ATB: The Holy War Doesn’t Disappoint, West Virginia’s Struggles, and Trey Burke’s Extended Playing Time…Posted by Chris Johnson on December 12th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. You Probably Didn’t Watch Any Games Tonight. As much as I love college basketball, both as a fan and writer, I have no qualms conceding the obvious: There were few games on tonight’s schedule deserving of your (or my) precious Tuesday night TV viewing allotment. From top to bottom, and with the possible exception of a couple somewhat surprising results, the schedule was one of the worst we’ve seen all season. If you needed a night to get a leg up in the holiday shopping arms race, tonight couldn’t have presented a better opportunity. We saw this coming: finals week has never been kind to the college hoops schedule, and this year is no different. Even so, there were games that no doubt piqued the interest of select areas of the country, regionally-appealing tests deserving of at least a some national attention. Herein, I present you what could go down as the most boring ATB to date. Enjoy… if possible.
Your Watercooler Moment. The Holy War Rages On.
In its last season before joining the (gulp) Big East, St. Joseph’s fumbled a prime opportunity to claim Big 5 bragging rights in the Holy War for the second year in a row. You can look at this result one of two ways. On the one hand, Villanova showed toughness and mettle against a hated city rival and grabbed its first respectable non-conference win since beating Purdue in overtime (if that qualifies) nearly four weeks ago at the 2K Sports Classic. Jay Wright’s team needed to prove its ability to rebound after a mostly tumultuous month. On the other hand, St. Joe’s was picked to finish first in the preseason media poll in an incredibly deep A-10, and another loss to pile on top of missed opportunities against Florida State and Creighton isn’t exactly validating that perception. The first school of thought seems to hold more weight, but I’d wager it’s a little bit of both. Phil Martelli’s team has certainly underwhelmed of late, and there’s no excuse for squandering a five-point lead with just over two minutes remaining (particularly against an offensively-challenged bunch like Villanova), but when you consider the stakes at hand – for one, Villanova’s Philadelphia-grounded pride; for another, the growing sense the Wildcats were falling behind in the race to become the city’s best team, and their need to rectify that mantra – it’s not a horrible loss by any stretch. What’s interesting about this particular game is that the next rendition could very well count as a conference game, only we’re yet to find out whether said conference will be the Atlantic 10 or the Big East. And no, I couldn’t avoid talking about conference realignment. Sorry!
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Trey Burke Should Be Resting More.It probably won’t surprise you to learn Michigan point guard Trey Burke had 19 points in a comfortable win over Binghamton at the Crisler Center. What may strike you as something of an oddity is that Burke’s 30 minutes of playing time were the fewest minutes he’s logged in a game all season. The Wolverines haven’t just won all of their games so far; they’ve made easy work of their opponents, resulting in a multitude of lopsided scores. It only seems logical that coach John Beilein would give his most important player ample rest time in these early blowouts as a preemptive stay-fresh device, because once the Wolverines hit Big Ten play and teams resort to physicality in their attempts to flummox the No. 3-ranked team in the nation, all those hits will add up, the fatigue will mount, and Burke just might feel the urge to retroactively curse his coach’s judgment. Or maybe Burke will continue to look like one of the best point guards in the country right on through conference play and into the NCAA Tournament without feeling the slightest bit of lethargy or sluggishness. Probably the latter.
- Illini Avoid Trap Game. The carnival of emotions that come with a season-defining road victory are, in the moment, sublime. It is extremely hard to win true road games, and even harder to do so against a top 10 team. Illinois did that Saturday at Gonzaga, but the possibility very much existed that John Groce’s team could overlook a home test with Norfolk State three days later. For all the Spartans’ recent giant killer stardom, they were no match for the reinvigorated Illini. Not only does this team look capable enough to compete in the upper echelon of the Big Ten, Illinois appears locked in for the long haul. A note: The Illini host will stage a sneaky-dangerous matchup with 9-0 Eastern Kentucky (they haven’t beaten anyone, but 9-0 is nothing to scoff at) on Sunday.
- This Isn’t Your Normal West Virginia Team. Saturday’s one-point win over Virginia Tech felt like something of a turning point for West Virginia. The Mountaineers opened the season by losing three of their first four games, but over the past two weeks, Bob Huggins’ team looked like it was headed in the right direction. Wednesday’s win at Marshall was a highlight; Saturday – after Juwan Staten beat the buzzer to fell the Hokies in Morgantown – had me convinced. West Virginia basically undid Saturday’s good work with a puzzling loss at Duquesne Monday, a game in which the Mountaineers rode a 13-point lead into the break but combined to go 9-of-28 from the field in the second half. Bob Huggins’ teams are fundamentally-sound, disciplined, focused outfits. What we’re seeing from the Mountaineers strains credulity – even in an expected step-back year.
Other Outcomes of Note.
- Harvard 65, Boston University 64 – There’s a strong argument to be made that Harvard, academic suspensions and all, is the best team in the city of Boston.
- Minnesota 70, North Dakota State 57 – The Bison will give Nate Wolters and SDSU all they can handle in the Summit race. Minnesota wasn’t phased.
- LSU 80, Chattanooga 67 – First-year coach Johnny Jones has LSU off to an undefeated start, but its too early to tell how much of the Tigers’ run is due to their easy schedule. Friday’s trip to Boise will give us a clearer picture.
Dunkdafied. When Grant Gibbs is flying at the rim, and instigating loud ovations not with his passing – which, if you’ve yet to watch Creighton this season, is terrific – but with a powerful dunk, you know Creighton’s got things under control. Gibbs’ two-handed jam comes to you from Sunday’s win over Akron.
Tuesday Night’s All-Americans.
- Mathew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s – There’s winning, and then there’s bludgeoning the opposition into utter humiliation. Thanks in part to Dellavedova’s 31 points and eight assists, Saint Mary’s handed winless Jackson State its sixth loss of the season.
- Eli Carter, Rutgers – Carter’s 19 points in Rutgers’ three-point win over George Washington pushed his season average to 16.0 PPG.
- Trey Burke, Michigan – As long as Burke keeps distributing and scoring at this clip, Michigan will find itself in the thick of the Big Ten race. At this point, chalking up 19 points is basically clockwork for the sophomore.
- Johnny O’Bryant III, LSU – I’m not sure there’s a league with weaker top-to-bottom depth than the SEC. The Tigers can remedy that critique on their own merits. What they can do is add bulk below the dividing line that differentiates Kentucky, Missouri and Florida from the rest, particularly if O’Bryant continues his double-double streak (his 18-point, 10-rebound performance Monday was his third over a three-game span).
- Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota (NPOY) – If there was ever any doubt Mbakwe would regain his all-conference-level interior game, well, here’s 14 points and 18 rebounds to erase those concerns.
Tweet of the Night. Throughout the Big East’s gradual realignment-related decline, there was always a sense the once-proud conference would eventually get back on solid footing, regain its posture and march on as one of the nation’s elite basketball conferences. It now appears the Big East, as we know it, will henceforth cease to exist. The most likely destination for its non-FBS, Catholic, basketball-only schools? The A-10. NBC Sports contributor Raphielle Johnson is not on board with the idea.