Who Won the Week: Duke, UC Irvine and Texas (sorta) …Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 21st, 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.
The week couldn’t have gone much more perfectly for the Blue Devils than it did. Achieve top ranking? Check. Land a top recruit? Check. Win both games handily? Check and check. Yes, Duke should probably send some flowers to Butler for knocking off preseason favorite Indiana, but who would have looked at the two teams before Saturday and thought the Hoosiers were better? Outside of the state of Indiana, I’m guessing few would. The Blue Devils (11-0) have the nation’s best body of work, and have dominated it in such a fashion that they look to be the nation’s top team convincingly, and this is before prized prospect Jabari Parker picked Mike Krzyzewski’s squad over Michigan State and BYU. On the court, Mason Plumlee, who has led Duke in rebounding 10 times so far, carried his team to an 88-47 win over Cornell with 18 points and nine rebounds Wednesday and followed that up the next night with 21 points and 15 boards in a 76-54 win over Elon. And as an added bonus, the youngest Plumlee, freshman Marshall, already made a brief return to the court against Cornell coming back from a foot injury.
(Related winners: Mason Plumlee, Butler. Related losers: Indiana, Michigan State, BYU, Cornell, Elon, and especially North Carolina – more to come.)
LOSER: Eastern Kentucky
The Ohio Valley’s Colonels started their season off hot, winning nine straight games before a weekend matchup at also-undefeated Illinois. The major-conference team expectedly pulled Eastern Kentucky apart, winning 66-53, but it was what happened next that wrapped up a bad week in Richmond, Ky. On a rare road trip to a MEAC school, the Colonels were tripped up by North Carolina A&T, who pounded the ball inside while shooting 55 percent from the field and stifling Eastern Kentucky’s guard-oriented offense by holding it to 40 percent shooting. The Bulldogs also nearly doubled up the Colonels on the glass, sealing the game. So much for a hot start.
(Related winners: North Carolina A&T, the 457 Bulldogs fans who watched the game in person. Related losers: Murray State and the Ohio Valley Conference, which both need every break they can get come March.)
WINNER: UC Irvine
The Anteaters wrapped road wins over Fresno State and USC around a home loss to LSU last week, in a schedule of three major-conference teams in a six-day span. (Say what you want about the Mountain West, but its schools’ financial outlays for sports far outstrips those of the Big West.) UC Irvine started out by collecting the pelt of Fresno State in a high-paced, low-scoring, presumably tough-to-watch 59-51 win Saturday. Then they made up for their near miss at UCLA with a clean 61-54 win Thursday over USC at the Galen Center in which guard Daman Starring poured in 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting with five three-pointers and six rebounds. So what if the Anteaters are 4-7? They just had what will likely be the best week of their season, and there’s room for that here too. We can only hope that Anteaters senior guard Michael Wilder and his prodigious, shapely ‘fro make it to the postseason, because that thing needs more television coverage (and hairspray), even if he could stand to take fewer shots (8 for 31 last week).
(Related winners: LSU, Michael Wilder’s ‘fro. Related losers: Fresno State, USC.)
LOSER: Missouri State
The school from Springfield, Mo., is making a good case to be the home of the Bad Basketball Hall of Fame. The Bears have gone 2-9 this season, and those two wins were against basketball stalwarts Philander Smith and Malone. This week’s foibles began with a 62-54 home loss to Valparaiso on Saturday. The Crusaders outrebounded the Bears 32-18 while shooting 36 foul shots, which is a recipe for disaster that the Horizon League team happily cashed in on. But then Missouri State did something truly special – the Bears had only three turnovers but still lost 59-47 at Alabama A&M of the SWAC. Thanks to again being battered on the glass – this time getting outrebounded 39-21 – the Bears missed out on their best remaining chance for a Division I win this season. Aside from a trip to Las Cruces to face defending WAC champion New Mexico State, all Missouri State has left are Missouri Valley Conference games. Long gone are the back-to-back 20-win seasons under Cuonzo Martin before he bolted for Tennessee in 2011 or the five NIT bids since 2000.
(Related winners: Martin, for getting out in time; Alabama A&M, for netting a SWAC nonconference win. Related losers: Philander Smith, Malone, the Missouri Valley.)
Recovering from an unfathomable 86-73 mid-November loss to Division II Chaminade in Maui (and the related loss the next day to USC), the Longhorns have clawed their way back toward respectability, going 5-2 in the last calendar month, with losses to Georgetown and UCLA. Icing that cake was an 85-67 win at home against North Carolina. Texas held the Tar Heels to 32 percent shooting and a 3-of-19 performance from three-point range to cap off a week that also included a 75-63 win over Texas State. Freshman Ioannas Papapetrou had his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds against North Carolina, which he pulled off in 17 minutes. Everything seemed to be looking up for the Longhorns’ season, except …
… star point guard Myck Kabongo lied to the NCAA, and it decided to drop the hammer on him, suspending him for the rest of 2012-13 after he used an agent’s influence to get him into a practice session with LeBron James in Cleveland during the offseason. One of Rick Barnes’ recent Canadian exports, Kabongo was expected to lead this otherwise-young Texas team in a down year for the Big 12, and some of the early losses would have been overlooked had the guard come back and played like the top recruit he was just a year ago. Instead, the job falls into the able-but-young hands of freshman Javan Felix, who leads the conference in minutes and assists per game. Felix hung up 20 points and seven assists against the Bobcats before adding eight of each against the Tar Heels, so all is not lost, but Texas would undoubtedly be better off with Kabongo in its backcourt.
(Related winners: Felix, who gets the point guard spot all to himself; Chaminade, because the Silverswords still go to school on Maui. Related losers: North Carolina, which needs to pull its act together soon; Kabongo, whose NBA draft stock is cratering now that he will have to sit out this season.)