ATB: JaJuan Leaves Penn State Wanting…Posted by rtmsf on January 20th, 2011
The Lede. It was a big night of college basketball around the landscape, but there wasn’t much too surprising among the top teams; no, tonight’s focus is mostly on the unranked folks — teams like Colorado State, Marshall, Indiana State and Memphis. Oh, and a 6’9 senior who some are touting as a NPOY candidate — him too.
Your Watercooler Moment. JaJuan Johnson Saves Purdue, Enters NPOY Debate. The hope for players who make it all the way to their senior season is that they improve their game every year. Purdue’s Johnson has shown exactly that kind of progression, going from a spot-minute backup to a dominant force in the paint in three-plus seasons. Oh, and also outside the paint — you see, JJJ has added a jumper to the point where he’s taken 22 threes and made seven (31.8%) this year, which may not seem all that impressive until you realize that he had put up an oh-fer in his previous three seasons (0-10). In tonight’s game against Penn State, with his team desperately needing to avoid a three-game losing streak, Johnson received a pass on the right elbow just a shade inside the arc. In years past, he may have hesitated or looked to pass; this year he confidently shot the ball at the rim where it found nothing but net, giving Purdue a one-point lead and essentially the win with three seconds left. With his season averages of 21/8/2 BPG on 51% shooting, Johnson has re-opened his consideration as a serious NPOY candidate. We’re certainly not against the idea — other than perhaps Jared Sullinger, there’s probably no better big man in the country. With six weeks left in the season, if the impressive young center can put the Boilermakers on his back and lead them to a Big Ten title, he’ll certainly be right there with the others in a wide-open field. Check out his superb evening in the clip below.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Ohio State at #1. The Buckeyes wore it well. After several closer-than-expected games in the last two weeks, Ohio State dominated Iowa tonight by turning up the defense and holding the Hawkeyes to only 48 points tonight in an easy win. Things will change quickly, however, as seven of OSU’s next nine opponents are currently ranked beginning with a trip to Champaign this weekend where we predicted earlier today that Thad Matta’s team will take its first loss of the year.
- Texas. Wow. We knew there was a reason somewhere inside our head why we threw $10 on the Horns to win it all last weekend. When Texas is hitting shots like they were tonight against Texas A&M — and especially Jordan Hamilton, who was 10-14 — they’re an excellent basketball team. Among the teams hovering around the top ten, we’d argue that Rick Barnes’ team might have the most upside of any team in the second half of the season. They already defend like crazy, holding TAMU to 42% tonight but ultimately winning the game in the first five minutes by running out to a dominant early 20-5 lead; the only issue is the occasionally spotty offense, but with Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Gary Johnson all capable of putting up numbers, we’re slowly starting to really warm up to this team. Big time home win tonight against the streaking Aggies.p
- Louisville’s Resilience. We’re not sure how they’re continuing to do it, but they’re continuing to do it. Louisville has been banged up and rotating new players into the lineup all season, and yet they continue to win games in remarkable ways. Just a few days after the amazing comeback win over Marquette, the Cardinals ripped apart St. John’s, using Pitino’s trademark pressure defense and (what else?) three-point shooting (13-26) to terrorize Steve Lavin’s guards. We’ve said it before, but this Louisville team reminds us more and more of some of Pitino’s early Kentucky teams — you wondered where the talent on the floor was, and before you knew it, you were down fifteen points after a barrage of turnovers and threes. At 4-1 already in the Big East, you have to give him credit for another tremendous start under duress.
- Florida State and Boston College. With tonight’s wins over Miami (FL) and Virginia, respectively, the Seminoles and Eagles both find themselves sitting in a tie with Duke at 4-1 in the ACC, good enough for first place. We dare say that neither program expected to be in this spot at the start of the season, especially BC, but what’s interesting about their starts is the different ways in which they’re doing it. FSU has a top ten defense that keeps the scores low and manageable (they employed a 12-point second half comeback tonight), while the Eagles own one of the best offenses around. Does great offense trump great defense or vice versa? We’ll find out on Saturday evening when the two teams meet in Tallahassee.
- Colorado State, Not New Mexico. We mentioned this a few weeks ago and it’s coming to fruition. With a road win by fifteen points at UNLV tonight, the Rams are now 3-1 in the Mountain West and might just be the third-best team in the league behind the dual buzzsaws of San Diego State and BYU. Meanwhile last year’s MWC champion, New Mexico, continues to struggle after substantial personnel losses in the offseason. The Lobos lost at Utah tonight, giving the Utes its second conference win in a row after a previous string of seven straight losses. With UNLV faltering, CSU is in great position to make a claim on third and force the NCAA Selection Committee to strongly consider its resume (despite a weak non-conference schedule) for only its second bid since 1990.
- Memphis’ Charles Carmouche. It’s hard to believe that Memphis’ only CUSA loss so far this season was versus SMU, but that’s the truth after tonight’s big win over Southern Miss in Hattiesburg. Without Wesley Witherspoon in action due to a suspension, the Tigers came back from eighteen down to nail a huge three-pointer by Charles Carmouche with 1.2 seconds remaining to win the game (see below). Conference USA is going to be a rather competitive battle for supremacy all season this year — there are no dominant teams, only about five pretty good ones.
- Big Night in the Valley. The top four teams in the Missouri Valley played each other tonight, with Northern Iowa defeating Wichita State by three and Indiana State knocking off unbeaten Missouri State by a single point on a make and-one at the buzzer by Jake Kelly. The league’s RPI isn’t very strong due to a rough non-conference slate this season, so it appears that the MVC will once again be a one-bid conference. What that means, though, is that five teams (including 5-3 Creighton) will kill each other over the next six weeks to get one of the protected seeds at Arch to Madness in March. Here’s Kelly’s buzzer-beating drive and finish below.
… and Misses.
- WVU’s Skittishness. The Mountaineers got themselves down by 24 points in tonight’s intrastate rivalry game with Marshall, but ultimately couldn’t make the big comeback in the second half to win the game. This loss comes on the heels of defeating Purdue on Sunday and Georgetown in DC the week before. Of course, they also lost games at home to St. John’s and Miami (FL) this year, so perhaps more than any other team in America not named Tennessee, Bob Huggins’ team is as jekyll-and-hyde as anybody out there this season. You just don’t know which team will show up on a given night.
- Wake’s Run to 0-16. We honestly don’t believe that Jeff Bzdelik’s Wake Forest team could win the SoCon or the Big South this year. They’re certainly not an ACC-quality team, even in the horrific down year that the league is having. After a shot-clock era school low of 39 points at Georgia Tech tonight and now sporting an average loss of 26 points in four ACC contests, we’re not sure how the Demon Deacons will manage to win a single game in the conference this year. While never sold on Dino Gaudio as a head coach, it’s notable that two years ago this week Wake Forest was #1 in the polls — now they’re quite possibly the worst power conference team in America (nod to DePaul).
- Penn in the Big Five. Speaking of 0-16, that’s Penn’s record in Big Five (Philadelphia) games since a January 2007 win against Temple after losing to the Owls again tonight, 73-56. When you consider that St. Joseph’s and and La Salle haven’t been all that good in that time period, this is a fairly amazing statistic. Penn hasn’t been a great Ivy League team in a number of years, but
Tweet of the Night. Whoever it was in our own personal college basketball pantheon, haven’t we all been there before? Yes, yes we have.
Notre Dame 66, Cincinnati 58. Notre Dame received an unexpected lift before Wednesday night’s game against Cincinnati even began. Senior forward Carleton Scott, who had been out since January 1 with a hamstring injury, was declared available to play. While Scott only played 15 minutes in Notre Dame’s 66-58 victory, he hit both shots he attempted and undoubtedly supplied a spark that was needed for a team that had lost two straight. Scott’s play on both ends of the court helped the Irish to race out to a 33-19 lead and clutch free throws by Eric Atkins, Tim Abromaitis, and Ben Hansbrough helped the Irish withstand a feverish Bearcat rally that saw Notre Dame’s 16-point lead dwindle down to just 5 points with 1:12 to go. Hansbrough and forward Tyrone Nash each scored 13 points to lead the Irish, who had all five starters in double figures. The late Bearcat rally was spearheaded by reserve guard Sean Kilpatrick who led all scorers with 16. Forward Yancy Gates contributed 13 points for the Bearcats. Following the game, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey noted that Scott could possibly return to the starting lineup on Saturday night when the Irish host a Marquette team that beat them 79-57 in Milwaukee on January 10.