Posted by Chris Johnson on November 26th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC National Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
The Weekend Lede. Battle 4 Atlantis Caps Terrific Set of Early-Season Tourneys. It is always a treat when two top five teams meet this early in the season. The high drama is typically saved for March, but the increasingly tasty match-ups served up by various exempt tournaments during Feast Week whet our appetites for the thrillers five months down the road. Saturday night brought us our first true marquee clash, with No. 2 Louisville meeting No. 5 Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis final. The showdown in the Bahamas emanated a Tourney feel, and the backdrop – the sleek blue tridents, enveloped in darkness, overlooking the dim courts – only tacked on more intrigue to the proceedings. As these early-season tournaments wrap up, let us celebrate this season’s wonderful slate, and hope for a similarly tantalizing selection next season. And in case you somehow got the impression the B4A was the only big event around, think again: the nation is peppered with sneaky-good match-ups and draws. Shall we dive into the weekend’s tourney festivities?
Your Watercooler Moment. Did We Overestimate Louisville?
It’s far too early to make definitive statements about Lousville’s bottom-line. The Cardinals will be fine (Photo credit: Getty Images).
In the wake of Saturday night’s events, it’s certainly a legitimate question. Just as he did in that mostly forgettable 1992 meeting between Kentucky and Duke, when some Laettner dude hit some “shot,” Coach K got the best of Rick Pitino in the Blue Devils methodical deconstruction of the Cardinals hounding defense. Duke was no doubt the better team on the floor – Mason Plumlee has officially entered the National POY discussion; Quinn Cook proved he can be the perimeter sparkplug Duke needs him to be; Rasheed Sulaimon is a better fit system-wise than Austin Rivers was last season. There are plenty of things to like about this Duke team, and all systems were a go throughout their run in the Bahamas. Which is why I’m loathe to downgrade the Cardinals after the championship loss. The Cardinals clearly have some tinkering to do on the offensive end (it also doesn’t help when your defensive anchor and swatting connossieur, Gorgui Dieng, is sidelined with a wrist injury). Backcourt mates Peyton Siva and Russ Smith were out of sync. Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear were non-factors. Transfer Luke Hancock still needs to find his role. All of these are problems that need to be addressed – and they will be. Pitino’s Final Four team of last season wasn’t nearly the same team in November, and I expect a similar gradual development from this year’s bunch. It won’t be long before Pitino will iron out the kinks, find an optimal rotation and have his team firing on all cylinders. The Cardinals are taking their lumps early, and growing through tough losses against good teams. Saturday night’s result was more about Duke’s potential, and less about Louisville’s shortcomings.
This Weekend’s Quick Hits…
- Mark Few’s Best Team Yet? Reclaiming sole possession of the WCC crown was an expected achievement for Gonzaga this season. But after six wins to begin the season, including two over Big 12 foes Oklahoma and West Virginia and one over reigning SoCon champion Davidson in the Old Spice Final Sunday, it’s time to set a new bar. Gonzaga has talent at every position, from floor operator Kevin Pangos to versatile forward Sam Dower to the recently eligible Kelly Olynyk. And if they can sustain this intensity into the league season, they’ll peak just in time for Tournament play. Let’s not rush to judge: The Bulldogs have Illinois, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State on tap before they enter WCC play. Beginning with a home date with the Illini on December 8, the turn of the calendar will reveal the depths of Gonzaga’s potential. Read the rest of this entry »