Welcome back to RTC’s THIRD season covering college basketball with one of our old standbys, the nightly After the Buzzer feature. If you’re new here, the purpose of these nightly updates is to go a little deeper than game recaps. We’ll talk about the key games and storylines of each night of the regular season so that you can join the watercooler crew with some knowledge to throw around the next morning. Tonight we got the season underway with four opening round subregional games in the 2kSports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. None of the four favorites were every seriously threatened, but there were quite a few good storylines tonight.
Isiah’s debut. #4 North Carolina 88, Florida International 72. For a team picked last in their Sun Belt division and has just eight scholarship players on its roster, Isiah Thomas had his Florida International Golden Panthers putting up a respectable fight against the top-five Tar Heels in his much-anticipated coaching debut. The bright spots for the powder blues in the first post-Tyler Hansbrough era contest: Deon Thompson appears to be in for a fine year in the post, totaling 20 points and 10 boards on 7/11 FG while frontcourt mate Ed Davis used a slew of putbacks and easy buckets to complete his own double-double: 13/11/4 blks on 5/8 FG. The other big question mark heading into the season was whether Larry Drew could provide steady point guard play for UNC, and the sophomore put in a solid performance with 6/2 A:TO in 21 minutes, including a Lawson-esque coast-to-coast layup in the first half and a few pretty dishes to Thompson and John Henson for jams. The bad news: Even with the incredible turnover and rustiness of a season opener, Roy Williams cannot be pleased with a 26-turnover performance from his team against a Sun Belt foe (the most in any game coached by Williams at UNC), especially backup point guard Dexter Strickland’s five turnovers in 11 minutes. Also worth noting is Williams opting to go with a more experienced starting five with Thompson, Drew, Davis, Marcus Ginyard and William Graves getting the nod and Henson, Strickland, Tyler Zeller, Leslie McDonald and the Wear twins coming off the pine. This group is absurdly deep up front and, due to the high-impact departures, shouldn’t be expected to look like a world-beater in early November. They don’t.
Boeheim gets win #800. #25 Syracuse 75, Albany 43. Coming off their embarrassing defeat in an exhibition contest at the hands of D2 Le Moyne, Syracuse needed to come out in their first actual game of the 2009-10 season and make a statement. Their 2-3 zone defense confused the Albany Great Danes all night and was the primary factor in garnering a 75-43 victory for Jim Boeheim’s 800th win, putting him on an esteemed list with only two other active coaches — Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Calhoun. Syracuse’s defense and superb athleticism forced Albany into 32 turnovers and only 27% shooting in a primarily ugly game that lacked much flow. Syracuse shot just 2/17 from outside themselves including a clunker from three-point specialist Andy Rautins (0/6, 0/4 3pt) who left the game midway through the 2nd half with a sprained ankle (3am update: doesn’t sound too serious, but he was wearing a walking boot after the game). The good: Scoop Jardine coupled a productive preseason into another stellar performance at the point tonight, totaling 12 points and 4 assists on 5/7 shooting with just one turnover while his main competition, Brandon Triche, had some moments but mainly struggled with six turnovers. Syracuse looks extremely athletic with Wes Johnson (who features a sick one-handed posterization on an unsuspecting Great Dane) around the perimeter and Rick Jackson swatting shots down low.