ATB: A Low-Scoring Battle at the Pete, More Despair for WVU and Payback in the Patriot League…Posted by Chris Johnson on February 19th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Beautiful, Monday Night’s Hoops was Not. The idea of playing Monday night games, in most cases two days removed from a Saturday game, is – for lack of a better word – hard. Teams are exhausted from their weekend exploits, have limited time to prepare for Monday’s opponents and are often stuck under a national spotlight, such as ESPN’s Big Monday, with not as much energy or precision or pregame preparedness as they might like. The quality of basketball can sour. That much was clear in Monday night’s Pittsburgh-Georgetown game; the encore, Kansas State-West Virginia, wasn’t all that great, either. There were a couple of other games to speak of on another nonchalant evening, which should make this recap at least somewhat more interesting than most Monday wrap-ups.
Your Watercooler Moment. Notre Dame Didn’t Lose.
No team that opens a game missing 18 of its first 19 shots and scoring just three points over the first 13 minutes of play rightfully deserves to come away with a win. Notre Dame began Monday night’s trip to the Peterson Events Center with a clearly discerned offensive hangover from Saturday’s blowout loss at Providence, sparking cynical Twitter commentary calling for assistance from football coach Brian Kelly, inducing a wave of channel-flipping activity and leading some to question whether the Irish were still feeling the effects of that grueling five-overtime win over Louisville nine days ago – all of which dissipated quickly once Notre Dame rattled off a 16-3 run to close out the first half. From then on, the Irish went out and did what few teams have customarily been able to at the Pete during Jamie Dixon’s tenure. They dominated the glass (for all the criticism and incongruities of rebounding margin, Notre Dame’s 36-22 edge says something), dictated a pace-averse style (54.2 possessions) and watched their much-maligned, 14th-best-in-the-Big-East defensive efficiency hold Pittsburgh’s typically hyper-efficient offense to 42 points at just under 0.80 points per trip. It wasn’t the most satisfying offensive performance from either side, but if you’re Mike Brey, it’s hard to not walk away from this game feeling objectively stoked about the Irish’s stingy efforts on the other end. Pittsburgh didn’t shoot it particularly well (the 0-of-8 mark from three won’t help), and the Panthers have been known to lay an offensive egg every now and then (see the Cincinnati loss or Duquesne win), but as a rebound to what was pretty clearly Notre Dame’s worst all-around game of the season at Providence, beating the No. 20 team in the country in its own rowdy building – one efficiency wonks have been doing backflips over ever since November – is not a terrible consolation.
Monday Night’s Quick Hits…
- Patriot League Showdown. As an NCAA Tournament measuring stick, Bucknell’s trip to Lehigh Monday night didn’t have much to say. The Bison’s at-large hopes were, for all intents and purposes, dashed before conference action thanks to losses against Penn State, Princeton and Missouri. Even so, Bucknell – who hasn’t really taken advantage of the C.J. McCollum injury-created void atop the league standings – needed this game to pull clear of the Mountain Hawks, who had already beaten Bucknell on the road without McCollum. Any big Bucknell win, the 2012-13 mid-major hoops logic goes, should include a big performance from NBA prospect Mike Muscala. Think again: The Bison got 19 points from guard Bryson Johnson (Muscala finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, well below his season averages), and held Lehigh to just 1-of-15 from beyond the arc to hold on for their biggest win of the season to date. The next time these teams meet could be in the Patriot League Tournament final, with McCollum’s return by then a distinct possibility.
- Phew, Nova. Here’s how you nullify all the at-large-improving benefits of a road win at UConn over the weekend — turn around and lose at home to a Rutgers team that just lost its best player to a leg injury. Villanova didn’t lose the game, but their eventual eight-point win was way too close for comfort. The Wildcats’ profile is spotty to the point that any bad losses from here on out could throw it right back into the indeterminate bubbly mix from whence it came. Villanova has three really nice wins, a mystifying 17-point home loss to Columbia, and not much else; which is to say that Jay Wright’s team couldn’t afford to lose this game and still feel safe about making the Big Dance, nor can it drop next week’s road trip to Seton Hall. The rest of the schedule – at home against Marquette, at Pittsburgh and again at home against Georgetown – features no lack of resume-validating potential. Only the way the Wildcats looked Monday night, rising up and seizing one of those opportunities may not be within its realm of capability at this particular point in time.
- West Virginia Is Reeling. In the preseason, Bob Huggins joked about the difficulty of the conference after his team was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 media poll. He genuinely believed that the Mountaineers could compete in their maiden Big 12 campaign. He’s not joking anymore. In fact, he conceded the errors of his vast overprojection after an ugly 79-62 loss to Purdue in late January. The Mountaineers are a brutal bunch to watch; their 13-13 record is as unfamiliar for Bob Huggins-coached teams this time of year as their offensive and defensive efficiency marks, neither of which rank in the nation’s top 100. At the very least you would expect WVU to guard, to attack the glass, and play decent offense along the interior. On Monday night, the Mountaineers went to Kansas State and did nothing over 40 minutes to make anyone think the Wildcats were in danger of taking their second home loss of Big 12 play.
Flash Mob Special. The sample size and quality of dunks from Monday night’s games didn’t impress. So I decided to go with this video of Maryland’s student section before Saturday’s upset over Duke not only coordinating a perfectly uniform flash mob, but also — in keeping with today’s preeminent Internet meme – put their own unique spin on the “Harlem Shake.” A completely bewildered Scott Van Pelt looking on only adds to the spontaneity of it all.
Monday Night’s All-Americans.
- Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (NPOY) – When your leading scorer finishes with 13 points and nine rebounds, there’s some work to do on the offensive end. Alas, Notre Dame still prevailed at Pittsburgh by putting together a strong second half.
- Will Spradling, Kansas State – One of just five players in double figures for the Wildcats in Monday night’s win over West Virginia, Spradling dispensed 19 points and hit all seven of his free throw attempts.
- Bryson Johnson, Lehigh – Getting even with Lehigh, McCollum or no, was massive for sentimental reasons. Johnson’s 19 points were a big help.
- Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova – In two straight games (and three of his last four), Yarou has collected more rebounds than points. Monday night’s 10-point, 12-rebound effort had nothing on the 11-point, 16-rebound game he put in over the weekend.
- Derek Needham, Fairfield – The MAAC is a sneaky fun league to follow this season. To wit: Needham scored 17 points to push Fairfield over the hump by two points against visiting Iona.
Tweet of the Night. It appears Chicago Tribune Notre Dame beat writer is just as confused as everyone else who saw the Irish roll out one of their more unsightly offensive first halves in years at Pittsburgh… and still, somehow, made it all the way back for a big nine-point win on the road.
#NotreDame wins 51-42 at Pittsburgh, and I am awaiting word on how the deuce that happened.
— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) February 19, 2013