ATB: On Baylor’s Legitimacy, Brandon Paul’s Explosion, and Frank Martin’s Billy Gillispie Moment…Posted by rtmsf on January 11th, 2012
Tonight’s Lede. It wasn’t just any other Tuesday night, as a number of ranked teams were in action and there was more than enough intrigue around the country to keep everyone interested. Whether it was a team few people seem to believe in slowly swaying hearts and minds, or a much-maligned former prep star bringing forth the game of his life, or an acerbic coach showing his true colors in a postgame interview, there was a lot to cover tonight. Let’s jump right in…
Your Watercooler Moment, Part I. Baylor Stakes a Claim of Legitimacy. One of the knocks against Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears to date has been its lack of exceptional road wins this season. Apparently the non-believers did not take seriously wins at BYU and Northwestern, although neither the Marriott Center nor the Welsh-Ryan Arena these days are the easiest places to escape victorious. Still, Kansas State’s Bramlage Arena is universally regarded as a tough-as-nails venue, borne out most recently by K-State’s dominant weekend victory over an unbeaten Missouri squad. Baylor’s mid-second half run to come back from seven points down behind several eye-popping defensive transition dunks, along with its ability to hold K-State to a single bucket in the last four minutes of the game, showed America how things have changed. Last year, Drew’s Bears hardly played defense, generally preferring to use that end of the court to rest before another wild LaceDarius Dunn field goal attempt. This year, long green-and-yellow-clad arms and legs seem to cover all four corners of the court, and in fact, the two game-saving plays on this night resulted from a strip from behind of Angel Rodriguez with three seconds remaining, and a deflected pass on the ensuing inbounds play. The Bears are not going to win every game this season, but they’ve already won 16 and have survived one of their four toughest road tests on the schedule. With Pierre Jackson (10/11 assts) running the show, Brady Heslip (13/4 stls) providing scoring punch, and an elite corps of forwards in Quincy Acy, Perry Jones, III, and Quincy Miller wreaking havoc defensively, it’s time to stop questioning Scott Drew’s team and take the Bears seriously as a national title contender.
Your Watercooler Moment, Part II. Brandon Paul Hits Everything, Leads Illini Over Ohio State. In two-and-a-half seasons at Illinois, Brandon Paul has been better defined by what he is not rather than what he is. The former Chicago-area prep star who came to Champaign with sky-high expectations has largely disappointed, gradually improving his scoring output over three years but never shooting the ball efficiently (career 37.2% shooter) nor becoming an effective distributor (2.0 APG). Paul must have eaten a full bowl of his Wheaties this morning. The 6’4″ junior literally took over tonight’s game against OSU, scoring his team’s last 15 points en route to a career-high 43 points on 8-10 shooting from behind the arc. Unless you saw the game, you cannot comprehend just how ridiculous a couple of the late threes that Paul hit were, perhaps none more so than his final trey which gave Illinois a four-point lead with 43 seconds remaining.
He must have known it was his night at the start of the game when he hit a straight-on jumper off glass, had a couple shots dance all over the rim before dropping, and even timed things correctly from the weak side to grab eight boards and earn four blocks on the evening. See all the highlights of Paul’s night here. We don’t suspect that this game was necessarily a breakthrough moment for Paul or the Illini, but it’s certainly one to be proud of. With its win over OSU tonight, Illinois moves to 4-1 in the Big Ten and appears on its way to a much better season than the 2010-11 campaign.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Michigan State Is Rolling. Michigan State this year is looking like the team it was supposed to be last year. Since opening the season with losses to North Carolina and Duke, the Spartans have reeled off 15 wins in a row and moved to the top of the Big Ten with a 4-0 record with wins already over Wisconsin and Indiana. What’s more is that Tom Izzo’s team is putting it together by beating teams on the road and completely eviscerating them at home. Iowa spent much of the second half of tonight’s game behind by 40+ points, and before we jump to denigrate the Hawkeyes, they did beat both Minnesota and Wisconsin on the road last week. Not tonight.
- MVC Competitiveness. The Valley played five games tonight and three of those were one-possession finishes. The three best teams in the league, though — Creighton, Wichita State, and Missouri State — all got key victories tonight to move into a three-way tie at 4-1 at the top of the standings. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that each of the MVC leaders could be dancing in March. The best way to ensure that outcome is to make sure they don’t lose games to the other seven teams in the league while beating up on each other in the home-and-homes, and that’s what they did tonight.
- Seton Hall As A Ranked Team. Seton Hall didn’t fall into the common trap befalling teams that become ranked after a long period of dormancy, which is to lose its next game out with a number beside its name. Instead, the Hall dominated DePaul from start to finish in a 21-point victory that moved the Pirates to 4-1 in the Big East standings. Both Fuquan Edwin and Jordan Theodore were magnificent tonight (see Tuesday’s All-Americans, below), and Kevin Willard’s team has a reasonable shot to win its next three games before entering the tougher part of its schedule.
… and Misses.
- Frank Martin’s Billy Gillispie/Jeannine Edwards Moment. We get it. Frank Martin is an intense, focused and fiery individual. But he doesn’t have to be an [censored] while he’s being all of those things. After tonight’s Baylor-Kansas State game, Martin took the opportunity in the postgame interview to drop an f-bomb and speak condescendingly to FS Kansas City’s Stan Weber, who was visibly shaken by Martin’s choice of words. We said it about Gillispie three years ago, and we’ll say it here now. C’mon, man. Grow up.
- SDSU’s Sleepwalk. Sure, the Aztecs beat winless Chicago State (0-16) tonight, 73-65, but allowing the nation’s 340th-ranked offense to play Steve Fisher’s team to a 32-all tie at the half, and THEN allowing the Cougars to run out to a 39-32 lead a few minutes into the second half, is nothing less than shameful. SDSU finally woke up to go on a 24-3 run to put the game away, but in the first season after the program’s best year ever, we’d hate to see players like Chase Tapley and Jamaal Franklin start to become complacent.
- Louisville’s Sinking Ship. Rick Pitino may want to revamp his 2017 retirement plans the way things are going right now for his Cardinals. After dropping three of four games since Christmas, Louisville came into tonight’s visit to winless-in-conference Providence looking to get a feel-good victory to right its listing ship. Instead, the only thing Pitino came out of tonight feeling good about was that people somewhere still remember the Boy Wonder coach during his golden era. This 31-point beat-down by Providence was the school’s greatest victory ever over a ranked team, and the second-worst defeat suffered by Pitino in his Louisville tenure. We figure that Louisville will come back around eventually, but does anyone believe that this team will see the second weekend of the NCAAs.
- Brandon Paul, Illinois (NPOY). The junior guard went for a career-high 43 points, including 8-10 shooting from beyond the arc in the huge upset win over Ohio State tonight.
- Jordan Theodore & Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall. Theodore continues his outstanding season with a 26/11 asst/3 stl night that set the tone for the Pirates as a new Top 25 team, and Edwin led the team tonight with an equally impressive 28/9/3 assts on 10-14 FGs, his new career-high.
- Bernard James, Florida State. James grabbed nine offensive boards during an 18/15/3 blks evening to give FSU a big win in Blacksburg and avoid an 0-2 ACC start.
- Draymond Green, Michigan State. The Spartan senior star did everything — 22/9/5 assts/3 stls on 9-12 FGs — in a blowout win over Iowa tonight, contributing mightily to MSU’s longest winning streak since 1999.
- Kadeem Batts & Bryce Cotton, Providence. The Friar duo torched the Louisville defense to the tune of 54 points on 15-20 shooting from the field, nearly defeating the Cardinals by themselves.
Tweet of the Night. No, this joke never gets old. (h/t @andybottoms)