David Ely is an RTC contributor.
Wow it sure does feel great to have college basketball in our lives. After a summer of baseball (boring) and a fall of the NFL (violent) and college football (unsatisfying) it’s nice to have the sport that brings everything to the table on a nightly basis. You want drama? Utah State-BYU offered plenty Wednesday night for your viewing pleasure (assuming you had the Mountain Sports Network, of course). Nine lead changes, seven ties … is it March yet? You want big time matchups? There was #4 Ohio State at #9 Florida, and #22 Virginia Tech at #3 Kansas State. While both games turned out to be laughers, you still had to plan your day around those two showdowns.
It was a fantastic time to be a college basketball fan, and a top-notch way to kick off the first full-throttle week of competition in style. ESPN deserves major props for its 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon. College basketball used to begin with a whimper — not really emerging into the mainstream consciousness until February. ESPN’s over-the-top (but in a good way) hoops celebration is a great way to let the nation know tis the season of buzzer beaters and court rushings. And now it’s my job to help you make sense of it all. Every week I’m going to do my best to sift through all the box scores, highlights and reports to let you know what’s important and what’s not. The season might just be a little more than week old but there still are things you can glean from the past seven days, and judgments most definitely can be made.
What We Learned Last Week
- The fine folks in Knoxville, Tennessee, just can’t seem to catch a break. First there was the Lane Kiffin fiasco, leading to a forgettable first year under new coach Derek Dooley. Fans might have thought they were going to get a break once basketball season tipped off, rightfully so considering last year’s trip to the Elite Eight, but then Bruce Pearl had to go and ruin everything with the news of recruiting violations. The drama in Tennessee now has shifted to the court where the Vols are a team in disarray. They lost a home exhibition game to Indianapolis by 15 points and had unimpressive wins over Belmont (85-76) and Missouri State (60-56). Who should be the favorite when the Vols play VCU at the Preseason NIT on Nov. 24? Your guess is as good as mine.
- Move over Butler, there’s a new mid-major darling that’s poised to captivate the nation. I’m talking about San Diego State, which won at #11 Gonzaga 79-76 on Tuesday night. The Aztecs had never been ranked in the AP poll before this season, but they have all the ingredients to be a poll mainstay in 2011. San Diego State has experience with five seniors on its roster and has size with four players 6’8 or taller. The schedule shapes up nicely for the Aztecs (they don’t play another ranked team until Mountain West Conference play), and it’s not out of the question to think that SDSU could be one of the last undefeated teams standing.
- Ohio State looks really good, but it comes with an asterisk. The Buckeyes went down to Florida and put a thumping on a Gators squad many believe to be an SEC title candidate. Ohio State shot an unworldly 63% (39-62) for the game and had a team assist to turnover ration of 22:8. They Buckeyes also had four players with at least 14 points (David Lighty and Jared Sullinger both had a game-high of 26). Those aren’t the kind of offensive numbers you expect to see this early in the season. But was this more about Ohio State’s offense or Florida’s suspect defense? Florida was known as a soft team last year, and the Gators did nothing to disprove that notion against the Buckeyes.
- Is trouble on the horizon for Memphis? Few would be surprised if that turns out to be the case as there are already signs of a potential meltdown for Josh Pastner & Co. RTC’s Andrew Murawa pointed out the Tigers’ oftentimes poor body language during the second half against Miami — a game the Tigers won. It makes me uneasy to see a team, albeit a young team, show that kind of immaturity this early in the season in the middle of a tightly contested game, at home no less. Maybe this was just the players’ way of voice their displeasure with the removal of Jelan Kendrick. But ether way, I would not want to be Pastner right now.
- Louisville’s new arena might be the new crown jewel of the hoops world, but the name ruins everything. The KFC Yum! Center is just a ridiculous combination of the corporate world encroaching upon college athletics and food that makes me want to throw up. Now when ever I watch the Cardinals at home, I won’t be focused on Rick Pitino’s vaunted full-court press, I’ll be thinking about the KFC Double Down. I can see it now … whenever Louisville scores 100 points, free Double Downs for everyone!
Pour This Man A Scotch
Better make it a to-go cup as who knows how much longer Paul Hewitt will be at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets lost 80-63 at Kennesaw State on Nov. 15, and it now looks like it isn’t a matter of if Hewitt will get fired, it’s a matter of when. Just look at this opening nugget from Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley from a blog post following the loss “If Paul Hewitt isn’t the worst basketball coach in the country, it’s only because ours is a mighty big country.” Yikes. Not that anyone would argue differently. Georgia Tech is expected by most of the hoops world to finish near the bottom of the ACC for the second time in three seasons. The loss at Kennesaw State confirms everyone’s worst fears about the Yellow Jackets. Right now the only saving grace for Hewitt is the nice $7 million buyout check he’ll get whenever he gets the axe. But until then, drink up Paul. You’re going to have to in order make it through this season.
KenPom vs. the AP