ATB: CJ McCollum’s Injury, Illinois Thrashes Ohio State, and Cincinnati’s Big Letdown…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 7th, 2013


Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The Weekend’s Lede. This weekend brought a comforting turn in the hoops calendar. It was the first weekend spent in the throes of conference play. On Saturday, starting at 11am ET with Pittsburgh at Rutgers and on through Sunday night, high-quality games could be found on various networks. There were upsets, blowouts, and predictable results – all of which we’ve seen at different stages this season. But there’s a different vibe when it comes to conference play, to me at least, and it was refreshing to take it all in. Gone are the days of high majors beating down cupcakes. Most conference games are real, competitive, no-sleep-walking-allowed basketball games. And they’re here to stay, at least until April. This put me in an especially rosy mood, which is a good sign for what lies ahead in 2013, and an even better sign for college basketball in general. League competition is already shaking perceptions and standings in noticeable ways, and we haven’t even yet broken free of the college football fever. Just wait until February; I can hardly hide my excitement. So let’s recap the first conference weekend. It was a good one.

Your Watercooler Moment. CJ McCollum Breaks His Foot.

After bursting on the scene during last season's upset over No. 2 Duke, McCollum could very well have seen his last sample of NCAA Tournament basketball (Photo credit: AP).

After bursting on the scene during last season’s upset over No. 2 Duke, McCollum could very well have seen his last sample of NCAA Tournament basketball (Photo credit: AP).

Twice this season C.J. McCollum has left NBA Scouts looking for refunds on game tickets. The first time was a minor medical ailment. McCollum sprained his ankle and couldn’t suit up for a Dec. 20 game against North Texas. Saturday’s injury was far more severe. What’s truly saddening about McCollum’s broken foot isn’t the lengthy eight-to-ten-week recovery or the implications for his NBA draft status. It’s the fact that McCollum made the move most college basketball fans wish future first-round picks would make more often. McCollum eschewed guaranteed millions to play out his eligibility. In April, he penned a reflective piece explaining his decision. The SportingNews’ Mike DeCourcy dug up one of McCollum’s pivotal justifications: “By returning for my senior year, I give myself a chance to complete my degree at a prestigious university, while putting myself in a position to be successful no matter what happens in my future.” McCollum will still accomplish those goals, but the basketball component of his senior year won’t go as planned. Passing up the professional game for another year in college is always risky business. Many players wind up hurting their “draft stock” and regretting their decisions. McCollum should be back before the end of the season, and I have little doubt he can redeem whatever shine he may lose during his recovery, whether that be in the midst of a late-season Tournament surge or in draft workouts. McCollum is a preternaturally gifted scorer. He belongs in the NBA. This will do little, if anything, to hurt his draft prospects – provided he returns to his pre-injury form. It’s a tough setback, but nothing McCollum, a determined, clear-headed and driven individual, cannot overcome.

Also Worth Chatting About. Nothing Will Come Easy In The Big Ten.

The Illini didn't need hot three-point shooting to dominate Ohio State in Champaign (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

The Illini didn’t need hot three-point shooting to dominate Ohio State in Champaign (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

The formula to Illinois’ early success was flawed. It depended heavily on the three-point shot, which is an inherently risky way to win basketball games, but even more perilous when you don’t have a reliable source of interior scoring. Which Illinois didn’t…..until Saturday. The Illini’s win over Ohio State wasn’t surprising. It was the way Illinois bombarded the Buckeyes not with long-range shots, but with effective low post play. Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu was slowly, surely coming around of late, but he came up small in this week’s loss at Purdue, and one was starting to get the sense he was still a year or two away from contributing in meaningful ways. On Saturday, he showed up, and boy, does Ohio State wish he hadn’t. Egwu finished with 16 points and eight rebounds to bail out Illinois’ again poor three-point shooting (8-for-27). Illinois showed it doesn’t need the long-ball to knock off good teams – at least not when Egwu’s holding fort in the paint. The same problems remain with Ohio State: Can anyone help DeShaun Thomas shoulder the scoring load? Is Aaron Craft that guy? Will Shannon Scott, Laquinton Ross and Sam Thompson pick up steam as the season rolls along? This will give John Groce’s team boatloads of confidence for an upcoming home date with Minnesota, but the way the Gophers have looked thus far, it may need to recapture its hot three-point shooting stroke to spring the upset.

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ATB: Crosstown Rivalry Plays Out With Minimal Fuss, The Pitino Family Tilt, and Texas\’ Misfortune…

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 20th, 2012


Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Normalcy Reigns In One Of College Hoops’ Best Rivalries. The organic hate developed as a historical byproduct of uninterrupted competition is what makes rivalry games hum. Those sentiments spilled out of bounds in last season’s rendition of the Crosstown Shootout, when Xavier and Cincinnati’s annual meeting erupted into a full-out brawl that led to multiple suspensions, a relocation of the series from campus gyms to a neutral site arena and a name change to diffuse violent tensions (Crosstown Classic). The repackaged form of the Crosstown whatever ensued Wednesday night, only without most of the protagonists from last year’s melee, and with each program in a completely different place than it was a year ago. This time around, Cincinnati – owners of the nation’s 6th-rated defense on a per-possession scale, a relentless backcourt trio and an undefeated record – had the upper hand; Xavier is still incorporating a host of young pieces and learning on the fly after losing five starters. The end result was pretty much what you might expect: Xavier mustered enough emotion and pride to hang around for most of the night, but was eventually outlasted by Mick Cronin’s team. The outcome was less important than the event itself. There were no punches thrown, no pre-game radio waves trashtalk, no nonsense in the postgame news conference. It was organically competitive basketball, with all the natural emotions of a rivalry contained to enhance, but not dominate, the actual game being played. The Crosstown Shootout is no more; the refurbished edition isn’t all that much different (the variations are cosmetic, much less inherently structural). And that’s good news.

Your Watercooler Moment. Father-Son Coaching Matchup Highlights Louisville-FIU.

The elder Pitino was all smiles after dispatching son Richard\'s FIU team (Photo credit: Getty Images)

The understudy didn’t have the manpower or the experience to spring the upset on his old man – not when Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals are playing some of the best basketball in the country, not when Peyton Siva connects on a career-high five three-pointers and sophomore Wayne Blackshear notches 18 points (also a career-high). This was an unfair fight from the start, both tactically and personnel-wise; the younger Pitino never really stood a chance. Louisville was expected to cruise to a win, and that’s exactly what happened. For Richard Pitino, this game wasn’t about making a statement by beating one of the nation’s best teams. It was about the younger Pitino getting his first real shot in the national spotlight, and despite the lopsided scoreline, there was nothing embarrassing about his first jab at the man that showed him the coaching ropes. Not all young coaches are instantaneously successful. The Brad Stevens’ and Shaka Smarts of the world are not how most coaches break into the profession. Richard Pitino has the bloodlines to be successful, and that’s as auspicious a natural advantage as any young coach could ask for. Who knows how long or how fruitful the younger Pitino’s career will be. As it stands, his development is an interesting storyline to keep tabs on. The longer he coaches and the more he learns, I suspect Richard Pitino to develop many of the same mannerisms and principles – the feet stomping, the sideline death stares, the trademark defense-first philosophy – as the future Hall of Famer who raised him.

Tonight\’s Quick Hits…

  • Signs Of Progress For Texas. The main story of Texas’ season thus far is the continued absence of point guard Myck Kabongo, which reached a climactic end Wednesday night with the Yahoo! Sports report that revealed sophomore point guard has been suspended for the season after lying to NCAA investigators. Another angle is the Longhorns’ youth, which is evident in large quantities all over the floor, albeit extremely talented. The undertold narrative of the Longhorns’ slow start is their remarkably stout defense, which ranks fourth in the country on a per-possession scale and first overall in effective field goal percentage. The Longhorns lived up to their statistical bona fides on the defensive end by stifling the one-dimensional UNC Tar Heels into 21-of-67 shooting, including 3-of-19 from beyond the arc. Throw in 15 points from sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes and 18 from freshman Cameron Ridley, and what you get is a dominating 18-point dismantling of Roy Williams’ team. Read the rest of this entry »
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