ATB: Hoosiers Tested by Georgetown, Butler Destroys UNC, and a Record-Breaking 138-point Effort (Seriously)…Posted by Chris Johnson on November 21st, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC National Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. No. 1 Hoosiers Survive First Real Test. The Legends Classic Championship did not feature the matchup we all spotlighted on calendars and hyped up to ridiculous proportions in the preseason. It didn’t come down to a titanic mid-air class of Shabazz Muhammad exploding to the rim and Cody Zeller attempting an acrobatic swat on a final possession. That’s half true because UCLA never made it there. Georgetown took down the vaunted Bruins Monday, and for entertainment purposes, a Hoyas win in all likelihood set up a tougher challenge for No. 1 Indiana than anything UCLA could have mustered at this early stage. The Hoosiers handled said challenge, though not without producing a fair measure of late-game drama. Tuesday night’s Legends Final was the first showcase game for the preseason national championship favorite. The proceedings matched every bit the hype. But Indiana’s spotlight game wasn’t the only major storyline from Tuesday night. Shall we dig in to the rest of college hoops’ biggest developments?
Your Watercooler Moment. NCAA Scoring Record Snapped.
Say what you will about competition level or defensive effort, throw out any “volume shooter” pejoratives you like, because Jack Taylor’s 138-point game in Division III Grinnell College’s 179-104 win over Faith Baptist Bible is downright impressive any way you slice it. Taylor, a 5’10’’ sophomore cashed 27 three pointers and finished 52-of-108 from the field. This counts as an offensive explosion of the highest order, not just by Taylor, but also by Grinnell. For those familiar with the program, though, the wow factor must have been tempered somewhat by the Pioneer’s recent track record: before last night’s win, Grinnell combined to score 241 points in its first two games, both wins. I’m a sucker for high-scoring affairs just as much as the next guy, but at what point does a desire to push the pace and execute quickfire offense sacrifice reasonable strategic wisdom? Does the Grinnell playbook just exclude defensive strategy all together? Or is the offense-focused system just some incredible recruiting tool that’s all too popular among players to pass up? There’s playing fast, and then there’s Grinnell. Whatever your level of affinity for pace, it’s hard to quibble with Taylor’s awesome display Tuesday night. No matter how distorted, or how amenable to high-volume shooting and ball-dominating tendencies, Grinnell’s offense gave Taylor a night he will never forget. And no one — not for stylistic eccentrity, not for the inordinate number of shot attempts he took to get there, not for the clear and concerted effort his team made to get Taylor as many shots as possible so he could score as many points as possible — can begrudge him that.
Also Worth Chatting About… The early favorite for buzzer beater of the year award belonged to Rotnei Clarke for his off balance one-hander to beat Marquette Monday night. Clarke’s shot was brilliant, and even more improbable when you consider the poor shooting performance that preceeded it. That said, Clarke’s got nothing on Rashaad Richardson, whose half-court heave at the buzzer gave Georgia State a two-point win over Tennessee State in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic Atlanta subregional. Enjoy.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Bulldogs Building Momentum. Just a week ago, Butler traveled to Xavier to play a nonconference game against a conference opponent (yeah, weird). The result – a 62-47 Xavier win – was puzzling on several grounds. The immediate reaction was to recalibrate our expectations for the Bulldogs’ maiden A-10 season. Two wins over two Tournament-bound teams later, and I think it’s safe to say Butler is going to be just fine. In fact, the way they looked Tuesday night against North Carolina, when Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham combined to hit nine threes, when the Bulldogs’ pick-and-roll offense befuddled the Heels athletic wings and on-ball defenders, Butler looks poied to challenge for a league title right away. If they can continue to find open three-point looks for Dunham and Clarke, the Bulldogs will be a tough out in conference play.
- Bearcats Backcourt in Mid-season Form. One of the undying truths of basic college basketball strategy is that good guard play drives success. In that regard, Cincinnati has its bases covered. If there’s a three-man backcourt better than Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and Jaquon Parker, I’ve yet to see it. And sure, Wright’s career-high 28 points and Parker’s 21 came against a lowly Campbell squad, but backcourt play is the critical force behind Cincinnati’s chances of challenging the upper edges of the Big East this season. As far as I can tell, that engine is firing on all cylinders. Here’s the best part: we haven’t even reached conference play yet. Imagine what kind of form Wright, Parker and Kilpatrick will have rounded into come January.
- Kansas Seniors Step Up. Arguably the biggest question looming over the Kansas Jayhawks this season is the collective replacement of Thomas Robinson, the Jayhawks’ do-it-all forward and emotional/floor leader. Collective is the operative word here – because no single man can replace Thomas. Instead, the Jayhawks will need to recreate his production with multiple players. The specifics of that adjustment process will crystallize over the course of the season. For now, Kansas knows it has a dominant shot-blocker in Jeff Withey and a stabilizing backcourt presence in Travis Releford. Both shined – Withey had seven blocks, while Releford contributed 23 points – in the Jayhawks’ win over St. Louis Tuesday night, their first win over a quality opponent this season. The Michigan State loss came as something of a surprise; this thorough handling of an A-10 title contender is a positive step.
- Gary Harris Injury Hurts MSU Backcourt. There is no shortage of backcourt playmakers capable of captaining Michigan State’s offense, from junior Keith Appling to freshmen Denzel Valentine and Gary Harris. But if there’s one perimeter presence the Spartans can least afford to lose, it’s Harris. That very possibility became real Tuesday night, when Harris injured his left shoulder in a game against Boise State. Coach Tom Izzo said the best-case scenario involves a manageable sprain and a week-long absence. At worst, Harris sits out for several months, jeopardizing his entire season. Through three games, Harris – Michigan State’s leading scorer at 16 points per game – instilled the Spartans’ offense with a massive dose of natural talent. He was a dynamic force on the perimeter and an explosive scorer. Hard to draw too much from this without a greater degree of medical clarity, but the initial signs are less than positive.
- Texas Continues To Take Lumps Without Kabongo. Monday night’s loss to Chaminade was enough of a disappointment to ruin Texas’ trip to Maui. An overtime defeat to USC is not nearly as discouraging, but for a Texas team that entered this season in the top-25 and had designs on a top-half Big 12 finish and mid-to-high NCAA Tournament seed, there are legitimate concerns to be raised. Chief among them, as you’ve probably discerned from this headline, is the ongoing absence of point guard Myck Kabongo. His return would help, to be sure, but it’s hardly a guarantee that Kabongo is a cure-all for Texas’s offensive confusion and general disarray. The Longhorns would very much like NCAA enforcement staffers to speed up their investigation of Kabongo’s alleged impermissible benefits. Only I’m not so sure he’s a surefire panacea for the various problems on Texas’s roster.
- Questions Remain for Bruins After Close Win. The Legends Classic was supposed to be UCLA’s resounding reentry into the national title discussion, having gone two years without making significant noise in postseason play, looking to showcase its star-studded freshmen class in a potential Championship game with No. 1 Indiana. That fate hit a snag Monday night, when the Bruins lost to Georgetown in the semifinal round and Shabazz Muhammad, making his debut after a three game suspension, didn’t exactly draw hyperbolic reviews for his 15-point, one-rebound performance. So it was comforting to see the Bruins recover in the win column Tuesday night against Georgia, but its clear UCLA still has a ways to go before its ready to bang with elite top-10 teams. The Bulldogs gave UCLA all it wanted and more, and while Muhammad looked more comfortable in his second college game, the Bruins did not look like the Pac 12 juggernaut most envisioned heading into this season.
- Villanova’s Encouraging Nonconference Start Marred by Ivy League Foe. There was good reason to be excited about Villanova’s young outfit following wins over Marshall and Purdue in the 2K Sports Classic. Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono handled Jay Wright’s four-out offense with beyond-his-years aplomb. Forward JayVaughn Pinkston’s offseason weight loss and hard work reaped positive returns. Their apparent progress will be viewed in a different light following Tuesday night’s home loss to Columbia. Here’s some perspective on just how improbable a victory this was for the lions. The last time Columbia beat Villanova, president-elect Richard Nixon was three weeks away from taking office. The Wildcats had 12 turnovers…in the first half and shot 37.3 percent from the field. It will be interesting to observe how Wright’s young team responds, and whether its otherwise positive start proceeds unabated.
Tales of Ben McLemore’s freakish athleticism and ferocious dunks throughout practices of his redshirt year flared up in increasing quantities over the summer as McLemore’s college debut loomed. Thus far, he has not disappointed. The latest example:
Tuesday’s All Americans.
- Jack Taylor, Grinnell — Not much explaining to do here. Refer to “Quick Hits” for my take on Thomas’ record-setting night.
- Jordan Hulls, Indiana — He may not be as complete or well-rounded a playmaker as precocious freshman Yogi Ferrell, but Hulls can flat-out stroke it. The Hoosiers needed all of Hulls’ 17 points (3-of-6 from three-point land) in their overtime win over Georgetown.
- A’uston Calhoun, Bowling Green — Posting a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double on D-II Alabama-Huntsville won’t exactly grab national headlines. It deserves heightened levels of respect you consider this is the same Alabama Huntsville team that limited North Texas forward and likely first-round pick Tony Mitchell to 10 points in 31 minutes.
- Marshawn Powell, Arkansas — After missing all but two games last season with a torn ACL, Powell has regained the form that prompted voters to tab him second team All-SEC in last year’s preseason poll. He led the Razorbacks with 21 points and 10 rebounds in a comfortable win over Florida A&M.
- Nathan Healy, Appalachian State — In 39 minutes, Healy poured in 24 points, snared 10 boards and paced App. St. in a 10-point loss against East Carolina.
Tweet of the Night. In case you missed it, IU frosh Yogi Ferrell hit a dagger three in overtime to stretch the Hoosiers’ lead to 10. CBS.com’s Jeff Borzello apparently was just as impressed with Ferrell’s cold-blooded moxie as I was.