What an exciting week of hoops. Upsets, great players rising to the occasion, and for me, the thrill of being in the presence of a real-life basketball celebrity.
Random thoughts after this week's games
- This week’s reason why the Big Ten Network is terrible: During the Michigan-Indiana game, one of the announcers described Michigan’s mindset while down 20, saying, “They had Dr. Kevorkian on speed dial.” You stay classy, BTN.
- Indiana is officially the worst team in the Big Ten. No, not because they lost to a far superior Michigan team. Because they blew a 20-point second half lead to do it. At home. They couldn’t make a layup or free throw towards the end of the game.
- I can see Steph Curry looking like this 15 years down the road.
- It was nice being able to watch an ACC game without the TV muted on Wednesday night.
- Harvard beat Boston College, who beat North Carolina. Therefore, Harvard > North Carolina. Yeah, I think T.S. Eliot could beat up Mary Sue Coleman.
- I bring you this transcript from the Iowa-Minnesota game: clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, halftime buzzer, clang, clang, clang, clang...
- The highlight of the week for me, by far: I went out for dinner with some friends at an Irish pub in East Lansing. My friend Lisa turns to me and says, “Who’s that big black guy behind us? Did he play basketball here or something?” I turn around, and sure enough, sitting at the table right behind me was CBS’ Clark Kellogg. I took that as a sign that the cosmos wanted me to write about the MSU-Kansas game in this week’s column.
- How about the end of that Villanova-Louisville game? ‘Nova bricks two free throws with 4.9 seconds on the clock, gets another chance to win, and bricks three straight shots IN THE LANE to lose anyway. They’ve got to feel like crap after that one.
- At the beginning of the season, I would not have picked Pitt to hold the top ranking at all this season. But they’ve taken care of all of their business so far and have earned it. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself yet, but this Pitt team looks like they might be ready to finally get over the hump and put together an entire season.
- Could Wake Forest be the best team in the country? They've got to be in the discussion now after ending BYU's home winning streak and knocking off North Carolina.
- Verne Lundquist is the worst broadcaster in the country not under contract with the Big Ten Network.
- Gonzaga finally won a game! Their fans have to be thrilled that the Zags' three-game losing streak is over. I hope Gonzaga fans didn't put down a huge deposit on hotel rooms in Detroit.
- The team Gonzaga beat, Tennessee, needed every last bit of talent on their roster to knock off SEC heavyweight *cough* Georgia. I hope Volunteer fans didn't put down a huge deposit on hotel rooms in Detroit.
- I love Steph Curry—that's no secret. But an ESPN poll showed that most of the nation thought that he should take home Player of the Year honors. I think that's going a bit far. He's great, but not as great as Blake Griffin or Tyler Hansbrough. Do I blame the ESPN hype machine? Yeah, pretty much.
A closer look at...MSU vs. Kansas
This is a game that I've been looking forward to ever since it was announced. It's the second game of a two-game contract (the first of which took place in 2003. 'Bout damn time), and it features two of the most successful programs of the last decade, as well as two of the better coaches in the country.
Kansas stormed out of the gates very quickly, capitalizing on MSU's inability to hit from the floor. The Jayhawks took a 7-1 lead, and Tom Izzo, in an effort to light a fire under his team, brought on...Idong Ibok?
You may remember Ibok from the NCAA Tournament game against Marquette a couple of years ago. He fell awkwardly, dislocating his elbow. The TV mics picked up his screams, which was pleasant enough, but then CBS insisted on zooming in on the elbow and showing several replays. I almost threw up.
Whenever Izzo decides to bring Ibok into the game, MSU is basically playing a man down on offense. He’s atrocious. Speaking of Ibok, Verne Lundquist keeps calling him “Ibong” and also insisted that fifth-year Spartan senior Marquise Gray came off the bench for Kansas. Did the Big Ten Network buy CBS without telling anybody?
Kansas has to stop Kalin Lucas if they want to win. It’s 11-9 Kansas after five-and-a-half minutes. Lucas has eight points and is having an easy time getting anywhere he wants on the court. Unfortunately, he’s also the only Spartan to hit from the floor so far.
After seven minutes, Delvon Roe finally hits from the field, ending the drought for anybody not named “Kalin Lucas.” What created this? Offensive rebounding. MSU has something like 60 offensive rebounds in this game so far. That’ll win you a lot of games over the course of a season.
And now the Spartans are finally starting to wake up. I don’t if they were up late enjoying the snowstorms last night, but they just started sluggish. Kansas also started sluggish, unable to take advantage of a boatload of Spartan mistakes. Durrell Summers forces Bill Self into a timeout with a thunderous dunk. Things are starting to turn in this game.
Sure enough, MSU rips off a 19-1 run to take control of the game. With their homecourt, this game could be over.
Clark Kellogg tells us that MSU averages 16 offensive rebounds a game, roughly half of their missed shots. That’s just mind-boggling. Think about it: Teams are giving the eighth-ranked team in the country 16 extra possessions per game. Not only that, but 16 possessions that start with the ball really close to the hoop for a high-percentage shot by Suton or Morgan. How do you beat that?
The second half begins with Kansas on a run. Looks like Bill Self really tore into them in the locker room. They’ve got to rebound better, move the ball better, and take better shots. Aside from that, they played a great first half.
Clark Kellogg also tells us that the last time Kansas played in East Lansing, it was 1979 and a certain Magic Johnson posted a triple-double against them. Didn’t something else happen in 1979? Oh yeah. That.
Michigan State has come out of the locker room playing a little more slowly than they had been in the first half. They’re still up big, but Kansas is playing with higher energy right now. There’s a little more hustle on the Jayhawks’ side of the ball at the moment. Izzo won’t stand for that for too long.
Verne Lundquist finally pronounces Ibok’s name right for the first time, after 27-and-a-half minutes of game time. Sherron Collins celebrates by missing a free throw. On the next possession, Lundquist is back to screwing it up again.
We're about midway through the second half, and Michigan State is in the middle of a four-minute field goal drought and are still up by 16. That should tell you all you need to know about how Kansas has played today. They’ve been shut down completely by the Spartan defense. I expected Michigan State to win, but I didn't expect it to be so one-sided.
Free throws are a problem for both teams today though. Michigan State hasn’t shot well from the line all season (see the Maryland game for further proof), and Kansas hasn’t lived up to their high numbers this season.
The Jayhawks are on a 12-3 run late in the game. Michigan State took their foot off the gas for a little while and are having trouble ramping up the intensity again. Credit to Kansas, they’ve been chipping away for the entire half and now find the lead down to single digits. With their three-point shooting, this game could get very tight in the final couple of minutes.
This game is yet another shining example of why teams should go for the kill when they've got a big lead. Michigan State let up, and Kansas is making this game too close for comfort. Sherron Collins has stepped up in a big way and really impressed with his ability to get to the basket. He's too big a load for most point guards to handle.
On this day though, Kansas dug themselves too deep of a hole for Collins to get them out. You can't let MSU dominate the offensive glass like that and hope to beat them. This is a good non-conference win for the Spartans, and they'll try to keep their momentum going as they face Penn State and Illinois this week.
Spotlight on...the season so far
This week's "Spotlight on..." is a little different, mostly because I couldn't find an interview subject in time. But that won't stop us from having fun!
Which teams are emerging as contenders at this point in the season?
As we get into conference play, the picture is starting to clear up. Pitt has established itself as one of the dominant forces in the country after a huge win over Georgetown. If they can survive January, they'll be in good shape. They'll face Louisville, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Villanova before the month is over.
Wake Forest is perhaps a little bit of a surprise, but they've got great wins over BYU on the road and North Carolina at home. If they can beat Clemson this week, they'll have a strong case to be considered the top team in the country.
Syracuse has been another surprise. They were supposed to be good, but not this good. Their record only has the one blemish, but plenty of things that look great on the résumé. Memphis, Kansas, and Florida have all gone down against the Orange. Watch their next few games though. They've got Georgetown, Notre Dame, Pitt, and Louisville all in a row. Wow.
Then we've got all the usual suspects. Duke, North Carolina, UConn, and Michigan State have all shown flashes of brilliance at points this season. If these teams can all start displaying some more consistency, they'll be in the mix for a Final Four spot come March.
Which teams have disappointed the most?
This one is easy. Tennessee, Gonzaga, and Louisville.
Each of these teams was talked about as a serious contender in the preseason. All they've done so far is prove that there is indeed a reason to actually play the game.
Still, Louisville is probably best positioned to make a huge turnaround. They've still got the heart of the Big East schedule to play, and they could make a serious climb if they go on a winning streak. Rick Pitino will have them playing better by the end of the year.
Who are the All-Americans at this point?
F Luke Harangody
F Tyler Hansbrough
F Blake Griffin
G Stephen Curry
G Kalin Lucas
The Lucas pick may seem like blatant homerism on the surface, but I assure you it isn't. His assist-to-turnover ratio is disgustingly good, and he's averaging close to 21 points per game in 2009. Even more, for somebody who supposedly had a weak jump shot, he's hitting 46 percent of his three-pointers.
Griffin has been hands down the best big man in the country this season. His offensive numbers are similar to those of Harangody's, but he's more versatile. Strong, athletic, dangerous. As Griffin goes, so go the Sooners.
Curry is Davidson this season. When he's played poorly, they've struggled. Scratch that—when other teams have made a concerted effort to shut him down, Davidson has struggled.
Hansbrough is perhaps the highest-energy player in the country. A lot of people like to criticize him for not being an NBA-caliber player, but last time I checked, he wasn't playing in the NBA. He's playing in the ACC and putting up great numbers each night.
What I'm watching this week
The Big East. Pitt plays Louisville, Syracuse plays Georgetown and Notre Dame, and Louisville plays Notre Dame. The conference begins kicking the crap out of itself in earnest this week.
Georgetown vs. Duke. Start your Saturday off right. Watch two storied programs do battle in a huge non-conference game. Georgetown's starting five is good enough to hang with Duke's...will it come down to the benches?
Arizona State vs. UCLA. UCLA has been underwhelming this season, and James Harden is just the kind of guy to pile misery on the Bruins.
Texas vs. Oklahoma. The common thread here is that Arkansas beat both of these teams. Both teams should be angry. Blake Griffin vs. A.J. Abrams, anyone?
And finally, the marquee game of the week features two surprising teams. Clemson and Wake Forest will do battle in a game that could have ACC title implications.