Some thoughts on the top games from ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon that concluded last night:
UAB-Arizona: Can it possibly get any more chaotic for this Arizona program? After weeks of frustration from players (like star forward Chase Budinger, who even mentioned the word “depressed” in an interview) and Wildcat fans following the abrupt resignation of longtime coach Lute Olson, the team finally had a chance to bring smiles to the faces of their loyals. You’ve probably heard/watched what happened- a tremendous comeback tied the game at 71 with under ten seconds to play when Arizona’s Kyle Fogg inexplicably fouled UAB’s Aaron Johnson, thinking the game was tied even though there’s a gigantic scoreboard in the middle of the arena. Luckily for Fogg, Johnson missed the front end, but Arizona’s Nic Wise misfired on a game-winning jumper on the Cats last possession. Overtime, right? Instead, Jamelle Horne unbelievably decides to intentionally foul UAB’s Paul Delaney heaving a desperation halfcourt attempt, thinking the game was tied. That’s right, they made the same exact mistake again. This time it cost Arizona the hard fought contest and a trip to Madison Square Garden for two next weekend. I didn’t realize the coaching inexperience would rear its ugly head that early. Sure, the onus is ultimately on the players that committed the bone-headed fouls. But if Lute Olson is on that bench, do you think this happens? Methinks it doesn’t.
Davidson-Oklahoma: The game of the night and the most entertaining college hoops game of the year, all things considered. Raucous environment, star players, top-25 squads, Fran Fraschilla and a trip to New York on the line. Stephen Curry will end up winning National Player of the Year. All in all, Oklahoma’s Tony Crocker, Austin Johnson and Willie Warren didn’t do a terrible job guarding the screen-searching Curry, and Stephen didn’t even have a vintage shooting night and spent the second part of the first half in foul trouble. Remarkably, he still managed to score a career high 44 points on 12/29 shooting, 6/15 from deep and 14/14 from the stripe. And that’s not even vintage Curry. Led by Curry and key threes from Brendan McKillop and Will Archambault, Davidson battled back after falling behind 61-40 following a Cade Davis three from the corner. After a Curry triple, Davidson was down just three with 56 seconds left before key free throws from Davis and a clutch offensive board from Blake Griffin iced the contest and sent the Sooners to New York next weekend. Griffin was sensational in three areas- defending Andrew Lovedale, rebounding on both ends of the floor (21 rebounds) and bringing constant energy and production for Oklahoma (24 points). The lone achilles heel for Griffin is free throws. He responded by hitting 11 of 12 and icing the game for OU. Worth noting freshman Willie Warren is a sensational player. He has tremendous shooting range and athleticism; he just needs to work on keeping his head on straight at all times and avoiding stupid fouls, ultimately costing him what should have been a 30-point performance.
Kentucky-North Carolina: This was supposed to be the marquee matchup of the early part of the season, with College Gameday in the house and the two winningest programs in NCAA history doing battle. There’s no need to overanalyze this one- Carolina dominated thoroughly from the tip jumping out to a 17-4 lead and never really looked back. Deon Thompson has stepped in beautifully for Hansbrough, scoring 20 on 10/14 shooting and grabbing 9 rebounds last night. He’d probably be considered one of the top forwards in college basketball if he played for a program where he’d receive more touches in the paint. They’ll need Thompson to continue his production with freshman Tyler Zeller likely out for the season with a broken left wrist. Ty Lawson really struggled shooting the basketball, but he exploited Kentucky’s main weakness: the point guard position. And you wonder why Patrick Patterson isn’t touching the rock more? DeAndre Liggins and Michael Porter are decent players and they’ll surely develop as the season stretches into SEC play, but to throw them into this environment against a speedy Lawson and improved (looks that way early) UNC defense is plenty to ask. Billy Gillispie could certainly use Derrick Jasper right now. And a few sleeping pills.
Richmond-Syracuse: Eric Devendorf looked uncomfortable in a shaky first half for Syracuse, committing unusual traveling violations and turning the ball over with frequency while it appeared the Orange might once again falter early to an Atlantic-10 opponent at home. In the second half, the Spiders cooled down from the outside and Devendorf looked like his old self- draining clutch threes, penetrating for acrobatic layups and teaming with Jonny Flynn to provide all of Cuse’s offense. Flynn ended up with 27 points, 5 assists, 3 turnovers on 8/15 shooting and Devendorf 22 on 8/12 shooting. Even if they’d been upset, Syracuse is going to Kansas City for the CBE Classic next week.
St. John’s-Boston College: The Johnnies did a nice job keeping this game close, frequently getting inside on the soft BC interior defense for easy buckets. Tyrese Rice and Vermont transfer Joe Trapani ultimately stepped up late for the Eagles, who will face Purdue next weekend in the Preseason NIT semifinals. Rice is a special talent- pure outside shot, quickness to the rim, outstanding vision setting up teammates for layups, clearly the emotional leader- and willed his team to victory. St. John’s showed that they’re a very weak outside shooting team. Big East teams will likely utilize that soft man-to-man that Massachusetts employed on Memphis in their game, daring the Red Storm to take mid-range jumpers and turn around to collect the clank. I don’t see them finishing last in the conference, though.
Arizona State-San Diego State: The Aztecs jumped out to a 15-2 lead after a Kyle Spain three early in the first half, but the Sun Devils chipped away and played their usual fierce defense to hold San Diego State to just 52 points on the road in an impressive road victory. ASU tied the game at 44 with a Rihards Kuksiks three with 6:04 to go and Harden, who played with a stomach virus, provided them with the lead with a trey on the next possession. Arizona State only took 13 shots in the second half and made nine of them, including five from deep. That’s efficiency, folks. With the news that Alex Stepheson’s waiver was denied by the NCAA today, the Devils look like the clear second best team in the Pac-10 behind UCLA (as of now).
Bobby Knight: I only caught a few minutes of his performance on College Gameday last night and it wasn’t pretty. First of all Bob, don’t look like you’re being tortured. Try smiling once in a while, try looking at your fellow analysts when they’re talking, and don’t fuss around with a pen by your nose the entire telecast. It’s already a joke that you spend your entire coaching tenure bashing the media and then you decide to join the fray after an abrupt retirement, but at least try to not look miserable. How much are they paying you, Bob? You seem like an absolutely insufferable human being that likes spending his entire time lecturing others. I really wish ESPN would just let you disappear. I really do. I don’t care if he has 900 wins and knows basketball. The Rece-Hubert-Jay-Digger four man crew was just fine with me.
Other Top 25 Action:
- #8 Texas dominated Tulane 76-51 behind a balanced scoring attack; Damion James with 16 and 8
- #10 Purdue had no trouble with Loyola (IL), playing their usual dominant defense in a 78-46 triumph
- #11 Gonzaga cruised 80-46 over Idaho with Austin Daye (16/7) providing another solid effort
- #20 USC rode Taj Gibson (22 and 10 on 9/20) to a 73-60 win over a pesky New Mexico State squad
- #22 Wisconsin took care of SIU-Edwardsville 88-58 behind 19 points from sophomore Jon Leuer
- #24 Kansas unveiled their championship banner then cremated FL Gulf Coast 85-45; Collins with 25
NW Wins Horse Trailer Player of the Day- Blake Griffin, Oklahoma: 25 points, 21 rebounds, 7/11 FG, 11/12 FT, 3 assists
On The Tube Tonight
- Niagara @ Villanova- 7pm (ESPNU)
- Nebraska @ TCU- 8pm (CBS College Sports)
- Emporia State @ Kansas State- 8pm (ESPN FC)
- Northern Iowa @ UIC- 8pm (ESPN FC)
- Florida A&M @ Alabama- 9pm (ESPN FC)