Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Indiana, Georgetown, Duke and More…Posted by Brian Otskey on November 27th, 2012
Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
- I was extremely lucky to be sitting courtside for the first truly great game of this young college basketball season last Tuesday night in Brooklyn where Indiana defeated Georgetown in overtime to win the Legends Classic. IU head coach Tom Crean called it an “epic November battle” and boy, was it ever. The level of play displayed by both teams was incredible for this early in the season, something media row couldn’t stop buzzing about. It was as well-played a game I have seen in quite some time and the atmosphere in the building made it all the more special. Most folks thought we’d be seeing Indiana against UCLA in the championship game but it’s funny how fate works out. The Hoyas proved to be a much better opponent than UCLA and gave IU all it could handle. I’ll give you some of my thoughts on each of the four Legends Classic teams, starting with Indiana: You could call me a skeptic because I didn’t have Indiana pegged as a sure-fire Final Four team but the Hoosiers proved they’ll be in the thick of it come March. Indiana’s offensive attack is second-to-none in college basketball and I love the balance this team has. Jordan Hulls is as pure of a shooter as you’ll find but his leadership and defensive improvement are two things that can take Indiana to the next level. Hulls was all over the floor on both ends and Indiana’s best player in the two games at the Barclays Center. Crean has so many weapons to choose from including Hulls, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and more. Oladipo’s athleticism is terrific while Zeller is Mr. Steady. Even Will Sheehey adds a spark off the bench with his leadership and intensity. Where does IU have to improve? Two areas stood out to me.
One, Zeller needs to get more touches. Part of that comes from him needing to work harder for position and demand the ball but it wouldn’t hurt if Indiana’s guards looked to him some more. Second is tightening up their defense. The Hoosiers showed a zone for a large part of the game and Georgetown took advantage with spectacular ball movement. Indiana is a better defensive team this year but it’ll have to tighten that up some more in order to win a national championship. I was overwhelmed by Georgetown’s ability to move the ball and get good shots. This shouldn’t be a surprise given past Hoyas teams but this may be John Thompson III’s best unit not in terms of talent but in terms of basketball IQ. The Hoyas probed Indiana’s defense with precision and overcame a talent disadvantage to the point of almost knocking off the top team in the land. Markel Starks is the most improved Hoya but Otto Porter is their undisputed leader and star player. Porter worked the high post all night against IU’s zone to rave reviews and was a strong presence on defense as well. Even in a loss, Georgetown established itself as a Big East contender. UCLA and Georgia rounded out the Legends Classic. The Bruins are an absolute mess defensively and the lack of hustle and intensity is a major red flag. Shabazz Muhammad made his debut and scored a lot of points but didn’t “wow” anyone. Kyle Anderson seems lost offensively and isn’t having the impact many thought he would. Jordan Adams looks like a future star but this team needs to start defending and playing with a purpose if it has any intention of saving Ben Howland’s job. Things are not pretty in Westwood, especially after Sunday night’s stunning collapse and defeat at the hands of Cal Poly. As for Georgia, it was clearly the worst of the teams in this event. That doesn’t mean the Bulldogs are a terrible team but I would be surprised to see them in NCAA contention. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a very good scorer but his shot selection leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t think Georgia is as bad as early losses to Southern Miss and Youngstown State would seem to indicate but I don’t see this team winning more than seven or eight games in the SEC. They do play hard and didn’t back down against two blue-blood opponents.
- Two of the 10,000+ people in the seats at the Barclays Center last Tuesday night were Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin, two Indiana freshmen currently serving out a nine game NCAA suspension for receiving impermissible benefits. Both players lost their appeal to have the suspension shortened and will not be eligible until Indiana’s game against Butler on December 15. This all stems from $6,000 to $8,000 in impermissible benefits received via Indiana Elite AAU coach Mark Adams, an individual deemed an Indiana donor because of a total of $185 in donations he gave to the university over 20 years ago, ironically before either of these two players was born. On this surface this seems like a severe miscarriage of justice, especially in light of Shabazz Muhammad’s outcome after a shady recruitment. Muhammad only had to sit out three games for UCLA while Mosquera-Perea, a four-star forward who is expected to contribute off the bench for IU, and Jurkin, a 7’0” center, have to sit out nine games (roughly 29% of Indiana’s regular season). Maybe it is. But look a little deeper and the situation gets murkier. Adams has a VERY close relationship with Indiana, so much so that the NCAA deemed it “unique access and continuous involvement.” As a result, Indiana has suspended its relationship with Adams until next July. Adams lived with Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin in Bloomington on multiple occasions according to published reports and has been involved with some former Indiana basketball players as well. Benefits provided to the players include, among other things, plane tickets, housing, a laptop and a cell phone according to a report in USA Today. It’s hard to make a decision when you look at the facts of the case but my hunch is the NCAA has more on these two players that it isn’t willing to make public. If that’s the case, it’s a shame. Transparency is not the NCAA’s forte and further feeds the criticism of the organization. The bottom line, from my perspective, is that I believe a suspension is warranted. Should that suspension be nine games based on the available facts? I don’t think so. Something more along the lines of what Muhammad received seems appropriate in this case.
- Duke made its case for a number one ranking as it defeated Louisville on Saturday night to win the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Blue Devils now boast wins over the top two teams in the state of Kentucky along with solid wins over Minnesota and VCU. All of those wins have come on neutral courts by the way. It wasn’t a surprise to see Duke beat Louisville; what was surprising was the way the Blue Devils accomplished it. With Louisville center Gorgui Dieng out with a broken wrist, Duke failed to take advantage of a huge mismatch in the low post. Mason Plumlee played 36 minutes but only attempted 10 shots for the entire game. Aside from a breakaway dunk, Plumlee attempted a grand total of zero shots over the final 12 minutes of the game and was just one for two from the floor in the second half before that. This is absolutely incredible given the fact that Louisville matched Stephan Van Treese and Zach Price up with Plumlee since Dieng couldn’t play. I couldn’t believe it while watching the game live. How could a great coach like Mike Krzyzewski abandon his best player when Rick Pitino’s best defensive player, who happens to be a center, was on the bench with a broken wrist? Instead of taking advantage of the mismatch, Duke fell in love with the three ball and almost lost the game because of it. The Blue Devils were in command most of the game but tired legs caught up to them down the stretch before Quinn Cook put the game away. Duke finished the game 5-for-20 (25%) from deep. I realize Duke has terrific three point shooters but when you’re coming up empty three out of four times, it’s time to try something else. Nevertheless, Duke managed to hang on and come away with an important early season victory. Good teams win in a variety of ways and I guess this was one. Still, I don’t think that’s the formula the Blue Devils should follow as the season progresses. Feed the big man!
- In perusing scores, one that caught my eye was Michigan State 63, Louisiana-Lafayette 60 at the Breslin Center on Sunday afternoon. The Spartans are 5-1 so far but have been all over the map (literally and figuratively) in the month of November. They suffered a bad opening loss to Connecticut in Germany then flew to Atlanta and earned a gritty win over Kansas four days later. Michigan State then struggled in a home game against Boise State and again on Sunday against Louisiana-Lafayette. What does this mean? Probably not much in the grand scheme of things, especially since Tom Izzo teams with high expectations are notorious slow starters only to peak during prime time in February and March. That’s not to say there haven’t been bright spots, they’re 5-1 after all. Keith Appling has been terrific and freshman Gary Harris is showing flashes of stardom. However, Michigan State is turning the ball over at an alarming rate (16 per game), including 20 against LA-Lafayette. Also concerning is their three point percentage (27.9%). If you are turning the ball over and can’t make threes, your team is essentially one dimensional on the offensive end of the floor. Smart coaches will put on some pressure and then fall back into a packed-in half court defense. MSU can get away with that against a soft upcoming non-conference schedule but the Spartans better figure it all out by Big Ten play. If the history is any indication, it’s a safe bet to say they will.
- Picked to finish 10th in an unofficial preseason Big Ten media poll, not many people were expecting a big year out of the NorthwesternWildcats. A 6-0 start has, for the time being, been a cause for optimism along the shores of Lake Michigan. Northwestern passed its first test this past Saturday in South Padre Island by overcoming 36 points from Tyler Brown and knocking off a very good Illinois State team in overtime. It had been a schedule full of cupcakes up until this game but the Wildcats took care of business and were not challenged by the inferior competition. A crucial month of games between tonight’s contest against Maryland and the start of Big Ten play could make or break Northwestern’s chances for its first ever NCAA bid. In addition to the Terrapins, Northwestern hosts Butler and Stanford and will make a trip to Waco to take on Baylor over the next three and a half weeks. Those home games are very winnable for a team whose top three scorers are seniors. It’s hard not to like a team with good balance, experience and scoring ability plus an improving sophomore point guard. Bill Carmody’s lineup is terrifically balanced with a solid point guard in Dave Sobolewski, a very good shooter (Reggie Hearn), a strong forward (Drew Crawford) and an experienced 6’8” guy who can shoot the three (Jared Swopshire). The Wildcats play a disciplined system with many Princeton elements, great ball movement chief among them. If this team can show continued improvement defensively, it will contend for a middle of the pack Big Ten finish and a chance at the NCAA Tournament. Carmody’s seat is warm and this could be his final legitimate chance to take the program where is hasn’t gone before.
- Three hours down Interstate 57 in Champaign, Illinois returned from a successful trip to Maui only to be pushed to the brink by Gardner-Webb. The Illini needed a Tyler Griffey three pointer to escape on Sunday, preventing a loss that would have wiped out the great week John Groce’s team had in Hawaii. Illinois is 7-0 but let’s not go crazy. This is a team that lost two key starters from a group that could only manage a 17-15 record last season. The bracket certainly broke their way in Maui as the Illini beat USC, Chaminade and Butler on their way to the title, certainly not the level of competition we’re used to seeing in this prestigious tournament. Is Illinois better than expected? You could probably say that, but I’m not ready to put this team anywhere near the top 25. Groce’s team lacks depth and a significant inside presence with Meyers Leonard no longer around but does have three very good guards and a 6’9” big man (Griffey) who’s comfortable playing on the perimeter. Brandon Paul will lead the way for this team but I would say the ceiling is rather low for Illinois. A combination of the wins in Maui plus the OT scare at Hawaii and near disaster against Gardner-Webb may be the true indication of how good (or average) Illinois really is. We’ll know a lot more about this team when it heads to Gonzaga on December 8 as well as the Braggin’ Rights Game against Missouri three days before Christmas.
- There may not be a conference in America as top-heavy as the Missouri Valley. Between Creighton, Wichita State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa, the league figures to have four contenders at the top but the remaining six league teams are not very good at all. Creighton is the class of the MVC with its high-powered offense and vastly improved defense over a year ago. The Bluejays sport Doug McDermott, arguably the best player in the nation but he’s not the only name you should know. Guys like Grant Gibbs, Greg Echenique, Ethan Wragge and Austin Chatman are key pieces on a team averaging 85 PPG through six games. Not many teams can score with this bunch; the only question is whether they can defend. The good news is Creighton’s defensive efficiency is much improved from last year but it is nowhere near elite territory. That will ultimately hold the Bluejays back but they should have more than enough to win the conference and do a lot of damage in the NCAA Tournament. Some people were surprised when Wichita State won at VCU two weeks ago. I wasn’t one of them. The Shockers have a terrific coach and a strong defense, one that held the Rams to 51 points on their home floor. They’ll contend with Creighton and the two games between those teams are must-see events. Northern Iowa was competitive at the Battle 4 Atlantis but lost all three games. Ben Jacobson should turn that into a positive learning experience as the Panthers head into conference play. Illinois State is the real sleeper in this league. The Redbirds won at Drexel and nearly knocked off Northwestern while they’ve wiped the floor with the rest of their competition to date. A huge test awaits this Saturday at Louisville but expect Illinois State to be competitive in that one. Jackie Carmichael and Tyler Brown form a dynamic inside-outside scoring duo for the Redbirds.
- The week following the early-season tournaments is a good time to take stock of what has gone on in the first two full weeks of college basketball. Pointing out which teams have disappointed thus far is a November tradition. With that in mind, I give you the top three: 1. UCLA- The Bruins are 4-2 which doesn’t appear terrible but the play they’ve put forth on the court has been uninspiring to say the least. UCLA lost to Cal Poly on Sunday night, blowing an 18-point lead at Pauley Pavilion with under 12 minutes to play in the game. 2. Baylor- Also 4-2, the Bears have suffered defeats to Colorado and Charleston, ironically the first one coming in Charleston and the loss to the Cougars coming at home in Waco. It’s becoming an annual theme now but nobody seems to do less with more than Scott Drew. 3. West Virginia- From getting their doors blown off at Gonzaga to neutral court losses to Davidson and new Big 12 foe Oklahoma, the Mountaineers have looked dreadful during their 1-3 start to the season. It’s so unlike Bob Huggins to have a team that struggles so much defensively and can’t put the ball in the basket on the offensive side of the ball. West Virginia was picked sixth in the preseason Big 12 poll but that seems optimistic at this point. “Dishonorable” mention: Drexel (2-4), Texas (3-2), Memphis (3-2), Washington (2-3), St. Mary’s (4-2), NC State (4-1).
- One larger scale disappointment is occurring in a program that was a Top 25 regular just a few short years ago. From 2005 to 2011, Villanova was one of the top programs in the Big East year in and year out. The Wildcats have a great tradition of excellence dating back to the founding of the conference in 1980 but those bountiful times have grinded to a halt along the Main Line. The Wildcats haven’t been the same since a late-season collapse in 2011 and followed that up with a 13-19 record last season. This season appears to be more of the same as Villanova stands at 3-3 after Sunday’s loss at La Salle. If it weren’t for a game-changing intentional foul call against Purdue, Villanova would be 2-4 right now with just one win over a Division I opponent. Similar to West Virginia, Villanova is struggling to shoot and defend. That’s obviously not a good combination in the game of basketball. The Wildcats are giving up a Big East-worst 72.7 PPG (75.6 against D1 competition) and shooting only 41.6% from the floor, also dead last in the conference. Despite a 20-point effort against La Salle, Mouphtaou Yarou still hasn’t fulfilled expectations. Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault has been a non-factor. Perhaps the only bright spot for Jay Wright has been the potential of freshman Ryan Arcidiacono, but even he has had his share of struggles (10 for his last 43 FG).This is a humbling rebuilding project for Wright, whose team is probably two years away from Big East respectability.
- One former Big East program that has been buried over the years in its new conference is Boston College. The Eagles made 11 NCAA Tournaments and won four regular season titles in their time in the Big East. Now in its 8th ACC season, Boston College has sunk to the bottom of a conference that isn’t even as strong as it used to be. BC was a very good Big East program for many years but the long term effect of the move to the ACC has begun to take shape. BC made the NCAA’s in 2006 and 2007 but has missed out in four of the last five years. The ACC-centric mid-Atlantic and southeast are far away from Boston and the travel does take its toll on the program. Boston College is an esteemed academic institution but does not have much in common with other ACC programs other than that. Its recruiting base is different and it’s a lot harder to go up against Duke and North Carolina every year than the top teams in the Big East pre-2005 expansion. The talent drain has been significant and it’s only going to get harder with former Big East rivals Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame joining the league in the coming years. BC’s (2-4) recent loss to Bryant, a school in only its fifth year of Division I competition, is the low point for now. I say for now because the Eagles program figures to struggle even more in the years to come in the tougher, expanded ACC. Steve Donahue can try all he can but this program needs a total makeover in order to be competitive once again.