ATB: Injuries Strike Duke and Missouri, Georgetown Falls Flat and Ohio State Quells Doubts…Posted by Chris Johnson on January 9th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Pyrrhic Victories For Missouri and Duke. There is nothing surprising about the outcomes of Duke and Missouri’s Tuesday night conference match-ups. The Blue Devils predictably smothered a marginally-skilled Clemson team at Cameron Indoor while the Tigers dropped 84 points on Alabama’s unusually forgiving defense. Both teams will finish the year near the top of their respective leagues, and both should secure top-three seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Duke and Missouri are rolling right now. They share another commonality: a dearth of quality frontcourt depth. And by virtue of sharing that personnel characteristic, Duke and Missouri must now weather a very real problem: injuries. With Ryan Kelly and Laurence Bowers both exiting their games with specific ailments, Duke and Missouri could be without two hugely important interior pieces for the foreseeable future (each player will undergo further testing Wednesday to determine the severity of the injuries). It’s not a crushing blow for either team – remember, we’re talking about NCAA Tournament locks. Life could be worse. But with both teams coming upon tricky Saturday road games – Duke at NC State, and Missouri at Ole Miss – playing without Kelly and Bowers, respectively, is going to require substantial adjustments. These teams are versatile and adaptable enough to make it work, but the difficulty level of an already hazardous road test could now be that much higher. Not having Kelly and Bowers is going to affect those games — whether their absences are enough to flip the outcome in the home teams’ favor is an open question.
Your Watercooler Moment. Georgetown Has Problems.
You don’t need to have the world’s most efficient offense to chase conference championships and NCAA Tournament berths. You do need to be at the very least competent on that end of the floor. Georgetown qualifies, but only barely. They masked their offensive deficiencies throughout the non-conference season with a handful of ugly wins – including a 37-36 line against Tennessee and a 46-point output against Towson at home. Big East teams know better; they know the limitations of John Thompson III’s Princeton offense, and so far, Marquette and Pittsburgh have exploited those weaknesses by handing the Hoyas two straight losses to open Big East play. Georgetown scored a combined 93 points in those two games. The first loss is not a huge injustice by any stretch; Marquette is a tough out at the Bradley Center. The latter is worrisome, if only because the Hoyas compounded their poor offense by allowing Pittsburgh to shoot 55 percent from the floor and 62 percent from three. Georgetown doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up, much less contend, when opponents shoot that well from the floor. The Hoyas grounded their early success on stingy defense, and that formula worked for the first two months of the season. The Big East is a quite simply a different beast. Georgetown needs its typically stifling defense as a baseline for success. It can’t expect to get caught up in high-scoring fixtures. The Hoyas don’t play that game. They force turnovers, block shots, protect the rim and do just enough offensively. That formula only works with seamless defensive execution intact. Against Pittsburgh, the defense wasn’t there. Georgetown has fought this trend in recent years – winning in November and December, only to fall flat in Big East play. Avoiding another conference slide will necessitate some measure of offensive capability. Failing that, the Hoyas can’t afford any defensive lapses from here on out.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Ohio State Is Going To Be OK. In the preseason, while everyone sang the praises of Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft and conveniently glossed over Ohio State’s gaping lack of scoring punch, I was extremely torn on what to make of the post-Sullinger Buckeyes. On one hand, Thomas is as dynamic and gifted as they come on the offensive end, and Craft’s defensive intensity has an infectious vibe on his teammates. On the other hand, when you get past Thomas, can this team score at a high enough level to stay in the Big Ten title hunt? That question remains salient, even after tonight’s win at Purdue. Thad Matta’s team is Thomas or bust. They are also defensively-stout, really well-coached and fundamentally self-aware of their specific roles on the court. These Buckeyes won’t overwhelm you in one area of the game, but if they can rally around Thomas, adopt Craft’s defensive initiative, and avoid bad losses on the road (which they did at Mackey Arena Tuesday night), aiming for a top-four league finish is completely reasonable.
- Opponent Aside, Nice Win For Baylor. The current state of Texas Tech basketball is not very bright. As the Red Raiders move on from the Billy Gillispie flameout, there’s going to be substantial growing pains. Not only is this team arguably the worst in the Big 12 (TCU’s right there, too), it is one of the worst high majors in all of college hoops. Baylor probably didn’t sweat its Tuesday night trip to Lubbock, and understandably so. By the time its 82-48 thrashing was over, there was nothing particularly enlightening or revealing about the Bears that we didn’t already know, but if you caught even the smallest segment of this game, you realized just how fast and how efficiently this team can score when Pierre Jackson finds a groove, breaks down a defense off the dribble, and penetrates the lane. I suppose the opponent makes this an unfair test case, but there’s nothing wrong with pointing out the obvious, which is that Baylor is firing on all cylinders on the offensive end. If they can take that brutally effective and balanced attack to Allen Fieldhouse on January 14, well, you never know.
- The Balance of Creighton. Without Doug McDermott, Creighton is a completely different team. But this team is so much more than just McDermott. Gregory Echenique is a credible interior threat. Grant Gibbs dishes and facilitates at an extremely efficient clip. And Monday night, it was junior forward Ethan Wragge (22 points, including 6-of-9 from deep) stepping up to lead the Bluejays in a 30-point rout over Drake. This team is destined to roll through the MVC, with the possible exception of a road trip to Wichita State (January 19). McDermott remains their scoring linchpin, but the Bluejays continue to exhibit more versatility and balance than last year’s offense-only team. Not only has Creighton dedicated itself on defense in 2012-13, it’s much scarier on offense. McDermott is the catalyst, but his supporting cast is nothing to scoff at.
- The Free Fall Continues For Illinois State. The MVC is a three-bid league this year. It features a juggernaut at the top (Creighton), a tough-minded No. 2 (Wichita State) who is not all that far behind, and a host of at-large aspirants that have all looked like tourney-level squads at various stages this season. Illinois State ranked near the top of that group entering league play, but after Tuesday night’s loss at Missouri State dropped the Redbirds to 0-4 in the MVC, it’s time to reassess their position in the league race. Maybe this team’s relatively impressive non-conference resume was more superficial than substantial. Maybe Jackie Carmichael and Tyler Brown can’t get this team over the hump. Whatever it is, Illinois State is in desperate need of a conference win. Good teams go through rough patches, but good teams don’t typically open the conference season on four-game losing streaks.
Dunkdafied. One of the best ways to limit the effects of energetic home crowds – especially one as loyal and organized as Mackey’s Paint Crew – is with a momentum-killing dunk. Sam Thompson gave Ohio State exactly that midway through the first half of Monday night’s win at Purdue.
Tuesday Night’s All Americans.
- Quinn Cook, Duke (NPOY) – Figure this: Cook scored zero points and recorded 14 assists in Saturday’s win over Wake Forest, but bounced back Monday night with 27 points and five assists.
- Phil Pressey, Missouri – One of the few players who can dominate a game without huge scoring sums, Pressey dropped 13 dimes to and had 11 points in helping the Tigers hold serve against Alabama.
- Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State – The Buckeyes will go as far as Thomas (22 points, seven rebounds) takes them this season.
- DeAndre Daniels, UConn – I would have loved to have seen Kevin Ollie’s young team play in the NCAA Tournament this year. Academic-based NCAA penalties have robbed the Huskies of their postseason eligibility, but that hasn’t stopped guys like Daniels – who poured in a season high 26 points plus eight boards in the Huskies’ win over Depaul – from opening eyes in the Big East.
- Ethan Wragge, Creighton – Teams are going to find ways to limit McDermott. When they do, it will fall upon the likes of Gibbs, Echenique and Wragge, who had 22 points and hit six three-pointers in Monday night’s win, to step up.
Tweet of the Night. It was that kind of night for Georgetown. The Panthers eviscerated Georgetown in DC, and they raised some legitimate questions about the Hoyas along the way. Losing at home hurts. Getting humiliated at home is enduringly painful. Apparently JTIII agrees with that sentiment.