Pittsburgh vs Rhode Island
About three minutes into the game, Rhode Island center Will Martell caught the ball wide-open under the Pittsburgh basket and looked completely lost. His shot was eventually blocked by Pittsburgh’s Talib Zanna. I immediately wondered whether he was some freshman playing in his first big game. But no, upon further review that was Will Martell, the Rhode Island senior center. Then by the end of the first half, I was wondering if Martell was Rhode Island’s best player. His two-step hook shot over Dante Taylor was a thing of beauty. Of course as soon as I jumped on the Martell bandwagon, Martell picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. At this point the Rams other interior players were either injured or a wobbly nervous freshman. And Rhode Island had already made 8 three pointers and only led by two points. Every one of my basketball instincts said Rhode Island was done at this point. How could they hang with Pittsburgh for another 15 minutes when Brad Wanamaker was penetrating the Rhode Island defense like a revolving door?
By hitting another 6 three pointers, that is how. The continued perimeter onslaught allowed the Rams to stay within two points until the final minute. Rhode Island did not win, but they gave us an incredible ride for the season-opener. But if I am a Pittsburgh fan, I am very happy. The odds of someone hitting 14 threes again are slim to none. Pittsburgh had this horrific draw, and still won. That is the mark of a good team.
But can I ask what has happened to Pittsburgh’s Dante Taylor? People talked about the former McDonald’s All-American like he was the second coming of DeJuan Blair last summer. So I assumed with Nasir Robinson injured that Taylor would at least be starting in this game. Instead he is stuck behind Talib Zanna on the depth chart, and every indication was that Jamie Dixon was making the right call.
Illinois vs UC Irvine
Illinois won by 14. An Illinois optimist would say Irvine went on an 8-0 run to end the game with the supersubs in the game, and the final margin was not reflective of how well Illinois played. An Illinois pessimist would point out that Illinois was once again dazzlingly inconsistent, following a dominant first half with a dreadful second half. The team was so mediocre in the second half that Weber did not feel comfortable pulling Demetri McCamey until the 3 minute mark at the end of the game. I fall somewhere in the middle. I think this game was more about UC Irvine’s inconsistency. Irvine could not make a shot in the first half, but quickly drew 4 fouls on Illinois in the first four minutes of the second half. After that, the complexion of the game changed. Illinois was much more tentative defensively and Irvine was able to make the final score respectable.
But there were a ton of reasons for Illinois fans to be optimistic. Brandon Paul played extremely well making five threes in the first half, but it was his effort diving on the ground for loose balls that is going to earn him playing time. And Meyers Leonard and Jereme Richmond look like a serious upgrades from Dominque Keller and Jeffrey Jordan. Leonard had a sparkling play running the floor and tipping in a McCamey miss on the fast-break. And Richmond looks like the rare Illinois player who can create his own shot. That is huge for the team since McCamey cannot be asked to carry the entire offensive load all season. Let me be blunt. If Bruce Weber does not start Jereme Richmond soon and give him more minutes, I think he is making a serious mistake.
Maryland vs Seattle
The lack of transition defense in the first half would scare me if I was a Maryland fan. Maryland was eventually able to wear down Seattle, but there are some ACC teams that will be able to run for the full 40 minutes. But a lot of young players were given a chance to shine, and from a pure entertainment perspective, this was a very entertaining track meet.
Texas vs Navy
I was pretty burnt out by the time this game came on. Let me keep it short and sweet. Texas is scary. If you want to pick North Carolina as a top 10 team based purely on talent, why not Texas? Oh, that’s right, because they squandered that talent last year. Well so did North Carolina.
Three games at once. Life is good. Thank you ESPNU, CSN, and ESPN3 on my laptop.
Three Plays to Search for on Youtube
I’m not going to mention any rim-rattling dunks, although there were plenty, particularly in the second half of the Texas – Navy game. Instead here are three more plays that made me smile:
Seattle vs Maryland – The Flip
With just under 9 minutes to play in the first half, Seattle’s Aaron Broussard stole the ball. He drove towards the basket and had his shot partially blocked, but despite some reverse-spin, the ball carefully banked in for a fast-break basket. You often see wild “continuation” baskets in the NBA where players flip it up on the rim and hope for a prayer, but there is no “continuation” in college. But this was one of those crazy buckets.
Illinois vs UC Irvine – The Tip
With four seconds left in the first half Joseph Bertrand put up a prayer three pointer. Jereme Richmond tips it in at the buzzer, but is not quite sure if he did the right thing. Was he nervous about goal-tending, taking away a three from his teammate, or was he just worried that he didn’t beat the clock? Either way the tip was good and Illinois led by 24 at the break.
Pittsburgh vs Rhode Island – Hot Potato
This is my favorite sequence of the night. Near the 13 minute mark in the first half, Pittsburgh inbounds the ball under their own basket, only to throw the ball away to Rhode Island. It is a horrible pass. It seemed like there was not a single Pittsburgh player in the area. Rhode Island then dribbled once and passed it straight back to that same Pittsburgh player. You can’t make this stuff up.
(My notes are a little sketchy on this one. I have this happening at the 12 minute mark in my notes, but it looks like it happens around the 13 minute mark in the play-by-play, with Pittsburgh’s Travon Woodall and Rhode Island’s Daniel West making the foolish passes.)