First Take: Vols Upend Kansas
And a rough weekend for ranked teams.
Nothing shakes things up in the top 25 like the first full weekend of conference play. Overall, ranked teams went 15-10 between Saturday and Sunday, and in the four games between ranked teams, the lower ranked squad won three times. Of course none of these games proved to be a bigger surprise than #15 Tennessee, left short-handed after losing four players including Tyler Smith as a result of gun related arrests, taking down the nation’s top team in Kansas.
This game just further proves that there are few things in sports more dangerous than a team with a cause to rally around. The Volunteers were left with just six scholarship players, facing maybe the deepest team in the country, not a pretty picture. Three walk-on players saw significant playing time, including Skylar McBee who buried a three-pointer with a little over one minute remaining that pushed the Tennessee lead to six. This doesn’t necessarily become a season-defining game for either team though. The Vols are going to struggle with the losses they have suffered once they get fully submerged in SEC play, it’s inevitable. Whether or not they had the firepower to hang with Kentucky was up for debate before, but on paper they certainly don’t now. Kansas got a serious wakeup call in suffering their first loss of the season. The Jayhawks success this season – minus the Temple game – has largely been predicated on their offensive firepower. Given their tremendous talent, that is going to win them the game 95% of the time, but when facing other elite teams that know how to cover and disrupt that offense (Texas) Kansas is going to have trouble. What has made a team like the Longhorns so good is the manner in which they play defense. Bill Self’s squad has the ability to be tremendous on the defensive end of the floor, the Owls know this, they just need to do it consistently now.
Four other top ten teams fell on Saturday in Purdue, Duke, Kansas State and West Virginia. The Blue Devils loss shouldn’t come as a total shock given that they were facing a solid Georgia Tech team with a great rotation of big men inside. This is going to become more of an apparent problem for Duke as the ACC schedule progresses, that being the team’s lack of interior play. Everyone was talking about it during the preseason, but a torrid 13-1 start and the stellar play of Jon Scheyer put those concerns on the back burner. The problem against the Yellow Jackets was Scheyer, who granted scored 25, needed 19 shots to get there, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler went a combined 6-23 from the floor, and no one could stop Gani Lawal inside. At the very least, Coach K needs to hope that Singler is back to 100 percent relatively soon in order to provide a consistent complementary option alongside Scheyer who is looking like an All-American right now.
By holding on for a 70-68 win over West Virginia I think Notre Dame has put itself in a position where it should be getting some love in the polls, especially if they can take down Cincinnati on Saturday. The Irish are now 14-3, with a 3-1 start in the Big East, fresh off a win over the number eight team in the country. Certainly having a recognizable name like Luke Harangody on the roster doesn’t hurt the team’s cause either.
Generally I like to admit when I have misjudged a team or player and I’m beginning to think I’ve shortchanged Georgetown so far this season. They Hoyas 72-69 win over Connecticut, especially given that they rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit, is the kind of game that should serve notice to the rest of the Big East. What is really starting to make this team look lethal is that it features three players who can explode on any given night in Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and of course Greg Monroe. The former two have each put up a 30-point game this year and Monroe has just been Mr. Steady, averaging a near double-double and dishing out more than three assists per game. Sunday’s matchup with guard-heavy Villanova will be a real test of the Hoyas backcourt to see how they can handle smaller, quicker perimeter based teams.
The Missouri Valley Conference race is continuing to heat up at an ever increasing pace. Northern Iowa beat Illinois State this weekend in a battle of preseason conference favorites, pushing the Panthers to 5-0 in the conference and 14-1 overall. Suddenly there’s a second team in the hunt though as Wichita State has ever so quietly moved to 4-1 in the MVC and 15-2 overall, with the team’s only losses coming to Pittsburgh and Illinois State. The Shockers own wins over BCS teams Texas Tech and Iowa and will get their crack at UNI on the 19th at home, a game that will be tremendously fun to watch, assuming it gets televised somewhere nationally.
In my mind the single biggest answers to come out of this weekend rest in the Big 12: Oklahoma isn’t going to be a player in that conference this season, but Baylor is. The Bears trounced OU 91-60 thanks to a ridiculous shooting night (58.6% FG, 50% 3P FG, 13-15 FT) and 28 points from gunner LaceDarius Dunn who connected on 6-of-8 treys. At 13-1, Baylor has handled just about every challenge thrown its way, putting up wins over Xavier, Arizona State and obliterating Arkansas just before the new year. The team features an excellent backcourt duo in Dunn and Tweety Carter, plus an NBA-caliber big man in Ekpe Udoh who can physically match up with anyone in the Big 12 south of Dexter Pittman.
Florida State and Washington were the two ranked teams to fall on Sunday other than Kansas. The Seminoles were handled by Greivis Vasquez and Maryland, thanks to 22 points and 5 assists from the senior guard. The Terps are very much an enigma right now, standing at 10-4, although none of their losses have been that bad. Maryland has dropped games to Villanova, Cincinnati, Wisconsin and William and Mary. The first three teams have all be ranked and the Tribe is a much better team than people will give them credit for. With that said, the win over FSU is Maryland’s first statement win of the season, so beating a solid Wake Forest team on Tuesday will be paramount to keeping the momentum going. As for Washington’s loss to Arizona, the Pac-10 is officially a mess now. When the new polls come out there will not be a single team from the conference ranked, and the Huskies who seemed like the one hope for a respectable team currently stand at 1-3 and in last place in the Pac-10 standings.
In tonight’s action, Villanova at Louisville should be a very good game given that the Cardinals are athletic enough on the perimeter to contend with the Wildcats, and they have the advantage inside. I still have to say that ‘Nova walks out of there with a win though. The late game on ESPN tonight between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State is also worth watching simply to see who will outscore who in the matchup between Willie Warren and James Anderson.