ATB: Crosstown Rivalry Plays Out With Minimal Fuss, The Pitino Family Tilt, and Texas\’ Misfortune…Posted by Chris Johnson on December 20th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Normalcy Reigns In One Of College Hoops’ Best Rivalries. The organic hate developed as a historical byproduct of uninterrupted competition is what makes rivalry games hum. Those sentiments spilled out of bounds in last season’s rendition of the Crosstown Shootout, when Xavier and Cincinnati’s annual meeting erupted into a full-out brawl that led to multiple suspensions, a relocation of the series from campus gyms to a neutral site arena and a name change to diffuse violent tensions (Crosstown Classic). The repackaged form of the Crosstown whatever ensued Wednesday night, only without most of the protagonists from last year’s melee, and with each program in a completely different place than it was a year ago. This time around, Cincinnati – owners of the nation’s 6th-rated defense on a per-possession scale, a relentless backcourt trio and an undefeated record – had the upper hand; Xavier is still incorporating a host of young pieces and learning on the fly after losing five starters. The end result was pretty much what you might expect: Xavier mustered enough emotion and pride to hang around for most of the night, but was eventually outlasted by Mick Cronin’s team. The outcome was less important than the event itself. There were no punches thrown, no pre-game radio waves trashtalk, no nonsense in the postgame news conference. It was organically competitive basketball, with all the natural emotions of a rivalry contained to enhance, but not dominate, the actual game being played. The Crosstown Shootout is no more; the refurbished edition isn’t all that much different (the variations are cosmetic, much less inherently structural). And that’s good news.
Your Watercooler Moment. Father-Son Coaching Matchup Highlights Louisville-FIU.
The understudy didn’t have the manpower or the experience to spring the upset on his old man – not when Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals are playing some of the best basketball in the country, not when Peyton Siva connects on a career-high five three-pointers and sophomore Wayne Blackshear notches 18 points (also a career-high). This was an unfair fight from the start, both tactically and personnel-wise; the younger Pitino never really stood a chance. Louisville was expected to cruise to a win, and that’s exactly what happened. For Richard Pitino, this game wasn’t about making a statement by beating one of the nation’s best teams. It was about the younger Pitino getting his first real shot in the national spotlight, and despite the lopsided scoreline, there was nothing embarrassing about his first jab at the man that showed him the coaching ropes. Not all young coaches are instantaneously successful. The Brad Stevens’ and Shaka Smarts of the world are not how most coaches break into the profession. Richard Pitino has the bloodlines to be successful, and that’s as auspicious a natural advantage as any young coach could ask for. Who knows how long or how fruitful the younger Pitino’s career will be. As it stands, his development is an interesting storyline to keep tabs on. The longer he coaches and the more he learns, I suspect Richard Pitino to develop many of the same mannerisms and principles – the feet stomping, the sideline death stares, the trademark defense-first philosophy – as the future Hall of Famer who raised him.
Tonight\’s Quick Hits…
- Signs Of Progress For Texas. The main story of Texas’ season thus far is the continued absence of point guard Myck Kabongo, which reached a climactic end Wednesday night with the Yahoo! Sports report that revealed sophomore point guard has been suspended for the season after lying to NCAA investigators. Another angle is the Longhorns’ youth, which is evident in large quantities all over the floor, albeit extremely talented. The undertold narrative of the Longhorns’ slow start is their remarkably stout defense, which ranks fourth in the country on a per-possession scale and first overall in effective field goal percentage. The Longhorns lived up to their statistical bona fides on the defensive end by stifling the one-dimensional UNC Tar Heels into 21-of-67 shooting, including 3-of-19 from beyond the arc. Throw in 15 points from sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes and 18 from freshman Cameron Ridley, and what you get is a dominating 18-point dismantling of Roy Williams’ team.
- Bruins Rebound After Kanas Demolition. The Bruins swallowed a tough pill in their nationally-televised date at Kansas Tuesday night. The Jayhawks dominated every facet of the game, and did everything in their power to humble the upset-minded Bruins. Naturally, Belmont exercised used its next opponent, South Dakota State, for some good old-fashioned cathartic exercise, and Nate Wolters and co. hardly ever stood a chance. The Jackrabbits, fresh off a dramatic double overtime win at Montana, saw the momentum from their three-game win-streak come to a halt. And the road doesn’t get any easier from here: South Dakota State travels to undefeated New Mexico Saturday.
- Score One For Conference USA. The only positive thing you could say about Conference USA before UTEP’s triple-OT grind over Oregon Wednesday night was that Memphis at least had the makings – the talent, experience, track record – of a Tournament-level team. Now the league has a credible nonconference win on its side. After just barely missing a potential upset over UNLV two days ago, UTEP upended Pac-12 contender Oregon at home. The Miners slogged through a four-game slide earlier this season, but appeared to have found its bearings, just in time to capitalize on the tail end of their nonleague schedule and build momentum for conference play. Memphis is still the favorite, but who knows, maybe UTEP can make Josh Pastner’s life even more horrible this Winter by denying the Tigers C-USA crown bid.
- UMass Nets A Solid Non-Conference Win. In neutral site games against NC State and Tennessee and a home matchup with Miami, UMass not only squandered precious nonconference resume-boosting potential. It was clearly outmatched, unable to contend with the talent and athleticism of its high major opposition. The Minutemen had a prime chance to rectify their disappointing nonleague portfolio with a home matchup against Ohio, and while the Bobcats have struggled to channel last season’s Tournament success into the regular season, they rank favorably in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive possession-free metrics (70th in offensive efficiency 53rd in defensive efficiency) and remain the best the MAC has to offer. UMass banked a venerable resume chip that will no doubt help its at large chances come Selection Sunday.
- One Of The Most Interesting Team in College Hoops. Inconsistency has defined Dayton’s basketball program over the last few years, and it appears 2012-13 will be no different. The Flyers have two home losses this season, Weber State and Wednesday night’s defeat to Illinois State. This comes just two weeks after a resume- building win at Alabama, which seemed to point towards a more consistent nonconference performance. It’s now clear the victory in Tuscaloosa was yet another peak in Dayton’s typically mercurial season trajectory. The Redbirds are no slouch, sure, but if you’re Dayton – with upcoming games against Murray State and at USC on tap – you don’t lose that game. Not if you’re trying to avoid the same anxiety-infused late-March period that’s so often lead to heartbreak in recent seasons.
- Temple’s 11-game Home Win-Streak Snapped. It’s difficult to know whether Temple merely glossed over 8-2 Canisius, or if the Golden Griffins simply outplayed the Owls on their home floor. But if it did overlook Jim Baron’s team, there would be good reason behind the Owls falling into the classic oversight trap. Temple will take on Syracuse Saturday in its second marquee nonconference matchup. The first was a total embarrassment; Duke ran Fran Dunphy’s team off the IZOD Center floor, trouncing Temple by 23. Surely, the Owls are not comfortable with another dose of national humiliation. So when you add up the natural anticipation of a big-time nonleague matchup like Syracuse, losing at home to Canisius – a talented team in it’s own right, rife with veteran guards and a top-70 offense – is not a huge shock. The challenge for Temple is getting over this disappointment and preparing for Saturday’s tilt with the No. 3 Orange.
- Road Games Are Tough, But….In this instance, when you’re facing a team with just one victory over a Division I team to it’s name, the leeway normally afforded teams for traveling to tough road environments does not apply. Clemson’s 23-point loss at Coastal Carolina is even more inexcusable when you consider this is the second straight season the Tigers have fallen to Cliff Ellis’ team. And it’s not as if the Tigers are all that young or inexperienced or lacking in talent – senior forwards Devin Booker and Milton Jennings compose one of the ACC’s better frontcourt duos. After tonight’s win, the Chanticleers are now 3-28 all time against ACC teams. Two of those wins are stains on Clemson’s recent basketball history. At least this year’s loss came on the road.
- Short Roadie Trips Up Marquette. The only black marks on Marquette’s early-season body of work weren’t exactly what you’d call bad losses: one-point defeat to Butler in Maui, and a road loss at No. 7 Florida. Wednesday night’s loss at Green Bay is not quite as forgivable. I have every confidence Buzz Williams will get his team up for Saturday’s sneaky good matchup with visiting LSU (7-1). The Golden Eagles should be fine. This is more of a personal feat for Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Brian Wardle, who played for the Golden Eagles from 1997-2001 and was 0-2 against his alma mater before beating his former school Wednesday. It also doesn’t hurt to pile up some local bragging rights along the way.
More Notes From Around the Nation.
- Old No. 1 and New No. 1 Blitz Opposition. I suppose this is what’s expected when you agree to play Duke and Indiana in the nonconference. Cornell took a lashing at Cameron Indoor Stadium, while Mount St. Mary’s found itself on the wrong end of the Hoosiers’ post-Butler-upset wrath at Assembly Hall.
- Road Perils Don’t Phase Murray State. The Racers are going to get everyone’s best shot this season. The Isaiah Canaan-led OVC powerhouse is not catching anyone by surprise. So it was not at all surprising to see Murray State challenged at Arkansas State, but Canaan – as he did so many times last season – pushed his team over the top.
- New Mexico-New Mexico State Redux. Thanks to a scheduling quirk, state rivals New Mexico and New Mexico State ended up in an odd back-to-back home-and-home arrangement. The No. 16 Lobos took part 1 at home Saturday, and secured the sweep in Las Cruces Wednesday night.
- UNLV Flexes Muscle. Nothing new on the Rebels. Just another convincing win over a quality opponent (Northern Iowa) and another NPOY-type performance from freshman Anthony Bennett (20 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks), and another reason to buy into the Rebels as an equal match for San Diego State and New Mexico in the Mountain West. And remember, UNLV is not at full strength; Mike Moser remains sidelined with an elbow injury.
- Rebels Off To Nice Start. There are no truly great wins on Ole Miss\’ resume, but with the one blemish a loss at not-at-all terrible Middle Tennessee, and having claimed a respectable road result at Loyola Marymount Wednesday, the Rebels are on track to at least keep themselves hovering near bubble territory.
- Hello Avery Dingman. The Blue Jays already boasted one of the top offenses in the country (The sixth best, per kenpom). Teams had enough trouble accounting for Doug McDermott, Grant Gibbs and Greg Echenique. Throw in sophomore swingman Avery Dingman, who averaged just 4.4 points per game before Wednesday night’s career-high 21 in a win over Tulsa, and Creighton’s offense is borderline unguardable.
- Big 12 Transition Not Promising For West Virginia. It is unusual for Bob Huggins-coached teams, no matter the talent level, to play down to their competition. The discipline and attention to detail he stresses doesn’t allow it. But that’s what this WVU team – which fell at Duquesne and just barely survived Oakland at home Wednesday night – is doing.
Dunkdafied. The rebuilding project Tony Barbee has on his hands at Auburn will be long and potentially painful. Kris Denson is reason enough to keep a watchful eye on the Tigers this season.
Wednesday Night’s All Americans.
- Anthony Bennett, UNLV (NPOY) – It’s getting more and more difficult to ignore Bennett’s National Player Of The Year Potential. He finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in helping the Rebels pick up a solid nonleague win over Northern Iowa.
- Peyton Siva, Louisville – If Siva can produce like he did Wednesday night (15 points, 11 assists), Louisville\’s offensive limitations are very fixable.
- Devyn Marble, Iowa – After dropping 30 points in Saturday’s win over Northern Iowa, Marble lead the Hawkeyes’ rout of South Carolina State with 27 on 8-for-13 shooting and 6-for-8 from long range.
- Jesse Morgan, UMass – The Minutemen had underperformed expectations to date. Morgan’s 35 points, which included a season-high seven three-point makes and powered UMass’ home triumph over Ohio, will help change that perception.
- Akil Mitchell, Virginia — What Virginia lacks in star power it makes up for with relatively mistake-free offense and unassailable half-court defense. Mitchell did a little of everything Wednesday night: 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
Tweet Of the Night. The one time Texas brings forth a complete on-court effort to knock off an ACC contender, bad news from the NCAA steals center stage. The Longhorns were finally rewarded for their stingy defense with a solid win. What’s discouraging is that Wednesday night will probably go down as a net loss for Texas; Myck Kabongo, when focused and self-contained, is a talented and creative force out on the perimeter.