First Take: Party Crashers
Is the Big 12 deeper than we thought?
Is the Big 12 better than we thought?
If early returns are any indication then that appears to be the case.Last night’s overtime win for Texas Tech over #10 Washington is just the latest impressive win for a Big 12 team not named Kansas or Texas (not that either has had an impressive win yet). Quincy Pondexter was huge for the Huskies netting 31 points, but a poor shooting night from Isaiah Thomas and five Red Raiders in double figures was too much to overcome. All the talk is going to center around the buzzer-beater that wasn’t, but let’s look at what really matters here.
For starters, Texas Tech is 8-0 for the first time in 80 years and is definitely overachieving right now. The Red Raiders lost 19 games a year ago and were picked to finish 9th in the Big 12 preseason poll – now they’re the first team in the conference to eight wins, have a pair of wins over Pac-10 teams and a win over a top ten squad. Not a bad start.
As I write this, Baylor is trailing Arizona State in the second half, but the Bears have knocked off a strong Xavier team and their only loss was at the hands of a solid Alabama squad. Texas A&M has worked itself into the current AP Poll, Kansas State took down a Dayton team that started the year ranked and Colorado gave Gonzaga and Arizona all they could handle in a pair of close losses.
The Big 12 basement dweller right now? How about and Oklahoma team that at 4-3 has way too much talent and potential to stay buried for long. Believe me, by the time March comes around, Willie Warren, Tiny Gallon and Co. will be a team with Sweet 16 potential. We still have a long way to go and things will certainly start to shake out when conference schedules get underway, but the Big 12 is proving in the early going that it is more than just the top dogs in the Jayhawks and Longhorns this year.
Now, onto the action…Texas was the only other ranked team in action last night and after allowing USC to hang around for the first half, Rick Barnes’ team pulled away after the break. Damion James was his usual consistent self with 19 and 9 while Dexter Pittman patrolled the middle with 7 blocks to accompany his 13 points. Overall, not a great performance from the Longhorns, balanced but not great. This is a scary team to watch though in that the amount of potential on their roster is staggering. Think about this: Kansas is a team built around a pair of established seniors and have a superstar freshman in Xavier Henry. Texas is steamrolling people right now with only one player who has really scratched the surface of his potential in James. Pittman is still rounding into a consistent starter and Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton are freshman who will only get better as the season progresses. Are the Longhorns going to take down the Jayhawks in March? I’m not saying that – just some food for thought.
Seton Hall rolled over Hartford 89-56 in Jersey, not worth writing home about, but there is certainly reason for optimism amongst Pirate fans. Bobby Gonzalez’s team is 6-0 and finally someone other than Jeremy Hazell is stepping up. The scoring machine is still putting up better than 20 ppg, but forward Herb Pope and Robert Mitchell have both averaging double figures, as is guard Eugene Harvey. There are even more contributions coming from the youngsters, with sophomore Jordan Theodore leading all scorers with 17 in the win. I keep hearing talk about this being the year a New Jersey/NYC team cracks the NCAA Tournament field – maybe Seton Hall can be that squad (no offense St. John’s fans).
Two names to remember from last night’s action: Gregory Echenique and Kenneth Faried. The former is a sophomore at Rutgers (for those who didn’t know) and posted a career-high 21 points to go along with 11 rebounds in a win over Princeton. The massive 6-9 power forward was running mates with Samardo Samuels at St. Benedict’s Prep in high school and could wind up being as productive as his more heralded buddy. If he continues to take strides this season, don’t be shocked if his name winds up on an All-Conference list.
Faried is the best rebounder in the country, period. He can lay claim to being one of the bestrebounders this decade. Since arriving on the scene at Morehead State three years ago, his has never averaged fewer than 15.6 rebounds per-40 minutes – of course all of this has been done in obscurity. At 6-8 he is a little undersized for the pro level but is an absolute machine against college players. Through five games he is averaging over 19 points and 12 rebounds per game, with per-40 minute averages of 24 and nearly 16. So keep this name in mind for Bracket Buster Weekend later in the season and impress your friends when you can call out Morehead State’s ball hawk.
Overall in case you couldn’t tell, it was a bit of a slow night for college hoops and tomorrow isn’t looking much better. Three ranked teams are in action (Florida, Michigan State and Texas A&M) but all have relative cakewalk games. With that said though, this weekend is absolutely chalk full of outstanding early season matchups. Consider this list:
· #11 UNC @ #4 Kentucky
· USC @ #23 Georgia Tech
· Washington State @ Kansas State
· #1 Kansas @ UCLA
· #3 Villanova @ Maryland
· Arizona @ Oklahoma
· Miami @ Boston College
Of course there are always the SEC and Big 12 football championship games if you prefer, but chances are if you’re reading this, you’ll heed my recommendations. With that, have a great weekend everyone and I’ll see you back here on Monday.