Big 12 Home Teams No Longer Unbeatable. We saw the stat floating around on one of the ESPN360 feeds for the first time over the weekend, and by the early part of this week it was ubiquitous. Undoubtedly last week somebody in the Big 12’s stats department realized that the league’s home teams had only lost a single game all season (Northern Iowa’s victory at Iowa State in early December) and began marketing it as unassailable proof of the conference’s superiority. It’s a manufactured statistic, but anytime people start repeating such a meme it takes on a life of its own. By last night, after Kansas State and Colorado’s home wins to move the league to 114-1 on the year in their own buildings, you might have thought from listening to the announcers on the night’s games that we were in the midst of an epic realignment of the balance of power of the sport. Sigh… such is the 24-hour national news cycle. At any rate, tonight’s three games featured three really good Big 12 teams going on the road to a conference rival, and collectively those three teams — #1 Texas, #3 Kansas, Missouri — made mincemeat of that stat. Let’s not speak of it again.
- #1 Texas 90, Iowa State 83. Texas’ freshman crew continues to impress, as they combined for 46/11/7 assts in UT’s 16th consecutive win to start the season. This game was close for about a half, but UT came out and wrested control of the game in the second half behind Avery Bradley’s scoring (16 of his 24 in the 2d) and if this kid is going to keep playing like his last two games (22-28 from the floor, 7-7 from three), then Kansas’ Xavier Henry is going to have some serious competition for Big 12 FrOY this season. Up next to stay unbeaten: rival Texas A&M at home.
- #3 Kansas 84, Nebraska 72. Kansas found itself down double-figures very early on the road in this one, but the Jayhawks were able to stay composed and use their superior depth and experience to pull away from pesky Nebraska late behind turnovers and strong interior play. Cole Aldrich didn’t have a huge game (6/9/3 blks), but he didn’t need to, because Marcus Morris came off the bench to provide 19/7, including several timely plays during they key stretch where KU pulled away. Kansas doesn’t utilize the three-point shot to a great degree, but the Jayhawks hit thirteen tonight, including 4-5 from Sherron Collins (22/5 assts).
- Missouri 94, Texas Tech 89 (OT). Mizzou used its fullcourt press to force 18 Red Raider turnovers and get a great game from Marcus Denmon off the bench (20/6) to win a key road game in Lubbock tonight. The Tigers very nearly blew it, though, letting an 11-pt lead slip away in the final four minutes of regulation and allowing the game to be sent to overtime on two FTs by Tech’s John Roberson. Then in the overtime period, it was Texas Tech’s Nick Okorie who had two FTs to give his team the lead, only to miss both of them with 20.4 seconds remaining and allowing Mizzou to hang on.
Clemson, You Simply Cannot RTC in This Situation!! #19 Clemson 83, #13 North Carolina 64. Surprisingly, this was over very early. Clemson came out and jumped on UNC with two large Trevor Booker-sized feet, and for the rest of the game the Tar Heels were one big turnover machine (25 total). Closest UNC came in the second half was 12. Booker’s 24/9/4 assts led Clemson to only their fifth win in sixteen tries against the Tar Heels, and their first since 2004. Message to Clemson fans: we at RTC agree that this was an important win and dealing with UNC has caused you some recent frustration. But you were FAVORED in this game, and UNC was only six spots ahead of you in the rankings. We hope you enjoy the win, because you deserved it. But this version of Gathering at the Paw (which we thought was a football tradition only) does not meet our criteria as a valid RTC. You simply cannot RTC when you’re the favored team!
Jamie Dixon, COY. #20 Pittsburgh 67, #15 Connecticut 57. On Tuesday night we saw Evan Turner inject himself right back into the Player of the Year race with his late-game tour-de-force in stealing that win at Purdue. Wednesday night gave us all a good look at a man who is likely the favorite for Coach of the Year (we just got some mean looks from people in Lexington) at this point — a certain Jamie Dixon of the University of Pittsburgh. Going to Hartford and playing Connecticut is a tough task for anyone, but getting UConn coming off a loss makes that trip even more treacherous. The Panthers didn’t care. They started the game by streaking to an early ten-point lead, immediately putting UConn on the defensive. The Panthers then led by 32-39 at the half and, even though they shot a tepid 39% from the field (23-59, and 4-12 from three-point range), held off the Huskies for the first part of the second half, causing the Hartford crowd to grow restless. Just like you knew they would, Connecticut then made their run, a 10-0 stretch that gave UConn a one point lead at 47-46. It was back-and-forth until the 5:00 mark, at which point Pitt took a lead (52-51) that they would not relinquish for the remainder. The stats show that Pittsburgh was able to hold off UConn by outrebounding them 26-13 in the second half and by hitting 17-20 at the free throw line. We say, however, that it was the intrinsic toughness of this Panthers squad that earned them this victory. To outwork UConn on the glass (both offensive and defensive) in their own building, to drive the lane and take contact with abandon in the way they did…that takes guts. And that’s a product of what Dixon has instilled in this team. If you’ve heard his players do interviews over the last couple of weeks, you’ve noticed that these Pittsburgh kids love talking about how great the chemistry is on their team and how much they’ve bought into Dixon’s mindset and vision for their squad. Everyone knows you have to have quality players (the “Jimmies and Joes”) to be competetive at all, especially in a cut-throat conference like the Big East. But team chemistry is the ultimate catalyst for success. Coaches can go whole seasons without having their players “buy into” what they’re trying to teach. Dixon has achieved this with a team that lost 60% of its scoring from last year and had been forgotten about by just about everyone up until they started their current seven-game win streak, the last three coming on the road in-conference against Syracuse, Cincinnati, and Connecticut. The Huskies now find themselves going out of conference to Michigan this Sunday, needing a win to stay ranked…and relevant.