Posted by Chris Johnson on November 19th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC National Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Your Weekend Lede. Nonleague Tournaments Offer Raw But Exciting Brand of Hoops. The best teams don’t peak in November. They use the non-conference season as a testing lab to kick around various formations and tactical tweaks. They fashion early judgments on rotation splits and playing time allotments. The college basketball season is a process that involves building and maturing over a four-month period, rounding into form around late February, then peaking in time for the postseason. Most squads are far from finished products. So the basketball you see being played in exempted tournaments across the country in recent days isn’t nearly as crisp or fundamentally sound as the fine-tuned brand of tourney hoops. Think of early-season tournaments as more as barometers for improvement: Based off its performance, each team gets a decent sense of the progress of its development, and how much tweaking needs to be done before conference play. Sloppy or not, nonleague play gives us no shortage of storylines. Here are a few that stuck out over this pre Feast-Week weekend.
Your Watercooler Moment. Another Big 12 Contender Throws Its Hat In Ring.
The Cowboys look invigorated by the arrival of Smart, and it showed in Sunday’s big win over NC State (Photo credit: AP)
Talent is the primary governing force of college basketball. It is the lifeblood of any successful team. Sure, you can do without it, but a marginally-talented team will only get you so far. We saw the tremendous implications of talent with last year’s Kentucky team, when three preternaturally-gifted freshmen carried the Wildcats to a national championship. And we saw it Sunday night, when Oklahoma State – led by sophomore forward Le’Bryan Nash and freshman guard Marcus Smart, both top-10 recruits in consecutive years – routed NC State to take first prize in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Much was made this preseason about NC State’s talent, and without doubt, the Wolfpack have it in droves. What separated the Cowboys Sunday was their defense. Travis Ford’s team held C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis and the rest of the Wolfpack to just 35.5 percent shooting. Leslie, a likely future first-round draft pick and a popular choice on preseason All American lists and top-player rankings, finished just 1-for-5 from the field with two points. Poor shooting helped doom the Wolfpack, to be sure, but for a team that entered this game missing several key players due to injuries (Brian Williams, John Paul Olukemi) and/or unsuspected departures (Cesar Guerrero), this counts as a massive victory over an ACC contender that the Cowboys can bank for the rest of the season. I’m not sure Ford could have drawn up a more favorable start to his tenure-defining season. If Nash and Smart continue to connect on this level, and the Cowboys can replicate Sunday’s defensive effort to any effect, the Big 12 title race could be more undecided than once believed.
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