First Take: Down Goes Carolina!
And it’s time to take Pitt seriously.
Andrew Goudelock was probably already a big man on campus prior to last night. The College of Charleston junior leads the team in scoring and has already amassed a small collection of 20-point games this season. When he woke up this morning, he had probably reached a status level that few of us will ever achieve – school hero.
In one of the more remarkable late game surges this season, the Cougars went on a 12-1 run to erase an 11-point deficit in the final four minutes of regulation to force overtime. Goudelock scored the final eight points including the tying three-pointer with two seconds remaining, a bomb from somewhere near Chapel Hill with a closing Ed Davis in his face. Charleston would carry that momentum into the extra period and shock the Tar Heels 82-79, handing Roy Williams and Co. their fourth loss of the season already.
If you want to look at an explanation here, this is why smaller programs love the three point line. Yes, all five Cougar starters scored at least 13 points, but the team connected on 13-of-32 tries from the perimeter. UNC shot 38% overall and just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc, but easily won the battle on the boards and at the free throw line, but they couldn’t overcome the great equalizer in college basketball. Ed Davis was brilliant, posting 19 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks, but a young Carolina team suffers another defeat. C of C coach Bobby Cremins knows a thing or two about big wins, having taken Georgia Tech to the Final Four back in 1990 and earning national coach of the year honors for it, but even he said he couldn’t believe the run his team put together at the end of the game.
I can tell you right now, this won’t be the last difficult game the Tar Heels lose this season, they are just too young. If you take away Ed Davis and Deon Thompson, the three remaining starters last night – two freshmen and a sophomore- shot just 6-of-24, that isn’t going to cut it in the ACC. It’s too early still to write this team off and say they will not be a good team come March because they have shown some impressive stretches in games. In fact, it’s very likely they could finish third or fourth in the regular season conference standings before rounding into shape and running off with the ACC Tournament title. That will depend on a lot of factors, mainly the consistent play of Larry Drew and a more consistent contribution from the freshman. There needs to be steady option out of that group and that just hasn’t been the case yet.
Florida State has quietly snuck up into the polls, now standing at #19 in the rankings and owning a 13-2 record after trouncing Texas A&M- CC last night. Wins over Alabama, Marquette and Georgia Tech thus far should have the ‘Noles feeling pretty good as they head into Maryland for their next game. What has been surprising with this team is the success they have had without the emergence of a go-to option yet. Six different players are averaging between seven and 12 points, giving FSU a tremendous amount of balance. I thought that Solomon Alabi was going to have to be an 18 and 10 guy every night for this team to consistently compete, but so far that hasn’t been the case. The 7-footer has turned it up when needed though, topping 20 points on three separate occasions including contests against Ohio State and Georgia Tech.
Speaking of teams standing at 13-2 that deserve some attention, if Pittsburgh isn’t in next week’s top 25 I’m done with college basketball (well not really, but I’ll be shocked). The Panthers improved to 3-0 in the Big East, squeaking by Cincinnati 74-71 thanks to a fantastic 20-27 night from the line. Ashton Gibbs topped 18 points for the fourth time in five games and was of course the catalyst at the line, going 10-of-11 himself. The biggest story for Pitt fans though has to be the reemergence of swingman Gilbert Brown who netted 17 points in just his fourth game back from a suspension due to academic reasons. Add in Brad Wanamaker and the Panthers have a case for the best trio of backcourt players in the Big East right now, or at least the trio that is playing the best basketball for the time. The team’s next matchup with Connecticut next week will be another big test for a team lacking in a major interior presence, but having already taken down a Syracuse team that features some solid bigs, the Panthers certainly have the firepower to do so.
Jeremy Lin had a homecoming last night when Harvard visited Santa Clara (Lin is from Palo Alto), but despite the Crimson coming away with a 74-66 win, the people didn’t get the show they hoped for. Lin was upstaged by teammate Kyle Casey who scored a career-high 27 points, going 6-of-6 from the floor and 13-of-16 at the charity stripe. Ironically enough, the player everyone wanted to see, Lin, tied a season-low with six points, but did dish out a season-high nine assists in the face of an extreme amount of pressure being thrown at him by the Broncos. If anything, this game showed that Lin is more than just a mid-major scoring machine; he is a smart basketball player. I’m still not ready to anoint him a future NBA player by any means, but pro scouts following Lin will take notice of this fact.
Out west, Nevada’s Luke Babbitt is quietly putting together one of the more dominant seasons in the country right now. The sophomore power forward is just two rebounds shy of averaging 20 and 10 for the year right now and is shooting 38% from beyond the arc to boot. After starting off solid, but modest for the first month of the season, Babbitt has topped 20 points in six of his last seven games and has three double-doubles in the stretch. Just one year ago the Reno native was hailed as the biggest recruit that the Wolf Pack had ever signed and the youngster is living up to the hype. Throw in guard Armon Johnson and there isn’t a better duo in the WAC, or maybe the entire Mountain Time Zone for that matter. I will be very surprised of Nevada doesn’t win their conference regular season title with the kind of talent they are sporting this season.
In tonight’s action, I’d like to say that Purdue at Minnesota has the potential to be a good game, but the Boilermakers have been so dominant lately that I can’t see this being any closer than 10-12 points. After exploding for 25 and 10 against West Virginia’s super long frontcourt, you think JaJuan Johnson isn’t licking his lips in anticipation for facing a softer Golden Gopher team? The best game of the night though will be #14 New Mexico’s Mountain West opener against San Diego State who owns wins over Arizona and Fresno State among others so far. Darington Hobson (a guy we’ve talked about in the past) is of course the man for the Lobos, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and assists while the Aztecs rely on a pair of forwards in Kawhi Leonard who is averaging 14 and 11 in his last seven games and leading scorer Billy White.
In mid-major land, keep an eye on Rhode Island visiting Akron tonight. The Rams are 11-1 and coming off a win over Oklahoma State, while the Zips are still looking for that first signature win despite playing some of the most balanced basketball in the country. With seven players scoring between seven and 11 points per game, it has been difficult for defenses to key in on anyone, allowing Akron to hurt teams in a variety of ways. Senior guard Keith Cothran has been the leading man for Rhode Island, but 6-8 forward Delroy James has been the X-factor with his strong play inside this season.
All of these will just be a warm up before tomorrow’s huge slate of enticing games to take in. Enjoy the hoops!