The Week That Was: Jan. 11-Jan. 17

Posted by jstevrtc on January 18th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Only three undefeated teams are left in the nation after Duke and Syracuse suffered their first losses of the season within the past week. Who will be the next team to go down? Ohio State travels to Illinois on Saturday and Kansas hosts Texas. TWTW wouldn’t be shocked if San Diego State is the only unbeaten team remaining in this space next week.

What We Learned

Kemba Walker Is The Governor: He Always Saves You At the Last Moment (J. Woike/Hartford Courant)

When ESPN uses its full arsenal, it can put on a great day of college basketball. Monday (in honor of MLK Day) ESPN had a 24 Hours of Hoops Lite. They gave us four great games, three of which pitted two teams in the top 25 against each other, while the other featured a nice matchup in Kansas-Baylor.

The day got off to a tremendous start when UConn eked out a two-point win over Villanova as Kemba Walker and Corey Fisher exchanged blow after blow for 40 minutes. Walker continues to amaze TWTW, and for our money there’s no better closer in the college game than Walker. He drilled a three right in Corey Stokes’ grill to put the Huskies up 57-54 with 1:14 to go. Then after he missed two free throws and fouled Fisher with 25 seconds left to let the Wildcats tie it up at 57, Walker brushed off those two blunders with a beautiful runner in the lane with just about two seconds on the clock to award UConn the win. Then we witnessed Missouri take care of business at home against Kansas State and Pittsburgh knock off unbeaten Syracuse after blowing a 19-0 lead. But for us the most impressive win was Kansas’ thumping of Baylor on the road. Sure, Baylor is unranked, but not many teams can win by 20 points in a hostile environment.

Trashing San Diego State had become popular over the past couple of weeks, but the Aztecs are probably safe from any public knocks for a while after their impressive road win at New Mexico on Saturday night. This weekend further proved (as if we needed more) that winning on the road is one of the toughest things to ask of a team in college hoops, but the Aztecs were one of the few teams to avoid the road upset. And the Aztecs didn’t just merely squeak past the Lobos, they took it to them for 40 minutes. San Diego State broke open what had been a close game at the end of the first half to enter the break with an eight-point lead. Then in the second half San Diego State turned up the intensity behind D.J. Gay’s red-hot shooting from beyond the arc. Gay bombed seven threes and scored 17 of his 30 points in the second half as the Aztecs built a 17-point lead with 12:50 to go in the game en route to a 10-point lead. San Diego State lives on the strength of its play in the paint, but if Gay can inflict even half of that kind of damage from the perimeter, then the Aztecs will be that much more dangerous come March.

Colorado Is Off to a Great Start In Big 12 Play (KS Osler/Denver Post)

There’s a movement afoot in Colorado – or should we say, ahoof. For the first time in years, the Buffaloes are on the cusp of becoming a nationally relevant program. Colorado rallied from a 12-point deficit in the second half to knock off Oklahoma State on Sunday and improve to 3-0 in the Big 12 for the first time since the Chauncey Billups-led 1996-97 team that began conference play 6-0. The Buffs’ hot-start, which also includes eye-opening upsets of Missouri and Kansas State, has sparked public interest in a program accustomed to second-class status. This is how Denver Post columnist (and Around the Horn staple) Woody Paige described the scene before Saturday’s game:

“Parking lots overflowed Saturday morning; students got out of bed and went to a game, not to a slope or a study hall, and customers accustomed to buying a ticket at the gate and sitting in the third row were turned away by ushers yelling: “It’s a sellout!” Tickets were being scalped for $100. And, for once, almost everybody was dressed in gold and/or black.”

Cory Higgins scored a game-high 23 points, and sophomore guard Alec Burks added 20 in the come-from-behind win. Those two guards, along with first-year head coach Tad Boyle, have the Buffs positioned for an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2003 — but it’s still early.

When Seth Davis released his annual Hoop Thoughts Stock Report on Jan. 4, TWTW was surprised to discover that he gave North Carolina buy-plus status. If we learned anything this past week, it’s that this edition of the Tar Heels isn’t ready for the big time. UNC were unimpressive in past wins on the road at Virginia and at home against Virginia Tech, and then they were embarrassed Sunday night in Atlanta by lowly Georgia Tech. TWTW hesitates to chalk up Sunday’s loss to the simple fact that the young Heels were on the road. This is Georgia Tech we’re talking about: a team that lost to Kennesaw State, Siena and Charlotte this year. UNC’s problem starts and ends with its offense. After years of watching the an attack that was college basketball’s version of a Ferrari, UNC’s offense has run more like a Ford Edsel with a blown tire. The Tar Heels haven’t scored more than 64 points in their past three games, and they haven’t cracked 80 points against a quality opponent all year. And the reason for the muddled offensive play is that UNC doesn’t boast elite talent on the perimeter. Larry Drew II’s plus/minus is -40 in the past two games, and he’s seen his minutes steadily drop this year. While Kendall Marshall has shown flashes of creativity at the point, though he’s not the answer right now. Add in the fact that North Carolina struggles to get production from its two-guards on a nightly basis, and it’s not surprising when UNC struggles to score. But the degree to which the Tar Heels struggled against Tech (the ACC’s 12th-ranked field goal percentage defense) is cause for concern. UNC shot 27.6% — the fourth-worst shooting night in school history. To his credit, after that Sunday night game, Seth Davis subsequently tweeted that he’s off the Carolina bandwagon for this year.

Is there cause to be concerned in Durham? TWTW doesn’t think so. Sure, Duke lost its No. 1 ranking and its bid for an undefeated season when it fell at Florida State on Wednesday night. And sure, the Blue Devils trailed by six-points at home against Virginia on Saturday before rallying for a 76-60 win. But a bad game at FSU and a bad half vs. UVa. isn’t the beginning of a mid-season slump. For one thing, losing at FSU isn’t anything new for a top-ranked Duke squad. The ’Noles also upset then-No. 1 Duke in 2002 and 2006, and FSU is the type of rangy, athletic program that generally gives Duke problems. There aren’t that many squads in the ACC that fit the same bill as FSU, nor are there many other players like Chris Singleton. The Blue Devils might slip up against Jordan Williams and Maryland and Reggie Johnson and Miami in road games on Feb. 2 and 13, respectively, but the Blue Devils should cruise to a second straight league title. No other team can match the Blue Devils’ offensive firepower (even if Kyrie Irving doesn’t come back), and it would take a major slump for Duke to miss out on a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

Media Blackout

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

Trevor Mbakwe was arrested last Monday night for allegedly violating a harassment restraining order from a former girlfriend. This is Mbakwe’s second run-in with the law; he previously faced a felony battery charge when he attended Miami-Dade Community College. Despite his history, Minnesota elected not to suspend its star forward. Mbakwe didn’t start in the Gophers’ game against Purdue on Thursday, but he still played 31 minutes in the win. Then on Sunday he was on the court for 35 minutes in a win against Iowa. TWTW agrees with the lack of a serious punishment in this situation. All Mbakwe did was send an innocent facebook message. It was a bad decision by Mbakwe but there was nothing malicious about it. Coach Tubby Smith had this to say in a statement released last Tuesday: “I believe his actions were well-intended, but misguided, and we have made the decision not to suspend him after looking into the matter further. We believe this is the appropriate thing for Trevor and the program at this time. We view this as an educational opportunity for all of our players.”

It's Good To See Hazell Out There; He's Lucky To Be Alive, Let Alone Playing Basketball

In one of the most uplifting stories of the year, Seton Hall guard Jeremy Hazell is back on the court — less than three weeks after getting shot over Christmas break, and after nursing a broken wrist Nov. 19 against Alabama. Hazell scored 23 points last Wednesday in a win at DePaul. Just think about that for a second. Not only did Hazell come back from two injuries that would sideline most players for longer than what Hazell sat out, but he also didn’t miss a beat through a hellish end of 2010. TWTW agrees 100 percent with the sentiment found in the headline from Eric Angevine’s recent post at CBSsports.com: Jeremy Hazell is one tough SOB.

The teams staying in the WAC won’t have to worry about losing their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Because of the mass exodus of WAC teams that will take place over the next couple of years, the conference was in jeopardy of losing its guaranteed spot in March Madness, but new legislation passed this week now requires a conference to only have seven members with men’s hoops teams plus six that sponsor at least five other men’s sports.

Pour This Man a Drink

JT3 Is Still One of the Better Coaches in the Game, But His Team Is One of the Bigger Disappointments This Year (AP)

John Thompson III would probably have been happy to sit down and have a belt after his Hoyas scored a much-needed victory over Rutgers to snap a three-game losing streak that saw Georgetown drop to 1-4 in the Big East. Heck, he might have even used the opportunity to toast to his vaunted backcourt of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark, which came out of hiding to score a combined 53 points on Saturday. But a win over Rutgers isn’t cause for much celebration, and until Georgetown beats one of the Big East’s elite, we can’t take them seriously as a conference contender. Our issue with the Hoyas is their lack of strength in the interior. Georgetown struggles to rebound (250th in the NCAA) and defend (69th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 92nd in effective FG%). The fact that the Hoyas’ guards might have busted out of their shooting slumps doesn’t change how they struggle to slow down other teams. And when the Hoyas suffer more cold nights from the perimeters (they will), the fact that it’s hard for them to get easy points near the bucket means another three-game losing streak could be in G’town’s future.

KenPom vs. the AP

Here we address one team whose rankings in the KenPom and AP Top 25 polls* don’t jibe. 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 11 poll, while KenPom’s is through games played through Jan. 16).

This week’s team is Maryland. They’re currently unranked in the AP but #14 according to KenPom.

Why Maryland should be unranked: The Terps aren’t just unranked, but they aren’t even among the teams receiving votes. Maryland’s record is unimpressive at 11-6 and their best win is over Penn State – a squad few expect to make the NCAAs. Against their toughest competition, the Terrapins have come up short every time, going 0-4 against teams currently ranked in the top 25.

Why Maryland should be #14: Maryland boasts the #1 defense in the country according to KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings, and the Terps hold opponents an effective-field goal percentage of 42, good for #9 overall. That defense kept Maryland close in all of its losses to top teams as Gary Williams’ squad has yet to lose by more than nine points this year. The Terrapins also have a big man in Jordan Wiliams who’s a matchup problem for just about anyone. Williams had 23 points and 13 rebounds at Duke and a 25/14 night at Villanova.

Our verdict: Maryland definitely is more deserving of votes than some of the teams among the also-receives (i.e. North Carolina, Penn State and Coastal Carolina to name three). You could even argue that the Terps are a top 30 squad, but they’re definitely not the 14th best team in the nation, no matter how stingy their defense is. Maryland has four winnable games leading up to its rematch against Duke. If the Terps go 4-0 over that span, we’ll see them in the top 25.

Your Seven-Day All-Americans

Jimmer Fredette, guard, BYU — Fredette had a night for the ages at Utah last Tuesday when he exploded for 47 points and created plenty of national buzz. Freddette hit 16-28 from the field and 6-9 from three. He was a topic of discussion on PTI and every other relevant sports show the next day as analysts tried to determine how far the Cougars could go with the Jimmer. If he can keep pouring in shots from all over the floor, the answer might be all the way to the Final Four.

Do Whatever You Have To Do To See Jimmer Play (R. Call/Deseret News)

Jeremy Hazell, guard, Seton Hall — 23 points less than three weeks after getting shot? Yeah, I think you deserve a spot on this list, Jeremy.

Isaiah Thomas, guard, Washington — Thomas has stepped his game up since the Huskies lost guard Abdul Gaddy for the season to an ACL injury. Thomas has posted at least 14 point and seven assists in the four games since Gaddy went down, but on Sunday he really stepped up his game. Against Cal, Thomas dropped a 27/13, hitting eight of his 16 shots from the field and going 8-8 from the line.

D.J. Gay, guard, San Diego State — Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said after Saturday’s win over New Mexico that Gay is “inching up to not only be our most important player but our best player.” With a guy like Kawhi Leonard (19/15 against UNM) on your squad, that might be hyperbole, but Gay certainly was clutch this weekend. Gay nailed seven treys and scored a career-high 30 points in the win.

Marcus Morris, forward, Kansas — Morris had a career night at Iowa State earlier this week, netting 33 points and pulling down 13 rebounds. As a follow-up, Morris had 16 points and 11 boards in a win over Nebraska to cap a run that would earn him Big 12 Player of the Week honors. Then on Monday he had 25 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists in the Jayhawks’ win at Baylor.

Frosh Watch

Phil Pressey, guard, Missouri — Pressey has recovered nicely from a broken finger that sidelined him for four games just a couples of weeks ago. In the Tigers’ past two games, Pressey has scored a combined 29 points and has shot 7-9 from 3-point range.

Pressey's Return From Injury Was Quick...and Necessary (R. Sugg/KC Star)

Perry Jones III, forward, Baylor — Not a bad week for Jones: he earned the Big 12 Rookie of the Week after averaging 17.5 points and six boards against Oklahoma and Iowa State, and he was named Chad Ford’s top draft prospect. Jones is anything but a finished product, and while he finished Monday’s game with 20 points, he was not incredibly impressive against KU’s big frontline.

Terrence Jones, forward, Kentucky – Coming off the bench for the first time this season, Jones scored 35 points to set a school record for most points in a game by a freshman. Jones also grabbed eight rebounds and went 4-5 from 3-point range in the win over Auburn last Tuesday. Jones then had a 17/7 in a rout over LSU in which he hit 11-14 attempts from the free throw line.

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