First Take: Weekend Ramblings
Kansas #1, Texas struggling, Baylor for real and same old Duke.
Good morning hoops fans! Sorry to keep you waiting with today’s Monday Morning Mash Up and I further apologize for the truncated version, but today has turned into a bit more of a busy day than I planned. With that said, I am working on a handful of features to supplement my daily ramblings that will hopefully entertain and make up for my brevity today. There was plenty to discuss from this weekend, a lot of which I know I don’t hit on, so please feel free to chat it up in the comments section. What did you watch this weekend? Who stood out to you? Do you think Old Dominion still gets and at-large bid out of the CAA after losing to Northeastern? You get the idea.
· Every championship team always that defining game at some point during the season. For Kansas, that point came Saturday night during their overtime win over Kansas State. The Jayhawks had every reason to fold down the stretch in this one. They made a costly error in the final minute of regulation that resulted in a three-point play by Wildcats freshman RodneyMcGruder, Marcus Morris had fouled out and Sherron Collins was hampered by back spasms. Nothing about that scenario seemed to say anything other than a win for the home team. Then of course Kansas showed why they are Kansas and Collins showed why he is an All-American. Despite limping badly and wincing from the pain, the senior drove the lane with nine seconds remaining and hit the shot of the year, as far as a combination of significance and degree of difficulty.
· Speaking of clutch play down the stretch, I think it’s long past overdue for the nation to take notice of Baylor. Their near upset of Kansas last week should have sent up warning flairs, but now having defeated Texas, in Austin, the Bears are certifiably dangerous. What makes this win all the more impressive, they did it without the services of their two best players – LaceDarius Dun and Ekpe Udo – who both fouled out during crunch time. This is a very dangerous squad which can go on a run in March. With that said, the Longhorns are clearly in a bit of a tailspin right now having lost three of their last four games. They can’t shoot free throws at all (19-31 in the loss to Baylor) and as of late the freshman on this team have been looked to do too much in pressure situations. Texas lost Damion James and Dougas Balby to fouls, so both teams were down a pair of veterans, but it was the less talented team that won the game. Less talented, but more experienced.
· Is anyone really that surprised by Duke’s double-digit loss this weekend? OK, maybe that it came against a Georgetown team that had just been handled by Syracuse, but the Hoyas are a good team, they just had a poor game plan against the Orange. The Blue Devils haven’t played well against an elite non-conference opponent outside of Durham in years. Not at this point in the year anyway. I know Duke fans will point to the drubbing of Gonzaga earlier in the year at Madison Square Garden, but the Cameron Crazies above all others should know this: Duke starts fast and finishes early. Ever since their last Final Four appearance Coach K manages to get his team to explode out of the starting gate and rise in the national rankings, fueling speculation that this is the year they return to the final weekend of the season. And, like clockwork, they always manage to be exposed later in the season. It was already obvious the Blue Devils didn’t have a strong interior presence after NC State beat them up inside. Georgetown exposed their lack of athleticism and on this day, Duke’s trademark defense was sorely lacking as well. What makes this year different is the team is showing cracks earlier and more frequently than we are used to. Duke is 1-4 in road games this season, they haven’t proven they can consistently perform without the comforts of Cameron Indoor. Unless they fix this problem, it could be a short postseason.
· Inevitably, every weekend there is always at least one score that makes me do a double take when I first see it. This past weekend there were three. Syracuse barely getting by DePaul 59-57 was shocking in itself, but not as much as the fact that the Orange trailed by 18 at one point. I know Memphis isn’t the same team it was even a year ago, but losing by ten to a 10-10 Southern Methodist team doesn’t even make sense. Lastly, there was Gonzaga’s overtime loss to San Francisco. I know I had said on Friday that the WCC race was a done deal with the Zags taking it home yet again, and I still believe that, but this just adds a little bit of suspense to the mix now.
· Of course I have to at least mention Marquette upsetting Connecticut on Jimmy Butlers impossible fall away jumper, great win for the Golden Eagles.
Tonight you can’t go wrong with Connecticut at Louisville at 7 ET. Two historically good teams, both struggling and in need of a win, and plenty of talent on the floor to keep you entertained. Later, check out the Big 12 pairing of Oklahoma State at Texas to see if scoring machine James Anderson can single handedly topple the Longhorns (don’t bank on it). Enjoy the hoops!