76 Classic SuperlativesPosted by AMurawa on November 28th, 2011
It wasn’t the sexiest bracket you’ve ever seen in a Thanksgiving weekend tournament. There were no teams ranked in the top 25 prior to this weekend and no player of the year candidates to be found anywhere. But there were some great coaches, some solid teams expected to contend for their respective conference titles, and some good basketball played at the 76 Classic in Anaheim this weekend. By way of putting a bow on this tournament, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the weekend.
Champion: St. Louis – The Billikens take home the championship without ever being seriously challenged this weekend. They posted a 60.6 effective field goal percentage over the three games, nailing 29 threes, and as a team they posted almost a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But where the Billikens really excelled was defensively. They limited their opponents to less than seven offensive rebounds per game, forced almost 15 turnovers per game, held their opponents to under 45% shooting from the field, and did all of that while only allowing their opponents 15 free throws per game. With Brian Conklin emerging as an efficient offensive threat, Kwamain Mitchell returning to the fold as a great floor general and playmaker for the team, and a deep and talented bench capable of carrying out head coach Rick Majerus’ game plan, this is a disciplined team that can give all sorts of teams trouble this season.
Surprise Team: Santa Clara/Oklahoma – Both the Broncos and the Sooners came away from this weekend with a 2-1 record, and both teams come away with their share of converts. When Santa Clara senior forward Marc Trasolini went down with a torn ACL in September a lot of people counted out the Broncos. That injury left the Broncos with an inexperienced frontline to pair with its prolific backcourt of junior Kevin Foster (who broke Steve Nash’s all-time record for three-pointers at Santa Clara this weekend) and sophomore Evan Roquemore, but this weekend Kerry Keating’s team proved that those guards (along with junior wing Ray Cowels) were good enough to put this team on their back. Meanwhile, not much was expected of an Oklahoma team that went 14-18 last season. With more or less the same roster returning, similar results were expected, but under new head coach Lon Kruger and with new point guard Sam Grooms taking the reins, the Sooners advanced to the championship game before getting outclassed by the Billikens. While the Sooners should not be expected to contend for a Big 12 title, Kruger definitely has this program headed in the right direction, and this team will rise up and knock off some teams this year.
Player of the Weekend: Evan Roquemore, Santa Clara – With all due respect to the official Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, Brian Conklin (17.3 PPG, 5 RPG, 63.3 FG%), I came away most impressed by E-Roq. After suffering through the typical ups-and-downs of a freshman last year, Roquemore was rock-solid for the Broncos this weekend, not only displaying a great stroke with almost unlimited range (12-21 from three in the three games), but a command of the offense that had to warm Keating’s heart. Setting up teammates again and again, he averaged eight assists per night and displayed a coolness under pressure from the line, missing just one free throw in 25 attempts, while knocking down a pair of go-ahead free throws against Villanova with 4.3 seconds left on Sunday to cap off a 10-0 run in the final three minutes that gave Santa Clara a one-point win.
Breakout Player: Hugh Greenwood, New Mexico – The question for much of the offseason for the Lobos was who would take over the point guard duties from the rock-steady Dairese Gary. They came into this weekend with that question still very much in the air, but head back to Albuquerque with Greenwood firmly entrenched in that spot. Greenwood appear to be a veteran in Steve Alford’s offense, running a team as if he had been managing them for years. In three games this weekend, he played 86 minutes and never once turned the ball over. In his past four games he has 16 assists and zero turnovers. While not a prolific scorer by any means, he is capable of knocking down a jumper when the opportunity presents itself, but more importantly, he gets guys like Tony Snell (a breakout player in his own right this weekend: 17.3 PPG and a tournament-record 12 threes), Kendall Williams, and Drew Gordon involved.
Underachieving team: Villanova – The Wildcats head back home with only a victory over UC-Riverside to show for their weekend in Anaheim after a late-game collapse against Santa Clara on Sunday. Up nine with three minutes to play, they proceeded to do almost everything possible to give the game away. They also had some help from the officials. With just over seven seconds remaining in the game, during a timeout, a strange scenario began to unfold. “The ref came over and said ‘You have five fouls, do you want to foul here? If you’re fouling, I don’t want to miss it’”, explained Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “We had six on our book, so we sent a guy to the scorer’s table and said ‘How many fouls?’, and they said ‘Five, you have five.’” So, when the ball was inbounded to Santa Clara’s Roquemore, they fouled him to waste a bit more time and shorten the game. Problem was, they actually had six team fouls at that point and the additional foul would send Roquemore to the line for a one-and-one. Total screw-up by the official scorer, really, but even after Roquemore made both free throws, Villanova still had the ball, up one, with seven seconds left. But they weren’t done trying to give it away. The Wildcats were unable to inbound the ball to either Maalik Wayns (91.4 FT%), Dominic Cheek (92.6 FT%) or James Bell (81.8 FT%) and instead found freshman JayVaughn Pinkston, who was immediately fouled. He went to the line, missed the front-end of the one-and-one, and in his haste to make up for that miss, ran through Roquemore while attempting to secure the rebound, fouling him in the process. The rest, as they say, is history. Roquemore makes both FTs while Villanova was unable to get a good shot off on their final possession and they go home from the 76 Classic 1-2. However, give credit to Wright for not blaming the officials for the loss. “There were so many other plays after that,” he said. “I’ve never seen it happen before, but you control what you can control. I mean we had plenty of other opportunities. It was just bizarre.” Bizarre or not, it was certainly a disappointing weekend.
Underachieving player: Dominic Cheek – After going for 66 points in the Wildcats first three games, it appeared that the junior wing had finally broken through after a frustratingly inconsistent first two seasons. But in three games in Anaheim, Cheek’s momentum stalled as he was held to 17 points over the weekend on just 4-21 from the field. While the Wildcats got solid production from point guard Maalik Wayns and big man Mouphtaou Yarou, they will need Cheek to be a consistent scorer from the wing come Big East play.
Stock Watch. (Quick impressions of what to expect from these teams from here on out this season):
Saint Louis – The Billikens will likely be in the top 25 come Monday morning for the first time since 1993-94, and it will be well-deserved. This looks for all the world like an NCAA Tournament team and a team that could give Xavier a run for their money in the Atlantic 10.
Oklahoma – Though much improved, this is still a team that could use a talent infusion. They have some athletes up front (Romero Osby and Cameron Clark in particular) and their guards are scrappy, but while the Sooners will give plenty of teams in the Big 12 trouble, this is probably a team a year and a couple recruits away from NCAA Tournament contention.
Santa Clara – They had a good weekend, but with an inexperienced and short-handed frontline, their guards are going to get run down as the season goes on. They have a shooter’s chance against anybody in the WCC, but they don’t have the goods to challenge for a title.
New Mexico – There’s a ton of talent here, and with Greenwood grabbing hold of the point guard duties, it is just a matter of building team chemistry here. They are always tough to beat at home, but while UNLV is now the talk of the Mountain West, the Lobos still provide a stiff challenge, despite their early-season struggles.
Villanova – Despite what happened this weekend, this is still a Wildcat team that can compete for an NCAA Tournament berth. And if Cheek can play more like he did in the first three games of the season and less like he did this weekend, the Wildcats could spell trouble for many teams.
Boston College – The Eagles have a long way to go with a very inexperienced roster and a long season ahead of them. Head coach Steve Donahue is still trying to figure out exactly what he’s got here, but it certainly appears one thing he’s got is a team that is going to pile up a lot more losses before all is said and done.
UC Riverside – The Highlanders got outclassed by Villanova on Thanksgiving before bouncing back and taking Boston College to overtime before losing then coming back from a 14-point second half deficit to stun Washington State on Sunday. This isn’t a very good Riverside team, but they will put up a fight.
Washington State – Only one team leaves these tournaments 0-3, and in Anaheim this week it is the Cougars. Given the state of the Pac-12, that shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Head coach Ken Bone summed up the weekend by commenting on the loss on Sunday to Riverside: “We consider this a disappointing loss.” Really?