The biggest news to release on Wednesday was that the ACChas renegotiated its television rights deal with ESPN in light of the fact that it has added two additional members. The twin poaching of Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East last year will result in a 32.9% increased annual payout for each school — from an average of $12.9M to $17.1M — proving that the new reality of cable channels willing to pay exorbitant amounts for college sports isn’t drying up anytime soon. The total amount ESPN paid for the rights to ACC football and basketball through 2026-27 is $3.6 billion, ensuring that Dookie V. will remain in his catbird seat at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the rest of his life.
Realignment has allowed the ACC and the Big 12 (reportedly) to re-negotiate their television deals in their favor this week, so it’s unsurprising that further positioning is already under way. Chip Brown at Orangebloods.com floated a scenario yesterday that suggests the ACC’s Florida State could find a better deal over in the Big 12 ($19M per year), a conference that might also allow the Seminoles to develop its own Longhorn-style network (worth another estimated $5M per year). Very little would surprise us at this point, and the dollars talk — for the better part of two decades, FSU has seemed a strange fit in the basketball-centric ACC, so a jump to the Big 12 with no invitation to the SEC forthcoming seems just as reasonable as anything else. Maybe they could go west as a package deal: According to Andy Katz’s report from the new Big East commissioner’s conference call on Wednesday, Louisville has informed the other schools in its league that they’re gone at the first decent offer (presumably from the Big 12 or ACC). We’re sure there will be no shortage of this chatter for the next, oh, four months.
Open and notorious solicitation of a school wanting to join a new conference isn’t confined only to the power leagues, of course. Oakland University (located in metro Detroit, not northern California) is hoping for consideration to replace Butler in the Horizon League when the Fighting Brad Stevenses move on to the Atlantic 10 after next season. A decade ago local rival Detroit, not wanting to share geographic space within the same league, managed to keep Oakland out — whether they’ll be able to turn down a program out of the Summit League that has made the NCAA Tournament three times in the last eight years remains to be seen. But it appears to be a natural fit if Detroit can find a way to play nice.
With the coaching carousel winding down (only three jobs open currently), Jeff Goodmanrates some of the notable coaching hires of this offseason. Although he doesn’t give actual grades to the decisions thus far, it’s interesting that he writes that the Larry Brown hire at SMU is the one where he’s “Not sold… yet.” In reading through this list, though, perhaps the most striking thing in a year where there have been 43 coaching openings so far, is that brand-name jobs have quite simply not been available. Which was the best opening — Virginia Tech? Kansas State? It has definitely not been a good year for aspiring young coaches to trade up — at least, not yet.
It wasn’t a 1500-word missive to make his case for ‘nontraditional’ scheduling for a ‘nontraditional’ yet tradition-rich program, but Indiana’s Tom Crean on Wednesday gave his side of the story in the Great Scheduling Debate involving Kentucky and IU’s terminated home-and-home series. Crean basically argues that Indiana is already playing several neutral site games with the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis and whichever exempt tournament that it is invited to in a given season (e.g., next year’s Legends Classic), so it doesn’t make sense for the Hoosiers to play yet another neutral site game with Kentucky. He also reminds everyone that it was the Wildcats, not the Hoosiers (both under different head coaches at the time, who moved the game back on campus in the mid-2000s after a 15-year run at neutral venues. As we argued on Tuesday, though, the notion that teams should play as many as a quarter of its pre-NCAA schedule in neutral venues seems a bit ridiculous to us, but we’re mostly bitter about the loss of one of the best regional rivalries in college basketball, so don’t mind us.
Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the year. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hall of Fame power forward Charles Barkley has become without question one of the most entertaining analysts on sports television. TNT’s Inside the NBA has been must-watch television for over a decade now in large part because of his wit and wisdom, and Barkley’s recent foray into college basketball analysis with Turner Sports has helped pick up what had been a somewhat stuffy studio environment. For the past month, Rush the Court has been providing a weekly column called What Would Charles Say? on Barkley’s website, and he was gracious enough to allow us to spend some time with him this week for a short Q&A.
Charles Barkley Will Provide Analysis All March Long for the NCAA Tournament
Rush the Court: Charles, the big news early this week was the news that Fab Melo was ruled ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. I was hoping to get your take on how you feel that impacts the chances for Syracuse and Jim Boeheim to get to the Final Four and win a national championship this year?
Charles Barkley: Well, I think that they probably can’t win the championship, but they’re still deep enough to go deep into the Tournament. But I don’t think they can win it without him… but they’re still the deepest team in the Tournament, honestly, top to bottom.
RTC: So the news has come out that this relates to an academic issue for Melo, and with all the academic services that schools give these guys nowadays, how does that happen? How do you drop the ball so badly that you’re not even eligible for the Tournament?
CB: Well, to me it’s very frustrating, because if you get this deep in the season, you should already have all that stuff squared away. I mean… c’mon man. You’re really letting your team down at this point.
RTC:Certainly. Well let me ask you about last year, there was a little bit of criticism with you, Kenny [Smith], and Ernie [Johnson], as knowledgeable as you guys are about NBA stuff, coming in to the college basketball world and giving your takes with maybe not having watched games the whole season. But that ended very quickly with your take on the Big East — how it wasn’t as good as everybody thought — with nine out of the 11 teams gone by the end of the first weekend. Do you have any early takes this year on maybe a conference or teams that you’re just not buying?
Man, ACC play is so boring and predictable. Rivalries without luster, no intrigue. Blegh. I can barely remember anything that happened last night.
Austin Rivers... For the Win (Getty)
Of course, I’m kidding as Austin Rivers hit the shot to give Duke a miraculous win against North Carolina in the finest rivalry in college sports. Rivers was truly impressive, but it’s hard to know what lesson to take away from Duke’s victory. If I told Roy Williams that his team would shoot better from the field, indeed, shooting nearly 50%, score 20 points from the free throw line, and turn the ball over less than 10 times, he would probably be happy with that. That’s what Carolina did and it simply wasn’t enough. How did Duke win? Well first, the game plan is the perfect illustration of how one should take down North Carolina. Mike Krzyzewski’s game plan leveraged the greatest weakness in North Carolina’s defense: the perimeter. Duke took an astounding 36 three-point shots, making an impressive 14. As an illustration of how insane this is, Wake Forest in their loss against Virginia last night managed to shoot only 41 field goals. Of all the field goals that Duke took, 58.1% of the shots were three-pointers. On the season, no team is averaging over 50% threes. By making them at a 38.9% clip, it didn’t matter how Duke performed on defense or if they could score on the interior. If Duke can maintain this style of leveraged offensive efficiency, they are going to be really hard to stop. Perfectly game-planned. By contrast, North Carolina shot six three-pointers and made one.
The other thing that Duke did really well against North Carolina was get to the free throw line. North Carolina is the best team in the country at not fouling, but with consistent driving, Duke somehow managed to get to the line 26 times. It was an impressive performance, which is one of the other reasons this game is a bit confusing. As good as Duke was at scoring, sheer ineptitude on the glass and indifferent defense almost totally offset all the impressive things that Duke did. Remember it took a weird accidental defensive tip-in from Tyler Zeller for Duke to eke out a one-point victory. As good as a win is this is, would Duke even be considered the favorite for the rematch at home? It was a memorable and miraculous win, but the exceptional, rare nature of miracles makes it hard to draw any conclusions from a maddeningly inconsistent Duke team.
Of course, considering the nature of North Carolina’s bizarre last two minute collapse, the Tar Heels have just as much if not more soul-searching to do.
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the rest of the season. Feel free to leave your takes below in the comments section.
This Week’s Topic: There are a number of teams trending up — Notre Dame, Florida, Pittsburgh, St. Mary’s, Florida State, Iowa State, etc. Among these and other non-elite teams, which one do you think has the best long-term prospects this season?
Andrew Murawa, Pac-12/MW Correspondent & Pac-12 Microsite Writer
When I’m looking for a sleeper team in the NCAA Tournament, I like to see size, depth, good guard play and an experienced head coach. When I look at Wisconsin, I can check off all of those categories with confidence. Still, while Bo Ryan’s Badgers have made the Tournament in each of his nine previous seasons and won at least a game in eight of those years, they’ve advanced beyond the Sweet Sixteen just once, in 2005 before losing a hard-fought regional final to North Carolina. The Badgers struggled early to replace several key big guys, and senior point guard Jordan Taylor’s numbers haven’t been up to last year’s lofty realm. But things are picking up now, as Taylor’s scored in double figures now in 14 straight games and frontcourt guys like Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren have stepped into that typical three-point shooting big man role for Wisconsin. Given the right matchups, this team could be playing into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and possibly beyond.
Walker Carey, Correspondent
I am going with Notre Dame. Three weeks ago this answer would have been insane, but look what the Irish have accomplished in that time – wins at home versus Syracuse and Marquette and road victories over Seton Hall, Connecticut, and West Virginia. Mike Brey has his squad playing much better than anyone would have ever imagined. The most surprising part of Notre Dame’s resurgence has been that it has come without the services of preseason All-Big East senior forward Tim Abromaitis, who tore his ACL in late November. While at first the Irish struggled mightily without him, they are currently in a groove led by a variety of players. Sophomore guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, freshman guard Pat Connaughton, junior forward Jack Cooley, and senior forward Scott Martin have all been instrumental to the season’s turnaround. If the Irish continue to show great defense, smart basketball, and timely shooting, I think it is reasonable to believe that Mike Brey’s squad will be a force to be reckoned with in March.
Kenny Ocker, Correspondent
With the exception of its second inexplicable conference loss Wednesday night, Florida State has the best prospects throughout the rest of this season, mostly because of its conference form and remaining schedule. Before the BC debacle, the Seminoles had run off seven straight wins to sit atop the ACC. In those seven straight wins are victories against the three other ACC contenders — a 33-point shellacking of North Carolina at home, a 76-73 win at Duke, and a 58-55 win over Virginia at home on Saturday. According to Ken Pomeroy, Florida State is in a dead heat with North Carolina to become the outright ACC regular-season champion, but the Seminoles hold the tiebreaker against the Tar Heels because they only play once this season. The best part of this recent run of form for Florida State is that it has been keyed by the team’s offense, which ranks second in the ACC in efficiency, but the team’s stalwart defense hasn’t gone anywhere either. Although the Seminoles seemingly peaked with their Sweet Sixteen run last season, the potential is there for this team to reach those heights again this season, or possibly go beyond.
This Weekend’s Lede. Forget the Super Bowl, it’s Rivalry Week across the college basketball nation… On Saturday, it was a Border War to remember, followed by a Sunday battle for bragging rights in Michigan, and we have a whole slew of great rivalry games coming up this week. From Florida-Kentucky to Duke-Carolina to Syracuse-Georgetown to even Gonzaga-St. Mary’s and Creighton-Wichita State, center stage is now ours. For the next 35 days until Selection Sunday, games will count a little more than they did before as teams position themselves for the postseason. And for that guy who says the college basketball regular season doesn’t matter? Remind him of three of the last five Super Bowl champions — one 9-7 team and two 10-6 teams won it all, while a 16-0 and a 15-1 team ended up ringless. This is why we play the games.
Your Watercooler Moment. The “Last” Border War in Columbia Goes to Missouri.
Marcus Denmon Motions At Students To Stay Put (credit: The Dagger/J. Eisenberg)
The storylines coming out of the “last” Border War game in Columbia, Missouri, on Saturday night were compelling — Game of the Year type of stuff. Even beyond the hyperbole about marauding Jayhawkers, divorced families and the finality of it all (we’ll wager the two schools are playing regularly again within five years), the game itself captured the essence of college basketball rivalry better than any other we’ve seen this year. Both Kansas and Missouri are outstanding teams, filled with playmakers on each side who are, depending on the day, equal parts dominant and confounding. For parts of the game, Kansas’ favorite whipping boy, Tyshawn Taylor, appeared the best player on the floor — driving the ball with confidence for a 21-point, highly efficient 9-15 shooting game; but it was his late-game mistakes that again cost his team when it mattered most. A turnover followed by two big misses at the foul line with KU down only one point leading to an admittedly questionable charge call, again punctuate his bugaboos (inconsistency and turnovers, especially in the clutch), issues that will haunt Jayhawk fans long after he’s gone. His counterpart on the Missouri side, Marcus Denmon, had backslid considerably from his scorching nonconference start (34.3% against Big 12 competition), but for the first time in his career against Bill Self’s team, he played a focused and effective game, going for 29/9 on 10-16 shooting and singlehandedly leading the Tigers back from the brink of a crushing home defeat. The senior guard dropped a one-man 9-0 run on the Jayhawks in the span of just over a minute, first with a layup and-one, then with back-to-back dagger treys, to erase KU’s eight-point lead with two minutes to go and put the Tigers in position to win the game with just under a minute left. KU’s Thomas Robinson (25/13) was once again the best player on the floor, but it was Denmon’s leadership and poise under pressure against the Jayhawks that made all the difference. His attitude at the end of the game says it all — he and fellow senior Kim English reportedly instructed the student section to stay in its seats rather than flooding the court in a massive RTC. With age comes wisdom, and his position is correct — elite teams only rush the court under very circumscribed conditions, and the Missouri seniors did not want their accomplishment sullied by giving Kansas the pleasure. At the end of the day, the Tigers still have a couple of major flaws that they have to mask (notably, interior size and a porous defense), but with playmakers like Denmon, English, Flip Pressey and a team that believes in itself, we expect that the dream season will continue in Columbia deep into March under first-year head coach Frank Haith.
Five More Weekend Storylines.
Fab Melo Returns, Boeheim Ties Dean Smith For Third in Wins. Sophomore Syracuse center probably doesn’t know who Dean Smith is, but maybe with his extra tutelage over the last two weeks, he found time to learn some college basketball history as well. On Saturday, though, he helped his coach Jim Boeheim make history with his 879th win as he contributed a career-high 14 points in his first game back from suspension and again anchored the patented SU 2-3 zone as the Orange destroyed St. John’s from start to finish at Madison Square Garden. Boeheim’s squad had struggled through a road loss to Notre Dame and two close wins at Cincinnati and West Virginia while Melo was out of the lineup, but if Saturday’s performance with him back is any indication, Syracuse may be looking at a one-loss regular season (and Boeheim could catch Bob Knight’s 902 wins as soon as next December).
Baltimore Sun: Apparently, there was a little more drama in Maryland’s court-naming than previously thought (there was a little hiccup this summer when the athletic department was trying to decide whether to name it after Gary Williams or Lefty Driesell). According to Jeff Barker, Driesell called out the athletic department: “It’s not fair to my players that they would put Gary Williams’ name on the court.” It was hard to tell whether Driesell was jealous the court wasn’t named after him, or annoyed that it was named at all. Ignoring hurt egos the ceremony went off without a hitch (minus the loss) as students and fans packed the Comcast Center for a final chance to see Williams on the floor.
Wilmington Star News: Speaking of rivalry games, Roy Williams took some time to explain his dislike of NC State (earlier this year he said he’d shoot BB guns at Wolfpack fans in the Dean Dome). Basically, it sounds like NC State fans were mean to him growing up and never relented when he got to North Carolina: “some other people put us down any way they could to me and I took offense to that. It’s a childish way to react but it’s stuck with me.” Regardless of why, tonight’s game should be very fun to watch and features a lot of juicy match-ups on both ends.
Deseret News: Stilman White‘s name has been in the press a lot lately, but many people don’t know much about him beyond his stat line. Trent Toone adds a little to White’s background, as well as paralleling his experience with former Duke player, Matt Christensen. Christensen was a Mormon who also wanted to go on a mission, which limited his recruitment. Because Mormon athletes in the ACC are so rare, I never really thought about the issues that arise from having to leave for an extended period of time in the middle of one’s career. It took Christensen seven years before he graduated from Duke — he was never a star, only averaging around eight minutes a game, but he participated on the 2001 national championship team.
Carolina March: This is a fascinating article worth thinking about. Basically, the two questions are: “Is there an ‘ACC style of play’?” and “Does that style still exist?” Because of the recent conference expansion and coaching turnover, the answers appear to be “yes” and “no,” respectively. But what is the ACC style? Is it connected to coaches, geography or officiating? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. The midwestern style seems clear (“slow”). The northeastern is debatable but “physical” is the first word that comes to mind. It’s a very cool idea that is worth investigating in the offseason (thank you, ACC Vault).
Basketball Prospectus: The first edition of John Gasaway’s “Tuesday Truths” is out! It’s too early to get super reliable data, as some schools (here’s to looking at you, NC State) have played relatively unimpressive conference schedules while others (Florida State) have a lot under their belts. Interesting quick hits: the ACC is the fastest-playing BCS conference; Virginia‘s defense is gnarly; Duke‘s offense is outrageous; Florida State is making its money on the offensive end; and NC State is the second fastest team in the league. The league is also fairly up for grabs (no one is dominating the efficiency ratings so far, unlike the Big Ten, Big 12 or Big East).
EXTRA: Would Gary Williams coach the Washington Wizards? Well, this appears to still be rampant speculation, but Williams’ answer is certainly interesting:
“Well, I did have some opportunities to get into the league in the past, ” Williams said. “When I retired, you think, well, you’ve coached the last time. And I’d been a college coach a long time. The pro game’s always fascinated me because it’s pure basketball. You’re kind of on equal footing because of salary caps and things like that. I will always like that idea, because sometimes in college you get into situations where you just don’t have the ability to do what other teams you have to supposedly beat [can do]. You know, you never say never, is the way I’ve always looked at it.”
Like Dan Steinberg says, I’d totally be up for seeing Williams try his hand at coaching professionals for a variety of reasons.
Matt Poindexter is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Duke-Florida State game in Durham.
Before the season started, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi pegged Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State team as an 8-seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Then talented Seminole forward Terrance Shannon suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, and a 5-0 start was followed up by a 4-6 stretch that featured an inexplicable home loss to Princeton and a blowout loss at Clemson to start ACC play. A week into January, the team that many expected to sit near the top of the ACC was instead 9-6, with their best victory a home win against Central Florida. The Seminoles have some more impressive wins today. First, FSU handed North Carolina by giving the Heels one of the worst beatings of the Roy Williams era, leading for all but the first 39 seconds of the game and winning 90-57. Then, a week after beating UNC, FSU’s Michael Snaer hit a last-second shot to snap Duke’s 45-game winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Why the sudden change?
According to Hamilton, the drastic improvement over the past few games is due to more experience and better point guard play. In his postgame press conference on Saturday, Hamilton said that many were confusing his team’s age with experience. Though already 26 years old, star forward Bernard James’ pre-Seminole basketball experience consisted of a few years as an enlisted member of the United States Air Force and one season at Tallahassee (FL) Community College. Many of James’ teammates are also upperclassmen, but played limited minutes behind Derwin Kitchen and Chris Singleton until this season. His juniors and seniors, Hamilton feels, are only now catching up on court time.
What a Saturday of college basketball. Three of the AP top four teams lost, and a number of other games have gone down to the wire today. Here are a few thoughts on the action from this afternoon…
#1 Syracuse’s Unbeaten Season Ends at Notre Dame. This is why projecting unbeaten seasons from power conference teams is an exercise in folly — in the modern game, there are always going to be at least a couple of off nights, and a motivated jacked-up home team will eventually take advantage. Notre Dame, no stranger to beating top-ranked foes in South Bend (seven times now), was ready from tonight’s tip and capitalized on a lethargic offensive night from the Orange to earn its biggest win in years. Some might point to the loss of Orange center Fab Melo to academics as the reason for Syracuse’s loss, but the truth is that the one factor that has worried us about SU all season — who will step up? — came back to bite them tonight. Dion Waiters is their best offensive talent, but he was 4-14 from the field; the next best talent is Kris Joseph (4-12), followed by the guards of Brandon Triche (2-6) and Scoop Jardine (0-5) — with around seven minutes remaining, Syracuse was still down 10 points but Notre Dame was teetering a bit. The game was there for the Orange to take if someone, anyone, had been able to put a series of offensive moves together. Nobody in orange could do so, and thus, the bedlam below. Jim Boeheim’s best teams in the NCAA Tournament always had a go-to guy, from Sherman Douglas to Derrick Coleman to John Wallace to Carmelo Anthony… who is it on this team?
Duke’s Home Court Winning Streak Ends at 45 Games. We have no idea what fountain of offense Florida State discovered down there in the wilds of the Sunshine State, but the last three games for the Seminoles have been extraordinary. It wasn’t as much the 76 points that FSU scored in Cameron Indoor Stadium to end the Blue Devils’ 45-game home court winning streak, but it was the efficiency in which they did so. When was the last time a team shot nearly 15% better from the floor than Duke did in its own building? FSU hit 54% from the field on its way to another highly impressive 1.126 points per possession, its third straight game well over the Seminoles’ season average of 0.995 PPP, and the final play to hit Michael Snaer with a wide-open three on the right wing was outstanding in its execution. With a dominant home win over UNC last weekend and a road win at Duke to get to 4-1 in the ACC, could Florida State with its newfound offensive capability be the best team in the league? Hard to believe, but an authentic case can be made for Leonard Hamilton’s team right now.
Tonight’s Lede. It wasn’t the best night of college basketball we’ve ever witnessed, but as always, the storylines were plentiful. We’d love to walk you through the Michigan-MSU rivalry game that went down to the wire, Florida State’s newfound affinity for offense, Western Carolina’s embarrassing 102-point victory, and some other things… but Anthony Davis just swatted away our train of thought.
Your Watercooler Moment. Michigan-Michigan State Rivalry Heats Up On and Off the Court.
College Basketball Is Better When Both Michigan Schools Are Elite (K. Dozier/DFP)
In anticipation of his rivalry game with Michigan tonight, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo made his feelings known about his in-state rival loud and clear — even though he claims to respect UM and it’s head coach, John Beilein, he also doesn’t care for the Maize and Blue — “not one bit.” He may start to venture into hatred territory if the Wolverines continue beating his Spartans as they did tonight. Michigan point guard Trey Burke led the way with another superb performance, going for 20/4/3 assts/2 stls as the Wolverines defeated MSU for the third straight time in the series. The key to the game, however, was the consistent defensive pressure Michigan put on the Spartans’ primary three scorers: Draymond Green, Keith Appling, and Brandon Wood. The trio came in averaging 38 points per game, but were held to only 21 points on 9-26 shooting tonight. None of the three were ever able to find any sort of offensive rhythm, and when on the final possession Green ended up with the ball in his hands for a leaning jumper from the foul line, the shot was badly long with virtually no chance to drop in. With the win, Michigan moves to 5-2 in the Big Ten race while Michigan State drops to 4-2, but we’re high on both of these teams for the long run of the season and playing into March.
Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish on Mondays throughout the season. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.
Five Things I Loved This Week
I LOVED….Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s momentum changing alley-oop against Tennessee. My favorite plays are those ones where in a second, the whole mood of a chaotic gym suddenly changes. The combination of floating from one side of the hoop to the other (hang time we can only dream of) and the emphatic CRACK of the rim snapping took UT’s good vibes and threw them for a complete 180. If there’s one thing I love about the modern game, it’s the microphone near the rims – they make monster slams even better (watch at the 0:40 mark).
I LOVED….Baylor keeping me wondering whether they’re for real. Coming into this week, I looked at their schedule and thought, well, they still haven’t played anyone stellar. And yet, even after last night’s tough loss in Allen Fieldhouse — a place where nobody can reasonably expect to win — it’s getting harder and harder to find too much to fault with these Bears. This weekend’s upcoming game in Waco against Missouri will help me figure this team out.
I LOVED….Syracuse continuing to shrug off the scandal surrounding the program and keep pace at No. 1. It’s tough to focus on playing when your coach and the university are under so much scrutiny, but this mess was not brought on by these kids – who have worked hard to put themselves in prime position for a postseason run. Let’s hope that they continue to tune out the other stuff.
I LOVED….feeling the upset-happy “This is College Basketball” vibe for the first time this year on Saturday. North Carolina turned the world upside down by getting trounced, Northwestern shocked the hottest team in the country, Iowa upended Michigan, Oklahoma took out KSU….this is the chaos I know and love.
Tonight’s Lede. It wasn’t just any other Tuesday night, as a number of ranked teams were in action and there was more than enough intrigue around the country to keep everyone interested. Whether it was a team few people seem to believe in slowly swaying hearts and minds, or a much-maligned former prep star bringing forth the game of his life, or an acerbic coach showing his true colors in a postgame interview, there was a lot to cover tonight. Let’s jump right in…
Will Some Pundits Begin to Take Baylor Seriously Now? (AP/C. Riedel)
Your Watercooler Moment, Part I. Baylor Stakes a Claim of Legitimacy. One of the knocks against Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears to date has been its lack of exceptional road wins this season. Apparently the non-believers did not take seriously wins at BYU and Northwestern, although neither the Marriott Center nor the Welsh-Ryan Arena these days are the easiest places to escape victorious. Still, Kansas State’s Bramlage Arena is universally regarded as a tough-as-nails venue, borne out most recently by K-State’s dominant weekend victory over an unbeaten Missouri squad. Baylor’s mid-second half run to come back from seven points down behind several eye-popping defensive transition dunks, along with its ability to hold K-State to a single bucket in the last four minutes of the game, showed America how things have changed. Last year, Drew’s Bears hardly played defense, generally preferring to use that end of the court to rest before another wild LaceDarius Dunn field goal attempt. This year, long green-and-yellow-clad arms and legs seem to cover all four corners of the court, and in fact, the two game-saving plays on this night resulted from a strip from behind of Angel Rodriguez with three seconds remaining, and a deflected pass on the ensuing inbounds play. The Bears are not going to win every game this season, but they’ve already won 16 and have survived one of their four toughest road tests on the schedule. With Pierre Jackson (10/11 assts) running the show, Brady Heslip (13/4 stls) providing scoring punch, and an elite corps of forwards in Quincy Acy, Perry Jones, III, and Quincy Miller wreaking havoc defensively, it’s time to stop questioning Scott Drew’s team and take the Bears seriously as a national title contender.
Your Watercooler Moment, Part II. Brandon Paul Hits Everything, Leads Illini Over Ohio State. In two-and-a-half seasons at Illinois, Brandon Paul has been better defined by what he is not rather than what he is. The former Chicago-area prep star who came to Champaign with sky-high expectations has largely disappointed, gradually improving his scoring output over three years but never shooting the ball efficiently (career 37.2% shooter) nor becoming an effective distributor (2.0 APG). Paul must have eaten a full bowl of his Wheaties this morning. The 6’4″ junior literally took over tonight’s game against OSU, scoring his team’s last 15 points en route to a career-high 43 points on 8-10 shooting from behind the arc. Unless you saw the game, you cannot comprehend just how ridiculous a couple of the late threes that Paul hit were, perhaps none more so than his final trey which gave Illinois a four-point lead with 43 seconds remaining.
Tonight’s Lede. Big Ten Does It Again. Day two of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge finished in the same way as the first — with a Big Ten beatdown. The midwestern-based conference rode wins from Michigan State and Minnesota at home along with Penn State and Indiana on the road, to notch another 4-2 night and win the event convincingly, 8-4. Four of those eight victories this year came on ACC hardwood, showing that Big Ten teams can pick up victories in hostile environments regardless of location. It’s difficult to draw too much from late November events like these, but the eye and sniff test in watching pieces of the twelve games over the last two nights is highly suggestive that the Big Ten appears to go seven or eight teams deep this year for NCAA Tournament consideration, while the ACC looks to be in the neighborhood of five or six. As our columnist Evan Jacoby wrote in Night Line last night, the Big Ten has unquestionably earned the right to hold the mantle as the top conference in college basketball a few weeks into the season. The ACC appears to be in the mid-pack, perhaps as high as third but also maybe the worst of the five power conferences (the Pac-12 has some work to do to earn our good graces again).
Your Watercooler Moment. Double Overtime in the Thunderdome.
How Jacked Up Does the ThunderDome Look? (h/t @amurawa)
That’s right, we’re passing on the #4 North Carolina vs. #7 Wisconsin snoozer in favor of a high-intensity, mid-major game that went two overtimes and featured enough twists, turns and amazing plays to outdo the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Luckily, our man Andrew Murawa was there for all 50 minutes of the action. Here’s his report (and some highlights from the UCSB side here).