Notes from December 10th
The Most Notable Game: (#192) Bryant University, 59 @ (#201) Navy, 69
Yeah, seriously… I know this game sounds like a snoozer, but it was a slow, slow day on Monday, so bear with me. This actually was a close one, though. Navy was in control for a lot of this game, but it was a tight one throughout the entire first half, with the Midshipmen (6-6, 0-0) leading by as much a six and Bryant University going up by three at their most dominant. The Bulldogs actually led by a point at the break, having been buoyed by solid first halves out of Joe O’Shea and Vlad Kondratyev. Navy’s Tilman Dunbar was running the point effectively, ending up with 13 assists, but his seven turnovers helped Bryant U. (5-4, 0-0) stay in the game. O’Shea ended up fouling out after putting in 15 points, and Kondratyev finished with 11 points and nine boards. In the end, though, it was Dunbar’s layup with 5:45 on the clock broke a 53-all tie and started off a 16-6 Navy run to end the game. Kendall Knorr played a huge role the stretch, hitting the 3-pointer that put them up by seven and knocking down 7 of 8 free throws to solidify the win for the Midshipmen in a game which brings them back to .500 on the season.
A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Are In Deep Ruts: (#153) Purdue, (#244) Mississippi State
Purdue should be used to playing without Robbie Hummel, right? Hell, they did it for two straight seasons basically after two hard-luck knee injuries. Under head coach Matt Painter, the Boilermakers (4-5, 0-0) have been consistently good, having notched 22 or more wins and an NCAA Tournament berth in each season. They lost Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith, both captains (alongside Hummel) from last year’s teams, too. Terone Johnson and D.J. Byrd have been trying to pick up the slack, and redshirt freshman A.J. Hammons has been solid, but Purdue is little more than the sum of its parts right now. They were beaten by a good (#45) Bucknell team in their opener, fell in overtime to a struggling (#159) Villanova squad (who easily could’ve been included as a team in their own rut), and lost to both (#95) Oregon State and (#48) Xavier. The worst loss, however, came on Saturday, when (#131) Eastern Michigan beat Purdue 47-44. The Boilermakers shot under 30% from the field, 60% from the line, and turned the ball over 18 times – including one by Dru Anthrop on their final possession when they had a chance to tie the game. While it might be a little early to hit the panic button in West Lafayette, you can’t ignore how good the rest of the Big Ten has looked in comparison, and that is a fact that does not bode well for the black and gold.
Mississippi State is another team struggling to find their old form with new pieces, as they have begun this season on a real cold streak after losing all five starters from last year’s NIT squad. They won 21 games last year on their way to a first-round exit, but lost Arnett Moultrie, Dee Bost, and Renardo Sidney, most notably. Last year’s freshman standout Rodney Hood transferred to Duke in the offseason, after averaging 10.3 PPG in 2011-12, leaving Jalen Steele as the only contributor from last year to return. Sophomore Roquez Johnson and freshmen Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware have been decent in their first 8 games, but the Bulldogs (3-5, 0-0), as a whole, have not. They lost their opener to (#277) Troy, were crushed by (#42) North Carolina by 46 points, fell to (#80) Marquette by 27, and even (#161) Texas beat them by 14. Their wins have been over well-below-average opponents, and they’ve got one last chance to notch an even halfway-decent win before SEC play starts up, when they travel to Chicago to play the (#133) Loyola (IL) Ramblers. Even if they win that game, though, they still have a lot of work to do, and not much time to do it. Luckily for them, the SEC seems a little down this year, so they might have a chance to knock off some likewise mediocre teams.
A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Pretty Rough Weekends: (#50) Temple, (#66) Colorado State
Temple was riding high on a wave of early-season success coming into Saturday’s tilt with (#13) Duke. They opened the year with a good win over (#155) Kent State, a program who is no stranger to success. Their other wins have been largely easy to ignore, but a win over Philadelphia rival (#159) Villanova is always a good notch on the Owls’ belt. Not only did they beat them, but they did it convincingly, downing the Wildcats by 15 on the strength of senior leader Scootie Randall’s 21-point performance. Unfortunately, come Saturday, Randall was a ghost, piling up four fouls and rendering himself almost useless. He only scored six points, but did manage to hit his average of seven rebounds. In fact, the entire team was mostly ineffective, especially from the free-throw stripe. Not that it would’ve turned the tides probably, but shooting 8 for 21 from the line is not the kind of performance you can have against a powerhouse like Duke. Freshman Quenton DeCosey was the only player to score in double figures for the Owls (6-1, 0-0) on Saturday, and was the only player to make more than three field goals – Khalif Wyatt shot 3-for-15 from the field, missing all four of his attempts from downtown. Despite keeping up with Duke on the boards and only turning the ball over ten times, Temple simply could not keep pace with the shooting efficiency that the Blue Devils displayed on their way to a 90-67 rout. At this point, it’s a very forgivable speedbump in an otherwise wonderful start for the Owls, but one would like to have seen a stronger performance out of them this weekend. In all, though, it’s probably more indicative of the strength of Duke than it is the weakness of Temple. Meetings with (#2) Syracuse and (#23) Kansas will be very telling of how seriously to take Temple from here on out, but my gut tells me they will have a successful year in the Atlantic 10 and make the Tournament come March.
Colorado State had been also enjoying a perfect start to the season going into last Wednesday’s game against rival (#63) Colorado, but the Rams failed to notch a victory for the first time in the 2012-13 campaign, falling to the Buffaloes 70-61 in Boulder. Part of the reason they lost this game was because they stopped going inside to center Colton Iverson, a likely candidate to play at the next level. Iverson transferred from (#6) Minnesota, and despite the decent play of the Gophers’ center Elliot Eliason, one can only imagine how much better they might be if they still had Iverson. Regardless, the Rams (6-2, 0-0) didn’t use their big man enough in the final stretch against Colorado and it cost them. On Saturday, they lost to (#36) Illinois-Chicago on the road, 64-55, to cap off a disappointing week. The Rams led for much of the second half, going up by eight at the most, but UIC stormed back and ended the game on a 19-6 run. Iverson was again largely missing during the final minutes of the game, only attempting one shot. You simply can’t stop going inside, especially when it’s not as if the Rams were shooting a lot of threes. Wes Eikmeier has been taking and missing too many late-game jumpers, most noticeably against Colorado. At this point, Colorado State looking a little more like an NIT squad than a NCAA Tournament team, but a few good wins in the MWC could change that. Unfortunately, there are more than a few good teams in the conference, which won’t make it easy.
I am very happy that the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) has already started conference play – they’re not the only ones, but they’re already a couple games into the schedule. It is a fun conference to follow if you can stomach the relative mediocrity of the teams. There is a lot of good talent up in the Northeast, and more importantly to me, a lot of good team play. (#37) Canisius is off to a great start, as well as (#85) Loyola (MD), the conference’s representative in last year’s Big Dance. This is a league where everybody seems to have a chance to fulfill their dreams and go to the NCAA Tournament – the conference was represented by MAAC Tournament champs (#197) St. Peter’s two years ago, who is off to a rocky start, but won the NCAA bid as a 4-seed in their own conference tourney. It is always fun to watch teams who are so geographically close do battle because the rivalries, however trivial they may seem to the outsider, are very much real to the fans. Especially in these low-major conferences, it doesn’t tell you much about a team to watch them get dominated by a major-conference power, but once conference play starts, you can really see the heart and passion come out of these players and it’s immensely fun to watch. So, if you’re looking for some conference play, look no further than the MAAC. A bonus: they play a lot of their games on Mondays and Fridays, which are generally very slow days in college basketball. So, if you learn to love the MAAC, you’ll never have a boring day.
What to Watch For on Tuesday (18 games):
(#87) Saint Joseph’s @ (#159) Villanova
(#144) Duquesne @ (#108) West Virginia
(#143) Norfolk State @ (#10) Illinois
(#49) North Dakota State @ (#6) Minnesota
(#132) San Jose State @ (#84) Santa Clara
Okay, so that wraps up today’s update. Now go check out the Tournament Projections and Top 100 through Monday’s matchups!