ATB: A Messy Prez Day WeekendPosted by rtmsf on February 22nd, 2011
The Lede. What a wild, wild President’s Day weekend it was. The second-, third-, and fourth-ranked teams all took a loss over the weekend to join #1 Kansas from the previous Monday night, the first time that such a thing had happened in a little over seven years. BracketBusters was in full effect across the land, and although there were some interesting games during the event, only a couple of teams actually helped themselves. Over the three days, we saw RTCs ranging from relaxed ambivalence to firecracker intensity, another bizarre diatribe from Jim Boeheim, and a number of great games befitting the time of the season where so much is on the line. Let’s jump in…
Your Watercooler Moment. 1, 2, 3, 4… The last time that the top four teams in the national polls lost in the same week of action, Barack Obama was an unknown state senator in Illinois and Saddam Hussein was hiding in a hole in somebody’s backyard. It was November 2003, and the names Bieber, Gaga and Twitter had no meaning to anybody yet, but UConn, Duke, Michigan State and Arizona each dropped a game over Thanksgiving week that year and the result was a significant re-ordering of the poll. The big difference this time around is that we’re two weeks from the end of the season as opposed to two weeks from the start, so the likelihood of four established teams dropping games over the same week was far more unlikely. So what happened, exactly?
We already knew that #1 Kansas lost to K-State in rough-and-tumble fashion last Monday. But the next three teams waited until the weekend to join the polling bloodbath. It began on Saturday with the first game of the day — Steve Lavin’s rejuvenated and tough-as-nails St. John’s program took down #4 Pittsburgh on the back of Dwight Hardy’s 19 points and his tap dance routine along the baseline to win the game. It was the cherry on top of the sundae in a season of breakthroughs for the Red Storm program, and as you can see below, Madison Square Garden has become something more than just the place where Amare and (now) Melo play.
A little later Saturday afternoon, #2 Texas was in trouble at Nebraska late when its vaunted defense and some brain-farts on the part of the Huskers led to a ridiculous 12-1 in a span of thirty-four seconds to tie the game in the final minute, 65-all. What appeared to be a major meltdown in Lincoln, though, turned to bedlam as Doc Sadler’s team regained its composure enough to hit their FTs down the stretch and notch possibly their biggest win in years. UT is more than its individuals, but when Jordan Hamilton struggles as he did on Saturday (3-16 FG), the Horns have trouble putting enough points on the board against quality teams. With the win, Nebraska has vaulted itself back onto the bubble — with a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Huskers could potentially get back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in thirteen seasons. Nice RTC, fellas.
On Sunday it was Ohio State’s turn to again do battle with a Big Ten road crowd and team dead set on knocking off the much-hyped Buckeyes. Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore ensured that the home crowd got what they paid for, as the senior guard went Kemba/Jimmer on the Big Ten leaders, scoring in just about every possible way en route to a superb 38/4/5 asst afternoon on 13-18 shooting. His 13-point stretch over the last three-plus minutes of the first half was as impressive an offensive display as we’ve seen all season, punctuated by an acrobatic circus shot layup (see below) that told the viewers that this was going to be his game. Talk has increased about Purdue as a legitimate Final Four contender after wins over OSU and Wisconsin last week, but the Boilermakers are an excellent home team. We’re not as sold on Matt Painter’s team outside the friendly confines of Mackey Arena.
There you have it. Three of the top four losing over the weekend, and nobody having a clue as to how to rank the top six today. The AP Poll had six different teams receiving #1 votes, while the ESPN/Coaches had five. Even the RTC poll, consisting of only six voters, had four different teams ranked at the top. The takeaway from this weekend, and really, much of the season, is that there are a bunch of really good teams but certainly no great ones. The NCAA Tournament could look a lot more like the 1997 (Arizona), 2003 (Syracuse), or 2006 (Florida) versions given this season’s continuing and obvious level of parity.
Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. II. Another Diatribe From Jim Boeheim. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim must really be frustrated with his team this season. The smiles and self-knowing mockery that he engaged with the media last season appears to have migrated south with the rest of the snowbirds. After tonight’s win (note we said “win”) at Villanova, Boeheim again lashed out at the media for its stupid questions and representations about his team. Mike Miller at MSNBC has the goods here (via Soft Pretzel Logic), and we’re a little bit at a loss ourselves as to why Boeheim is acting like such a prima donna lately. With respect to the questions about “toughening” up one’s team, he can choose to not believe in such a thing but we dare say that he probably does. Most coaches who have been doing this for as long as he has would probably believe there’s real team-building value in gutting out close wins ten times even if you end up losing a similarly-situated game in the postseason. We weren’t at the presser in Philadelphia tonight, but it sounded like someone arguing for the sake of being argumentative. Lighten up, Jim — the university pays you a LOT of money to answer a few minutes of questions after each game, not to berate people and make them feel stupid for doing their jobs.
This Weekend’s Quick Hits…
- Welcome Back, Ashton Gibbs. In his first game back from injury that caused him to miss two weeks of action, Gibbs didn’t start on Saturday against St. John’s, but he definitely made his presence known quickly. Fifteen quick first half points led to a 26/3 performance that included six treys and caused fits for Steve Lavin’s defense all day long. The rest of his team didn’t step up, though, going 13-32 from the field and sometimes looking a little less fluid than we had seen over the previous two weeks. Jamie Dixon will certainly figure it out before March, but he needs his highly efficient offense to re-adjust to having the talented Gibbs (who takes 27% of the shots) back in the lineup.
- Jacob Pullen’s Push. He really must not want to play in the NIT. In two games last week (wins over Kansas and Oklahoma), Pullen scored 65 points, made 23 free throws, nailed eight threes (on 12 attempts), and generally acted like the leader we all know he can be. Currently we have K-State as a #11 seed, but they’re trending upward with four wins in their last five games. The Wildcats are good enough to win three of their last four games, and if Pullen can continue his late-season push, Frank Martin’s team remarkably could become a darkhorse candidate to do some damage in the Big 12 Tournament and beyond. Considering all the problems that this team has endured this year, simply avoiding a complete tailspin into oblivion is worthy of credit.
- Kenneth Faried’s Rebounding Record. With Morehead State forward Kenneth Faried’s seventh rebound in Saturday’s game against Indiana State, he set a new NCAA record for boards in a career, breaking Tim Duncan’s record of 1,570 set in 1997. These kinds of records are sometimes difficult to compare in the modern era, when so many players never see their junior and senior seasons, but Faried, a workhorse not blessed with Duncan’s gifts of length and timing, certainly deserves it. More in the Dennis Rodman mold than a true beast on the blocks, Faried has averaged 12.1 RPG over his four-year career, topping out at an absurd 14.2 RPG and grabbing a nation-leading 31.8% of defensive and 19.8% of offensive rebounds available this season. MSU has also won nine straight games and is currently tied with NCAA darling from last season, Murray State, at the top of the OVC standings.
- Tu Holloway: So Nice He Did It Twice. It’s rare than a collegian gets a triple-double; it’s almost unheard of for him to do it more than once in the same season. Tu Holloway got the second of his career on Saturday against Fordham, dropping a career-high 26/11/10 assts to notch his second of the year (he had 14/10/14 assts against Wake Forest), and in so doing, became the first Musketeer in the history of the program to do so. By the way, Xavier has now won twelve of thirteen to ascend to its seemingly predestined place atop the Atlantic 10; will anyone want to see Chris Mack’s team and Holloway in its pod next month?
- Brady Jardine Busts His Own Bracket. RTC Live was there for this one (see below), and it was every bit as impressive in person as it was in high def. Watch.
- BracketBusters. We discussed this last week, but the ESPN-sponsored event didn’t really do a whole lot for much of anyone with only a couple of exceptions. The biggest winner of the weekend was probably Stew Morrill’s Utah State Aggies, who were able to get a quality road win at St. Mary’s on Saturday night during a prime time nationally-televised game. If the Aggies do not win the WAC Tournament, this comeback win showcasing their dominant defense and the talents of Tai Wesley could make a big difference among selection committee members. The CAA got a few solid wins to help its overall conference profile, with VCU beating Wichita State by one point, Drexel defeating Kent State, George Mason knocking off Northern Iowa, and ODU outdoing Norris Cole and Cleveland State. It’s unlikely that the CAA can get a third team beyond Mason and ODU into the field of 68, but this weekend’s results at least didn’t hurt the conference.
- TNT Crew Discussing College Basketball. We don’t know if you caught any of NBA All-Star Saturday Night, but there was a brief dialogue between Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller that once again gave us pause about NBA folks getting involved in March Madness next month. The two were trash talking about their alma maters, and Barkley made reference to how Miller should “enjoy the NIT” as a UCLA graduate. Miller shot back with, “we’re going to the Tournament,” a reply to which the Round Mound scoffed. It might be written off as mere woofing, but we took it as an example of Barkley spouting off about something he’s simply not knowledgeable about — nobody at CBS from Seth Davis to Greg Gumbel would make that kind of mistake. The Bracket Project currently shows UCLA as an aggregate #8 seed, comfortably above the cut line, and many of these brackets have already included the Bruins’ Sunday night loss at Cal. It concerned us before the season began, and it concerns us even more now.
- Klay Thompson’s iPod. Really, Klay? With your team squarely on the thin side of the bubble and set to play the worst team in the Pac-10 in Tempe on Saturday, you were late for the team bus and were punished by sitting on the bench for the first five-plus minutes of the game as your team fell behind early? A four-point first half became a 28-point performance in an eventual two-point loss, but the reasoning behind his tardiness is what blows our mind. For the second time this season, the Pac-10 scoring leader was late because he couldn’t find his iPod. Maybe Wazzu head coach Ken Bone should look into banning all musical devices from the team bus — perhaps that would solve this apparent problem.
Photo Fav. For some reason, we really liked this image of Dwight Hardy from Saturday’s game against Pitt.
RTC Live. Only a couple of games this weekend, but they were both important ones in the national picture.
St. John’s 60, Pittsburgh 59. “What did the Coach tell you at the under four timeout? What play did he want to run?” the reporter asked Justin Burrell at the post game press conference. The St. John’s Red Storm defeated #4 Pittsburgh 60-59 on a Dwight Hardy layup just under the basket with literally the last possession of game that Coach Steve Lavin would later call a “Baryshnikov-like move.” Justin Burrell cracked a smile: “He told us to enjoy the moment. Enjoy the crowd and the game. He said, “‘It does not get better than this.’ No plays, no strategy.” At the under four timeout the St. John’s coach called for time out and took a look at his players as they walked to the bench. The score was 52-50 Pittsburgh and Brad Wanamaker was going to the line to shoot two (he would make both). “I felt it was more important to lift their spirits than to discuss a play,” he later told the assembled press. The approach worked. With 14,514 screaming fans who filled the lower bowl of Madison Square Garden to shout their team to victory, the Johnnies pulled themselves together and outscored the Pittsburgh team 10-8 to retake the lead and win the game. “It was a tough shot. Give him credit,” Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon volunteered later. On a day when the Panthers needed him the most, guard Ashton Gibbs returned to the rotation and scored a game-high 26 points on 8-14 shooting that included 6-9 from beyond the arc. Gibbs also went a perfect 4-4 from the line, uncharacteristic of the rest of the squad which went a collective 6-14 from the charity stripe. But Gibbs’ 26 was not enough to overcome a resurgent St. John’s team. Dwight Hardy paced the Red Storm with 19 points, 13 in the second half, on 4-10 shooting from the floor (1-3 from three-point land). The guard scored most of his points at the line, going 10-12 there. After leading from the opening tip, St. John’s ceded their 26-20 lead to a 7-1 Pittsburgh run in the last 3:14 of the half. After a Sean Evans dunk, the teams traded empty trips that ended with an Ashton Gibbs three on a turnover by Justin Burrell. Pittsburgh then scored the last four points at the free throw line on two foul calls and a technical on St. John’s Coach Steve Lavin, who protested referee Mike Roberts’ no-call on Burrell’s turnover too vigorously. Guard D.J. Kennedy picked up fouls number three and four (number four was a technical) and sent Gibbs back to the line to shoot two more free throws, giving Pittsburgh the 27-26 lead and the ball for the last 25 seconds of the half.
Syracuse 69, Villanova 64. When Syracuse met Villanova in the Wells Fargo Center in downtown Philadelphia on a snowy Monday night the 18,899 partisan of the two programs anticipated a high speed, high shooting affair where the game might well be decided in the last two possessions. Both teams boasted fast guards and wings with hair-trigger shots. The fans assembled to honor Villanova’s four graduating seniors — Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena and fifth year senior Russell Wooten — saw a game that was decided in the last two possessions, but when Syracuse defeated Villanova 69-64, it was due neither to speed nor shot accuracy. Neither team shot 50% from the field; Syracuse survived this war of attrition by shooting 47.3% to Villanova’s 32.3%. Though Villanova jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the game’s first three minutes, the Wildcats shot 1-8 from the field, a single three point conversion by returning senior wing Corey Stokes, to complement a 3-5 shooting performance from the charity stripe. Syracuse through this run shot 0-5 with two turnovers and three fouls. The Orange responded with a 6-0 run of their own, then took the lead, 8-6 on a Scoop Jardine runner six minutes into the game and held the lead through the intermission. Corey Stokes, returning from a three game rest of his turf toe, paced all scorers with 24 points on 7-13 shooting from the field, including 5-10 from beyond the arc, and 5-8 from the free throw line. Philadelphia native Scoop Jardine led the Orange with 20 points on 7-11 shooting from the field, including 2-3 from three point land, and 4-6 from the free throw line. Villanova sophomore forward Isaiah Armwood posted his first career double-double by scoring 12 points to go with his 10 rebounds. Senior forward, and Philadelphia native, Rick Jackson (18 points), along with sophomore point guard Brandon Triche (11 points) scored in double digits for the Orange.
Utah State 75, St. Mary’s 65. The marquee matchup of the BracketBusters weekend came off as expected, as a battle between a perimeter-oriented offensive team versus a powerful defensive-minded team. The story of the matchup came down to two factors. First, when St. Mary’s could get the ball to sharpshooter Mickey McConnell in position to fire his rainbow threes, the energy of the building threatened to tear the roof off the place and send the home Gaels into orbit with another big win. Second, and alternatively, when Utah State instead made sure to remove the McConnell scoring threat with double-teams and hard hedges while simultaneously getting the ball into the paint on nearly every possession of the second half (notably, star forward Tai Wesley), the Aggies sucked the life out of the McKeon Pavilion and took control of the contest. Head coach Stew Morrill was positively giddy after the game in describing his team’s play in such a tough environment — he had to know at a certain level that this would be viewed as a major NCAA Selection Commitee boon when the time comes in a few weeks. As for St. Mary’s, the Gaels, who were seemingly a lock just a week ago, have now lost two games in a row in a near-disastrous fashion — dropping a game earlier in the week at San Diego, one of the worst teams in Division I basketball, and laying a giant second-half egg on national television in the BracketBusters matchup. Gonzaga and Portland are coming to Moraga this week, and it’s incumbent upon Randy Bennett’s team to win these games to prove once and for all that they’re the best team in the WCC and leave nothing to speculation in the committee’s minds.