Posted by Chris Johnson on December 14th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Finals Week Is Nearly Gone. On a night dominated by talks of revolutionary conference transformation and the impending destruction of one of the sport’s proudest and most successful leagues in the past quarter century, paying any real attention to games – outside of a few noteworthy outcomes – was hardly anyone’s first priority. The good news is, thanks to the college hoops fan nightmare we like to call finals week, there weren’t many games worth watching in the first place. If you’re looking for big storylines or massive statement-making wins, Thursday night’s slate provided none of the sort. Instead, we witnessed the denouement of finals week torpor, and can now officially start looking ahead towards the biggest non-conference game of the season: Saturday’s Florida-Arizona showdown in Tucson. Tonight’s recap will underscore the recent scheduling lull, which only means you’ll feel doubly excited for Saturday’s big-time sampling. So here’s to the final remnants of college hoops’ weakest offering of games. May you rest in peace… at least until next season.
Your Watercooler Moment. Tennessee’s Offense Has Sparked To Life.
The Volunteers showed signs they’re moving out of their offensive slump (photo credit: AP photo).
The only thing more impressive than Tennessee scoring 69 points at home to knock off undefeated Wichita State is that the Volunteers did it despite star big man Jarnell Stokes logging just 18 minutes. Even if Stokes hadn’t gotten wrapped up in foul trouble, the Volunteers’ 69-point output is encouraging for several reasons. For one, Wichita State has put to rest any notion that losing four starters from last season’s five-seed would prevent another MVC title challenge. The Shockers have quality wins over VCU and Iowa, and are defending like a top-30 team, to the point where last season’s 18th-ranked defensive efficiency is within one percentage point of this year’s mark (89.8) to date. For another, Tennessee had failed to break the 50-point threshold in its past two games, consecutive losses to Georgetown and Virginia. Granted, both teams rank among the nation’s top 10 teams in per-possession defense, but when you boast one of the top five-or-so centers in the country, along with a bevy of talented guards to provide a capable perimeter scoring complement, there’s no excuse for getting held under 50 points. It’s really that simple. The Volunteers were a trendy pick to broach the SEC power triumvirate – Florida, Kentucky, Missouri – but had failed to substantiate that praise with anything resembling a quality win thus far. Knocking off Wichita State, a Top 25 team in its own right, is a good sign, but I’m loath to acknowledge the Volunteers have officially put their scoring woes in the rearview mirror. Upcoming tests against Xavier and Memphis before entering SEC play will serve as a barometer of whether Tennessee has finally unlocked its offensive quagmire or whether tonight’s performance was a minor positive blip that can’t be sustained over the long term.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Anthony Bennett: Best Freshman In the Country? The silver lining in Mike Moser’s month-long injury-related absence is that UNLV’s frontcourt rotation will benefit from more minutes and greater opportunities to carve out bigger roles over the long run. Most importantly, we’ll see even more Anthony Bennett, who Thursday night lead the Rebels with 27 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in a comfortable win over La Verne, and who thus far is making as strong a case as any for Freshman of the Year. The vast majority of preseason freshman big man hype was directed towards Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Baylor’s Isaiah Austin. Neither player has underperformed expectations – Noel’s offensive game needs work, but we knew as much coming in; Austin has been as lanky, stretchy, and, at times, flimsy as advertised – but there’s no disputing Bennett has been the best of the three. When Pitt big man Khem Birch becomes eligible on December 17, he’ll slide in alongside Bennett to form one of the nation’s most talented frontcourt duos. That’s a ridiculously long, athletic, rangy interior. And we’re not even considering what Moser brings to the court; talent-wise, no team in America matches that vaunted trio. Read the rest of this entry »