ATB: On Dieng’s Injury, Tennessee’s Redemption, and Notre Dame’s Long Range Shooting…Posted by Chris Johnson on November 27th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. The Inevitable Letdowns of the Non-conference Season. The college hoops non-conference calendar is a frenetic joyride of excitement and disappointment. You get action-packed stretches filled with tasty match-ups between powerhouse teams, like last week, where the Maui Invitational and B4A and PNIT brought served up a nonstop dose of high-stakes fun. Powerhouses battled – some took their licks, while others triumphed. Whatever your rooting interest, those early season tournaments – most of which have now passed us by – were as good as early season tournament basketball gets. Then you get days like last night, a lull of a slate featuring few (if any) intriguing games, and the end result is a drastic letdown on the hoops viewing interest meter. Disappointment is unavoidable. Boredom is inevitable. Never to disappoint us in an extended context, the schedule ramps up tonight with the ACC-Big Ten challenge, and if you haven’t poured over those matchups yet, believe me when I say that you won’t be disappointed. So rejoice in surviving night’s lifeless slate is past us, and prepare for a the thrill of top-25 outfits engaging in inter-conference warfare. In case you’re interested in the little that did go down Monday, here’s a breakdown of the night’s most important action.
Your Watercooler Moment. Dieng’s Broken Wrist Spoils UK Matchup, And That’s About it.
If Gorgui Dieng follows his projected healing trajectory, the broken wrist he suffered in Friday’s B4A semifinal win against Missouri is merely a minor hindrance – but nothing a team as talented and deep as the Cardinals can’t overcome – for every game over the next six weeks. Don’t get me wrong: Lousville faces no cupcake slate over the next six weeks. But with the emergence of hyper-athletic forward Montrezl Harrell, and reliable backup pieces like Stephen Van Treese and Zach Price, the Cardinals are more than capable of getting by the likes of Illinois State, College of Charleston and Memphis. There’s one huge exception: Lousville’s Dec. 29 date with Kentucky. Barring a medical miracle, college basketball’s most heated rivalry (ok, ok. Duke, UNC fans. Here’s your obligatory mention) will not be played with both sides full strength. That’s a massive disappointment; the UK-UL test is one of the best nonconference dates in any given year, and to know that one of the nation’s best defensive players won’t partake in the festivities is downright discouraging. And after last year’s Final Four defeat, where Lousville gave the one-and-done thoroughbreads from Lexington as strong a defensive test as they faced all season, the Cardinals are in a rare position of advantage heading into this year’s rendition. Louisville would do well to seize the moment – considering the generational crop of freshman talent coming to Lexington next season – but the loss of Dieng may level the playing field. Besides that one-game handicap, though, Louisville shouldn’t worry all that much about their ailing center. He’ll be back in time for the majority of league play. The Cardinals may lose the state crown for a year – or at least be severely hampered going in – but other than that, the long-term impact isn’t exactly season-altering.
Also Worth Chatting About. Withey Records Second Triple-Double in Kansas History.
Whenever you set a new record at Kansas, your achievements deserve mention. Withey set the new all-time school mark with 12 blocks in Monday night’s 13-point win over San Jose St. Add 16 points, 12 rebounds, and you get just the second official triple-double in KU history. The only downside to Withey’s night: his 2-for-6 clip from the free-throw line. Withey’s shot-blocking exploits are not a new revelation. He was one of the best swatters in the nation last season — his 15.3 block percentage (according to kenpom.com) was tops in the nation — and he’s poised to reprise his dominance on that front in 2012-13. Monday night’s game was a confirmation of his rim-protecting finesse. The bigger takeaway is the statistical novelty of Withey’s achievement. Given all the All-Americans and basketball legends to come through Kansas over the year, that Withey was able to both set a school record in blocks and submit just the second triple-double in school history is a huge feat. Hats off to the Big 12’s premier paint protector.
Monday’s Quick Hits…
- Tennessee Snaps Unlikely Streak. On its face, Tennessee’s 27-point win over Oakland Monday doesn’t seem like a huge deal. That’s probably true – unless you subscribe to the notion that losing to the same team three years in a row is, no matter the opponent, an unfavorable development. Oakland rode a two-game win streak over the Volunteers heading into last night’s matchup in Knoxville, and that’s where it ended. Jarnell Stokes ensured the termination of the Grizzlies’ two-year bragging rights with an efficient 7-of-8 shooting night. This year’s Oakland isn’t nearly as formidable as the Keith Benson and Reggie Hamilton-led squad that toppled Tennessee in consecutive years. That won’t detract from Tennessee’s mini-triumph. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to put together your most complete game of the season to date in the lead-up to Friday’s trip to Georgetown.
- Irish Get Hot From Beyond The Arc as Kentucky Looms. Three-point shooting is the lifeblood of Mike Brey’s perimeter system. He spaces the floor with four capable marksmen, docks one scoring-adept big man in the paint (this year, Jack Cooley) and lets his players fire away from deep. The scheme in itself is fraught with risk and – as many have charged throughout Notre Dame’s recent NCAA Tournament struggles – quite possible unsustainable. When you have nights like Monday, when the Irish 10 of 16 three-point attempts in the first half and 54 percent overall in a comfortable win over Chicago State, it’s hard to criticize Brey’s system. Notre Dame better hope that hot shooting carries over into Thursday night’s showdown with Kentucky. Many a top-10 team has walked into the Joyce Center, and walked out without their dignity, their ranking tarnished. Are the Wildcats next?
- Murray State Gets Massive Two-Man Effort to Survive Lipscomb. The loss of three starters from last season’s six-seed team cast a shade of doubt over Murray State’s chances of dominating OVC play the way it did last season. The Racers, despite dropping a seven-point decision to Colorado in the Charleston Classic, are off to an impressive 5-1 start, with wins over Auburn, St. Johns and Old Dominion. Their continued success depends largely on Isaiah Canaan’s scoring potential, but as we learned in Monday night’s 88-79 survival of Lipscomb, Canaan has an imposing frontcourt partner to complement his dazzling perimeter game. Get familiar with Ed Daniel, a 6’7’’ senior big man who has only once failed to notch doublt-digit rebounds this season. On Monday, he snared a career-high 18 boards, and added 20 points and five blocks. And Canaan, let it be known, poured in a routine 31-points on 10-of-17 shooting. Yeoman’s work.
- A Poorly-Timed Injury for P.J. Hairston. After being schooled at the Maui Invitational by Brad Stevens and Butler, UNC would very much like to dethrone #1 Indiana in Tuesday’s Big Ten-ACC contest at Assembly Hall. That desire was shrouded with bad news Monday when the school announced third-leading scorer P.J. Hairston will sit out the matchup with the Hoosiers after spraining his knee in practice Sunday. The Tar Heels were already a long shot to trip up Indiana on its home floor. Hairston is by no means their most important player, but against a team as offensively potent and unforgiving as Indiana, North Carolina needs a clean health bill. Hairston looks vastly improved over last season and has developed into one of the Tar Heels’ best perimeter offensive threats. Losing him, if only for a short stretch, is a considerable blow.
- Taylor follows up 138-point night with…..21 points. The breadth and persistence of the backlash against Jack Taylor’s 138-point effort was truly remarkable. Sure, Grinnell had no business running up the score on a clearly outmatched opponent. Nor is coach David Arsenault’s system anything resembling fundamental basketball. But when you dig through the specifics, and come to the realization that Jack Taylor experienced something he could have never imagined when he agreed to play Division III basketball at Grinnell college two years ago, all while garnering huge levels of overnight fame and having his face plastered and jumpshot dissected on the internet, it’s hard not to come away thinking that the scrutiny wasn’t at least somewhat overemphasized. Which is why I’m comforted to know the Jack Taylor saga is in its fizzing out phase, and the kid can get back to living his normal life – free from the harsh diatribes of basketball purists and national commentators. He scored 21 points in Grinnell’s 131-116 loss to William Penn Sunday night. Case closed.
Dunkdafied. Khem Birch is a nice addition to the Rebels’ uber-talented frontcourt. The best of the bunch may be Anthony Bennett, and as you can see below, the dude can elevate. Make sure to watch the full clip. You’ll see Bennett gets a little too excited, and initiates contact. We try and steer clear of the professional game, but I couldn’t help not at least offering you the link to this Andrew Bynum-Shaquille O’Neal back-and-forth, where Bynum’s shoulder shove on the diesel bears a striking resemblance to Bennett’s nudge on Oregon’s Tony Woods.
Monday Night’s All Americans.
- Isaiah Canaan, Murray State – The Racers are going to need more 30-point nights from their star point guard to survive OVC play with minimal resistance. His 31 were key in Murray State’s win Monday night at Lipscomb.
- Jaye Crockett, Texas Tech – I’m anxious to see how Tech handles its first game against a quality opponent Saturday when Arizona invades Lubbock. In the meantime, tip of the cap to Crockett, who registered 20 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes Monday in the Red Raiders’ win over Jackston State.
- Jeff Withey, Kansas (NPOY) – See above.
- Jerian Grant, Notre Dame – Dropping 22 points and 10 assists on Chicago State is noteworthy. It’s also not the biggest reason why you find Grant’s name in this space. His 9-for-11 shooting and 2-2 mark from three is the motive behind his inclusion.
- Ed Daniel, Murray State – If Daniel can keep up this torrid pace (18/18 Monday night), Murray State will have a viable distraction to keep defenders from zoning in on Canaan.