Monday, December 6, 2010
Observations from the week that was
By Eamonn Brennan
A few thoughts on the just completed week of games:
1. The ACC is what we thought it was. The Atlantic Coast Conference entered the season with major questions about its depth. Would anyone challenge Duke? Would the conference deserve more tournament teams than the Mountain West? Who in the ACC’s soft second-tier would emerge by season’s end? The ACC/Big Ten Challenge gave us plenty to chew on, but more than anything, it proved what most thought about the ACC before the season started: This is a mediocre conference. The list of ostensible challengers to Duke’s throne -- Virginia Tech, North Carolina, NC State -- all lost their Challenge games in a variety of disappointing ways. (UNC looked out of whack in a loss at Illinois; Va Tech couldn’t score in a tight loss to Purdue at home; NC State was blown out by 39 points at Wisconsin.) The Challenge provided a few surprises, including Virginia, which looked like a team on the rise in a surprise win at Minnesota and then followed it up with a win in Blacksburg. But overall, none of the ACC’s teams looked all that impressive, and as of now, the conference clearly has fewer good teams than any other Big Six conference, save for the Pac-10.
2. There’s no reason to quit on Michigan State. The Spartans weren’t all that impressive in their early-season tournament appearance in Maui. They limped to a victory against Chaminade before losing to the hot hand of Connecticut guard Kemba Walker. That slightly sullied MSU’s trip to Duke on Wednesday, which became a 1 vs. 6 matchup instead of the 1 vs. 2 blockbuster we would have seen if the Spartans had handled business in Hawaii. But no matter. Michigan State looked every bit the Final Four team we expected to see in the preseason in Durham. Despite turning the ball over 20 times, State never looked outmatched in Cameron Indoor Stadium. On a neutral floor -- and if they can cut down turnovers and follow Izzo’s usual improvement curve throughout the season -- Sparty might just win that game. Michigan State entered the season as the most plausible non-Duke national champion in the land, and nothing we saw this week contradicts that theory.
3. Syracuse is winning, but not by much. If all you saw was the Orange’s undefeated record, you’d assume they’re rolling along, dominating inferior opponents, winning with ease. That’s not the case. Much to Jim Boeheim’s ongoing chagrin, his team is suffering from major offensive struggles, and the result has been a series of wins that shouldn’t be as close as they are. Some of those scores: 66-55 vs. Detroit, 63-60 vs. William & Mary, 53-50 vs. Michigan, 80-76 vs. Georgia Tech, 65-59 over NC State. That last performance was especially questionable, given the Wolfpack’s comprehensive blowout loss at Wisconsin earlier in the week. Most teams would love to be 8-0 at this point in the season. Syracuse fans can’t complain about that. But they, and Boeheim, are still waiting to see signs of the offensive potential this versatile team should already be displaying.
4. Georgetown will contend for the Big East title. Give credit to the
Hoyas: John Thompson III gave his team a brutal noconference schedule, a series of tests filled with road games and tough mid-major opponents, and thus far, his team has passed with flying colors. The Hoyas’ most impressive victory came in what was essentially a road game against Missouri in Kansas City, when Georgetown fought back late to force overtime and win the most thrilling game of the season to date. And then, with a tough road matchup with Temple looming next week, Georgetown thoroughly handled Utah State, one of the nation’s best mid-major offenses, in what could have turned into a sneaky trap game. Thompson’s team could have been forgiven for having a loss or three by this point in the season. Instead, the Hoyas have taken that tough schedule and made the most of it.