ATB: Elite Teams Make Statements On Big MondayPosted by rtmsf on February 8th, 2011
The Lede. It’s Rivalry Week on ESPN, and the World Wide Leader has reminded us of it, oh, about every third commercial tonight. Not to mention that anytime you stumble across games from the mid-90s involving Duke and Carolina in a marathon on ESPN Classic, you have a good idea what time of year it is. Seriously, though, do they not have any other classic game tapes lying around the Bristol vaults? We recognize that the Tobacco Road rivalry is the best in the nation, but it’s not the only one by a long stretch — how about mixing it up with a few other big-timers? Bring back a few classics from the rivalry games tonight, for example — we’re pretty sure they could find a couple of great Kansas-Mizzou and WVU-Pitt battles if they spend a few minutes searching through the shelves in the back. Speaking of those two games…
Your Watercooler Moment. Big Time Wins By Big Time Teams. There were really only a couple of games tonight worthy of discussing, and both results were worthy of two teams who just five weeks from Selection Sunday have designs on #1 seeds for March Madness. In the Backyard Brawl between WVU and #4 Pittsburgh, the Panthers entered tonight’s game already with a disadvantage by virtue of a knee injury to its star, Ashton Gibbs. Didn’t matter. After a slow first half from both teams, Pitt rocked the home team through complete ownership of the offensive glass (18-6) and hot shooting (61%) in the second half, ultimately pulling away to win its tenth Big East game, 71-66. Even though WVU has been up and down this year, this was an impressive win for the Panthers, especially considering that its best perimeter player was on the bench tonight. With a solid two-game lead over Notre Dame, Villanova and Louisville in the loss column, Jamie Dixon’s team with a win on Saturday at The Pavilion, could be positioned to run away with the regular season title to the best conference in America. Meanwhile, out in the heartland of America, #3 Kansas hosted old border rival #15 Missouri in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, and for a while tonight it appeared that Mike Anderson’s Tigers were going to be able to play with the Jayhawks. That is, until early in the second half when KU went on a run to push their lead from two to ten in what seemed like a split second, then on to fifteen and coasting home from that point on. KU scored 103 points, an easy enough task when you’re hitting 61% of your shots, but what’s being left unsaid is that the Jayhawk offense seems to flow much more smoothly without Josh Selby in the lineup (he was out with a stress reaction in his right foot). The Morris twins were everywhere as usual, combining for 38/15/7 assts/3 blks, and both Mario Little and Travis Releford came off the bench to contribute double figures (17 & 10 pts, respectively). The lesson from these two Big Monday games tonight is thus: both Kansas and Pitt were without a significant starter in playing a bitter rival, but they did what they had to do to win the games and keep their lofty rankings and resume for a #1 seed intact. KU appears to have recovered nicely from the loss at home to Texas a few weekends ago, and Pitt’s home loss to Notre Dame appears more and more to be an anomaly.
And Then There Was This. Matt Howard looked like something out of that new TNT show, The Walking Dead, tonight as he took a nasty elbow to his forehead in a scrum under the basket heading into the half tonight of a game Butler eventually won, 72-65, over Illinois-Chicago. Since we’re a family-friendly site around here, we suggest you take the jump if you want to see this thing, as it’ll scare the bejeezus out of ya, for certain. Howard did not return to the game this evening, and he’ll be treated for concussion symptoms as a result of this, but hey, at least Butler is only two games back in the Horizon League standings now, right? (h/t The Dagger)
Tweet of the Night. Did anyone else note the irony of this tweet by Doug Gottlieb?