Wednesday, December 1, 2010
'Bag: ACC/Big Ten schadenfreude edition
By Eamonn Brennan
Each Wednesday, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the page. You can also e-mail me or send me your entries via Twitter. Per the usual, let's begin in video form.
For the sake of efficiency, let's group some of the more popular subjects together:
Chris from Columbia, Mo. writes: Whew! Was that Missouri Georgetown game fun! Even though the Tigers got an L do you believe they are for real after that game in Kansas City?
Bruce from Downington, Pa. writes: Eamonn, I thought Georgetown-Mizzou game Tuesday night was Best. Early-Season. Game. Ever. After watching so much slop during Thanksgiving, it was refreshing seeing guys playing full-court pressure, making the extra pass, draining jumpers from everywhere, etc. Basketball the way I like it, at least. Do you see Georgetown trying to play this up-tempo once conference play starts ... because they sure looked comfortable running both "Princeton" and "Mizzou" style basketball last night.
Eamonn Brennan: You know a game is good when you open the Hoopsbag inbox and the first thing you see is a bunch of emails about how good said game was. No question Missouri-Georgetown was the best game we've seen so far this season, not only in terms of sheer excitement -- the back-and-forth runs, Georgetown somehow forcing overtime, that last-second 3 -- but in how well the game was played on both ends of the floor.
What do you make of both teams in the aftermath? I think it's all positive. The Hoyas again showed they can go on the road (the Sprint Center versus Missouri definitely counts as a road game) and eke out tough wins against quality competition; thus far, Georgetown has risen to the strength of its brutal nonconference schedule, and it'll be rewarded come seed time in March. Missouri showed that for all its youth and turnover last season, it is a team already well-attuned to Mike Anderson's system. (The best example came when Marcus Denmon finished a fast-break layup to put the Tigers up by four with less than a minute to play in regulation. In that situation, most teams would have grabbed that long rebound and held the ball as long as possible, but Missouri instinctively ran a break and got an easy bucket, because that's what Missouri wants to do all the time.) It was an impressive performance from both teams.
One had to lose, but if you're a Mizzou fan, I don't think you walk away from that game the least bit discouraged. Your team looked awfully good, too. (And if Tony Mitchell can get eligible and give the Tigers some legitimate size, look out.)
As for Georgetown, I wouldn't look for John Thompson III to change his style much this season. The Hoyas like to slow the game down, run their Princeton style, wear you down with backcuts, and get open 3s for Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark. That process was sped up out of necessity Tuesday night, but it'll be back to down-tempo hoops for G'town in no time.
Jad from St. Joseph, Mo. writes: Why is everyone afraid to call it as it is when NCAA officials blow it on national TV? The whole nation watched as the officials had their heads up their butts and let a 3-pointer stand at the end of the first half. In the real world, mistakes are corrected. In the real world, Missouri wins at end of regulation by 3. Hard fought game ... for sure. Two very good teams ... yes. But in the end the game was decided by poor officiating and the better team (this night) lost. It's time the NCAA holds such officials accountable and start handing out a few fines and suspensions. You and I are payed based on the quality of our performance and not the frequency of our excuses. The NCAA should except nothing less from their officials.
Brennan: That was a bad call, yes, but it's hard to say that one call in the first half of any game totally affects that game's outcome. Sort of a butterfly effect theory: Any number of things can change in 20 minutes of hoops based on even the slightest change in scoreline. That said, Georgetown was incredibly lucky at the end of regulation when it tried to foul -- yes, foul -- Kim English just after the inbounds play. English was clearly grabbed in an "hey I'm trying to foul this guy" way, but the referees let it slide. English's heave missed, and the rest was history. But the Hoyas were supremely lucky to not have given up two foul shots there.
Blake from D.C. writes: Hey Eamonn, I hate to disrupt the nice contempt for Wake you're stewing this season, and I know it's easy to kick a down team, but maybe tone down snarkiness and cut Wake some slack? I don't think most sportswriters would trash a team that they expected to lose, but which actually went on a 21-6 run to start the second half and came back to win by 3, so badly. I mean, seriously, not one positive comment? I wouldn't have chosen that approach to writing a recap. Unless I were Eamonn Brennan, I guess. Hey, whatever works.
Robert from Greenville, N.C. writes: You don't like Wake, I can handle that, but your childish comments are exactly that, immature, and extremely childish. Jeez, didn't your mother ever tell you if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?
Brennan: Wake Forest fans are not happy with yours truly. To be fair, I was probably a little too harsh on the Demon Deacons even after what was a definitively exciting win Tuesday night over Iowa. I'll grant you that. But, since we're here, let's make one thing clear, something college hoops readers of all stripes seem to believe at an alarming rate: We (writers) don't actively dislike any program. At least I don't. There's no animosity here. If Wake had played a brilliant game, or had opened their season with a series of impressive wins, I'd be the first person singing its praises. Same with Iowa.
The bottom line is that Wake's win, while certainly thrilling, was a sloppy, ugly affair, and it ended on a shot (albeit one by a streaking J.T. Terrell) that would make most college hoops coaches sweat through their designer wool. If I was a Wake fan, I'd have seen the same game, and I'd feel the same way. If I was a Wake fan, I'd take a thrilling home win over rebuilding Iowa -- and the way the Deacons celebrated afterward -- as a sign of how temporarily far my program had fallen. And if I was a Wake fan, I wouldn't want someone to obligatorily say nice things about my team because we just beat Iowa -- Iowa! -- by three at home. What is this, tee-ball?
Rick Ferguson from Alexandria, Va. writes: Surprise, surprise. Virginia won. Who would have thunk it? It's easy to be harsh, but sometimes it stings when things go the other way. Virginia's hot hand b****-slapped you. However, no one would have called the 58 point second half. Maybe the Cavs, have some future here.
Alex from Charlottesville, Va. writes: Looks like you'll have to eat your words Mr. Eamonn Brennan. Minnesota "Ruh-Roh?" I don't think so. I do appreciate the subtle jabs at UVA in your article, however. It makes it that much sweeter that we won. I guess its not important to the Big Ten - ACC challenge that an unranked, three-loss team, playing six freshmen, upset the No. 13-ranked team in the country. Not important at all. Try harder next time.
Daniel from Chesapeake, Va. writes: Eamonn, great call on the Minnesota vs. UVA game! I really did see [Monday] night "how bad" this Virginia was in Tony Bennett's second year. UVA is a very young team that is learning a new defensive system. I suspect that we will see continued improvement on the defensive end as the year progresses. [Monday] night was certainly a step in the right direction, no?
Brennan: "Hey, you picked against our team! The one that was easily handled by Wichita State and blown out by Stanford! Now you have to eat your words! Take that, evil Virginia-hating writer guy!"
Don't get me wrong: Virginia's upset of Minnesota was a great win for Bennett and company, and yes, it was unequivocally a step in the right direction. That's indisputable. What's not indisputable is whether it was a fluke. Considering Virginia missed only three of its 13 3-point attempts (and, yes, scored 58 points in the second half!) perhaps we should hold off on crowning UVa just yet. The Cavaliers might be better than advertised, and Minnesota might be a bit worse, but there's a reason no one picked Virginia to win that game.
It's OK. If I was a Virginia fan, I'd be thoroughly enjoying the fact that we just won a game no one expected us to win, too. Enjoy it, guys.
Greg from Schaumburg, Ill. writes: As someone who lives in Chicago, does it bother you that ESPN always refers to Loyola University Chicago as Loyola (IL)? As the Ramblers are off to a 7-0 start, we may see their name more often (in the list of undefeated in the weekly watch, for example), and it would be nice to see them correctly referenced.
Brennan: I have to say, of all the things in the world that bother me, this one was not on the list.
Lazarus from New York writes: Bruce Pearl admits to lying to the NCAA and doesn't get fired. Does every Tennessee student get one free pass to cheat on an exam? If Pearl had a losing record, he would've been axed in a second. The University of Tennessee used this "teaching moment" to impart a clear lesson to its students: Winning and revenue-generation is more important than honesty and integrity.
Brennan: First, the student cheating analogy doesn't quite work, because most students caught cheating at most colleges (and I'm obviously generalizing here) are usually given a failing grade or, at worst, a brief academic suspension. That's essentially what the SEC gave Pearl when it suspended him from the league's first eight conference games. Tennessee also punished Pearl with off-campus recruiting restrictions and heavy financial penalties. The parallels aren't quite perfect there.
As for whether Pearl deserves to be fired, that's basically a matter of opinion, right? If you take the coach's story at face value, then yes, Pearl lied to NCAA investigators, but he also took it upon himself to reconvene with the NCAA and correct his lie of his own volition. Does that count for anything? I'm not sure it does, but I am sure that Pearl's winning record has something to do with Tennessee's willingness to let the NCAA investigation play out before deciding whether or not the coach should be terminated.
Nolan Bratt from Racine, Wis. writes: Even though Wisconsin lost two games already to two unranked teams, do you think they will be to rebound and rise up there with Michigan St., Ohio State, Purdue, and Illinois? I know its early, but I am an avid Badger fan myself, and I thought that their rank at No. 24 to start the year was pretty low. I think when conference games start, we will have better chances versus better teams to get better. What do you think?
Brennan: Wisconsin hasn't looked all that convincing thus far, that's for sure. But there are a few things working in the Badgers' favor. For one, they're a great rebounding team, and that's a skill that can carry you a long way in a conference like the Big Ten. Two, they play at the Kohl Center, and for whatever reason, opposing Big Ten teams find it incredibly difficult to win there. Three, Bo Ryan's teams tend to improve -- though not as dramatically as, say, Tom Izzo's -- over the course of the year. I'm not at all sold on Wisconsin to date, but it's hard to imagine that team too far out of the Big Ten race once the conference season heats up.
JM from Charlotte writes: What do you think about the Tar Heels' struggles this year? Are we in for a repeat of last season or do you see them turning it around? Should they have dropped out of the top 25?
Brennan: I wrote about UNC's struggles Tuesday night, so you check there for a bit more detail, but the bottom line is this: Right now, North Carolina looks all too similar to last year's team. They're disjointed and confused on offense and occasionally lackluster on defense. Harrison Barnes hasn't been the game-changer that most of us thought he would be, based on his lofty recruiting accolades and the multi-dimensional talent he showed against college big men on the camp circuit this summer. Instead, he's been sort of invisible. That's partially his fault -- he needs to attack more and defer less -- and partially the fault of UNC's scheme, which seems to get him the ball in disadvantageous positions on almost every catch. How many times have you seen Barnes catch the ball on the wing, fake once or twice, try to make an entry pass, and then pass the ball back to the top of the key? 50? 100? It happens all the time, and it's not helping anyone, least of all North Carolina.
Throw in the continuing point guard problems, and you've got a team with tons of individual talent that can't seem to find a way to gel. It's weird to watch, and it's disconcerting, even this early in the year.
Uh, and yes. They should have dropped out of the top 25. No question.