NCAA Weekend Recap
Where Tennessee beats Pitt, and Oakland gives Michigan State a game.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
No. 13 Tennessee 83 – No. 3 Pittsburgh 76: Meet your new SEC favorite. It wasn’t the authentic “Zoo” experience, but Tennessee’s victory at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh over the Panthers officially vaults them above Kentucky and Florida (if they already hadn’t). Scotty Hopson’s 27-point performance is further indication that, after a couple of solid seasons, the former McDonald’s All-American is reaching star-status. Bruce Pearl may be guilty of lying and violating his way to the top of the conference, but you can’t take anything away from his ability to motivate and prepare his players for big games. Pitt is still a serious contender in the Big East, but they need to get back to their trademark defense and physicality. Giving up 83 points is not Pitt basketball.
No. 8 Michigan State 77 – Oakland 76: Feel free to fill in your own, “Michigan State is really struggling but it doesn’t matter because they will find its way to Final Four somehow,” reflection here. Oakland is a pretty good team and has a legitimate NBA prospect in Keith Benson (who didn’t disappoint: 17 points, 12 boards, 3 blocks), but the Spartans continue to float through the non-conference portion of their schedule. Any other top-10 team would be getting more grief for the kind of inconsistency Tom Izzo’s team has displayed. On the bright side, Kalin Lucas, who’s still recovering from his March Achilles surgery, poured in a clutch 25 points.
Louisville 77 – No. 19 UNLV 69: In a matchup of two undefeated teams, the Cardinals registered easily their most impressive win of the season. Louisville didn’t get much respect in the pre-season (probably because they don’t have a go-to player to hand the ball too in crunch time), and Rick Pitino may have to find someone to fill that role eventually, but Louisville’s depth continues to win them games. On Saturday, Preston Knowles and reserve guards Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric led the Cardinals’ second half comeback. UNLV is for a real and will be a dangerous team in March, but they could use an interior scoring threat to go along with their devastating backcourt.
Texas A&M 63 – No. 22 Washington 62: The Pac-10 really isn’t doing itself any favors this pre-season. Washington has been the steadiest of the conference’s representatives (which isn’t saying much), but Lorenzo Romar’s squad had yet to lose a game it was supposed to win until Saturday. Winning at Reed Arena in College Station against an underrated Texas A&M team isn’t the easiest of chores, but you’d think the Pac-10 favorites should win this game. The Huskies are still searching for ways to win road games and contests where they don’t shoot the lights out from beyond the arc.
No. 21 BYU 87 – Arizona 65: BYU has been quietly hovering under the non-conference buzz of conference foes San Diego State and UNLV, but after a convincing beat-down of a fast-rising Arizona team in Salt Lake City, the Cougars are officially the third MWC team to emerge as a March threat. After his 49-point outburst against the Wildcats in Tuscon last season, Jimmer Fredette could only manage 33 Saturday night. Arizona head coach Sean Miller receives the Captain Obvious award of the week, declaring after the game that Fredette is “a terrific guard.” It seems like as long as Jimmer is around, BYU has a chance in any contest. Fredette, combined with an impressive supporting cast, makes the Cougars a scary team. Excited for upcoming clashes at the top of the MWC yet?
No. 23 Notre Dame 83 – Gonzaga 79: So apparently Gonzaga’s problems go beyond Elias Harris’ injury. Even with their stud forward completely back from his Achilles injury, the Zags still fell on the road to the Irish. The Joyce Center is one of the toughest home courts around, and it’s possible that Mike Brey’s team is finally a real threat in the Big East (Notre Dame could be the greatest perennial overachiever in college basketball), but, after getting embarrassed by Washington State and losing to Notre Dame in the same week, it’s clear something isn’t quite right with Gonzaga. Their murderous schedule doesn’t get any easier before conference play starts (v. Baylor, v. Xavier, v. Oklahoma State, at Wake Forest), so Gonzaga could easily find itself in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable position of relying on the WCC’s automatic tournament bid. And we know Saint Mary’s won’t make it easy on the Zags either.
Fordham 84 – St. John’s 81: More than anything, this game indicates how truly overrated St. John’s was at the start of the season. Many, including myself, were so engrossed by the Steve Lavin hire that we ignored how questionable of a game-coach he was at UCLA and declared the Red Storm a tournament sleeper. Oops. Dropping to a Fordham program that, while on the rise, still won zero league games last season, is no bueno, no matter how you slice it. The buzz around St John’s basketball that seemed to magically reappear with Lavin’s arrival has vanished just as quickly. Next year’s heralded recruits should bring such needed momentum to the program, but it could be a long, brutal Big East season waiting for that class to arrive.
Boston College 79 – Maryland 75: No one else wants to step up and claim spots in the ACC’s top three or four after clear-favorite Duke. Why not the Eagles? On Sunday afternoon, guard Biko Parris’ 22 points on six threes led a gusty effort over the Terps. I’ve written a lot on this blog about how much of a difference I think Coach Donahue is going to make at Boston College, and with the exception of a head-scratching loss to Yale in the season’s second game, the Eagles have quietly put together a solid non-conference resume (beating Texas A&M, Cal, Indiana, Providence, Maryland, UMass). BC’s clear weakness is their depth. They really have to hope star do-it-all guard Reggie Jackson’s legs don’t melt off by the end of the season. But after an important conference-opening road victory (albeit against a struggling Maryland team), BC’s confidence and comfort in their new up-tempo system will continue to grow.