New Year’s Football? Coulda fooled us, as there were nearly 200 basketball games over the last four days in every corner of America. And here’s the rub — a couple dozen of those games held more value than all those meaningless bowls over the same time period. The bowls are fun for the players and the fans of the teams involved (another reason to tailgate), but they have absolutely no (as in zero; as in 0.00%) bearing on the national title picture in football. At least games like West Virginia @ Purdue and Louisville @ Kentucky and William & Mary @ Hofstra have implications toward invitation and seeding in the NCAA Tournament in March. These games matter. The bowls (save Thursday night) do not. Let’s see what some of the highlights of the long weekend were.
Unbeaten No More. Two of the remaining six undefeated teams lost over the weekend — one expected, one unexpected. On Friday afternoon, a New Year’s Day tilt between the #4 (Purdue) and #6 (West Virginia) teams in America resulted in the Boilermakers running away with the game 77-62. JaJuan Johnson was awesome on the interior (25/10), completely outplaying the WVU big men Da’Sean Butler (17/7) and Devin Ebanks (11/6) and showing that when he, Robbie Hummel (18/2) and E’Twaun Moore (15/3 assts) are clicking, the Boilermakers can play with anybody in America. Oddly, WVU shot the ball ok enough to win, and was absolutely scorching from deep (9-12 3FG), but it was the 17 turnovers that did them in. Time and time again a poor possession on the WVU end (in large part because of their lack of a true PG) led to Purdue points on the other end. This game was arguably the ‘biggest’ game of the preconference schedule, and Purdue made a real statement as to its legitimacy in this one.
The unexpected loss was #5 Syracuse, who has looked so fantastic this season, dropping a game to rebuilding Pittsburgh on Saturday. There were quite a few people in the preseason who were writing off Pitt after what was admittedly huge personnel losses from last season, but those people obviously don’t know or care to know that Jamie Dixon is a phenomenal coach (same as Bo Ryan at Wisconsin). He always figures out how to win with the team he’s got. His guards attacked the Syracuse zone to the tune of ten threes while holding their own on the boards and forcing Syracuse to miss most of theirs (1-13 from deep). A 55-point second half behind Ashton Gibbs’ 24 /8 and Jermaine Dixon’s 21/5/4 assts/5 stls for the game gave Pitt its defining win for the season, and it was clear throughout the second twenty minutes that the Panthers were the more aggressive team. Syracuse’s Wes Johnson (19/6) didn’t have his usual double-double, but the Cuse players are going to have to remember that Big East foes know how to play against their zone and will need to adjust accordingly.
There are four unbeatens remaining. You may have heard of them. #1 Kansas, #2 Texas, #3 Kentucky, #4 Purdue.
Bluegrass Bloody Brawl. #3 Kentucky 71, Louisville 62. This was an ugly, ugly game, and the tone was set from the first eight seconds when it was clear that one of Rick Pitino’s primary strategies was going to be to rough up the young Wildcats in an attempt to get in their heads. It worked with Louisville’s first target, Eric Bledsoe, as he was sent to the bench almost immediately, but it never fazed DeMarcus Cousins (18/18/3 assts) or John Wall (17/4), who were subject to repeated hacks and hard fouls throughout. This game was a turnover-filled foulfest that included five techs, but when Louisville came back to take a one-point lead at 42-41, it was Wall (who later said he’s not even close to fulfilling his potential) who once again took over the game and made several key plays to give the Wildcats breathing room. This put UK at 15-0 and at its best start in forty years, making the Wildcat faithful apoplectic over the possibility of what lies ahead. UK will most certainly lose a game or several in the SEC, but what’s even more amazing to us is that John Calipari is now 86-6 over the last two-plus seasons. Those are John Wooden/Coach K in their prime type of numbers (before you get all crazy, we’re not saying Calipari is as good as those guys… yet).