Posted by rtmsf on February 2nd, 2011
The Lede. It’s snow-and-ice-pocalypse across a major swath of the midwest and east tonight, but that doesn’t stop us from delivering this evening’s news and analysis from the comforts of our couch. Tonight games from Boston to Boulder and everywhere in between were moved, postponed or played in front of sparse crowds of people avoiding the weather. No matter where you sit, whether in the frigid zones getting decked by the snow or the warmer climes elsewhere, there was some pretty good basketball going on around the nation tonight. Let’s keep everybody out there safe tomorrow trying to dig out of it, though.
Are Harrison Barnes & UNC Turning the Corner? (A. Hunger/NO)
Your Watercooler Moment. Is Carolina Back? After winning eight of nine games coming into tonight’s contest at Boston College, UNC had already re-established itself back in the national rankings (#23 AP; #24 RTC) but there was a still-tenuous feeling among many about whether Roy Williams’ team was actually legitimate or not. After all, the Heels’ best win in that streak was at home against Virginia Tech and there is still that lingering image of a craptacular performance at Georgia Tech a couple of Sundays ago. Delving into the Heels’ resume, though, shows that their other losses really aren’t all that bad — a two-point loss to Texas (playing as well as anyone right now) in addition to Ls to Illinois, Minnesota and Vanderbilt. These are all forgivable losses especially for a young team, but the question on everyone’s mind is whether a performance like tonight where the Heels ripped a solid BC team by 32 points is the start of something special? We’re not quite ready to go there yet, but the recent offensive emergence of Harrison Barnes (career highs of 25 pts vs. NC State over the weekend and 26 pts tonight) gives Carolina a dimension on the wing that they haven’t had. In those two games, Barnes has already hit nearly a quarter of his entire number of threes made for the season, and the transition of Kendall Marshall to the starting lineup in place of Larry Drew over the last four games has been an effective one. Neither Marshall nor Drew are the type of players in the mold of Ty Lawson or Raymond Felton who will push the Carolina attack into overdrive en route to a national title, but Marshall in particular has shown a propensity for distributing the ball (his assist rate is through the roof per minute played), and for the first time all season we are now convinced that UNC is indeed the #2 team in the ACC behind Duke. The key takeaway with tonight’s win is that Roy Williams’ team is getting better — they’re not going to the Final Four and they may not even be Sweet Sixteen-worthy this season, but in a watered-down ACC, they should have enough to at least get back to the NCAA Tournament and quite possibly win a first round game. With presumably everyone back next season, Carolina fans could once again have the building blocks to get back onto their typical Final Four every-other-year track.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- The Big Ten Mucky Muck. Two Big Ten games tonight proved that home teams are pretty good in this league most of the time and that it’s looking more and more like there will be a five-team race for second place in the league behind Ohio State. Purdue dropped its fourth road game in a row to go 7-3 in the conference, and as we all know, Madison isn’t a good place to come out of a road losing streak. Meanwhile, Illinois broke its two-game tailspin (and four of five) with a strong defensive performance in front of about twenty fans versus Penn State. With the results of these two games tonight, OSU now has a three-game lead on Purdue, but the Boilermakers and the next five teams (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State) are all within two games of each other. It’s going to be a wild second half of the season to see how that league shakes out in the middle.
- KU’s Odd Luck in Lubbock. Strangely, Bill Self had never won a game in Lubbock prior to tonight’s destruction of the Red Raiders, 88-66. In games in 2005, 2007 and 2009, KU went to Texas Tech with a top ten ranking and came away with losses in all three visits. Tonight’s game was a completely different story, as Kansas ran out to a huge halftime lead and never looked back. The Jayhawks put five players in double figures, including the Morris twins’ combined 29/16, but the most notable performance of the evening came from Thomas Robinson, who had his second consecutive great 17/9 night, well above his season averages of 9/6. This is wonderful to see.
- Brandon Knight, Meet the Hand (of Reggie Buckner). One of the best blocks we’ve seen all season long sent the Ole Miss home crowd into a frenzy. Welcome to D1, rookie. Oh, and Chris Warren hit a 25-foot three to win the game. That too.
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