Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports is reporting that UNC freshman Tyler Zeller will be returning to the Tar Heels lineup most likely in time for tomorrow night’s game against North Carolina State. According to Steve Kirschner, the Associate Director of Athletics for Communications at UNC, “It’s 99 percent that he’ll play tomorrow night.” Zeller, who broke his wrist while being fouled on a breakaway dunk (see below) against Kentucky, played well in his only game of the season as he scored 18 against Penn in the Tar Heels season-opener playing in place of the injured Tyler Hansbrough.
UNC fans were expecting to have a formidible interior with reigning national POY in Hansbrough, junior Deon Thompson, and the two freshman (Zeller and Ed Davis). Hansbrough has been Hansbrough although not as dominant as we expected (more on that in a post later this week), Thompson has played well in stretches, and Davis has been UNC’s best interior defender. However, both Thompson and Davis have had a drop-off in their production recently. Zeller may not add a lot to the Tar Heels interior defense, but he can certainly contribute offensively.
When combined with the announcement yesterday that UConn‘s Jerome Dyson was done for the season, this seems to shift the balance of power over to UNC although Pittsburgh fans may disagree after their performance on the road yesterday. In any case, it definitely makes the Tar Heels a tougher out in the tournament as they now have the strongest inside game in the country to go along with a lightning fast point guard in Ty Lawson and a sharpshooter who has found his range in Wayne Ellington.
Some UConn fans believe that losing Dyson won’t affect the Huskies as much as some in the media think because of UConn’s outstanding perimeter depth with Kemba Walker and Craig Austrie picking up the slack, but the bigger problem may come on defense. Dyson has been one of the Huskies best defenders averaging 1.8 steals per game this year. Walker isn’t that far behind at 1.0 steals per game, but any time you lose a defender like Dyson who can create that much havoc it has to be a blow for the team. I’m assuming that Jim Calhoun would have A.J. Price on Levance Fields for most of the game against Pittsburgh tonight and the Huskies may be able to get away with it because the Panthers do not have a great perimeter scorer. However, against a team like UNC, which has 2 legitimate perimeter threats in Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson, Dyson’s injury may come back to bite the Huskies in late March or early April.
The one positive thing for the Huskies is that this should lead to more driving by the opposition and more shots for Hasheem Thabeet to block.
Welcome back to another edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite. I’m back as your semi-regular host after a day off with John Stevens covering for me. Today is a kind of weird day of basketball with the best games later in the day going head-to-head against the NBA All-Star game. So hopefully everyone will be sticking with us throughout the day and the real basketball fans (the ones who actually like defense and competition) will stay with us into the night.
1:00 PM: Our early games today are Illinois at Indiana on CBS and Clemson at Virginia on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com. We’ll be updating you with highlights of those games throughout the day, but like always if there is something going on that we are missing or we make a mistake leave us a message in the comment section.
1:10 PM: Illinois is up 10-7 early. Bruce Weber‘s club must be riding high after their amazing comeback at Northwestern in their last game. Clemson is tied 3-3 in Charlottesville with 15:54 left in the first half. I’m guessing today is Sean Singletary day at UVA today based on the parts of the pre-game that I caught. Singletary, a 3-time 1st team All-ACC player, is one of three players in ACC history (Danny Ferry and Johnny Dawkins being the others) to have 2,000 career points, 500 career assists, and 400 career rebounds.
1:25 PM: Illinois is up 15-7 as we go to a TV timeout. CBS just showed a graphic about Indiana’s tough losses this year by featuring the games they led, but lost. You know the Hooisers are having a bad year when having a lead of 2 points at some point during the game is highlighted as a tough loss. Meanwhile, UVA is up 16-7 with 11:54 as they head into a timeout as well.
1:30 PM: I just noticed the electronic board on the side of the court at Assembly Hall. I guess it’s a nice fan friendly feature and probably generates some revenue through ads, but I think it looks horrendous in this famous arena. I haven’t noticed it at Cameron Indoor, but I think they should avoid it in the historic arenas.
1:40 PM: Jeff Jordan just hit a jumper for Illinois. As we noted before, he was recently was given a scholarship at Illinois. For those of you who haven’t seen him play, we think you might have missed his only big play of the day if his performance this season is any indication of what we can expect today. He’ll probably be out there quite a bit since Indiana is awful so watch for #13 on Illinois.
1:45 PM: UVA is up 22-16 coming out of a timeout with 5:11 left in the first half. Illinois is up 27-13 with a little less than 5 minutes left in the first half. I’ll be focusing on the UVA-Clemson game for now unless the Illinois-Indiana game gets interesting.
1:55 PM: UVA is up 33-25 at half. That 3 by Terrence Oglesby with a little over a minute left in the first half was Clemson’s first of the day after the Tigers missed their first 10 straight. The Cavaliers might have a chance if the Tigers continue to have difficulty hitting from the outside. Trevor Booker has had a big first half with 10 of Clemson’s 25 points, but it wasn’t enough as none of the other Tigers are playing well today. Illinois is up 38-21 at half.
First, welcome to the “new and improved” Rush The Court. This is pretty much the same interface we were using before, but there are a few minor differences so it may take us some time to work the kinks out. Anyways, there are some note-worthy games tonight. You may have heard about a little game going down in Durham, North Carolina tonight.
Game of the Night #3 UNC at #5 Duke at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Yeah. I know it’s not exactly the scoop you were expecting from us, but this is probably one of the 5 best match-ups so far this season so I’m not going to go with another game just to be contrarian. The big match-up in this game is on the inside featuring Tyler Hansbrough and Kyle Singler. The Blue Devils will need a big game out of Singler who has struggled lately who is only 9/38 FG in his last 3 games. The other key match-ups will be on the perimeter with Ty Lawson against Greg Paulus at the 1 and high school teammates Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson going against each other. UNC should win this game fairly easily with the way that Duke has been playing lately. If Coach K wants to knock of Hansbrough in his last game at Cameron, he will need Singler to play like he did earlier this year and Jon Scheyer to be hitting any open looks he gets.
Other Games to Watch #22 Syracuse at #1 UConn at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: On almost any other night this would be our “Game of the Night”, but there is that small rivalry we mentioned before. Jim Calhoun‘s team is starting to look like the team that some thought could threaten this year’s G.O.A.T. UNC team with the emergence of Hasheem Thabeet as a black hole on the inside. Syrcuase will need a huge game out of Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf against the UConn guards (Jerome Dyson, A.J. Price, and Kemba Walker) because Arinze Onuaku isn’t going to be shooting 70% with Thabeet lurking on the inside. I’m going with the Huskies by double-digits in this one.
#13 Xavier at Dayton at 7 PM on ESPN Classic: I’m guessing that both teams were caught looking ahead to this game as both lost their last game to inferior opponents. These two teams are probably the class of the Atlantic 10 so this might end up being a preview of the conference championship game although St. Joseph’s and Duquesne may spoil the party. If Dayton wants to pull off the upset (and have a “Rush the Court” situation), they will need to contain Derrick Brown and B.J. Raymond. Normally, I might lean towards Dayton to pull off the upset, but I think the Musketeers will be too focused after losing to Duquesne in their last game.
#2 Oklahoma at Baylor at 9 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This is a game that Baylor needs to win if they are going to have a chance to make the tournament. It probably isn’t fair to make a game against the #2 team in the country and national POY (yes, I’m calling the race) Blake Griffin a must win, but it isn’t fair to lose 5 straight in conference and still make the NCAA tournament. If the Bears are going to pull off the upset, they should focuse on limiting Willie Warren because they aren’t going to stop Griffin and hope that Curtis Jerrells and LaceDarius Dunn both have big games.
Tonight features the biggest game of the week (possibly the biggest game of the season so far.) No, I’m not talking about the Allen at Savannah State game. Instead, I’ll be focusing on a small game in North Carolina that you may have seen advertised a time or two on ESPN.
Game of the Night
#1 Duke at #4 Wake Forest at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: It will be interesting to see how the young Demon Deacons respond in their first game since their surprising loss at home against Virginia Tech. The Winston-Salem crowd will definitely be amped up for a visit from Duke (ranked #1 for the first time in 2 years). This game provides interesting match-ups all over the floor, but the two to watch are Nolan Smith versus Jeff Teague and Kyle Singler versus Al-Farouq Aminu. Teague will likely have a big advantage unless Coach K puts Smith on Ishmael Smith and puts Gerald Henderson on Teague. Singler versus Aminu will come down to a battle of Singler’s versatility and toughness going against Aminu’s athleticism and raw talent. I have a feeling that Singler will get the better of Aminu this time, but that could change when they meet later this year. I’m assuming that Smith/Singler and Teague/Aminu will basically neutralize each other so they can will probably be decided by whether or not Dino Gaudio can find a way to slow Henderson, who has been making a case for All-ACC honors with his play the last two weeks. In the end, I don’t think Gaudio will find an answer for Henderson and Duke will survive to stay at #1. Well at least until February 11th when Tyler Hansbrough and UNC come into Cameron (aka “The Most Important Game Ever” -ESPN).
Other Games Worth Watching
#3 Pittsburgh at #21 Villanova at 7 PM on ESPNU:Jay Wright‘s team is in a similar situation to what Marquette faced on Monday night. Like the Golden Eagles on Monday, the Wildcats have a relatively high ranking, but do not have a marquee win yet. Although Villanova gets this game at home while Marquette had to travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame, the Wildcats’ task is significantly harder. To knock off Pittsburgh (ranked 3rd in the nation, but quite possibly only the 3rd best team in their own conference right now), Villanova will need big games out of their stars, Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds, as well as solid performances out of their “Two Coreys”, Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher, to be in a position to beat the Panthers. Even then, the Wildcats will have to find a way to limit Sam Young and DeJuan Blair on the inside and hope that Reynolds can outplay Levance Fields. Even though Villanova has the home court, I’m going with Pittsburgh here because Villanova has not proven that they can win a big game yet (and they have had plenty of opportunities).
Hopefully Jay Wright’s “Two Coreys” will be more successful
#6 UNC at FSU at 9 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: The Tar Heels really shouldn’t have any problem in this game, but to be honest they shouldn’t have much trouble against all but the top 5-10 teams in the country if they are playing well. This game just feels like one where UNC is ready for a letdown. After going through a rough stretch at the beginning of 2009 where they lost 2 of 3 and were temporarily in last place in the ACC, the Tar Heels have rebounded and are coming off a 24-point victory over then #9 Clemson. They’re finally starting to resemble the team that people thought they could be earlier this season. The Seminoles come in with a solid 16-4 record with all of their losses coming against respectable opposition (ok, maybe not Northwestern). The Seminoles are certainly capable of pulling off an upset in Tallahassee (see their close losses versus #1 Duke and #3 Pittsburgh this year), but to get over the hump and actually win one Leonard Hamilton will need someone other than Toney Douglas to have a big game. Douglas averages more than twice as much as any of his teammates. An unbalanced scoring attack might get FSU wins over teams like Florida and Virginia, but it won’t work against a team that has 5 players in double figures including national POY candidate Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington (finally found his stroke), and Ty Lawson (playing much better this year). UNC will win this game, but I have a feeling it will be much closer than people expect.
RTC corresponent Ryan ZumMallen contributed to tonight’s ATB.
#1 Falls – Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate.Virginia Tech 78, Wake Forest 71. It seemingly never fails – whenever Wake starts to get the nation’s attention, the Deacs cave like Roger McNamee in front of a Congressional hearing. We watched most of this game, and two things were apparent from the get-go: 1) the Deacs were not sharp on either end of the court (evident by Va Tech running out to a quick 30-14 lead); and 2) it is clear to us that Wake relies too much on pure athleticism and skill rather than actual execution and know-how. This was especially true in the last few minutes of the game when Wake continuously took forced shots and made inexplicable fouls instead of managing the clock effectively, even though the game was still in the balance. From the 1:42 mark, Wake threw up five desperate-looking three-pointers (making none), even though the lead was never greater than six points until there was 0:14 remaining. Additionally, the Deacs fouled Virginia Tech eight times during the same period, and even though the Hokies were missing their FTs (7-14 down the stretch), the smarter move would have been to simply play defense (remember, Wake was #2 in defensive efficiency coming into this game) and continue running the offense to get layups and dunks. Didn’t happen. We’re not buying the Wake was mentally fatigued argument; the Deacs need to learn some discipline to maximize their potential this year. As for Virginia Tech, at one point in the second half they were shooting 70% for the half and 56% for the game, which shows just how effectively they were picking apart that Wake defense. Malcolm Delaney, AD Vassallo and Jeff Allen combined for 53/21, as the Hokie won their fifth of six against Wake in the last few years. We’re not ready to anoint the Hokies as an NCAA team just yet, but at 3-1 in the ACC and only one loss in their last nine games (@ Duke), they’re a team to keep an eye on.
Next Best Upset of the Night.Northwestern 70, Michigan St. 63. A Tom Izzo team faithfully followed tradition and lost to a team they should have beaten, allowing Northwestern forward Kevin Coble to hang 31 on the Michigan State defense in a 70-63 Wildcat victory. MSU’s 28-game home winning streak was snapped, and the Spartans drop to 5-1 in Big Ten play while the mighty Wildcats improve to 2-4. Wildcats Coble, Craig Moore and Michael Thompson combined to score just one point less than Michigan State. Izzo had this to say about losing at home despite outrebounding his opponent 39-19: “That’s what happens when you don’t make shots.” Ha! Or when you commit 18 turnovers and only force seven yourselves.
More Tremendousness on a Wednesday Night.
Connecticut 89, Villanova 83. UConn point guard AJ Price nearly doubled his scoring average in the first half tonight, as the #3 Huskies held off a scrappy Villanova team to win, 89-83. Price had 20 by halftime and abused ‘Nova for a career-high 29, outdueling the Wildcats’ leading scorer Scottie Reynolds – held scoreless for the game’s first fifteen minutes, and finishing with 14. How good is the Big East right now? A 14-4 Villanova team currently sits in tenth place with a 2-3 conference record. If Haseem Thabeet can properly execute a dropstep at some point this season, the Huskies are right up there with Pitt as conference favorites.
UNC 94, Clemson 70. Avoiding upsets likes those that befell the likes of powerhouses Wake Forest, Michigan State and (of course) Bryant last night, the #6 Tar Heels continued their complete dominance over #9 Clemson with a 94-70 victory. Wayne Ellington poured in 25 on 9-15 shooting to lead the way. The victory improved North Carolina’s home record against Clemson to… wait for it… 54-0. For those of you who think you’ve figured out how to stop Tyler Hansbrough, I hope your idea had nothing to do with elbowing him in the teeth because THAT DOESN’T WORK. The human-like-robot-warrior just shoved in a mouthpiece and kept on trucking his way to 20 and 10.
Almost As Good As Cleveland St.Marshall 53, SMU 50. Just watch.
Better than Cleveland St. and Marshall.South Carolina 70, Florida 69. This would have never happened under Dave Odom.
Iowa 73, Wisconsin 69 (OT). UW’s Jordan Taylor drilled a 30-foot three at the buzzer to send this game to overtime, but Iowa held on behind David Palmer’s 21/7. Interesting stat – all five Hawkeyes hit at least one three in this one.
Kentucky 73, Auburn 64. Jodie Meeks watch: 31 pts (5-8 threes), 0 assists, 5 turnovers. UK should be ranked next week.
Missouri 97, Oklahoma St. 95. This was a big win for Missouri on the road tonight. They nearly blew a 15-pt lead with four minutes remaining, as OSU missed seven chances to tie or take the lead in the last two minutes. Mizzou has a favorable Big 12 schedule and already sit at 3-1 – this looks like an NCAA team to us.
Oklahoma 72, Nebraska 61. This game was much closer than the score indicates. Blake Griffin had 27/18 as he faced constant double- and triple-teams. Only when Nebraska had a very late scoring drought did the Sooners take over and put them away.
Baylor 83, Kansas St. 65. Wow, how quickly did KSU go from must-watch tv to irrelevance? Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn came off the bench for 33 pts on 9-12 from three-point land. Baylor at Oklahoma should be a great one this weekend.
UNLV 76, BYU 70. Wow, it was understandable when BYU lost to Wake at home, but we didn’t see them losing a 13-pt halftime lead at home to conference foe UNLV three weeks later. UNLV’s Wink Adams led the way with 22 pts for the Rebels.
Arizona St. 53, Arizona 47. Remember when the Wildcats would run and gun? Things have changed in the desert. What’s interesting about this one is that Jamelle Horne was indeed spotted on the floor in the final minute of a close game. Yes, Russ Pennell must enjoy playing with fire.
Northeastern 58, George Mason 57. Northeastern got a necessary home win to tie up GMU at the top of the CAA standings (along with VCU) when Manny Adako’s layup gave them the lead for good with 25 seconds remaining.
Louisville 78, Rutgers 59. No RAC troubles for the Cards tonight, as T-Will dunked everything in sight on his way to 23/11/4 stls. The Cards shot 60% as a team and are looking more and more like the team everyone thought they’d be when the season started.
Xavier 84, St. Bonaventure 64. XU dominated St. Bonnie from start to finish in a balanced effort (11 players scored for Xavier).
Davidson 83, Furman 43. Steph Curry watch: 30/5/5 stls on 12-18 (6-10 threes). Is anyone surprised?
Miami (FL) 75, Florida St. 69. This was a must-win for Miami to keep itself in the race for 4th place in the ACC this year.
LSU 81, Mississippi St. 57. LSU is absolutely manhandling teams at home. Too bad they have six road games remaining in the SEC.
Northern Iowa 66, Bradley 61. UNI continues to impress in another home win against a competitor for the MVC crown, Bradley.
In light of the weak set of games this week, we’re bringing you a midweek (Tuesday-Thursday) Set Your Tivos before the weekend edition (Friday night’s games are awful so go out and do something that night).
Tuesday (01.20.09) – Ohio State at #24 Illinois, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Illinois has been one of the most surprising teams in the first half of the college basketball season. Bruce Weber‘s team came into the season without a single vote in either major poll and now they sit in the top 25. Although they are only 3-2 in the Big Ten this year, the Fighting Illini have shown everyone that they will contend for the conference title this year with their performance in the early season. All three of their losses this year have been against respectable competition: Clemson (by 2 points), at Michigan (avenged last week), and at Michigan State (by 6). On the other hand, Ohio State has been disappointing since the loss of David Lighty and has went 6-3 since his injury after starting 7-0 including a win over Notre Dame.
Illinois’s strength this year has been their balanced scoring attack with 4 players averaging between 11.3 and 11.8 PPG. They are led by Dmeteri McCamey (11.8 PPG and 4.9 APG) at the point and Mike Davis (11.3 PPG and 7.3 RPG) on the inside. They are a potential Sweet 16 team if Kentucky transfer Alex Legion can become more consistent and play like he did against Michigan State (15 points on 6/13 FG).
The key to this game will be Weber’s ability to limit Evan Turner, who is averaging 15.9 PPG and 7.0 RPG this season. While Thad Matta has two other players (Jon Diebler and William Buford) who average double figures along with the highly touted B.J. Mullens, Turner is the most consistent scorer that Matta has. If Weber can get Davis to slow down Turner, Illinois should be able to pull this one out.
Wednesday (01.21.09) – #21 Villanova at #3 UConn, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Yet another ridiculous Big East battle. Even though I am fairly certain that UConn and Pittsburgh are the best teams in the conference (unless Louisville keeps playing at this level), I have a feeling that the regular season title will be determined by which team wins its other conference games. Quite frankly (sorry Stephen A.), Villanova shouldn’t beat UConn in Storrs if the Huskies play up to their potential.
Calhoun’s talented, but enigmatic backcourt of A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker will have to contend with Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes. The match-up is pretty close, but I’d give the edge to the Huskies here unless Reynolds goes off. On the inside, the Huskies also have the advantage, but will need to contain Dante Cunningham, who comes in averaging 17.4 PPG and 7.4 RPG. If they can prevent him from having a monster game, UConn will have a decided edge on the inside. One of Jim Calhoun‘s on-going challenges will be getting Stanley Robinson to play consistently after his unusual sabatical. If Calhoun can get consistent play out of Robinson to go along with the surprisingly consistent Hasheem Thabeet (except for the Gonzaga game) and the explosive slasher Jeff Adrien, he might just find himself in Detroit in April.
– #9 Clemson at #6 UNC, 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Will Clemson ever win a game at Chapel Hill? The Tigers’ losing streak in Chapel Hill currently stands at a NCAA record 53 games dating back to their first visit there on January 15, 1926. After Saturday’s loss to current #1 Wake Forest, Clemson will be looking to rebound and avoid their annual ACC slide. Unfortunately for Clemson, UNC is probably stronger than them at every position and has the previously mentioned home court edge.
Oliver Purnell will also need solid play out of his 9-deep rotation (all averaging over 13.2 MPG), which is led by Trevor Booker and K.C. Rivers. Booker will likely be matched up against reigning POY Tyler Hansbrough. It will be a tough match-up for Booker and even matching Hansbrough will likely mean a 54th consecutive loss for Tigers at Chapel Hill. Clemson’s best hope is to use their depth and pressure defense to rattle Ty Lawson, who has been playing well this year except for the Tar Heels two losses (9 assists and 8 TOs in those games).
Roy Williams will need to focus on keeping his stars out of foul trouble because the Tigers are one of the few teams in the country that can match UNC’s depth although not necessarily with the same quality that the Tar Heels have. Even though this is a conference match-up against a top 10 team UNC should be able to handle the Tigers relatively easily particularly if Wayne Ellington continues his hot shooting from the 2nd half of the Miami game.
Thursday (01.22.09) – West Virginia at No. 14 Georgetown, 7 PMon ESPN and ESPN360.com: After losing consecutive games to UConn and Marquette, the Mountaineers feasted on a break in their schedule with back-to-back wins over Marshall and USF. Unfortunately for Bob Huggins, if West Virginia wants to make the NCAA tournament they will have to start stealing a few wins against the upper tier teams in the conference. On the other sideline, John Thompson III will need to focus on his team’s energy level after a hard-fought win against Syracuse and a tough loss at Duke on Saturday.
This game will likely come down to whether Huggins can find somebody inside to battle Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summers. The Mountaineers match-up well on the outside with Alex Ruoff and Darryl Bryant going up against Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, but Da’Sean Butler will have his hands full against Monroe and Summers assuming Monroe can stay out of foul trouble and the “fans behind the bench” keep quiet. I expect the Hoyas to pull away in this one midway through the second half after struggling to find their focus in the first half.
– #18 Purdue at #20 Minnesota, 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This one looks like it will be a battle of teams fighting for a #2 seed in the Big Ten tournament (the Spartans look like a strong #1 in the conference). The Boilermakers have rebounded well from an 0-2 start in the Big Ten and have won 3 straight. Matt Painter‘s club relies on its own Big Three (sorry Boston fans) of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson. If Hummel is back to 100%, they are one of the better trios in the Big Ten. Purdue’s problem is the big drop-off after that as their 4th leading scorer averages 8.0 PPG (respectable) on 34.1% FG (not so respectable).
Tubby Smith will be looking for his club to bounce back after a bad loss at Northwestern on Sunday. Lawrence Westbrook is the unquestioned star of this team, but we’re more curious about Ralph Sampson III (yes, that’s his son). I’m expecting this one to be a hard-fought game, but I think Purdue will be able to pull this one out against the Gophers, who I believe may be getting too much credit by the media for their win against the suddenly resurgent Louisville Cardinals earlier in the year.
Big Monday. After a weekend (well, Saturday) of good games, it was probably to be expected that tonight’s games were a couple of dogs. Does anyone know what happened to the late game that used to be on Big Mondays? A long time ago it was a Big West game, but in recent years it was the WCC (mostly Gonzaga). Why did that go away?
Pittsburgh 78, Syracuse 60. This game nearly put us and everyone in the arena to sleep – it was vaguely reminiscent of the bad Big East of the 90s. We guess this sometimes happens, especially considering both of these teams had intense games on Saturday (Pitt losing its #1 ranking to Louisville; Syracuse outshooting ND). This was a bruiser of a game, and the Syracuse players made sure to spend a good chunk of each possession complaining to the refs. DeJuan Blair had another dub-dub (20/12) with four offensive rebounds, and Sam Young dropped 19 of his 22 in the 2d half as Pitt pulled away. Want further proof that this was an ugly game? Syracuse’s Arinze Onuaku and Pitt’s Levance Fields combined to go 0-9 from the line tonight.
Kansas 73, Texas A&M 53. This game was over early and often. Perhaps we were a little presumptuous in our talk last week about keeping an eye on Texas A&M. In their last two games, the Aggies have looked spotty and inconsistent. Granted they were playing Oklahoma and Kansas, but they’re definitely not in the top tier of the Big 12 this year – tonight, not a single Aggie player reached double figures. KU ran out to a 16-4 lead behind Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, and never looked back. Kansas isn’t being discussed very much this year, but Bill Self’s Jayhawks are still playing their trademark defense as they wait on their many freshmen and sophomores to come along. They have a very good shot at starting the Big 12 slate at 12-0 (avoiding OU and Texas until their last four games), and they could become a trendy pick to make a sleeper run in March as the young players continue to improve. Great sign, btw….
Game of the Night. Boston U. 99, Stony Brook 97 (4OT). In a wild America East game tonight, BU and Stony Brook played an extra half of basketball before BU was finally able to get the win behind Corey Lowe’s seven points in the fourth overtime period. John Holland of BU wins the Ironman award by playing all sixty minutes of the game.
Weekend Review. Here are some of our other thoughts from the weekend games.
No Way, Coach K. Coach K made some noise over the weekend in reference to how he believes the ACC is the toughest conference in America (over the Big East). If you’re talking about the top three teams in each conference, sure, the ACC is probably slightly better. Top four? Nope. Five? Nope. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve? Nope. Of course, where the Big East falters is at its much-maligned bottom (which is why the Big East’s computer rankings aren’t as high as you might think). Its bottom four teams are absolute garbage, but the bottom line for us is that there are nine teams that are Sweet 16-quality in the Big East, whereas there are four (maybe five) in the ACC. The Big East is better. Period.
Louisville is Either Really Good or Really Lucky. For the fifth time in the last six games, Louisville was in an all-out war until the very end of a game. In all but the UNLV game, the Cards managed to hold on and get the win. Is this a sign of a gritty team that knows how to make winning plays down the stretch; or is it more indicative of a team that plays hard but isn’t good enough to run away from all but the worst teams? We’re not sure yet, but with upcoming road games at Rutgers and Syracuse this week, we think we’ll have a better idea as to if they’re truly legit or not.
We Can’t Wait Until Jan. 28. Wake and Duke are the two teams playing the best basketball in America right now. Duke is working on all cylinders right now, with their extremely efficient defense conspiring with their multifaceted offensive attack to regularly put down opponents. Case in point: Georgetown shot 51% in CIS on Saturday, and still never really had a chance to win that game. We’re still not sure just how well a team of guards and swingmen will translate in March, but for now, it’s working. Wake’s defense is even stronger than Duke’s, and when you watch their games, there are at least 2-3 times a game where your jaw hits the floor based on their athleticism and size. The game next Wednesday will probably be #1 vs. #2, and we can’t wait for it.
Carolina Got its Mojo Back. If Carolina goes on a run over the next few weeks (and their schedule is favorable for the Heels to do so), everyone will point to the late first half/early second half run that Carolina made (behind Wayne Ellington’s ridiculous eight threes) as the turning point. Ellington has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, but if the Heels have any plans to play in Detroit this April, he’s going to have to continue with the hot shooting to keep the middle open for Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson. When he’s shooting well, Carolina is a much different team, one that few, if any, defenses in America can cover.
Mike Montgomery Still Welcome at Stanford (so long as he loses). Cal certainly isn’t as good as its record indicated, but the fast start that the Bears had made under Monty was a nice story through the first half of the season, which is why it was compelling when he returned to Maples Pavilion at Stanford as head man at the Cardinals’ archrival. Stanford seemed to play a little harder, wanted it a little more, and was able to get the win, knocking Cal from the ranks of the Pac-10 unbeatens. It’s notable that Stanford fans gave Montgomery a nice reception upon his introduction – that wouldn’t happen in the Big 10 or SEC. No way, no how.
This is a huge day here at RTC. Not only will we be blogging with you all day with this BGTD nonsense, but we’ll also have a presence at ESPN GameDay live from Chapel Hill where our man on the ground will be taking questions and comments from you, the readers, so that you can finally ask Erin Andrews what shampoo she uses and where, exactly, does she find such perfectly fitted tops. Or anything else you guys may want to know (within reason, of course).
RTC Live: Miami at UNC will be a sticky at the top of the page all day, so be sure to stop by and check it out as you put off going outside into the semi-Arctic environment known as the East CoastMidwestSouthMountains USA this lovely Saturday.
As for this post, we’ve got the three-tv setup ready to roll, and with Notre Dame-Syracuse starting off the day in a few hours, we should probably try to get some sleep. We’ll be back for that one (and all the others), but in the meantime, feel free to peruse our SYT preview of today’s big games.
11:52am – And we’re back. Let’s get going. Quick note – lamest sign just spotted at GameDay in CH – Everyone Still Predicts National championship? Wow, props for creativity there, er, not.
Noon – What’s on your tv right now? There’s an interesting mid-major on ESPN2 (N. Iowa at Drake). The Noon FC games aren’t too exciting (Maryland at FSU; Ga Tech at NC State; USF at WVU) – we’ll keep an eye on each, but it’s looking mostly like Cuse-ND and UNI-Drake here.
The regular season is flying by. Believe it or not, we’re only nine weeks away from having an official NCAA Tournament Bracket to review and obsess over. We also happen to be nine weeks removed from opening night, so yesterday marked the official midpoint – 63 days on each side – of the regular season. Which means, of course, for all you folks who have been busy with the holidays, busy with the bowl games, busy with the NFL Playoffs… let’s get you caught up.
From now until the first tip in Dayton March 17th on the Road to the F4 in Detroit (ugh), roughly 150 or so teams are realistically jostling for position to be selected as one of the Chosen 65. As we nestle into the familiarity of conference play (only the Ivies have yet to begin) and America once again wakes up to our game, weaknesses will be exposed, experienced teams will try to avoid complacency and young teams will start to figure it all out. Come Selection Sunday, many of these prospective bracketeers will have fallen by the wayside, but there will be 50 or so at-large teams holding NCAA-caliber resumes, even though only 34 will be taken. Before we jump in with both feet into the fun that the next two months will bring, let’s take a look back at the first two months to see what we’ve learned.
Carolina is Not Unbeatable, but Are the Heels Still the Favorite? A mere month ago we wrote that North Carolina was playing like a team with plans to lose no more than a couple of games (if that many) all season. Then the last eight days happened. First, UNC lost at home to an underwhelming BC team, followed by a road loss at Wake Forest last night to start 0-2 in the ACC. So what’s going on – how can this juggernaut of a team with nearly everyone returning look so… mortal? It’s easy, really. So far, UNC’s defense hasn’t been up to snuff. It’s more efficient as a whole than last year’s version, but their statistical profile is elevated on the defensive end by forcing turnovers which in turn fuels their lethal fast break. In a halfcourt set, as Wake and BC repeatedly and effectively showed, UNC can be penetrated and exposed. The key to playing with the Heels is limiting those TOs that Ty Lawson turns into the quick strikes that overwhelm teams. Is it a fatal flaw? It could be (how’s that for a hedge?). Teams that can’t consistently make stops don’t win championships, but we really don’t see why UNC’s defense shouldn’t be able to make the commitment to improve over the next two months. The 2005 title team only became legit once Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May got serious about stopping people in addition to outscoring them. Can the 2009 Heels – specifically, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Deon Thompson – do the same? Stay tuned.
These Guys Have to Commit to Better Halfcourt Defense
The Big East Should Have Its Own Region. Seriously, let’s just rename the E. Rutherford Region this year and invite every Big East team. Or at least the top 12. Of course, if we did that, it would prohibit the possibility of the conference placing four teams in the Final Four this year – a plausible scenario. Tell us that you couldn’t envision a situation where four of the following teams – Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse – would reach Detroit in April. Throw in Villanova, Marquette and West Virginia and you might just have nine of the Sweet Sixteen. The top half of this conference is really that good. So who is the best of the best? It depends on when you ask the question. Two weeks ago it was UConn. A week ago Georgetown. Now it’s Pittsburgh. Next week… probably Syracuse. The point is nobody knows. UConn has the most raw talent, but they’ve exhibited problems putting it together consistently. Georgetown, haven’t you heard, has rebounding issues. Pittsburgh isn’t reliable from behind the arc. Syracuse has a tendency to lose to teams like Cleveland St. on miracle shots. Louisville spends much of its time looking for its ass with both hands. Notre Dame has a maddening tendency to play defense with its hands. Marquette and Villanova are too guard heavy. West Virginia has Bob Huggins. And on and on. All we can say for certain is that the quality of play in the seemingly-nightly matchups between Top 25 teams is top-shelf, and it makes up for all those other nights where we’re stuck watching Auburn-Ole Miss.
The Big Ten Doesn’t Suck This Year.Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that our friendly midwestern conference is on par with the Big East, or even the ACC, but it’s a lot stronger in the middle of the pack than it has been in recent years. Not much was expected out of Minnesota (15-1), Illinois (14-2) or Michigan (13-3) this year, but each of them are playing excellent ball and have marquee wins over the likes of Louisville, Missouri, Duke and UCLA in their pockets. Combine their success with the standard good seasons expected from Michigan St. (13-2), Purdue (12-4), Ohio St. (11-3) and Wisconsin (12-4), and you have a competitive six-bid conference. Even traditional cellar dweller Penn St. (13-4) has shown signs of life this year. Heck, they even made the ACC/Big Ten Challenge competitive (losing 6-5) this year!
Our Midwestern Friends Have Been Practicing
They’re Putting It Together. Now that Tom Izzo once again has a full complement of players with Goran Suton back in the fold, Michigan St. has looked much better since their abysmal performance in the ACC/B10 Challenge against UNC. They’ve run off nine in a row with wins at Texas, at Minnesota and Ohio St. – everyone wrote this team off after that UNC game, but they’ll be heard from in March. UCLA is also quietly going about its business, also reeling off nine in a row (including a 3-0 start in road games in the Pac-10) since their loss to Texas in mid-December. Ben Howland is getting production from eleven players, and if anyone really thought the Bruins were going to have a ‘rebuilding’ season, they need to have their head checked. This team will win close to 30 games again. It’s amazing how a series of close games that go your way can make or break a team’s confidence. After Louisville had dropped tight ones to Minnesota and UNLV in late December, everyone was ready to write off the Cards. Now that they’ve won three of their lost four on the last possession, they sit at 3-0 in the Big East (with two road wins) and appear to be in relatively good shape compared to some of the other Big East contenders (UConn, ND, and Georgetown in particular). We’ll see just how good they can be when #1 Pittsburgh visits on Saturday.
Pleasant Surprises. Obviously, Wake Forest is a pretty big surprise – we expected them to be pretty good, but nobody saw a top five team coming from Dino Gaudio this year. What about Syracuse? – at 16-1 and the lone loss to Cleveland St. from 75 feet, Jim Boeheim’s crew has as much talent as just about anybody in the country. Clemson is pulling its annual ridiculous start, but there are signs that this Tiger team is legit – they have a balanced attack, they’re strong at both ends of the court, and they have good road wins at Illinois, South Carolina and Miami (FL) so far. Butler is a HUGE surprise, although we shouldn’t ever be surprised with that program. The Bulldogs sit at 14-1 and two of their top three players are freshmen, yet they once again appear to be the class of the Horizon and a top mid-major. Tubby Smith has Minnesota playing great ball, and the Gophers are on a fast track to the NCAA Tournament at least a year ahead of schedule. Coaching matters – Mike Montgomery also has California playing hard for the first time in a decade. The Bears look like a top three team in the Pac-10 at this point.
Syracuse Has the Look of a Team Built for March
Disappointments. Since the Q1 update, Gonzaga has done nothing but crap itself, losing games to Arizona, UConn, Portland St., and Utah. They did get a key OT win at Tennessee last week, and their defense is still stronger than in recent years, but for some reason or another, the Zags are having trouble putting it all together. USC is destined to become this year’s NC State (a preseason ranked team that won’t make the NCAA Tourney). The SEC – Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky – have all been various shades of disappointing. Between the cream of the SEC East, there’s what, three quality wins? On the other side of that conference, only Arkansas has even been mildly interesting, with big home wins over Oklahoma and Texas. At the mid-major level, Southern Illinois (6-8 ) and Wright St. (9-8 ) have a long way to go before they’ll turn their seasons around.
RTC Midseason All-Americans. We’ll take some heat for not putting defending NPOY Tyler Hansbrough on our first team, but his numbers, particularly his rebounding average, are off from last season. Granted, he’s still probably recovering from a stress reaction injury, so he’ll have time to recover his (rightful?) place on the 1st team, but for now, we like Griffin (obvious choice) and Harangody in our frontcourt. Curry and Harden are also easy choices in the backcourt, but we’re making a leap of faith choosing Teague – his last two games against BYU and UNC were very impressive performances (he averaged 32/5/4 assts on 59%) and we’re riding on the Wake bandwagon right now.
Jeff Teague, G – Wake Forest(21/4/4 assts on 54%/54% 3fg shooting)
Stephen Curry, G – Davidson (29/4/7 assts/3 stls on 45%/37% 3fg shooting)
James Harden, G – Arizona St. (23/6/5 assts on 56%/42% 3fg shooting)
Blake Griffin, F – Oklahoma (23/14/3 assts on 65% shooting)
Luke Harangody, F – Notre Dame (25/13 on 51% shooting)
Knocking on the Door (2d Team).
Tyler Hansbrough, F – North Carolina (22/8 on 54% shooting)
Patrick Patterson, F – Kentucky (19/9/3 assts on 71% shooting)
Dejuan Blair, F – Pittsburgh (15/13 on 61% shooting)
Manny Harris, G – Michigan (19/8/5 assts on 44%/31% 3fg shooting)
Ty Lawson, G – North Carolina (15/3/6 assts on 53%/42% 3fg shooting)
All-Freshman Team. Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest), Jrue Holiday (UCLA) and Gordon Hayward (Butler) were tough to leave off this list.
Greg Monroe, C – Georgetown (14/6/3 assts on 57% shooting)
Sylven Landesberg, G – Virginia (19/6/3 assts on 49%/30% 3fg shooting)
Tyreke Evans, G – Memphis (16/6/4 assts/3 stls on 45% shooting)
Seth Curry, G – Liberty (20/4 on 45%/40% 3fg shooting)
Paul George, F – Fresno St. (16/7 on 54%/46% 3fg shooting)
Big Games (Q3). Here are the top 10 games of the next month.
Syracuse @ Georgetown – 01.14.09
Pittsburgh @ Louisville – 01.17.09
Georgetown @ Duke – 01.17.09
Wake Forest @ Clemson – 01.17.09
Texas @ Baylor – 01.27.09
Duke @ Wake Forest – 01.28.09
California @ UCLA – 01.29.09
Connecticut @ Louisville – 02.02.09
Duke @ Clemson – 02.04.09
Michigan St. @ Minnesota – 02.04.09
Notre Dame @ UCLA – 02.07.09
Extremes. This won’t last much longer, as we fully expect all three of the unbeatens to have a loss by this time next week, if not sooner. That’s what conference play does to you. NC Central will get a win against a D2 squad soon, but poor little NJIT has no relief in sight. They’re sitting on 49 in a row and, according to KenPom’s projections, 60+ in a row is within reach. Memo to NJIT coach Jim Engles – take a page from the NC Central playbook and schedule some JVHigh School D2 teams.
Unbeaten (next possible loss)
Pittsburgh (Big East):15-0 (@ Louisville 1/17)
Wake Forest (ACC): 14-0 (@ BC 1/14)
Clemson (ACC):16-0 (v. Wake Forest 1/17)
Winless (next possible win)
NJIT (Ind): 0-16 (Bryant 1/21)
North Carolina Central (Ind): 0-18 (D2 Central St 1/16)