ATB: Bruins Fall in Brooklyn, Chaminade Beats Rick Barnes Again, and Indiana Finds Other Scoring Options…Posted by Chris Johnson on November 20th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC National Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Shabazz Muhammad Gets A Harsh Welcome. In light of Friday night’s 11th hour news of freshman super-prospect Shabazz Muhammad’s reinstatement, an immediate upward revision of UCLA’s season expectations was very much in order. After all, Muhammad is, depending on your source, arguably the top freshman in the country, and a huge difference-maker for the Bruins’ chances of a major rebound to the upper echelon of the Pac-12 after several uncharacteristically down seasons. We got our first look at the Bishop Gorman product tonight, and the results were mostly what you’d expect from a guy getting his first taste of major college hoops. The potential was readily there — Muhammad scored 15 points in 25 minutes; the polish – that’ll come in time, with more game action and meaningful repetitions. The larger takeaway from Monday night wasn’t Muhammad’s debut. It was Muhammad’s team, and the way it dropped the ball in its first showcase game of the season. How did the Bruins, No. 1 recruiting class in tow, get worked at the Barclays Center? We shall explore…
Your Watercooler Moment. UCLA Not A Finished Product.
The obligatory modifier for college hoops teams at this time of the year is one you’ve heard time and again: it’s still early. Teams need time to develop, to guess at different schematic adjustments and lineups, to grow comfortable in their respective offensive and defensive systems. This logic applies for most every team, but most of all for young and inexperienced ones. Which brings us to UCLA, and the Bruins somewhat surprising loss to Georgetown. The Hoyas spoiled Shabazz Muhammad’s debut by shooting over 50 percent from the field, getting 23 points from junior Markel Starks and unleashing sophomore Otto Porter from relative medical obscurity to great effect (18 points, 11 rebounds). UCLA looked disengaged and unorganized defensively. The Bruins didn’t click on the other end of the floor. Muhammad’s debut brought the mostly expected reality that this year’s No. 1 recruit is not – despite what this UCLA fan’s widly popular t-shirt solidarity might have you believe – a LeBron James-type basketball destroyer of worlds. If this was the Pac-12 championship game, or an NCAA Tournament contest, all measures of criticism and conclusion-drawing would be fair game. In this instance, UCLA’s first real run with a new roster against quality competition, chalk it up as a learning experience. UCLA will tighten things up defensively – Ben Howland’s coaching track record is a documental embodiment of defensive improvement. And Muhammad will learn how to play with rising star Jordan Adams. Missing out on a potential Final matchup with No. 1 Indiana isn’t the outcome Howland had in mind. It’s also not a doomsday scenario. Not in the least.
Also Worth Chatting About. Buzzer-Beating Madness in Maui. It didn’t take long for college hoops to provide us the first truly memorable slice of buzzer-beating hysteria. This one came courtesy of Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke, whose uncharacteristically poor shooting streak (he finished 7-of-21 and 4-of-14 from three) did a complete 180 when Butler needed it most. Butler trailed Marquette by two with eight seconds remaining in regulation when Clarke received the inbound pass, drove the length of the floor and netted a one-handed off-balance leaner – after which his teammates, expectedly, piled on to celebrate. The dismissal of Chrishawn Hopkins late this offseason left Butler with a dearth of perimeter scoring. It made Clarke’s transfer even more crucial. He may not own Hopkins’ ability to create and score off the bounce. What he does have is a lethal three-point stroke, and apparently one that glosses over whatever struggles felled him the previous 40 minutes.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Hoosiers Find Scoring Sans Zeller. If you look at this scoreline (63-55), and consider the fact Georgia had dropped consecutive games to Youngstown State and Southern Miss coming in, Indiana’s win in Monday night’s Legends Classic seminifinal doesn’t feel all that impressive. Truly dominant No. 1 teams are reflected in their scoring margins, unwilling to let inferior opponents hang around, it is widely and casually said. But this outcome is arguably as encouraging as any of IU’s wins to date. Why? The Hoosiers proved they can build winning gameplans without running things through and around Cody Zeller. With Zeller in foul trouble for much of the first half, Indiana’s complementary scoring options picked up the tab – Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo combined for 43 points on 15-of-27 shooting. For Indiana to live up to its preseason billing, Zeller needs to be a huge part of its offensive and defensive calculus. In the rare case Zeller has an off-night, the Hoosiers can take solace in having a handful of adept scoring threats. Last night provided a nice window into just how exactly a Zeller-less Indiana team operates. Get used to it Hoosiers fans, because next year….well, let’s not go there yet.
- The MVC is a Three-Horse Race. It’s not hard to identify the reasons behind UNLV and San Diego State’s presumed dominance over the MWC title race this season. San Diego State returns perimeter dynamo Jamaal Franklin and a capable cast of role players around him. UNLV brought in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, and coach Dave Rice has promised to put the “running” back in Running Rebels. These are two very good teams. Any reasonable observer can’t begrudge you from skimming at the MWC landscape, glancing at those two teams, and stopping there to fashion a championship pick. New Mexico belongs in that discussion, but – like last season – their low-profile existence is part of the Lobos’ identity. New Mexico picked up another solid nonleague win Monday night against UConn, and season timeline aside (It’s early, duh), the Lobos stand alone amongst MWC teams in terms of getting marquee nonleague wins in hand. The Lobos may not be able to overcome UNLV’s freakish athleticism or SDSU’s deep roster. What we do know is New Mexico is riding a Tournament trajectory – Monnday night’s win was the latest proof.
- Billikens Unfazed By Majerus News. The letdown potential was enormous. Following a surprising home loss to Santa Clara last week, and with word breaking over the weekend that former coach Rick Majerus has likely seen his final days on the sidelines, the seeds were planted for the Billikens to enter Monday night’s CBE semifinal with a wayward mindset. There potential for a second consecutive surprise defeat was plain and clear. The Billikens apparently don’t subscribe to discouraging off-court drama – their coach, leader, and basketball icon is, in all likelihood, calling it quits – because Texas A&M was thoroughly outclassed from the tip to the final whistle. The Aggies are not going to win many games this year. They don’t have much in the way of talent or potential. Still, given the attendant circumstances, this is a positive step for Jim Crews and the enormously difficult task he faces of keeping his players focused on the season ahead, and moving past the weekend’s distressing news.
- Ashley Lives Up To The Hype. In the face of UCLA’s highly-touted 2012 class, one highlighted by No. 1 prospect Muhammad, it’s easy to overlook Arizona’s No. 3 ranked class, which features not one or two, but three five-star big men, according to ESPN.Com’s Recruiting Nation. One of those frontcourt newcomers is Brandon Ashley, a 6’8’’, 215-pound stretchy forward from Las Vegas powerhouse Findlay Prep. Ashley got his first start for the Wildcats tonight, and the results – hard as it is to believe – arguably transcended his lofty prospect rank. Ashley posted a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor, made eight of nine free throws and collected 10 rebounds in Arizona’s comfortable win over Long Beach State. Entering this season, recruiting experts were singing the praises of fellow Wildcats freshman Kaleb Trczewski. Throw Ashley in the mix, along with Grant Jarrett, the third piece of Arizona’s frontcourt bounty, and the end result is one of, if not the best front lines in the Pac-12.
- #FreeMyckKabongo. In just its seventh win at the Maui Invitational since the Tournament’s founding in 1984, Division II Chaminade delivered the most shocking upset of this young college hoops season. Some advice for Rick Barnes: when you draw the Silverswords in any early-season tournament, just run. That’s the safest plan after last night’s result marked the second time Chaminade has beaten a Barnes-coached team (Providence, 1991). Deflecting blame after a loss like this is never the right strategy – there’s never a time when a team as talented and as athletically superior as Texas should lose to Chaminade. This loss will stain the Longhorns resume the rest of the season, whether or not they reach the NCAA Tournament. The bigger issue comes to the fore as a correlate to Muhammad’s sudden eligibility. Sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo finds himself in eligibility limbo for impermissible benefits he allegedly accepted this summer while working with a personal trainer. The longhorns need Kabongo, their facilitator at the point, on the court. They need his scoring, his vision and most of all his playmaking. And on a night when Muhammad officially emerged from NCAA purgatory, they need a similar verdict, and they need it sooner rather than later.
- One of the Most Difficult Rebuilds In the Country. The sudden retirement – or, forced dismissal, whichever you prefer – of former Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury this offseason left the Bulldogs in a really tough spot. New coach Rick Ray was inheriting a depleted roster without nearly enough talent or depth to mount a competitive debut season in the SEC. Mississippi State went into its game Monday night against USC a huge underdog and still managed to undersell everyone’s expectations with a 46-point loss. And by the sounds of it, it wasn’t even that close. The Tar Heels owned every inch of the court, getting whatever they wanted wherever they wanted it, and absolutely manhandling Ray’s team to the point of abject embarrassment. Arguably the only real impact player from last year’s roster (which, by the way, missed the NCAA Tournament), Jalen Steele, is out six weeks with a wrist injury. Ray’s rebuilding process, now in its earliest stages, will require a herculean effort.
Monday’s All Americans.
- Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State – The Penguins dropped their first game of the season despite Perry’s 34-point, eight-rebound effort Monday night against North Dakota State.
- DeAndre Haskins, Chaminade (NPOY) – If team mascot names were a measure of basketball ability, Chaminade’s upset over Texas feel all that surprising. Haskins led the (wait for it) Silverswords with 32 points and nine boards.
- Travis McKie, Wake Forest – Just when it looked like Wake Forest would further destroy its non-conference ledger, McKie saved the Deacs from more humiliation with a “man’s” double-double – 23 points, 15 rebounds – and a game-winning dunk to top Mercer.
- Jarell Eddie, Virginia Tech – The familiar Selection Sunday tradition of seeing Seth Greenberg curse the fates and deliver raging commentary over his team’s bubble pitfalls will evade us this year, unfortunately. The good news is Eddie, whose 28-point night pushed his scoring average to 14.3 PPG on the season, could lead the Hokies to more ACC wins than many believe possible.
- Markel Starks, Georgetown – When the No. 1 recruit in the country on a consensus top-10 team in the country takes a loss in his nationally televised college debut thanks to your 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting, that’s big time.
Tweet of the Night. The nation’s sentiments summed up in one 140-character morsel: