Word of the Day. Exposure. What we’re starting to see throughout this week of holiday hoops as good teams play other good teams is which teams are better than we all thought and which teams aren’t. Like last night with Kentucky, some teams such as UCLA and Oklahoma are being exposed as works-in-progress with a lot of problems who are a long, long way from making any noise in March. Others, such as Minnesota and Marquette, might be better than anyone thought they were and could be extremely underrated at this point in the season. This is what’s great about this time of the year and all of these tournaments — it provides some clarity for how good these teams actually are — much moreso than the standard garbage game against Northeastern State U.
UCLA Gets Waxed in the 76 Classic. Portland 74, UCLA 47. Ben Howland took the worst loss of his UCLA era, as the Portland Pilots shot a blistering 57.9% from three-point land to defeat his Bruins in front of a large fanbase from nearby Westwood. In a weird irony from the basketball weauxfgods, Steve Lavin, the last coach to get obliterated like this on the UCLA sideline, was there calling the game for ESPN. Portland’s lead was as great as 31 (!!!) in the second half, and UCLA had trouble against a for the second time they’ve faced one this season. Pilot guards T.J. Campbell and Jared Stohl (yeah, it really does always go in) led the Pilots with 15 points each, as the former hit three treys and the latter was a perfect 5-5 from downtown — the whole team ripped UCLA for 54% while the Bruins could only muster 33% from the field themselves. Meanwhile, UCLA is searching for leadership that has yet to show itself (Michael Roll? James Keefe?) and has another tough matchup against Butler . Portland is beginning to turn some heads and has a chance to make real noise in this tournament if they can beat #16 Minnesota tomorrow. As for UCLA, the best way to sum it up may be like this…
- #16 Minnesota 82, #10 Butler 73. Tubby Smith’s team looked the better squad from start to finish of this one. Minnesota appeared much stronger, more athletic and quicker to the ball as the Gophers repeatedly got production from its deep bench (even with three players currently suspended). The Minnesota bench contributed 46 pts (to 8 for Butler), but we were struck by how UM’s inside players such as Colton Iverson were getting to the rebounds and physically knocking Butler stars Matt Howard (who fouled out) and Gordon Hayward around. The Gophers’ defense was in Butler’s face on everything, holding the Bulldogs to a tepid 33% from the field and (ouch) only 5-23 from deep. While the big three of Hayward, Howard and Shelvin Mack combined for 56 pts, they were hard-earned, and the Minnesota defense was busy locking everyone else on the team up. If Tubby gets his suspended players back in the lineup, his team could be one of the deepest in the Big Ten this year.
- #8 West Virginia 85, Long Beach State 62. LBSU looked completely outmatched today against WVU’s suffocating man-to-man defense and they were never really in the game. The big story of course was that star forward Devin Ebanks dressed out but did not play, as his ‘personal issues’ seem to still be bothering him (snicker). The Mountaineers hit twelve threes in a scintillating shooting peformance, led by Casey Mitchell, who went for 18 pts in only fifteen minutes of action. In a nice sidenote, Jerry West’s son, walk-on Johnnie, also had a career-high eleven points to get in on the action. Bottom line: WVU has the pieces, but Texas A&M will be a good test tomorrow.
- Texas A&M 69, #19 Clemson 60. TAMU got into Clemson’s shorts defensively early in this game, and ultimately held the Tigers to 34% for the game and 3-18 from deep in a mild upset for the Aggies. BJ Holmes and David Loubeau came off the bench to combine for 32 pts and 14 rebounds for Mark Turgeon, but the story of this game was their defense as only Trevor Booker (18/6) and Tanner Smith (14/5/3 assts) were able to get going. Clemson will get well in a hurry with LBSU tomorrow, but A&M will need that defense against the top ten Mountaineers.