ATB: Nebraska Basketball Rivalry Belongs To Creighton, Syracuse’s Improvement, and Another Player’s Sudden Collapse…Posted by Chris Johnson on December 7th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Final Exams: UGH. The recent frenzy of quality match-ups between nationally-relevant programs far and wide, Power Six to low major, blinded me from the annual scheduling lull that accompanies final exams. Starting Monday, the number of quality games over the next week will diminish as student-athletes hit the books in advance of the the winter holiday. Games will bore. Viewing intrigue will plummet. You’ll get nights like Thursday – with maybe one or two, if that, interesting fixtures, and a large dose of filler comprising the rest of a given night’s slate. For anyone who enjoys watching college basketball, it is not a fun time. What follows is my humble attempt to spin the oncoming dry period into a positive. The dip in activity serves as reminder of one of the few moments where class work takes precedence over sport and spectacle, where student-athletes implement the primacy of the word “student” before “athlete” in a tangible way that goes deeper than the NCAA’s willful definitional standard, where it reflects beyond a mere byword for amateurism. As much as I love watching and writing about the sport’s best teams, it’s rare we see the national TV tycoons and broadcast conglomerates that lord over Division I’s revenue-producing sports rendered powerless against the common academic mission of its money-producing subjects. I’ll suffer through a few boring nights of hoops if it means maintaining at least some measure of scholastic purpose in this whole college athletics thing.
Your Watercooler Moment. Let’s Not Get Ahead Of Ourselves: Creighton Owns Nebraska Hoops.
The revenue-producing sports’ dichotomy in Nebraska is self-evident. The Cornhuskers handle the football side of things, while Creighton dominates all major headlines on the court. New Nebraska coach Tim Miles accepted his post earlier this year with designs on changing that perception, or at least narrowing the gap. Generating hoops interest on a football-dominated campus like Nebraska is not easy; Miles has a multi-year project on his hands. Still, the early part of the season provided green shoots of hope for the long-dormant program. The Huskers had won seven of eight to open the year, with respectable if noteworthy victories over Valpo and USC. There were noticeable improvements all over the floor. Miles was making headway on the recruiting trail. The arrow was pointing up. All of which – even in the wake of Creighton’s 22-point beatdown in Lincoln – hasn’t really changed all that much. In truth, Nebraska was never ready to handle a team as capable and offensively potent as Creighton. Thursday night’s humbling reminder of its little brother status doesn’t disabuse Nebraska of any of the progress it has made thus far. Nebraska is in good hands going forward with Miles at the helm. If you were looking for a quick-fix turnaround in Lincoln, well, sorry! The Huskers are headed in the right direction – they’re just not quite ready to challenge a national contender like Creighton.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Syracuse, Despite Huge Turnover, Looks Better Than Last Season. For the second consecutive blasé slate of college hoops games this week (the first being Monday night), Syracuse stepped into the national void and waxed an inferior opponent at the Carrier Dome. I suppose Thursday night’s victim, Long Beach State, is a step up from Eastern Michigan, but the prevailing message rings true all the same: the 2012-13 Orange are everything last year’s Elite Eight team was ever made out to be. In fact, I’m willing to break my small sample size caveat to make this claim: Based on what I’ve seen, Syracuse is a better team than last season. It’s not just James Southerland’s scoring, or Michael Carter-Williams’ distributive intellect, or Rakeem Christmas’ seamless replacement of Fab Melo as the shot-swatting anchor of the 2-3 zone. It’s what happens when you put all those pieces together – not to mention a host of complementary assets I failed to mention – and play coherent basketball on both ends of the floor. Big East play will divulge greater analytical truths, but for now, the Orange look better than at any point last season.
- The Best Team On The West Coast. Last week’s win in the Wooden Classic was proof enough to give San Diego State that mantle. Since losing the aircraft carrier game against Syracuse to open the season, the Aztecs have rattled off seven straight wins, and knocked off Pac-12 hopefuls USC and UCLA along the way. Thursday, they rolled UC Santa Barbara at home. We won’t get a good feel for this team’s ceiling until conference play, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the way Steve Fisher’s team has come along so far. The battle atop the MW between the Aztecs, UNLV and New Mexico could shape up as one of the best conference races around the country.
- Overtime Drama At Xavier. No realistic nonpartisans could have expected anything more than an average to mediocre season from Vanderbilt. The Commodores lost basically everyone who mattered – NBA Draft picks John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor – from last year’s SEC Tournament Championship roster. Kevin Stallings’ rebuild will be long and, at least in the early stages, painful. Vanderbilt’s opponent Thursday night, Xavier, is in a similar boat, only the Musketeers (thanks largely to the meteoric rise of freshman Semaj Christon) had already proven themselves a product of underrated turnover bias with wins over Purdue and Butler. Vanderbilt had next to nothing remotely enticing to a tournament committee member. The Commodores’ win won’t bring about a massive reevaluation of their placement in the SEC. More likely than not, it’s one of few bright spots on tap for Vanderbilt this season.
- Creighton Guard Passes Out Before Game. We saw Utah State and BYU make the right decision in canceling Wednesday night’s scheduled game in Provo after Aggies guard Danny Berger passed out and was forced to a hospital bed Tuesday during a team workout. Two days later, another player dropped to the court unannounced. According to the AP report, Creighton’s Josh Jones, who fainted 30 minutes before tipoff at Nebraska Thursday, has a history of heart problems, and underwent surgery five years ago to replace his aortic valve. This was the first time Jones encountered a re-occurrence of past symptoms since the surgery. The Bluejays visited Jones at the hospital following their victory in Lincoln. Here’s to a speedy recovery not only for Jones, but also for Berger.
- Arkansas-Little Rock’s Ball Control. You can probably count on one hand the backcourts capable of matching Cincinnati’s three-member crew of Cashmere wright, Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuan Parker. Arkansas-Little Rock is not one of them. So I can stand the Trojans heading into Thursday night’s game at Cincinnati with some level of trepidation. I wouldn’t want to face one of the nation’s top backcourts – one that thrives on physical defense and turning over opposing backcourts – on its home floor in the midst of an early-season peak, either. When I saw that UALR committed 23 turnovers, a Bearcats program record, I wasn’t in the least bit shocked. The Bearcats will give plenty of teams the jitters before season’s end. I could rail on the Trojans for lack of discipline and mental errors and the like, but against this defensive juggernaut, it’s totally understandable.
Dunkdafied. OK, so I’ll come right out with it: entering tonight’s game against Long Beach State, I had never heard the name Trevor Cooney. Boy was I missing out. Bonus points for the two-handed finish.
Thursday Night’s All-Americans.
- Kadeem Batts, Providence – With 55 points over his last two games, including 23 and seven rebounds in a comfortable win over Rhode Island Thursday, Batts is a one-man stat sheet-stuffer.
- Kyle Fuller, Vanderbilt (NPOY) – One of only a couple upperclassmen left after last year’s mass exodus, Fuller scored 25 points, grabbed four rebounds and had five assists in the Commodores’ win at Xavier. Fuller’s biggest accomplishment: scoring all 12 of his team’s points in overtime.
- C.J. Fair, Syracuse – Just what the rest of the Big East needed to see, another scoring dimension rounding into form for the Orange. Fair’s 16 points and 13 rebounds were the biggest help in extending the program’s home win-streak to 27 games.
- Doug McDermott, Creighton – I’m not sure McDermott could have said “Nebraska is our hoops state” in a more humbling and discouraging way than with 27 points and four rebounds in the Bluejays’ demolition in Lincoln.
- Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati – Seeing Cincinnati’s backcourt throw UALR into a frenetic turnover-laced mess, and watching MCW (15 points, 10 assists) churn out another double-double, I got the sudden urge to invent a time-travel device capable of landing me courtside at the Carrier Dome for the January 21 match-up between the Bearcats and Orange. Kilpatrick finished with 18 points and six rebounds in Thursday night’s rout.
Tweet of the night. If you read Monday’s version of the ATB, then my personal affection for MCW’s game is no secret. When CBS Sports Network Radio and TV personality Jon Rothstein throws out lofty comparisons like this, I can’t pass up the opportunity to share.
So much Penny Hardaway in Michael Carter-Williams…..
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 7, 2012
Apparently someone felt Rothstein didn’t quite put nail to head with his comparison. To me, MCW’s creative faculties and developing offensive game remind me more of Hardaway than Livingston.
Just received a text from a well-informed D1 assistant. This may be better. So much Shaun Livingston in Michael Carter-Williams….
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 7, 2012