Who Won The Week? The Champions Classic, Oregon, and a Guard From VCU…Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on November 15th, 2013
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), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. And man, will those be tested this winter. Today’s forecast high temperature? 39 degrees. It’s November 15. It’s only going to get worse from here.
WINNER: The Champions Classic
Though there was many a spectacular game in the first week of the season – and some of that is certainly just because it’s good to be back watching hoops – the Champions Classic proved a worthy spectacle to start the season. In its third year, the season-opening tournament with four of college basketball’s best programs may have hit its pinnacle thus far. The four programs are each ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll, and each came in with significant star power. Despite facing Kentucky’s heralded group of freshmen – stop me if you’ve heard that before – Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adriean Payne took Michigan State to a wire-to-wire 78-74 win in game one of the double-header. Appling’s performance was particularly spectacular, scoring 22 points, grabbing eight rebounds as a point guard, getting eight assists and nabbing four steals. The Wildcats’ most-touted recruit, Julius Randle, shone through despite the early-season backcourt inconsistency John Calipari’s teams are sometimes prone to. The freshman put up 27 points and 13 rebounds despite going against Payne for most of the night (though he did have eight turnovers). But game one’s one-freshman show was trumped by game two’s two-freshman battle. Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker went back and forth throughout their teams’ match-up. Parker’s 27-point, nine-rebound stat line may have outshone Wiggins’ 22-and-six showing, but the pair’s captivating late-evening game ended up going to the Canadian’s Jayhawks, 94-83. The good news for this season is that Randle, Wiggins, and Parker all looked like the stars they were billed to be coming into college. The good news for the next three seasons? The four schools have agreed to do these neutral-site games for the next three years. See you next year.
(Related winners: Michigan State and Kansas, for getting a couple of top-level non-conference wins; Randle, Wiggins and Parker, for matching their hype. Related losers: Tarik Black, who only had a single rebound and three fouls for the Jayhawks; Kentucky and Duke.)
LOSER: Free-flowing games The NCAA says its increased emphasis on perimeter fouling, including hand-checking, is intended to smooth the flow of the game and stifle a 20-year trend of decreased scoring throughout Division I. It may be getting the second part right, but it comes at a cost to games’ watchability. As the match-ups drag on interminably – it seems as if a lot of games are bursting out of their normal two-hour windows – fouls and free throws pile up like nobody’s business, especially at the expense of active defensive teams. In one game last Saturday, Seton Hall and Niagara combined to shoot 102 free throws in a regulation game that the Pirates won, 83-72. Six players combined fouled out, and six others acquired four fouls; the teams had 73 fouls total in 40 minutes. Obviously, that’s an extreme example, but college basketball stats czar Ken Pomeroy said earlier this week that turnovers are down 14 percent year-over-year, which can easily be attributed to referees’ instructions to call quicker fouls. By the end of this season, the sound of a whistle to a college basketball fan may cause involuntary cursing, loss of muscle control and uncontrolled rage.
(Related winners: Attention-seeking referees, whose faces will wind up on television even more now; your favorite team’s bench-warmers, who will increasingly be called into games because of rotation players fouling out. Related losers: Broadcasters, whose already-compressed time frame for games will be crunched further by games running long; the NCAA, for seemingly not thinking this one all the way through.)
The Ducks landed a win in what is likely their best non-conference game of this season, knocking off Georgetown in South Korea by a score of 82-75 last Friday, then followed it up with a 107-83 victory against Western Carolina, the first time Oregon has topped 100 points in a regular-season game since 2007. Both of these were accomplished without the services of starting point guard Dominic Artis and fellow sophomore Ben Carter, who were both suspended for nine games after selling team equipment, an NCAA violation. Instead, senior transfers Joseph Young (Houston), Mike Moser (UCLA, then UNLV) and Jason Calliste (Detroit) have been dominant thus far, which is nothing new for Oregon under Dana Altman. Young scored 24 against the Hoyas and 36 against the Catamounts, including a 27-of-28 stretch from the free-throw line. Moser had 15 points, seven rebounds and six steals against Georgetown, followed by 26 points and five boards against WCU. And Calliste has a combined 21 points and seven assists, and is perfect in 11 free-throw attempts. It’s safe to say the Ducks are flying high right now, but when Artis and Carter are back in the fold next month, things could really take off in Eugene. Being able to nail down a quality win without them says a lot about the team’s depth.
(Related winners: Young, Moser and Calliste. Related losers: Georgetown, despite magically getting Joshua Smith eligible for another season.)
LOSER: Oregon State You know how things seem to be going so well in Eugene? Well, an hour up the road, Oregon State took an embarrassing loss to start its season, losing a $90,000 body-bag game to Coppin State of the MEAC, 78-73. That same conference had won one game against a power conference team in the last two full seasons: 15-seed Norfolk State over 2-seed Mizzou in the NCAA Tournament two years ago. Though the Eagles have hands-down the best jersey trim of any team in college basketball, the Beavers should have been able to handle them, especially with guard Roberto Nelson averaging 30 points a game in OSU’s first two tilts. Though the Beavers did beat Portland, 79-73, leaving a team picked near the bottom of a second-tier conference in the game until the final minute can’t bode well for Craig Robinson’s team, or his job security. Being Michelle Obama’s brother is likely the only thing keeping Robinson afloat, as his teams have seemed to get worse each year he’s been in charge at Oregon State. And without a Pac-12 level point guard on his team, Robinson’s in trouble once conference season rolls around, even if he reinstates Eric Moreland, his best frontcourt player. But at least Gary Payton II – The Mitten – will be coming to Corvallis next year as a junior college transfer. If he’s a quarter as good as his dad, he won’t have to worry about competing for playing time.
(Related winners: Coppin State. Related losers: The Pac-12, which may end up with an RPI anchor in conference; Nelson, whose talents are squandered with no supporting cast; Robinson, whose reputation is approximately zero at this point.)
WINNER: Treveon Graham
The junior guard for No. 14 VCU sank a three-pointer with just more than a second left to lead his Rams past No. 25 Virginia, 59-56, on Tuesday night, capping off a week in which they won twice and Graham led his team in scoring each time. The lone VCU scorer in double figures against the Cavaliers, Graham had 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting. His 14-point performance last Friday in a 96-58 shellacking of Illinois State tied for the team lead in scoring, along with Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon. After a game tomorrow afternoon against Winthrop, the Rams and Seminoles face off in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip Off, in which a win would set a likely match-up with NCAA Tournament finalist Michigan in the second round. That would certainly make for some fun television. Here’s to hoping that comes to fruition. (Apologies, FSU fans.)
(Related winners: VCU; the Puerto Rico Tip Off. Related losers: Virginia.)
LOSER: Washington In a late-night addition, the Huskies earned themselves a dishonorable mention for losing to UC Irvine of the Big West… by 14 points… on their home floor. One bad non-conference loss does not a season unmake, but the injury news surrounding Washington’s program does, with forward Jernard Jerreau out for the year after tearing his right ACL two minutes into the season against Seattle. The Huskies’ other post options include Desmond Simmons, the best player but out for another month; Perris Blackwell, who is recovering from a concussion; Shawn Kemp Jr., who has missed practice after suffering from an unspecified illness; and new Florida International transfer Gilles Dierickx. Next week, the depleted squad heads to Madison Square Garden to face Indiana in the 2K Sports Classic, then will play either Connecticut or Boston College in the next round. With its frontcourt already exposed by the Anteaters’ 7’5” Mamadou N’Diaye (18 points, nine blocks, eight rebounds) and 6’8” Will Davis (22 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) in an 86-72 upset, those upcoming games against high-major programs don’t look too promising.
(Related winners: UC Irvine; 2K Sports Classic opponents. Related losers: Washington’s CJ Wilcox, whose stellar outside shooting may be squandered for another season.)