First Take: What A Wild Wednesday
Kansas survives, streaks snapped, UNC & Duke lose…
What a night of college basketball! I can’t remember the last time so many big happenings occurred on the same night involving so many big name programs. Consider that the following took place: North Carolina lost its straight game, the first time that has happened under Roy Williams; North Carolina State upset Duke, making it the first time since 2003 that both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils lost on the same night; UTEP took down Memphis, snapping the Tigers 64-gameconference winning streak, leaving them one shy of the all-time record established by Kentucky back in the 1950’s; Georgetown beat Pittsburgh, ending a 31-game home winning streak for the Panthers, one of the longest in the nation; and Depaul won its Big East game in its last 24 tries by slipping past Marquette. Got all of that? Good.
In addition to the aforementioned list – which believe me would have been more than enough for one night – Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe likely has a big sheepish grin on his face wherever he is this morning. Why wouldn’t he? Kansas, the premiere powerhouse team in his conference (sorry Texas fans, the Longhorns don’t have the same kind of historical clout yet) was taken to the wire, but ultimately held off a very, very good Baylor team that has beenhovering outside the polls despite their tremendous season. Point being, this conference just keeps looking better and better. Oh, and in pulling off the win, the Jayhawks managed to keep one streak alive, as in their 53-home winning streak, the best in the nation. A few observations from this game:
· As a point guard, Sherron Collins has mastered the balancing act between running the show and keeping his teammates happy vs. saying screw all of you, I’m getting the job done myself. Case and point, Collins dished out three assists in the first three minutes of action and didn’t score until the six minute mark in the first half, it was just his second shot attempt at that point. Despite holding back for the first 14 minutes of action, the senior still managed to lead all scorers with 28 points, including eight in the final 2:40 that fueled the deciding 16-10 run for the Jayhawks. Yea, he’s pretty good.
· On the other side of the coin, I don’t think I’ve seen a more dangerous shooter this season than LaceDarius Dunn. Forgetting about the fact that he scored 27 and also pulled down nine rebounds, what is scariest about the junior for opposing teams is how quick his release is. Dunn needs absolutely no space of any kind to kill you from beyond the arc. Poor Brady Morningstar spent good chunks of this game sharing a pair of shorts with Dunn and he was still getting lit up.
· Speaking of defense, I know I’ve ragged on them for it in the past, but it will be the Jayhawks undoing in March. Baylor scored easily a dozen points in the first half by having their big men slip screens at the top of the key and dive to the basket, either by getting open looks or by getting fouled on helplessly late defenders flailing at the last second. Now, some credit goes to the Bears who executed this exceptionally well, but Kansas new it was coming, hell the five year old kid in the oversized Cole Aldrich jersey knew it was coming. During one shot of the Jayhawks bench after committing another foul on this sequence you could see Bill Self angrily mouth “we practiced this”.
· My final gripe, Kansas had a chance to attack the Bears and finish them early, but didn’t. Josh Lomers and more importantly Ekpe Udoh both picked up two quick fouls early in the contest, that’s when you dump it inside to Cole Aldrich and let the big guy go to work. Not only did the Jayhawks not attack the foul plagued frontcourt of the Bears, but they got Aldrich just seven shots when he spent a good portion of his night battling 6-7 toothpick Quincy Acy.
Duke’s loss to NC State is surprising, but I wouldn’t use the word shock. The Blue Devils have lost six of their last eight road games in the ACC, so it isn’t as if they’ve been dominating on the road like they do in Cameron. Still, the Wolfpack was an interesting choice to lose to, but Sidney Lowe’s gang got exactly what they needed shooting 58% from the floor to Duke’s 38%. All five starters for State were in double figure scoring, including 20-point efforts from Tracy Smith and Dennis Horner. I think we need to realize two things from this game. First, it was just one of those games, Duke didn’t play great, North Carolina State shot the lights out, boom, upset, but there’s no need to panic in Durham. Still, everyone who has been calling the Blue Devils a Final Four team may want to hold their horses for just a minute and consider again the team’s futility on the road in conference lately. I’m not saying this isn’t a good team, but are they Final Four good?
After Georgetown’s win at Pittsburgh I’m getting very close to calling the Big East a two horse race between the Hoyas and Villanova. John Thompson III has gotten his team to do a complete 180 from last season and has won in big games so far, minus the loss to the Wildcats. Pitt is a great team and the surprise team in the country this season no question, but I’ve almost been waiting for the other shoe to drop with them. Now some of you may scoff and said that a loss to the #14 team in the country is hardly the other shoe dropping, but considering this team lacks in individuals who have played major minutes through a rugged conference schedule in the past, I just feel the Panthers are due for a few more losses as the season plays out. The same can be said of #12 West Virginia who once again had a close call with a non-conference opponent, just getting by Marshall. The Mountaineers are a good team as well, but I think they may be a tad overrated at the moment. Their big guns just haven’t been big yet. We’re still waiting for Devin Ebanks to put it together consistently, if not for the sudden rise of Kevin Jones, this team doesn’t have much of a frontcourt. Speaking of frontcourt players though, Hassan Whiteside dropped 18 for the Herd last night and what potential he has. We know about the size, the length, the athleticism and the propensity for blocking everything, but the offensive game is starting to come together too. Personally I think he needs another year in college, but considering I’ve found at least one mock draft that projects him as the top pick for 2011 (very, very premature), you get the idea of where people see his ceiling at right now.
A quick note on the Wake Forest/UNC game, mainly because I’ve already talked about why I think the Tar Heels are struggling right now, but Ishmael Smith was tremendous for the Demon Deacons. I had heard in the past that he was faster end to end than Ty Lawson, I knew he could put up crazy numbers (like the 20, 7 and 6 he did last night) but this was the first time I had really studied how he operates with the basketball and runs the show for Wake. After about five minutes you could tell that he had a great basketball IQ and knew what he was doing. Smith time and again was burning Carolina’s super athletic guards to whatever spot on the floor he wanted. When he gets to the NBA (which he will) where hand checking is allowed as often as Northwestern makes the Big Dance (low blow), he is going to be a successful floor general.
The Atlantic-10 is now officially Temples to lose after the Owls held court against Xavier last night. Also worth nothing, with VCU’s win over William & Mary last night, the CAA can now be classified as a log jam at the top. Old Dominion, George Mason and Northeastern are all 7-1, W&M is right behind at 6-2 and VCU is 5-3 and still the most dangerous team in that league in my mind.
It’s a slow Thursday tonight, which works out well because if you’re a basketball fan of any level you’ll be watching Kobe and Lebron later. But as far as the amateur guys go, Seton Hall hosts Louisville in a pretty evenly matched game. The Pirates have come oh so painfully close to getting a signature win in conference, and while this may not fit that billing, I like them to win in a close one. Washington State visits USC out west in a battle between two of the three teams that I think can emerge from the rubble and take the Pac-10, but we’ll see. Enjoy the hoops.