It was a slow week for college basketball as schools across the country held finals. The worst thing about the college basketball season is the timing. Just when the season starts getting cranked up, fans start getting excited, and the players start getting into a rhythm, all of a sudden we have this 2-3 week lapse for finals.
There is nothing you can do about it. This is college and these are student-athletes. They need to take their finals. All I am saying is that it is tough to practice sporadically, focus on taking your tests, and then travel across the country to play a good team. Case in point: Tennessee. If you watched that game, you would know they just came out flat and were not ready to play and Temple jumped all over them.
This is also why you see a lot more players ruled academically ineligible in basketball than in football or baseball. In football, if you struggle during the season in the fall semester, you can make up for that by having an excellent spring semester. In baseball, if you struggle during the season in the spring, you have the summer and fall to make up for it.
For basketball players, their season starts in October and ends in March (or April if you are lucky). Think about that. School usually starts in September (disregarding summer classes) and ends in May, which means that these kids are officially in season for 5-6 months out of the school year.
Back to the point, we learned this week that regardless of the name on your jersey, you need to be ready to play when you step onto the court. Just look at some of the games from this week: Temple beat Tennessee; UMass beat Kansas; Arizona beat Gonzaga; Notre Dame, Villanova, Arizona State, Miami FL, and Texas all barely hung on in games that should have been blow outs. And all this in a week where there were fewer than 30 games involving ranked teams.
As we head into another slow week leading up to conference play, you would hope that the lesson is learned.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Stephen F. Austin 112, North Dakota State 111 3OT
This game was a roller coaster affair. Clearly, I did not watch it (here's to hoping ESPN Classic smartens up and airs it), but from reading the game recaps, it is obvious this was a fun one to see. SFA jumped out to a 20-2 lead early in the first half, and was in serious control of this game most of the way.
NDSU cut the lead down to four twice in the first half, but a three at the first half buzzer made the halftime score 35-28. SFA jumped out to another big lead in the second half, going up by as much as 19 (63-44) and taking a 75-65 lead with 3:05 left. But Ben Woodside took over.
He finished the game with 60 points, and also added eight boards and eight dimes. What's more impressive is that with 8:51 to go in the second half, Woodside had 11. In 23:51, he rattled off 49 points.
Before I get back to the game, let's talk about that for a second. 60 points. 30-35 from the line. 49 points in 23:51. In the Bison's 7th game, Woodside moved his average from 20 ppg to 26.2 ppg. He also added eight assists, which means he was responsible for at least 76 of NDSU's 111 points. Amazing performance by that young man.
Back to the game, Woodside hit a three and four straight free throws to help send the game to overtime tied at 78. In the first OT, NDSU's Brett Winkelman hit a three with 24 seconds left to tie it at 89 and send it to a second OT.
SFA's Josh Alexander's three-point play with 15 seconds left sent the game to a third OT. It looked like the Bison were finally going to win the game after Woodside's three-point play with 18 seconds left gave them a 111-110 lead. But Walt Harris hit a jumper with seven seconds left to give the Lumberjacks the win.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Hill averaged 23.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg, and 4.5 bpg in a huge 2-0 week for the Wildcats. Arizona is playing with a depleted roster as a result of the Lute Olson debacle, but they look like they might be ready for a tournament run this year after beating San Diego State 69-56 on Wednesday and then upsetting Gonzaga on a neutral court on Sunday night.
Hill had his best game of the season against SDSU, going for 25, 14, six blocks, and four assists. Against Gonzaga, it was his play down the stretch that won the game. He hit two free throws with 1:17 on the clock to break a 62-62 tie, then 40 seconds later hit a jumper in the lane over Josh Heytvelt to all but ice the game.
Hill was also influential in holding Gonzaga's leading scorer, Heyvelt, to just 6 points and 7 rebounds on 1-6 shooting. I have been saying it all season, but with Hill, Chase Budinger, and Nic Wise on their team, Arizona is good enough to reach the NCAA tournament. They proved that on Sunday, as the three combined for 57 of the team's 69 points.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
The Owls have really struggled this year. They made the NCAA tournament last season after a great run through the A-10 Tourney, but this season they have already lost to Clemson, Buffalo, and Miami OH while struggling to beat teams like Penn State and College of Charleston.
But on Saturday, everything clicked.
I know Dionte Christmas had 35 points, and his 30 in the second half helped the Owls pull away, but if you watched that game (I did) then you know that Christmas was non-existent in a first half where Temple really asserted their dominance.
Sergio Olmos was the best player on the floor in the first half. He scored in the post and on perimeter jump shots, he blocked and changed shots in the lane, and he played incredibly smart (for example, twice in the first half when Temple guards drove to the rim, Olmos sealed his man on his back allowing the guard to take an uncontested lay-up).
Ryan Brooks also played well. Known as a jump shooter, he was aggressive off the bounce and finished with a double-double (16 and 10 boards) while only hitting one triple.
There were two telling stats in this game for Temple. The first is that they won the rebounding battle. Granted, Tennessee is not the best rebounding team in the world, but the fact that a Temple team held a much more athletic and aggressive Tennessee team to 10 offensive rebounds when they missed 40-63 shots on the game is impressive.
The second stat is the turnovers. Temple only had 11 on the game, and many of those (I believe it was 7) came in the first half. Semaj Inge and Luis Guzman rendered the Tennessee press completely ineffective, especially in the second half.
And of course, you must mention the Dionte Christmas show during the second half. He just took over. Temple built their biggest lead of the game when Christmas hit a three on three straight possessions, and five in a row over the course of eight possessions.
MATCH-UPS OF THE WEEK
12/16 - Marquette vs. Tennessee
You like fast-paced basketball? You like teams shooting a lot of three's? Then be sure to tune into this one.
12/17 - Siena @ Pitt
Siena was supposed to be one of the better mid-majors in the country, but has not been all that impressive this year. Pitt has, and may be the best team in the country not named North Carolina.
Saturday is one of the best days of basketball of the entire season. Take a look at these games:
- Connecticut vs. Gonzaga in Seattle
- VCU vs. Oklahoma
- Michigan State @ Texas
- Xavier vs. Duke
- Belmont @ Tennessee
- Louisville vs. Minnesota
- Mercer @ UCLA
- Syracuse @ Memphis
- Davidson @ Purdue
- BYU @ Arizona State
- Temple @ Kansas
- Arizona @ UNLV