ATB: Border War non-RTC, Is It a Duke Loss If Nobody Noticed, and Melo Returns to Syracuse…

Posted by rtmsf on February 6th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. Forget the Super Bowl, it’s Rivalry Week across the college basketball nation… On Saturday, it was a Border War to remember, followed by a Sunday battle for bragging rights in Michigan, and we have a whole slew of great rivalry games coming up this week. From Florida-Kentucky to Duke-Carolina to Syracuse-Georgetown to even Gonzaga-St. Mary’s and Creighton-Wichita State, center stage is now ours. For the next 35 days until Selection Sunday, games will count a little more than they did before as teams position themselves for the postseason. And for that guy who says the college basketball regular season doesn’t matter? Remind him of three of the last five Super Bowl champions — one 9-7 team and two 10-6 teams won it all, while a 16-0 and a 15-1 team ended up ringless. This is why we play the games.

Your Watercooler Moment. The “Last” Border War in Columbia Goes to Missouri.

Marcus Denmon Motions At Students To Stay Put (credit: The Dagger/J. Eisenberg)

The storylines coming out of the “last” Border War game in Columbia, Missouri, on Saturday night were compelling — Game of the Year type of stuff. Even beyond the hyperbole about marauding Jayhawkers, divorced families and the finality of it all (we’ll wager the two schools are playing regularly again within five years), the game itself captured the essence of college basketball rivalry better than any other we’ve seen this year. Both Kansas and Missouri are outstanding teams, filled with playmakers on each side who are, depending on the day, equal parts dominant and confounding. For parts of the game, Kansas’ favorite whipping boy, Tyshawn Taylor, appeared the best player on the floor — driving the ball with confidence for a 21-point, highly efficient 9-15 shooting game; but it was his late-game mistakes that again cost his team when it mattered most. A turnover followed by two big misses at the foul line with KU down only one point leading to an admittedly questionable charge call, again punctuate his bugaboos (inconsistency and turnovers, especially in the clutch), issues that will haunt Jayhawk fans long after he’s gone. His counterpart on the Missouri side, Marcus Denmon, had backslid considerably from his scorching nonconference start (34.3% against Big 12 competition), but for the first time in his career against Bill Self’s team, he played a focused and effective game, going for 29/9 on 10-16 shooting and singlehandedly leading the Tigers back from the brink of a crushing home defeat. The senior guard dropped a one-man 9-0 run on the Jayhawks in the span of just over a minute, first with a layup and-one, then with back-to-back dagger treys, to erase KU’s eight-point lead with two minutes to go and put the Tigers in position to win the game with just under a minute left. KU’s Thomas Robinson (25/13) was once again the best player on the floor, but it was Denmon’s leadership and poise under pressure against the Jayhawks that made all the difference. His attitude at the end of the game says it all — he and fellow senior Kim English reportedly instructed the student section to stay in its seats rather than flooding the court in a massive RTC. With age comes wisdom, and his position is correct — elite teams only rush the court under very circumscribed conditions, and the Missouri seniors did not want their accomplishment sullied by giving Kansas the pleasure. At the end of the day, the Tigers still have a couple of major flaws that they have to mask (notably, interior size and a porous defense), but with playmakers like Denmon, English, Flip Pressey and a team that believes in itself, we expect that the dream season will continue in Columbia deep into March under first-year head coach Frank Haith.

Five More Weekend Storylines.

  • Fab Melo Returns, Boeheim Ties Dean Smith For Third in Wins. Sophomore Syracuse center probably doesn’t know who Dean Smith is, but maybe with his extra tutelage over the last two weeks, he found time to learn some college basketball history as well. On Saturday, though, he helped his coach Jim Boeheim make history with his 879th win as he contributed a career-high 14 points in his first game back from suspension and again anchored the patented SU 2-3 zone as the Orange destroyed St. John’s from start to finish at Madison Square Garden. Boeheim’s squad had struggled through a road loss to Notre Dame and two close wins at Cincinnati and West Virginia while Melo was out of the lineup, but if Saturday’s performance with him back is any indication, Syracuse may be looking at a one-loss regular season (and Boeheim could catch Bob Knight’s 902 wins as soon as next December).
  • Buckeyes Take Control of Big Ten. The Big Ten had several really good matchups over the weekend, but Ohio State going to Wisconsin and fending off the surging Badgers served notice to the rest of the league that those road losses to Indiana and Illinois last month are now well in the past. The Buckeyes, led by Jared Sullinger’s 24/10/3 stls on Saturday (single coverage, Wisconsin?), are playing as a cohesive unit with only two tough road trips left in the season (@ Michigan; @ Michigan State). With a one-game (MSU)/two-game (UM) lead over those schools (and already a win over Michigan), Spartans and Wolverines fans are likely going to need some help from unlikely places to overtake Ohio State in the conference standings. MSU in particular has to travel to both OSU and Indiana, whereas Michigan’s toughest roadie is at Illinois (but UM will also host OSU).
  • Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Florida State Remain Hot. With Florida State’s home win over Virginia, Pitt’s home win over Villanova and Notre Dame’s home win over Marquette, each of these teams is trending way up right now. FSU’s victory was its eighth straight and puts the Seminoles in a tie for first place in the ACC standings with the team that it embarrassed three weekends ago — North Carolina. Notre Dame’s surprisingly easy 17-point victory over Marquette caps off an impressive couple of weeks where the Irish defeated the #1 team in America, won at Connecticut and are starting to look like the second-best team in the Big East. As for the Panthers, four straight wins after an 0-7 Big East start  has folks wondering whether Tray Woodall’s emergence (29/6/5 assts Sunday) was the missing piece that will catapult Pitt back to the top half of the Big East race.
  • Indiana Finally Wins a Big Ten Road Game. The last time Indiana won a Big Ten road game against a team not named Penn State, Eric Gordon was still in the lineup and Tom Crean was coaching in Milwaukee. Nearly four years later, the Hoosiers finally got their road albatross off their neck in a convincing win over in-state rival Purdue on Saturday. Indiana’s problem this season has been its defense, but give credit to Crean’s squad for bottling up Purdue on 29.6% shooting, including an ugly 10-45 performance from the Boilermaker starters. Luckily for IU, five of the Hoosiers’ seven remaining games are in the friendly confines of Assembly Hall in Bloomington — and both road trips are at Minnesota and Iowa. Could Indiana close the season with an 8-0 run?
  • Panic Time In Durham? You probably missed this because it was right before Sunday’s Super Bowl proceeding, but you’ve seen this game a million times if you’ve seen it once. Duke gets outplayed on its home court for 75% of the game until they turn on the burners for a 12-0 run to get back into it and finish off the visitor. Except Sunday against Miami, even after Duke made its patented late-game run to take a 66-65 lead with 2:49 remaining, the Devils were not able to get the sufficient number of stops to salt the game away (losing in overtime, 78-74). Perhaps most damning were the two missed FTs by Quinn Cook in the overtime with 0:27 left and Duke down only one. As ESPN research noted afterward, Duke hasn’t lost two games to unranked teams in the same year since the 2006-07 season — the same year that they were knocked out in the NCAA First Round by VCU. The ACC is not a very strong league, but Duke still has to play UNC twice and travel to Florida State — short of a shocker over the Tar Heels, it’s looking more and more like this league is a two-horse race.

This Other Interesting Thing. Best Finish of the Weekend: UNI Knocks Off Creighton at the Buzzer.

With 4.6 seconds left on the clock, it appeared that Creighton’s Antoine Young had saved the Bluejays’ 11-game winning streak at Northern Iowa Saturday. And for roughly that amount of time, he had. UNI’s Anthony James had another idea, however, as the junior guard drilled a step-back trey as time expired to send Creighton to the loss and cause bedlam in the McLeod Center. The loss dropped Creighton into a tie at first place in the Valley with Wichita State at 11-2, with both teams set to play each other in a blockbuster weekend battle in Omaha.

Dunkdafied. Yeah, this was from Thursday night, but we don’t care. Florida’s Bradley Beal went MJ on South Carolina…

Weekend All-Americans.

First Team

  • Marcus Denmon, Missouri (NPOY). It wasn’t just his 29/9 night on Saturday that fell bitter rival Kansas, it was him putting the team on his back for nine straight points to essentially win the game for the Tigers.
  • Anthony Davis, Kentucky. It’s becoming a broken record but Davis’ 22/8/8 blks added to his already impressive single-season and SEC record of 116 blocks in a year, with five weeks left in the regular season. Wow.
  • Jared Sullinger, Ohio State. Sully’s 24/10 dominated the bruising Badgers’ front line, who mysteriously tried single-man coverage on him and had no answer for the sophomore All-American on Saturday.
  • Tray Woodall, Pittsburgh. Woodall continues to push his team back up the Big East standings with an outstanding 29/6/5 assts performance against in-state rival Villanova on Sunday.
  • Reggie Johnson, Miami (FL). It’s not very often that a player dominates Duke and gets the win in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but Johnson did just that on Sunday in Durham, going for 27/12 on 11-17 shooting.

Second Team

  • Thomas Robinson, Kansas. Yet another dub-dub (his 16th on the year) for the elite big man who went for 25/13 and largely toyed with the interior players of Missouri on Saturday night.
  • Draymond Green, Michigan State. “The world is back into place,” said Green after guaranteeing a win over Michigan (even on a tweaked knee) and coming through with a 14/16/4 assts performance against the Wolverines.
  • Truck Bryant, West Virginia. Bryant not only played every minute of WVU’s overtime win against Providence Sunday, he also dropped 32 points including the game-winning three at the buzzer.
  • Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame. The Irish freshman blew up for 23/11 in ND’s big win over Marquette Saturday. He came in averaging 7/4, to give some perspective as to how much Mike Brey gets out of his players.
  • Kwame Vaughn, Cal State Fullerton. A ridiculous night from Vaughn, who went for 37/6/6 assts on 11-15 shooting in a key Big West win for the Titans to tie UCSB for second place in the conference standings.
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