Thursday Night Doldrums. There weren’t a lot of great games on paper tonight, and it turned out to be the case in reality as most of the marquee games were average at best. We’ll break down the biggest two games, and just highlight the others.
Purdue Didn’t Choke, But Kelsey Barlow Did. #7 Purdue 78, Indiana 75. The one exception tonight was this game in Bloomington between the surging Boilermakers and the home Hoosiers. These two teams went back and forth for thirty-eight minutes before a 5-0 run keyed by Robbie Hummel (21/7) and E’Twaun Moore (14/5/3 assts) put Matt Painter’s team in position to win at IU for the first time since the 90s. Indiana had a shot to tie the game at the buzzer, but Verdell Jones III’s (22/6/4 assts) shot from around 40 feet missed the mark, and Purdue won its fifth straight game prior to the big showdown with Michigan State next Tuesday. JaJuan Johnson had a big night with 21/7, and as we’ve discussed in this space before, when the big man is putting in the work, Purdue is a much better team. He’s gone for 18/8 a night during the Boilers’ five-game winning streak; in the previous three-game losing streak, he put up an average of 6/5. Obviously Matt Painter and his guards want to keep Johnson happy. As for Indiana, their second-consecutive loss on the final possession stings, but it’s further evidence that Tom Crean’s team isn’t all that far from competing in the Big Ten. We’d suppose that one year from now IU will be winning these close games. Final note: starter Kelsey Barlow will undoubtedly be suspended as soon as Matt Painter sees the below image (taken in the final moments of the game). Brilliant move, that one.
When Will Kelsey Barlow's Suspension Begin?
Dud in Durham. #9 Duke 86, #19 Georgia Tech 67. This was fairly close until three minutes left in the first half, at which point the Blue Devils turned up the defense a couple of clicks and began to separate themselves from the Yellow Jackets. The one thing Tech couldn’t afford was to let Duke hit a three at the end of the half and make it a double-digit lead, so when Jon Scheyer found Kyle Singler in the corner for a trey as the buzzer sounded, you didn’t need a Magic 8-ball to predict the Jackets’ second half. Georgia Tech got in early foul trouble and never came close to finding a rhythm against the Devils, who looked comfy at home as usual. You would never have known that it was the Yellow Jackets who came in with the nation’s fourth-best defense (holding opponents to 37% shooting per game). Duke shot holes through that with tremendous ease, and got big games they needed from Singler (30/5 on 9-17 shooting) and Scheyer (21/7 assts), not to mention a helpful 11 boards from Lance Thomas in a performance that was frankly better than their current #9 ranking.
***** - quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live **** - best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home *** - set your tivo but make sure you watch it later ** - set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012 * - don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Georgia Tech @ Florida State – 12 pm on ESPN360 (****)
This contest between two 14-4 teams should be highly entertaining. FSU’s early season success is starting to look less impressive as their earlier opponents continue to struggle and the Seminoles drag their feet through ACC play. Nevertheless, the Seminoles have built a solid resume so far and a win over Georgia Tech would only further their tournament potential. At the beginning of conference play in Atlanta, Florida State handed the Yellow Jackets their only home loss of the season in overtime. Ryan Reid, a senior who hadn’t scored in double digits in his previous nine games, led the Seminoles with 17 in that game. Could he have the hot hand again on Sunday? A more likely scenario would be for the scoring to come from big men Solomon Alabi and Gani Lawal. Georgia Tech averages more points per game, but Ken Pomeroy ranks their offense 73rd in offensive efficiency, so look for Tech’s offense to slow down against a Seminoles squad that surrenders just 59.8 points per game. The Yellow Jackets have a respectable 4-2 road record, but given FSU’s performances at home this year, and that they won the first matchup in Atlanta, expect the Seminoles to remain a four-loss team.
Cincinnati @ Louisville – 12 pm on ESPN360 (***)
These are the games that the selection committee takes a look at when they decide who gets left out of the tournament. The 13-6 Bearcats and 12-7 Cardinals have some work to do to play themselves back in, and a win Sunday would be a good start. With wins over Notre Dame and South Florida in their last two games, UC already appears to be on their way to improving their stock. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have lost three games in a row, and a fourth consecutive loss will not help their chances. One of the worst qualities about UL is their inability to finish close games. Of their seven losses, five have been by single digits, including a heartbreaking collapse in the final minute against Pitt followed by a three point loss to Seton Hall. Louisville at least has the luxury of playing at home, and Cincinnati is just 1-4 on the road this year. UC’s Lance Stephenson and Samardo Samuels will be interesting to watch. Both players are extremely inconsistent, so if one has a hot hand on Sunday they will likely lead their team to victory.
Penn State @ Wisconsin – 2:30 pm on BTN (***)
Wisconsin has had a respectable 2-1 record since Jon Leuer’s injury, but they have gotten it done in extremely ugly ways. In their 54-48 win against Michigan last week, they did not take their first lead until there was just three minutes left in the game, largely due to a 6:05 scoreless streak to start the game. They shot just 34 percent from the field, including 16.7 percent from beyond the arc, which will not cut it every night. However, it may be enough to get by Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 0-6 in the Big Ten this year, and have lost to bad teams like Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan. Teams just don’t win in the Kohl Center, and Penn State is no exception. Besides junior guard Talor Battle, the Nittany Lions do not have a second option on offense. With Wisconsin only surrendering 56.2 points per game this year (due largely in part to their ability to run the clock down on every possession) look for even Battle to struggle in this game. Still, Penn State’s last three losses have come by a total of 10 points, so they may end up losing another close one in Madison.
Wisconsin: First RTC of the Season? If anyone knows of another one, let us know. But this is the first one we’ve seen this year. But c’mon Musberger, get it right! RUSH. THE. COURT. (Ed. note – apparently UNLV fans RTC’d on Saturday after defeating Louisville, which is about as unjustified of an RTC as we’ve ever heard of… goodness gracious, folks, it’s Vegas. And beating an overrated Louisville team excites you?)
Story of the Night. Big Ten Finally Gets Monkey Off Its Back. It didn’t turn out the way we thought it would tonight, but it did end up as a 6-5 victory for the Big Ten schools over their ACC counterparts. Two unexpected events conspired to make this possible — Illinois’ inspirational comeback win at Clemson after being down by as many as 23 points in the second half, and Wisconsin’s home victory over Duke in the type of game the Blue Devils always seem to win (because, well, they do — Duke was 10-0 in the ACC/B10 Challenge prior to tonight). These two surprises combined with Ohio State’s expected win over Florida State at the end of the evening resulted in three straight victories at the end of the Challenge to put the midwesterners on top for the first time EVER. So what does that mean? Does it prove once and for all that the Big Ten is better than the ACC this year? Well, not at all. In fact, if anything, this year’s Challenge has shown us that the middle of the ACC might be a tad bit stronger than we thought it was (Wake, Miami, BC, Clemson). Now… about our predictions for tonight. Regression to the mean is the lesson here. After a perfect 6-0 start over the first two evenings of play, it all crashed and burned with a 1-4 record tonight. But yeah, at least we called it, baby! That’s all that matters! 6-5 Big Ten over the ACC, just like we said!*
*note – our Caribbean friends disagree with this assessment.
Game of the Night #1.Wisconsin 73, #5 Duke 69. Duke took its first ever loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge tonight for two reasons as we saw them. First, their big men other than Kyle Singler (28/6/3 assts) were virtually nonexistent. Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers combined for just six points and fourteen rebounds. Compare that with 16/27 against UConn last week, and you’ll see that almost all of the scoring burden fell onto the Duke backcourt + Singler. Second, Wisconsin’s Trevon Hughes was spectacular tonight. The senior guard shredded the Duke defense for a career-high 26 pts, using an assortment of drives to the basket to go along with a solid outside stroke (4-7 threes). After taking an 11-pt lead with five minutes to go, though, Duke guard Andre Dawkins nearly brought the Devils back all by himself, hitting three straight triples to cut the lead down to 2 with two minutes left. It appeared that this was going to be one of those epic Duke comeback wins, but UW ran clock down the stretch (surprise) and when Singler missed a wild layup attempt off the bottom of the backboard with under thirty seconds left, it was clear the Badgers were going to take the win tonight. One odd situation occurred in the very last few plays, when color commentator Bob Knight seemed to lose his mind for a moment as he stated that Wisconsin was “for sure” at worst going to overtime after only going up two with 4.9 seconds left (he clearly thought they were up three), and then contemplated whether Trevon Hughes should intentionally miss his second FT (again, thinking up three). What’s that phrase coaches like to use? Time and score? Can you imagine if one of Knight’s players had made a similar mistake at such a key juncture? Maybe now we know why Texas Tech wasn’t nearly as good as Knight’s Indiana teams — he wasn’t paying attention!
Game of the Night #2. Illinois 76, #19 Clemson 74. What can you say about Bruce Weber’s young backcourt of Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson tonight other than we’re extremely impressed. There is absolutely no way that Clemson should have lost this game. The Tigers ran out to a 20-pt halftime lead, pushed it up to 23 early in the second half, and had Littlejohn rocking. But Weber’s kids dug deep, showed the kind of composure that belies their age, and dropped a combined five threes in the next ten minutes of a 35-10 run that got the Illini back into the game and ultimately allowed them an opportunity to steal this one away from Clemson and the ACC. The Clemson players suggested that they relaxed after getting such a big lead, and from our viewpoint, there’s probably something to that. It certainly appeared that Illinois was the team with the drive and moxie throughout most of the second half, and when it came down to Demontez Stitt’s driving layup attempt at the buzzer, we just had a feeling that it wasn’t going down. It didn’t, and Illinois has a rallying cry for the rest of this season no matter how badly they’re playing. Mike Davis had 22/9 for the Illini, but as mentioned above, it was the youthful backcourt of Paul and Richardson (34/8/5 assts) that made tonight happen.
Game of the Night #3.#21 UNLV 74, Arizona 72 (2OT). The Runnin’ Rebels justified their shiny new Top 25 ranking by taking to the road for the first time this season, heading down to Arizona, and knocking off the Wildcats in double-overtime. Despite poor overall shooting from both teams (UNLV 39.7%, UA 36.5%; both teams less than 20% from three!) this one was neck-and-neck from the tip, as neither team ever led by more than six points the whole way. Arizona got up three in the second OT but UNLV’s Derrick Jasper (12/7/5/3 stls) hit one from deep to tie it at 70, and the Wildcats never led after that. Tre’Von Willis continued to carve his name out on the national scene with 25/4 for the Rebs, and Arizona got a huge game from freshman forward Derrick Williams with 28/5 on 10-15 shooting. This kind of win in such a difficult and hostile setting can only help Lon Kruger’s club, which has a few easy ones coming up except for a home game against Kansas State thrown in there on 12/12. If they can get by those Wildcats, there’s a very good chance UNLV will be 12-0 going into a pair of tough road games in early January at BYU and at (currently undefeated) New Mexico.
Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Atlantic South) are located here.
It’s time for the fourth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of states bordering the Gulf of Mexico known as the Deep South region. Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season. Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation. Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man. We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off. The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?
Ed. Note: our assumption is that Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney will not be eligible to play this season.
Aubrey Coleman – Sr, G – Houston. Young Mr. Coleman was a controversial pick for our panel, to say the least. There’s no denying his talent, but the 6’4 rock of a player went national (and viral) last season for his footplant on Chase Budinger’s face during a game at Arizona. Seriously, that thing made what Christian Laettner did to Aminu Timberlake in 1992 look like playtime in the sandbox. Coleman served his one-game suspension for the ugly incident, and proceeded to take out any residual anger he might have on the rest of Conference USA to the tune of twelve double-doubles and becoming the only player to finish in the top five in both CUSA scoring and rebounding. Yeah, rebounding. At 6’4. Playing guard. If that doesn’t give you a clue as to Coleman’s toughness (despite his cowardly act against Budinger), we don’t know what will. Despite his position, Coleman makes it a common practice to regularly venture into the lane for frequent trips to the foul line on offense and for rebounds on defense (ranks #294 in def reb%). He also ranked in the top 25 nationally in steals, and we should point out that only three guards in the entire country pulled down more boards per game than Coleman. About the only part of Coleman’s game that isn’t quite honed is his outside shot (21% on threes), but he doesn’t take many, which shows recognition of his strengths and weaknesses. With two star players (including Kelvin Lewis) returning for their senior seasons in Houston, it’s safe to say that Tom Penders is sitting on an explosive duo who could lead UH to a successful slate in a wide-open CUSA and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in nearly twenty years.
Damion James – Sr, F – Texas. Just three days prior to the declaration deadline for the 2009 NBA Draft, Damion James told Texas head coach Rick Barnes that he’d be returning for a final season in Austin, a decision that drastically alters the expectations of a Longhorns team that underachieved a campaign ago. Texas should be a top-five team in 2009-10 due to an influx of talent from all angles: from returnees like Dexter Pittman, to transfers like Jai Lucas, stud freshmen like Avery Bradley and, most importantly, a senior season from Damion James. James has just about as much pure athletic talent as any forward in the nation featuring an NBA-ready body, constant activity on the glass and an ability to run the floor like few other 6’7 forwards. The issue with James has always been complacency and wavering effort. Often James will hang around the perimeter, settle for outside shots, disappear when his team needs him the most or settle for being a secondary figure when a player with the ability of James should always be The Man. When James is motivated, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player in the Big 12 that can contain him. James finished on the All-Big 12 Second Team his junior season after finishing with 15.4 ppg and 9.2 rpg a year following a sophomore campaign in which James averaged a double-double. James ranked fourth in the Big 12 in rebounding, tenth in the conference in scoring and totaled double-figures on 31 occasions in 2008-09. A player the caliber of James should be right there with Cole Aldrich and Craig Brackins at the top of potential Big 12 POY candidates for the upcoming season. He should be a first round pick and he should average another double-double. One of the reasons I have Texas pegged #2 in the nation preseason is because I trust James to provide that consistent effort for Rick Barnes in search of a very realistic Final Four.