Ed. Note: sorry for the delay on Sunday’s ATB, but the travel schedule got in the way…
Over the weekend, there was something in the neighborhood of 145 college basketball games. Many were several times more compelling than watching Tim Tebow praise God one more time in another blowout Florida win or seeing the Charlie Weis Bataan death march at Notre Dame (although the Iron Bowl was good). With that in mind, we’re here to sort through our Thanksgiving leftovers to award the teams that most and least deserve a scrumptious plate of tofurkey and leeks (ok, maybe that menu was at your house, not ours).
Turkey Sandwiches. Usually better the second time around. And the third time. And the fourth… Unless you’re Ben Howland and UCLA, and you’re starting to wonder if that mayo tastes a little spoiled after the fourth helping. After UCLA dropped its third game in a row at the 76 Classic (and fourth on the year), questions are swirling as to what is wrong with his Bruins. It’s not just that UCLA has four losses; it’s that these losses are to mid-majors like Cal State Fullerton, Portland, Butler and now Long Beach State. Butler and Portland are NCAA-worthy, but the others? Let’s examine what’s wrong, and see if anything can be done to fix it. For starters, the UCLA offense — often a challenge in Howland’s era — is on life support this season. Nobody on this team appears to be able to shoot the ball, and that includes from the field (44%), three (26%) and the line (56%). Guards Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson were hot-shot recruits in the backcourt, but neither of them can break 40% from the field; there was a big fuss about Nikola Dragovic’s return to the team after an accusation of assault, and he’s hitting a frigid 25% of his attempts. Good grief – when Michael Roll (23 pts in the LBSU game) is your “star” player, you have serious offensive issues. But it’s not just the offense this season, as bad as that has been. It’s also the defense, which is traditionally a Howland staple and has him contemplating changing his usual tough man-to-man for a zone. UCLA is giving up 45% shooting to teams (worst in the Pac-10) and when they’ve needed to get the stop — witness the CS Fullerton and Butler games — they came up empty. So the question is whether this team can turn it around, and we’re not sure that it can in time to stop the bleeding. #1 Kansas is on the agenda next weekend, and Mississippi State and Notre Dame soon thereafter. The Pac-10, as we all know by now, is incredibly weak, but if you can’t beat Long Beach and Fullerton, you’re not going to beat Arizona and Washington either. There is a ton of work to be done here, and if Howland can turn it around by March, we’ll be right there at the front of the line to give him accolades. Until then, though, UCLA basketball doesn’t take kindly to this stuff, so he’d better get moving quickly…
Pumpkin Pie. A meal unto itself, making yourself fat and happy with pasty goodness. Has anyone — and we mean anyone — looked better than West Virginia through the first three weeks of the season? Let’s look at the short list: Syracuse and Duke. That’s it – those are the only two teams who have looked as dominant as WVU in our estimation. Yesterday Bob Huggins and his Mountaineers left Anaheim with what they were expected to do: win the 76 Classic. Few expected them to do it by facing upstart WCC foe Portland in the championship game, as the Pilots crushed UCLA and outlasted Minnesota to get there, but there was Eric Reveno’s crew facing off against WVU in the finals. The Pilots ran into a buzzsaw on Sunday, though, as Tournament MVP Da’Sean Butler posted 26 points and Portland shot just 5-24 from behind the three-point arc, clearly bothered by West Virginia’s athleticism and close-out pressure defense. With the return of sophomore Devin Ebanks – after his mysterious stint in coach Huggins’ doghouse –- the Mountaineers look fine-tuned and ready to compete with anyone in the nation. Of course, it’s only November, and we’ve been down this road with Huggins before, so stay prepared for anything.
Mac n’ Cheese. Gooey deliciousness. That’s how Northwestern must be feeling after winning the Chicago Invitational over two tough teams, Notre Dame and Iowa State. Maybe that NCAA Tournament bid isn’t a pipe dream after all since losing Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan to injuries, because it’s clear that Northwestern has decided that it will not go quietly. John Shurna led the Wildcats with 23/7/4 assts while helping to harass ISU star Craig Brackins into a 6-16 FG, 18/9 night (he’s capable of much more). As it stands, Northwestern is now 5-1, with its sole loss to Butler and a good chance to enter Big Ten play at 11-1 (tomorrow night’s ACC/B10 game against NC State is winnable).
Green Bean Casserole. #2 Michigan State gets the green bean casserole leftovers because, like the dish, they held up fairly well after a disappointing start in the Legends Classic. The Spartans recovered from their shocking upset loss to Florida on Friday night in the semifinal round by taking it out on UMass in the consolation game 106-68 on Saturday. RTC Live was there if you want more details, but MSU used a 30-3 first half run to dominate the Minutemen, and ended up the game shooting a red-hot 58% and hitting fourteen threes. Tom Izzo set a new record for wins at Michigan State with his 341st win on this night, passing his mentor Jud Heathcote.
Warm Rolls. It’s comforting and makes you feel all fuzzy inside, just like family; the First Bro-in-Law had his warm fuzzies at Oregon State’s game in DC with GW on Saturday. Craig Robinson’s Oregon State team got its first decent win of the season 64-57 against the previously unbeaten Colonials as the First Family looked on. OSU’s Seth Tarver lit up the stat sheet with 18/7/3 assts/3 stls, but given how badly the Beavers have played to this point, President Obama may want to make plans for several visits to the west coast in January and February.
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