David Ely is an RTC Contributor
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
- 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