That’s Debatable: Huge Road WinsPosted by rtmsf on January 31st, 2011
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at email@example.com.
This Week’s Topic: Let’s talk road wins. Last week Texas defeated Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, while Notre Dame beat Pittsburgh in its own house. Those two home teams basically never lose in those places. Which win was more impressive and why? Also, do these wins legitimize UT and ND as Final Four candidates?
Brian Otskey, RTC contributor
There is no doubt in my mind that Texas’ win at Kansas on Saturday was more impressive than Notre Dame’s victory at Pittsburgh. While both teams have surprised most observers this season, the Longhorns are coming off a disaster of a season with plenty of questions regarding chemistry and leadership. Those questions were answered last month against North Carolina and validated against Kansas last week. To hold the high-powered Jayhawks to 63 points on 36% shooting, outscore them 51-28 in the second half and come back from a 15-point deficit in their own building is absolutely incredible. Kansas had won 69 straight games at the Phog before this one, their last loss coming almost four years ago. This win does establish the talented Longhorns as a Final Four contender but I can’t say the same about Notre Dame. While it was a great win, the Irish can’t win against high level competition when they don’t shoot well. While Pitt had only lost 11 (now 12) times at the Petersen Events Center, they’ve lost five games there over roughly the same time Kansas was winning 69 in a row at home. Great wins for both teams but Texas’ was better by far.
Ned Reddick, RTC contributor
Texas going into Allen Fieldhouse is more impressive because the Jayhawks had won 69 straight there and were considered a legitimate title contender. The Notre Dame win was solid too, but I don’t quite place Pittsburgh at the same level of Kansas in terms of potentially winning the national title. I also think Texas is a Final Four candidate based on their impressive series of wins and balance of inside/outside presence. The Longhorns also have a nice blend of youth and experience and have a legitimate inside defensive presence in the form of Tristan Thompson who is averaging over two blocks per game and also manages to keep the ball inbounds, which you almost never see young players do. As for the Irish I just don’t see enough firepower outside of Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough to make a deep run. Sure they can slow things down and play ugly like they did beating Pitt by essentially playing what used to be “Pitt basketball,” but that usually is not a successful formula in March (ask Pitt who still hasn’t made a Final Four playing “Pitt basketball”).
Andrew Murawa, RTC contributor
Notre Dame’s win at Pittsburgh was big-time, not solely because Pitt is so tough at home, but because the Fighting Irish have been so inept on the road recently. Prior to the win at the Petersen Events Center, the Irish had lost all three true road games they had played this season, and by an average margin of 17.3 points. Throw in a 14-point loss against Kentucky in Louisville and the Irish had been continuing their recent history of struggling on the road. Last season, Mike Brey’s club started out 1-7 on the road (the sole win at South Florida) before getting clutch road wins at both Georgetown and Marquette in the last three games of the regular season to secure their tournament credentials. The year before, they were just 2-8, with wins only over DePaul and Providence. Now, this one road win does not automatically make this team a Final Four contender, but it seems Brey has finally bought into the idea that his team’s best chance at winning is not the freewheeling tempo of a couple years back, but a more reserved, defense-first philosophy which is better suited to weather the storm on the road. Assuming that attitude doesn’t disappear, the Irish, though perhaps not as hyper-talented as some major contenders, will be an awful tough out come March.
Danny Spewak, RTC contributor
Texas’ win at the Phog was the more important victory because of the Big 12 title implications, but it wasn’t more impressive than the shocking result at the Pete. The Longhorns won at Michigan State and North Carolina in December, but Notre Dame hadn’t won a single road game before Monday night. The Irish lost by double-digits in each contest, and in Big East play, they’d lost three road games (at Syracuse, Marquette and St. John’s) by a combined 52 points. Who would have thought a trip to the Peterson Events Center would solve Notre Dame’s road woes? As for the long term, it’s obvious that Texas is the Big 12 frontrunner and barely resembles the team that took the floor last winter. A Final Four is surely in reach; after all, two of UT’s three losses came by a combined three points to Pittsburgh and Connecticut. For Mike Brey, the win at Pitt is more proof that this is the best defensive team he’s assemble in several years. The difficult part of the Irish’s Big East schedule is over, so a strong finish may equal a top-three seed in the NCAAs and a darkhorse shot at advancing to Houston.
Kevin Doyle, RTC contributor
I don’t think many people ever questioned the amount of talent on Texas’ roster, but the only problem was that in order for the Longhorns to be successful they would need the youngsters on the roster to mature quickly in adapting to the college game. Well, now there is little doubt that Texas is for real and the freshman have blossomed right before the nation’s eyes. Going into a hostile environment in Allen Fieldhouse is no easy task, but Rick Barnes’ fearless young squad was never fazed. The trio of young players—Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, and J’Covan Brown—combined for 46 of the 74 points in the victory. Tack on the stellar play of sophomore Jordan Hamilton (17 points), and the underclassmen dominated an experienced and battle tested Kansas bunch. Texas certainly has to now be in the conversation as a Final Four candidate, but they can solidify themselves with the elite with victories over Missouri (done) and Texas A&M in the coming days.
Josh Weill, RTC contributor
There’s no doubt that beating Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse is a difficult thing to do. So difficult, no one had done it for years. But the buildup was heavily focused on whether the Longhorns were the team to break the streak. They’d been playing as well as anyone in America, and had just pummeled A&M, so there was expectation. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has been an awful road team in recent years, and had lost badly in its previous three away games. Pitt was coming off a dismantling of Syracuse in the same building, too. There was no reason to think that the result would be anything but a Notre Dame loss. The Irish’s win means more, too, in the crowded Big East standings. The win by Texas goes further to legitimizing the Horns’ chances in March than Notre Dame’s. Part of this is Kansas is better than Pitt, longterm. Part of it is the fluky nature of the Notre Dame victory. The teams could play ten more times and you don’t get the feeling ND would win more than once at Pittsburgh. Texas has more upside, but the Irish deserve major props for grabbing a win no one saw coming.