Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer for Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
The launch of the 2008-09 season has seen some national attention and notable success for the Big South, mixed in with some results below expectations as well. Here’s the rundown:
Out of Conference…
After well over a dozen games so far against major conference squads, most have naturally gone to the favorites on their home courts, but Big South squads certainly turned heads with two quality upsets. VMI struck first by dumping Kentucky 111-103 at Rupp Arena. It was the first win for the Keydets against a team from the SEC since 1975-76 (Tennessee). Of course, it’s the second consecutive year for the Wildcats to fall to a current Big South school: Gardner-Webb defeated UK as an Atlantic Sun team last year. Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, Liberty added a notch in the upset column for the Flames by upending the Virginia Cavaliers 86-82. UVa had already collected wins over VMI and Radford, but the ACC’s Cavs failed to sweep the Virginia set of Big South hoopsters thanks to LU. Outside of those two big games, there were some close results, but let’s not resort to discussing any clichéd “moral victories” versus the big boys of the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, etc. (Note—major upcoming match-ups between Thanksgiving and Christmas include a trio of biggies for UNC Asheville: North Carolina, Tennessee, and Duke!)
10:02 am — OK, back for more. A little Drexel-Penn for your Tuesday morning. Come on, is ESPN serious about this this stuff? They don’t even have a GameCast going for this one. Amateurs! OK, I’ll stop. Right now I have to give props to the Drexel students, because they have stepped up, here. They’re in full face/body paint, wigs, etc. Even for the ones who are just in their “Fear the Fire” t-shirts, they’re there in force. They’ve filled that arena. It’s rare that ANY college student is gonna get up at 10am for anything, so to show up like they have for a game at this time of day — even if it is a Big Five game — has got to earn some props. This looks just like a night game in terms of the crowd behavior. What this really is, is a total bonanza for any professors at Drexel who might be the attendance-taking type. They could literally just pause the broadcast periodically and check off truant students on their roll sheets by the dozen. I hated those professors…
10:26am — Drexel is the better team so far. They’re outhustling Penn, who actually does look tired. Drexel is up 8 with 12 minutes to go in the first half and this could get out of hand for the Quakers in short order if they don’t get their heads in it.
10:30am — Drexel extends…up ten at the under-8 timeout.
10:35am — Drexel is doing this with defense and hustle. They’re winning every loose ball. This is a Penn squad who only lost to UNC by 15, and they’re already down 14 to the Dragons and we’re coming up on the under-4 timeout.
10:41am — The first hyping of UNC-Kentucky. I’m reminded of the time in 1995 when CBS was broadcasting an elite eight game involving those two teams (the one where Rasheed Wallace got choked — I don’t mean he CHOKED, I mean he GOT choked by Kentucky’s Andre Riddick during a scuffle early on) and Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery showed up in tuxedos, given the history of the two programs. I think whoever’s calling tonight’s game should do the same, especially with the almost constant hype.
10:51am — Halftime…34-27, Drexel. This could have been worse for Penn who are in full sleepwalking mode. Drexel decided to chuck (and miss) some threes late in the half; they have the better athletes but a couple of ill-advised shots and a couple of hand-checking fouls let Penn back into this. If Penn wakes up at halftime, things could get interesting.
Right now, I’m actually a little impressed with Drexel. Bruiser Flint has got his team mentally ready, except for that hiccup at the end of the half, and I’m gonna repeat my props to the crowd. Drexel doesn’t look like a team playing their first game of the season, they look like they’re on number five or six.
I’m not complaining (heh heh….) but I’m starting to realize that maybe grabbing a nap before starting this endeavor may have been a good call, instead of working a whole day. Oh, I’m not goin’ anywhere…but the coffee machine is now operational.
11:45pm ET — Greetings, fellow hoop lovers, and welcome to the ESPN 24-hour Marathon of Hoops Rush The Court live blog. John Stevens, here, ready to truly kick off the college hoops season in freakin’ insane style. I’ll be live-blogging the entire way — that’s right, baby, the WHOLE WAY! — so if you’re out there watching the games, by all means leave a comment.
Of course, I don’t mean to imply any connection between ESPN and RTC with the title of this post. But a while back it was posted here that ESPN really had a great idea when they came up with this, and I for one definitely appreciate that they’re kicking off their coverage in this way. So the title merely refers to the fact that…well, if they’re gonna broadcast it, I’m gonna watch it, and what the heck, I might as well live-blog it.
Why, you ask? Several reasons. First and foremost, my love for college basketball. This off-season has seemed especially long and I’m happy that my favorite sport is finally back. I’ve also got the next 6.5 days off from my real job, an occupation that sometimes has me up overnight anyway. So what better way to kick off my leisure time. I also assume that the more teams I familiarize myself with, the better served I’ll be when the annual mid-March (read: first-and-second rounds) Rush The Court field trip to Las Vegas happens. We go for the museums, but in case we happen to catch an early-round game on a gigantic TV (or six), well, I’ll know more about who I’m watching.
When RTMSF and I first talked about me live-blogging during this offering by ESPN, as usual he was worried about liability; he suggested I go have a quick physical to make sure I could make it through the next 24 hours intact. The address he gave me, though, turned out to be a guy working out of the trunk of his car behind the local movie theatre. I called RTMSF to verify that I had gone to the right place, and he said, “Yeah, the guy in the beret? Yep. That’s him. He’ll take care of you.” Naturally I fled, so let me just say that even though I haven’t been medically cleared for this, I’m doing it of my own accord.
So let’s do this thing. I’ve got 24 hours of college hoops ahead of me. I’ve retired to the cushy environs of the Rush The Court Eastern Compound and assumed a spot in one of our beautiful leather home theatre reclining chairs that would make Turtle from Entourage proud. I’ve got the three LCD HD’s going. I’ve got a fridge stocked with energy drinks. I’ve got a remote control the size of a law school textbook in my hands. I’ve got snow falling outside. And did I mention the 6.5 days off??? It’s time for some serious hoops. We’ll kick things off with UMass-Memphis in about 15 minutes.
12:09 am — We’re off. Two big pieces of news have already come down today, so let me mention them now. The biggest is the death of Pete Newell, a name that sounds strange to say without the words “Big Man Camp” coming directly after. His influence on the game of basketball is immeasurable. As you’ve seen already, not only did he achieve that rare (as in three people, ever) basketball trifecta of coaching an Olympic gold medal squad (1960), an NIT champion (1949), and an NCAA champion (1959)…he only worked with some of the biggest names in the history of the game via his Big Man Camp, like Abdul-Jabbar, Olajuwan, Walton, O’Neal, and countless others. He might not be one of the names that immediately comes to mind if you were to sit down and come up with a “Mt. Rushmore” of American basketball, but he sure makes a strong case.
The other bit of far-less-important news is that Tyler Hansbrough is a no-go against Kentucky on Tuesday night. Not surprised at this. It wasn’t discussed much last year, but quite frankly Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson outplayed Hansbrough; hoops fans who wanted to see how Hansbrough would respond will have to wait a while, unless UNC and UK end up meeting in the tournament somehow. It’ll have to happen in the NBA — and Kentucky fans hope it won’t be next year.
12:20am — We’re through two TV timeouts and this has been a YMCA game. More turnovers than field goals. Lots of threes gettin’ jacked up. UMass has come out in the “sagging man-to-man” which is daring Memphis to bomb away from the outside. They’re more than happy to oblige, which is why they find themselves only up one point almost midway through the half. This will probably be the trend in a lot of these games in the next 24 hours — sloppy Y-ball for the first half, then guys relaxing into their roles in the second and things becoming a little more organized.
12:45am — Memphis’ athletes are starting to assume control with about 5 minutes left in the first half. Tyreke Evans is an absolute pest on defense and despite the strange anatomy of his jump shot, it’s kind of nice to watch. UMass is relying on the drive-and-kickout right now, and Ricky Harris is keeping them in it. Memphis’ turnovers are helping, too. UMass only down 6 right now…
12:58am — Memphis with a 33-25 lead at the half. UMass is still in this game for two reasons: 1) Memphis’ shot selection, or lack of desire to work inside the paint. Robert Dozier is indeed the Tigers’ leading scorer with 12, but he’s 0/3 from the 3-pt line, and he has zero attempts from the line. 2) As soon as Memphis expanded the lead to double-digits and looked like they were about to out-athleticize the Minutemen, UMass showed an ability to grab a loose ball or force a Memphis turnover and capitalize on it. If UMass can calm themselves (no small feat in this environment), they can stay close and may find themselves within striking distance late. If Memphis calms down and plays to their strengths (size and athleticism), they could put this one away rather easily.
1:01am — We have a Tom Brennan sighting! He is very subtly giving a nod to his past at the University of Vermont, with the dark green blazer and yellow tie. He agrees with me in his assessment of the game so far — “It’s a mess.” Amen, sir.
1:15am — Shooting stats for the first half: From 3pt range…UMass 3/13 (23.1%), Memphis 1/12 (8.3%!!!). Egad.
1:22am — The second half starts with not much new…hectic pace, lots of bad shots. UMass is actually outhustling Memphis to every loose ball but they’re giving up some easy points off of turnovers. Memphis has decided to exploit their athleticism by picking up full court, but UMass seems ready; props to Coach Kellogg for prepping his team for this. Unfortunately for the Minutemen, on their last four possessions, Memphis has gone inside (a couple of ill-advised threes led to offensive boards) and the lead is now 11.
1:31am — Tony Gaffney is playing his butt off for UMass with 9 points and 12 boards, but Memphis is starting to look a little too long and quick. Tyreke Evans got an earful from Coach Calipari after a terrible three-point attempt, has gone inside on his last two touches, and scored twice. He’s got 17 now. Still…UMass continues to frustrate Memphis on defense…it’s still only 11 at the under-12 TV timeout.
1:42am — RTMSF just called me to tell me he’s going to the St. Mary’s game. Jackass.
1:46am — Memphis is starting to wear down the Minutemen and are getting some easy layups, and the lead is 61-44. The UMass players are standing straight up on defense. Coach Kellogg calls a timeout 2 seconds before the under-8 TV timeout — definitely a testimonial to the fatigue of his squad.
Calipari is begging his team not to chuck threes. It’s hilarious. Every time one of his players goes up for a long-range jumper, Calipari assumes the expression of someone who has just had his face farted on. His players have gotten the message, though.
1:56am — I’m not sure I’m on board with the Memphis home uniforms. The front is a clean white, and the back is a slightly darker beige/grey. UMass is of course wearing their away maroons, so at times, on the hi-def, it looks like there are three different teams on the floor. Maybe I’m getting a little chippy because it’s a 21-pt bulge (70-49) with five minutes left. And because RTMSF is going to the freakin’ St. Mary’s-Fresno State game.
2:04am — 76-49. Tony Gaffney’s played his tail off for UMass (14p 20r) but Memphis’ seemingly interchangable parts have put a lid on this one.