Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Butler-Indiana, Arizona-Florida, Jim Boeheim, and More…Posted by Brian Otskey on December 18th, 2012
Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
- After enduring the dreaded finals week, we college basketball fans were given a treat on Saturday afternoon courtesy of two teams who call basketball heaven, otherwise known as the state of Indiana, home. In what was the game of the year to date, the Butler Bulldogs overcame a second half deficit and tons of foul trouble and knocked off the top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers. While an unranked team beating #1 is always an amazing accomplishment, nobody should be surprised by this result. Butler has done this time and time again over the last few seasons with a variety of different players (although this was the program’s first victory over a #1-ranked team) who embrace the same unselfishness and winning culture. The Butler Way, as it has been deemed, is the reason why Brad Stevens is considered among the top coaches in the college game. This meteoric rise for the 36-year-old Stevens, in only his sixth year as a head coach, doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Butler won the game by torching Indiana from deep and dominating inside, consequently exposing preseason All-American Cody Zeller’s deficiencies. Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Smith took it to Zeller all game and made him look like a very average center in the process, one who struggled to rebound and had difficulty scoring against the physical Butler defense. Zeller’s stat line may look alright (18 points, five rebounds), but 10 of his points were scored at the foul line. He wasn’t a major factor on either end of the floor, a credit to Stevens and his preparation as well as Butler’s personnel. This is a blueprint for future opponents with the proper personnel on how to attack Zeller and Indiana. The Hoosier defense, which up until Saturday’s game had looked much improved, did not look all that impressive on this day. Aside from Victor Oladipo (who is quickly becoming Indiana’s most important player), the Hoosiers didn’t defend the way they needed to against Butler’s deliberate offensive sets. Indiana has plenty of time to fix the problems and remains a legitimate national title contender but Saturday’s result was a good reality check. There is no truly dominant team in college basketball this season and we will see more results like this as the year progresses.
- Another fantastic game broke out later Saturday night in Tucson where Arizona overcame a six point deficit in the final minute to shock Florida and remain undefeated. In a 40-minute game, the Wildcats led for only a stunning one minute and 24 seconds, out-played in their own building for the vast majority of the game. What did I draw from this game? Not much except that it was fun to watch and both teams are legitimate top ten outfits. Who is the better team? I’m sticking with Florida. The Gators went into the McKale Center and methodically dismantled Arizona for 37 of the 40 minutes played. The problem for Florida was meltdowns at the end of both halves which proved fatal. The Gators held an 11-point lead with under two minutes remaining in the first half but two turnovers and a blown defensive assignment on Nick Johnson allowed Arizona to cut the lead to three at the half. Florida weathered the storm and slowly built up a comfortable lead in the second half before Arizona charged back. A Scottie Wibekin triple with 2:44 remaining seemed to be the dagger but Florida would not score again. In a final minute disaster, the Gators committed three turnovers and 90% free throw shooter Kenny Boynton missed the front end of a one-and-one. Mark Lyons still had to hit a tough shot off the glass to give Arizona the win but this was a total giveaway by Florida, a team that had no business losing this game given the way it played out. What did I like about the Gators? A lot, from Patric Young’s smooth touch and suffocating defense to Mike Rosario’s newfound self-control and poise. Billy Donovan’s team does a great job in zone defense and I thought they should have played some more possessions in it. After a made basket, I really liked Florida throwing on some light full court pressure before settling back into the 2-3 zone. It served them well by confusing Arizona for the better part of the game. Offensively, Florida has nice balance and utilizes Erik Murphy in the perfect way with pick-and-pops as well as a series of staggered screens that really confused Arizona’s defense. Rosario and Boynton play more under control this year and don’t chuck as often as in the past. This is a team that should win the SEC and contend for a national championship. As for Arizona, this is a very good team but not one I’m sure can contend for a national title. Sean Miller’s club must cut down on its turnovers (which it did against Florida) and improve its three point defense. I mentioned Arizona’s poor opponents three point percentage in a previous edition of this column and the Wildcats failed to stop Florida’s shooters on Saturday. That has to get better in the long run if Arizona wants to go deep in March. Kaleb Tarczewski is a tremendously talented young center but he was exposed by Young. Tarczewski will keep getting better but any team with a skilled big should be able to handle Arizona inside. Don’t get me wrong, Arizona will likely win the Pac-12 and advance deep in the NCAA Tournament but this team is flawed, as are many. This was a great resume-building win for Arizona but I’m not so sure the Wildcats would have beat Florida if the game wasn’t in Tucson.
- With Arizona slaying Florida and Indiana losing to Butler, only eight undefeated teams remain with the Wildcats among them. The other seven are Duke, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico and Wyoming. Which team will remain undefeated the longest? My money would be on Duke. It’s not that I think the top-ranked Blue Devils are a dominant force, it’s just that their schedule gives them a solid chance to enter the month of February without a blemish. Duke doesn’t go on the road until January 12 at NC State and we all know Duke doesn’t lose at home or on a neutral floor to inferior competition. If the Blue Devils get by the Wolfpack and a tricky road test at Miami 11 days later, Duke will be looking good heading into February. As for the other teams, Arizona may have the best chance to be the final team without a loss. The problem for the Wildcats is Pac-12 games and road trips can be amazingly unpredictable. I think the Wildcats will get tripped up by Oregon before February but you can argue they have the easiest schedule of all the remaining undefeated teams. This is not an important topic in the grand scheme of things but it’s something that grabs attention and is fun to track. Of course now that I’ve endorsed Duke as the last undefeated team, you know it’ll be anyone but the Blue Devils!
- One of the more unbelievable statistics I heard on Saturday was the fact that Memphis head coach Josh Pastner has yet to beat a ranked team, now in his fourth season at the helm. After losing at home to Louisville, Pastner is 0-11 against ranked opponents since taking over for John Calipari in 2009. This one in particular has to hurt more than most. Memphis jumped out to an early 16-point lead and still led by seven at the half but Louisville chipped away and took command down the stretch as fouls piled up and players were disqualified. Memphis committed an astounding 33 personal fouls with five Tigers fouling out, allowing Louisville to get to the free throw line 46 times. Between the fouls and turnovers (24), Memphis wasted a great shooting day against the stout Louisville defense. Pastner is 81-32 in his three-plus seasons at the Conference USA school but has failed to achieve a seed better than #8 in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers have a solid team but defense (last year’s strong suit) and turnovers (15 per game) have been major concerns. Adonis Thomas hasn’t made the leap many expected him to and Joe Jackson remains the same turnover-prone point guard despite better shooting numbers this season. Memphis’ resume is pretty thin at the moment and the schedule doesn’t exactly provide any opportunities for resume-building wins. The Tigers struck out in their three big chances for a quality win (VCU, Minnesota and Louisville) and now will have to dominate Conference USA or win the conference tournament in order to be a safe bet on Selection Sunday, especially if they lose at Tennessee in a few weeks.
- What is going on at Alabama? After a 6-0 start that included a 2K Sports Classic tournament title in New York, the Crimson Tide have lost three consecutive non-conference games for the second time in three seasons after getting pasted at VCU on Saturday. Alabama struggled to shoot the ball yet again against the Rams but this team’s defense has to be of major concern to Anthony Grant. Grant has worked hard to install a style of play committed to defense but the Crimson Tide are allowing an effective field goal percentage of 47% through nine games after finishing each of the last two seasons at 43.7%. Alabama is hurting inside this year without JaMychal Green and that’s having a negative effect on the team’s play to date. Similarly to Memphis, Alabama has blown two chances for a quality win. However, the Crimson Tide has the SEC schedule to try to make up some ground. Alabama is improved somewhat offensively and this team can be a factor if it also gets better on the defensive end. The Crimson Tide should find their way to 10 or 11 conference wins but some of those are going to have to be against the top teams in what is otherwise a bad power conference. Three losses at this point are concerning but in a wide open SEC it’s not a smart idea to quit on this team in December.
- The announcement on Saturday that the “Catholic Seven” have decided to split from the Big East Conference was welcomed news to me. As someone who grew up on Big East basketball, it’s bittersweet to see the league to through this long, drawn out breakup but the time had come for DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova to go their own way. Playing in a league with the likes of UCF, SMU and Tulane would have been an embarrassment to these tradition-rich programs, all of whom have made at least one Final Four appearance and multiple NCAA Tournament appearances over the years. Although teams like DePaul and St. John’s haven’t been relevant for many years, I believe the new league creates a fresh start for the schools that have struggled to climb the ladder in the Big East as it was constructed. These schools have so much in common with one another and the nation’s first truly basketball-only league will be really fun to follow. It is now an even playing field with a level of stability unachievable in the current Big East. With a high level of play and effective branding, there’s no reason why this conference can’t eventually be among the best in the country. Where do they go from here? More teams need to be added to form either a 10 or 12-team league. I’d prefer a 10-team conference with 18 league games where each team plays the other twice and a true conference champion can be crowned. If the new league does go with 10 teams, I’d invite Xavier, Butler and Creighton. These three “mid-major” programs have been among the best teams in the entire country over the last several years and do not sport football programs. This is important because the reason the basketball-only schools left was to free themselves from the chokehold of big time college football determining their collective fate. Adding those three schools immediately enhances the level of play in the league and keeping it at 10 teams allows those currently struggling to improve over time. In the 16-team behemoth that was the Big East, it was almost impossible for the schools at the bottom to improve from one year to the next with top programs like Louisville and Syracuse reloading year after year. In the new league, there will be better balance and a chance to make a significant leap in the standings immediately after suffering a down year. This is a win-win for these schools and college basketball as a whole.
- Last night, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim joined Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski as a member of the 900-win club after surviving a late comeback attempt by Detroit. In his 50th year at Syracuse University as a student and later a coach, it is obviously an incredible accomplishment. Winning 900 games is hard enough as only three Division I men’s coaches have done it. It’s even harder to see anyone winning 900 games with one program ever again in a world where coaches change jobs all the time. While Boeheim’s longevity is certainly a factor in achieving this milestone, don’t discount it just because he has been a head coach since 1976. Now in his 37th season as the head man, he has won an average of 24.7 games every season. If someone else had coached the exact same length of time and won 20 games a year, that coach would be 170 wins behind Boeheim. Just because you’ve been around a long time to pile up wins doesn’t mean you aren’t a great coach. Boeheim is one of the all-time greats in college basketball and I feel he is actually underrated because he has “only” won one national championship. The consistency of his program whether it’s him being there for so many years, the 2-3 zone, the 15 consecutive 20-win seasons or 29 (soon to be 30) NCAA Tournament appearances is absolutely remarkable. Boeheim has had his share of controversy and personal battles but he is a fantastic ambassador for the game of basketball. How long will Boeheim continue coaching? He’s 68 years old and his school is in its final year as a member of his beloved Big East. It will take him another four years (give or take) to get to 1,000 wins if he wants to pursue that goal, meaning he’ll be firmly into his 70’s if he sticks around. His great friend Jim Calhoun just retired at age 70. Dean Smith called it quits at 66. Bob Knight decided to hang it up at 67. Although Boeheim appears to be in good health and obviously loves coaching, it’s hard to see him hanging on much longer with designated successor Mike Hopkins waiting in the wings. Could this be his final year? I don’t know for sure but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me. I’m not sure if he has a strong desire to coach in the ACC either. It would seem like this pending new era for Syracuse athletics would be the perfect time to pass the torch but only time will tell.
- On the topic of coaches, I was stunned to see that Rutgers coach Mike Rice was suspended for three games without pay and fined $50,000 for his pattern of behavior. Rice surely is a firecracker on the sidelines but I never thought it would come to this. Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti said it was a pattern of poor conduct over time that led to the unprecedented suspension and fine. Rice won’t appear on the Rutgers bench until January 2 when the Scarlet Knights take on Jim Boeheim and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in the Big East opener for both teams. Even when he comes back it has been reported that Rice must undergo anger management counseling and be observed by an outside monitor reporting directly to Pernetti himself. Rice went 29-35 (11-25) in his first two seasons as Rutgers coach and must show progress this season now that he’s under the microscope. Rutgers is off to a 7-2 start but has lost to St. Peter’s and beaten nobody of note. This season looks to be yet another struggle for Rice’s young team. It is now clear that Pernetti has drawn a red line that Rice must not cross. If he has another outburst it is likely that he won’t survive past this season in Piscataway. Could Pernetti be setting Rice up to be fired? It’s very possible. With the Scarlet Knights heading to the Big Ten in a few years, Pernetti may not want the fiery Rice being the face of the school’s basketball program despite the fact that he hired the man to replace Fred Hill Jr. Forcing Rice out this year would allow a new head coach to step in and get his feet wet in Rutgers’ last season in the Big East before heading to the Big Ten with a clean slate. It’s certainly possible that this is what will happen at Rutgers but only Tim Pernetti truly knows what his motives are.
- I was disappointed to find out that hard-working Northwestern senior forward Drew Crawford would miss the remainder of the season with a torn labrum. Crawford was second on the team in scoring for a Wildcats team that started 6-0 but had lost three of its last four games (all at home) before escaping Texas State last night in its first game without Crawford. Luckily Crawford is eligible for a medical redshirt and will likely receive one if he chooses to play another season. This is a crushing blow for a Northwestern team that had some hope of making its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance, something that seems unattainable now without its second leading scorer. Crawford has averaged double figures for Bill Carmody in each of his four seasons in Evanston. As a result of his injury, other players like Jared Swopshire will see increased playing time and must replace his production if Northwestern is to have any chance of being competitive in a loaded Big Ten.
- The unfortunate situations that befell Utah State’s Danny Berger and Creighton’s Josh Jones underscore a serious health issue threatening young athletes that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Young people in prime physical shape are falling victim to heart ailments, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle that affects a very small portion of the general population but has killed a number of high profile athletes over the years. Berger collapsed and would no longer be with us if it wasn’t for some quick thinking heroes at Utah State who revived him. Jones passed out before Creighton’s game against Nebraska and is scheduled to undergo a procedure today to correct the problem. In recent years, college basketball players such as Taylor Brown and Herb Pope have had scary heart incidents as well. While not all of these cases are directly related to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, other athletes have not been so lucky. Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis are the most tragic examples of this disease striking down athletes in their prime and they aren’t the only ones. Others such as Jason Collier and baseball players Darryl Kile and Joe Kennedy have fallen victim to this form of heart disease. Heart problems can happen to anyone at any age (not just the elderly) but the good news is athletic departments and trainers are more prepared than ever with AED’s nearby and effective training on how to respond to sudden cardiac incidents. Let’s hope and pray that we never have another incident like the late Hank Gathers ever again. Berger’s and Jones’ situations are scary enough and we hope that both young men enjoy a full and prosperous recovery.