Tubby Smith has had a rough season at Minnesota in just keeping all of his players on the floor. From Royce White to Devron Bostick to Trevor Mbakwe, the team that Smith thought he’d have coming into the season is a far cry from the one he’s been able to suit up. Things aren’t improving, as yesterday the NCAA denied point guard Al Nolen’srequest for reinstatement as a result of his academic ineligibility, effectively ending his season. Nolen wasn’t a big scorer for the Gophers, but he was the point man of their defense, and he was leading the Big Ten in SPG (2.3) at the time of his suspension. With Minnesota already looking bubbly at 13-8 (4-5), this will make it even more difficult for Tubby’s troops to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament this year.
So… when Duke students do things like this, it’s clever and hilarious. But when West Virginia students do it, it’s classless and over the line? Got it.
Gary Parrish takes the ‘college hoops is big business‘ slant in his latest piece on the rash of mid-season firings this year. While we have absolutely no quibble with that slant, we still don’t know that it makes much sense to fire coaches mid-stream of a 30-game regular season. Especially at the places where this is happening — DePaul, Fordham, Penn, UNC-Wilmington, Dartmouth. Do ADs at those places really believe that new blood is going to turn the season around this year? They can’t.
Vegas Watch takes a look at the KenPom top twenty and concludes that Ohio State — yeah, the Buckeyes — are a team that perhaps everyone is overlooking at this point in the season.
To quote Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “wildcard, b$#ches!!!” That’s what WVU”s Bob Huggins might be thinking as he adds 6’9, 260-lb power forward Deniz Kilicli to his lineup tonight against Pittsburgh. Luke Winn analyzes the possible impact that the suspended Euro import could have on the Mountaineeers’ fortunes the rest of the way.
Wisconsin: First RTC of the Season? If anyone knows of another one, let us know. But this is the first one we’ve seen this year. But c’mon Musberger, get it right! RUSH. THE. COURT. (Ed. note – apparently UNLV fans RTC’d on Saturday after defeating Louisville, which is about as unjustified of an RTC as we’ve ever heard of… goodness gracious, folks, it’s Vegas. And beating an overrated Louisville team excites you?)
Story of the Night. Big Ten Finally Gets Monkey Off Its Back. It didn’t turn out the way we thought it would tonight, but it did end up as a 6-5 victory for the Big Ten schools over their ACC counterparts. Two unexpected events conspired to make this possible — Illinois’ inspirational comeback win at Clemson after being down by as many as 23 points in the second half, and Wisconsin’s home victory over Duke in the type of game the Blue Devils always seem to win (because, well, they do — Duke was 10-0 in the ACC/B10 Challenge prior to tonight). These two surprises combined with Ohio State’s expected win over Florida State at the end of the evening resulted in three straight victories at the end of the Challenge to put the midwesterners on top for the first time EVER. So what does that mean? Does it prove once and for all that the Big Ten is better than the ACC this year? Well, not at all. In fact, if anything, this year’s Challenge has shown us that the middle of the ACC might be a tad bit stronger than we thought it was (Wake, Miami, BC, Clemson). Now… about our predictions for tonight. Regression to the mean is the lesson here. After a perfect 6-0 start over the first two evenings of play, it all crashed and burned with a 1-4 record tonight. But yeah, at least we called it, baby! That’s all that matters! 6-5 Big Ten over the ACC, just like we said!*
*note – our Caribbean friends disagree with this assessment.
Game of the Night #1.Wisconsin 73, #5 Duke 69. Duke took its first ever loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge tonight for two reasons as we saw them. First, their big men other than Kyle Singler (28/6/3 assts) were virtually nonexistent. Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers combined for just six points and fourteen rebounds. Compare that with 16/27 against UConn last week, and you’ll see that almost all of the scoring burden fell onto the Duke backcourt + Singler. Second, Wisconsin’s Trevon Hughes was spectacular tonight. The senior guard shredded the Duke defense for a career-high 26 pts, using an assortment of drives to the basket to go along with a solid outside stroke (4-7 threes). After taking an 11-pt lead with five minutes to go, though, Duke guard Andre Dawkins nearly brought the Devils back all by himself, hitting three straight triples to cut the lead down to 2 with two minutes left. It appeared that this was going to be one of those epic Duke comeback wins, but UW ran clock down the stretch (surprise) and when Singler missed a wild layup attempt off the bottom of the backboard with under thirty seconds left, it was clear the Badgers were going to take the win tonight. One odd situation occurred in the very last few plays, when color commentator Bob Knight seemed to lose his mind for a moment as he stated that Wisconsin was “for sure” at worst going to overtime after only going up two with 4.9 seconds left (he clearly thought they were up three), and then contemplated whether Trevon Hughes should intentionally miss his second FT (again, thinking up three). What’s that phrase coaches like to use? Time and score? Can you imagine if one of Knight’s players had made a similar mistake at such a key juncture? Maybe now we know why Texas Tech wasn’t nearly as good as Knight’s Indiana teams — he wasn’t paying attention!
Game of the Night #2. Illinois 76, #19 Clemson 74. What can you say about Bruce Weber’s young backcourt of Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson tonight other than we’re extremely impressed. There is absolutely no way that Clemson should have lost this game. The Tigers ran out to a 20-pt halftime lead, pushed it up to 23 early in the second half, and had Littlejohn rocking. But Weber’s kids dug deep, showed the kind of composure that belies their age, and dropped a combined five threes in the next ten minutes of a 35-10 run that got the Illini back into the game and ultimately allowed them an opportunity to steal this one away from Clemson and the ACC. The Clemson players suggested that they relaxed after getting such a big lead, and from our viewpoint, there’s probably something to that. It certainly appeared that Illinois was the team with the drive and moxie throughout most of the second half, and when it came down to Demontez Stitt’s driving layup attempt at the buzzer, we just had a feeling that it wasn’t going down. It didn’t, and Illinois has a rallying cry for the rest of this season no matter how badly they’re playing. Mike Davis had 22/9 for the Illini, but as mentioned above, it was the youthful backcourt of Paul and Richardson (34/8/5 assts) that made tonight happen.
Game of the Night #3.#21 UNLV 74, Arizona 72 (2OT). The Runnin’ Rebels justified their shiny new Top 25 ranking by taking to the road for the first time this season, heading down to Arizona, and knocking off the Wildcats in double-overtime. Despite poor overall shooting from both teams (UNLV 39.7%, UA 36.5%; both teams less than 20% from three!) this one was neck-and-neck from the tip, as neither team ever led by more than six points the whole way. Arizona got up three in the second OT but UNLV’s Derrick Jasper (12/7/5/3 stls) hit one from deep to tie it at 70, and the Wildcats never led after that. Tre’Von Willis continued to carve his name out on the national scene with 25/4 for the Rebs, and Arizona got a huge game from freshman forward Derrick Williams with 28/5 on 10-15 shooting. This kind of win in such a difficult and hostile setting can only help Lon Kruger’s club, which has a few easy ones coming up except for a home game against Kansas State thrown in there on 12/12. If they can get by those Wildcats, there’s a very good chance UNLV will be 12-0 going into a pair of tough road games in early January at BYU and at (currently undefeated) New Mexico.
Jason Prziborowski is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.
This past week was like March Madness in November for the Big Ten. The Big Ten is glad it isn’t though, as all but a few would be left standing with upset after upset bringing down the big and mighty. Those who fell this week include: Michigan State, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan. The Big Ten started last week with 6 teams in the AP’s top 25, and only 3 remain in Purdue (#6), Michigan State (#9), and Ohio State (#15). The only unbeaten team in the Big Ten is now Purdue.
Michigan State 5-1
Ohio State 5-1
Penn State 5-2
Evan Turner, oops he did it again. That’s right folks, Evan Turner from Ohio State pulled off another triple double this week, becoming just 1 of 34 NCAA athletes to pull off multiple triple-double games in a single season.
Michigan State falls to Florida, ending their unbeaten streak. Turns out that Florida is legit again this season, moving up to #17 in the AP. Michigan State was sloppy and Florida made them pay, even though the game was a nailbiter.
Remember the name: John Shurna. The sophomore forward poured it on in the Chicago Invitational to take down Notre Dame and Iowa State, earning MVP honors over the likes of Craig Brackins and Luke Harangody, both household names.
Last but definitely not least, the first signs that Minnesota’s off the court troubles finally affected their on the court performance this week when they lost to Texas A&M after sitting Lawrence Westbrook and Al Nolen for disciplinary reasons. Westbrook and Nolen combine for over 19 points per game, and they lost by 1 point. That time sitting on the bench was definitely worth more than a point.
After last night’s relatively weak slate of games, we’re back to normal tonight with a great set of games.
Game of the Day #3 Duke at #10 Clemson at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Our second top 10 match-up of the week. Once again the road team is the higher ranked team, but I feel like this time they are also the favorites coming in to the game. All of you know about Duke by now thanks to their frequent appearances on national TV so I will keep it brief. Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson have emerged as their two most consistent players. Usually that is enough to get them by most teams even if they only get minimal support from the rest of the team. However, when that happens against quality teams the result isn’t always that good (even if they come really really close). The key for the Blue Devils in this game and for the rest of the season will be the play of Brian Zoubek (go ahead and snicker Duke haters) and Nolan Smith. Zoubek merely needs to be a mediocre 7-footer and Coach K and the rest of the Blue Devils staff will be happy. Smith, who replaced Greg Paulus in the starting lineup, has to improve his decision-making. He must have one of the worst assist-to-turnover ratios (1.03 to 1) of any starting PG on a top team in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Clemson may be the most under-appreciated team in the country. I’m not sure if it is the Tigers’ recent history of falling apart down the stretch, but I never hear anybody mentioning them as a team that could make a run in March despite the fact that they probably have the most reasonable losses of any team in the country (Wake Forest and at UNC). The key for Oliver Purnell‘s team will be to have Trevor Booker dominate on the inside. I doubt that Duke will let him play against Zoubek so he will probably have to do it against Singler, which could make for an interesting match-up. If Booker can win that match-up, Clemson will have a shot. After that they will need a strong game out of K.C. Rivers and hope to contain Duke’s outside shooters (particularly Jon Scheyer). I think Clemson will keep it close until midway through the 2nd half when Duke will go on a run and pull away to win by about a dozen.
Worth Watching West Virginia at #20 Syracuse at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Mountaineers are a a perfect example of why it is so hard to read Big East teams. They are only 4-4 in the conference, but all 4 of those losses were to top 10 teams (UConn, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Marquette). Likewise, Syracuse comes in having lost 3 straight and 4 of 5, but 3 of those losses have been on the road (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Providence) and the other to one of the hottest teams (Louisville) in the country. The Orangemen should be able to break their recent skid if they can contain Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff, but a lot of that will have to do with whether or not they will have their full compliment of players available. Mookie Jones is done for the year with a hip injury, but someone will have to step up as Jim Boeheim can’t expect to get 62 points from Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf every game (and even that didn’t work in their last game).
#19 Minnesota at #14 Michigan State at 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: What is going on with the Spartans? Tom Izzo‘s team has lost back-to-back games at the Breslin Center to pretty weak competition (Northwestern and Penn State). Just two weeks ago everyone was talking about this team as a potential Final 4 contender with the return of Goran Suton. Unfortunately for Izzo, the Spartans will be without Raymar Morgan, who is out with “walking pneumonia”. To turn things around, the Spartans will need improved play out of Kalin Lucas, who still boasts an impressive 3.09 to 1 assist to TO ratio, but most of that is from his early season play. They will have to do it against a Gopher team that held Illinois to a ridiculous 36 points in their last game. Keep an eye on Al Nolen and Ralph Sampson III in this one for the Gophers as they will be matched up against Lucas and Suton respectively.
#6 Wake Forest at Miami (FL) at 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Wake needs to develop some consistency if they want to be a national championship contender. We know that they can beat the big boys as they knocked off UNC, Clemson, and Duke in a three week stretch. The question is why they can’t maintain that level of play when they go up against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech (both losses). Dino Gaudio will need to figure this out if he wants to get this team up to the level of Duke and UNC at the end of the season. Maybe it’s just a focus thing, which hopefully shouldn’t be an issue in March. Either way, this trip to Miami should be a nice challenge for the Demon Deacons. Jeff Teague will be matched up against Jack McClinton and Al-Farouq Aminu will be up against Dwayne Collins. I think Miami may be able to hold its own in those match-ups. Unfortunately for Frank Haith, the Hurricanes run into depth problems after their top 2 while the Demon Deacons run much deeper. Perhaps Haith should look into giving more PT to his ridiculously athletic freshman DeQuan Jones.
#16 Villanova at Providence at 8 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Villanova finally got the signature win we were asking for by beating Pittsburgh last week in the last college basketball game at the Spectrum. This time they will have to do it on the road against a Friar team that was playing well before they ran into the UConn buzzsaw. Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds will need to have solid games if Jay Wright‘s crew is going to pull out a rare Big East road win against a Providence team that is actually above them in the Big East standings. Providence will need a solid effort out of its 8-deep rotation including Weyinmi Efejuku and Jonathan Kale to defend its home court tonight.
Keep an Eye On Notre Dame at Cincinnati at 7:30 PM on ESPN360.com: Mike Brey needs Kyle McAlarney to snap out of his funk and start helping Luke Harangody out or the Fighting Irish might be looking at trip to the NIT this year. This is a game Notre Dame needs to win if they expect to make the NCAA tournament.
Tennessee at Arkansas at 8 PM on Raycom, Fox Sports South, and ESPN360.com: Can freshman Scotty Hopson be the one to reenergize the Vols who have struggled to play up their pre-season #8 ranking? Bruce Pearl might want to give him some more PT against the confusing Arkansas team that beat Texas and Oklahoma (the Sooners only loss), but is just 1-5 in the SEC.
Texas A&M at #2 Oklahoma at 9 PM on The Big 12 Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Watch this one for Blake Griffin, who will be your national Player of the Year barring some freak injury or sketchy voting. I guess the Aggies played Oklahoma close at College Station so this could be a decent game, but since it is in Norman I doubt it will be that close after the half unless the Sooners are already looking ahead to Texas and Kansas two weeks from now.
USC at #12 UCLA at 10:30 PM on Fox Sports:Ben Howland‘s will be going for a sweep of the California Pac-10 teams at Pauley Pavilion against their cross-town rivals. The Trojans are my pick for secretly good team that nobody is talking about, but could make a run in March. Watch this one for the battle of the freshmen: DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday. They won’t be matched up against each other, but it should be fun to see Josh Shipp guard DeRozan. As an added bonus, you might get to see Lil’ Romeo (ok, maybe not).