Who Won the Week? Illinois, DePaul and Fans Everywhere…Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 14th, 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: The Fans
Let’s face it – this finals week was about the worst thing on record. Save for an upset win over Wichita State by Tennessee, which magically scored more than 40 points to shockingly hand the Shockers their first loss, the week was bereft of interesting match-ups. But the good news is, it’s over. (I’ve got a little bit of bad news though: Winter break’s not much better in terms of captivating contests.) Let’s celebrate that and move on with our lives.
(Related winners: None. Related losers: Anyone who had to sit through games last week.)
LOSER: Halil Kanacevic
The 6’8” forward for St. Joseph’s thought it would be a good idea to show support for his Hawks by flipping the double bird to Villanova fans during a Big 5 game after making his only field goal of the night, a three-pointer to give St. Joe’s a 50-47 lead in the second half. Instead, Kanacevic got popped with a technical foul for the display of unsportsmanlike conduct. Late in the game, he then proceeded to miss two clutch free throws with a minute to go that would have stretched the Hawks’ one-point lead. Instead, the Wildcats came back for a 65-61 home win that helped right their ship an embarrassing 18-point defeat to Columbia and Big 5 losses to La Salle and Temple. For his trouble, Kanacevic got suspended for two games as well.
(Related winners: Villanova; Temple, the likely Big 5 favorite. Related losers: St. Joseph’s; Langston Gallaway, the Hawks guard whose six three-pointers and 22 points were lost in the shuffle.)
The Fighting Illini brought the fight to Gonzaga, winning the most prominent match-up of the past week 85-74 on Saturday, as guard Brandon Paul went off for 35 points on 10-of-16 shooting and a 10-of-11 performance from the free throw line, tearing the Bulldogs’ defense apart on pick and rolls time and again. Paul then led Illinois to a lethargic 64-54 midweek win over 2012 NCAA Tournament darling Norfolk State, leading all players with 14 points, eight rebounds and three steals. Yes, the boys in orange and blue could have played much better, but facing off with the Spartans was a textbook opportunity for a letdown game, and Illinois persevered. In former Ohio coach John Groce’s first year in Champaign, the Illini have moved to 11-0. Watch out for Sunday’s match-up against Eastern Kentucky, as the Colonels are 9-0 themselves; the schools are two of 13 remaining unbeatens.
(Related winners: Brandon Paul, the Big Ten. Related losers: Gonzaga.)
Poor Tulane. Nobody wants to be friends with Tulane. Just after they caught their big break with a bid to join the Big East, the Green Wave waved goodbye to the seven Catholic schools that formed the conference’s basketball backbone. Tulane is a school with such little athletic prowess that its annual football rivalry with LSU was canceled because of how lopsided it was, and its basketball team is little better, having not won more than 20 games in a season since 1999-2000. Yet, thanks to having a pulse and a football team, it was on the precipice of joining a conference that had put 11 teams into the NCAA Tournament and won it all just two seasons ago. But the Catholic schools banded together and instead took a crack at creating a conference predicated entirely on basketball to see if it can still generate television revenue. It’s refreshing to see a set of schools with something in common besides lust for money band together in a time where it seems everything traditional about the college basketball environment has been torn apart in the last few years. Sorry, Tulane, but you’re a thousand miles from UConn. Enjoy that flight every year.
(Related winners: The aforementioned Catholic schools. Related losers: UConn and Cincinnati, who are about to get left out in the cold come hoops season; the Atlantic 10 and the West Coast Conference, which are rumored to be victims of looming poaching with teams such as Butler and Gonzaga potentially at risk.)
On top of a pair of impressive blowout wins — 84-50 over Wisconsin-Milwaukee and 74-61 on the road over Arizona State — the Blue Demons got an even bigger victory than that: a surprise re-entry into relevance as one of the seven Catholic schools discussed previously. The tradition-rich Chicago school that churned out George Mikan and Mark Aguirre has fallen on terrible times, with just five conference wins in the past four years. But teaming with like schools will certainly help the school’s respectability on the court and may help with its financial situation as well. But let’s not overlook what DePaul’s week was like on the court though. Third-year coach Oliver Purnell has the Blue Demons pointed back in the right direction.
(Related winners: The other Catholic schools leaving the Big East, which won’t have an albatross on their hands. Related losers: Those other Catholic schools leaving the Big East, which could have their hands full if Purnell can tap into the huge Chicago recruiting base.)
LOSER: College of Charleston
The Cougars got blasted 65-49 by Division II Anderson University on their own floor Thursday night. Junior guard Chandler Hash poured in 19 as the Trojans only trailed once, at 3-2, before pulling away and weathering an 11-4 first-half run to keep a double-figure lead for the rest of the game. Anderson came in after a loss the night before, and plays failed Division I transitional team Winston-Salem State on Saturday, two days after the upset. Meanwhile, the Cougars are left to pick up the pieces from the embarrassing defeat, and first-year coach Doug Wojcik will probably have to answer a few more tough questions than he would like to this early in his tenure.
(Related winners: Anderson’s players, who all got a game they will remember for the rest of their lives. Related losers: Baylor and Boston College, which both lost to College of Charleston earlier this season; the Southern Conference, the Cougars’ current home; the Colonial Athletic Association, the Cougars’ future home.)