First Take: Big Ten For Real
And South Dakota is home to the corniest arena.
OK Big Ten, you’ve made your point.
Sometimes it takes a decade to get it right, but the ACC was finally defeated in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, highlighted by Wisconsin’s win over #5 Duke at the Kohl Center, thus proving the conference is the best in the country right now. The big guns were out in cheese country as Kyle Single (28 points) and Trevon Hughes (26) each went for career-highs, but it was the Wisconsin senior who came up big when it counted, netting 19 points after the break. The Blue Devils kept it close thanks to the blazing shooting of freshman Andre Dawkins, but the Badgers made the necessary plays and got some help from an errant Singler pass to pull the upset.
Don’t get me wrong, Duke is a very good team and this early season loss in a tough environment needs to be taken with a grain of salt – all games of this nature do. But, Coach K has said that while his team has a lot of size, it doesn’t have the same kind of speed and quickness he is used to dealing with in the backcourt. What that means for opposing teams is a slight reprieve from the typical suffocating Dukie defense that has been responsible for more than a handful of wins this decade. Wisconsin certainly has strong guards, but don’t confuse them with a team like Michigan State or North Carolina. Despite that fact though, the Badgers only turned the ball over four times, just a few days after Duke forced UConn into 16 turnovers. Moral of the story as I already said, don’t read too much into this, but tip your hat to Wisconsin.
The crushing blow to the ACC last night came earlier in the evening though when 19th-ranked Clemson somehow managed to blow a 23-point second half lead to Illinois – AT HOME. This one wasn’t so much a drawn out car crash for Clemson – as these affairs usually are – as much as a building inferno for the Fighting Illini who scored 49 points after the break on 60 percent shooting and connected on 50 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. The starters totaled 70 of the team’s 76 points in the largest comeback in school history, but it was really about the freshman duo Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. SLAM sat down and talked with Richardson during the summer and while he had made his prep reputation as a lockdown defender, his perimeter shooting was what kept Illinois in this one down the stretch. I still don’t really know what to say about this one other than Clemson doesn’t usually start having total meltdowns until the conference schedule starts.
Plenty of easy wins for ranked teams last night with Kansas, Villanova, Connecticut, Louisville, Butler and Texas A&M all winning by at least 18. #25 Cal got tripped up by a rising New Mexico team that has jumped out to a 7-0 start. Remember the name Darington Hobson now and you will be that much cooler in March when he is making life miserable for some BCS Conference team in the NCAA Tournament. The junior college transfer signed a letter of intent with the Lobos two years ago out of high school, but had to take the JuCo road where he developed into an All-American. He touched up the Golden Bears for 22 and 15, slightly higher than his season averages of 19 and 8.
In the Peach State, Georgia Tech handled Siena 74-61 in a game that could easily turn into a first round match up in March, as both teams should punch postseason tickets. Surprise, surprise, the Yellow Jackets are being led by a pair of super talented underclassmen. Freshman guard Mfon Udofia certainly wasn’t as heralded as big man Derrick Favors (16 and 8 last night), but the local guard was top dog with a career-high 26 points in the win. Few teams this decade can brag about the level of pro talent that Paul Hewitt and his staff have recruited and seen pass through their campus, with nine players having worn an NBA uniform since 2001. Maybe this is the year the Jackets put it together and make another deep run in the bracket.
Boston College and Miami made me eat my words last night by knocking off Michigan and Minnesota in a pair of games that I so boldly decided to predict yesterday, but don’t feel bad for me, feel bad for Duquesne who did their best Clemson impression last night. The Dukes had Pittsburgh down 16 points in the second half and watched that lead evaporate to zilch with about eight seconds to go. Rather than getting a shot off in the waning moments though, Duquense threw the ball away on an errant; albeit routine pass near midcourt that gave the Panthers a chance to win it in regulation. It took a bit longer – two overtimes in fact – but guard Ashton Gibbs finally found his stroke and knocked in a pair of three-pointers to power an 11-2 Pitt run in the second extra frame for a 67-58 win.
If that game taught us anything, two overtimes is twice as nice, so why not do it again? UNLV needed ten extra minutes to take down Arizona on the road for the 24th-ranked Runnin’ Rebels first road win of the season. ‘Zona was a bit short manned, playing only eight, but 47 points from Derrick Williams and Dondre Wise was enough to keep Sean Miller’s squad hanging around for a while. I know it’s been a couple of seasons since the whole Lute Olson drama played out, but it’s still odd to see the Wildcats 3-3 and unranked three weeks into the season.
Somehow I’ve waited this long to mention the game I was hyping up yesterday, that of course being the Washington State vs. Gonzaga match up. The Cougars Klay Thompson proved to be human after all, being held to just 15 points on a paltry 6-21 shooting performance. This kid is a surefire pro player if he can sure up his defense a little bit though. At 6-6 he has a good size frame for the shooting guard position and when he is feeling it can lay claim to being the best shooter in the country. For only being a sophomore, Thompson already knows how to catch and shoot coming off of screens better than half of the NBA – if you get the chance to watch him play this season, do it. Matt Bouldin was the story in this one though as the senior went off for a career-high 28 points, drilling seven three-pointers. I’m happy the Colorado native is having such a good start to the season, having scored 15+ in all but one of his games so far. Bouldin has always been viewed as a talented player, but he seemed to be viewed more as Jeremy Pargo and Austin Daye’s sidekick in previous years; now it’s his team.
Vanderbilt held off Missouri at home in a battle of NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago who have fallen off the national stage for the time being. The Commodores had a nauseating 24 turnovers thanks to that Mizzou press which resulted in 14 steals. Watching games at Memorial Gym always throws me off though given that the team benches are under the baskets as opposed to on the sidelines like every other court on Earth. Still, Vandy wasn’t even close to sporting the more bizarre home court set up last night, that distinction belongs to NAIA Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell South Dakota.
The Tigers men’s and women’s teams played a double-header against Mount Marty College at the Corn Palace. In case the name didn’t give it away, yes, all of the designs you see above the court are made entirely of full ears of corn. Show me one other place where you’re going to find over 250,000 ears of corn all in one location AND a basketball game going on. Not that this provides much of a home court advantage, but no one can accuse me of not giving you a healthy dose of arbitrary basketball related content.
Fun fact that I somehow missed from two days ago – which shows how much we take Luke Harangody for granted – the Notre Dame senior became the first player in program history to eclipse 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. There isn’t a more underappreciated player in the country, period. I know at this point we’ve gotten over the fact that he looks like he should be sporting a golden dome helmet and that any shot he takes from more than eight feet is uncomfortable to watch, but players that produce at his level don’t come along very often, let alone in the Big East. Not that I’m saying there needs to be a Luke Harangody farewell tour this season, but consider this: the senior is within striking distance of becoming the Big East’s all-time leading scorer AND rebounder this year.
Slower night tonight, though the Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge gets underway – think of this as a the Robert Traylor version of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge: very top heavy. Still Washington and Texas will both be playing in nationally televised games, who cares if they are against Texas Tech and USC. The Huskies feature a couple of scoring machines in Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter (the ultimate late bloomer) who are each scoring over 20 a night and Texas is just scary good. Oh and for those of you lucky enough to have ESPN 360, do yourself a favor and catch Cleveland St at Wright St tonight at 9 ET. Believe it or not, Butler isn’t the only good team in the Horizon League and these two have been battling it out for second place each of the past few seasons, making for some very heated battles.
A bit longwinded this morning so I apologize for the slightly late post, but enjoy the day everyone.