First Take: Welcome to 2010
USC finally calls itself out.
Happy 2010 everyone! Hopefully your farewell to 2009 was as enjoyable and safe as mine was. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be in beautiful Montana this week so the First Take will be going up a little later in the day than usual given the two hour time difference, but think of this as a nice stop off point during your lunch hour, but I digress.
It was a busy first weekend for the new decade in college hoops with conference play getting into full swing for a lot of teams, unfortunately the two marquee matchups viewers were anticipating turned into routs with the spoils going to higher seeded teams. On Saturday, top ranked Kansas crushed #19 Temple 84-52, handing the Owls their worst defeat since 1993. The Jayhawks were brutally efficient, shooting 54% from the floor and from beyond the arc, while connecting on 17-of-19 from the line. Four players scored in double figures with an absurd 12 different players reaching the scorers column in all. It’s scary how deep Bill Self’s squad is and more so they have a wealth of experience with Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich having played on a national championship team just a couple of years ago. Given that Kansas passed its first major test since the Memphis game without so much as breaking a sweat, it’s no wonder many are now calling them the outright number one team in the nation after Texas struggled with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
The other really enticing game lined up was yesterday’s ACC contest between #18 Clemson and #7 Duke. What a surprise, the Tigers get crushed in an early conference game, it’s déjà vu for the 285602485th time. I know I’ve called Duke a regular season only team this season, and I still believe they will be hurt in March by the lack of an interior presence, but it’s hard not to come away impressed by the trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith when they combine for 60 of the Blue Devils 74 points against a ranked opponent. Duke played excellent pressure defense too, hounding Clemson into a poor shooting night from the floor (32%) and holding them 18 percentage points below their usual three-point shooting numbers. In all, it’s exactly what you expect from an early season meeting between these two teams historically, but it is definitely a wakeup call to the rest of the ACC that Duke is ready to make a run at a conference title.
Pittsburgh’s 82-72 win at Syracuse is a major bullet point in the argument that the Big East may be deeper this season than it was a year ago. The Orange had cruised through their schedule prior to this weekend, taking down North Carolina, Cal and Florida in the process, but the hardnosed Panthers were brilliant. Ashton Gibbs continued to be a machine on the floor – still my nod for most underrated player in the country right now – dropping 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting (6-of-9 from the outside) and hauled in eight boards. Add in Jermaine Dixons juicy line of 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 steals and Pitt had the catalysts needed to hand ‘Cuse its first loss of the season. What was most impressive about this win was the manner in which the Panthers held their own on the glass against an Orange team that has been killing teams in side. Not only did Pitt carry the advantage38-35, but five different players grabbed five or more rebounds. The Big East is wide open and Pitt just threw its hat into the ring. Oh and if you needed any more proof of that, look no further than the Villanova/Marquette game which was decided on a Scottie Reynolds jumper with 18 seconds remaining, giving the Wildcats their twelfth win. Just so that I don’t spend my entire morning cranking out Big East propaganda, I would be remiss not to mention Stanley Robinson and his dynamic 22-point, 16-rebound showing in a UConn win over Notre Dame.
A couple of other conferences proved that whatever a team did in the non-conference schedule can be forgotten as quickly as game one of the conference slate. Old Dominion was stellar in the early part of the season, even pulling off an upset of Georgetown, but George Mason could have cared less entering their second CAA game of the season. The Patriots shot 53% from the floor and got 17 and 15 points respectively from forwards Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison. Elsewhere in the Missouri Valley Conference, we were privy to an early season slugfest between a pair of teams who should be dancing in March. Northern Iowa, the preseason favorite in the Valley, held off Missouri State 84-76 thanks to a big game from senior center Jordan Eglseder. The 7-footer recorded his fourth double-double of the season by netting 22 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
The single biggest news to come out of the college game this weekend though had nothing to do with anything that happened on the court. The fallout from allegations of NCAA violations involving O.J. Mayo during his recruitment and tenure with USC has officially left the Trojans in a position where they have to pay the price. USC has imposed sanctions on the men’s basketball program that includes a ban from the postseason this year, a reduction in the number of scholarships the team will be allotted the vacating of all wins from the 2007-08 season, the year in which Mayo was a member of the team. When interviewed, USC coach Kevin O’neill said his players were shocked and hurt by the announcement from the school, but anyone who has been following this situation can’t be surprised in the least that some type of penalty was levied against the program. It’s an unfortunate result for the current Trojan players who had nothing to do with the Mayo situation, but that is often the case when it comes to NCAA violations, the innocent players suffer the most.
Looking ahead to tonight’s action it’s a fairly quiet docket. Pitt will travel to Cincinnati and provide the best game of the night at 7 ET. Since losing to UAB, the Bearcats have reeled off four straight wins, including a two-point victory over Connecticut, and Lance Stephenson is starting to come into his own as a consistent threat. Pittsburgh has already been discussed so there’s no sense in repeating myself, but if you can, watch this game tonight, you won’t be disappointed. Seeing as how the rest of the games scheduled for tonight aren’t going to attract a lot of viewers, you might as well go back and watch this clip of Florida pulling a stunning win over North Carolina State courtesy of a 75-foot heave from Chandler Parsons.