The big news of the weekend other than all the road “upsets” was the NCAA denying Kentucky‘s appeal on behalf of Enes Kanter. As you can imagine, this set off a huge response online, which we will have much more on later, but we were particularly surprised by one notable college basketball personality — Dick Vitale – calling out the NCAA, saying that if Kanter had gone to Washington, where current NCAA president Mark Emmert previously worked, he would not have been declared ineligible. This led to a pretty interesting back-and-forth online, which Seth Davis will apparently answer with a column on SI with direct quotes from Emmert that will appear sometime this morning. We aren’t surprised that somebody mentioned it, but Vitale was just about the last person in the world that we’d have expected to call out Emmert like that.
Vitale’s ESPN colleague Doug Gottlieb put up a column on Saturday morning asking 10 questions that he wasn’t sure about the answer (ESPN Insider required). The questions themselves — (1) Are UNC/Butler/San Diego State legit?; (2) What’s Purdue‘s ceiling?; (3) Does Kemba Walker have enough support?; (4) Will Tennesee survive without Bruce Pearl?; (5) Will Demetri McCamey come through in big spots?; (6) Can Villanova/Syracuse play defense/shoot?; (7) Will Baylor or Kansas State rebound first? — are pretty good, but Gottlieb’s answers are a bit superficial for my liking so we are interested to what you think the answers are to those questions.
A local columnist poses an interesting question about Pittsburgh, asking how the Panthers have changed from a hard-nosed defensive team into a group of sharpshooters. It should be pointed out that most of Pittsburgh’s reputation for being a tough defensive team that wasn’t able to score much comes from Ben Howland‘s time on the sideline there, and that Jamie Dixon‘s teams, to my knowledge, have been better offensively although not to the level of this season’s team. In any case, don’t expect any 47-32 games out of this Pittsburgh team unless you are talking about halftime scores.
By now you may have heard that Roy Williams has a bit of a point guard problem in Chapel Hill. Ever since Ty Lawson left UNC they have been struggling to find someone who would even be described as serviceable. By now, Tar Heel fans have realized that Larry Drew II is not the answer (at least if they want to get deep in the NCAA Tournament) and although Kendall Marshall shows flashes of brilliance, Roy is hesitant to hand over the keys to him. It looks like help may be on the way in the form of Marcus Paige, a top-five point guard in the class of 2012, who has committed to play at UNC. Paige follows in a fairly strong line of Iowans who have committed to play for Williams either at Kansas or UNC with the most recent being Harrison Barnes. For the sake of Tar Heel fans, we hope that Paige doesn’t struggle in adjusting to the college game as much as Barnes has so far.
Finally, our Morning 5 wouldn’t be complete with a shout out to Roscoe Smith for his ill-advised 75-foot heave with nearly 10 seconds left in the game. Honestly, we are shocked that there aren’t around 100 videos on YouTube documenting the funniest shot we have seen in some time. Fortunately for Smith and UConn they were able to escape, thanks to Kemba Walker doing his thing. We have a pretty poor clip below for those of you who missed it, but consider this a plea from RTC to please upload a decent quality clip of this shot.
The Lede. Despite the constant presence of NFL football, this weekend just felt like the first “real” weekend of college basketball around the country. Conference play was in effect almost everywhere, with the three holdout power conferences (ACC, Big 12, SEC) finally jumping headfirst into the family pool. The takeaway from this weekend’s action is clear — there are no dominant teams. If Duke gets Kyrie Irving back into the fold, we’ll be happy to re-visit this statement, but each of the top three teams were seriously challenged by up-and-comers and a host of other ranked teams took losses against unranked foes. This weekend could have been simply an anomaly; or, it could portend that we’re in for a rather wild ride over the next eight weeks of the regular season. In comparison with last season, the quartet of Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Duke stayed near the top of the polls from early January onward — will this year’s group of Duke, Ohio State, Kansas and Syracuse enjoy a similar track? For reasons we can’t yet explain, we don’t think so.
Walker Converted When It Mattered Most Saturday (H-C/P. Raycraft)
Your Watercooler Moment. Everybody’s Vulnerable. Saturday was one of those days where we realized once again (it happens every year) that the margins between teams with a little number beside its name and those without really aren’t that far when you get to conference play. It’s sometimes easy to forget this maxim of college hoops during November and December when teams roll up vastly inferior teams without breaking much of a sweat, but when we get to a day like Saturday where eight ranked teams lose, we’re reminded that the beauty of this sport is in its relative parity among the top 50-75 teams. “On any given night” and all that. Even the most elite teams were not immune — on Sunday the top three teams, all unbeaten, were taken to the wire by schools that on paper didn’t look capable — Duke vs. Maryland, Ohio State vs. Minnesota and Kansas vs. Michigan (you can also include Syracuse vs. Seton Hall on Saturday to bolster the point). The Terps gave Duke all it wanted in Cameron Indoor for 38 minutes; the Gophers had a shot in the air to tie OSU at the buzzer; and, Kansas was forced into OT at Michigan. All of them pulled through to stay unblemished, but our sense after watching these games is that each of these teams is going to suffer a few Ls before March roars into our lives.
Kemba Walker’s Heroics. Saturday’s game between UConn and Texas had a little bit of everything: fantastic athletes, big-time shots, powerful finishes, boneheaded plays and a raucous home crowd in Austin to take it all in. It also had another superb game-winning performance from a guy named Kemba Walker. His crossover leading into a step-back jumper over an excellent defender in Dogus Balbay was NBA-quality in its execution, and even though he had previously missed two shots for every one that he’d made, it didn’t detract from his confidence to take and make the game-winner. UConn’s having a gamer like Walker in the clutch cannot be overstated; the Huskies are not good enough to blow many other quality teams out this season, but if they can hang around until the last five minutes of the game, they have arguably the best player off the bounce in college basketball capable of getting points in many different ways. Walker’s already shown against Wichita State and Michigan State that he can take games over down the stretch, and so long as he doesn’t wear out (34 MPG), Jim Calhoun has at his disposal something that few other teams can boast.
Maryland, But Be Careful With the Terps. We’ve been down this road with Maryland before. They play great against Duke — either beating or nearly taking down the Devils — and everyone jumps on the bandwagon and expects them to push for an ACC title and make a big run into March. And then they turn around and lose to someone like Miami (FL), causing Gary Williams’s head to turn purple and nearly explode. Even though the Terps look great on paper — they defend well and have a beast like Jordan Williams inside to get points and rebounds (23/13 tonight) — we just want to warn you to be careful with this team. They are prone to offensive troubles when Williams is having an off night, and the best team they’ve actually beaten this year is Penn State (with losses to non-slouches Pitt, Illinois, Temple and BC). The Terps have the talent to make a run at second place in the ACC, but we’ve said that many times before only to watch them bob and weave to an 8-8 (or thereabouts) league record. And don’t forget they’re already 0-2 this season.
Well, Hello, Mr. Singler. No team has more offensive weapons than Duke, and luckily for Coach K’s 25-game winning streak, it was Kyle Singler’s turn to step up tonight against Maryland. His 25/10 represents his best performance of the season against quality competition, and with midseason NPOY candidate Nolan Smith cold on this evening (5-18 FG), Duke needed the preseason NPOY candidate to amp up his game. We still have issues with Duke’s complete lack of consistent inside play, but they proved last year that in the college game it’s not necessary to have an elite post man anymore.
… and Misses.
Roscoe Smith. “Oh God, Roscoe…” was the phrase on everyone’s mind, according to teammate Shabazz Napier, when the UConn freshman corralled a Texas miss with 11 seconds to go in regulation and took one dribble before mis-reading the clock and throwing up an 80-footer that finally came out of orbit with 7.5 seconds still remaining on the game clock. The boneheaded play was one of the most hilarious mistakes we’ve ever seen in this game — and we’ve watched a lot of basketball over the years — although it was none too funny for UConn fans who were hopeful that the Huskies would have a chance to win in regulation. We literally had to rewind this play and watch it a dozen times for maximum comedic effect; it’s doubtful we’ll ever see something quite so ridiculous again. Luckily for Smith, UConn won the game in overtime in no small part due to his contributions (13/6).
Some mid-afternoon thoughts on today’s games filling the heart of the day…
Alex Oriakhi hits the boards. Kemba Walker may get all of the post-game hype after his great finish in UConn‘s big road win at Texas, but for our money the player of the game and the one that we think Jim Calhoun will credit most for the win will be Alex Oriakhi. Calhoun has been all over Oriakhi lately for his lack of rebounding (seven straight games with single-digit rebounds including just one rebound in their loss at Pittsburgh). When I spoke with Calhoun after the Huskies’ New Year’s Eve victory over USF all I had to say was “Alex” before he cut me off and went on a rant about Oriakhi’s lack of rebounding. He was quick to note that Alex was working hard, but that he thought he might have been pressing. After speaking with Calhoun I went back to Alex and asked him about it and he essentially told me that he couldn’t really do anything about rebounding because it wasn’t something that he could do anything about, which I disagree with completely, but he seemed like such a nice kid and seemed troubled enough about it that I didn’t want to tell him that he was wrong (especially since my 5’10″ frame and lack of a vertical has been a major hindrance in the progress of my basketball career). He followed it up with an even worse game against Notre Dame where he failed to score a point and only had six rebounds. I wasn’t at the game, but I imagine that Calhoun was very critical of him after that game. Fast forward a few days to today against a Texas team that came in to the game ranked 3rd in the nation in rebounds and one that was expected to dominate the Huskies on the inside with Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, and Gary Johnson. Instead of getting dominated on the inside, Oriakhi turned in by far his best game since Maui and nearly matched the Longhorn trio in rebound total (22 to 21). Even though he struggled from the field going 5 of 16, Oriakhi more than made up for it on the boards and was probably the star of the game even if the rest of the media is going to focus on Kemba’s late game heroics. UConn is still a flawed team as it relies too much on Kemba to do what he did in overtime and it has too many young players who are still working on learning their roles playing around Kemba, but if Oriakhi can play like this on a more consistent basis the Huskies could be a team that nobody wants to play in March with Kemba on the outside and Alex on the inside.
Kemba Walker saves the day. Now that we have talked about Alex Oriakhi, we can get to Kemba Walker who shrugged off a rare off-night (going 8-27 from the field even with his late game heroics including the ridiculous heave to beat the shot clock with a little over 2 minutes left in OT). We have to give the Texas guards some credit for their defense on Kemba throughout the game, but we saw at the end of the game that there really isn’t anybody in college who can guard him. Rick Barnes had Dogus Balbay, who for our money is one of the best defensive guards in the nation, on Walker at the end of the game and Walker just brushed him off to him the game-winner with 5 seconds left in overtime. Walker might lose some of his early lead in the National Player of the Year race if UConn struggles in the Big East and he has plenty of competition particularly from Jared Sullinger and Nolan Smith, but the UConn PR department will probably have plenty of moments like late in today’s game to hype Walker’s candidacy if they choose to do so.
Roscoe Smith’s heave. We aren’t even sure where to begin with Roscoe Smith. Although it doesn’t quite rank up there with Jamelle Horne‘s pair of boneheaded plays from 2 years ago Smith’s 75-foot heave with nearly 10 seconds left in regulation is going to be replayed on blooper shows for years to come. We are going to give Smith a little bit of a pass (a very little bit) as I would imagine that the frantic finish and blocked shot by Alex Oriakhi that led to the ball ending up in Smith’s hands would have made it very difficult for anybody to be aware of how much time was left on the clock especially a 6’8″ freshman forward who is probably never asked to touch the ball late in games (and after this probably won’t for some time). I’m not sure words can do justice to just how bad this heave was and we can’t find any video footage of this shot yet, but when we do we will be sure to put it up.
Georgia knocks off Kentucky. It has already been a rough weekend for Kentucky. First there was the Enes Kanter ruling then there was the football team getting blown out by a Pittsburgh team that was playing without its recently hired head coach who had been fired after getting arrested on charges of domestic violence. Now their basketball team drops the SEC opener at Georgia. Before the fan base goes crazy (and we are guessing that based on the 4,573 fans on CatsPause at the time we wrote this that they are going crazy) we should point out that that the Bulldog team that they lost to could be very good. They have flown under the radar after losing two games at the Old Spice Classic to Notre Dame and Temple (two very good teams) in Trey Thompkins first games back after an early-season ankle injury. Since that time the Bulldogs have reeled off nine straight wins against some admittedly uninspiring opponents in somewhat unconvincing fashion (four games decided by three points or less). We are not sure if Georgia is a top 25 team, but we should have a better idea by January 18th as they play at Vanderbilt and at home against Tennessee during a three-game stretch. If they come out of that stretch with a 2-1 record don’t be surprised if this team is near the top of the SEC East standings by the end of the season.
The NCAA has issued the final ruling regarding the eligibility of Kentucky recruit Enes Kanter, saying in a statement today that the “new information” issued by Kentucky to the NCAA Reinstatement Committee “did not change the original statement of facts agreed to by the university and the NCAA.” Kanter is therefore permanently ineligible and will not play college basketball. The NCAA statement confirms that this is the final appeal.
Enes Kanter Is Permanently Ineligible To Play College Basketball, According to the NCAA
The “new information” Kentucky based its request for a re-hearing on was the NCAA’s recent decision to let Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy-winner Cam Newton play after it was revealed that Newton’s father had shopped his son to at least one program for around $200,000. The NCAA essentially felt that because Cam evidently didn’t know about any of that, he was free of any guilt and his eligibility was to remain intact. By saying that the “new information” submitted by Kentucky “did not change” anything, the NCAA is saying that they see no parallels between those two situations.
It’s been a very difficult season in St. Louisafter its two stars were thrown out of school for disciplinary reasons last fall and Rick Majerus has had to sit out several games with a gash in his leg suffered during a recent game. Perhaps the tide is turning a little. Yesterday SLU re-admitted star guard Kwamain Mitchell to the university for the Spring semester, which means he could theoretically suit up this season. Theoretically. Majerus has counseled Mitchell to sit out this year to get his life back in order, and the argument makes sense. At 5-9 and with a loss to Dayton in the A-10 already under its belt, SLU would have a very difficult time making a run at the NCAA Tournament even with Mitchell back in action at 100%. Furthermore, the school made no mention of the status of his former teammate, Willie Reed, who Billiken fans would hope be allowed to return at the same time as Mitchell.
You know it’s coming every week, so here it is. The best weekly read that the college basketball scribing industry has to offer: Luke Winn’s Power Rankings. Grab your coffee, turn off the phone and relish in the knowledge you’re about to pick up. It simply keeps getting better.
Next Thursday Oregon will open its brand spanking new Matthew Knight Arena ["the Matt"], the $200M Phil Knight-funded temple to the hopes and dreams of Duck basketball. Notwithstanding that ridiculous court design, the building looks phenomenal. Addicted to Quack was privileged to do a tour recently and provided us with this accompanying photo essay. As soon as Oregon gets their program in a little better shape, we can’t wait to check that joint out.
It looks like we’re finally going to put this Enes Kanter situation to bed soon. According to Jeff Goodman, the NCAA heard Kentucky’s re-argument about the Turkish center’s eligibility yesterday, and the underlying assumption is that they will rule on this rather quickly (it could be as soon as today). Honestly, we just want to see it over with so that the “Free Enes” nonsense will end. Kentucky is already better than most of us thought they would be; if Kanter becomes eligible, you can easily add the Wildcats to the short list of favorites for the 2011 national title.
Do you recall the incident from this past Saturday in which Rick Majerus collided with a couple of players who were diving for a loose ball, knocking him into the scorer’s table and putting a gash in his left leg? If you saw it, you might remember that the leg bled pretty badly (he’s on blood thinners), and Majerus missed the rest of the game as he received treatment in the locker room. Well, now the leg is infected, and Majerus missed tonight’s A-10 opener against Dayton. He’ll also miss the Billikens’ next two games (Sunday at Temple, Wednesday at Duquesne) while he recovers. Get better soon, coach.
Twelve games in, freshman guard Gary Franklin has decided that he’s had enough of being a California Golden Bear, and will transfer. Not the most efficient option, Franklin didn’t start, but was fourth on the team in minutes and fifth in scoring (8.2 PPG in 25.7 MPG). One interesting fact from that article: that’s seven transfers by players from Santa Ana Mater Dei in the last five seasons.
Even among Kentucky fans, all people cared to know about Josh Harrellson before this season was that he was a backup center and…well, that he was notEnes Kanter. Now, he’s a BMOC (at least in the Bluegrass) and leads the Wildcats in seven different statistical categories, if you throw some tempo-free ones in there. The Frankfort State Journalchecks in on him to see how he’s handling his exponentially increased celebrity. Hard work on the boards and 23/14 in a thumping of arch rival Louisville will do that for you in Lexington.
Nobody told Fran McCaffery things were going to be easy at Iowa, and his efforts just took another hit. When sophomore guard Cully Payne went out with a sports hernia (surgeons also repaired a torn oblique muscle) after only five games this season, there was still hope that he would be back later in the schedule. McCaffery painted a less encouraging picture, though, earlier this week. Last year, Payne led the team in assists (3.8 APG) and was fifth in scoring (8.7 PPG), and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1 to 1 was tops on the Hawkeyes this year.
It was almost a year ago that Texas was the top-ranked team in the land. At that point in the season, we can only assume that Oklahoma and Texas A&M supporters everywhere began sticking pins in their Longhorn dolls, as UT subsequently went 7-10 to end the year. Senior forward Gary Johnson remembers those days: “If you watch any film from last year, the will of being a team just wasn’t there,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. More importantly, he makes a great case as to why he sees no such swoon in store this season for his squad, which seems to be playing progressively better each week.
The Lede. Here’s hoping everyone had a very safe and happy New Year’s 2011. Just typing those numbers makes it hard for us to believe that there are ten-year olds who never experienced the awesomeness of the 1990s. Speaking of irrelevant references to timing, with the calendar change we’re now heading into the heart of the season. Frankly, the first two months in some ways seemed interminable, with far too many mismatches merely acting as a prelude for the conference season where the contenders and pretenders will be inevitably ferreted out. As a case in point, take a look at last year’s AP Top 10 from one year ago today. Texas, a first-round NCAA loser, was #2; Kansas and Villanova, both second round losers, were #1 and #6, respectively; the #9 team, North Carolina, ended up in the NIT. The lesson here is that there are no finished products yet — many teams have barely tested themselves, and it wouldn’t be the first time that a school with a lofty pre-conference record collapses after seeing its own blood on the road. Who will those teams be? We have some ideas but it’ll have to wait until later this week.
Your Watercooler Moment. Memphis Fan Ejected From Game. This is a no-brainer. There weren’t all that many great games this weekend, but an incident that took place near the end of Memphis’ 91-86 win over Tennessee State on Sunday is what will be talked about on Monday morning. After an on-court scrum where a prominent donor’s wife (is she really the spouse of the Lenny’s Sub Shop guy? — someone please confirm) got agitated from the front row and allegedly yelled at one of the TSU players to “choke on” his mouthpiece, the nearby referee Mark Whitehead threw her out of the game. Yes, you read that correctly, a fan! And not just any fan, but a middle-aged female fan who quite obviously presented a clear and present danger to the players on the floor, especially considering the way that she was pumping and waving around those blue pom-pons. (h/t Chris Littman for the video)
Your Watercooler Moment, Vol. II. Dear Ron: Don’t Eff With Jeannine Edwards — Signed, Billy Gillispie. This has absolutely nothing to do with college basketball per se, but it involves two media personalities who regularly cover the game and it’s hilarious nevertheless. SportsByBrooks reported over the weekend that ESPN commentator Ron Franklin (he of the Big Twelve games, mostly) condescendingly called reporter Jeannine Edwards “sweetcakes” and “a-hole” during a production meeting prior to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Franklin was allowed to work that game but he was then pulled from the Fiesta Bowl radio broadcast on Saturday night. We’re not sure if this is a much more common occurrence with female reporters or what, but people seem to enjoy talking down to Jeannine Edwards. Former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie of course was widely ridiculed for his treatment of the sideline reporter during an Ole Miss game in 2009, and many people in Wildcat country believe strongly that particular embarrassment was the straw that broke his back as the UK coach. It’s undetermined what will happen to Franklin as a result of his latest comments, but it should be noted that he had a similar incident five years ago with Holly Rowe and he still remained with the company. Will Jeannine go two-for-two in her latest battle of the sexes? Let’s hope so.
This Weekend’s Quick Hits…
Kansas: Best Team in America. So says Miami (OH) forward Antonio Ballard, whose team has had the privilege to play the top three teams in the polls so far this season. The Red Hawks lost to Duke by 34, Ohio State by 21, and Kansas by 27, but it was the athleticism of the Morris twins who combined for 38/15 coming off the bench that seemed to make the biggest impression.
Illinois Starts off Big Ten 2-0. The Illini got a key home win on Sunday with its victory over Wisconsin in Champaign. Combined with a win at Iowa last week, and Bruce Weber’s team crystallizes just how important scheduling is in conference races. A winnable road game followed by a home game against a team they’ll likely battle all year in the second tier of the conference race. Contrast this with Minnesota who currently sits at 0-2 as a result of road games to Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Syracuse, Cincinnati & St. John’s Do Likewise. With respect to SU and UC, again, scheduling. Syracuse feasted on two more home meals with Seton Hall and Notre Dame visiting the Carrier Dome, while Cincy got DePaul and the Hall to visit the Queen City. The anomaly of this group is Steve Lavin’s Johnnies. Somehow the same team that lost to Fordham and St. Bonnie managed to get Big East road wins at WVU and Providence last week. If his team is turning a corner, we’ll find out on Big Monday as they host Georgetown at MSG.
After a hectic off-season that included a move from the ACC, Oliver Purnell has flown under the radar for most of this season as DePaul has struggled to a 6-6 record so far. There has been a lot of talk about how Purnell could turn the program around if he can take back control of Chicago from the other programs that have raided it for numerous stars in the past few years (Derrick Rose and Evan Turner come to mind). Some NBA scouts believes that Purnell may have a more difficult time than originally stated and that this may be his toughest resurrection job yet. The basic premise is that geographically the local players that Clemson used to get who were passed over by the ACC powers might still want to stay local whereas the Chicago players who get passed over by the Big East powers will probably opt to play for a Big Ten team rather than DePaul, a team that is essentially a Big East doormat.
After UConn‘s loss at Pittsburgh, Jim Calhoun had plenty to be upset about (essentially everything except for Kemba Walker‘s offensive play), but it looks like he took out the brunt of it on Alex Oriakhi, who only managed 8 points and 1 rebound in 19 minutes. We aren’t going to question Calhoun’s methods as he certainly has a few more national championship rings and has done a better job at dealing with the egos of young, talented males who probably have never been told that they did something wrong, but we have to wonder how Oriakhi will respond particularly if Calhoun keeps him in the doghouse for a little while. It is worth keeping an eye on as he may be the Huskies only reliable scoring option outside of Walker and if Oriakhi falls apart the Huskies may follow his lead.
For the second consecutive season Marquette lost a freshman who wanted to transfer mid-way through the season. This time it was Chicago native Reggie Smith who decided to transfer citing a lack of playing time. The transfer itself isn’t particularly big news as Smith was only averaging 1.4 points per game and 1.5 rebounds per game although it leaves the Golden Eagles with only 4 scholarship guards, but we did find the assertion by Buzz Williams that 40% of freshman transfer as rather amusing. We haven’t run the numbers on that, but we would be surprised because that would mean that on average a program would lose 1 or 2 freshmen each year.
Most of the college basketball world is fixated on the remaining undefeated teams, but there are others who are focused on the other end of the spectrum–the teams that have yet to win a game. As of this weekend there were six teams left that had yet to win a game although the likelihood of them going through the entire season without a win (based on Pomeroy’s numbers) varies greatly. I’m not sure what it says about us that we are familiar with all of those schools even if we haven’t seen those teams yet this season.
A few days ago we had some fun at Joe Lunardi’s expense based on his ridiculous early assertion that both Gonzaga and Butler may have played themselves out of the NCAA Tournament by early December, but his list of 37 thoughts (ESPN Insider again, sorry) is worth a look even if most of them aren’t particularly insightful or earth-shattering. The most interesting thing in there is that he think that Kentucky will get a #1 seed. . .in the NCAA Tournament. If he is right, I will have to tip my hat even if I will ridicule some of his other assertions as I don’t think you will find even the most delusional Wildcat fan who would agree with this team of being deserving of a #1 seed based on their play this season and Lunardi does not even seem to be insinuating that he thinks that Enes Kanter might be coming back to play for the Wildcats this season.
Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this piece he’ll spend each week reviewing the five things he loved and hated about the previous week of college basketball.
The Five Things I Loved This Week
I LOVED…..a monster throwdown over a brave defender. Too often these days the defensive player gets out of the way, fearful of ending up on the wrong end of an ESPN Top Ten nominee. But not Georgetown sophomore Hollis Thompson. He stood tall in the paint and boldly said “Posterize me,” to Memphis’ D.J. Stephens, who replied, “As you wish” in rim-rocking fashion. Also, you have to love that “Blake Griffin-esque” was the first adjective used by the announcers on the slo-mo replay.
I LOVED…..how many players rotate through the “No. 1 draft prospect in America” slot during the college season. First it was UNC’s Harrison Barnes, before he even took a shot. Then it was Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger for a bit, followed by some rumblings about Baylor’s Perry Jones. Of course we haven’t even gotten to the NCAA Tournament yet, that wonderful showcase that tends to exponentially inflate or deflate draft projections (remember Joakim Noah’s rise to the top of the board after Florida’s first title?). Stay tuned – next week’s No. 1 pick could be coming to a court near you.
I LOVED…..that Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald felt so bad about his team’s performance that he reimbursed fans for their gas mileage. How awesome is that in today’s coaching world, which has plenty of big egos and more than a hint of the “don’t blame me” philosophy. You have to wonder why some big-name coaches don’t do things like this. Obviously it’s harder with larger fan bases, but big-name coaches make big-time money, and creative PR moves like this can go a long way. My hat is off to the Hilltoppers.
I LOVED…..an awkward moment. And who doesn’t love awkward moments, if we’re truly honest with ourselves. This week we had a doozy. Roy Williams, he of Carolina upbringing and the understudy of legendary Dean Smith (synonymous with God in Tar Heel country), released his necessary statement of admiration for Mike Krzyzewski as the Duke coach gets set to pass Smith in all-time wins. Take a read – it’s a humorous mixture of, “Yes this is amazing that you broke this record and I’m congratulating you” and “but you’re also passing my idol which really really sucks.” Oh and PS, these two coach in the sport’s biggest rivalry and don’t really get along that well to start with. Wayda suck it up Roy.
I LOVED…..a feel-good story. This one comes from Presbyterian College, which has a unique group of players who thought they would get a shot to play in the NCAA Tournament, only for the school to be denied Division I status. The cool part? Their studs all decided to stay and finish what they started, even though they won’t get a chance to be on CBS in March. Give it a read for a nice, refreshing change from the big-time programs.
The Five Things I Hated This Week
I HATED…..Renardo Sidney’s ridiculousness in the stands in Hawaii. Maybe it brings back too many eerie memories of Ron Artest’s rampage into the crowd, but any fan of college basketball has to cringe at what this type of publicity does to the sport. Yeah, the first instinct might be to smile and shake your head, but it’s downright embarrassing for the Mississippi State program – and a poor reflection on college athletes.
Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.
A Look Back
Count me as one who didn’t see Festus Ezeli coming. Vanderbilt’s player with the coolest name in the Southeastern Conference was named SEC player of the week for his superior play against Western Kentucky and Belmont, averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks including a 24/10 performance against Belmont. He now sports numbers of 13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks per game. And he’s doing it in only 21.3 minutes an outing. He also leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 67.7%. No bad for a guy who last year averaged 3.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest. I for one was critical of Vanderbilit in the preseason claiming they would be weak inside after losing AJ Ogilvy. Uncle Festus has done a fantastic job thus far and will be pivotal in some of the close SEC contests that Vanderbilt is likely to face in the stacked SEC East.
Speaking of Vanderbilt, three different Vanderbilt players — Brad Tinsley, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli — have been named player of the week. Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson is the only other player in the league to be given the honor. Also, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris have been trading off freshman of the week honors. If the pattern holds, it’s Jones’ week, a sight Wildcats fans would welcome after Jones’ horrendous 3-17 foul-out performance against North Carolina on Saturday.
In other Wildcat news, after Auburn football’s Cam Newton was declared eligible by the NCAA, the University of Kentucky opted to re-submit their case for Enes Kanter’s eligibility from a different angle rather than go through the appeals process. The NCAA explained their decision to allow Newton to play by stating that there was no evidence that Newton had any idea that his father was shopping his skills to universities for pay. In the NCAA’s eyes, as Newton was unaware that there was any issue with his amateurism, he should remain eligible to play. UK hopes that the NCAA will hold form in what it sees as a similar case with a precedent and pass down a favorable ruling on Kanter, who is a Turkish national that received benefits above expenses while playing for a professional team in his homeland. Kanter, his family and the school maintain that Kanter intended to play college basketball all along and did not intentionally violate any rules. The NCAA allows foreign players to play on professional teams and maintain their amateurism so long as they do not receive benefits above expenses.
Auburn and Missisippi State have yet to play a road game. Auburn at least will head to Pittsburgh to play Rutgers in a neutral site game as part of the SEC/Big East Invitational. Mississippi State, however, will be relaxing at home this week as they won’t hit the road until December 18, when they face Virginia Tech. Hey, isn’t that when Renardo Sidney finally plays?
Tennessee(6-0): Tennessee is the lone undefeated team in the SEC. Plus they didn’t play this week, which means their record went untarnished. The Volunteers are taking an 11-day break while they prepare for Pittsburgh. I guess it’s kind of tough to recover after facing Middle Tennessee at home.
Vanderbilt (7-1): Vanderbilt just keeps climbing. Their only loss is to West Virginia. No shame in that, and should they beat Missouri on Wednesday, they are all but guaranteed a top 25 ranking – A pleasant surprise for a team that was picked to finish fifth in East by the media, this writer included.
South Carolina (6-1): Like Vanderbilt, South Carolina continues to impress. Their sole blemish is a hard-fought loss to Michigan State in their second game of the year. Again, no shame in that. This week, they beat Delaware State and then beat Clemson in a 64-60 thriller that came down to the final minute, just the way you like to beat an in-state rival.
Georgia (6-2) After two straight tough losses to Notre Dame and Temple, Georgia has won three in a row. One of those is a three-point win against Manhattan, a team that is now 2-6 and hasn’t made the Tournament since 2004. Georgia followed that up with a 66-64 win over UAB and a 73-72 close call against rival Geogia Tech. With Trey Thompkins playing better after a couple of unsteady early games, all should be back on track in Athens. Thompkins is averaging 19.7 points and 7.7 rebounds and shooting well after scoring 13 in each of his first two games on 37% from the field.
Kentucky (5-2): What to do with Kentucky? They lost to North Carolina in their only game this week, so perhaps they should go lower than some other teams on this list, but to drop them to sixth or below seems absurd. Kentucky had no answer for Tyler Zeller on Saturday and the hole inside became a gaping chasm on Saturday when big men Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas combined for 15 fouls, 3 turnovers, 1 assist and only 13 points on 5-19 shooting. I can hear the “Free Enes” chants coming from UK’s campus even with my headphones blasting Smashing Pumpkins. (Hey, I’m a nineties kid).
Arkansas (5-1): Arkansas went 2-0 this week against Oklahoma and Troy. But then again, who in the SEC hasn’t beaten these teams? Kentucky beat Oklahoma and the Sooners have lost four since and the SEC is beating up on Troy left and right. The Trojans have already taken their licks from Alabama and Mississippi State and now Arkansas. Their lone win is against Division-II Huntington (AL). Coach Pelphrey, I’d love to rank you higher this week, but I can’t against these teams. Come back with a couple more wins next week and we’ll talk.
Florida(6-2): The Gators lost to Central Florida after eking out a close one against Florida State. I know they went and pummeled American just after that and I know UCF is now 7-0, but I also know that a team with Florida’s talent shouldn’t be dropping games like that. When starting forwards Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons combine to go 1-14 against much smaller competition, there are problems. Furthermore, I didn’t think it was possible, but Kenny Boynton is even worse from three this year than last year. He is currently shooting 26.5 percent, compared to 29.4 percent in 2009-10. Dreadful. I wasn’t convinced this group of Gators was much better than last year’s, when the media was picking them to win the SEC and possibly make a Final Four run and they are proving me the wiser. Step it up, Florida. There’s a lot of work to be done before conference play starts.
Mississippi(4-2): Luckily for the Rebels, Chris Warren can make those off-balance threes when they matter. Well, at least against Southern Mississippi he can. He’s only shooting 28 percent on the year from three, but he shot 4-9 from deep against Southern Miss in his best game this season. That’s a good win for Mississippi against a quality opponent. Look for Southern Mississippi to do good things in Conference USA this year.
Mississippi State(4-1): The Bulldogs didn’t play this week, but RavernJohnson still leads the SEC in scoring at 25.4 per game, and he’s got plenty of breathing room. Kentucky’s Terrence Jones is second at 19.0 points per game. Additionally, Kodi Augustus continues to lead the league in rebounding at 10.8 per game.
LSU (5-2): Also didn’t play anyone this week. The Tigers have been on the road exactly once so far, against South Alabama. They return to the Maravich to square off against the Central Michigan Chippewas in the second of seven straight home games. Show me something, Trent Johnson.
Auburn (3-4) Well, this is the first week Auburn hasn’t been in last place. I’m not totally sure they deserve the honor, if you want to call it that. It’s never impressive to see a Division-II team on the schedule. Auburn beat Georgia Southwestern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff this week, both at home. I guess when you’re playing the tough ones, you want to give yourself that homecourt advantage.
Alabama (4-4) The Tide beat South Alabama 72-50 and then got worked over by Purdue 66-47 in a game in which they went 0-9 from three. I really thought Alabama was going to be better than this. The three-point shooting is terrible and they turn the ball over too much. And it’s not like they’ve played the toughest competition. Purdue is the first team Alabama has played that should have had a shot at beating the Tide. On the bright side, I’m sure they’ll jump back in front of in-state rival Auburn next week.
A Look Ahead
The SEC/Big East Invitational is this week and can I just say that this event has turned out to be a major disappointment on the part of the conference’s planners. Here is the lineup this year:
12/8: Arkansas vs. Seton Hall, Kentucky vs. Notre Dame
12/11: Auburn vs. Rutgers, Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh
As my father used to say about my shoddy yardwork, “This ain’t cuttin’ it.” Can we please get some kind of a legitimate invitational here? The matchups in this series are continually disappointing. We’re lucky that Notre Dame has been surprisingly good this year, or the Tennessee/Pitt game would be the only one worth watching. There are 28 teams between these two conferences and these are the eight teams they schedule? Where are Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt? Where are Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, Georgetown, and Villanova? Instead of providing us with some marquee publicity-generating matchups, we are given perennial cellar dwellers Auburn, Rutgers and Seton Hall. Really? As I said, it ain’t cuttin’ it.
Other Important Games this Week
12/8 – Vanderbilt at Missouri: If Vanderbilt picks up a win here and wins the games they are supposed to through the rest of the preseason, they’ve probably all but assured themselves an NCAA Tournament bid. All that’s left is the seeding.
12/11 – Kentucky vs. Indiana: Twelve championships between them and a long-standing history of hoops tradition. What’s not to like?
In the wake of last night’s Jimmy V Classic where Kansas beat Memphis, two different national writers came up with dramatically different takes as to how KU will handle the addition of Rivals’ #1 recruit Josh Selby later this month. Jason King believes that the conventional wisdom — that adding a star player to an already talented group — will make Kansas into a great team; while Jeff Goodman takes the contrary position that Selby may upset the fragile chemistry of a team that Bill Self has playing great already — especially guard Tyshawn Taylor, the player most likely to be impacted by Selby’s court time. Regardless, everyone will be watching in ten days when USC visits Allen Fieldhouse for the ginormous debut of the player who could make or break Kansas’ season.
Speaking of ineligible players, need an update on the Enes Kanter eligibility case (and we know you do)? Matt Jones of KSR interviews The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy in this video clip that discusses the various possibilities surrounding the big Turk’s situation, especially as it relates to the argument that Auburn successfully made to get quarterback Cam Newton eligible. There’s still not timetable on this situation, but news could come literally any day now.
Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress takes a look at the six freshmen who NBA scouts have been the most impressed with in the early going this season. It should come as utterly no surprise that Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Kentucky’s Terrence Jones have been popping the most eyeballs in the early going. One notable name not on the list: none other than preseason AP All-American, Harrison Barnes.
While on the subject of elite freshmen, Luke Winn writes about his concept of Freshmen Who Fit, basically asserting that part of the reason for frosh who succeed has as much to do with talent as it does to finding the right situation. True in most aspects of life, it’s a poignant yet simple concept that still most people tend to overlook. He suggests that Tennessee’s Tobias Harris is the best example of this, and adds four other names to the list. Worth a read.
Arizona is getting some early-season love from the hoopsnoscenti for its play so far this season, sitting at 7-1 with its only loss to Kansas and boasting one of the best power forwards in the nation, Derrick Williams. In this video clip promoted through Pac-10 Digital, Sean Miller talks about what he expects from his team this season and how he’s going about rebuilding a program in the desert. Within a couple years, we believe that Arizona will once again be the dominant force in the Pac-10.
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Top 25 Games
#4 Kansas 81, #18 Memphis 68: “Efficiency is the word. Kansas has it on the offensive end and it’s something they can be even better at. Clean up the silly empty possessions and the sky is the limit.” (Rock Chalk Talk)
Quick Look at Maryland-UNC Greensboro: The Return of the Cupcakes: After a challenging stretch of games the Terps appear to be getting a respite. (Testudo Times)