1) I’ve come to take it for granted that every enjoyable game is available on cable or ESPN3.com, but this week a lot of the interesting non-BCS games were nowhere to be found. UAB took a late lead against UCF and continued the UCF conference play collapse, but I could not find the game. Charlotte and La Salle went to double overtime, but it was not on locally. Meanwhile the non-BCS games that were on TV tended to be blowouts. George Mason easily beat William & Mary in the annual battle of green and gold. Xavier at Richmond was surprisingly not competitive. And so I have no lead story about the under-rated game of the day.
2) Despite my hopes that Penn St. vs Wisconsin would be a 40-38 affair in a 46 possession game that would break the shot clock, the two slow paced Big Ten teams produced a relatively exciting game. Penn St. beat a 3rd ranked opponent at home to improve to 5-4 in the Big Ten. But why do the Big Ten schedule makers hate Penn St. so much this year? Penn St. plays ever team twice EXCEPT Indiana and Iowa. That’s just not fair.
Of course, if Penn St. finishes 9-9 in the Big Ten and 16-13 on the year, they will be a very interesting bubble case. Before you condemn the 16-13 record, remember they are projected to finish with a top 5 SOS. And even though it is really too early to speculate who will be in the RPI top 100, a 16-13 Penn St. team would probably have 8 top 100 wins. That would certainly put them in the discussion.
3) Is the SEC West better than we think? Or is the SEC East worse than we think? Given what happened in the non-conference schedule, I know some people expected a 36-0 sweep by the East, but halfway through the East-West matchups, the East only leads the series 12-6. Even Auburn earned a win against South Carolina on Saturday, and no one expected that at the end of December. I do question Tony Barbee’s sanity leaving a C-USA leading UTEP team for this mess, but Auburn has become a no lose situation for him, at least in the short term. Any Auburn win is considered a huge accomplishment at this point.
4) I wrote on Tuesday that Arizona St. was not as bad as their record indicated, and I was looking forward to saying “I told you so”. But then UCLA pulled out the win at ASU in overtime. (And if UCLA could have grabbed missed free throws, it would not have taken the extra session.)
5) Remember when Iowa St. was picked to have a winning Big 12 record by kenpom.com? After losing at home in overtime to Oklahoma, Iowa St. is now 1-6 in Big 12 play. Non-conference games don’t tell us everything.
6) Most of my other comments today seem like clichés:
-College teams often win a huge game and then go on the road and overlook their next opponent. See BYU and St. Mary’s.
-Teams often get caught looking ahead. See Texas A&M, looking past Nebraska prior to the Big Monday game against Texas.
-There is parity in college basketball. See Pittsburgh and Ohio St.’s close wins.
But hold on a second. I get the feeling people think Ohio St. is not that good because they keep winning close. But I think it is very impressive to keep winning, even when you do not play well. It is very impressive to win when your opponent is on fire, as Michael “Juice” Thompson was late in Saturday’s game. I keep hearing that there are no “great” teams in college basketball this year, but I don’t buy it. I think there is a huge gap between the top tier and the next tier. Forget SI’s “Magic Eight”. I think there are only 6 teams with a legitimate shot at a national title. Here’s the list:
I don’t think anyone else is really close.
-John Calipari has really been a magician this year, but I don’t think Kentucky can win 6 games in a row with that young a team.
-I think Purdue’s lack of depth in the paint will eventually cause them to lose in the tournament. (Although they proved again today that they can rebound against bigger teams.)
-I think BYU and San Diego St. are fantastic, but I don’t see either really cutting down the nets.
-And most of the rest of the team’s with the best margin-of-victory numbers are in the Big East. And I’m not quite ready to endorse anyone other than Pittsburgh in that conference.
7) Speaking of the Big East, fantastic win for Marquette on Saturday, but it really was not a surprise. Everyone who follows college basketball knows that Buzz Williams’ teams work as hard as anyone in the country. And another fantastic win for Louisville. After I blasted Mike Marra for his terrible 3 point shooting, of course he hit a critical shot late in the game. With three one point wins this month, people are going to start calling Louisville “lucky” and over-rated, but I’d rather be 6-2 and lucky than 3-5.
And of course a fantastic win for Georgetown at Villanova. A few quick bullets from the Hoya perspective:
-I continue to be concerned about Georgetown’s big men’s ability to score in the paint. Teams keep hugging the shooters and daring Julian Vaughn and Henry Sims to win the one-on-one battle, and while both have improved this season, neither can consistently score against taller players. This may seem like an odd comment after a win, but until Mouphtaou Yarou got in foul trouble, I thought he was a huge defensive difference maker. Sims has turned into a great passer this season, but he needs to develop at least one true post move.
-I loved Georgetown’s ability to avoid charges against Villanova. I know the fans in attendance must have been going nuts, but when you looked at the replays, Georgetown was constantly jumping to the side of Villanova players that were trying to draw the charge.
-I loved the emotion Julian Vaughn gave us around the 10 minute mark of the second half. Vaughn was fouled after grabbing a defensive rebound and realized he needed to go to the other end to shoot a one-and-one. The look on his face said he was not sure he could convert, but he knew the free throws were critical. And after he made them both, you could just tell his smile was a little bigger than normal.
-I hated ESPN for giving us “bonus coverage” of the UConn game and missing the late 7-0 run for Villanova. How did Georgetown go from up 8, to up 3 with Nova at the free throw line? Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie-pop, the world may never know.
-I loved Austin Freeman’s toughness in this game. His heavily guarded pull-up jumper in the corner was not his only amazing shot. He also hit a jumper in the lane while falling to the ground where Doris Burke and I simultaneously praised Freeman’s incredible strength. And Freeman got a key offensive rebound on another of his misses. Freeman does not have the classic quickness of most guards, but his strength and touch are off the charts.