The Week That Was: Jan. 4-Jan. 10

Posted by jstevrtc on January 11th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

It wasn’t the best of weeks for TWTW. Notre Dame and Kentucky failed to live up to TWTW’s lofty praise heaped upon them. Notre Dame’s defense allowed Marquette to shoot 53.1% from the field and 70.6% from three in a 22-point loss, and the Wildcats lost their SEC opener after TWTW proclaimed them a sure-thing to come close to running the table in conference.

What will TWTW say this week that in seven-days will seem ridiculous? Let’s find out…

What We Learned

Walker Is Still Your Leader In the POY Race. (P. Raycraft/Hartford Courant)

Connecticut probably wasn’t quite in panic mode yet, but no team scored a bigger win than the Huskies with their road win at Texas on Saturday. After a 12-0 start to the regular season, the Huskies stumbled to a 1-2 start in the Big East. UConn barely beat USF at home on Dec. 32, and that game was sandwiched between road losses at Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Considering how young the Huskies are (they play six freshmen) and their dependence on Kemba Walker, the slump definitely cast doubts on the Huskies’ bona fides as a national contender. UConn seems to have its mojo back now, as other players proved they can step up in big games. The Huskies received a tremendous effort from Alex Oriakhi (11 points, 21 rebounds), while Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier contributed 13 and 15 points, respectively. UConn even survived one of the most mind-boggling shots in recent history: Smith’s full-court heave with more than 10 seconds left in regulation. If you can win in spite of a play like that, you have to think you’re destined for big things this season.

There was another team that scored a big win this week: recent TWTW whipping-boy Tennessee, who beat down Memphis 104-84 last Wednesday night. But unlike with the Huskies, it’s hard to think that win can be a turning point for the Vols. That’s because Tennessee blew all of its momentum with a 68-65 loss at Arkansas on Saturday in its first game without Bruce Pearl on the sidelines. Against the Razorbacks, the Volunteers played uncharacteristically shaky defense, allowing Arkansas to hit 50% of its shots (25-50). At least Tony Jones tried to bring some much-needed normalcy to the sidelines with a Pearl-esque outburst. Jones hurt his hand after hitting the scorer’s table after a traveling call in the second half.

The three top teams in the nation (Duke, Ohio State and Kansas) all survived closer-than-expected calls this weekend, setting the stage for what should be an eventful conference season. Duke beat Maryland at home by only seven points, Ohio State eked out a three-point win over Minnesota, and Kansas needed overtime to win at Michigan. Without Kyrie Irving, Duke isn’t nearly as dominant as it once was earlier in the season and the fact that a lot of Kansas’ and Ohio State’s success depends on their freshmen means that either team could be susceptible to an upset under the right set of circumstances. There are only five undefeated teams left (Duke, OSU, KU, Syracuse and San Diego State), and TWTW only sees a maximum of three of them ending the month with that zero in the loss column still intact. Circle these games as possible upsets: Kansas at Baylor on Jan. 17; Syracuse at Pittsburgh on Jan. 17; Purdue at Ohio State on Jan. 25; and San Diego State at BYU on Jan. 26. Sorry, Duke haters, but we don’t see the Blue Devils losing a game against one of the ACC’s mid-level squads, especially after their wakeup call against the Terps.

Mark Fox (kneeling) and His Bulldogs Served Notice to the Nation On Saturday.

What do three of those possible upsets have in common? They’re all on the road, and if there’s anything we’ve learned this week, it’s that no team is safe on the road this season. Kansas State, Kentucky, Michigan State, Missouri and Central Florida were all teams that lost road games to unranked squads on Saturday. Then Notre Dame got trounced on the road at Marquette, 79-57, on Monday night to cap an upset filled week. Winning on the road in college basketball is harder than ever before as fewer and fewer teams boast veteran lineups that are used to grinding out victories in hostile environments. While this trend lends itself to more upsets (and more chances for students to RTC), TWTW can’t help but long for the days when powerful teams hit the road and pounded weaker teams into oblivion. Last week TWTW failed to factor in this dynamic in college basketball when we proclaimed that Kentucky would roll through the SEC to the tune of a 14-2 record, or better. It took only one game and a spirited performance by the upstart Georgia Bulldogs for the Wildcats to suffer their first conference defeat.

Media Blackout

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

Despite His Youth, Gaddy Was a Fine Floor General and Will Be Missed.

Washington was dealt a huge blow last Wednesday when point guard Abdul Gaddy tore his left ACL during practice. Gaddy was one of the season’s more pleasant surprises, improving his numbers across the board after a disappointing freshman campaign. Take a look at Gaddy’s play in 2010 vs. 2009: 8.5 PPG vs. 3.9; 3.9 APG vs. 2.3; 50% FG vs. 41.7%; 81.8% FT vs. 56.4%; and 40.6% 3PFG vs. 15%. Those aren’t quite the numbers you’d expect from a guy who was rated the #2 point guard prospect coming out of high school, but Gaddy had become an valuable piece of the Huskies’ backcourt. UW easily won its first two games without Gaddy (an 87-69 home rout of Oregon and a 103-72 beat down of Oregon State) but it remains to be seen how Washington will be affected as the season goes on and how the shortened backcourt rotation affects Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton.

We finally have some closure on the Enes Kanter situation, but there doesn’t seem to be an end to the controversy surrounding the power forward from Istanbul. The NCAA denied Kentucky’s appeal, confirming he is not eligible to play college hoops because of benefits received while playing professionally in the Euro League. This wasn’t a surprising ruling, but some of the outrage over the decision has been. Dick Vitale, of all people, accused the NCAA of being unnecessarily harsh on Kentucky. NCAA president Mark Emmert defended his ruling and responded to the perceived lack of consistency in recent NCAA decisions during an interview with Seth Davis. In the interview, Emmert called Vitale’s allegations “ridiculous” and said that what set Kanter apart from someone like Josh Selby was that Kanter accepted benefits from a professional team. TWTW can’t help but think it’s rather telling that Emmert made these comments without recalling that he was the president at the University of Washington when the Huskies actively recruited Kanter.

Lastly, TWTW has noted before in this space how Ohio State rookie big man Jared Sullinger has been able to avoid serious foul trouble all year. Well, this week’s Luke Winn had an incredible piece detailing how Thad Matta has turned the Buckeyes into one of the least foul-prone teams in the nation during his seven-year tenure in Columbus. Winn’s research shows that OSU is the only team in the nation to be ranked in the top 10 in turnover percentage and the top 100 in free-throw rate; the Buckeyes rank third in turnover percentage (27.3) and first in free-throw rate (0.187). How do the Buckeyes’ achieve such a rare combination of defensive skills? As Winn writes, it’s a three-pronged system. First, the player has to be in a good defensive position before his man even gets the ball. Second, sophisticated scouting is required so players can be taught to recognize specific offensive sets. Third, players have to be well-versed in how refs officiate (i.e., what constitutes a foul and how can someone avoid getting whistled).

Pour This Man a Drink

Auburn Might Be Tops In Football, But the Tigers Might Be One of the Worst Teams in D-I Hoops. (V. Ross/Opelika-Auburn News)

For the first time in TWTW history an entire team wins this award. Unfortunately no amount of booze in the world can cure what ailed Auburn on Saturday in its loss to LSU. The Tigers scored only six points — no, seriously, SIX! —  in the first half, a putrid showing made all the more inexcusable after they rebounded to score 49 in the second half. TWTW doubts that anyone in Auburn is particularly concerned with basketball right now, given the party that’s probably still raging, but we just can’t let that kind of offensive performance go unacknowledged. That’s why we’d like to give every Auburn player a bottle of “Michael’s Secret Stuff” from Space Jam. While there was nothing magical about the water the Looney Tunes drank in their battle against the Monstars, it still made them think they were good at basketball. The Tigers need all the positive energy they can get right now, even if it comes from the movies.

KenPom vs. the AP

Here we address one team whose rankings in the KenPom and AP Top 25 polls* just don’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 10 poll, while KenPom’s is through games played through Jan. 9).

This week’s team is Wisconsin. The Badgers currently are #20 in the AP but #9 according to KenPom.

Why Wisconsin should be #20: The Badgers cracked the AP top 25 on Monday for this first time all season, in part thanks to all of the weekend’s upsets. Someone had to replace one of the spots occupied by the four teams that dropped out of the rankings; why not a 12-3 Wisconsin squad? The Badgers blasted Michigan 66-60 late Wednesday, a win that looks more impressive after the Wolverines overtime loss to Kansas.

Why Wisconsin should be #9: The Badgers do a better job of taking care of the basketball than any other team in the nation. Wisconsin ranks #1 overall in offensive turnover percentage (13.8), helping make the Badgers’ offensive unit #8 in adjusted efficiency. That care of the basketball, now characteristic of this program, has kept Wisconsin from getting blown out in its three losses. The Badgers have lost to UNLV, Notre Dame, and Illinois by a combined 18 points.

Our verdict: We’re siding with the AP on this one. The Badgers’ one notable win (Minnesota) came at home, and we’ve already discussed how difficult it is for teams to win on the road in conference play. Also, Wisconsin is just an average defensive team. Teams are hitting 36.6% of their 3-pointers against them this year, and the Badgers are forcing turnovers on only 19.5% of their opponents’ possessions. Illinois went 23-41 (56.1%) from the field in its win over Wisconsin, and TWTW fears similar outcomes as we move deeper into the Big Ten season.

Your Seven-Day All-Americans

Buycks Blistered the Irish On Monday Night. (B. Sieu/MWJS)

Dwight Buycks, guard, Marquette — Buycks was sensational in the Golden Eagles’ pantsing of Notre Dame on Monday night, scoring 21 points and hitting all five of his shots from beyond the arc. This performance came just two days after he nearly led Marquette to an upset of Pittsburgh in which he scored 19 points and went 3-4 from 3-point range.

Andrew Goudelock, guard, College of Charleston – After his worst performance of the season (seven points on 3-11 shooting) on Jan. 2 in a loss at Morehead State, Goudelock has been on fire. First he poured in 31 points at Furman last Thursday, adding eight dimes and six boards for good measure. Then he shot an efficient 7-13 and scored 18 at Wofford on Saturday. Not many people know about Goudelock’s knack for scoring binges, but those who do will have a edge when filling out brackets come March.

Kyle Singler, forward, Duke — With all of the conversation in Durham centering on Kyrie Irving’s toe, it’s amazing how Singler has been able to fly under the radar despite scoring in double figures in all but one game this year. On Sunday against Maryland, he played all 40 minutes and put up 25 points and 10 rebounds as the Blue Devils survived an early scare in the ACC.

Derrick Williams, forward, Arizona — Williams averaged 22.5 PPG and 11.5 RPG in the Wildcats’ two wins over California and Stanford this week, including a monstrous 31-12 performance against Cal. Williams’ 31-point night came as a result of finally asserting himself on the offensive end. Williams attempted 12 shots and 22 free throws in that game, his first game with at least 10 field goal attempts since Dec. 8. It would be in Arizona’s best interest to keep feeding this man the rock.

Alex Oriakhi, forward, Connecticut — Few people needed a big game more than Oriakhi did against Texas. Oriahki scored zero — really, zero! — points in 23 minutes against Notre Dame, and though his point totals were better against South Florida and Pittsburgh, the sophomore had a combined four rebounds in those two games. But against a tough Texas frontline, Oriakhi came through to the tune of 11 points and 21 rebounds.

Frosh Watch

UW Must Have Consistency From T-Ross To Remain a Major Player.

Terrence Ross, guard, Washington — Ross has so far been the answer to the question of who would step up in Abdul Gaddy’s absence. Against Oregon, Ross scored 25 points and recorded four steals; against Oregon State, he scored 14 and grabbed seven boards. While no one will ask Ross to replace Gaddy’s ball handling, Ross adds size and rebounding to the Huskies’ backcourt.

Ray McCallum Jr., guard, Detroit – With Butler about to roll into town for an epic Horizon League showdown, McCallum is playing some of his best basketball of the season. McCallum has scored at least 10 points in nine straight games, and in back-to-back road wins at Loyola-Chicago and Illinois-Chicago he posted a 16/6 and a 17/3.

Kendall Marshall, guard, North Carolina —As starting point guard Larry Drew II has continued to regress this season, there has been a push to give Marshall greater control of the offense. Marshall’s 22 combined assists in wins against William & Mary, Rutgers, and St. Francis (Pa.) only further the notion that he should be the Tar Heels’ leading man, not Drew. Then ACC play began and Marshall was unimpressive at Virginia, scoring five points and dishing out just two assists. Drew didn’t fare much better also contributing five points and two assists, but with three turnovers.

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