ATB: The Day AfterPosted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2011
The Lede. Hopefully everyone was over their Jimmer hangovers by the time the games started tonight. Judging by Twitter, and…well, pretty much every sports outlet in the nation, the transitive verb “to Jimmer” has entered the American sporting lexicon with some serious impact. We can’t remember when a college baller’s name has ever been used in this fashion; nobody ever said “You got Turnered/Walled,” or “He Morrisoned them,” or “They Hansbrough’d the heck out of that poor team.” And the only name we can think of that contains a reverent “The” at the beginning that’s in regular use today belongs to U2 guitarist The Edge, though — and credit to Seth Davis for starting the trend — “The Jimmer” is now commonplace usage in referring to just about everybody’s favorite player.
But enough of that for now. We’ll have many chances to discuss him later. Tonight we saw three tough conference road wins, two of them in games involving bitter rivals. We have a couple of RTCs we have to weigh in on, and a pair of outstanding tweets from the Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s game. First, though, we start…with Sparty.
Your Watercooler Moment. On the halftime coverage of ESPN2’s St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga game, when asked about how dire the situation was for Michigan State this year after their loss to Michigan tonight, even the understated Dan Dakich hesitated for effect and said gravely, “Well…it’s pretty serious.”
To be sure, it’s probably time we all stopped acting so surprised about the Spartans’ rough season. No Chris Allen, no Korie Lucious, a step-slow Kalin Lucas — that’s a tough fate to counter. It’s just so odd to see a MSU team under Tom Izzo display anything less than a full effort, and there’s no sugarcoating that, even with the personnel losses, this team is just going through the motions on defense, especially on the perimeter. This is their third straight loss, the previous two coming at Purdue and Illinois. In those games, the Spartans’ opponent has shot 50%, 58% (!!), and 53%, respectively. We don’t want to take anything away from Michigan’s solid play and excellent achievement in going to East Lansing and beating their biggest rival — even if you’re open, you still have to hit those threes, and UM hit 47.6% of them — and we know Michigan State has lost to a LOT of good teams, a counterargument that has been used by people (including us) accused of staying on the MSU bandwagon too long. But there’s no excuse for losing to a Michigan squad who had but a single Big Ten win before this, and letting them shoot over 50% on your floor to get it.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Oh, Mickey, You’re So Fine. Just as watercooler-worthy on Thursday was another road win in a rivalry game, specifically the Gaels of St. Mary’s invading the Kennel and stealing a win over Gonzaga. We all know about the Zags’ decade-long death grip on the West Coast Conference, but this is St. Mary’s’ year. They’ve got a three game lead in the WCC and their virst victory in Spokane in 16 years, and they can thank Mickey McConnell for putting the finishing touch on it. McConnell got his man in the air, stepped under him and drained an awkward (but effective) ten-footer with one second left to put SMC in the conference catbird’s seat. There was a lot of talk on Twitter after this game about how Gonzaga has passed the torch to St. Mary’s in the WCC, and a lot of decrying the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament hopes. Premature on both counts. Yes, the Gaels will probably take the conference title, ending the Zags’ ten-year run. But call us in a few years if Gonzaga hasn’t won any more WCC crowns, then we can talk about how they’ve come back to the field. As far as their Tournament hopes, they’re 13-8, have ten games left, then the conference tournament. Unless they win they WCC Tournament, they’ll be shaking on Selection Sunday. But let’s not bury them yet.
‘Dores Bite Dogs. The SEC was the site of another broken streak as Vanderbilt won at Mississippi State for the first time in 18 years. With all the solid Commodore teams over the years, it’s hard to believe it’s been so long since they’ve taken a game from the Bulldogs in Starkville. Streaks aside, the Commodores are 15-4 (3-2) and the combo of Jeffery Taylor (25/5) and John Jenkins (21/6) becomes more formidable by the game. Mississippi State got exactly half of what they need and expect from Renardo Sidney (six points, five rebounds, 13 minutes) who fouled out and seemingly couldn’t move without bumping or hacking someone tonight.
A Little Hoosier Hysteria. We think even the most passionate Indiana fan would admit — at least under some sodium pentathol — that the resurrection of the Indiana program under the watch of Tom Crean has taken a bit longer than they expected. Perhaps that’s why tonight’s win over their neighbors from Illinois felt so sweet and prompted a post-game celebration that we’ll comment on in a second. Indiana shot poorly (37.5%), lost the rebounding battle at both ends of the floor, had fewer steals, fewer assists, fewer blocks, and one more turnover than Illinois. How did they win this game, then? They goaded the Illini into even poorer shot selection (32.3%, including 5-20 from three) and got physical with Demetri McCamey (six points, three assists, five turnovers, 2-11 FG), holding him to single-digits for the second straight game. Even more notable is that, despite bodying up to the outstanding Illinois point guard, McCamey didn’t get to the line one time, a place he regularly frequents and piles up points.
So, on to the RTC by the Hoosier fans. Needless to say, this was an exciting game, with Indiana going up 50-49 on the last field goal of the game by Tom Prichard with 44 seconds left, then icing it with two free throws a moment later. We know it’s been a long time since you’ve had anything substantial about which to get silly. We don’t mean to come off as old codgers who don’t want college kids to have their fun (most of us here aren’t as far removed from it as you might think), and we’re well aware of what our site is called. But an RTC sends many messages, one of which is that you really didn’t think you had a chance to win, and that your team just earned a rarified victory, because the RTC should be a rare event to the tune of maybe once or (at the very most) twice in a college career. Compared to the standard they’ve enjoyed throughout their history, yes, Indiana is still slogging through tough times, even at 11-10. But Indiana — if their fans will pardon the color reference in this compliment — is a blueblood program. One of the seminal beasts of the game. We don’t believe in RTC rules, but rather that you should do what your gut tells you, and we judge all RTCs afterward by the same standard. Is that how far you’ve fallen? From the level of national championships to the level that a win over a 21st-ranked (18th in the RTC poll) team is considered a gem so rare that it warrants an RTC? Listen, we love that you wanted to. But it doesn’t mean that you have to. We couldn’t believe it when the RTC seismograph needle started wiggling on this one.
The Fantastic Faried. When a kid channels his inner Kevin Love and puts up 23 points and pulls 23 rebounds, we have to give him some, er, love in the ATB. That’s exactly what Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried did tonight in their OVC battle with Tennessee State. The win puts the Eagles (14-8, 6-4) still two games behind conference leader Austin Peay but brings them a game closer to the Tigers (10-10, 7-3). We recommend you check out some of the OVC Tournament when Championship Week arrives. Not only will you get to see more Kenneth Faried, but there are honestly six teams who could win it and it wouldn’t surprise anyone.
Give Us Liberty… While we’re on the subject, let’s give Liberty a little of the ol’ cough medicine, too. The Flames beat UNC-Asheville, 83-81, on a last second tip-in off a missed three pointer as the overtime buzzer sounded. Fans RTC’d with ferocity. Good floor consumption, excellent speed. The only problem we have with it is that you have better overall and conference records than your opponent. Even before the game began, at 8-1, you had a three-game lead on the Bulldogs in the Big South. That’s substantial. But because of the exciting ending, we won’t come down as hard on you as we did the IU folks.
And Give Us Bench. There’s not a lot of negative things to say about a win in which you held the lead for the final 31:45 of the game and weren’t really challenged beyond that point, a win that pushes you to 6-1 in the ACC, a win in which you shot 50% from the field and 45.5% from the three point line. It’s even sweeter when one of your stars returns to the starting lineup — in this case, Seth Curry — and blends right in with a 20-point night. The only thing Mike Krzyzewski can raise an eyebrow over from this win over Boston College is…no bench points, and only four shots from substitutes. Out of a possible 200 minutes from five players, the Duke starters played 174 of them. Can the Blue Devils repeat with this formula?
Tweet of the Night. This ended up as a tie between two late entries. The first was a comment made in response to what happened with 1:12 left in the St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga contest. SMC was up 70-69, and the Zags’ David Stockton was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-bonus. He hadn’t missed from there this year, though he was only 9-9. The announcers mentioned this, risking an announcer jinx. Then they showed his legend father (yes, he’s John’s son) and Gonzaga alumnus in the stands, creating the rare and highly-dreaded announcer/hall-of-fame-dad-in-the-stands double jinx! Stockton then missed his first free throw.
The second TotN came from the excellent Gonzaga site The Slipper Still Fits shortly after the game ended. It appears that, after ten years, weary hangs the head upon which lies the crown…
USC 63, Arizona State 61. It’s been that kind of year for Herb Sendek’s team. Arizona State guard/forward Rihards Kuksiks provided his best offensive game of the entire season, a 22-point, five-three performance, and it was still not enough. Instead, visiting USC got huge nights from double-double machine and all-league forward Nikola Vucevic (26/12) and freshman backup point guard Maurice Jones (14/6) to earn a much-needed road win to move to .500 in the conference. For the first half of the game, Arizona State appeared as if it had things under control; but in the second half, USC amped up its defense while making an effort to get the ball inside to Vucevic on nearly every offensive possession. The result was slow-but-steady control of the game by the Trojans, coming back from eleven down to a seemingly comfortable eight-point lead with around six minutes left in the game. That’s when Kuksiks, mired in a season-long slump, decided to start bombing. A trey at the 5:26 mark cut the lead to three; another at the 3:46 point cut it to two; still a third at the 3:06 mark got it to one. But ASU was never able to quite get back over the hump, and when Ty Abbott’s three at the buzzer innocently shanked off the front of the rim, a palpable buzz went through the crowd that tonight’s loss represented another one that got away. In the postgame interviews, Sendek was clearly at a loss as to why his veteran team continues to lose these games. But after stating that the Sun Devils indeed practice free throws regularly (12-25 tonight), he said that he believes that they will turn things around before this season is out. Kevin O’Neill, on the other hand, was exceptionally pleased with the play of his duo tonight, the 5’7 mighty mite of a backup point, Jones, as well as his big man, Vucevic. The home team dropped to 1-7 in the Pac-10 with the loss, easily the worst non-first-year conference start for Herb Sendek in his career; on the other side, USC kept its hopes alive for making a run at the postseason by moving to 4-4 in league play secure in the knowledge that they can be successful even with point guard Jio Fontan on the bench — the dynamic player who directs so much of the Trojan attack played only thirteen minutes, had zero points and two assists because of foul trouble.