ATB: Kemba Is For ClosersPosted by rtmsf on January 18th, 2011
Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true. — MLK, 1963
The Lede. We hope everyone had a brilliant MLK Day Weekend. We know that you had a great MLK Day with the great hoops on all afternoon, culminating in two top ten matchups between Big East teams (aren’t all 16 Big East teams in the top ten?). Hopefully you were off work to enjoy it, but if you weren’t, let’s get you caught up.
Your Watercooler Moment. Kemba Is For Closers. We still don’t really believe that UConn is a legitimate Final Four contender (which you are, by definition, as a top ten team), but we will say this without reservation. If UConn can keep itself within reach at the five-minute point of the game, they are capable of beating anybody and have the best closer in college basketball. You can have Jared Sullinger, Jimmer Fredette, Nolan Smith or whoever else you want — we’ll take Kemba. His ability to use the dribble to create space for himself and get off clean and makeable looks sets him apart from all of the others, and essentially gives Jim Calhoun an x-factor that no other team can counter. Witness Jay Wright’s comments after the game — Villanova knew Walker was going to get the ball for the final shot, sent two men at him, so he simply split them anyway en route to hitting a ridiculously tough game-winning floater in the lane with two seconds left. Walker didn’t even enjoy the biggest game (that belonged to Corey Fisher and his 28 points and six assists), nor did he look dominant as he bricked his way to a 6-18 shooting afternoon, but when the outcome is on the line he’s proven again and again that he’s up to the task. We said this repeatedly back in Maui two months ago, but it’s worth noting that as talented as Walker is and has performed this season, the success of the Huskies will ultimately depend on the support he receives. Alex Oriakhi has played like a man possessed in the four games since his donut performance against Notre Dame, averaging 14/13 and providing great interior defense so that his team will be in the game until the end for Walker to do his magic. So long as he plays at a similar level, Jim Calhoun will continue to snicker at all of his naysayers, and deservedly so.
Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. Two. Syracuse Drops From the Unbeatens. It was expected once Syracuse declared that starting forward and leading scorer Kris Joseph would be held out of tonight’s game against Pittsburgh due to a nasty knock on the head he suffered on Saturday, but the way in which it happened was still surprising. For a while, it appeared that Jim Boeheim’s team must have left their entire offense back home as Syracuse’s defense faltered early, allowing Pittsburgh to run out to a quick 19-0 lead in front of a raucous crowd at the Peterson Events Center. Then, just as quickly as they got down, Cuse battled back with a 17-0 run of its own. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a game start like that before, but nevertheless, it portended what would become a close game the rest of the way. The difference was that Pittsburgh was simply better — they said they’d been practicing for a few days against a zone, and it showed in their execution (1.08 PPP was the third-best performance against the zone this year). Time and time again the Panthers moved the ball inside-out to find the open shooter on the perimeter or found success pounding the ball down low to Nasir Robinson (21/7). With the win, Pitt moves to the top of the line in the Big East with a flawless 6-0 record. With upcoming games vs. DePaul, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Cincinnati in the next four, the Panthers look very good for heading into mid-February with a 10-0 conference record.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- The Ginormous MLK Monday. All four of today’s games were great matchups on paper and we hope that ESPN keeps this up in future seasons. There’s just something always a little cool about daytime basketball on a weekday — a little like you’re getting away with something by watching it. The two Big East games ended up better than the Big 12 games, but we loved every bit of it.
- The Morris Twins. It’s like these two boys connected by genes suddenly decided to become grown men in the last two weeks. After tonight’s combined 44/14, Marcus is averaging 24/13 in the last four games while brother Markieff is contributing 14/10 during the same period. With point guard Josh Selby still struggling to adjust to the world of elite college basketball, it’s been the Morris twins who have pulled the Jayhawks through a series of recent close games against Michigan, Iowa State and Nebraska. This buys Bill Self some time while his young but talented quarterback continues to develop over the next six weeks prior to March.
- Phil Pressey’s Development. In the last two games, Mizzou’s lightning-quick freshman and son of Paul Pressey has gone for 29/5/5 assts including 7-9 from downtown. Considering that in his thirteen previous games, he’d only had one game of double figure points and had hit only five other treys, the additional offensive output has to be pleasing to Mike Anderson. Perhaps even more importantly, his defensive presence is already disruptive in Mizzou’s fullcourt schemes — he had four steals tonight and Big 12 foes are going to get tired of seeing this guy ball-hawking their players over the next four years.
- Let’s Get Wattad-ed. In a big SoCon battle tonight, Chattanooga got the best of league rival Charleston behind a 27/6/3 assts evening from one of the best names in college basketball, Omar Wattad. The former Georgetown Hoya set the tone for the home Mocs by hitting four first-half threes on his team’s way to a hot-shooting night behind the arc (10-22) — he ended with six triples. Charleston has the better non-conference resume but this is a huge win for the 7-0 Mocs because it will be the only time they’ll see CofC until the conference tournament.
… and Misses.
- This Year’s Texas. It’s looking more and more like this year’s preseason top five team who collapses will be Kansas State. The Wildcats just aren’t playing very good basketball right now, and with the player suspensions along with Jacob Pullen’s comments about refusing to play in the NIT (way to bail on your teammates, cap’n), we’re starting to think that the team chemistry on this year’s KSU team is shot. Once you lose trust in one another, it’s extremely difficult to recover from such a burden, a lesson especially true in the rugged Big 12. Two of the Wildcats’ next three games are road trips to College Station and Lawrence, so the next ten days may ultimately make or break KSU’s season.
- The Non-Fisher Part of Villanova’s Offense. Credit goes to UConn’s defense for much of this, but Villanova won’t win many games against quality opponents if it becomes the Corey Fisher and Nobody Else show. Fisher scored nearly half of VU’s points (28 of 59), and the rest of his team only contributed twelve field goals (compared with his ten). When Jay Wright’s team is playing its best offensively, as in the recent Louisville win, they have much better balance on that end of the court.
Tweet of the Night. Injured Syracuse forward Kris Joseph wrote this (since deleted) when Pitt was in the midst of its 19-0 run to start the game; he clearly knows what he’s talking about.
RTC Live. Monday’s game made up for the others in terms of excitement, and how about that Kemba Walker!
Connecticut 61, Villanova 59. What a game. It started pretty ugly (especially for two top ten teams), and it was never a pretty game, but both squads made some big plays–none bigger than Kemba Walker’s unbelievable shot at the buzzer. The atmosphere was incredible and probably won the Huskies the game. In the second half, it looked like the Wildcats were really rattled by the noise and made some costly turnovers to give Connecticut the lead. Corey Fisher was incredible, finishing with 28 points and six assists. The Husky defense totally shut down Corey Stokes, who finished 0-6 from the field. No other Villanova player finished with ten points. On the other side of the floor, Kemba Walker clearly carried the Huskies down the stretch, scoring their final seven points (though missing two crucial free throws that allowed the Wildcats to tie). The unheralded star of the second half was Jeremy Lamb, who finished with 14 points (nine in the second half) including a big time steal and pass in transition that really turned the tides in Connecticut’s favor. But I can’t say enough about that play Walker made at the end of the game. He effortlessly split a tough double team and just blew by the Wildcats before stopping on a dime and making the shot. Just unbelievable to see in person. No question if you need someone to create a shot in last ten seconds, he’s your man. On any team. This is what conference play is all about.
St. John’s 72, Notre Dame 54. Both #11 Notre Dame and St. John’s looked for a bounce back win when they met at Madison Square Garden Sunday to close out their Big East home-and-away series for 2011. Notre Dame dropped a 22 point decision at Marquette last Monday while St. John’s had to recover from a 17 point home loss to Syracuse last Wednesday. The Red Storm had another motivator, revenge for their 15 point loss to the Fighting Irish in South Bend, IN on January 8. Revenge won out as St. John’s beat Notre Dame by 18, 72-56, to even their 2011 series. The Red Storm, leading by seven, 26-19 from a first half free throw shooting contest, beat back two tentative second half Fighting Irish rallies that cut St. John’s lead to five and six, built a double digit lead and cruised home the last 12 minutes of the game. St. John’s held the potent Notre Dame offense to 41% shooting on 16-39 overall with an energetic defense that relied on a 10 man rotation for fresh legs that could shut down the perimeter and also contest for rebounds. The deeper rotation accomplished both objectives as the Johnnies limited Notre Dame to 3-15 shooting beyond the arc (20%) while racking up a +8 margin on the boards, 32 (5-27-32) to 24 (5-19-24). Notre Dame guard Ben Hansbrough led all scorers with 18 points, shooting 6-10 overall (2-6 from three, 4-4 from two) and 4-4 from the line. Hansbrough, along with guard Scott Martin and forward Joey Brooks, also grabbed a team-high four rebounds. Four St. John’s players, DJ Kennedy (14), Malik Boothe (14), Dwight Hardy (12) and Justin Brownlee (11) scored more than 10, paced by senior back court mates Kennedy and Boothe who scored 14 points apiece. Boothe, coming off the bench in a role change that he embraced in the post game press conference, did his damage from the outside, going 2-3 from beyond the arc on 3-6 overall shooting and 6-6 from the line. Kennedy, who mystifies Coach Lavin because “he is the only player I have had who turns down shots…” followed his coach’s advice and played aggressively at both ends of the floor also hauled in a game-high eight rebounds. Boothe, who received the game ball for his play off the bench, reacted with surprise and obvious pleasure when he heard that Notre Dame coach Mike Brey had declared “They (St. John’s) played like men today…” in his post game press conference. As for the St. John’s rotation, Lavin hinted the change, which produced a more aggressive and energetic defensive presence, could become a feature through the end of the season. A Ben Hansbrough foul on Notre Dame’s first possession set the tone for a first half that saw 29 total fouls assessed on the two squads. Mid-way through the first half the two teams had more fouls (18 – St. John’s 10, Notre Dame 8) than points (16 – St. John’s 10, Notre Dame 6). Notre Dame was not able to capitalize on St. John’s fouls, going a surprisingly low 10-20 from the line. In all two Notre Dame starters, Tyrone Nash and Scott Martin had three fouls while two starters, guards Ben Hansbrough and Eric Atkins, had two apiece. Six St. John’s players, Dwayne Polee, Kennedy, Brownlee, Hardy, Boothe and Justin Burrell had two apiece before the intermission.
Old Dominion 75, Hofstra 64. Frank Hassell and Kent Bazemore scored 18 points apiece as Old Dominion overcame a 12 point first half deficit to defeat Hofstra 75-64 in CAA action. After playing a collapsing 2-3 zone that made it difficult for the Monarchs to score for much of the first half, ODU was able to get a few easy buckets in transition, coupled with a couple Bazemore three-pointers that ignited their offense; the strong offense play carried over from the end of the first half to the second. Charles Jenkins and Mike Moore each scored 19 points for the Pride, but the stingy ODU defense made it difficult for Hofstra to sustain any consistent offense; the Pride shot 5-20 from behind the arc and shot 37% from the field. The most glaring disparity was clearly the rebounding advantage that ODU held over Hofstra (48 to 27), and the Monarchs converted on many of the second chance opportunities as a result. In the postgame press conference, Hofstra’s leader and star guard Charles Jenkins bluntly state: “If you don’t rebound, you don’t win.” The victory for ODU was a big one as it moves them to 4-2 in the CAA, while Hofstra finally drops a game after beginning 5-0 in league play.