First Take: Georgetown is back?
And Stephen Bardo is a basketball siren.
So I’m officially back on the east coast from my adventures in Big Sky Country. This means a couple of things: first you can expect consistent postings before noon again since I’m back in the Eastern Time Zone. Second – and this one is more for me – I go back to watching college hoops at its standard primetime hours. Other than the fantastic views and skiing that I was able to enjoy while out west, having college basketball start at 5 p.m. and run until 11 as opposed to the usual 7-1 a.m. on the eastern seaboard was a thing of beauty. Imagine being a kid living out west. You come home from school, crank out some homework and boom, diving right into Seton Hall vs. Georgetown and you don’t have to worry about staying up late to catch the west coast games because they finish before midnight for you. Truly, living in Big Sky Country is severely underrated. Alas, I was back on my late schedule again last night listening to the sweet sounds of Terry Gannon and Stephen Bardo call yet another brilliantly played WCC game.
It was a standard night in Poll Land with all four ranked teams in action earning wins. Tennessee crushed Auburn 81-55 and improving to 2-0 during LATS (Life After Tyler Smith). I know a lot of people immediately jumped to say the Vol’s were better without Smith and Co. after the team upset Kansas over the weekend. Call me cynical, but I’m still waiting to see where this team stands after the air of “We’re Going to Overcome This Adversity” fades away. It may take a few games or it could be the kind of thing that propels this team further than it may have gone otherwise. There’s no shortage of talent between Wayne Chism, Scotty Hopson, Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince and certainly the SEC is the kind of conference where losing a star player doesn’t spell mediocrity for a team like Tennessee, but give it to the end of the month when they play a stingy Vanderbilt team and Florida in back-to-back games.
Georgetown picked up win number four in the Big East by holding court at home against Seton Hall. Two things stood out about this game to me. First, Jeremy Hazell attempted only 14 shots, so Bobby Gonzalez must have finally pulled him aside and said, “Look I know you’re averaging 31 ppg in conference play, but you’re putting up more bricks than the real life Air Bud.” What really gets me is John Thompson III’s whole “we play balanced basketball” is actually manifesting itself this season in a very effective manner as opposed to last year’s crash and burn. Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman and Christ Wright have been the core contributors, with at least two of these guys reaching double figures on a nightly basis. Where the difference has been this season is with the supporting cast, different faces are stepping up when needed. Julian Vaughn chipped in 13 points and sophomore Jason Clark – who couldn’t have been higher than 7th on Seton Hall’s list of concerns about Georgetown – scored career-high 20 points while drilling all four of his three-point attempts. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when as a team you shoot an Artis Gilmore-like 68% from the floor, but the point is the Hoyas are showing they are yet again a team to be reckoned with. They may not feature the kind of one-two punch that Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert once gave them, but they have enough talent surrounding their “superstar” Monroe that they can do some damage. (Note: I put superstar in quotes because Monroe’s value as a basketball player isn’t cut and dry to the average fan looking for monster scoring and rebounding numbers from their big men. He almost certainly won’t get his complete due until June when draft talk starts up and Jay Bilas uses the word length 456,089 times in his assessment of Monroe.)
My interest last night was turned to, in my mind, the most underrated rivalry in college basketball: Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. I don’t care if this series has been more one-sided than Gillespie vs. Kentucky (too soon?), of the six losses that the Zags have suffered in the West Coast Conference since the 2003-04 season, three of them have come against the Gaels, meaning they are doing something right. Last night’s 89-82 win for the Bulldogs was just another exhibit of this greatness that happens when these two schools meet up. The crowd was into it from start to finish, the big names turned in strong efforts, both teams excelled offensively in a fast paced game and Stephen Bardo was your color analyst on the ESPN2 broadcast. Allow me to go on a brief tangent about Bardo, who for the life of me I can’t figure out why the World Wide Leader is still stashing him away on these late night WCC games like they are afraid another network will steal him if they realize how good he is. Bardo is the Len Elmore of his generation. By that I mean a former player whose knowledge and understanding of the game is only exceeded by his eloquent nature of getting information and points across to the viewer. It’s a treat listening to him interject his facts and analysis throughout the broadcast because he makes you feel like you know more about basketball than you actually do (or might). On the rare occurrences when he is covering a game that starts before 11 p.m. ET it’s a great feeling, like finding five bucks in your pocket. I relate it to how J.J. Reddick must have felt the first time he arrived on Duke’s campus and realized Sheldon Williams was going to be cleaning up his misses for the next four years – you can’t lose. But I digress.
Saint Mary’s got a mammoth performance from Omar Samhan who went for 31 and 12, with 24 of his points coming in the second half. Unfortunately for the Gaels, no one else decided rebounding was a priority and saw Gonzaga win the battle on the boards 45-25, which means if not for the sharpshooting of Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s isn’t even in this game. The Zags got a career night from freshman sensation Elias Harris who scored 31 points and hauled in 13 rebounds. What, you thought these mid-major stars just showed up one day out of the woodwork? Contrary to popular belief, these players DO take some time to develop, it just happens when 99% of the people who care about college basketball are already asleep. The comment was made that this Zags team could be the best since the 1999 squad that went to the Elite Eight, there’s a long way to go and that 35-point loss to Duke is still somewhat fresh in my mind, but there’s enough talent and balance for this team to get hot at the right time and make a run in March.
Jerome Randle exploded for 39 points in a Cal’s win over Washington State last night, but guess what, no one cares. That’s how badly the Pac-10 has fallen on its face this season, one of the conferences marquee players has an unconscious night and it doesn’t register. The Golden Bears are the only team in the conference that hasn’t lost at least two conference games and no team has fewer than five total losses right now. In essence, it is a perfect storm that has led to the paltry performance from the Pac-10 this year. The conference was ravaged by early departures for the NBA, no one brought in a marquee freshman and the returning players who were expected to step up into bigger roles this year haven’t done so. The teams did so mediocre during the non-conference schedule that they’ve essentially screwed the conference out of getting more than two bids in the NCAA Tournament because all they can do now is be a league full of mediocre teams that beat up on each other for the next six weeks. In a nutshell, they will look like the Missouri Valley Conference to the selection committee. I’m calling it now, the Atlantic-10 and Mountain West get more bids than the Pac-10 this year.
We’ve got a big weekend coming up, with more action than I can likely preview in a reasonable amount of words, so while my general recommendation is to sit on your couch from sunup till sundown on Saturday, I’ll give you a few highlights. The Big East, ACC and SEC all have pairings of ranked teams this weekend with Syracuse visiting West Virginia, Georgia Tech traveling to North Carolina and Mississippi hitting up Tennessee. The most important game? Tech at UNC, the Tar Heels need a win to right their ship and prove they aren’t too young to play with the big kids in the ACC and the Yellow Jackets are trying to show they can be the dark horse in the conference race by pulling the double-dip (wins over Duke and Carolina). Syracuse and West Virginia is the game most likely to end in a route, with the Orange running away from the Mountaineers, just a gut feeling. Ole Miss at Tennessee is the game you should watch but probably won’t because you didn’t realize the Rebels existed after football season. In unrelated news, Lane Kiffin will be in attendance wearing a Mississippi jersey.
Also, if you can, wake up early Saturday and catch Dayton visiting Xavier in another good one in the A-10 (easily the 47th time I’ve said that this year).