ATB: Murphy Lifts Florida, Creighton Survives Scare, and a 39-30 “Thriller”…Posted by Chris Johnson on November 15th, 2012
Tonight’s Lede. Styles Clashed, Tempo Prevails. The realization that Kentucky has not yet blossomed into the transcendent juggernaut it was last season creates an interesting situation atop the SEC title race, where the likes of Florida and Missouri are very well in line to seize the opportunity should the Wildcats falter in any significant way. Of the three likely contenders, the Gators can now lay claim to the most impressive non-conference win – which, if you throw in the forever expunged naval ship game with Georgetown, should be Florida’s potential second impressive non-conference win. In any case, this Wednesday night headliner gave us a nice glimpse of Billy Donovan’s charges against a Tournament-caliber foe, and a decent jumping off point from the blue-blood bonanza that took place last night in Atlanta. Plus, for you x’s and o’s savants, whenever a giddy-up offensive thoroughbred like Florida tangles with the ploddiest of plodders, Wisconsin, the clash of styles is awfully fun to observe. This game didn’t disappoint. Let’s dive into the Gators’ triumph, plus some of the other action on a rather blasé night of college hoops…
Your Watercooler Moment. Erik Murphy Eases Florida’s Frontcourt Concerns.
The logical stopping point on any even-keeled analysis of Florida’s offensive potential this season rests on two key developments: Kenny Boynton’s unrestrained three-point trigger and Patric Young’s development slowly, surely, eventually, into a viable scorer and rebounder on the low block. With nine three-point attempts through two games, Boynton’s already off to the running. Young has been efficient – 8-for-14 shooting and a combined 20 rebounds so far – but his progress feels like a backstory in light of senior forward Erik Murphy’s spotlight 10-for-10, 24-point, eight-rebound night against the Badgers. The star turn of one-and-done guard Bradley Beal during last season’s Elite Eight run, not to mention the Billy Donovan/Rick Pitino interplay, among other nuggets, conspired to de-emphasize Murphy’s importance to Florida’s offensive chemistry. Did you know the 6’8’’ senior forward hit double figures 19 times last season? You’ll certainty take notice after the hyper-efficient shooting display he threw down tonight. If Young can’t make the improvements everyone’s been expecting since he arrived on campus, if he can’t elevate his footwork, post awareness and interior scoring touch to match the physical tools befitting a lottery pick, Murphy’s interior scoring responsibilities could skyrocket. The question going forward is whether last night’s sterling effort was a blip or a sign of things to come. His teammates sure appreciated it (see video below)…
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- When McDermott Doesn’t Score… Any early-season national player of the year projections invariably include one name: Doug McDermott. For all his success last season, and Creighton’s likely Top 25 status this season, McDermott may never be recognized as the nation’s best player. What we do know is that McDermott is crucial to the Bluejays’ chances of reigning over the mid-major landscape, and last night’s home win over UAB offered a perfect example of his outsized role. Foul trouble kept McDermott on the bench for much of the first half, and he ultimately finished with just five points, the first time he’s failed to record double figures in his last 37 games. In case anyone was interested in a defensive antidote for Creighton’s high-powered offense, the Blazers found your solution: keep McDermott off the court. Simple enough.
- No Porter, No Problem for Georgetown. In another bad case of early-season missing star syndrome, Georgetown took on Liberty without Otto Porter, who sat out with a concussion after being hit in the head during the first half of Georgetown’s game on Sunday. It was next man up for John Thompson’s crew, who handled the flames thanks to a career-high 19 points from sophomore Greg Whittington. After losing frontcourt mainstays Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson after last season, the Hoyas could use a productive frontcourt body to handle the likes of Jack Cooley, Chane Behanan and C.J. Fair in the throes of Big East play. This was a promising start for Whittington, who averaged 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in limited minutes last season.
- Texas Tech Puts Behind Offseason Drama. Not that we’re expecting Texas Tech to challenge for a top spot in the Big 12 or anything like that, and we don’t begrudge you any strength of opponent disclaimers. Still, you can’t help but not be impressed by Texas Tech’s 2-0 start this season in light of the national scrutiny focused on Lubbock throughout the Billy Gillispie resignation/firing saga. As easy as it would have been for this team to flop, to give up, to throw in the towel and wait for a new head coach to drag them out of embattled obscurity, the Red Raiders are playing hard for interim coach Chris Walker. It’s a non-story, we get it. The Red Raiders aren’t exactly beating national powers (Prairie View A&M and Nebraska-Omaha, to be exact), but, if anything, it’s a step up from all the drama and negativity floating around during the offseason.
- No Coach, No Point Guard… No Problem. The prevailing consensus heading into this season about Saint Louis’ chances of competing in a loaded A-10 without head coach Rick Majerus (on medical leave) and with lead guard Kwamain Mitchell missing the first four to six weeks with a broken foot was generally bullish. Replacement Jim Crews has 24 years of head coaching experience under his belt. The Billikens bring back most of last year’s scoring and minutes. Despite the losses, SLU is an early favorite to contend for the league crown. When you take it on the chin in your own house against a grossly inferior opponent, no matter how early in the season, there are legitimate questions to ask. At this stage, there’s no reason to believe Crews won’t have his team ready for the grind of A-10 ball, but there’s little doubt this team could use Majerus’ unrivaled tactical wisdom and Mithell’s sure-handed backcourt play.
- Defensive Woes Fell Wisconsin. There’s one thing you know about Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin teams: they play tough, well-principled, hard-nosed halfcourt defense. The Badgers’ 87.1 defensive efficiency in 2012 ranked fourth nationally, and their 42.5 percent effective field goal percentage ranked second. Expecting another season of similar vintage seemed reasonable. It’s Wisconsin’s modus operandi under Ryan, which is why it was so disappointing to see the Badgers struggle against Florida’s offense. The Gators made 18 of their first 22 field goals, and we’ve already gone through Murphy’s 10-for-10 night. It’s true that Florida, even without point guard Scottie Wilbekin and forward Casey Prather, has one of the nation’s best offenses — no one’s going to shut them down completely. Limiting them is a completely manageable charge, and Louisville accomplished as much in the home stretch of last season’s Elite Eight bout. Wisconsin’s defense is not as good as Louisville’s, but it’s a top-10 unit all the same. Poor defense was the main Wisconsin-related take from last night’s game. Any extended failure to correct those mistakes will plague the Badgers the rest of the season.
- How Does 39-30 Happen? Well, when neither Fresno State or UC Riverside breaks the 30 percent shooting barrier, and when only one starter from each team finishes in double figures, points are at a premium. Depending on your perspective — whether you’re a defensive junkie who loves low-scoring grind-outs or a pace-lover panging for points on points on points — this game either stung your eyes from start to finish or served as an excellent clinic on how to win in the most ugly way possible. Desperate for a win after dropping their season opener to Texas, the Bulldogs tossed aside all elements of aesthetic purity to fell the Highlanders on their home floor. Big Ten basketball is known for its slow, slogging pace. It’s where possessions run low and the fast break comes to die. The Big Ten is watchable; this — sorry Fresno State fans — was not.
Wednesday’s All Americans.
- Erik Murphy, Florida (NPOY) — It’s not every day you see a 10-for-10 line against a defense as sound and well-principled as Bo Ryan’s at Wisconsin. Pigeonholing Murphy into the “stretch 4” label — as many were inclined to do last season — is underselling what Murphy brings to the low block.
- Greg Whittington, Georgetown. Whittington made the most of his newfound playing time in the absence of Otto Porter by dropping 18 points, nine rebounds, and four assists on 8-13 shooting. If he’d laid off the treys, where he was 0-for-5 tonight, we might have been lauding him nearly as much as Erik Murphy.
- Kevin Foster, Santa Clara — Some more eye-popping scoring work against an elite defense. Foster’s 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists is a noteworthy effort against any opponent, but he also became the school’s all-time leading scorer in the process (1,748 points). Against St. Louis, it’s downright impressive.
- Josh Jones, Creighton — It’s not unreasonable to think McDermott actually improved his NPOY bid with foul trouble forcing the do-it-all forward to the bench and revealing the McDermott-less Blue Jays to be far-less refined than the full-strength product. Fortunately, Jones spared Creighton a humiliating home loss with 18 second-half points.
- Deon Mitchell, Northern Iowa — The Panthers needed all of Mitchell’s 27 points to stave off Toledo and remain unbeaten in advance of next week’s Battle 4 Atlantis, where UNI draws Louisville in its first-round matchup.
Tweet of the Night. The 69-point debacle at UC Riverside evoked an entertaining twitter rant from SI.com college hoops scribe Andy Glockner, who felt compelled to opine on the harrowing college hoops experienced he witnessed Wednesday night.