Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On November Rituals, Head-Scratchers, and More…Posted by Brian Otskey on November 13th, 2012
Brian Otskey is a regular contributor for RTC. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
- In what seems to have become an annual November ritual, fans and members of the media tend to overreact in making bold statements about teams and players after just one or two games have been played. While I recognize that is the nature of the “what have you done for me lately?” society we live in, fans and the media alike must take a step back. While some early season wins may appear to be huge and some losses head-scratching, we all must remember that the college basketball season is a long, evolving process. The NCAA Tournament doesn’t begin for another four months. Most teams will play 12 non-conference games before they begin 16 or 18-game conference schedules. It’s OK to say something nice about a team that came up with a great early season win or to be skeptical of a school coming off a loss you might never have expected, but making statements such as “Florida State is a bust because it lost to South Alabama!” is just plain foolish. While a loss like that certainly gives you pause, we’ve seen this movie before time and time again in November, especially as the college season has started earlier and earlier over the years. A loss to South Alabama is hardly a definitive indicator of how Florida State will perform in 2012-13. It’s just one of 30+ games the Seminoles will play this season. With that said, I do have a couple of questions about FSU. One, does the team miss the steady point guard presence of Luke Loucks from a season ago (nine assists, 17 turnovers against USA)? Two, is Leonard Hamilton’s defense not as strong as we are accustomed to seeing? South Alabama shot 9-of-15 from deep and Buffalo shot 50% overall from the floor in FSU’s second game on Monday. Those are examples of legitimate concerns, but not affirmative statements about how Florida State’s season will turn out. The Seminoles have plenty of time to come together and fix their weaknesses. Just don’t bury Florida State, or any other team for that matter, before Thanksgiving for crying out loud.
- There were quite a few of those aforementioned head-scratchers over the first four days of the season. In addition to Florida State, teams such as Mississippi State, Virginia, Rutgers, South Florida, Purdue, Drexel and Georgia all started the season on the wrong foot. Other schools including Oklahoma State, Texas and Providence struggled with inferior opponents but managed to hang on and win. In some circumstances like those faced at Mississippi State, Virginia, Georgia and Purdue, these are teams rebuilding after critical personnel losses. While it’s unfair to blast their November performance, these losses could be a sign of things to come. On the other hand, you could say a team like Drexel just had a bad night. The Dragons are a talented bunch and the overwhelming favorites in the depleted Colonial Athletic Association. Above all, however, the worst loss of them all belongs to North Texas. The Sun Belt favorites, who boast the talented Tony Mitchell, lost to Division II Alabama-Huntsville on Monday night. What does this mean? Not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it underscores how important it is for teams to put forth maximum effort every time out. The instances in which a team can get away with an off night have shrunk over the years due to parity and better talent assembled on non-power six rosters. When trying to analyze a team at this early stage of the season, don’t dismiss a disappointing loss but don’t throw the team under the bus at the same time. There is a very long way to go.
- Already this season we have seen a few devastating injuries and a handful of scares to boot. Wisconsin lost Josh Gasser to a torn ACL before the season started and now the Badgers have to adapt and find a way to win without their starting point guard and vocal leader. Down at Saint Louis, the Billikens will be without star Kwamain Mitchell for an extended period as he recovers from a broken foot. Just in the first few days of the young season we have had a few scares. Baylor’s highly-touted freshman big man Isaiah Austin sprained an ankle in his first collegiate game and did not play on Sunday. He’s expected to recover, but Scott Drew is taking no chances for now. Georgetown’s Otto Porter and Providence’s Vincent Council, two of the better players in the Big East, were removed from their respective games after being injured. We’re barely four days into the season and already injuries are beginning to take their toll. While this is part of the game, it also underscores how fragile a team’s season can be. Just take a look at the top teams in the country and imagine if one or two of their top contributors went down with a serious injury. A loss like that could derail Final Four or national championship hopes in a split second as we saw with Kendall Marshall and North Carolina last season. Keep that in mind as we get deeper into the season and the stress/wear and tear on players starts to take its toll.
- Every year I’m more and more amazed with the talent level outside of the traditional power-six conferences. Just in the first few days of the 2012-13 campaign we have seen stellar performances from the likes of Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum, two preseason All-Americans. Teams like Gonzaga and Memphis have made attracting top talent their business for many years now but the depth and distribution of top talent is growing among the so-called “mid-majors.” Whether it’s through player development, recruiting victories or the transfer route, players like Nate Wolters, D.J. Cooper, Rotnei Clarke and DeAndre Kane are big time talents at schools in smaller conferences. Here’s to hoping this trend continues and the talent base in college basketball expands in the years to come. We fans will be better for it.
- In watching Syracuse’s dominating performance against San Diego State on Sunday afternoon on the flight deck of the USS Midway, I couldn’t help but notice the raw talent and potential sophomore Orange guard Michael Carter-Williamsput on display. The Massachusetts native was a McDonald’s All-American while playing at Rhode Island’s St. Andrew’s School but played only 10 minutes per game as a freshman, behind the first unit of a Syracuse team that went 17-1 in the Big East and advanced to the Elite Eight. The tall, lanky combo guard saw 32 minutes of action against San Diego State and posted 17 points and five steals for Jim Boeheim. Carter-Williams, or MCW as he is known, will be handling the ball quite often for Syracuse this season so four turnovers is a concern. However, the natural talent and physical movement he exhibits were on full display against the Aztecs. If MCW puts it all together, watch out. He’ll put on quite a show at the Carrier Dome.
- Speaking of aircraft carrier games, two complete disasters unfolded along the southeast coast on Friday evening. First in Charleston, SC, Marquette and Ohio State canceled their game after condensation on the floor made the playing surface too slippery and the coaches became seriously concerned about player safety. Shortly thereafter, only 240 miles down the coast in Jacksonville, FL, Georgetown and Florida played one half of basketball before calling the game off after halftime due to the same issue, condensation on the floor. If you recall, Michigan State and North Carolina experienced the same issue last season in San Diego in the inaugural Carrier Classic but managed to complete the game. While player safety absolutely has to be the top priority, the lack of contingency planning by the promoting entity and the schools themselves is rather shocking. Instead of postponing these games to a later date and possibly a different site, both were simply taken off the schedule. Lots of time, money and effort was wasted, not to mention the inconvenience of travelling to the game locations for the fans and players alike. If we are going to have more carrier games, they must be played during the day when condensation is not as much of a problem. However, as we saw in the Syracuse/San Diego State game, the sun and wind can cause major issues as well. Not to mention the fact that television networks would much rather prefer these games to be in prime time in order to draw the best ratings. Given all the possible logistical and weather problems with these carrier games, I believe it’s time to call it quits. Last year’s game in San Diego was a superb event honoring those who serve courageously in our armed forces with the president coming out for what should have been a once in a lifetime experience. Now it has become overkill and it’s time to stop. I don’t want to see any more college basketball games played on aircraft carriers.
- Another game was played at a unique location on Friday and that was Connecticut against Michigan State at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. The Huskies won the game behind 25 points from Shabazz Napier, giving coach Kevin Ollie a victory in his first game as UConn headman. Everyone knows Connecticut is ineligible for postseason play this year and Ollie is going to have to prove himself right away with only a one-year contract to work with. Instilling that competitive drive into a team is hard enough when they have nothing to play for but, at least for one game, Ollie seems to be on the right track. If this Connecticut team builds on this and rallies around its coach, the Huskies will have a very successful season and AD Warde Manuel wont’ have much of a choice when deciding what to do with Ollie after the season. One thing I was really impressed with was how the team gathered around Ollie as he was being interviewed by ESPN’s Andy Katz after the game. That action by the Huskies was a vote of confidence and a willingness to support and work as hard for Ollie as they possibly can. It was a great opening statement for Connecticut but, as Jim Calhoun (who was in attendance in Germany) said to Ollie, the Huskies must build on this win and come even closer together as a team in order to succeed.
- After Connecticut upset Michigan State on Friday evening, Maryland nearly did the same to Kentucky. It wasn’t to be for the Terrapins though as the Wildcats rallied and were able to hang on for the win at the brand new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The big story in this game was the coming out party of Maryland’s center, Alex Len. The seven-foot-one Ukrainian dominated his matchup with star-studded Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, scoring 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (both career-highs) in addition to four blocked shots. Len was named ACC Player of the Week for his efforts against the Wildcats. Noel is regarded as a great defensive player and shot-blocker but Len took it right to him and succeeded. Kentucky was out-rebounded by Maryland but the Terps couldn’t get a bucket to fall for most of the game it seemed. Despite that, Maryland likely would have won if it weren’t for the heroics of Jarrod Polson. The seldom-used guard (who Mark Turgeon said he didn’t prepare for) ignited Kentucky and led it to the win. As for Noel, you can’t judge him on just this one game, although he’ll be challenged again tonight as he and Kentucky take on Mason Plumlee and Duke at the Champions Classic in Atlanta.
- Two underappreciated senior big man who play for blue-blood programs and were born just two days apart in 1990 had great starts to their senior season. Mason Plumlee, who takes on Noel tonight, had 19 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks to lead Duke to a garden variety win over Georgia State, a team that actually out-rebounded the Blue Devils. Plumlee has come a long way in his four years in Durham and now has taken his place as one of the elite big men in the college game. He had a chance to go pro but I believe he made the right decision in coming back to school for his senior season. He’s the go-to guy on this Duke team and his long-term career prospects will be enhanced because of his play this season. The other underappreciated big man is Kansas’ Jeff Withey who posted 17 points, 12 boards and five blocks against Southeast Missouri State. Withey’s effort on both sides of the ball bailed out the Jayhawks who shot a miserable 2-for-21 from three point land. Withey burst onto the scene last season alongside Thomas Robinson in the KU frontcourt and is now the big man on campus, literally and figuratively, at Kansas this season. Both of these men have progressed so much over their three plus years under elite coaches and both will have their teams in the hunt for a conference title and a deep NCAA Tournament run. That’s why I placed both of these guys on my preseason All-America second team.
- ESPN’s fifth annual tip-off marathon is already in progress today and features a blockbuster close to the day with Michigan State vs. Kansas and Duke vs. Kentucky from the Champions Classic in Atlanta. However, you could say this year’s marathon is rather lackluster compared to years past (with the big exception of the Champions Classic). Butler against Xavier is a nice game at 4 PM eastern but there’s not much of note before that. Naturally the 4 AM, 6 AM and 8 AM games lack star power because nobody wants to play at such an ungodly hour. The schools participating in those games do it for the unique experience and much-needed TV exposure this event provides them with. After that though, the best game before Butler/Xavier is probably Temple at Kent State. While it’s always fun, this marathon won’t heat up until the evening. Intriguing games between VCU and Wichita State as well as Lehigh and Pittsburgh are scheduled for the same time as the Champions Classic. I think ESPN would be better served putting those games on in the early afternoon instead of prime time when very few people will watch them. We’ve already had a blowout in Spokane and a close one in Albuquerque overnight and I won’t blame you if you step away from the television until the 4 PM game.