Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here.
The book is written on Florida. All you have to do is throw a zone on the Gators, and it won’t matter how stifling their defense is. Well, maybe not. Florida’s offense largely struggled against Missouri’s zone during the week, and then scuffled early against Alabama’s zone on Saturday. But Casey Prather’s ability to find driving lanes (15 points) and effective interior passing (leading to a number of Will Yeguete layups) at the end of the first half forced the Tide to collapse the zone, which opened things up for Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin (three three-pointers each). Florida doesn’t have an abundance of three-point shooting, as Frazier, Wilbekin, and (at times) Dorian Finney-Smith are the only players capable of scaring opponents. But against Alabama they showed they can poke holes on the interior of zone defenses, and make up for that lack of outside shooting.
You don’t have to look far to find big offensive numbers for LSU in its win against previously-streaking Auburn. The Tigers scored 55 second half points. They had five players in double figures. Anthony Hickey had five three-pointers. Jarell Martin’s 11 point performance would be pretty far down the list, but it was an unsung contribution to the LSU win, and kept the Tigers in the game early. NOLA.com’s Randy Rosetta writes, “Martin lit a fire when he followed a Jordan Mickey miss with a slam-dunk and that began a torrid stretch of the 6-foot-9 freshman scoring 10 of LSU’s 15 points over 7 minutes, the last coming on a feathery jump shot from the circle that put the home Tigers in front 16-15 and finally forced Auburn to loosen up inside.” Like with his performance against the Tigers from the Plains, Martin has been quietly coming on lately. Saturday was his third straight game scoring in double figures, after he scored 15 apiece against Arkansas and Georgia. There are a lot of reasons LSU has the look of a team built for March, their recent letdown against Georgia aside. Martin is one of them. The 6’8’’ freshman can score from any point on the floor, and is becoming more consistent. He could be a match-up nightmare down the line, especially since Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey demand so much attention.
Finally, Arkansas did it. At long last the Razorbacks beat a not-so-terrible opponent on the road by winning at Vanderbilt on Saturday. Doc Harper at Arkansas Fight estimates this was the Hogs first road win over a RPI top #100 team (Vanderbilt is currently #66) in four years, and writes that the win will only mean something if Arkansas builds off of it. They’ll get their chance on the road against Missouri on Thursday, in a game with a little extra juice for Mike Anderson. The third year Razorback coach must be pleased with how his team has regrouped over the last week. The situation in Fayetteville looked dim after a home loss to Missouri, followed by a loss to LSU in which Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris were suspended. But Arkansas responded with wins over Alabama and then shook the road monkey off their back in Nashville. Qualls especially must be feeling good after the Vanderbilt game. In his second game back from his suspension he scored 17 points and hit three-of-five three pointers, helping offset a down offensive night from Bobby Portis (8 points). Momentum has been fickle for the SEC’s bubble brethren, but as of right now Arkansas is headed in the right direction.
South Carolina’s season has been as forgettable as they come. The Gamecocks dropped their 13th game in a row to Tennessee Saturday in Knoxville, and were out of it early. They managed only one field goal in the game’s first eight minutes en route to a 23-point halftime deficit. At 1-9 in conference, their stretch of solid play at the end of December, in which they knocked off previously-unbeaten Saint Mary’s and won five-of-six, seems like a decade away. No one should be piling on Frank Martin in his second year though: the Gamecocks are exceedingly young, have lost Bruce Ellington and Ty Johnson, and have actually been competitive in the majority of SEC games. But the 1-9 record is still unsightly, especially since “parity” has been a common theme in conference play. Every other team has at least three wins and there have been plenty of surprises (i.e., Georgia beating Missouri and LSU, Texas A&M beating Tennessee, Auburn beating Alabama). You would think South Carolina would have come up with at least one more win in such a rocky and underwhelming conference.
SEC teams are littered across Jerry Palm’s latest bubble watch. He has Missouri and Tennessee “on the fence” and Ole Miss, Arkansas, and LSU with “work to do.” It’s hard for me to put see Missouri as being in better shape than two teams it recently lost to in Ole Miss and LSU, however. The Vols and (Missouri) Tigers, do however, own non-conference wins that look better now than they did in the past. Virginia’s ascent into the rankings (RPI #20) and second-spot in the ACC standings will certainly help Tennessee, which drilled the Cavaliers in Knoxville. To a much lesser extent, West Virginia’s (RPI #69) recent string of good play (until an understandable beating in Allen Fieldhouse) could help Missouri. The tournament picture is muddy for the SEC, but at the very least there are a handful of teams in the bubble mix. That’s about all you can ask for given where the conference stands right now.
It did not take Oklahoma State very long to decide to cut its losses with Stevie Clark as they dismissed him from the team following his arrest for urinating out of the window of a car. It appears that Clark’s latest arrest was the proverbial third strike that led Travis Ford to dismiss Clark. The timing could not be worse for a reeling Cowboy team that has lost three straight including back-to-back games at home. The Cowboys have already lost Michael Cobbins for the season to an injury so they are now essentially at a six-man rotation as only six available players on the roster had averaged more than seven minutes per game entering Monday night.
We are not exactly sure what changed for Arkansas between Monday morning and the early afternoon, but whatever it was they decided to reinstate Alandaise Harris and Michael Qualls. As we mentioned in yesterday’s Morning Five despite their indefinite suspensions the pair might not be out for a long period of time. What we did not expect was for Mike Anderson to reiterate on the SEC Conference Call that the two were still suspended indefinitely before announcing a few hours later that they were back on the team. Whatever the explanation the Razorbacks could certainly use the pair back as they have fallen from being a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations to one that is near the bottom of the SEC.
Georgia Tech dismissed sophomore guard Solomon Poole from the team for “conduct and accountability issues”. Poole, who was averaging 6.4 points and 2 assists per game, last played for the Yellow Jackets on January 7 against Duke and had been initially held out due to a migraine headache and what were described as medical issues related to migraines. According to the school, those medical issues and his absence as the result of them are completely separate from his dismissal. Poole is expected to finish the semester at the school before looking to transfer elsewhere.
Wyoming was already looking at a difficult game on Wednesday with a trip to New Mexico. Now they must do so without Josh Adams, who was suspended for one game by the Mountain West Conference for punching Utah State’s Spencer Butterfield on Saturday. Adams is second on the team in scoring at 12.1 points per game and leads the team with 3 assists per game. The Cowboys will likely try to replace Adams’ output with a three-man committee of Jerron Granberry, Charles Hankerson Jr, and Trey Washington but it is more likely that other regular contributors like Larry Nance Jr. and Riley Grabau will need to just step up their production.
Athletic apparel/shoe contracts have been in the news a lot more than usual lately, but the one that Tennessee signed with Nike recently caught our eye because of one specific provision: a compliance provision that penalizes the school if the football or basketball program receive a TV or postseason ban. Such a ban in football would reduce the school’s pay for each year of the ban by $450,000 or 500,000 (half of the base compensation) while in basketball it would cost the school $45,000 or $50,000 (10% of the base compensation). As John Infante points out this is unusual for such contacts, but we would not be surprised to see more of it going forward.
Talk about a rough week. Arkansas suffered a rare home loss to Missouri early in the week and then wasn’t able to shake its road struggles in a 14-point loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. The biggest story for the Razorbacks, however, was who didn’t suit up in yesterday’s game. Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris were suspended from the team indefinitely, removing two major pieces from Mike Anderson‘s rotation. The suspensions couldn’t come at a worse time for the Razorbacks as their NCAA Tournament hopes are on critical life support after losing four of their last five games. Qualls, in particular, will be especially tough to replace. The sophomore averages the second most minutes per game (25.3 MPG), and at 6’6” has size and athleticism that Arkansas doesn’t otherwise have on the wing. The latest personnel crunch also deals a heavy blow to Anderson’s preferred ability to run his pressure system.
Suspensions should accelerate Moses Kingsley’s development at Arkansas (wholehogsports.com).
We try to stay positive on this microsite (which isn’t always easy), so where’s the silver lining for Arkansas after this latest setback? One such positive could be that Moses Kingsley will need to pick up some of Harris’ minutes. The freshman has incredible peripheral numbers in his small sample size of minutes, including the best PER (27.7), rebounding percentage (17.1%), and block percentage (15.6%) on the team. Now, those are all-conference numbers in a vacuum, and Anderson is no fool. He’s clearly putting Kingsley in a position to succeed by not overexposing him at this point. Still, his talent and upside are enticing. Against LSU he saw 19 minutes of action and logged three points, four rebounds and three blocks during that time. Those aren’t world-beating numbers, but they aren’t terrible for a raw rookie either. These suspensions could mean that Kingsley gets an opportunity to turn into an impressive low post defensive presence, and that development just got fast-tracked.
Qualls’ minutes will be distributed amongst Arkansas’ bevy of guards, but Rashad Madden (who has seen his minutes increase in SEC play) will bear an even greater scoring load than he already had. The junior has been one of the best shooters in the league (with a 65.7 true shooting percentage, third in the SEC), and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to becoming the true perimeter offensive focus. Arkansas has two winnable games versus Alabama and at Vanderbilt next week, but those looked that way with a full-strength Razorbacks squad. They just became that much tougher, and Anderson’s team simply can’t afford to lose either one if there is any chance of a return to the bubble.
Posted by Kenny Ocker @KennyOcker on January 17th, 2014
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.
The Indiana faithful certainly had something to cheer about this week. Could the Hoosiers be on the upswing? (Getty)
The Hoosiers were off to a poor start in Big Ten play, falling at Illinois in overtime and then getting blown out at Assembly Hall by Michigan State. The second week of conference play proved to be far better in Bloomington. Led by freshman forward Noah Vonleh’s 19 points and six rebounds, the Hoosiers went into State College and beat Penn State 79-76 on Saturday. And when I say “led by,” I mean “Vonleh was the only Hoosier to make more than half of his shots, and his teammates combined to go 16-of-49 from the field.” A road win is a road win, after all, and when it’s your first win in conference, it’s nothing to complain about. But what really won the week for Indiana was its performance against heretofore undefeated Wisconsin on Tuesday night. The Badgers, one of four teams in the nation undefeated to that point, came into Assembly Hall riding a 12-game winning streak against the Hoosiers. Yeah, that’s over. Yogi Ferrell made sure of that. The sophomore guard lit up the nets for 25 points while also dishing four assists, leading his team to an instant resume-building win, downing the Badgers 75-72. Considering that Indiana’s best win to that point was over an 11-7 Washington team, the Hoosiers picked a mighty fine time to show up huge. Because of their skimpy resume, though, the Hoosiers will likely have to go at least 10-8 in conference, if not 11-7, to get an NCAA Tournament at-large bid come March. This week’s turnaround from a slow start will give them a much better opportunity to get to that point, and to get a ticket to the Big Dance.
(Related winners: Undefeated-in-conference Michigan State and Michigan, who have the conference lead to themselves now. Related losers: Penn State, which is a painful 0-5 in conference so far; Wisconsin; Wisconsin forward Duje Dukan, who got one rebound in 11 minutes, ruining his chance at 11 trillion in the box score.)
LOSER: Iowa State
So much for that 14-0 start in Ames. A pesky trip to Norman undid that. And then the familiar hoodoo against Kansas reared its head again. And now the Cyclones are 14-2. Somewhere in the middle, star guard and Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane got hurt, although you wouldn’t know it by his performances. Iowa State went into Oklahoma’s gym and decided that letting Ryan Spangler grab every rebound he possibly could (15, including seven on the offensive glass) would be a fantastic idea. Spangler turned that into 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 shooting from the free throw line. The Cyclones also forgot to guard guard Buddy Hield, who had 22 points and hit six three-pointers. That’s a really good way to blow a game in which Kane had 23 points and nine rebounds before rolling his ankle late, and the Robin to his Batman, Melvin Ejim, having 21 points and six rebounds of his own.
Arkansas could not have asked for a more timely victory than the one it got in front of a national audience on Tuesday night. The Razorbacks took a top-15 opponent to overtime for a second game in a row, this time earning a win over Kentucky thanks to the instant-wow rebound and face-melting dunk by Michael Qualls as time expired. The win has put Arkansas squarely on the bubble, and for the time being at the very least, gets the Razorbacks into the conversation for an eventual at-large bid.
The Razorbacks had plenty to celebrate about Tuesday evening. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
It’s been a year since we last visited Bud Walton Arena to take in a Razorback game. Then it was for Arkansas’ loss to Michael Carter-Williams and the Syracuse Orange. Despite the loss a season ago, you could already see the Razorbacks’ promise under new head coach Mike Anderson, and since then they have taken huge strides toward once again becoming a premier SEC program. Watching Arkansas hang tough against Florida last week, you knew they were getting close, and needed just one big win to earn some respect and possibly emerge as a major conference threat. They got it in a big way on Tuesday, thanks in large part to their defensive play and veteran leadership. A team that has experienced its share of hard times and disappointment is now using that to fuel its way to what they hope is a little bit of March glory. “The way the team was celebrating in the locker room, you could tell we needed it,” said Qualls. “Hopefully that will give us a boost on through the next game.”
Arkansas‘ NCAA tournament hopes yo-yo’d with every twist in last night’s game against Kentucky, and reached a fever pitch with Michael Qualls’ game-winning putback dunk. If you get points for “significance” in the Dunk of the Year contest, Qualls has to be the runaway winner. As David pointed out last week, the Razorbacks had a golden opportunity to make a statement with homes games against Florida and Kentucky, and although they let the Florida game slip away, they were able to follow it up with one of the few available statement wins in the SEC. This was an “effort” win for Arkansas, as they were outrebounded by 18 and outshot (48.2% to 37.7%) by Kentucky, but the Razorbacks had their usual turnover advantage (+11), and made the plays they needed to despite a disjointed half-court offense. Still, the win over the Wildcats and an better-than-even conference record likely won’t be enough to impress the selection committee. Games at Mizzou and Rupp Arena are the only remaining opportunities for a statement win, but notching a handful of road wins against any other team would be a big help.
Through all the injuries and suspensions one thing has remained the same at Florida this year: Billy Donovan can put out a dynamite defense. Despite missing Casey Prather last night, the Gators held Georgia to 33.3 percent shooting and ended the Bulldogs’ two-game conference winning streak. Leading the way for Florida offensively was Michael Frazier with 21 points. The sophomore picked up the Gators with big baskets late against Richmond, and picked them up again with Prather on the bench. That he’s shown the ability to lead by example obviously bodes well for the Gators; chances this year, and could be key for next season as well. He’ll be looked at to become a team leader with Scottie Wilbekin, Prather and Patric Young all expiring their eligibility.
Growing pains or not, Frank Haith is determined to give more time to Missouri‘s first-year players. “I’ve got to get them out there,” Haith said yesterday. “I want them getting court time, so we’re going to sacrifice it getting them in there early and just letting them play through it. They’re going to make some mistakes. We’re not going to be fluid, but I think it helps us in the long run.” Torren Jones, Keanau Post and Shane Rector have each seen the court more since SEC play began, after none of three saw significant action in close games against Illinois, North Carolina State and Long Beach State. Playing for the future might be more vital than usual for this year’s Tigers. Tony Criswell and Earnest Ross will be out of eligibility and Jordan Clarkson is very likely to leave for the NBA. Haith is a foolish decision from Jabari Brown away from having very little experience next year.
Instead of investing in the next Google, SI.com‘s Luke Winn used his clairvoyant powers to reveal the eight teams that have a chance to win the national championship. Despite the RPI-beating the SEC has taken this year, Winn’s eight ball reliable predictive formula based on offensive and defensive efficiency ratings turned out SEC stalwarts Kentucky and Florida. Winn has found that national champions usually rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, and while neither team is there, both have room to grow and that’s why they’re attractive picks. Kentucky’s youth and talent mean its numbers will likely improve, while Florida hasn’t had a fully healthy roster yet, and (possibly) has Chris Walker on the way.
Billy Kennedy has been on a roller coaster ride the last few weeks since he’s reportedly coaching for his job. The Aggies dropped an embarrassing game at home to North Texas, but have begun conference play with sold wins against Arkansas and at Tennessee. Aggiesports.com‘s Aubrey Bloom writes that what Kennedy needs to do to save his job is not an easy question. “That’s a simple question that has a complicated answer because an athletic director can’t just take a simple ‘x wins is enough’ approach. You have to look at the entire picture at the end of the year.” The entire picture may be pretty good for Kennedy, though, by season’s end. The Aggies have played excellent defense thus far, limiting opponents to just 37.9 percent from the field. Its offense hasn’t been as rosy, but Alex Caruso is emerging as one of the better, if not unconventional, play-makers in the conference, and Jamal Jones has also been a nice offensive surprise on the perimeter. Perhaps with some momentum, the pieces are there for Kennedy to hang around College Station for at least another year.
CBSSports‘ Matt Norlander took a look at how the individual conferences have performed thus far and, as has been evident, the results aren’t great for the SEC. The league owns an unsightly 3-16 record against the RPI top 25, but every league has struggled against the best teams. The real concern comes from the 6-24 record against RPI top 50 teams and 28-35 record against teams from RPI top 10 conferences. No other power conference other than the AAC has a losing record in the latter stat. There were some close calls, particularly Florida’s last-second loss at Connecticut and Alabama’s hard-fought loss to Wichita State. But even if the SEC had gotten a few more headline-grabbing wins, the overall results still wouldn’t be pretty.
The Diamond Head Classic was a resounding success for South Carolina this week. The Gamecocks followed up a week with losses to Manhattan and USC Upstate by going 2-1 in the Honolulu tournament, with wins over previously unbeaten St. Mary’s and Akron. Sandwiched in between was a 26 point drubbing by Boise State, but that’s alright because Frank Martin was in desperate need of wins. Freshman guard Duane Notice was the star of the trip, scoring in double figures in each of the three games. He had only scored 19 points on the season prior to the trip, but he scored 39 in USC’s three tournament games. The Gamecocks’ scouting work probably won’t be as intense as usual this week as they will play Akron on Saturday, just three days after beating the Zips in their Diamond Head finale.
As action died down around the conference over the holiday week, let’s revisit an article written a few weeks ago about Arkansas guard Michael Qualls. The Razorback has largely flown under the radar this season, but should start causing SEC hoops fans to take a second look with conference play about to start. The sophomore is averaging 14.1 points per game after logging only 4.6 per game last season. What’s most impressive is the efficient way in which he’s been scoring those points. His true shooting percentage (65.8%) is sixth best in the conference, and his player efficiency ranking (24.1) ranks ninth. Oh, and he annihilated a poor Southern Illinois-Edwardsville player with this dunk to begin the season. It’s time to take notice of this rising SEC star.
One of the greatest players in Missouri history is keeping his NBA dream alive in the D-League. But this Tiger didn’t play for Frank Haith or Mike Anderson; he goes way back to Quin Snyder. At the ripe basketball age of 33, Kareem Rush is attempting to return to the NBA with the Los Angeles D-Fenders after being waived by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009-10 because of a torn ACL. The Columbia Tribune‘s Joey Kaufman writes, “the average age of the D-Fenders is 26 years old, and nearly all of them were in junior high school when Rush led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight in 2002.” Rush is the darling of a generation of Missouri fans that falls between the Anthony Peeler-led teams of the mid 90s and NCAA Tournament drought-busting teams of Mike Anderson. It’s probably a longshot that he finds another NBA roster spot, but it’s encouraging to see a player come back from injury and give it his best against all odds.
Tennessee’s home loss to North Carolina State was “as bad as they come,” according to SI.com‘s Seth Davis. He writes, “first of all, how can a point guard (Memphis transfer Antonio Barton) play 21 minutes, miss all eight shots and not record a single assist? That can’t happen, ever. And Jordan McRae (6-for-22) needs to recognize when his shot isn’t falling and find other ways to help his team win. Lotta kinks to work out before the start of conference play.” Barton’s ineffectiveness with this (especially shooting the three) has been a problem, but another issue is the Volunteers’ lack of depth. They are reliant on three freshmen to give them quality off the bench (A.J. Davis, Darius Thompson and Robert Hubbs), but none of the three has stepped forward and been consistently productive this season. That needs to change if Tennessee is to make a run at a NCAA tournament bid. Each player has a potential role and skill set that could greatly help the Vols. Hubbs has the talent to be a primary scoring option, Thompson can be a distributor and Davis has size behind Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Whether they can reach this potential remains to be seen, but it will be a key for Cuonzo Martin.
The lone blemish for the SEC on opening weekend was Alabama‘s loss to Oklahoma on Friday. “Obviously disappointed with the loss, but you have to compliment Oklahoma,” Anthony Grant said. “I thought they did a really good job attacking when we had a big lead in the first half, and I thought they did a good job on the offensive glass all night.” That big lead makes the loss especially disappointing, as the Tide went up 26-10 out of the gate. Trevor Releford was stuck to the bench with the foul trouble for a good portion of the game, and ended up with a ho-hum 12 points. It would probably be irresponsible to point the finger at the new hand-check rule because Releford, the active SEC steals leader, is an aggressive player by nature. This was a missed opportunity for the Tide, but they still have games against UCLA, Wichita State, and Xavier to put together a solid non-conference resume.
LSU is one three SEC teams yet to play a game, and travels to Amherst to play Massachusetts to kick of its season this evening. Among all the talent Johnny Jones has brought in, reigning SEC first-teamer Johnny O’Bryant III is the player most game plans will be built around. O’Bryant took a risk by not entering a weak 2013 NBA draft class. As talented as he is, he isn’t the top 10 lock that fellow returnee Marcus Smart is in the upcoming historically strong draft class. But O’Bryant is a raw athlete and his game will certainly benefit with another year in Baton Rouge. The SEC is better for it too, and it will be interesting to see how grows and leads a LSU team looking to return to the NCAA tournament.
NBCSports‘ Rob Dauster listed Julius Randle and Casey Prather among his top performers of the opening weekend. Randle became the first freshman since Michael Beasley to score at least 20 points and grab at least 10 rebounds in his first two games. Prather scored a career-high 28 points in Florida’s opener against North Florida, and was aggressive getting to the basket for easy baskets. Prather was a talented role player last season averaging 6 points in 17 minutes per game last season. Billy Donovan must be pleased the senior forward was able to take control of a game where Patric Young was struggling and numerous contributors were out.
Randle picked up some official accolades as well, as he was named this season’s first SEC Player of the Week. Missouri point guard Wes Clark was named Freshman of the Week for his 13 point, 7 rebound, 4 assist effort against Southeastern Louisiana. Clark was certainly a bright spot for the Tigers, showing the ability to set up Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown from three, and get his own shot when needed. He also flashed defensive and driving potential with his stockier frame. Clark was good, but shouldn’t Randle, the Player of the Week and a freshman, also have been the Freshman of the Week? This logical oddity will likely be around the entire season, but this isn’t a call to flood the SEC offices with angry e-mails. If the SEC applied these awards literally Randle would probably end up monopolizing them both.
Arkansas guard Michael Qualls has already put himself in the running for “dunk of the year” with this slam against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. The dunk is exciting enough, but Mike Anderson must also be pleased with Qualls overall play in the team’s first game (6/10 FG, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist). The Razorbacks have a handful of guards with experience, and having numbers is important in Anderson’s fast-paced, pressure system. But he needs one or more of his guards to step up and shoulder more of the offensive load. Getting 16 points from Qualls, 18 points from Anthlon Bell, and 11 points for Mardarcus Wade on a combined 15-23 shooting is encouraging.
This Weekend’s Lede. It started somewhat unceremoniously with a nondescript game between Air Force and Army in something called the All-Military Classic in Lexington, Virginia. But after seven long months of quiet, the early afternoon tip between two of the military academies in a tiny gym on the campus of VMI represented the reappearance of the sport we call college basketball. For years we’ve clamored for an Opening Night with the appropriate pomp and fanfare that the game deserves upon its November arrival, and with the excitement around social media and the number of good games available on the various networks, we’re getting there. Some 225 other games involving D-I teams came throughout the weekend, and even though there were no aircraft carrier games scattered about the land, there was still plenty to get juiced about.
Your Watercooler Moment. The Triumphant Return of Joshua Smith.
Joshua Smith Showed Off His Dominant Post Game in the Armed Forces Classic
Approximately one year ago, the last time any of us saw Joshua Smith, we were subjected to this embarrassing crime against basketball. After a transfer year when he traveled cross-country to Georgetown and received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, it was hard to say what to expect this time around. We’ve always known that the 6’10”, 300+ pound center has soft hands, quick feet that belie his size and great touch around the basket, but his weight, and correspondingly, his stamina, have remained problematic. He simply couldn’t stay on the floor at UCLA, averaging only 19.3 minutes per game in a little over two seasons. But on Friday, for at least one night, Smith appeared to be a different player. Although Georgetown lost the Armed Forces Classic game to Oregon, the burly center logged 27 fruitful minutes, shot 10-of-13 from the field, and looked downright unstoppable inside on his way to 25 points. The Hoyas wouldn’t have been within 15 points of the Ducks were it not for Smith’s production, and it begs the question: Has the change of scenery allowed Smith to turn the corner in his development? If so, and what we saw this weekend is any indication, Georgetown has found itself with one of the most talented big men in the nation.
Sights & Sounds. Plenty of great stuff from Friday night, so check out the separate post we put together on Saturday to store it all. The top dunks, buzzer-beaters and some other notable videos and images are all over there, but we saved the best buzzer-beater of the weekend for here. Dayton was down two points as IPFW looked to inbound the ball to ice the big road upset. Then, this happened…
Brutal. And in case you’re too lazy to click through, here’s the best dunk of the weekend for good measure. Michael Qualls!
Top Storyline. Four Freshman Phenoms. We’ve been talking about them all offseason, and the debuts of some of the nation’s top rookies was everything we had hoped it would be. On Friday night, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins were all playing at the same time, and none disappointed. In a dominant win over Davidson, Parker went for 22/6 on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor that included a silky-smooth 3-of-3 from deep. Randle did Parker one better with a 23/15 performance against UNC-Asheville that included an impressive 11-of-13 from the foul line. He followed that up with another 22/14/3 assts against Northern Kentucky on Sunday, becoming the first freshman to go for consecutive double-doubles in his first two collegiate games since Michael Beasley pulled the trick six years ago. Wiggins didn’t have a dominant performance in Kansas’ win over Louisiana-Monroe, tallying 16/3/3 stls in 34 minutes of action. The trio will all be on display tomorrow night at the Champions Classic, and so far, so good. We also shouldn’t forget Arizona’s star freshman, Aaron Gordon, who put up a 13/10/4 blks double-double himself in the Wildcats’ win over Cal Poly.
Four More Weekend Storylines.
These Games Are Foul. Well, some of them are, at least. There was an awful lot of preseason discussion given to the new hand-checking rules and how coaches, players and officials would have to adjust on the fly. Results have been mixed. One team that many pundits thought would be most impacted, Louisville, only had 14 total fouls in a 62-possession game against Charleston. On the other hand, a Seton Hall-Niagara game on Saturday resulted in a dreadful 73 fouls in an 81-possession game. In fact, there were more free throw attempts (102) than field goal attempts (101) in that game, which two hours and 28 minutes to complete. A total of 24 teams were called for 30 or more fouls over the weekend, while 18 were called for fewer than 15. The national average last season was 17.7 fouls per team per game (or 35.4 fouls per game), so this is definitely a trend worth watching.
ACC Darling Boston College Struggling. BC was a chic pick to make some noise in the ACC this season, and certainly there’s a lot of time left for the Eagles to get things going. But two losses over the weekend revealed that the same issues that Steve Donahue’s team had last season haven’t been solved. They still can’t guard anybody. In losses against Providence and Massachusetts, Boston College gave up 1.04 and 1.20 points per possession, respectively, and an average of 84 points per game. Furthermore, Bryce Cotton (28 points) and Cady Lalanne (27 points) lit their defense up, getting the shots they wanted whenever they wanted. Last season the Eagles finished 192nd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency; if they don’t figure out a way to limit easy looks from the opposition, they’ll be staring another .500 season in the face not matter how good their offense becomes.
Mr. Robinson May Need a New Neighborhood. It was no secret that Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson came into this season on the hot seat. After yet another embarrassing home loss to a low-major team Sunday night, he may want to go ahead and start picking out his moving company. MEAC teams were 1-89 in the last two seasons against power conference schools (the one victory was Norfolk State over Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament), and they were 0-5 so far this season. That is, until Coppin State went into Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum and used its athleticism and timely three-point shooting to lead for much of the game before walking out with a Pac-12 scalp. Robinson has had a history of these types of awful home losses, and adding another one to his resume surely doesn’t help things for him in Corvallis.
Other Weekend Upsets. Virginia Tech and Miami (FL) suffered tough home losses over the weekend (to USC Upstate and St. Francis (NY), respectively), but both of those programs were expected to be rebuilding this season. The biggest upset of the weekend instead had to have been Kansas State’s shocking home loss to Northern Colorado on Friday night. The jokes about Bruce Weber losing with some of his own players started in earnest immediately after the game, but it was two holdovers from last season’s Big 12 co-champions in Shane Southwell and Will Spradling who were largely responsible for this one. The duo combined to shoot a miserable 4-of-22 from the field and 2-of-12 from behind the arc.
Your Weekend All-Americans.
Julius Randle, Kentucky (NPOY). Consecutive double-doubles to start a collegiate career for the first time since Michael Beasley did it in 2007-08 makes this an easy choice. Through three days of action, he’s the NPOY.
Jabari Parker, Duke. Parker didn’t board like Randle but he scored more efficiently, missing only two shots in his debut.
Joshua Smith, Georgetown. As mentioned above, Smith’s 25/4 on 10-of-13 shooting was his best game in nearly two years.
TJ Warren, NC State. Warren went off for 27/8/3 assts as the Wolfpack beat Appalachian State to start a season of very low expectations.
Opening Night produced a number of great individual moments, if not so many great games. We’ll have our full After the Buzzer feature on Monday morning covering the top storylines from the entire weekend, but we thought it would be fun to highlight the best sights and sounds from last night beforehand. We’ll start with a fantastic buzzer-beater, and sprinkle in the top four dunks of the evening and some other things. Here goes…
Buzzer-Beating. The best buzzer-beater of the night came from Irvine, where Fresno State’s Allen Huddleston hit a half-court bank shot to win the game, coming on the heels of four straight previous back-and-forth scores by each team leading to the fantastic finish.
Husker Crue. Tommy Lee performed at the opening of Nebraska’s Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday night.
Tommy Lee Performed at the Opening of the Pinnacle Bank Arena (credit: 30FPS)
#4 Dunkdafied: Baye Moussa Keita, Syracuse. He looked like he was going to continue flying on through the backboard.
Armed Forces Cluster. Really enjoyed the Armed Forces Classic between Oregon and Georgetown, but not so much this botched version of the national anthem.