ATB: Zags Seem Wobbly While Washington Does NotPosted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2011
The Lede. To give you a sense of what tonight’s basketball landscape looked like, it was a Pac-10 game that commanded the most national attention. A lot of games out there, but few that were all that interesting. Still, it’s our job to find those nuggets, so here goes…
Your Watercooler Moment. Gonzaga in Trouble. Hear us out, first. We’ve seen Gonzaga play at least a half-dozen times or more this season, and the excuses made for Elias Harris’ injury notwithstanding, we’re still waiting to be impressed. Tonight’s loss at Santa Clara where Kevin Foster went all kinds of crazy for a career-high 36 points did not help Gonzaga’s standing in our eyes. Given that this was their first true conference road game and SCU isn’t very good, we’re starting to wonder if Mark Few’s team could be on the verge of a giant letdown this year — yes, to the point where the Zags don’t even make the NCAA Tournament. Consider that coming into tonight’s game, GU was #46 and Pomeroy has them at #36, neither spots what you would call in the true safety zone for an NCAA bid; then, also consider that we think the Zags are looking at one, possibly even two, losses to St. Mary’s in addition to whomever else rises up to defeat them on the road this year (USF again? LMU? Portland?). Another problem is the non-conference schedule — in a different year, wins over Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and (projected) Memphis would be more meaningful than they are this season. The Zags’ only true quality win this year was way back in November over Marquette at the CBE Classic. Pomeroy projects Gonzaga to go 12-2 in the WCC this year, which means a single loss more at St. Mary’s, but frankly, we think they have a few more stinkers left in their queue this season. Call us crazy, but we think there’s a better-than-even chance that the mainstay program from Spokane will be sweating bullets come Selection Sunday this year.
Tonight’s Quick Hits….
- Isaiah Thomas’ Slide Save Into the Tunnel. After this season is completed and in the books, if there’s a single play that will define the success that Washington enjoyed, it will be the incredible dive and save behind his back that Isaiah Thomas made in the second half of tonight’s game against Arizona that resulted in his body sliding at least twenty feet into the corner of the arena as well as a bucket on the other end for his team off the break. It was one of the most fantastic hustle plays we’ve ever seen in the collegiate game, and needless to say, we’ve logged quite a few hours over the years. The play epitomized why this Washington team has a chance to do something special this year — since Abdul Gaddy’s ACL injury, Thomas has stepped into the point guard role assiduously, upping his scoring to just over 20 PPG and his assists to over 9 APG, including double figure dimes in his last two games. The guy is simply giving an all-out effort each night and, as Sean Miller said after the game, Thomas should be getting more credit for his play than he is getting.
- Klay Thompson’s Near Trip-Dub. Washington State’s Klay Thompson was all over the place in the Cougars’ win over struggling Arizona State tonight. The 6’6 junior is no stranger to filling up the stat sheet, but this evening’s performance was particularly exceptional. Not only did he shoot his way to 22 points, but he also grabbed eight rebounds, dished out nine assists, ripped three steals, blocked a couple of shots and committed four fouls just for good measure. The assist total tied a season high while the rebound total was two off, but it was the closest he’s gotten this season to an elusive triple-double. With Reggie Moore back tonight, we still believe that Wazzu is one of the better teams in the Pac-10, but they have some work cut out for them to catch cross-state rival Washington.
- Making a Statement. There was a huge game in the SoCon tonight as unbeaten Chattanooga visited Wofford and got emasculated and defiled upon its appearance in the building. At two moments in the second half, the lead was 42 points prior to the merciful 32-point final margin. Wofford shot 57% from the field and got big contributions from their main three guys — Noah Dahlman (22/5), Cameron Rundles (23/7/7 assts) and Jamar Diggs (23/4/4/6 stls). Both teams now have one loss in the all-important conference race for top seeding in the league tournament.
- Not a Half Nelson. We still have trouble taking seriously a player named after the RTC butler, but Reeves Nelson’s heroics saved UCLA tonight (see below) and he’s generally putting together an outstanding season as a sophomore. He’s averaging 15/8/2 APG while shooting a solid 58% from the field including a dominant 24/10 tonight versus California. If UCLA is serious about making a push into the upper half of the Pac-10 race and trying to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament this year (that BYU win is looking better and better, after all), then Ben Howland will need his best player to become very nearly a 20/10 guy the rest of the way like tonight.
- Gary Williams’ Lineup Change. Wow, it’s not often that a national championship coach so completely whiffs, but Gary Williams’ decision to start Pe’Shon Howard anc Cliff Tucker in the backcourt over Adrian Bowie and Terrell Stoglin resulted in Virginia Tech jumping out to a 12-0 lead and never looking back. The Hokies dismantled Maryland in College Park, which certainly sounds impressive until you realize that aside from Jordan Williams, Maryland cannot score. If the team they’re playing gets more than 70 points (assuming a legitimate opponent), the Terps will have a very difficult time winning that game. Their only hope is that their excellent defense keeps the game in the 60s and they can grind out a win. Weird to think of Maryland as that kind of a team, but that’s essentially what they’ve become.
- The Ridiculous Mediocrity of the Pac-10. Last year we openly rooted for every Pac-10 team to finish 9-9 to create the most ridiculous conference standing results of all-time. Cal caught some fire in the second half to dash our hopes and dreams, but it should still be noted that nine of the ten teams finished between 12-6 and 6-12. It’s not going to happen this year either, as Washington has run out to a 6-1 start and Oregon and Arizona State have only mustered one win each. Still, six other teams have between two and four losses so far, and with most of those teams you really have no idea how they’ll play on a given night. Consider the case of Stanford, a team who beat Washington in Palo Alto last week; tonight the Cardinal shot a shot clock-era low of 22% in an abysmal performance at USC. Or those same Trojans, who spent last weekend crapping the bed against both Oregons, turning around to hammer Stanford tonight. We could go on and on with these examples, but the bottom line is this — the middle of this league is really an example of parity at its finest, er, worst.
- What’s Happened to Murray State? Tonight the Racers lost on a last-second shot to Eastern Illinois to drop to 5-3 in the OVC (12-6 overall), only its second home loss in the last two seasons. This was a team that tore through the OVC last with a 20-1 record if you include the conference tournament, and expectations were enormous with Murray returning all five starters from that team, an NCAA second rounder. So what’s going on? The most obvious answer is that they’ve stopped playing defense. Last year the Racers — these very same players — held teams to 41% inside the arc, fourth best in the country. This year, they’re allowing 50%, a huge difference in conversion rate. Usually in situations where teams stop playing defense, it’s because they’ve stopped trusting their teammates — could the success of last year’s team resulted in differing player agendas this season? Billy Kennedy needs to solve that problem soon.
- Auburn and Rutgers on TV Simultaneously. Please, ESPN gods, don’t ever subject us to that basketball nightmare again. If we throw in Indiana over on the Big Ten Network, we very nearly had the perfect s***storm of hoops tonight. Wait, when does Wake play again?
Tweet of the Night. Yup.