luka Mirkovic chipped in a double-double with 20 points and 12 boards. For the Hoosiers, Christian Watford led the way with 17 points and seven boards, but it wasn’t enough for his coach. “[Watford] didn’t play hard enough,” Crean said. “It’s an energy game. You have to play with energy.” Freshman Will Sheehey was a bright spot for the Hoosiers in the loss with nine points on 4-5 shooting, but he played just 12 minutes and picked up five fouls in trying to deal with Shurna. The victory puts Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament hopes back to critical instead of dead, but the Wildcats now have a big game at Iowa on Wednesday.
Pittsburgh 89, Marquette 81. The game between Pitt and Marquette came down to the fundamentals: shooting, passing, and rebounding. Pitt did all of those things better than Marquette, except for a lapse midway through the second half when Pitt didn’t take care of the ball well, leading to the Panthers losing the turnover game. Pitt shot well from the field and extremely well from beyond the arc. They distributed the ball to their teammates much better than Marquette, even though the Golden Eagles were able to partially close the gap late in the game. Last but not least, Pitt did what they always do well: rebound. They shot so well that there weren’t as many offensive rebounds to go around, but they gobbled up many of Marquette’s miscues at the offensive end. Pitt’s big players came to play, and Marquette’s struggle to get in the game in the first half, making a hole too deep for their shovels today. All in all, it was just too much Pitt for Marquette today.
NC State 90, Wake Forest 69. NC State took care of the Demon Deacons 90-69 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, but the game wasn’t really that close. After keeping it close for most of the first half, Wake Forest lost control of the game late in the first as NC State stretched their lead to ten. The second half was all NC State with Tracy Smith, CJ Leslie and CJ Williams having just terrific halves. Those three combined for 58 points on 25-36 shooting. Coach Jeff Bzdelik was very disappointed in his team’s effort, specifically with respect to defense and rebounding. To quote Bzdelik, “It’d be easy to say we’re not strong enough yet, but you don’t have to be big to rebound the basketball.” Wake was outmuscled and outhustled inside all afternoon long, and ended up being outrebounded by a ludicrous 25 boards (47-22). More specifically the Wolfpack finished with an unbelievable 20 offensive rebounds. That’s not a way to win games, and Bzdelik knows it. I came into this game thinking that Wake’s point guard struggles would be their biggest issues, but rebounding and defense are much bigger concerns after watching them struggle the entire second half.
Syracuse 61, Seton Hall 56. Syracuse always travels well, and when Seton Hall threw open the upper bowl of the Prudential Center and sold to all comers, it left an uncomfortable feeling that they would sell 10,000 seats and 8,000 Orange fans would show up. Through most of the game, a defensive tug-of-war for the first 20 minutes that ended in a 20-19 Syracuse lead, the chants and cheers reflected the score – close, almost evenly split. But when off guard Jordan Theodore hit his second free throw with 2:18 left in the game and reduced the visitor’s lead to two, 55-53, the roar that split the Rock left no doubt. This was Seton Hall’s house. Syracuse barely passed their latest road test, beating Seton Hall by five, 61-56, at the Rock in downtown Newark, New Jersey. After watching his Pirate crew struggle with Syracuse’s 2-3 zone through the first half, Coach Kevin Willard moved senior off guard Keon Lawrence over to man the point, and used a rotation of junior Jordan Theodore and senior Eniel Polynice in the other backcourt spot. That lineup tweak and a fired up Seton Hall front court contingent that ruled the boards, out rebounding their Orange counterparts by 12, 44-32. Lawrence found the seams in the Orange 2-3 zone and fed the post players. Both Seton Hall forwards, seniors Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson finished with double-doubles. Robinson led all scorers with 17 points on 7-14 overall shooting (1-2 from beyond the arc) and 2-2 from the line, even as he grabbed 14 (5-9-14) rebounds. Herb Pope, still recovering from an extended hospital stay over the summer of 2010, scored 14 points and collected 20 (9-11-20) rebounds. The Orange opened well, scoring the game’s first five points, in their first two possessions, but a defensive switch, energetic Seton Hall rebounding and untimely Syracuse turnovers seemed to leave the Orange searching for their offensive rhythm through most of the first half. The Orange opened the second half with a seven minute, 18-9 run that gave them a 10 point cushion and apparent control of the game flow. Guard Brandon Triche, who struggled to get open through much of the first half scored all 15 of his points after the intermission, shooting 5-6 overall (4-5 from the three point line) and 1-2 from the line to build the Orange lead. Syracuse kept their cushion at double digits, pushing the margin to 12 several times, until the Pirates mustered one last, three minute, 11-1 rally that cut the Syracuse lead to two. Junior forward Kris Joseph, who shared team-high scoring honors with Triche, could well have ended up the goat. Although he scored 15 points, he shot an appalling 8-17 (47.1%) from the line. The Orange could not close out the game, going 2-5 from the field, 3-9 from the line, with five personal fouls and two turnovers over the last 5:33, leaving the door open for the Pirates.
Notre Dame 76, St. John’s 61. St. John’s headed into Saturday night’s battle at Notre Dame with a 3-0 record in the Big East, but that undefeated record gained a blemish following the Irish’s 76-61 victory. Senior guard Ben Hansbrough led the Irish charge with a career high 26 points. Seniors Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin chipped in 12 points each, as the Irish improved to 3-1 in the Big East. Following the game, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey stated that Hansbrough is currently playing as well as anyone in the league, as the senior has scored in double figures in the past ten games and is the unquestioned leader of the 14th ranked Irish squad. Steve Lavin’s Red Storm squad could never get into an offensive rhythm, as leading scorer Dwight Hardy struggled his way to scoring just eight points. St. John’s will have to make a fairly quick turnaround, as they host undefeated Syracuse on Wednesday evening. Fresh off the victory, Notre Dame must travel to Milwaukee on Monday to take on a dangerous Marquette team.
St. Mary’s 85, Pepperdine 60. In Malibu on Saturday evening, St. Mary’s jumped out to a six-point lead in the first 41 seconds of their West Coast Conference matchup with Pepperdine behind threes by Mickey McConnell and Clint Steindl, and never looked back from there. The Gaels proceeded to drop 13 additional threes (Matthew Dellavedova led the way with five, Steindl wound up with four and McConnell three), while handing out 24 assists on their 33 made field goals. In addition to his 11 points, McConnell wound up with 15 assists in 39 minutes, while turning the ball over just twice. Sophomore forward Mitchell Young chipped in 16 points (on 8-11 shooting) and nine rebounds. SMC head coach Randy Bennett was unable to do a whole lot to call the dogs off despite leading by as many as 33 in a game that was never in doubt in the second half, with a bench of only eight available players and just three guards. The Waves were led by junior forward Taylor Darby, who had 16 points and nine rebounds, but there was just a significant talent gap between the two teams, especially with Pepperdine’s most athletic player, Keion Bell, out with an ankle injury. St. Mary’s improved to 14-2 on the season, including two straight wins in the first weekend of WCC play, and they’ll host San Francisco and Santa Clara next weekend.
West Virginia 65, Georgetown 59. In a rematch of the 2010 Big East Tournament title game, Casey Mitchell scored 28 points and Kevin Jones added 15 points and eight boards as the Mountaineers won 65-59 against a Hoyas team that has struggled here at the start of Big East play. Georgetown is now 1-3 in the league, with losses to West Virginia and St. John’s in addition to its loss at Notre Dame. The Hoyas once again got a poor game from Chris Wright, who was 3-13 from the floor, and Austin Freeman, who had just eight FG attempts and didn’t score until there were 15 minutes left in the game. They were dominated inside by a West Virginia team that isn’t dominating people inside this season. The most troublesome aspect of the game, however, was that down the stretch, Georgetown turned the ball over on four straight possessions when they had a chance to tie. The Hoyas are not executing offensively like we are used to seeing from them, and until that happens, they will continue to struggle. It better happen soon. Pitt comes to DC on Wednesday.