First Take: Wisconsin Rolls Over Spartans
And the best big man you’ve never heard of.
I’m not a gambler, never have been. My knowledge of hoops has made me a useful resource for those of my friends who do put their money where their mouth is, but for me, the extent of my wagering has ended there. Despite this, I’ve always been fascinated by point spreads. I check them every morning for college and NBA games just to see what the betting line is. So, when I opened the paper yesterday (I still read the paper what a novel concept) and saw that Michigan State was a two-point underdog at Wisconsin I was left with a classic conundrum on my hands: does history repeat itself, or is the present too powerful. By this of course I mean do I side with the Spartans 9-0 record in the Big Ten this season or with the Badgers six-game winning streak over Tom Izzo’s team at the Kohl Center. I decided it was MSU’s night.
This is why I don’t gamble.
It was a 10-point deficit before the kids in green knew what hit them and that’s pretty much where it would stay for the rest of the night as Wisconsin gave a glimmer of hope that Michigan State might be caught in the Big Ten race. Everything worked right for Bo Ryan and Co. Perimeter jumpers were raining down in the game’s opening minutes and even though the Badgers finished 9-of-26 from beyond the arc, the damage was done. They shot 50% from the floor, turned the ball over just five times and neutralized every scoring option for the Spartans; in short, it was a near perfect performance.
Of course the fact that Michigan State lost one game isn’t going to change the conference race, they still own a two game lead over everyone. The severity of Kalin Lucas’s ankle injury, now that’s an entirely different story. When the star floor general – and best point guard in the country not named John Wall – went down clutching his ankle the entire population of East Lansing silently screamed four letter words as their season potentially came to a screeching halt. Early reports indicate the ankle isn’t broken, but a bad sprain can be just as devastating. With Lucas, there’s no way the Spartans don’t win the conference regular season title and make a strong run at a repeat appearance in the Final Four. Without him…well you get the idea. When North Carolina lost Ty Lawson we saw how their offense was disrupted, this is even more devastating of a blow.
I opted not to tune in for Kentucky’s win over Mississippi for two reasons. First, I knew all we were going to hear about were John Wall’s comments regarding John Calipari. The kid was frustrated with his play the last couple of games, made a frustrated comment, end of story. Secondly, I knew exactly how the game would play out, as I’m sure we all did. The Wildcats jump out to an early lead, look like they’re going to drop the hammer, then they let the much less talented opposition linger around for the rest of the game leading to at least half a dozen comments over the course of the next hour about how this is a young team that needs to learn how to put opponents away early. I’m going to have to start watching Kentucky games on mute.
Syracuse and Kansas State pulled away for convincing wins in their respective games while Villanova needed a late surge in order to pull away from Seton Hall. The other Wildcats near the top of the polls have won 11 straight and are now 9-0 in the Big East, their best conference start in program history. You have to feel for Seton Hall though, this team has been in more close games with elite opponents than any other BCS school I can think of. Yes, they got their resume win over Pittsburgh, but they came oh so close in contests against West Virginia and Syracuse as well. I used to include Connecticut on that list of close losses that would have been huge wins, but the Huskies are quickly slipping from the good win column into the mediocre loss pile.
Radford stomped VMI last night, which rarely if ever is noteworthy, other than the absolutely ridiculous stat line put up by the Highlanders center Artsiom Parakhouski who recorded 30 points and 22 rebounds. It was a school record for rebounds in a single game and the first 30-20 game in program history. I know that playing against the Keydets is usually good for at least a 20% increase in the opposing teams stats, but Parakhouski is the real deal and a player I keep meaning to mention. The senior center is averaging 22 and 13 for the season and has registered 19 double-doubles in 22 games. Many will be quick to point out that the Big South is hardly the kind of conference where a 6-11, 260-pound mammoth is going to struggle to get his numbers, but consider that in games against Duke and Kansas the native of Belarus averaged his season line of 22 and 13. It’s no surprise then that this senior is not only being talked about as a pro prospect, but getting serious consideration for a first round selection as well.
Tonight’s national TV schedule I’m sorry to say is not very appealing. With the NBA taking over their World Wide Leader’s air waves for the night, the amateurs are demoted to the Deuce and squeezed into a triple header of mediocre proportions. With plenty of great games taking place around the nation tonight, we get spoon fed DePaul at Marquette, Kansas at Colorado and the most bizarre of late night WAC games, Idaho at Utah State. Were this two years ago when Utah State was a mid-major power I’d be all for it, but not tonight. Keep in mind; we could be watching Pittsburgh at West Virginia, Wichita State at Northern Iowa, William & Mary at Old Dominion or UAB at Memphis, just four games that will go a long way to determining how several conferences shake out. Given that rant I just went on about the lack of quality games being shown tonight it would seem somewhat contradictory for me to close with my usual phrase, but I’m going to anyway just because – enjoy the hoops!