ATB: Longhorns Make a Bold Statement Against KansasPosted by rtmsf on January 24th, 2011
The Lede. Saturday afternoon was the first weekend day this year that the game had the sporting world to itself. And man, was it worth it. If five games featuring ranked teams playing each other wasn’t enough for you, you were also rewarded with the oh-so-brief return of Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl, several solid upsets, at least one RTC and, of course, another explosion from The Jimmer. Sunday wasn’t nearly as exciting because most schools and media outlets avoided competing with the NFL playoffs, but the next two weeks are all ours, so lets enjoy it, shall we?
Your Watercooler Moment. Texas Ends Kansas’ Home Winning Streak at 69 Games. On a weekend of impressive road victories, this was easily the most compelling. In fact, a reasonable argument could be made that Texas winning in Allen Fieldhouse for the first time ever and breaking KU’s 69-game homecourt winning streak is the most impressive road win of the season. Consider that there are second-semester seniors at KU who, until Saturday, had been attending games for nearly four years and never witnessed a KU loss — the looks of disbelief in the eyes of some of those Jayhawk students on Saturday surely told the tale. We asked our Twitter followers that afternoon, even prior to Texas taking control of this game, who they thought were the teams with the greatest upside between now and March. We think it’s fairly clear now that the top choice should be Texas — this is a team nobody will want to play in the postseason. As much as the Horns disintegrated in a quagmire of finger-pointing and poor team chemistry last season, this year’s squad seems to trust one another. Led by the scoring talents of Jordan Hamilton on the wing and a flypaper defense that holds teams under 40% from two and 30% from three, they have dominated the Big 12 through only four games of the conference slate (average margin of victory = 20.8 PPG). The UT defense did something in Allen Fieldhouse that we’ve never seen occur — completely shut down the Kansas attack. After an emotional 18-3 start (Thomas Robinson’s mother unexpectedly died on Friday night) where KU appeared on the verge of blowing out the Horns, Texas instead chipped away the rest of the half and ultimately finished the game with a 71-45 run of its own. When was the last time anybody went +26 on Kansas in AFH? Much of it was directly attributable to the work that Texas big men Gary Johnson and Matt Hill did on the Morris twins. For the better part of this month, the Morrises have run roughshod over everybody in their way, averaging 38/19 combined while dominating the post — on Saturday, they combined to shoot 8-24 FG for a much more manageable 26/12, forcing the KU guards (including the still-struggling Josh Selby, who was 2-9) to beat them. They could not, as one of the very best offensive teams in the country was completely stymied by the UT defense — there were no open looks as Bill Self’s team bricked its way to one of its worst home shooting games in years (36%). Rick Barnes’ team is still figuring itself out, but the potential is there — the Horns already have wins at East Lansing, Lawrence and vs. UNC in Greensboro this season. This Texas team could be scary good, but they have to continue believing in each other this time around and not let the demons re-appear; if they do so, they’re on the short list of teams capable of cutting the nets down in their home state –only 165 miles from campus in Houston — later this season.
Your Watercooler Moment, Part II. Big-Time Road Wins. We mentioned this above, but Texas wasn’t the only team this weekend that had an impressive road win. Villanova went into Syracuse and dropped bombs on the one-loss Orange; Ohio State stared down the Illini in Champaign and never blinked; BYU successfully navigated a trap game at Colorado State behind The Jimmer’s 42 points; and Wisconsin reminded Northwestern of the Big Ten pecking order by destroying the Wildcats in Evanston. We’re all sophisticated enough to know that credibility as a title contender comes from winning on the road when every person in the house hates you with all of their being — each of these teams showed this weekend why they should be taken seriously. In order to beat them, you’re going to have to play a fantastic game no matter where the venue is situated.
This Weekend’s Quick Hits…
- Jared Sullinger as NPOY. Much is being made about the outward confidence that Sullinger displayed in the huddle prior to Ohio State going on a 14-0 run in the second half of its game against Illinois on Saturday, but the bigger takeaway from that win is that Ohio State has a weapon that nobody else in the country has — a big man who can score at will inside. Nobody can check this guy, as his 27/16/3 blks against the large front line of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale attest. When he doesn’t score off the catch, he forces a foul, drawing almost seven per game, and scores from the line (13-15 FTs Saturday). The only way to stop him is to deny him the ball, but that will mean doubling him and giving up wide-open shots for his talented corps of teammates including Jon Diebler, David Lighty, William Buford and DeShaun Thomas. Good luck with that strategy. To compare him with another great OSU freshman post man of recent vintage, Sullinger isn’t the defender that Greg Oden was, but he’s far beyond Oden on the offensive end.
- The Jimmer as Must-See Basketball. It was the first sellout in seven years at Colorado State, but the Ram fans all came out to see and scream at Jimmer Fredette Saturday. Not that it mattered much, as BYU scorched CSU for 65% shooting in the first half en route to a 55-40 halftime lead and kept a good distance the rest of the way. With top five San Diego State coming to Provo on Wednesday and CSU playing well this season, this could have been a trap game, but Fredette’s 42/4/4 assts on 11-24 shooting ensured that wasn’t going to happen. The nation’s leading scorer, now at 26.6 PPG, clearly relishes hostile environments to show his stuff — all six of his 30-pt games this season have been away from home. Something tells us that might change on Wednesday night.
- Kemba Walker’s Teammates. The NPOY candidate from UConn was held to a season-low sixteen points by multiple Tennessee double-teams that forced him to give up the ball (get used to it), but thanks to the progression and confidence of his youngish teammates, the Huskies were still able to win the game in convincing fashion. To wit: Freshman Roscoe Smith’s 12/4/3 blks; freshman Jeremy Lamb’s 16/5/2 blks; sophomore Alex Oriakhi’s 12/10/3 stls. That’s called stepping up, and so long as the UConn baby Huskies can do that when called upon by all of the attention on Walker’s offensive prowess, Jim Calhoun will continue smiling in press conferences (a rarity in most seasons).
- Terrence Jones to the Rack. Um, wow.
- RTC Witnesses an RTC Up Close. It’s not every weekend that RTC Live is sitting courtside at a game that involves an RTC, but Saturday night’s Gonzaga loss to San Francisco was one such night. Luckily the correspondent at the game had the good sense to get some video of the mad rush of the USF students onto the floor.
… and Misses.
- Syracuse’s 2-3 Zone. When it works as it usually does, teams are baited into taking threes that are much lower-percentage than the shots they could get if they spent more time penetrating and picking apart the zone from the inside. Occasionally, though, a good-shooting team simply catches fire from outside and there’s not much a zone defense can do to stem the tide. That was Villanova during the first half of Saturday’s game — the Wildcats hit 8-11 from deep and set the tone very early en route to an 11-point halftime lead. Syracuse never could piece together a strong enough run to get over the hump, but we’re starting to believe a little more in Jay Wright’s team — the guards can still occasionally run hot and cold, but the emergence of Mouph Yarou to go along with Antonio Pena inside makes this team much more intriguing as a Final Four candidate to us than last year.
- Rick Pitino’s Weekend. Frankly, it was enough that Rick Pitino’s Cardinals lost at Providence on Saturday, a team that had lost seventeen straight Big East games going into that afternoon, but there was also the curious allegations levied on the coach by his local nemesis Karen Sypher, a woman who presumably plans to never leave him alone. Here’s how bad it was: over the weekend, Geraldo got involved (see below). As for the game, Louisville shot 4-23 from deep, an ironic result given that this year’s Louisville team closely echoes the early Providence and Kentucky teams that ultimately made Pitino a coaching superstar. We’ve been slow to warm up to this year’s U of L team, and the possibility of stinkers like these is the primary reason we’ve been so hesitant.
Photo Fav. The Orange Krush did their best on Saturday, but Ohio State (especially Jared Sullinger) was just too good.
RTC Live. We were there for the return of Bruce Pearl and one of the RTCs this weekend…
Connecticut 72, Tennessee 61. Coach Jim Calhoun noted in the post-game that this was “far and away the best team effort against a quality opponent.” With the win over Tennessee, Connecticut moves to 12-0 in nonconference action this season. But Calhoun is right, this was the best his team has played. Four Huskies finished in double figures, most notably freshmen Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb combined for 28 points, including six of nine from beyond the arc. Tennessee had a very clear defensive game plan: stack the middle, and double Kemba Walker off of all screens (and pretty much anytime he touched the ball). For the first half, Pearl’s strategy worked like a charm: Walker was limited to eight points (most towards the end of the half), and the Volunteer offense looked sharp. Then Tennessee made a couple big miscues (and give Charles Okwandu credit for smothering defense), including letting Connecticut have the last shot. No surprise to anyone who has watched any Connecticut basketball this year, Walker went isolation at the top of the key and drilled a deep three to put the Huskies up one at the break. The second half was all Connecticut. The Volunteer offense sputtered while the Huskies went on to score a brutally efficient 40 points on only 30 possessions. Part of the trouble was shot selection: Tennessee scored 18 of 31 points in the paint, where they only managed eight (of thirty) in the second half because they fell in love with jump shots. Tennessee got a great game out of Melvin Goins, who finished with fifteen points and five assists, but duds out of Scotty Hopson and Brian Williams. Hopson played lackadaisical defense, only got two rebounds and finished with five turnovers. At critical points, Pearl pulled Hopson for Skylar McBee out of frustration. Williams was a total nonfactor, finishing with four points in 26 minutes. He also flirted with a technical foul for most of the second half and looked more concerned pleading his case to the refs than getting back on defense or even putting the ball in the basket. A relatively unheralded facet of Lamb’s and Smith’s contributions was their lockdown defense on Tobias Harris. Harris finished with ten points, but was held to three points at the half. Connecticut did a great job of getting in the passing lanes to keep him from getting the ball and staying in front of him when he did get the ball. After the game Pearl stressed that Tennessee didn’t put the ball in Harris’ hands enough. While he didn’t score thirty, Kemba Walker was still huge in Connecticut’s win. Not only did he hit a couple of critical jumpers to pull the Huskies ahead at the end of the first half, he also finished with seven assists. Walker was mature enough to realize he couldn’t be as efficient shooting over two defenders as his teammates could be wide open. The fact that he can be a facilitator–as well as the best go-to scorer in the country–makes Connecticut that much more dangerous. There had been questions about whether this team could go very deep in postseason play since they rely so heavily on one player. Those questions were answered today. Now consistency is the only question. As for Tennessee they move to 12-7 on the season. This team is dangerously close to the bubble, despite great wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh. Bruce Pearl still has four league games to watch from home before coming back to finish the season. They need to have a strong showing the rest of conference play to punch their ticket.
Notre Dame 80, Marquette 75. Trailing by 12 at the beginning of the second half, Notre Dame did not panic; instead they turned to their senior guard Ben Hansbrough to provide a necessary spark. Hansbrough led a feverish rally that saw Marquette’s 12 point loss completely disappear. Hansbrough led all scorers with 28 points, but the second half contributions of seniors Tyrone Nash, Scott Martin, and Carleton Scott were also essential to the Irish victory. Marquette shot a sizzling 61.5% from the field in the first half, but cooled down significantly in the second half by only connecting on 9 of 30 field goals. Marquette’s scolding hot start was led by Darius Johnson-Odom, who finished with a team high 25 points, and Jae Crowder, who added 15 points before fouling out. The win brought Notre Dame’s home record to a perfect 13-0. It can be stated that this was a huge victory for the Irish, as it supplies momentum for their Monday showdown at Pittsburgh.
San Francisco 96, Gonzaga 91 (OT). For the second consecutive season, a trip to the Hilltop campus of the University of San Francisco ended badly for Gonzaga. Rex Walters’ team now sits at 4-1 in the WCC after a tough, well-played game that ended with an ugly elbow foul changed the course of the night. With thirty seconds to go, GU’s Robert Sacre secured a USF miss with the Zags up one point; trying to clear space, he swung his elbow into the face of Angelo Caloiaro and was subsequently whistled for an intentional foul, giving the Dons two shots and the ball back — what had appeared to be a possible win for Gonzaga had turned into a probable victory for San Francisco. After the Dons went up three on four made foul shots, Demetri Goodson connected on a trey with a couple of seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime. In the OT period, USF appeared the more poised team, especially after Cody Doolin’s game-winning shot (and-1!) in the closing seconds to seal the second major victory over Gonzaga in the Walters era. The Dons put all five starters into double figures and have brought fun back to a program in desperate need of some (see RTC above); as for Mark Few, his team left the Bay Area with two losses and clearly teetering on the unfamiliar surface of the bubble as we’re only a week away from February.