ATB: Louisville and Duke Set Up Monster B4A Final, Oregon Knocks Off UNLV, and Sean Woods’ Insufficient Punishment…Posted by Chris Johnson on November 24th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC National Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Battle 4 Atlantis Meets Expectations. The debate over this year’s best early-season exempt tournament was never a debate. The quality of teams assembled for the Battle 4 Atlantis far outstripped every other event across the nation. The field generated a considerable amount of hype, so the potential existed for at least some level of letdown. With a tantalizing Duke-Louisville final looming, the proceedings in the Bahamas have not disappointed. Each game provided a different dramatic twist – from Northern Iowa’s near-upset of Louisville to Andre Hollins’ 41-point outburst against Memphis to Duke’s deft maneuvering of VCU’s havoc defense. Not only did the tournament bring us great teams, it supplied a remarkably clean brand of basketball, which no doubt owes itself to the NCAA rules allowing coaches to work with their teams over the summer. Even if the championship doesn’t live up to your expectations, the rest has been thrilling to observe. Whether or not the Battle 4 Atlantis can compile the same elite field next year remains an open question. But come on, this needs to be repeated on an annual basis – in the Bahamas or otherwise.
Your Watercooler Moment. Punishment Does not Meet Offense In Sean Woods Case.
By now, you’ve seen the video clip numerous times, read the multitude of columns written in its aftermath, and listened to the talking heads debate Sean Woods’ sideline behavior during the second-half of Morehead State’s 81-70 loss at Kentucky Wednesday night. Any rant on coach-player misconduct has the potential to branch off into 1,500-word category, but I’ll condense my thoughts into a simple statement: the behavior Woods exhibited has no place on a collegiate sideline. It’s inappropriate and cruel, callous and cold-hearted. His actions demand no less than a 5-10 game suspension and a genuine public apology. Yet after berating one of his players on a public stage, reducing him to tears, Woods’ actions merit a mere one-game punishment. Morehead State needed to send a message; a one-game absence doesn’t do nearly enough to accomplish that goal. You can understand Woods’ getting caught up in the moment, what with a potential victory over defending national champion Kentucky on the line, not to mention the prospect of beating his former alma mater. But to lose your cool in a public setting and channel your frustration over a blown lead into the denigration of one of your players is patently disrespectful. And it’s not like this is the first time we’ve seen Woods exhibit poor sideline conduct before. He notably chewed out junior center Chad Posthumus during a Nov. 12 game against Maryland. Woods’ repeated behavior merits stern punitive action. Missing one-game won’t lead to any meaningful change in sideline decor. This situation demanded harsher repercussions; Woods has shown a repeated inability to restrain his temper. Here’s to hoping that university’s minimal wrist slap will prompt a change in Woods’ demeanor.
Your Quick Hits…
- Two of Nation’s Hottest Teams Roll Into Old Spice Final. Many felt heading into this season that this very well could be Mark Few’s best Gonzaga team since taking over in 1999. That sentiment feels especially true after the Bulldogs’ 5-0 start. And the scary part for the rest of the WCC and mid-major nation at large is that Gonzaga hasn’t even been tested yet. They handled an improving Oklahoma squad, 72-47, Friday night and enter Sunday’s Old Spice Final riding a powerful wave of momentum. They could face their biggest challenge yet in Davidson, who has posted consecutive wins over Vanderbilt and West Virginia and features a formidable frontcourt duo in Jake Cohen and De’Mon Brooks. Make no mistake, Gonzaga and Davidson are two of the best mid-majors in the country, and you can expect to see both playing and (pending seed and matchup) advancing in March. Sunday’s final provides a nice showcase game for two teams who should cruise through their respective league schedules. Enjoy it.
- Andre Hollins Drops 41 Against Memphis. Last season’s Big Ten Tournament and NIT gave us a glimpse of Hollins’ potential. Over the final seven games of 2011-12, Hollins averaged just over 17 points and elevated his game to a whole new level. We had yet to see Hollins translate that torrid finish into this season until Friday night, when Hollins went off for 41 points in Minnesota’s win over Memphis at the Battle 4 Atlantis. It’s unreasonable to expect Hollins to replicate this at any point this season, but perhaps the fireworks display is just what he needed to recall last season’s postseason form. If Hollins can reestablish himself as a 15-point-per-night-type scorer, the Gophers will have a formidable perimeter offensive force to complement Trevor Mbawke and Rodney Williams inside. Hollins, when focused and self-contained, can take Minnesota not just to the NCAA Tournament but to a top-five Big Ten finish and a favorable tourney seed.
- New-Look Michigan Keeps Rolling. With Michigan, it was never a question of talent or depth – the Wolverines are loaded with top-flight guards and promising big men. It was a question of whether coach John Beilein could take a host of talented frontcourt players – from freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson to older guys like Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford – and make them fit in his traditionally perimeter-oriented system. The Wolverines are having no issues making the necessary adjustments; Beilein’s new roster composition is firing on all cylinders. And it’s only November. The Wolverines, taking care of Kansas State in the PNIT final Friday night, head into the marquee Big Ten-ACC challenge matchup with NC State next week. The way Michigan has so comfortably integrated its various new pieces, it should be a heavy favorite against the Wolfpack, who needed a late rally to beat UNC Asheville Friday night.
- Oregon Scores Signature Win. On pure talent, few teams across the country match up favorably with UNLV, particularly in the frontcourt, where the Rebels roll out hyper-versatile forward Mike Moser and promising freshman Anthony Bennett (and welcome in freshman Khem Birch, the No. 1 center in 2011, once he gains eligibility in December). There’s no question UNLV has the pieces to contend for a national championship, but after Friday night’s upset loss to Oregon, it’s clear the Rebels still have a long way to go before they’re ready to challenge elite teams on a nightly basis. For Oregon, getting a signature nonconference win to bank for the rest of the season is a huge confidence boost going into conference play. Freshmen duo Dominic Artis and Domyean Dotson guided the Ducks with a combined 30 points. Oregon will get a chance to validate its impressive victory in the Global Sports Classic Final, where they will take on Cincinnati.
- Creighton Unfazed by Wisconsin’s Pace-Averse Style. Beating an uptempo team like Creighton requires a concerted effort to slow the pace and force the Blue Jays out of their comfort zone. If enter a track meet with the Blue Jays and try to outscore Doug McDermott and co., things can get out of hand. Wisconsin, the posterboys of everything slow and defensive, employed that strategy to no avail Friday night. In one of the more interesting stylistic clashes of this young season, the Blue Jays proved impervious to Bo Ryan’s disciplined D and trodgy tactics. Beating an upper-echelon Big Ten team is a solid resume boost for Creighton, but the larger takeaway — the Blue Jays ability to overcome the doctrinal hurdles posed by Wisconsin’s pace-resistant gameplan — speaks volumes about Creighton’s chances of going toe-to-toe with high-major powers in March.
- The “Havoc” is Back. All things considered, the Battle 4 Atlantis was a positive experience for VCU. The Rams throttled Memphis and gave Duke a credible challenge for most of Friday night’s semifinal loss. On top of that, VCU showed its trademark “havoc” defense – where the Rams apply relentless defensive pressure, including an overwhelming dose of full-court press – will give opponents fits all season. The Rams picked up valuable experience against two of the nation’s most talented teams and sharpened their defensive execution in the process. By the time league play rolls around, Shaka Smart’s team, which forced a combined 30 turnovers against the Tigers and Blue Devils, will be ready to lock down A-10 squads on a nightly basis. If there were any questions as to whether the Rams could weather the loss of star forward Bradford Burgess, VCU erased those doubts in the Bahamas. This is not the last time you’ll see the Rams playing big games in a tournament setting this season.
- Joe Jackson’s Struggles Doom Memphis. If this is the year Memphis finally puts it all together under Josh Pastner, the year where his post-Calipari recruiting success pays dividends on the court, point guard Joe Jackson needs to develop a more consistent approach. Jackson is insanely talented and athletically gifted, but emotional instability has prevented him from developing into the hometown star most Memphis fans thought they were getting when he signed on with the program two years ago. Memphis has played two high-profile non-conference games this season – VCU and Minnesota. The Tigers dropped both, and thus wasted prime opportunities for some early nonleague resume heft. More worrisome is Jackson, who followed up Thursday’s seven-turnover debacle against the Rams by logging only seven minutes in Friday’s loss to the Gophers. Jackson’s game is in complete disarray – he looks tentative, lost, mentally preoccupied. Whatever you want to call it, Jackson is not in his element. And that’s a huge problem for Memphis.
- Vanderbilt’s Rebuild Will Be Long and Arduous. There’s no shame in losing to Davidson. The Wildcats are one of the nation’s best mid-majors, with a roster well-equipped to challenge most Power Six squads. Getting worked by Marist – this wasn’t some fluky win; the Red Foxes held Vanderbilt to 23 percent shooting and won by 17 – is much less palatable, even for a massively turned-over squad like Vanderbilt, who lost practically everyone of note from last season’s roster. We knew coming in Vanderbilt wasn’t ready to compete in the SEC. There are few teams who have enough depth and quick-reward recruiting impact to weather that sort of mass exodus. But when you’re thoroughly outplayed by an inferior opponent, questions need to be raised not just about your personnel, but also your motivation and mental preparedness. Or maybe Vanderbilt really is that bad.
- Non-conference Opportunity Slipping Away for Drexel. Last season, Drexel toed the bubble cutline right up to selection sunday, but ultimately fell short due to a weak nonconference portfolio. To reverse their fate this time around, the Dragons needed to pick up at least one decent nonleague win. With Friday night’s loss to Xavier the Dragons fell to 1-4 on the season. Unless they can pull an upset against Davidson on December 22, the Dragons will head into league play with a flimsy nonleague resume and weak RPI and SOS credentials. The good news is Drexel has an easier path to a CAA title now that VCU is gone. But thanks to their blown opportunities, the Dragons have little margin for error in CAA play. In all likelihood, Bruiser Flint’s team will need to win the conference tournament to secure a bid. For a team that had legitimate hopes of securing an at-large bid entering this season, banking on the fickle do-or-die stakes of a conference tourney is not the safest proposition.
- Wilbekin Announces Return With Career Night. The early-season suspension of point guard Scottie Wilbekin did not feel like a crucial loss for the Florida, largely because of a the emergence of Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario alongside senior guard Kenny Boynton. That backcourt, sans Wilbekin, was more than capable of notching a few nonleague wins – even against better teams like Wisconsin. Now it’s clear that Wilbekin could be a crucial component of Florida’s roster calculus. After reaching career highs in points (17), rebounds (5) and assists (8) in Friday’s win over Central Florida, Wilbekin may have stolen Rosario’s temporary spot in the starting lineup. The Gators don’t need Wilbekin to be a consistent scorer – Boynton is more than willing to carry the perimeter scoring load. Playing pass-first point guard is the main priority, and Wilbekin proved he’s very much willing to do as much Friday night.
Plenty of adjustments need to be made before Memphis can be considered amongst the nation’s elite. What’s clear is that guard D.J. Stephens has already mastered the art of the throwdown.
Your Turkey Holiday All-Americans.
- Andre Hollins, Minnesota – It’s not a stretch to call Hollins’ 41-point tour de force against Memphis the best performance we’ve seen out of this young season.
- Kellen Thornton, Tennessee State – The 1-5 Tigers got 27 points and 16 boards from their junior forward in a nine-point loss at Monmouth. Tennessee State will need more games of this vintage to get back on the winning track.
- Augustine Rubit, South Alabama – The same South Alabama that knocked off Florida State on its home floor to open the season has now lost three straight, but you can’t blame Rubit – who posted 31 points and 11 boards Wednesday night – for the recent skid
- Cleanthony Early, Wichita State – The all-name team desires your services, Mr. Early. Jokes aside, though, the Shockers are 6-0 and hold wins over VCU and Iowa – Not bad for a team expected to take a step back after losing key contributors from last season. Early dropped 25 points and snared 9 boards in the win over the Hawkeyes Wednesday night.
- Mason Plumlee, Duke – As the Blue Devils piece together one of the nation’s best pre-December nonleague resumes, Plumlee’s NBA draft stock soars with performances like Friday night’s 17 point-10 rebound effort against VCU, which pushed his season averages to 21.3 and 10.8, respectively.
Tweet of the Night. While he may have played just 14 minutes and scored three points in Duke’s semifinal win over VCU, guard Tyler Thornton is rightfully geared up for Sunday’s final, and you should be too.