by Cub Buenning
On a day that is usually set aside for gluttony, sloth and professional football, Thursday’s national holiday to give thanks went down a bit different than normal. The National Football League decided to give its trusted and loyal fan base two horrific match-ups for the big primetime Turkey Day contests (and one decent evening game). In households around the country, football dominated the airwaves, but when it was announced that the Old Spice Classic in Orlando (Fla.) would be an all-day college hoops fiesta over the holiday weekend, I knew that I might have to get creative with the remote control.
Present at the Buenning family Thanksgiving (beautifully hosted at my parents’ house) were at least a half dozen major sports fans. All were huge NFL guys, and the idea of watching college hoops in November was borderline sacrilege around these parts. My three brothers are all big-time sports bloggers (www.kubiaktohold.blogspot.com and www.blakestreetbias.blogspot.com) but none of them are particularly fond of the game of college basketball—at least not until they can fill out a bracket and put money on the games.
But, again, luck was on our side yesterday as the first NFL game between Tennessee and Detroit was already a 28-3 route midway through the second quarter. With deftness and skill, I was able to procure the remote and during a commercial, slyly change the channel to the tourney’s tip-off game between Bruce Pearl’s Tennessee Volunteers and the Siena Saints of Albany (NY). This game between two of the nation’s fastest-paced teams promised to be a high-scoring affair (recall that the Saints return the entirety of a team that made it to the NCAA Tournament’s second round last year after a 13 vs. 4 upset of Vanderbilt.)
When my uncle (a former D-III All-American twice over and a 2000-point college scorer at Wartburg College in Iowa) noticed the channel switch, he jumped to action with inquiries about what was going on. Rest assured after I briefed him and the rest of those within earshot about the Old Spice Classic, they were more than happy to temporarily ignore the boat race that was currently going on in Detroit.
In just its third year of existence, the Old Spice Classic has already supplanted the tradition-rich tournaments in Maui, New York City and Alaska as the cream of the early season crop. Seven of the eight teams involved made it to post-season play last year, including five that made the NCAA field of 65. In addition, three of the teams ended last year in the ESPN Top 25, with four now included into this year’s rankings.
The Milk House on the Disney Wide World of Sports campus was more than half-empty for yesterday’s opening round, but the action continued following the Vols’ relatively easy 14-point victory with the Georgetown Hoyas facing the Shockers of Wichita State.
After watching the first half (a great one for freshmen big man Greg Monroe) dinner was served. Despite sloppy play by both teams during the second half, John Thompson III’s crew was able to hold on for a 58-50 win. The Hoyas are going to be a continual “work in progress” as they look to move on with out several of their key players from the past couple of years. Gone are Roy Hibbert, Patrick Ewing Jr. and Jonathan Wallace, which gives Thompson and his staff a herculean task of not only rebuilding on the fly, but having to do it in the highly competitive Big East, as well.
After a break of action down in the Magic Kingdom, the games continued with one between the Maryland Terrapins and the highly ranked Michigan State Spartans. This was the surprise game of the day for most, but in my estimation Coach Tom Izzo’s team has been largely overrated at this point of season. The Terrapins, behind a loose, but gutsy performance from their Venezuelan superman point guard , clamped down their defense on star Spartan forward Raymar Morgan, and pounded MSU 80-62 in a game that was never really close. Bottled up for most of the night while strapped with foul trouble, the 6-8 Morgan did his doubters (which include me) a service by again playing an inconsistent game, just nights after two stellar performances. Vasquez and the Terrapins weren’t great at times in this game either, but their defense was suffocating and oppressive as the Spartans played the game with an already depleted line-up (no center Goran Suton).
As this game winded down, the high-stakes Texas Hold ‘Em action in my parents’ basement did, as well. My younger brother took home the prize (and $60 for his troubles) and my wife, daughter and I used the break in action to scurry home, in order to watch the day’s final game.
The night-cap in Orlando featured the most intriguing match-up of the day’s four games. The Top 10-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs met with the newly re-tooled Cowboys of Oklahoma State. New ‘Poke boss Travis Ford has implemented an up-tempo style of play in Stillwater, which should work well with a team that is largely void of any inside play. Gonzaga, on the other hand, brings in one of the deepest teams in the nation and arguably their best team in the school’s history. Despite poor early shooting by both teams, the game was largely in question with just over five minutes remaining.
Sparked by an impressive 9-0 run, the ‘Zags raced to an 83-71 win. As should be expected, Gonzaga got production from seemingly half of Spokane with seven guys getting at least six points and five of those in double figures. To wit: At this early point in the season, the 3-0 Zags are being led in scoring by junior Micah Downs (mistakenly viewed by many as almost an after-thought on this team) and the conference’s returning player of the year, Jeremy Pargo, is currently sixth on the team with nine points a night. (If you picked up a copy of the most recent mag, you know even more about this outrageously loaded team that should be in “Final Four or Bust” mode).
Peace, love and college hoops from all of us at Cub Scouts.
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