Notes from December 11th
The Most Notable Game: (#122) West Virginia 56, @ (#130) Duquesne, 60
Man, just when you thought West Virginia was starting to climb out of their hole after a win over (#26) Virginia Tech on Saturday, they go to Duquesne and drop one. The Mountaineers (4-4, 0-0) were in complete control of this game, it seemed like, going up by as many as 15 in the second half. They still led by 11 with just over 12 minutes to play, but the Dukes’ Derrick Colter and Jeremiah Jones turned up the heat, and led Duquesne (6-4, 0-0) during a 26-11 run to end the game that sent them flying past West Virginia. Colter had 9 points and five assists during the run, and Jones had 12 points, including a go-ahead three-point play with less than 6 minutes to play. Deniz Kiliçli, Jabarie Hinds, and Juwan Staten were ineffective for the Mountaineers down the stretch, combining to shoot 1 for 12 in the final 12 minutes, and West Virginia missed all four of their free-throw attempts in that stretch. Suffice it to say, I would not want to be in that locker room with Bob Huggins after this loss. Let’s not forget the effort by Duquesne, though, who could find themselves in the top half of the Atlantic 10 this year if they play more games like this one.
A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Deserve More Love: (#8) Cincinnati, (#39) Oklahoma State
Cincinnati is a club who is reaching new heights in this milennium – they haven’t looked this good since Kenyon Martin was donning the black and red. Most of wins that the Bearcats (9-0, 0-0) have recorded were walkovers against weak teams, but they played three stellar opponents in a row earlier in the year. They toppled (#49) Iowa State and (#16) Oregon in a preseason tournament, and beat (#80) Alabama on a last-second shot in early December. Cincinnati has a legitimate star in swingman Sean Kilpatrick, who is averaging 20 points and six rebounds on the year. He went off for 32 points – and five steals – against Iowa State and is making over half his shots on the year. Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker have also been solid for the Bearcats, both scoring in double figures on the year. The Big East looks good this year, but Cincinnati has been playing like the type of team who can hang with the field. December tilts with (#48) Xavier and (#15) New Mexico will be big litmus tests for Cincinnati, but if they can get past those two teams (and without a huge brawl breaking out against Xavier), I see no reason why this team shouldn’t contend for the Big East title.
The Cowboys of Oklahoma State are off to a fast start this year, and freshman standout Marcus Smart is the catalyst. He is averaging over 13 points, 7 rebounds and five assists so far in his first season, not to mention 2.6 steals and a block per game. Smart is a stat-stuffer extraordinaire, and his play, combined with that of LeBryan Nash and Markel Brown, have OSU looking like a real threat to (#23) Kansas in the Big 12. So far, the only loss that the Cowboys have suffered came at the hands of a good Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg. Before that, though, they demolished (#142) Tennessee and (#67) North Carolina State on their way to winning the Puerto Rico Tipoff preseason tournament. The matchup I’ll be very interested to watch on New Year’s Eve is when (#10) Gonzaga comes to Stillwater. While everyone gears up to celebrate the holidays, these two squads will be going toe-to-toe in what should be a really good game – and a really good measure of what kind of late-season success we can expect from either. By the way, Smart is the early frontrunner for freshman of the year honors, and has the size (6-4, 225) and skill set to make some lucky NBA team very happy next April.
A Couple Mid-Major Teams Poised to Make Noise: (#9) Wichita State, (#19) UNLV
I already talked a little bit about Wichita State after their win over (#82) Air Force, and I still think this team is going to give (#18) Creighton a serious run for their money in the Missouri Valley Conference. Led by Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, the Shockers (9-0, 0-0) are undefeated and they look the part. The Air Force victory is still a pretty good one, but taking down (#34) Iowa at home and travelling to Richmond to beat a solid (#51) VCU squad are what really stands out so far. This team does not have an All-American, like Creighton’s Doug McDermott, but they play a solid brand of team basketball. Malcolm Armstead has been steady-handed at the point, averaging more steals per game (2.0) than turnovers (1.9). I’m not quite ready to predict a Final Four run or anything for Wichita State, but the way that they are playing right now makes me confident that they will be a mainstay in the national polls all year long, and will likely receive a top-6 seeding. The one area that worries me about the Shockers is their free throw percentage (.689), although that is more of a product of their bench’s shooting woes. The starters are all over 70% from the line, including an 87.9% mark for Early. Demetric Williams and Ron Baker have been solid on the wings, and all 12 players on the Shockers’ roster are averaging at least 8 minutes a game. These guys are deep and talented, and that’s the kind of thing that becomes very important late in a season.
UNLV is another team near the top of a stellar conference, though the Mountain West is more than a two-horse race. New Mexico and (#32) San Diego State have impressed early, but the Rebels (7-1, 0-0) have notched some good wins, too. They did lose at home to Oregon, but that’s a loss that’s looking better every day, as the Ducks should be a Tournament team this year. UNLV passed its next tests, however, with wins over Iowa State and (#72) California. The win over Cal came by way of go-ahead shot in the final seconds to win by a point, but they were also playing without one of their best players, forward Mike Moser. Big man Anthony Bennett has been lights-out for the Rebels, scoring 19.5 points per contest and ripping down over eight boards. He’s also averaging just under two blocks a game, making a strong case for himself as the conference’s top player. Anthony Marshall has also played very well, averaging 11 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.6 rebounds. He also plays great defense, averaging over a steal and a half per game. Moser, unfortunately, is out indefinitely with a dislocated right elbow, but UNLV still looks like a sharp squad without him. Bryce Dejean- Jones will be stepping up in his place and should do so more than comfortably. This is another very deep and talented team, like Wichita State, who should be able to make a serious run at a MWC title – and perhaps a whole lot more.
Tonight I’m going to watch first-hand as my two alma maters – (#96) Oregon State and (#298) Portland State – go head-to-head, and I’m pretty excited about it. Even though it should probably be a one-sided affair, or at least the Beavers better hope it is, I’m glad for the opportunity to get to watch this one at the Stott Center in Portland. The Vikings have suffered a woeful start to the season, and tonight will likely add to the troubles. This is where I’m currently attending school, and where I’ll be doing my graduate studies, so I have to show PSU a little love. My heart lies with the Beavers, though, having spent most of the first 24 years of my life – and my first year of college – in Corvallis. This one could turn into a blowout pretty quickly, seeing as OSU has been playing some pretty good ball of late, especially guards Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson. It’ll be interesting to see how the Vikings’ Lateef McMullen and Dre Winston Jr. handle them, but really this game is only going to be worth watching because of my link to both universities. I’m hoping to get floor seats, so I can catch at least one errant Joe Burton pass – because you just know he’s good for at least one no-look pass to a teammate who is likewise not looking.
What to Watch on Thursday (20 games total):
(#226) Monmouth @ (#22) Maryland
(#38) Louisiana Tech @ (#220) McNeese State
(#86) DePaul @ (#25) Arizona State
(#66) Colorado @ (#176) Fresno State
…and of course, with absolutely no bias whatsoever…
(#96) Oregon State @ (#298) Portland State
Now go check out those Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100! Happy 12/12/12 everyone!