Wrapping Up The DirecTV Classic in Anaheim…Posted by AMurawa on November 26th, 2012
Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent and a Pac-12 microsite writer. He filed this report after attending the DirecTV Classic over the weekend in Anaheim.
The field at the DirecTV Classic in Anaheim this weekend was anything but classic. The play was ragged at times, there were more than a couple of teams working through the growing pains of major roster overhauls, and so coming up with a coherent all-tournament team was no easy task. But, in the end, we come away with what looked like the most likely outcome going into the holiday weekend – a California win. It wasn’t always easy for the Golden Bears and it certainly wasn’t always pretty, but they leave Anaheim with a 6-0 record on the year with three serious tests ahead of them in the coming weeks. Below, we’ll run down some brief takeaways from each team that participated here this weekend and, at the end, give you what I came up with for my DirecTV Classic all-tournament team.
- California – We knew about Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs coming into this tournament, and while each had their bumps and bruises along the way, their strong performances in Anaheim were no surprise. The bigger questions for this team involve their frontcourt play and their depth, and Mike Montgomery got some promising answers this weekend. Up front, the trio of David Kravish, Richard Solomon and Robert Thurman were largely solid all weekend. Solomon had 12 points and nine boards against the biggest and most athletic team the Bears played all weekend, Georgia Tech, and was very good in the other games. And, he can get better. Kravish and Thurman each had their moments as well, but it is Solomon who has the ability to transform the Cal front line from merely acceptable to an actual team strength. As for depth, Monty definitely has gone with a solid seven-man rotation now, with point guard Brandon Smith and versatile freshman wing Tyrone Wallace seemingly taking turns manning that third perimeter spot. Throw in Ricky Kreklow when he returns from his foot injury, and there’s plenty of talent here for the rigors of the Pac-12 schedule. Cobbs and Crabbe are the established stars here, but there is plenty of upside potential too in Solomon and Wallace.
- Pacific – The surprise team of the tournament, the Tigers, in the midst of head coach Bob Thomason’s retirement tour, sent Xavier to the consolation bracket on Thanksgiving, then handled Saint Mary’s before running into a Cal team that was too much for them. There are a lot of nice pieces here – the Tigers played 11 players in each game of this tournament – but more than one opposing coach this weekend attributed at least some of their early success to Thomason’s coaching, especially with the extra practices the team got this summer as a result of their international trip. As Randy Bennett put it, “they’ve just got more stuff put in than the rest of the teams here.” With no one standout talent on this squad, this team is going to be tough to game plan for on a nightly basis, but this is still probably a team that winds up in the middle of the Big West standings this season.
- Georgia Tech – Probably the most athletic team in this tournament, the young Yellow Jackets should be pleased getting out of here with a 2-1 record. Mfon Udofia has turned into a nice lead guard for Brian Gregory, there’s a group of athletic wings (Marcus Georges-Hunt, Brandon Reed, Jason Morris), Kammeon Holsey is a versatile performer up front, and between Daniel Miller and Robert Carter, Jr., there are a pair of solid bigs. Carter, a highly touted freshman, is a heck of a talent, but he’s got a long way to go to begin making the most of his skills. Built like a defensive lineman, he too often gravitated to the perimeter and failed to impose his will against smaller guys on the block. He’s got a ton of upside though, as a skilled passer and a big man with a soft jumper. Tech is significantly improved over last season, but they’re probably at least a year away from NCAA Tournament contention.
- Saint Mary’s – The Gaels came into the weekend as a favorite to advance to the title game, but slipped up against Pacific on Friday, then got drilled in the second half by Georgia Tech on Sunday. And, there is reason for concern here. With Northern Iowa the only potentially significant opponent remaining on the non-conference schedule (although they will compete in the BracketBusters event in February), it looks like SMC will enter WCC play without a good resume win to its credit. They’ll get a couple cracks against Gonzaga in conference play, but despite the fact that Matthew Dellavedova is a serious gamer, there are some serious struggles up front. Randy Bennett is trying to find so much as one solid big man between Mitchell Young, Kyle Rowley, Brad Waldow and Matt Hodgson and, thus far, hasn’t met with much success. There are a bunch of good wings here, but with about 20% of their season done, they’re awfully close to needing to win the WCC Tournament to get back to the NCAAs this year.
- Xavier – Given that the Musketeers lost more than 80% of their scoring from last season, not much was expected of them heading into the season. However, with a blowout win over Butler in front of a national television audience in their second game of the year, those negative expectations were quickly thrown out the window. The opening round loss to Pacific here reminded everyone that, yes, this team is young and a work in progress. But, the Musketeers bounced back, finished the weekend with a 2-1 record and, along the way, firmly established its starting backcourt of sophomore Dee Davis and freshman Semaj Christon as a force to be reckoned with. There’s not much depth here, and the front line of Jeff Robinson, Travis Taylor and Justin Martin, though talented, will have their ups and downs this year. But while Xavier is not as good as their big win over Butler showed, they’re also still a talented team, coached by a very good coach who expects, and will likely contend for, NCAA Tournament inclusion.
- Drake – While all of the above teams left Anaheim as fairly relevant nationally, from here on out we’re dealing with smaller teams that really aren’t going to be on the national radar for the rest of the season. But, there are still some good players on some of these teams, led by Jordan Clarke of Drake, who was arguably the best big man in this tournament. More on him later. But beyond Clarke, the picture still isn’t clear for this squad. Ben Simons is a not-particularly athletic scoring small forward who fits well alongside Clarke. Junior college transfer Richard Carter has grabbed a hold of the point guard job here, and Gary Ricks Jr. made his case for minutes at the off-guard ahead of Utah transfer Chris Hines (who was a mess this weekend, going 2-for-10 from the field in the two losses and getting lost repeatedly defensively). But this is likely a team that is going to finish in the back half of the Missouri Valley.
- Drexel – The preseason favorite in the Colonial, the Dragons probably wish they could have a do-over on the start of the season. It is bad enough that they are now off to a 2-4 start, but they’ve also lost Chris Fouch for the season and were without wing Damion Lee for a couple games due to injury as well. Still, they’ve got enough talent here to make some noise in the CAA race. Frantz Massenat is a consistent scorer in the backcourt, Dartaye Ruffin and Daryl McCoy make for an imposing frontcourt (and a contender for the best pair of beards in college hoops) and Lee was back for the last two games of this tourney, averaging 17.5 points per game and looking no worse for the wear. There is no depth here, however, and certainly none of any size, so it will take a masterful job by Bruiser Flint to get this team up near the top of its conference again.
- Rice – In the wake of mass defections late in the offseason for Ben Braun, this is a team that never had a chance. In an underwhelming field, this team was by far the worst team here this weekend with literally no memorable players on their roster. I saw them twice and still just now had to look at their roster to remember the name of Tamir Jackson, their leading scorer. Right now Ken Pomeroy has them as favorites in six of their remaining games, and projects them for a record of 10-20 on the year. Gimme the under.
My All-Tournament team
First, a caveat. I normally like to make my All-Fill-In-The-Blank teams look like an actual basketball team, with a point guard and a couple wings and a couple big guys. Well, after a relative dearth of big guys this weekend, I’ve decided my All-Tourney team is going to run the four-out, one-in model. Here goes:
- PG: Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s – After a big 32-point, four-assist game in the opener, Pacific and Georgia Tech were both successful in limiting Delly’s production, holding him to 10 points and four assists per game the rest of the way. But, beyond the numbers, Dellavedova was the one guy on the court this whole weekend with the biggest command of the game. He was directing his teammates on offense and on defense and did everything possible to put his Gael team in the best position to win. Still, he was left off the official all-tournament team, so he didn’t go unnoticed here.
- G: Justin Cobbs, California – The official Tournament MVP, Cobbs was great all weekend. He averaged 19.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and a couple of assists per game, all on 16-for-28 shooting. And, he was probably even better than those numbers indicate.
- G: Allen Crabbe, California – Cobbs’ running mate in the Cal backcourt, Crabbe struggled mightily in the middle game of the tourney (though he still wound up with 13 points), but came alive early and often in the championship game, going for 24 points and putting an exclamation point on the win with a emphatic slam down the stretch. Still, his 4-for-15 shooting from deep is not up to the standard he has set for himself, so he hopes to right his ship for the Bears’ tough upcoming stretch.
- G: Semaj Christon, Xavier – Christon earned all-tournament honors with 19.0 points and 6.3 assists per game and showed a command of his team beyond his years, positioning his teammates on both ends of the court and showing an ability to both create for himself and for others. Clearly gifted, if he continues to improve, you’re looking at your next great Xavier guard.
- F: Jordan Clarke, Drake – A wide-body in the paint, the big man is surprisingly agile and skilled for his size. This weekend he owned the glass, averaging 13 boards per game, while chipping in almost 13 points per game, including a three-pointer on his only attempt in each game. Throw in his ability to drop a pretty dime (he had nine assists over the weekend) and the big guy is a complete player.