ATB: Buckeyes Lay Waste to Boilers to Defend Top RankingPosted by rtmsf on January 26th, 2011
The Lede. It was an exceptionally strange night out there in college basketball-land. The best game on paper was a complete dud, while a couple that didn’t look very exciting at all turned out to be outstanding. A team that looked unbeatable in its conference race got knocked out by an old crosstown rival, and a venerable old program with a curmudgeonly old coach who’s been telling us his team isn’t very good suffered a beatdown that nobody else saw coming. The NPOY race may have gotten a tad more clear tonight as east coast candidate #1 struggled, but let’s wait until tomorrow and west coast candidate plays before rushing to judgment on that decision. Here we go…
Your Watercooler Moment. Buckeyes Defend Their #1 Ranking With Authority. For some reason or another, there was an underlying sentiment among some people out in the world that Thad Matta’s Ohio State Buckeyes were not nearly as good as their #1 ranking. We don’t personally claim to know any of those folks, but one thing is certain. After tonight’s thorough destruction of a game Purdue team with a couple of all-americans in its lineup and a night after Pittsburgh shot itself in the foot at home against Notre Dame, let there be no question: Ohio State is the best team in America right now. And they might just be the favorite to cut down the nets in Houston in early April as well. The Buckeyes unleashed a flurry of early threes against a team with a great defense, the kind of defense that doesn’t allow teams to drain five threes against it prior to the second television timeout. Then, as soon as Purdue started figuring out how to take away that weapon, Thad Matta’s team started penetrating for open looks inside. The scariest part for every other team in the country — NPOY candidate Jared Sullinger really wasn’t even a part of the 20-point halftime lead that OSU built. He only had four points while veterans William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty did their thing. No other elite team in America — not even Duke with Kyrie Irving healthy — has the inside/outside balance and experience that Ohio State brings to the table. Against lesser teams, of course, a twenty-point lead is something that really good teams like Purdue can overcome; yet, everybody watching this one knew that Purdue was simply outclassed tonight. Short of a massive misstep, OSU will most likely hit February still unbeaten after a win at Northwestern this weekend. A home game against Michigan follows, and then a road game at Minnesota (now without Al Nolen). The most likely chance for the Buckeyes to lose next now appears to be the February 12 game at Wisconsin.
Tonight’s Quick Hits...
- Florida-Georgia as Must-See TV. Tonight’s Super Tuesday matchup between Florida and Georgia was 1000 times more interesting and exciting that last week’s horrific Florida-Auburn game on ESPN. The Gators and Dawgs went at each other tonight in a way we haven’t seen in years in the SEC (the closest comparison is some of the epic Tennessee-Florida battles in recent years), but it was Erving Walker who managed to go from the Gator goat to hero in the course of just a few game minutes. Walker’s missed FT attempts down the stretch of regulation allowed Georgia to have a chance to tie the game on Trey Thompkins’ putback at the buzzer, but it was his 30-footer at the horn of the first overtime (see below) that gave his team another chance in the second extra period. Florida ran away with it in the second OT, putting the Gators at 5-1 in the SEC with big road wins already at Tennessee and Georgia. We’re never going to be completely sold on these Gators because of their personnel, but we’ll give them credit for winning two nailbiters in very tough SEC East venues this season. Do it at Vandy and Kentucky… then they’ll have our attention.
- Kemba Walker’s Teammates, Again. What was especially impressive about tonight’s clutch 76-68 UConn win at Marquette was that despite the NPOY candidate’s poor shooting night (5-16 FG; 0-5 from three), other players stepped up to carry the load. Usually that’s been Alex Oriakhi, at least in the past month since Jim Calhoun called him out, but not tonight — Oriakhi only contributed 6/2 this evening. Rather it was the talented corps of freshmen led by Jeremy Lamb’s career-high 24/3/4 assts that kept UConn competitive throughout — Roscoe Smith added 11/8 and Shabazz Napier had 11/6/4 assts/3 stls. The reason that UConn has gone from an NIT team to a possible Final Four team in one season is twofold — 1) Kemba, obviously; but also, 2) the talented freshman class in addition to Alex Oriakhi’s development from stand-around-and-watch players to actual contributors. If this keeps up much longer, Jim Calhoun deserves serious NCOY consideration.
- UNLV Survives Trip to Laramie. The trip to Laramie to play Wyoming is never a fun one for the rest of the Mountain West, and for the first half of tonight’s game against UNLV, it appeared as if the Auditorium was morphing into a House of Horrors for the visiting Rebels. UNLV came into this game at 3-3 in the MWC and with BYU and San Diego State already running away with the league, Lon Kruger’s team could nary afford to drop one here if they hope to be the third team from the conference selected for the NCAA Tournament this year. A 51-34 second half by UNLV erased an eight-point halftime deficit behind 17-point games from Oscar Bellfield, Chace Stanbeck and Tre’Von Willis, an example of the balance the Rebels need when they’re playing their best ball.
- Belmont Induces an RTC at Lipscomb. It’s probably not often that you see national attention on a school like Belmont during the heart of conference play, but Belmont’s statistical profile (#34 in Pomeroy) has engendered a national following as the Bruins have laid waste to the Atlantic Sun through ten games this year. That is, until tonight. The Nashville school visited its rival across town whose students were treated to an 18-point comeback from the home team , including 25/7 from star Adnan Hodzic, and leading to a spirited RTC after the 73-64 victory. This event produced one of the most excitable tweets we’ve ever had directed at us, as follows (with photo)…
… and Misses.
- Syracuse’s Defensive No Show. In about as poor of a performance that we’ve ever seen out of Jim Boeheim’s team at home, the Syracuse defense was shredded from over the top for the second consecutive time. Villanova torched it over the weekend, which is somewhat understandable given the perimeter talent that the Wildcats have at their disposal; but Seton Hall? The same team that came into tonight’s game at 2-6 in the Big East and ranking in the bottom fifty nationally in three-point percentage (30.6%)? Jeremy Hazell (28/9/4 assts/4 stls) set the tone early with four first-half threes as the Pirates ran out to a commanding 13-point halftime lead that they only extended throughout the second stanza. Ultimately, SH hit 10-17 from deep and Boeheim could be seen shaking his head at the performance near the end of the debacle. Could it be that SU was overachieving all season until the past week? It certainly appears so now. With roadies to Marquette and UConn looming, Syracuse needs to figure out how to play perimeter defense again.
- Seth Greenberg’s Excuses. We really like Seth Greenberg and think he’s a solid coach who has suffered quite a few tough breaks this season, but we should just go ahead and cue the excuses for March as to why Virginia Tech was left on the bubble and out of the NCAA Tournament again (for seemingly the twelfth year in a row). A week after an impressive road win at Maryland, the Hokies were equally as bad in the second half tonight at Georgia Tech. An 18-point second half punctuated by a terrible night from star Malcolm Delaney (8 points on 3-11 FG; 8 turnovers) resulted in Greenberg’s team dropping another game to a team that it is clearly more talented than. Now at 3-3- in the ACC, we’re just not convinced that there will be enough quality wins on their resume to get the job done finally.
- 22 Bricks in a Row. Auburn is so bad that its sucktitude can even make Arkansas look like a team that knows what it’s doing. The Tigers, currently ranked #263 in Pomeroy’s latest rankings, were only down 34-30 at the half in Bud Walton Arena tonight. The pressure of being competitive must have gotten to Tony Barbee’s team, though, as they proceeded to come out of the locker room and miss their first 22 shots of the second half, allowing Arkansas to go on a 21-1 run over the first eleven minutes of the half to finish off the Tigers. According to the odds, Auburn shouldn’t win another game this season, but they did shock the hell out of Florida State, and their best bet is probably against these same Razorbacks next month on the Plains.
Tweet of the Night. We certainly wouldn’t blame him if this were true.