ATB: Calipari On Duke’s Flopping, Harvard Heartbreaker, Appling Revival, and Poythress’ Putbacks…Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2012
Tonight’s Lede. Hoops Marathon Ends With Basketball Royalty in Atlanta. The fifth iteration of ESPN’s College Hoops Marathon went from Spokane to Albuquerque to Honolulu to New Jersey to Indiana to Amherst to Ohio to NYC to Cincinnati to Atlanta, with 16 games of varying quality and competitiveness, but it finished at the Champions Classic with two hard-fought and generally well-played games befitting the assembled hoops royalty of Izzo, Krzyzewski, Calipari and Self. Last season’s inaugural event in Madison Square Garden featured Krzyzewski’s 903d all-time victory and the coming-out party of Calipari’s talented band of super-freshmen. This year’s set of games in Atlanta featured a Michigan State team finding itself after a surprising loss to a scrappy Connecticut team last week in Germany, while Duke was looking to shore up its perimeter defense to reclaim its usual spot among the nation’s elite as a national title contender. Tonight’s losing teams, Kentucky and Kansas, came away from the experience not feeling terrible, realizing that November games — while important to their resumes — are more a time for reflection and focused learning than worrying about finished products. Let’s jump into the day’s games…
Your Watercooler Moment. Calipari Calls Out Duke’s Flopping.
What else could it be? In one of the better preaching to the choir moments in recent college basketball history, John Calipari told ESPN’s Andy Katz at halftime of the Champions Classic nightcap in a half-joking/half-serious manner that Duke’s players were “flopping all over the place.” The Twitter-verse immediately seized the moment because if there’s anything that gets Duke haters riled up, it’s the tendency for Coach K’s defenders to find their backs on the floor with the ball headed the other way. For what it’s worth, Calipari said after the game that he was just joking. Nevertheless… the head coach may have made some new friends tonight.
This Other Thing… Both Kentucky and Duke Impressed. Duke walked out of Atlanta as the clear winner of the event, knocking off the #2 Wildcats and showing that some of the defensive deficiencies that caused so many problems for the Blue Devils last season may be solved. Seth Curry (23 pts) was outstanding in his twin roles as leader and scorer, and his game-finishing drive to fake Nerlens Noel off his feet and drop in a right-handed layup was a thing of beauty. Mason Plumlee, when not in foul trouble, showed that he is an elite big man (18/3 on 7-8 FG) and the rest of the Duke cast was at least serviceable on this night. Coach K was not going to let the Kentucky perimeter beat his team, and a 9-25 shooting night from Kyle Wiltjer, Archie Goodwin and Julius Mays ensured that Duke wouldn’t have to get into an 80- or 90-point game to win this one. As for the Wildcats, we anticipated that John Calipari would get a much better effort on the glass, and he did (27 each) while also allowing his talented big men, Alex Poythress and Noel, to pick their spots and follow the fluidity of the game. The duo combined for 36 points and 16 rebounds, and the mere sight of those two flying around the airspace above the rim should send shudders throughout the rest of college basketball wondering how good they’ll be when they figure out the plays. Brian Joyce was at the game and provided his takeaways here from watching it courtside, but from the perspective of talent (Kentucky) and cohesion (Duke), it wouldn’t surprise us to see both of these squads matching up again in that very building next April.
At the Buzzer. Harvard Heartbreaker. Harvard appeard poised to steal a big win at UMass, but an 8-0 run by the Minutemen capped by back-to-back threes — including this one from Sampson Carter at the buzzer — allowed Derek Kellogg’s team to earn its first win of the season.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Keith Appling Revives Michigan State. Michigan State looked tired and slow in its opening game against Connecticut in Germany last Friday, but tonight, led by its top playmaker Keith Appling, the Spartans got their mojo back. As Tom Izzo said afterward, he was proud of his team’s “pride and character” in recovering from a loss and dealing with all the travel to battle another well-coached Bill Self Kansas squad down to the wire, and he’s surely thrilled with the way that the junior Appling took over the game in the final minutes. His three from the top of the key followed by a rope-a-dope on KU’s Jeff Withey that led to a driving layup, helped MSU build a cushion in the last possessions to ensure a key win. Michigan State certainly didn’t want to start the season with an 0-2 record again, but what this game showed more than anything about MSU is that the ball is in the right hands with Appling and he’s talented enough to lead this team to another great season.
- So About Xavier… It’s early in the season, but at this point, when does Xavier start getting the Wisconsin treatment as an annual entrant in the preseason Top 25 no matter what personnel they have returning? The Musketeers were picked NINTH in the Atlantic 10 preseason standings, and well, we think that they may have been a little ticked by that. Chris Mack’s team completely shut down Butler’s offensive attack, holding the Bulldogs to 37% shooting from the field, but perhaps more importantly, tracking transfer shooter Rotnei Clarke all over the floor and forcing him into a 3-11 (1-7 from three) shooting night (Dee Davis deserves most of the credit). Without Clarke to open up things, Brad Stevens’ team couldn’t produce enough offense to seriously challenge XU. Although this was a non-conference game, the two teams will play as member of the Atlantic 10 on the last weekend of the season in Indianapolis — odds are that there will be some kind of postseason implications associated with that contest.
- Thank You, Preseason NIT. The PNIT is the only preseason tournament that still actually runs its event like a basketball tournament — meaning that if you win a game, you keep playing; and, if you don’t, you return home. As painfully exhibited on Monday night when Georgia was upset by Youngstown State in the Legends Classic regional round, the Bulldogs were still rewarded with a trip to Brooklyn to play later this week in the “championship round.” Thankfully, the PNIT remains old school in its approach to bracketing, so that when Delaware entered Virginia tonight and came out with a big victory, the Blue Hens can rest assured that they have earned their trip to MSG next week for a semifinal game against Kansas State (and another game against Michigan or Pittsburgh).
- A Triumphant Return. Temple’s Scootie Randall missed the last 20 months of game action rehabilitating from a left knee injury, but despite pregame whispers about the effectiveness of his return, the 6’6″ senior put all doubt to rest with a 17-point first half en route to a 31-point, four-rebound, four-steal performance. Temple has considerable losses to replace from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, but a healthy Randall will go a long way toward mitigating some of that production.
… and Misses.
- UCLA Survives, Washington Doesn’t. The Pac-12 has considerable work to do on its basketball image this season, but the easiest fix of all is simply to win some games. Unfortunately, Washington continued its tendency to do less with more than any other team in America by dropping a home game to Albany after blowing a seven-point second half lead through a combination of poor FT shooting (11 misses) and too many three-point attempts (3-12). Down south, UCLA survived by the skin of its teeth against a pesky UC Irvine squad that had a chance to win the game at the line with two missed attempts with two seconds left in regulation. Even without Shabazz Muhammad in the lineup, Ben Howland’s team should be expected to win these types of home games. The Pac-12 is once again on the verge of sputtering, if these games are any indication.
- ACC Disaster. Miami (FL) is a team that many people had high expectations for this season, while Virginia with its injuries and other personnel losses was expected to take a couple of steps back. Tuesday night’s showings — UVA lost at home to Delaware (mentioned above), and Miami’s inexplicable loss to Florida Gulf Coast — are losses that each team will carry like an albatross around its neck the rest of this season. While it’s true that the Hurricanes are down a couple of key players with injuries (most notably, Durand Scott), an exhibition loss to St. Leo followed by a roadie to another team just entering D-I basketball is cause for serious alarm.
- Lehigh’s At-Large Chances. Any designs that Lehigh fans may have had on the Mountain Hawks sneaking into the March conversation for an NCAA at-large bid should probably be put to rest now after blowout losses to Baylor and Pittsburgh in the opening week of the season. CJ McCollum continues to do his thing (24/5/3 APG) but his team has been unable to make stops against the power conference teams, allowing each over 1.2 points per possession. The only other legitimate chance for a solid non-conference RPI booster that Lehigh now has is a road game at VCU on January 5.
- Was It a Goaltend? VCU and Wichita State’s match-up in the Hoops Marathon ended in controversial fashion as a length-of-court pass and drive by VCU’s Juvonte Reddic resulted in a foul and possible goaltend by a Wichita State player that would have tied the game in Richmond with a half-second remaining. Take a look for yourself and see what you think. Regardless, Wichita’s win at VCU is impressive for a team seeking to implement several new parts after significant personnel losses from last year’s squad.
Dunkdafied. Alex Poythress had two unreal putback dunks in this highlight package from tonight’s Duke-Kentucky game.
- Keith Appling, Michigan State (NPOY). Appling’s numbers (17/3 assts/3 stls) weren’t as high as some of the rest, but it was his clutch three and drive down the stretch of MSU’s game with Kansas that ensured a victory for the Spartans on this night.
- Allen Crabbe, California. Crabbe went for a career-high 33 points, six rebounds and three assists in Cal’s 17-point win over Pepperdine, but he’s going to need someone else on the team to help him with the scoring other than Justin Cobbs.
- Scootie Randall, Temple. As mentioned above, Randall’s 31/4/4 assts allowed Temple to earn a nice road win at Kent State, great news for a player who hadn’t played in nearly two years.
- Alex Poythress, Kentucky. The beastly Wildcat freshman flew around the lane like that witch in the broom factory commercial to drop a 20/8 night on 9-12 shooting from the field. Expect many more of these.
- Seth Curry, Duke. The younger Curry looked every bit the part of Duke star as he put the scrappy Wildcats away with his dribble-drive and finish with about a minute to go on his way to a 23-point, three-rebound performance.