ATB: Florida Drills Florida State, Colorado Lives Up To Smack Talk, and the Best Tribute Yet to Rick Majerus…Posted by Chris Johnson on December 6th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. A Reminder Of College Basketball’s Lesser-Touted Rivalries. When you think college basketball rivalries, you think Duke-Carolina or Kentucky-Louisville. You think about infectiously enthusiastic student sections and fight songs and longstanding grievances. Wednesday night ran the gamut on college hoops rivalries, from the bloodletting knockout that took place on Florida State’s home floor, to the grossly underrated but cancelled BYU-Utah State clash in Provo, to Colorado’s nascent feud between the Buffaloes and Rams. Three different games, all of different styles and talent levels, each with its own unique outcome. Nothing comes close to the Commonwealth’s rivalry or the famed Tobacco Road clash, but Wednesday night provided a diverse selection of some of the nation’s lesser-known tussles. These games often get swept under the rug in the face of more storied fixtures between blueblood programs. I get that. Rivalries mean different things to different segments of the college basketball-watching public. Let this be a plea for greater and more careful analysis of the lesser known hatefests. Disillusioned by Wednesday night’s events though you may be, give these rivalry games a few minutes of your TV allotment. You won’t be disappointed.
Your Watercooler Moment. Florida’s Good and All, But What Happened To The Seminoles?
The key to unlocking Florida State’s typically suffocating defense is not difficult to discover. No one’s getting worked up about preparing for the Seminoles’ relentless pressure, or their ability to turn you over, or disrupt your offensive flow. That’s a safe conclusion to make following the Seminoles’ most embarrassing result yet in a long line of disappointing outcomes to open the season. Rival Florida handed Florida State its fourth home loss, and did so with a punctuating 25-point margin of defeat, just three days after losing at home to Mercer and eight days after Minnesota’s win at the Tucker Center. I could go on about how incredibly dominant Florida looked, how well the Gators defended, how the ability to sustain tonight’s complete effort over any extended context precludes but the slightest challenge from a Kentucky, Missouri or whoever else wants to emerge from the muck of mediocrity in the SEC to challenge the Gators for a league crown. I’m more concerned with Florida State, because the Seminoles are no longer the most perplexing team in the country. They’ve long retired that label. I’m starting to wonder whether Leonard Hamilton’s team simply isn’t what it was billed to be. Not only are the Seminoles not defending – after ranking first nationally in defensive efficiency in 2010 and 2011, the Seminoles have dropped to 80th in that category – they’re not scoring efficiently enough (their 107.1 offensive rating ranks 54th in the country) to offset their aberrant ball-stopping tendencies. The Seminoles need to figure things out sooner rather than later. They’ve squandered every prime non-conference opportunity, which means they’ll need to run through ACC play with minimal hiccups in order to secure an NCAA Tournament berth and continue their recent curve of success under Hamilton.
Video of the night. Many were quick to praise the Gators after their evisceration of the Seminoles in Tallahassee. Florida has every right to be excited — not only about Wednesday night’s comprehensive beatdown but also their place in the national landscape.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Memphis Arrives. Kind of. If there’s a team that needed to find its footing in the early throes of the non-conference season, it was Memphis. Their major disappointment at the B4A, the perplexing struggles of point-guard-turned-two-guard Joe Jackson and the not at all unfamiliar laments thrown at Josh Pastner’s reputed tactical shortcomings all coalesced to form one big ball of of negativity over the Tigers. Memphis played Wednesday like a team with its level of talent, athleticism and explosiveness is capable of. Visiting Ohio, for all its stingy perimeter defense and upset desires, didn’t stand a puncher’s chance against the Tigers – not when Geron Johnson gives Pastner 21 points off the bench and freshman Shaq Goodwin goes 6-of-8 from the field and 8-of-10 from the line. Alas, that’s the Memphis we thought we were getting this year.
- Saint Louis Hums Along. Whether the passing of coaching great Rick Majerus propels Saint Louis to greater heights or serves as a distractive reminder of what this season could have been, SLU is giving no reason to latch on to the latter scenario. For a team to have its head coach go from “medical leave of absence” to “not returning” to “gone forever,” all in a four-month span, is a jarring continuum of increasing despair. So it’s a huge testament to the Billikens’ resilience that they’ve been able to beat two quality opponents – Valparaiso on Sunday, followed by North Texas on Wednesday (the Mean Green are struggling, but Tony Mitchell is nothing to take lightly – in the week since Majerus’ passing. In emotionally trying times, the Billikens are focusing not on the loss of their leader, but on what they can control: winning basketball games.
- Dayton Helps Mitigates Inevitable Bubble Anxiety. The NCAA Tournament bubble and Dayton know each other very well. More often than not, the Flyers’ ride along the precarious to-dance-or-not-to-dance tightrope ends in disappointment. Either way, early March has grown into an anxiety-filled couple of weeks for Dayton fans. Whatever the bubble gods have in store for Archie Miller’s program this season, the Flyers will look back on Wednesday night as a weighty accomplishment in their non-conference portfolio. Alabama fans probably won’t think much of Dayton’s win in Tuscaloosa – BCS national championship game preparations are priority No. 1 right now – but Dayton fans will look back fondly on the night’s proceedings come Selection Sunday.
- Charlotte’s Prospects In The A-10. The A-10 is exceptionally strong this year. Four NCAA Tournament bids is, I’d wager, a conservative estimate. I attribute this league’s strength not only to the crop of experienced teams and coaches in the upper-tier, teams like St. Joe’s and Temple and VCU and Butler, but to the top-to-bottom depth that will make A-10 play a major grind on any given night. Charlotte did not figure prominently in my preseason A-10 analysis. Wednesday night’s win at Davidson, which gave the 49ers the their first 8-0 start in school history, hammered home my near-sightedness. I’m not sure what this means in the larger context of the A-10 title race, but the 49ers are off to a very nice start. That means the A-10, already being dubbed a de facto power conference, will be deeper and better than previously believed.
- Dinwiddie Backs Up Words. Verbal spats, especially on Twitter, are a surefire sign of genuine rivalry hatred. Colorado leading scorer Spencie Dinwiddie fired the “little brother” moniker at rival Colorado State in the lead-up to Wednesday night’s fixture in Boulder. That’s risky business. Dinwiddie had no choice but to make good on his claim by reaffirming the Buffaloes’ “big brother” status in the Centennial State. Nearly 30 points later, with victory in tow, Dinwiddie got the last laugh. The Rams will have their time. For now, Dinwiddie and the Buffaloes are talking and playing like the best team in Colorado.
- Rick Majerus’ Legacy Lives On at Utah, Metaphorically and Physically. In reading so many thoughtful tributes on the web in the wake of his passing, I’ve learned a lot about Rick Majerus. What sticks about above all else is that the man was who he was and that’s the only way you can describe him without obscuring reality. He was the greatest on-court tactician of his time. He belittled players, yet brought others to tears of joy. He showed up on recruiting visits in flip-flops and shorts. He lived in a hotel room. He made light of not being able to control his appetite. You get the idea: Majerus was a unique figure, and so it was only right that Utah honored him in a unique way. On Wednesday night, Utah enshrined Majerus’ outsized personality and figure in Utes’ lore by hanging his trademark white sweater from the Jon M. Huntsman Center rafters. Handing out custom-woven Majerus patches added to the well-planned affair. I can’t think of a better way to pay homage to a guy whose legacy, lets be real, cannot be encapsulated by championship banners or glass trophy cases. I have to wonder, though, is a court-naming in the works?
- Gonzaga Survives Pullman. Roughing through rowdy road environments in remote locales is never easy. Gonzaga faced that very challenge Wednesday night at Washington State. Brock Motum (he is the only name you need to know when speaking about Washington State basketball) nearly upended this year’s early mid-major darlings. Just getting by Washington State doesn’t reflect well on your chances going forward, but perhaps the Cougars provided exactly what Mark Few was looking for: a wake-up call to test the Zags before upcoming games against Illinois, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
- BYU, Utah State Postpone Scheduled Game After Unexpected Player Collapse. In light of what took place at Utah State’s Tuesday practice, when junior Danny Berger collapsed on the court and was one CPR and AED device away from passing away under tragic circumstances, it would’ve felt a bit insensitive to ask Utah State and BYU to play their scheduled rivalry bout in Provo. The latest update on Berger’s status characterized his condition as “stable, but critical.” Kudos to the schools’ administrators for coming together and exercising rationalism and logic in trying times. The life of a player involved is more important than any mutually divisive in-state rivalry could ever be, and the folks who canceled this highly-anticipated game realized that and acted accordingly. Keep Berger in your thoughts as he recovers from this near-death experience.
- A Very Good Day For Chicago State. It started out with news that the Cougars, formerly of the Great West, officially set their date for an impending conference switch. Like most realignment movement of late, Chicago State’s decision to join the WAC – a league struggling to maintain its existence in Division I – doesn’t meet the basic cultural or geographic norms by which we used to define conference membership. And if you thought the Cougars’ day couldn’t get any better, how’s knocking off city rival and Big East member Depaul for an added bonus? That is a very bad loss for DePaul, but let’s not make this about the Blue Demons’ plight. Chicago State is the latest winner in college sports’ realignment revolving door, and – at least for a day – it’s a big winner on the court, too.
- What’s Wrong With Tennessee? There’s little shame in losing consecutive road tests at Georgetown and Virginia. The Hoyas are a legitimate top-20 team and a viable Big East title threat. And Virginia looks far better than any post-Mike Scott forecasts would have indicated. That doesn’t erase the fact that in four of its last five games, Tennessee scored 50 points or fewer. That’s with Oden-esque center Jarnell Stokes controlling the paint, and Trae Golden adding a perimeter scoring complement, and swingman Jordan McRae providing a credible third option. Tennessee has never been an excellent offensive team – it ranked 84th in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rankings heading into tonight’s game – but given the collective talent on board, and the singular dominance of Stokes, the Volunteers should rarely, if ever, find themselves scratching to get above the half century mark.
- A Confirmation of the MW’s Natural Power Structure The early success of Boise State raised the prospect of a fourth team entering the league’s vaunted top tier. That group comprises UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico, the latter of whom clawed back from an early deficit to down USC on its home floor. The Lobos are for real; that’s not up for debate. What is very much in question is Boise State’s staying power. Losing at Utah isn’t a death sentence to your NCAA Tournament hopes. But the Broncos, after notching arguably the MW’s best true road win of the season at Creighton, didn’t just lose. They were boatraced by a mediocre-at-best opponent. The Broncos’ long-run prospects needs further evaluation.
- South Florida’s Defense Deteriorates. When the 13th ranked per-possession defense in the country last season drops to 89th one year later and doesn’t have nearly enough offense to atone for that slide on the other end of the floor, that team going to lose some games. If you can see through my statistically-enhanced lede-burying, you’d recognize the aforementioned team as South Florida. The defensive prowess that gave South Florida its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992 is a figment of the past – at least in this early part of the season. Going up against Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart – by my rights, the best freshman in the game right now – won’t help your defensive rankings. It is not surprising that the Cowboys held serve against South Florida. It is surprising that South Florida isn’t defending at the same frenetic intensity level is had last season.
Wednesday Night’s All Americans.
- Jahii Carson, Arizona State – You can count on one hand the players who mean more to their teams than Carson, who had yet another big night – 20 points, six assists, and five rebounds – to add to a hugely underplayed freshman campaign (West coast bias? Ok, I’ll buy that for now.).
- Spencer Dinwiddie and Andre Roberson, Colorado – The Buffs’ duo combined for 44 points and 16 rebounds and helped Colorado repress its in-state rival.
- Deniz Kilicli, West Virginia – However many 21-point, five-rebound performances Kilicli finishes with from here on out, he will always be best remembered for his beard.
- Geron Johnson, Memphis – The former top-50 recruit picked a good time to break out of his shell of missed expectations – 21 points in the Tigers’ win over Ohio.
- Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga – The Zags will need to sort out their frontcourt logjam before March. As it stands now, Olynyk, who had 23 points and three rebounds off the bench in the Zags’ two-point escape at Wazzu, looks like he belongs in the starting lineup.
Tweet of the Night. What caught my eye about Collegehoopsnet.com contributor Raphielle Johnson’s tweet wasn’t as much the content itself — though Kelly Olynyk did play a huge part in saving Gonzaga from a bad road loss — as it was the majestic image in his Twitter Avatar.