ATB: Gonzaga Destroys WVU Again, Michigan Freshmen Impress, and Anthony Bennett’s Debut…Posted by Chris Johnson on November 13th, 2012
Tonight’s Lede. The 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon Returns. If the college hoops calendar consists of a series of holidays, ESPN’s annual Tip-Off marathon measures up with the sport’s best celebratory events. It doesn’t quite provide the suspense of March Madness, or the do-or-die desperation of conference championship week, but the 24 hour-long dose of nonstop hoops action that tipped off at Midnight ET with West Virginia visiting Gonzaga captures the essence of fandom in a way no other sporting event can. This is when the true diehards put their mental fortitude – and their ability to resist somnolent desires – to the test. Even if you can’t make it through the night without sneaking in a few Zs between games, don’t worry. For most, the marathon goes down sweeter in pieces; fortunately this year’s slate offers no shortage of highlights. So if you’ve already hit your saturation point on college hoops viewing, or are still gearing up for tonight’s headliners, enjoy the round-the-clock drama. It is the apex of college basketball’s scheduling ingenuity.
Your Watercooler Moment. Gonzaga Destroys West Virginia Again.
In a rematch of last year’s Second Round NCAA Tournament game between the Zags and Mountaineers, tonight’s result was surprisingly similar to the game played last March — the only major difference was the setting. Last season, after traveling cross-country to face WVU in their backyard (Pittsburgh), the Zags ran out to a quick 27-10 lead and never looked back in a dominating 77-54 win. Tonight, after West Virginia repaid the favor in traveling cross-country to Spokane, the Zags ran out to a 34-12 lead en route to a dominating 84-50 win. It’s actually quite eerie to view the two box scores side by side, given how similarly both games played out. Over the past two games, Gonzaga has outscored the Mountaineers by a ridiculous 57 points, and the vaunted WVU defense has given up better than 50% shooting from both the field and beyond the arc in these two games. After last season’s loss, Bob Huggins said that he’d “never gotten beat like that” — clearly Mark Few’s team has provided the road map for the Big 12 in beating the Mountaineers, because it just happened again.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Hoosiers Keep On Rolling. Gleaning meaningful analysis from early season cupcake draws is never easy, so it’s hard to make too much of Indiana’s blistering 2-0 start, which includes a combined 69-point victory margin over Bryant and North Dakota State. But the Hoosiers have done little to shake their preseason perception, which is another way of saying Indiana looks like a #1 team. Cody Zeller finished with 22 points and nine rebounds and sophomore guard Remy Abell added 14 of his own against the Bison, who are expected to challenge the Nate Wolters-led South Dakota Jackrabbits for the Summit League crown.
- Hawkeyes Freshman Continues to Impress. The name most every big Ten fan mentions in Iowa-related hoops discussions is freshman center Adam Woodbury, and for good reason: the Iowa native spurned offers from North Carolina, Ohio State and Wisconsin before deciding to stay in his home state. Woodbury will come around eventually — he’s a legitimate seven-feet, armed with above-average athleticism and a refined offensive game. After two games, though, fellow freshman Mike Gessell looks the more well-rounded product. Gessell notched five points and five assists in the Hawkeyes’ 73-61 victory over Central Michigan Monday night. With a few more performances like that, Gessell, not Woodbury, can assert himself as the Hawkeyes’ best freshman asset.
- Balance Key For Memphis in Season-Opening Win. The notion that Memphis coach Josh Pastner is a better recruiter than coach is a popular one, and at this point in his tenure, probably a fair one. His early recruiting successes could finally pay dividends this season, just in time for the Tigers’ move to the Big East in 2012-13. The Tigers removed the curtain on their immensely-talented roster Monday night with a comfortable 81-66 defeat of North Florida. Forward Tarik Black led all scorers with 18 points, while point guard Joe Jackson added 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. Memphis gets one more tuneup Saturday with Samford before the Battle 4 Atlantis, far and away the best compilation of top-to-bottom talent of any non-conference tournament on this year’s slate.
- No Rust For New-Look Michigan. There were few teams who polarized the college hoops punditry this preseason as much as Michigan. Various rankings pegged the Wolverines anywhere from outside the Top 25 to a Final Four contender. There’s good reason for this wide difference of opinion. Michigan is replacing a host of capable shooters (Zack Novak, Stu Douglass) with a frontcourt-heavy freshmen class. That kind of personnel turnover and roster dynamic is not, on its face, amenable to John Beilein’s guard-oriented attack. Early season results – the latest a 91-54 rout over IUPUI Monday night – indicate otherwise. Much-hyped freshman Glenn Robinson III submitted 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc. As Michigan prepares for its ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup with NC State (November 27), the new pieces are firing on all cylinders.
- Florida State is Going To Be Ok, After All. The most disappointing result of opening weekend was Florida State’s 76-71 home loss to South Alabama. Esteemed guard Michael Snaer finished 2-of-11 from the field, the stingy defense we’ve come to know from Leonard Hamilton’s teams of recent vintage was inexplicably AWOL, and you couldn’t help but walk away thinking the Seminoles didn’t enter the season in a sound mental state. Florida State rebounded from that harsh reality check against Buffalo, with Snaer contributing 19 points and forward Okaro White adding 13. More importantly, the Seminoles brought the defensive intensity that made them such a dangerous team last season. Buffalo turned it over 25 times and hit just six of 17 three-point shots. A note: Lead guard Javon McCrea, the reigning MAC freshman of the year, scored a team-high 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
- Youngstown State Not Rewarded For Upsetting Georgia. Thanks to predetermined rules that set in stone the semifinal teams of the Legends Classic, Youngstown State cannot advance to the Brooklyn-based semifinal despite knocking off Georgia 68-56 in a game that saw the Bulldogs score just 14 points by halftime and shoot just over 32 percent from the field. The only reason Georgia kept the deficit within a respectable margin was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who finished 10-of-18 from the field for 27 points and six rebounds. The Penguins are steadily improving under head coach Jerry Slocum and are more than capable of competing at the top half of the Horizon League in 2012-13. That said, even for a team as flawed and preponderantly-reliant on one player as Georgia is Caldwell-Pope, this counts as a bad loss, and a major stain on the early non-conference ledger. The Bulldogs clearly have some work to do before they get into SEC play.
- Early Struggles Continue for LIU. Last month brought a very promising development for LIU’s hopes at winning a third consecutive Northeast Conference title. That’s when the Blackbirds learned the fates of four of their best players (including reigning NEC player of the year Julian Boyd and All-NEC forward Jamal Olaswere), all of whom were awaiting word on their status following an on-campus altercation that led to arrests and third-degree assault charges. The players would have to miss two NEC conference games, they learned, and take anger management courses and file community service work… and that’s about it. Their availability apparently has not helped LIU’s early season fortunes. The Blackbirds fell to 0-2 Monday night, the latest loss coming against projected middle-of-the-pack Patriot League member Lafayette. In two games, LIU has scored a combined 168 points, which leads one to believe defense ranks highly on the Blackbirds’ early season checklist. For the most part, An 0-1 start is forgivable. Lose your first two against inferior competition, and there are serious questions to be had about LIU’s mindset and focus level following a tumultuous offseason.
- What’s Wrong with North Texas? People were legitimately peeved about the lack of television arrangements for Friday night’s Creighton-North Texas game. This was two of the nation’s best mid-major teams, or so we thought, featuring two of the nation’s best players in Doug McDermott and Tony Mitchell. What transpired was a disappointment; the Mean Green were outclassed in Omaha as McDermott legitimated his NPOY hype with a sterling 21-point, 11-rebound effort. That wasn’t a huge surprise. Monday night’s Preseason NIT defeat to Division II Alabama-Huntsville in Manhattan, Kansas, merits an entirely different analytical tone. The win by Alabama-Huntsville represents not only the first appearance by a D-II team in the PNIT, but now also the first victory.
- Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State. The Redbirds’ star blew up for 27/10/3 assts in only 24 minutes of action as his team destroyed UC Santa Barbara in its season opener.
- Anthony Bennett, UNLV (NPOY). Quite a debut Monday night for the precocious Bennett, who dropped 22/7/2 blks in a mere 20 minutes of action as UNLV routed Northern Arizona.
- Garrick Sherman, Notre Dame. The reserve big man for the Irish went for 22/9 including six offensive boards in Notre Dame’s crushing win over Monmouth.
- Glenn Robinson III, Michigan. So far, so good for the Big Puppy, as Robinson has only missed three shots in two games this season after his 21/6 night on 8-9 shooting in a win over IUPUI.
- Kadeem Batts, Providence. A 27-point, nine-rebound night for the junior big man looking to break out in a big way this season for Ed Cooley’s Friars.
Dunkdafied. This was from late last week, but it’s worth showing here. Detroit’s Doug Anderson looked a little like Scottie Pippen on this swoop to the hoop…