Otskey’s Observations: Episode I

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on November 13th, 2013

Each week RTC national columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will evaluate the state of college basketball from the comfort of his couch. 

How good was the Champions Classic last night? This event has been fantastic to begin with in its three years of existence but this year’s event was on another level. Michigan State’s performance was terrific and it was even more impressive that the Spartans, a program notorious for slow starts to the season, were in mid-season form. Now healthy, Gary Harris looks poised to meet the lofty expectations some, including yours truly, have placed on him. I was particularly impressed with his quickness and athleticism and the same goes for Adreian Payne. I saw some moves out of Payne that I’ve never seen before. He has all the tools necessary to take on the leadership role (along with Keith Appling) for a team that clearly is on a mission to reach Arlington this April. One area of concern for the Spartans? Rebounding. The Wildcats absolutely dominated the boards and it kept them in the game, even when they were down by as many as 15 points. As for Kentucky, I wouldn’t be too concerned. Sure, the Wildcats made plenty of freshmen mistakes but that is to be expected in only this group’s third collegiate game. Kentucky is not that far away and the bottom line is it wins that game with a few more free throws made or a few less turnovers committed. Julius Randle is the real deal and Kentucky will keep getting better. I’m not sure there is anyone in the college game who can effectively guard this freshman superstar. Randle will command a double or even triple team every time he touches the ball. If there is one lingering concern for John Calipari’s team from last night, it has to be transition defense. It was poor all night and ultimately cost the Wildcats the game.

Gary Harris and Michigan State knocked off No. 1 last night

Gary Harris and Michigan State knocked off No. 1 last night

In the nightcap, Kansas used a 15-4 run to pull away late from Duke, highlighted by Andrew Wiggins’ filthy step-back jumper and dunk in transition. Duke was nearly a unanimous pick to win this game but the young Jayhawks proved yet again why their program is among the very best in the nation, consistently churning out a contender year after year. Despite a brand new starting five, Bill Self’s club didn’t miss a beat. I was particularly impressed with Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden. If Self can get that kind of production out of those players on a consistent basis, Kansas will be primed for another Final Four run. To those of you who think Oklahoma State can top the Jayhawks in the Big 12, I hear you, but you are wrong. The Big 12 runs through Lawrence, as it has for the last nine years. Jabari Parker and Duke were highly impressive offensively but I have some concerns about the Blue Devils’ defense and rebounding. This is one of the more athletic Duke teams in quite some time but it lacks a true center. That has an impact defensively because opposing guards can drive at will and get wings like Parker and Rodney Hood into foul trouble, just like what happened last night. Duke played pretty well overall but don’t ignore these red flags as the season progresses. The Blue Devils did not play elite defense last season and they aren’t off to a hot start in that regard in 2013-14 either. That has to improve if Duke is to advance deep into March.

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Big East M5: 11.11.13 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on November 11th, 2013


  1. The college basketball season has begun! Friday night saw seven Big East teams play and the other three played on Saturday. Big East teams went 8-2 to begin and the losses were to two ranked teams, Oregon and Wisconsin. Georgetown battled with Oregon in South Korea and although the Hoyas came away with a loss, there were some positives for the team. Newcomer Joshua Smith showed his top-notch talent on the offensive end and Markel Starks took control of the offense and showed his ability to score. Smith was a beast in the post as he scored 25 points and Starks contributed 16 of his own (including the only Hoya three-pointer). Georgetown teams have gotten off to slow starts during the past few seasons, but John Thompson III typically transforms his teams into contenders by mid-season. Although they lost the game, there shouldn’t be too much concern as the Hoyas will buckle down on defense and the shooting will improve.
  2. One of the most talked about topics over the weekend was the new foul rules. The often criticized change was apparent in all the games. Games stretched well over two hours and several records for fouls in a game and free throws attempted were set. Marquette got to the line 53 times against Southern and Seton Hall and Niagara combined for 102 total attempts. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said after the game that “it’s going to take everyone a little bit of time to adjust to. Players are going to take a little time. Refs need to take a little time. It was one of those ugly, early games, but I’m just glad we won.” In Providence‘s win over Boston College, each team had three players foul out in an important, tightly-contested game. Fans were upset throughout the night and referees heard it all over the nation. Teams are obviously going to have to adapt to the rules and modify the way they play defense, but one has to hope that big games at the end of the season don’t come down to the 10th guy on the bench shooting free throws to win the game.
  3. Providence came into the season with high hopes of a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. Those hopes have faded slightly in the past week. Stud sophomore Kris Dunn hurt his shoulder going after a loose ball in the Friars’ scrimmage last week. There is particular concern because Dunn missed the beginning of last season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Dunn was ruled questionable for Friday’s season opener and he did not play. The Friars also were without freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock, who are suspended indefinitely for “not upholding their responsibilities as student-athletes.” Austin was supposed to have an important role from the start and earned national prominence for his dunk at Late Night Madness. Hopefully Dunn is able to return to the lineup soon and the freshmen are reinstated before Providence gets too far into the season, including a fun match-up with Kentucky in Brooklyn.
  4. Brandon Miller won his first game as Butler’s new head coach. Miller has big shoes to fill after Brad Stevens left for the Boston Celtics, but he got off to a good start with a convincing win over Lamar. Zak Keefer of the Indy Star pointed out some interesting stats after the Bulldogs’ win. Khyle Marshall was the best player on the floor Saturday, pouring in 19 points and 13 rebounds. Last year, Butler went 16-1 when Marshall scored in double figures and this year the team will probably go as far as he takes it. The team didn’t shoot the ball well, but were still able to win easily even with Kellen Dunham having an off night. The Bulldogs have a strong, well-balanced starting lineup, and if some reserves can contribute meaningful minutes, Butler could make a push in the Big East standings.
  5. One of the most surprising and impressive players this weekend was DePaul‘s freshman center, Tommy Hamilton IV. Hamilton poured in 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as he beat down Grambling State’s front line. The freshman has slimmed down considerably and is down to 267 pounds. He had not played in a meaningful game in two years after a knee injury derailed his junior year campaign in high school. Hamilton acknowledged he could have played better, but his performance bodes well for the Blue Demons. If Hamilton is able to play a significant amount of minutes each night at center, it will allow star Cleveland Melvin to play on the wing instead of in the post. Hamilton may have been fairly unknown coming out of high school, but his immediate contributions could be a massive help to Oliver Purnell’s squad.
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