The Week That Was: Dec. 28-Jan. 3

Posted by jstevrtc on January 4th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Introduction

Happy New Year everyone! TWTW hopes that you all had a great and safe NYE and then had a better time recovering on your couch over the following couple of days with some college hoops on the flat screen. And TWTW won’t judge if your condition forced you to watch said games on mute — that’s just a casualty of the season.

What We Learned

Harrellson Is Most Valuable As a Glass Cleaner, But Has a Solid Stroke As Well

It looks like Kentucky is headed toward another 14-2 type run through the SEC this season, and a perfect 16-0 record in conference play isn’t out of the question. That statement isn’t as much based off of how the Wildcats are playing (though TWTW was very impressed with how UK dismantled Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center on New Year’s Eve) but it’s a reflection of just how putrid the rest of the conference seems at this point. The Wildcats are the only SEC team ranked in the AP Top 25. Tennessee’s reputation has dropped faster than Goldman Sachs’, going from a chic dark horse Final Four pick to a team on the bubble. Losses to Oakland, Charlotte and College of Charleston coupled with unimpressive wins over Belmont and Tennessee-Martin will do that to you. Now the Vols face Memphis in their last game before Bruce Pearl’s eight-game suspension. Cross Tennessee off your list of possible teams that could challenge Kentucky. That leaves us with Florida and Vanderbilt as Kentucky’s top competition. TWTW is not a fan of Florida, who recently lost to Jacksonville, so if we were to circle a possible first conference loss for Kentucky we’d have to choose Feb. 12 at Vanderbilt. That game is the last of a three-game stretch in which the Wildcats travel to Florida and host Tennessee. Vandy took Missouri down to the wire in an overtime loss on Dec. 4 and the Commodores beat North Carolina during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Don’t be shocked if Vanderbilt hands Kentucky its first conference loss that night.

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The Week That Was: December 18-27

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

It’s that time of year again: Conference season. UConn and Pittsburgh opened up the Big East slate Monday night with the first of what will be many highly-anticipated conference matchups over the next couple of months. It won’t be much longer until we get Pitt-Georgetown, Duke-Maryland, Washington-Washington State, Ohio State-Purdue and plenty over other mouth-watering games. It’s definitely a more appealing prospect than watching Kentucky pummel Winthrop or Texas beat down North Florida.

What We Learned

Taylor & Pitt Easily Ripped UConn

  • It might have been wise for Jim Calhoun to schedule some true road games for his young UConn squad before its Big East opener at Pittsburgh. The Huskies certainly played as though they weren’t prepared for what was waiting for them in the amped up Peterson Events Center. But honestly, there was little reason to think that this game was going to be anything other than a wakeup call for UConn. The Huskies boast seven freshmen, and only three players in its rotation that had ever played at that venue. No surprises here that the Panthers jumped out to an early double-digit lead and cruised to a 78-63 win. At least the Huskies can take solace in the fact that they don’t have to face Pittsburgh again until possibly the Big East Tournament. The Panthers’ length along the perimeter makes them a tough matchup for Kemba Walker, who needed 27 shots and 11 free throws to score 31 points against the likes of Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker.
  • After a less-than-stellar start to its season, in which Butler got smoked by Louisville and lost in overtime to Evansville en route to a 4-4 record through its first eight games, it now looks like Brad Stevens’ squad has righted the ship. The Bulldogs have won five in a row and just beat Washington State on Christmas Day to win the Diamond Head Classic. Key to the Bulldogs recent surge has been their improved play on the defensive end. Butler has not allowed more than 68 points since Mississippi Valley St. put up 71 on Dec. 11, and in their last four wins, the Bulldogs have allowed their opponents to shoot the following percentages: Stanford, 31.4%; Utah, 39.6%; Florida State, 38%; and Washington State, 40.7%. The Bulldogs’ defensive numbers still aren’t great, they rank 48th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings and they’re #272 in turnover %, but they’re on their way back to being a squad that can win games on the defensive end. As the schedule shifts to Horizon League play, the Bulldogs again are a safe bet to claim another conference championship.
  • When we last checked in with Tennessee, the Vols just had erased most of the momentum gained from a win over Pittsburgh with a home loss to Oakland (nothing to be embarrassed about, but not what we like to see from one of our top-10 teams). As it turns out, that loss to the Golden Grizzlies was a harbinger for what turned out to be a very unhappy holiday season for Bruce Pearl. The Vols lost their next two games, both to unranked opponents. Tennessee lost 49-48 to a Charlotte squad without leading scored Shamari Spears, who was kicked off the team a few days earlier. Then the Vols lost again by one point, this time to USC. To make matters worse, their win to halt the three-game skid did little to make people believe the Vols aren’t in the middle of a tailspin. Tennessee blew a 13-point lead to Belmont and needed a layup from Scotty Hopson with 5.7 left to escape with a 66-65 win. Despite his last-second bucket, Hopson’s recent play has been a major reason for the Vols’ struggles. Hopson scored a combined 28 points his losses to Oakland, Charlotte and USC on 8-31 shooting. He rebounded to score 19 points against Belmont, but he’s still suffering from a shooting slump. Hopson is 2-14 from three in his last four games.
  • TWTW isn’t a huge fan of making sweeping proclamations before conference play begins, nor do we like to divulge its national championship favorite until the most opportune moment. (Personally, TWTW prefers to wait until about 10 seconds left in the title game to announce who we think will win it all). But if TWTW was forced to name a team it would be Ohio State. UConn, Duke, Syracuse and Kansas are all fine choices, but there’s something about the Buckeyes that separates them from the pack. Everything starts with Jared Sullinger, who is first on the team in points (17.5) and rebounds (10.1) and is the clubhouse leader for national freshman of the year. Sullinger has owned the paint from Day 1 and has shown a knack for dominating games like few other big men this year (see his 40/13 against IUPUI and his 30/19 against South Carolina). What’s remarkable about Sullinger, though, has been his ability to avoid foul trouble. Sullinger hasn’t fouled out of one game this season and only has one game (his first) in which he had four infractions. But OSU isn’t just limited to Sullinger. The Buckeyes boast five players who average at least 10 points a game. They can beat you just as easily outside as they can inside with shooters like David Lighty and Jon Diebler, who shoot 45.5% and 47.4% from three, respectively. And freshman Deshaun Thomas is the kind of athletic wing that can score in bunches off the bench. Could Ohio State be better without Evan Turner? TWTW thinks so.
  • People wondered how Kansas would be able to integrate freshman phenom Josh Selby into its rotation once he returned from his NCAA-imposed nine-game suspension, the question being whether Selby’s presence would disrupt the Jayhawks’ chemistry from their 9-0 start. After two games, two wins and two electric performances by Selby, it’s obvious there was never a need to worry whether his addition would be anything but welcome. In his debut against USC, Selby scored 21 points and drilled a go-ahead three with 26 seconds ago to lead the Jayhawks to 70-68 win. There was no need for any late heroics in his second game, but Selby still made his presence felt, to the tune of 18 points and a 3-4 shooting night from beyond the arc. Selby’s already established himself as one of Kansas’ go-to scorers, and the fact that Bill Self had Selby not only on the court in the waning seconds against USC but shows how important Selby will be to any title run for KU.

Media Blackout

The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week.

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The Week That Was: December 11-17

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

It’s the holiday season, and this past week teams in the top 25 definitely got into the spirit of giving. Now these squads weren’t giving away toys to needy girls and boys. Instead #4 Tennessee, #20 Louisville and #21 UNLV gave the gift of an RPI-boosting upset, and in the college hoops world that’s a pretty nice present. TWTW hopes that Oakland, Drexel and UC Santa Barbara enjoyed their gifts this week, they certainly came at a hefty price — a chance to be the last undefeated squad standing. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, and we’re sure that deep down our ranked friends knew they did the right thing given the season.

Now if only #22 Memphis wasn’t such a Grinch …

Is the Presumptive Puerto Rican Olympic Coach's Louisville Team Legit?

What We Learned

  • Last week we openly wondered if Notre Dame’s hot start was an aberration or the start of a strong season for the Irish, and their loss to Kentucky made TWTW more inclined to label them a fraud rather than a legit power. This week we get to dissect another Big East squad that just suffered its first loss of the season — Louisville. The Cardinals’ eight-game winning streak to open the season came ended in disastrous fashion Tuesday night when Louisville fell 52-46 to Drexel. Yes, you read that correctly. The Cardinals could only muster 46 points against Drexel of all teams. Louisville connected on only 15 of 47 shots from the floor and struggled to adjust once it was apparently the Dragons weren’t going to let the Cardinals get out and run up and down the court. While shooting 33.3% is bad, what’s more troubling is Louisville’s 12-25 effort at the free throw line, and its -20 rebound loss on the boards. Those two things could haunt the Cardinals in Big East play and make TWTW hesitant to think they’re dramatically better than last year’s team that lost to Cal in the first round of the NCAAs.
  • What a week for Tennessee. On Saturday the Vols scored arguably the best win of the young season when they traveled to Pittsburgh and beat Jamie Dixon’s squad at the “neutral” Consol Energy Center. TWTW was ready to join the rest of the nation in singing Bruce Pearl’s praises and declaring the Vols the team to beat in a down SEC. While UT still may be the top dog down South, TWTW can’t fully endorse Tennessee right now. Not after the Vols lost at home to Oakland 89-82 on Tuesday night. That’s no knock against the Golden Grizzlies, who made the NCAA Tournament out of the Summit League last year and fell one point short of beating Michigan State this past weekend. Oakland is good, but we expect more from Tennessee. And we at least expect better defense. The Vols shouldn’t give up 89 points to any squad, especially not at home, and Oakland hit 54% of its shots (30-56) led by Keith Benson’s 26. Pearl better hope this loss refocuses his squad. Tennessee will definitely need all the mental strength it can muster when he begins his eight-game suspension at the start of conference play.
  • Gonzaga just might have overextended itself with its scheduling. Mark Few at least is entertaining that idea after his Bulldogs’ 4-5 start to the season, the worst record in Few’s 12-year tenure at Gonzaga. Four of Gonzaga’s five losses came in games against teams currently ranked in RTC’s top 25 (San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois and Notre Dame), and the Bulldogs still have to play Baylor on Saturday and Memphis in February. TWTW wonders why that kind of scheduling is necessary for a team with Gonzaga’s cache. It’s tough to think of the Zags as a mid-major anymore based on their 12 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and their consistent presence in the top 25 (at least until this year). Gonzaga doesn’t need to prove itself with a murderers’ row schedule. Sure, schedule a couple of games against elite competition, but there’s no need to have a slate of games that could shatter a team’s confidence. Gonzaga isn’t a program that’s used to struggling in December, it will be interesting to see how the Zags respond to this adversity once play begins in the WCC.
  • Think you know all there is about Coach K? Think all of your hate is justified? Well you should do yourself a favor and sit down and read the first two parts of Dan Wiederer’s mega-feature in the Fayetteville Observer. Part one delves into K off the court and his family life. It includes this incredible anecdote of the Duke coach at the beach during a family vacation and declaring that he’s the “Black Mamba of Beach Bocce” after pulling off a game-winning bocce toss. The second part discusses all the hate Coach K and the Duke program endures from the rest of the nation. While that angle has been written before, Wiederer’s piece comes off fresh because of all of his great tidbits and inside access. And there’s more to come with Part 3 scheduled to run this Sunday. So check it out. TWTW guarantees you’ll learn something new about K, and maybe it will open your mind to the notion that he’s not that bad of a guy. After all, with Krzyzewski likely to become college basketball’s all-time wins leader either this season or early next year, it’s the perfect time to dissect one of the most polarizing characters in the sport.

Media Blackout

The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week.

  • Like many of you out there, TWTW watched the basketball competition during 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and thought, “Boy this is great. But you know what’s missing? Rick Pitino.” We kid, we kid. But it looks like there’s a real possibility Pitino will coach the Puerto Rican nation team during next summer’s pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in Argentina. Carlos J. Beltran, president of the Puerto Rican Basketball Federation, said the national team is in “very advanced talks” with Pitino, and J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks told ESPNDallas.com that he and fellow nation team member Carlos Arroyo would meet with Pitino on Sunday if any deal with the Louisville coach is finalized. With Pitino on board, Puerto Rico would instantly become one of the most compelling squads in the Olympics should it qualify. That’s a big if, though. Puerto Rico failed to qualify for the 2008 Games and was eliminated in the first round during this summer’s World Championships in Turkey. Should a Pitino-led Puerto Rico squad make the Olympics, TWTW has but one request. Puerto Rico must face Team USA (and Coach K) at some point in round-robin play.
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The Week That Was: December 4-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Introduction

As far as TWTW is concerned, December is one of the worst months of the sports calendar, just edging out July when all there is to watch is baseball and a couple of golf tournaments. In December, you have the end of the NFL regular season and the potential of teams tanking for draft picks or teams resting players for the playoffs. You have about a 30-day break until college football becomes interesting again. And a lot of the time you have uninteresting college basketball matchups. December’s the time of the year that coaches schedule easier opponents to make sure everything is in order before conference play begins.

Yet this week, there’s plenty to talk about. We had the Jimmy V Classic featuring Michigan State-Syracuse and Kansas-Memphis. There was a basketball experiment at Illinois. And oh yeah, Duke just might have lost Kyrie Irving for the rest of the season.

Off we go …

What We Learned

Boeheim Has a Lot to Be Pleased About

  • Tom Izzo is not happy with his Spartans right now. Izzo had strong words for his team after MSU’s lackluster effort against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, in which Michigan State looked soft and tentative against a physical and charged-up Orange squad and lost 72-58. Here are a few of Izzo’s money quotes from the postgame presser, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press. “I’m as disappointed in that performance as I’ve been in any since I’ve been at Michigan State. …We turned into a pretty-boy jump-shooting team instead of the blue-collar, fist-fighting team we should be. … I feel like the New York Jets.” On the bright side, Izzo at least was sensitive enough to compare his team to the Jets and not the local team — no child should ever be talked about in the same sentence as the Lions. Izzo’s concerns are justified, though. The Spartans have gone 1-3 in their four biggest tests to date with their one win being a five-point triumph over Washington in Maui. And against Syracuse, MSU got decimated in the paint as Rick Jackson exploded for 17 points and 16 rebounds. That’s not a good sign for a team that has to face Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson several times in Big Ten play.
  • If Izzo is disgusted with his team’s play, then Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim has to be ecstatic with how quickly his team has adapted to life without Wesley Johnson. For anyone who thought the Orangemen were just getting by after close calls against Georgia Tech and N.C. State, their beatdown of Michigan State confirmed their legitimacy. Syracuse is 9-0, and its vaunted 2-3 zone is as effective as ever. Opponents are only hitting 37.6% of their shots for the floor (222-515) and are shooting a paltry 28.1% (68-242) from downtown. If freshman Fab Melo (2.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG in 13.4 MPG) ever gets going, then Syracuse should compete for a Big East title.
  • Apparently Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings and Missouri’s Mike Anderson hate timeouts. They think they’re worthless exercises, and there’s no reason to talk to your team during the game — even to, say, draw up a final play of a tied game. That’s the only conclusion that could be made after watching the Tigers-Commodores rock-fight of a game Wednesday night. Both coaches left two timeouts on the board during regulation, and Anderson didn’t call a timeout once the Tigers crossed halfcourt down 72-71 with about 25 seconds left to draw up a possible game-winning play. Ricardo Ratliffe bailed out his coach when he hit one of two free throws after drawing a foul. In overtime. it was Vandy’s turn to neglect to talk things over on the sidelines. After Michael Dixon tied the game at 82 with 33 seconds left in the game, Vandy took the ball and decided to freelance a play. It didn’t work. Dixon stripped Brad Tinsley with about eight seconds to go, and his layup and free throw won the game for the Tigers. You know who didn’t win, though? Anyone who appreciates competent end-of-game coaching.
  • Is Notre Dame a fraud? Time will tell as the Irish’s uneven performance against Kentucky did not validate their inclusion into RTC’s top 25 (The Irish checks in at #23) nor did it show that they will fade from the national scene once conference season starts. When the Irish are hitting their outside shots, they can light up just about any team in the nation. ND hung 40 points on Kentucky in the first half when Ben Hansbrough buried five 3-pointers. But in the second half, the outside shots stopped falling and the offense sputtered. Without a great inside presence, the Irish are too dependent on their perimeter game and vulnerable to shooting slumps. When Kentucky amped up the pressure, ND went 6-30 from the field. Checking in with our friends at KenPom, there are reasons to think that the Irish’s early success was a mirage. Notre Dame isn’t a great defensive team. The Irish rank 81st in adjusted defensive efficiency, and the defense isn’t forcing turnovers. According to KenPom, Mike Brey’s team forces TOs on only 15.6% of opponent’s possessions — good for 341st in the nation.
  • Kansas is doing just fine without Josh Selby. Yeah, the Jayhawks just barely got past a frisky UCLA squad last Thursday, but they had no problem dismantling Memphis by 13 points at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. Eight Jayhawks scored at least six points in the win, four scored at least ten and no one finished with more than 16. That’s balance, the kind of balance that makes you believe Kansas’s 57.1% night shooting wasn’t a fluke, in fact the Jayhawks are the #1 team in the nation in effective field goal percentage (62.7%) according to KenPom. The only area in which Kansas failed to impress Tuesday is turnovers. The Jayhawks committed 22 turnovers against Memphis, but we think that problem will fix itself with the addition of another capable ball handler in Selby.

Pour This Man A Gin

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The Week That Was: November 27 – December 3

Posted by rtmsf on December 4th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor.

Introduction

LeBron James’ big return to Cleveland on Thursday night got TWTW thinking if something similar could ever happen in the college hoops world. Now obviously it would be tough/impossible to create the exact same circumstances surrounding James’ seven-year tenure in Cleveland, his love affair with the city and their subsequent breakup on national TV this past summer. First we’d have to end the NCAA’s policy that forces transfer players to sit out for a year, as that would let players move freely to and from teams in a manner similar to free agency in the NBA. Then we’d have to find the right player that could possibly inspire the right amount of anger/hatred if he just so happened to “take his talents” to the wrong team.

Imagine if Hansbrough Moved to Duke...

OK, ready? Imagine if Tyler Hansbrough announced after UNC’s Final Four loss to Kansas in 2008 that he was going to transfer to Duke for his senior season. Kinda the same situation. A ringless player jumps ship in search of a possible championship. Imagine the public outcry. Imagine the reaction in Chapel Hill. Imagine Hansbrough’s first trip to the Dean Dome in a Blue Devils’ jersey.  You think Cleveland hates James? Just think about hatred felt by Tar Heel Nation if the reigning player of the year jumped ship to play for its bitter rival. Cleveland fans harbored no ill-will toward the Heat before this year, UNC fans don’t need any reason to wish bad things upon Duke and Coach K.

I don’t know if the environment in our hypothetical Dean Dome would trump the Quicken Loans Area. But it would be a memorable night… one of the most epic evenings of hoops in college basketball history.

Anyway let’s get back to reality with our third installment of TWTW.

What We Learned

  • Despite its overtime win at Virginia Tech, I don’t like what I see from Purdue. While discrediting the Boilermakers’ chops as a national player was a popular thing to do in the immediate aftermath of Robbie Hummel’s season-ending ACL tear, there was still a small group that warned people not to overlook Matt Painter’s club.  “Hey! We’ve still got E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson!” There’s no debating Moore’s and Johnson’s basketball credentials, but the problem is there’s not much firepower apart from that inside-outside duo. Against Richmond and Virginia Tech, the Boilermakers put up some pretty dreadful offensive numbers. They only made four field goals in the first half against the Spiders en route to a 16-53 shooting night (30.2%). They improved slightly against the Hokies (36.2%), but Johnson and Moore combined for 43 of Purdue’s 58 points Wednesday night. To compete in a Big Ten that’s looking more and more loaded as the season progresses, the Boilermakers are going to have to find some offensive balance.
  • Even though it boasts the best team in the country, the ACC stinks. Thank god for Duke (how many times has that sentence been written?). The Blue Devils provide some much-needed respectability to a conference that views itself as the center of the college basketball universe. This year, though, the ACC shares more in common with the Atlantic 10 than the Big East. #1 Duke is the only squad ranked in RTC’s top 25. Let’s take it a step further. If you look at the AP poll, the ACC only boasts two teams outside of Durham, N.C., that received votes. North Carolina checks in at #29 and Virginia Tech at #32. The conference lost the ACC/Big Ten Challenge by a count of 6-5. And for every positive result like Duke’s 84-79 win over Michigan State or Virginia’s upset at Minnesota, there were disasters like Georgia Tech’s 20-point thumping at Northwestern, Clemson’s home loss to Michigan and N.C. State’s 87-43 loss to Wisconsin. Could Duke possibly go 15-1 or 16-0 in conference play this season? TWTW wouldn’t bet against it.
  • Maybe all of that talk about Florida’s return to national prominence was a little bit premature. The Gators began the season expecting to battle Kentucky and Tennessee for the SEC East title because they… ummm, they… why did everyone think this team would be great, again? Billy Donovan’s bunch definitely is going through some growing pains. Since its blowout loss at home to Ohio State on November 16, Florida struggled to beat the likes of Morehead State and Florida Atlantic and then got beaten by Central Florida on Wednesday. Like Purdue, the Gators aren’t performing on the offensive end. Florida has only topped 70 points once in the past four games, and its 75.3 points per game rank 94th overall as of Wednesday night. The most troubling stat for Florida is that it ranks 93rd in the nation in assists as only three players on the Gators’ roster (Erving Walker, Chandler Parsons and Kenny Boynton) average more than one dime a game.

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The Week That Was: November 19-26

Posted by jstevrtc on November 27th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Introduction

TWTW hopes everyone out there had a great Thanksgiving, gorging on turkey, stuffing and football. I truly hope you got enough football because this is a football free zone. No news about Tom Brady’s hair, Brett Favre’s retirement plans or Vince Young’s texting habits. There’s way too much hoops to discuss.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving is without a doubt one of my favorite weeks of the college basketball season. The Maui Invitational, Preseason NIT, the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic…need I say more? All of the preseason tournaments serve up must-see non-conference matchups, the likes of which you won’t see again until March. #10 Kentucky and #15 Washington staged a fine duel on Tuesday night in Maui. #1 Duke vs. #5 Kansas State might have disappointed for just over a half, but you still learned plenty about each squad.

Walker's Performance In Maui Still Has Hoopheads Buzzing

More than prime-time matchups, though, I love these tournaments because every year someone makes the leap from relative hoops obscurity to household name status. This year that player is Connecticut’s Kemba Walker. Now, Walker wasn’t exactly an unknown commodity prior to this week, but no one ever viewed him as the most formidable offensive player in the nation. 90 points in three nationally televised games and back-to-back wins over top-10 squads tends to raise your profile, though.

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The Week That Was: November 12-18

Posted by rtmsf on November 19th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

Wow it sure does feel great to have college basketball in our lives. After a summer of baseball (boring) and a fall of the NFL (violent) and college football (unsatisfying) it’s nice to have the sport that brings everything to the table on a nightly basis.  You want drama? Utah State-BYU offered plenty Wednesday night for your viewing pleasure (assuming you had the Mountain Sports Network, of course). Nine lead changes, seven ties … is it March yet?  You want big time matchups? There was #4 Ohio State at #9 Florida, and #22 Virginia Tech at #3 Kansas State. While both games turned out to be laughers, you still had to plan your day around those two showdowns.

Hard to Not Get Excited About This One

It was a fantastic time to be a college basketball fan, and a top-notch way to kick off the first full-throttle week of competition in style. ESPN deserves major props for its 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon. College basketball used to begin with a whimper — not really emerging into the mainstream consciousness until February. ESPN’s over-the-top (but in a good way) hoops celebration is a great way to let the nation know tis the season of buzzer beaters and court rushings.  And now it’s my job to help you make sense of it all. Every week I’m going to do my best to sift through all the box scores, highlights and reports to let you know what’s important and what’s not. The season might just be a little more than week old but there still are things you can glean from the past seven days, and judgments most definitely can be made.

What We Learned Last Week

  • The fine folks in Knoxville, Tennessee, just can’t seem to catch a break. First there was the Lane Kiffin fiasco, leading to a forgettable first year under new coach Derek Dooley. Fans might have thought they were going to get a break once basketball season tipped off, rightfully so considering last year’s trip to the Elite Eight, but then Bruce Pearl had to go and ruin everything with the news of recruiting violations. The drama in Tennessee now has shifted to the court where the Vols are a team in disarray. They lost a home exhibition game to Indianapolis by 15 points and had unimpressive wins over Belmont (85-76) and Missouri State (60-56). Who should be the favorite when the Vols play VCU at the Preseason NIT on Nov. 24? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • Move over Butler, there’s a new mid-major darling that’s poised to captivate the nation. I’m talking about San Diego State, which won at #11 Gonzaga 79-76 on Tuesday night. The Aztecs had never been ranked in the AP poll before this season, but they have all the ingredients to be a poll mainstay in 2011. San Diego State has experience with five seniors on its roster and has size with four players 6’8 or taller. The schedule shapes up nicely for the Aztecs (they don’t play another ranked team until Mountain West Conference play), and it’s not out of the question to think that SDSU could be one of the last undefeated teams standing.
  • Ohio State looks really good, but it comes with an asterisk. The Buckeyes went down to Florida and put a thumping on a Gators squad many believe to be an SEC title candidate. Ohio State shot an unworldly 63% (39-62) for the game and had a team assist to turnover ration of 22:8. They Buckeyes also had four players with at least 14 points (David Lighty and Jared Sullinger both had a game-high of 26). Those aren’t the kind of offensive numbers you expect to see this early in the season. But was this more about Ohio State’s offense or Florida’s suspect defense? Florida was known as a soft team last year, and the Gators did nothing to disprove that notion against the Buckeyes.
  • Is trouble on the horizon for Memphis? Few would be surprised if that turns out to be the case as there are already signs of a potential meltdown for Josh Pastner & Co. RTC’s Andrew Murawa pointed out the Tigers’ oftentimes poor body language during the second half against Miami — a game the Tigers won. It makes me uneasy to see a team, albeit a young team, show that kind of immaturity this early in the season in the middle of a tightly contested game, at home no less. Maybe this was just the players’ way of voice their displeasure with the removal of Jelan Kendrick. But ether way, I would not want to be Pastner right now.
  • Louisville’s new arena might be the new crown jewel of the hoops world, but the name ruins everything. The KFC Yum! Center is just a ridiculous combination of the corporate world encroaching upon college athletics and food that makes me want to throw up. Now when ever I watch the Cardinals at home, I won’t be focused on Rick Pitino’s vaunted full-court press, I’ll be thinking about the KFC Double Down. I can see it now … whenever Louisville scores 100 points, free Double Downs for everyone!

Pour This Man A Scotch

Better make it a to-go cup as who knows how much longer Paul Hewitt will be at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets lost 80-63 at Kennesaw State on Nov. 15, and it now looks like it isn’t a matter of if Hewitt will get fired, it’s a matter of when. Just look at this opening nugget from Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley from a blog post following the loss “If Paul Hewitt isn’t the worst basketball coach in the country, it’s only because ours is a mighty big country.”  Yikes. Not that anyone would argue differently. Georgia Tech is expected by most of the hoops world to finish near the bottom of the ACC for the second time in three seasons. The loss at Kennesaw State confirms everyone’s worst fears about the Yellow Jackets.  Right now the only saving grace for Hewitt is the nice $7 million buyout check he’ll get whenever he gets the axe. But until then, drink up Paul. You’re going to have to in order make it through this season.

KenPom vs. the AP

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