Who Won the Week? Notre Dame, Prairie View and Athletic Departments Seeking Cash…Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2012
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.
WINNER: Notre Dame
On top of emphatic wins over St. Francis and Chicago State, the Fighting Irish capped a three-win week with a 64-50 victory over reigning NCAA champion Kentucky for their 41st win in their last 42 games in South Bend. In what shouldn’t have been described as an upset — the Irish were 1.5 point favorites — Notre Dame held the Wildcats to 40 percent shooting from the field and managed to keep the pace of the game slow, making Kentucky grind out possessions as they put up their lowest-scoring game of the season by 18 points. In each of the Fighting Irish’s three games, senior forward Jack Cooley finished with a double-double, capped off with 13 points and 11 rebounds against the Wildcats. (Cooley has six double-doubles in eight games this season.) For a team that doesn’t play a true road game until the Big East schedule, Notre Dame needed to make a non-conference statement, and did so emphatically.
(Related winners: Cooley, the Big East. Related losers: Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow, who only played nine minutes in Thursday’s loss and may have already played himself out of John Calipari’s rotation.)
In the time since this column was last published, the Bruins have been a bastion of bad news on and off the court. They took an ugly loss to Cal Poly of the Big West at home at the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion (or is that Poly Pavilion now?), and then capped that off with the transfers of swingman Tyler Lamb and talented-but-overweight center Joshua Smith. Yes, the Bruins still have more talent than nearly every other team in the country, but it looks more and more like it can’t come together and play defense. After a few troubled years for coach Ben Howland, underachieving with the talent he has could spell the end of his tenure in Westwood.
(Related winners: Cal Poly; Lamb and Smith for escaping; point guard Larry Drew II, who has been thriving and will get an even better chance for success as the Bruins run the floor more. Related losers: Howland, UCLA fans.)
WINNER: Prairie View A&M
The Panthers (4-5) of the SWAC, one of the most downtrodden conferences in Division I, managed to notch a huge win, knocking off Houston of Conference USA in an 81-80 track meet at home in Prairie View, Texas. The hosts were led by senior guard Jordan DeMunyck, who finished with 27 points on 10-for-17 shooting with seven rebounds, and fellow senior guard Carl Blair, who had a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists against the Cougars on Wednesday. All this despite having 15 more free-throw attempts and two 20-point scorers in TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House, giving the Panthers their second win in seven days. Prairie View also bested Navy 42-40 on Friday, with point guard DeMunyck’s 13 points, 12 rebounds and two steals leading all players. I had the chance to watch Prairie View play three games in Eugene, Oregon, last season and they were one of the most fun teams I’ve ever seen play, and although they lost two of three games there, they were the best team to watch. Their talent has matured as seniors, and with a decent non-conference record, they could avoid a play-in game should they make the NCAA Tournament in March (though that’s a long way away).
(Related winners: DeMunyck; fun basketball; Fairleigh Dickinson, for beating the Panthers between their two wins; the SWAC! Related losers: Houston, and anyone who ever wanted to see them play at Prairie View again; Conference USA.)
After losing its top six scorers from a consistent NCAA Tournament team — including Festus Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor, Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins — 2012-13 was always looking like a rebuilding year for Kevin Stallings’ Commodores, which returned just two seniors. But last weekend’s Old Spice Classic proved that with an exclamation point. After an opening-round 75-62 loss to Davidson, the reigning Southern Conference champions that returns much of their team, Vanderbilt put in its worst offensive performance of the shot-clock era in a 50-33 loss to Marist. No Commodores player scored more than eight points or made more than three shots, as the team combined to go 14-of-61 from the field and 2-of-20 from three-point range. Forward James Siakam was the only Vandy player to shoot better than 25 percent from the field. Meanwhile, Red Foxes guards Isaiah Morton and Devin Price each scored 13, which was plenty to put the Commodores to bed. A Sunday win against struggling UTEP was faint consolation for a team that lost two in a row to small schools.
(Related winners: Davidson, Marist. Related losers: Anyone who watched Vandy average half a point per possession Friday.)
WINNER: Derrick Marks
Boise State’s top scorer hung up 35 points Wednesday night on 13-of-19 shooting from the field as the Broncos upset No. 11 Creighton in Omaha. Despite using nearly half his team’s possessions, Marks was efficient with his scoring and was aided by four first-half three-pointers by backcourt mate Jeff Elorriaga to down the Bluejays, 83-70. The slashing sophomore guard has turned up big this season, scoring in double figures in each of Boise State’s six games this season as his playing time has increased from 21.5 minutes per game as a freshman to 29.3 so far this year. Marks is also averaging 3.7 assists and two steals per game as Boise State has started out 5-1 in its last season in the Mountain West.
(Related winners: Boise State. Related losers: Creighton, the Missouri Valley.)
I like maps. And I like things that make geographic sense. I like it when teams don’t lose their traditional rivals because their athletic departments make cash grabs. And I really like it when there’s some semblance of stability in college basketball, and I know I’m not the only one. But universities don’t care, not a bit. For athletic departments, all they see are dollar signs. And for universities, it’s the same thing, even if most every school loses copious amounts of money (often that subsidized by taxpayers) in the pursuit of big-time sports.
The latest round of nonsensical school shifts has put Rutgers and Maryland into the Big Ten, summarily moving Louisville into the ACC and putting the Big East two teams down. Not that Rutgers is a basketball powerhouse, but Maryland is. The Terrapins have a national championship and two Final Four trips in this millennium, something few schools can match. A founding member of its soon-to-be-former conference, Maryland has had major budget shortfalls and had to cut seven sports after last season. So it needed cash, which the Big Ten provides the potential for (which is rumored to be as much as a $25 million per year budget increase).
In other transfers, we’ve got the Western Athletic Conference officially on the brink of extinction as New Mexico State, likely headed to Conference USA, and Denver, headed to the Summit League, are set to leave, and not enough time for Division II teams to become eligible for the NCAA Tournament before the WAC would lose its auto-bid. But at least they’re in America and in the mountains, respectively. There’s nothing Atlantic about Louisville, except that it’s not in the Pacific Time Zone. And there’s not a damn thing Midwestern about Rutgers or Maryland.
(Related winners: Budgets for the schools involved; charter plane companies; Motrin, because this is a headache; Pepto-Bismol, because I want to hurl. Related losers: Tradition, common sense.)