The Week That Was: Jan. 17-Jan. 24Posted by jstevrtc on January 25th, 2011
David Ely is an RTC Contributor
Get ready college hoops fanatics. Get ready for the stampede of casual fans that are about to crash the sports bars once the NFL season comes to a close. They’ll have to find something for their sports fix and they’ll turn to college basketball. So be prepared for people asking things like, “Who’s that big guy for Ohio State? He looks pretty good.” Or “San Diego State’s in the top five? Really?!?” Just try to smile and nod at those fools. No need to let them ruin the season’s stretch run.
What We Learned
Even with SDSU and BYU squaring off on Wednesday, TWTW feels that if there’s only one game you watch this week, make sure it’s Purdue at Ohio State, tonight at 9pm ET. Matt Painter’s squad is one of our favorites and TWTW thinks they’re a good bet to pull off the upset. Purdue rebounded from back-to-back losses at Minnesota and West Virginia to grind out a win over a plucky Penn State squad and then took care of business against reeling Michigan State. It would have been easy for the Boilermakers to fold at the first sign of trouble this season. They have the built-in excuse of Robbie Hummel’s injury, and no one really believed they could sustain their early-season success once they hit the meat of their schedule, but seniors JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore wouldn’t let that two-game losing streak turn into a prolonged swoon. Johnson scored 25 points in the win over PSU, while Moore poured in 26 against the Spartans.
While TWTW isn’t a fan of how dependent Purdue is of its two senior stars (the Johnson-Moore combo is responsible for more than 50% of PU’s offense this year), there aren’t many other teams that can match that kind of experience. Ohio State does (seniors Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty), but Tuesday’s game will hinge on Johnson’s ability to draw out and slow down OSU freshman sensation Jared Sullinger.
The toughest team in college basketball this year just might be Texas. The Longhorns came back from 15 points down in the first half to beat Kansas on the road Saturday, snapping the Jayhawks’ streak of 69 consecutive home wins. That’s one of the crown jewels of road wins, right up there with winning in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Texas now has won at three different hostile venues this year. The Longhorns previously snagged victories at Michigan State, and they beat North Carolina in a game in Greensboro, N.C. More than any other team, the Longhorns have defied this year’s trend of teams not winning away from home, showing how far they’ve come from last year’s squad that went from being ranked No. 1 to getting bounced by Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAAs. There’s no way last season’s Texas would have recovered from Kansas’ early 10-0 start last year, but because of UT’s improvement on the defensive end, this edition of the Longhorns was able to weather the initial storm and chip away at the Jayhawks’ lead. The Longhorns’ held KU to its worst shooting night of the season (35.9%). For the year, opponents are shooting 37% (down from 40.3% in 2009) from the field and 28.9% (down from 32.2%) from three against the ‘Horns.
Timing is funny sometimes. In doing research for this column, TWTW stumbled upon an interesting blog post on KenPom.com about Pittsburgh’s offense. The post debunks the notion that the Panthers’ offense could spoil any potential Final Four run. KenPom’s argument is very convincing (we’ll skip over the details, but he compares Pitt to last year’s Duke squad), but he does acknowledge that the Panthers are bound to have an off night eventually. It’s just amusing how that night happened just a couple of days after that post went online. The Panthers scored a season-low 51 points in a loss to Notre Dame on Monday. They shot 40% from the field (18-45) and only made 12 shots from inside the arc. Just like people feared, they struggled to find baskets in the half court against an Irish squad that brought world-class effort and intensity on the defensive end. On the bright side, the Panthers took care of the ball (only eight turnovers) and they had 12 offensive rebounds; the overall offensive effort wasn’t that bad, some of the poor numbers were just a product of the game’s slow tempo. Pitt should be fine. But let us also not take a moment to heap some praise on TWTW favorite Ben Hansbrough. The kid was unstoppable at the end of the game. No one on Pitt could check him in the half court as Hansbrough killed the Panthers with three layups, all right-handed, in the last 3:44 of the game.
Tsk tsk tsk, St. Mary’s. TWTW hoped the Gaels would rise to the occasion and win at Vanderbilt this weekend to cement their status as a team to be reckoned with come March, and put an exclamation point on a week in which St. Mary’s entered the AP poll for the first time since 2006. But instead of capitalizing on the opportunity the trip east presented, the Gaels fell flat on their face in a 19-point beatdown that makes you think St. Mary’s might be worse than last year’s Sweet 16 team. St. Mary’s had no answer for Vandy’s tandem of John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor, who combined for 38 points. The outcome seemed eerily similar to St. Mary’s’ epic flameout in last year’s Sweet 16 against Baylor, minus the opening minutes when the Gaels hung tough with the Commodores. But ultimately the Gaels didn’t have enough firepower to hang with a good (not great) team from the SEC. A win here would have given St. Mary’s a marquee non-conference win the selection committee could point to when deliberating where to seed the Gaels (they could have put themselves in contention for a 5-seed). If there’s any consolation, the Gaels had a similarly embarrassing road loss last season — the 80-61 loss at Gonzaga — and that didn’t stop them from making a run in the NCAA Tournament.
The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week:
After so many years of the same-old-same-old with CBS’ Final Four coverage, the network can’t stop shaking things up. First, Billy Packer finally stepped down from the booth following the 2008 tournament. Now, CBS has added Steve Kerr to its announcing corps of Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg. TWTW loves Kerr’s work as an NBA color guy Thursday nights on TNT, but we can’t help but hesitate in considering this a great hire. How much college hoops can Kerr watch when he’s busy with the NBA 24/7? Will he bring an NBA mindset to the college game or will he be able to adapt and temper his criticism of players who are just kids? We think Kerr ultimately will do a good job — based on his history, there’s no reason not to expect this of him — but why can’t CBS just give everyone what they really want: Gus Johnson doing the Final Four play-by-play?
The University of Texas signed a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN to distribute the school’s own TV network. While this network won’t really affect the mainstream college hoops viewer (only up to eight men’s college basketball games will be aired on the network each season), the network’s existence should only further solidify Texas’ stranglehold on the college sports universe. As Michael Rosenberg pointed out on SI.com, Texas might be on the cusp of a potential recruiting controversy once the network launches. The NCAA rule book states member institutions cannot permit prospective student-athletes to be a part of radio or TV programs where “a member of the institution’s athletics staff has been instrumental in arranging for the appearance of the prospective student-athlete or coach or related program material.” Well, high school sports will be part of the programming on the UT network, and that sounds like it goes against that bylaw. It’s not like Texas ever needs much help in the recruiting department, but it only makes sense that the added exposure will help steer more five-star players to Rick Barnes & Co.
Losing at Alabama makes John Calipari angry. Really angry. Calipari unleashed a profanity-laced tirade at freshman Terrence Jones at the end of the Wildcats’ loss to the Crimson Tide this past week. While a coach yelling at a player usually isn’t news, Calipari’s explosion was caught on camera. People were outraged that Cal would use such harsh language with a young player on national TV and many believe that he went way too far. TWTW has a message for those people: shut up. Calipari isn’t the first coach to curse at a player, nor will he be the last. If Jones couldn’t handle that kind of a dress-down, then that would have shown you more about his mental makeup than it would have about Calipari’s ability to control his anger. But here’s the important thing — it didn’t bother Jones. “I just don’t think that even needed to be that big a deal,” Jones said. “My coach isn’t the first coach to cuss. That didn’t even bother me.” Jones knows it’s not that big of a deal, and he also probably knows that he’ll endure a lot worse once he gets to the NBA. The complainers on this need to be more like Jones and grow a pair. End of rant.
Pour This Man a Drink
Did anyone catch Tom Izzo’s interview Friday on the Dan Patrick Show? He sounded like a man without answers for the Spartans’ struggles – and keep in mind, that was before their loss at Purdue. What a turn of events for a team that began the year with a lofty preseason ranking and dreams of a national championship. Right now, a trip just to the Tournament’s second weekend would be a more impressive achievement, given the current state of the Spartans. Their 12-7 record is its worst mark at this point in the season since 2003-04. The 2009 and 2010 squads both had only three losses at this date in their respective seasons. The Spartans’ problem is that they don’t really do anything exceptionally well. Yes, they rank 22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency, but their effective FG% checks in at 75th (46.4%) and they only force turnovers on 19.9% of opponents’ possessions. That’s not usually a combination that lends itself to solid defensive play, and Purdue’s offense certainly struggled against MSU, scoring 86 points on 29-50 shooting (58%). If there’s anything that can make Izzo feel better, it’s that his teams have had a habit of mid-season slumps only to turn it around in the Tournament (who really saw either of his last two teams making the Final Four?). And then there’s always what Dan Patrick pointed out Friday: Michigan State has won more games than the Cleveland Cavaliers. Izzo definitely can rest easy knowing he made the right call this past summer.
KenPom vs. the AP
Here we address one team whose rankings in the KenPom and AP Top 25 polls* just don’t match up. 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 Florida State. FSU is currently #22 in the AP but #35 according to KenPom. Are the Seminoles a top-25 team? Let’s find out.
Why Florida State should be #22: FSU is the only squad to beat Duke this year, and that’s got to count for something, right? After their win over the Blue Devils, the Seminoles have boasted double-digit victories over N.C. State and Boston College in addition to a road win at rival Miami (a potential NCAA Tournament team). Four of their five losses this season have come to respectable opponents — we’ll get to that other loss in a second — and they’re one of the top defensive squads in the nation. FSU is #3 in adjusted defensive efficiency and #1 in effective FG% (40.6). It’s tough to score down low against Chris Singleton and company (FSU is #2 in block% and #1 in 2PT%), but the Seminoles also do a good job of clamping down along the perimeter; other teams are hitting just 28.9% of their 3-pointers. Just ask Duke what it’s like to go against Florida State’s defense. The Blue Devils had a season-low 61 points in their loss at Tallahassee.
Why Florida State should be #35: The Seminoles lost to Auburn. ’Nuff said. Any team that loses to Auburn should be permanently banned from the rankings regardless of who they beat the rest of the year. FSU struggles to put points on the board, ranking 170th in effective FG%, 214th in 3PT% and 145th in 2PT%. Florida State also is a liability at the free throw line, hitting just 66.4% of its attempts at the line this year — 240th in the country.
Our verdict: TWTW just can’t forget about the Auburn loss when evaluating Florida State. The stink is just too overpowering. Combining that loss with the fact that the Seminoles only have one win over a team ranked in KenPom’s top 40 makes it tough to view FSU as the 22nd best team in the country.
Your Seven-Day All-Americans
Jimmer Fredette, guard, BYU — We know, we know. It’s boring and it’s way too easy to continue to put Fredette on the squad. But what can we say? The man just keeps pouring in buckets and dropping 40-point burgers on a weekly basis. He rebounded from an off-night against TCU to score 42 in the Courgars’ win at Colorado State. Oh, and even during the game in which he struggled, Fredette managed to make everyone’s highlight reel with a 30-foot trey.
Austin Freeman, guard, Georgetown — Freeman awoke from three straight dreadful shooting performances to light up Rutgers and Seton Hall for a combined 53 points en route to claiming Big East Player of the Week honors. Freeman’s resurgence came at a pivotal juncture in the Hoyas’ season (aren’t they all, at this point?) but we’ll see if the Hoyas really are back when they visit Villanova on Saturday.
Isaiah Thomas, guard, Washington — Here’s anther player who’s making it two straight weeks on the team. Thomas was the player of the week in the Pac-10 after averaging 20.5 points, nine assists, six rebounds and two steals in the Huskies’ wins over Arizona and Arizona State. That’s some LeBron James stuff right there…if James was 5’9 and still pulling down boards at that clip.
Jordan Hamilton, forward, Texas — Hamilton won Big 12 Player of the Week honors Monday after averaging 22 PPG and 8.5 RPG in wins over Texas A&M and Kansas. Without question, Hamilton has been one of the most improved players in the nation this season, nearly doubling his scoring (19.5 PPG this year vs 10.0 PPG last season) and rebounding (7.2 RPG vs 3.7 RPG) production. They say players make the leap in between their freshmen and sophomore seasons, and that’s definitely been the case for Hamilton.
Jared Sullinger, center, Ohio State — Sullinger was unstoppable in the Buckeyes’ win at Illinois, scoring 27 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. In that game Sullinger showed incredible touch at the line for a big man, hitting on 13 of 15 attempts. On the year, Sullinger is making 74.1% of his free throws. Forget about any team employing a hack-a-Sullinger strategy come March.
Reggie Bullock, guard, North Carolina — Bullock might not carry the same cache with scouts as his rookie teammate Harrison Barnes, but he does have something Barnes doesn’t: an ACC Rookie of the Week award. Bullock came off the bench to score a career-high 18 points and help the Tar Heels improve to 55-0 at home vs. Clemson.
Gerard Coleman, guard, Providence — Who would have thought the Friars would have one of the Big East’s top rookies this year? Coleman won his second Big East Rookie of the Week honors after scoring 19 points in Providences’ home upset of Louisville.