Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cover to Cover Saturday: 12/11 Part I - The Brawl

Unfortunately, a terrific day of basketball might be remembered more for the chaos at Cintas moreso than the brilliance in Bloomington but here's a multi-part recap of all of it for you anyway, beginning with part I.

-Creighton's a damn good basketball team...but the AP recap of St. Joseph's 80-71 upset tells you all you need to know about what Saturday's win meant on Hawk Hill.  I have a friend who transferred over from there after his freshman year and he's spoken of how loud it can get in a now-renovated Fieldhouse.  Before and after, it's a rowdy high school gym that knows and appreciates top notch, hard nosed basketball over the years.  There have been many lean years and it's still not like Jameer Nelson and Dalonte West are walking through that door but their old coach Phil Martelli is still there and has the Hawks playing pretty fantastic defense.  Doug McDermott lit them up for 26 and 10 rebounds like he lights everyone up but the rest of the 19th ranked Bluejays shot just 17/45 (37.7%) from the floor.  The nation's 33th ranked effective field goal percentage leaders (43.0 coming in to today - pay for KenPom if you haven't) who held Penn State to 47 get it done again.  The Atlantic 10 is deep this year.  These Hawks are another example of it.  At the very least, a win like this one gives them something to build on in terms of building an NCAA tournament profile besides the PSU win and a neutral site win over Georgia Tech before Thanksgiving.

-Washington showed a lot of heart in hanging with Duke at MSG (or Cameron North for a game like this one)...but what's with the Blue Devils letting inferior teams hang?  We thought Tennessee might not be as depleted as we thought after the Vols pushed the Dookies to the limit in Maui...but then Cuonzo Martin's boys turned around and lost today to a one-win Austin Peay that had never beaten them before.  The Huskies were a Jae Crowder trey away from beating Marquette in the same building earlier this week so comparing them to the Vols truly is apples and, er, oranges - but Lorenzo Romar's team is known for struggling away from home and the defense his team plays - particularly against the three pointer - is far from inspiring no matter where the games take place.  Of course, Duke was just 5/17 from long range today (thanks to Andre Dawkins tossing up a horrifying 2/9 - if you play in the Blue Devil backcourt and you're not named "Austin Rivers" or "Seth Curry," take a back seat please) and the Blue Devils still controlled the game throughout.  Of course, that's just a sign that they're probably going to fight tooth and nail with North Carolina for the ACC title through March.  Rivers in particular has the potential to be Duke's Tyler Hansbrough in 2006 or Harrison Barnes earlier this year - an impact freshman who takes the season over once conference play starts.

-Providence 72, Bryant 61?  Coupled with just a 7 point win against Boston College, the worst non-Utah BCS school in recent memory, in midweek, not the most convincing week at home for the Friars.  Easy Ed Cooley has the team scoring...but it might be a while until he has them winning consistently in the Big East.

-Okay, first I must note the irony in Tu Holloway claiming that a city he moved to before his senior year of high school is "his city."  Hell, I would think that the public school with 42,421 students captures more of whatever Cincinnati is than the country's sixth-oldest Jesuit university that enrolls less than 5,000 but that's neither here nor there in regards to what happened today (but maybe I'm fighting a war on religion, as Rick Perry might say - I only will link to the ad to hammer home the point that feelings related in any way to religion are white hot all around right now.  Still, please "dislike" that video)  It wasn't just about what happened today.  It was about what happened yesterday.  Look, trash talking in basketball is always going to happen - particularly (and often most heatedly) in a city rivalry and it's going to only intensify when it's almost always a close game between these schools, when somebody's always ranked as has been the case  and when the 09 double OT war that was one of the most intense regular season games in recent memory remains relatively fresh in mind.  But with last year being a blowout against an undermanned X and with the Musketeers coming in to this year's meeting flying high, already with impressive wins at Vanderbilt and Butler while the underachieving Bearcats have already lost to Presbyterian and Marshall as well as barely survived Georgia and Miami (Ohio), Sean Kilpatrick and Cincinnati's team failed.  They failed to show respect to a rival and a city neighbor that has made it clear it feels disrespected.  They failed to perceive how their actions and words might be perceived by that group.  And then they failed to take their beating - on the basketball court - like men and turned it in to a real fight.  There's never a good guy in a physical altercation and when suspensions get handed down, I'll try to post at least some brief thoughts on them.  But there is usually someone who instigated it and then someone who reciprocated it because there is a certain code that when someone hits you, you hit back.  This weekend - not just today but this weekend - Sean Kilpatrick and Cincinnati was the former and Xavier was the latter.  As for the game...the Bearcats sort of deserved what they got for saying that a third team All-American couldn't start for a team that, again, lost to Presby-freakin-terian and that sentence I think sort of sums things up here.  If Cincy doesn't learn how to score (particularly shoot the three even semi-competently), it might not even make it to the tournament but it obviously has bigger fish to fry in the meantime.  Perhaps luckily for them, the Big East isn't all that much deeper in terms of teams that look like tournament teams than X's own Atlantic 10.  The Musketeers continue to fly along though - although I'm sure Chris Mack will make a point of the slow start after he's done disciplining his team for its pathetic handling of the situation both during and after (it's never, ever, EVER okay to refer to yourself and especially teammates for whom you are speaking as "gangsters") - and despite its league's depth, there doesn't appear to be a real challenger to the throne.  I'll end this on a high note by copying and pasting from one of the hyperlinks what Mick Cronin did in the aftermath of the brawl.  Maybe he needs work on coaching his offense but it sure seems like he knows how to coach his kids.  Good for him:

Cronin was animated after the game in his disgust at what happened. As his players entered their locker room after the game, he said, he made all of them take off their uniform jerseys and physically removed several of the jerseys.

“They will not put it on again until they have a full understanding of where they go to school,” Cronin said, “and what the university stands for and how lucky they are to even be there, let alone have a scholarship because there’s a whole lot of kids that can’t pay for college.”

-Minnesota holds yet another team to under 60.  In fact, they held St. Peter's under 50.  Since Dayton erupted for 86 in the Old Spice Classic championship game, the Gophers have yet to let anyone get to that magic number and they've won all three of those games despite the loss of Trevor Mbakwe for the year in that loss.  Top 15 in the country coming in to today in both block and steal percentage, their Big Ten (B1G - but that championship game earned it its real name back) opener at Illinois right after Christmas should be a classic bubble war to kick off conference play in what might be the deepest league in the country.

-Who's the only other team this season to get to 80 against Tubby's boys?  Oliver Purnell's DePaul team, which hit the century mark today against full-throttle Chicago State and, led by Cleveland Melvin, flat out knows how to score, ranking 55th in points per game (76.6) after today's eruption.  The problem, of course, is that the opposing Cougars are winless and arguably the worst team in the country...and the Blue Demons only beat them by 7.  Better improve things before the New Year - the Big East opener is the day the ball drops at home against Syracuse.

-Butler lost again.  58-55 at Ball State.  The Horizon might be wide open but with this group and its offensive shortcomings (306th in effective field goal % before today), Brad Stevens would really be earning his salary if he can get them to win the league again this season.  Forget that, the next three could be even more painful: Purdue, at Gonzaga and at surprising Stanford.  Merry Christmas.

-Northern Iowa ran over Wisconsin-Milwaukee in an interesting Missouri Valley contender vs Horizon contender matchup.  Neither is the favorite to win their respective league but both should be in the hunt - particularly the Panthers, who have handled both their in-state big brothers Iowa and Iowa State (who are, probably in light of this, refusing to play them and fellow little-brother Drake anymore) and have just one loss on the year.  It came in a game at St. Mary's that tipped off at 1 AM central time as a part of ESPN's 24 hour tipoff marathon - probably not a true indicator of their abilities.

-Utah didn't lose by 20 today!  Next step: scoring more than 52 points in a game.  They haven't done that since Black Friday and they're 337th in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency coming in to today for good measure.  At least their next one's winnable.  For BYU, this was a disappointing offensive performance, if anything.  They only shot 33% from beyond the arc today.  But they made 9 of them and 27 points is enough to beat the Utes in a half these days, never mind a full 40 minutes.

-Ben Brust sure can shoot the rock, can't he?  They just seem to roll those random white kids who can shoot it off an assembly line in Madison.  But black or white, big or small, Bo Ryan knows how to find kids that hit the triple and, more importantly, play defense, rebound and all-around smart, responsible basketball.  That's why even when Jordan Taylor goes 0/10 from the floor, the Badgers can handle a team that beat then-top ranked UNC (more on the Heels and how that top ranking may have been a fraud in a later recap) with eleven-point ease.  The Rebels will rebound from this but they've learned that basketball outside the city of Las Vegas is much more difficult than inside the city limits where they were able to shock the Tar Heels and amass all but one game (the double-OT war at Santa Barbara) - particularly in the Midwest where a team I'll talk about later got them last Sunday.  This game and these teams deserve more words written about them on another day.

-Time to reveal my mancrush on Ron Hunter and Georgia State.  The Panthers started 0-3 under their new coach, formerly of the Summit powerhouse IUPUI, but won their seventh in a row today - with their last five by 20 or more.  Granted, none have come over a team in the KenPom top 200 but wins are wins, particularly for a school that hasn't been to the tournament since Lefty Driesell finished off his career there.  And despite its record, Rhode Island - who lost by just 11 this week at home against Virginia Tech - isn't THAT bad and has a lot of size and offensive rebounding to deal with (9th in the nation in offensive rebound %.)  Nevermind that, the Panthers outrebounded them 32-29 and 8-5 on the offensive glass.  Preseason CAA favorite Drexel, who has disappointed and slogged by equally disappointing Princeton today, pays a visit to Atlanta on January 2 to re-open conference play (the Panthers are 1-0, trashing cellar dellar William & Mary last weekend) and perhaps then we'll learn if Hunter's boys can contend in a down league.

-Oklahoma continues to impress under Lon Kruger.  Oral Roberts and Arkansas might not be Missouri and Kansas but the Sooners continue to pile up double digit victories and remain unblemished apart from the 76 Classic title game.  It was someone else again today as Tyler Neal scored a career-high 18 off the bench.  Kruger's Rebels teams beat you with offense, depth, guard play and toughness.  This Sooner unit has all of the above and we'll find out just how much of each they have when they head to the Zoo on January 3 to kick off Big 12 play against a Tiger team that should still be unbeaten if it beats Illinois like it should in the annual Braggin Rights game right before Christmas.

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