Monday, January 17, 2011
Observations from the week that was
By Eamonn Brennan
1. Everyone’s vulnerable. If you’re one of the teams that plays Kansas, Ohio State or Duke in the next week or so, now’s your time to strike. The Blue Devils have already lost their first game of the season, and were tested by Virginia all the way through the second half at home Saturday. At nearly the same time, Ohio State was narrowly escaping a home loss to suddenly dangerous Penn State, and Kansas was clawing its way to a three-point win over a defensively impressive Nebraska team. Ohio State’s combined margin of victory in its last four games -- in wins over Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State, not exactly the Big Ten’s toughest four-game stretch -- is a whopping 15 points. KU's combined margin of victory in its last three games -- against Michigan, Iowa State and Nebraska -- is 15 points. (That number is slightly skewed, too, thanks to the seven-point overtime win at Michigan. That game’s regulation margin of victory is technically “zero,” right?)
We entered this week with five unbeaten teams. One of them lost. Two of them struggled. Only Syracuse and San Diego State rolled. For now, the trend seems obvious: The nation’s four undefeated teams aren’t likely to stay that way for long.
2. Maryland is the second-best team in the ACC Who is the second-best team in the ACC? Virginia Tech is still making its case, but until the Hokies actually win an impressive game -- they missed a major opportunity at UNC on Thursday -- the answer might just be Maryland (what, you didn't see North Carolina's game at Georgia Tech on Sunday night?). Those who watch college hoops without an eye on Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency numbers were probably surprised by Maryland’s double-digit second-half lead at Villanova on Saturday, but the simple fact is that the Terrapins play tougher defense than any team in the nation -- yes, they’re ranked No. 1 in the country in defensive efficiency to date -- and as a result, have one of the best 15 or so statistical profiles in college hoops this season. Don’t sleep on the Terps. This young team might still be developing, but it’s already awfully tough.
3. Jimmer Fredette is the new favorite for national player of the year. Fredette has not exactly come from nowhere. The star BYU guard was a preseason All-American, after all. The Jimmer Show, featuring Fredette’s freakish blend of high-flying scoring and lethal efficiency, is now four years running. That said, Fredette had hung back in the player of the year conversation this season, ceding much of the individual national spotlight to Connecticut’s Kemba Walker and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, deserving candidates both. No more. Fredette’s insane 47-point effort at Utah last week -- which came on 16-of-28 from the field, 6-of-9 from the 3-point line and 9-of-9 from the charity stripe -- put Fredette squarely atop the player of the year picture yet again. Your move, Kemba.
4. It’s time to get on the A&M bandwagon. Speaking of a boost in a national profile, Mark Turgeon’s Texas A&M Aggies -- who have a way of annually remaining under the radar almost regardless of performance -- should be top of mind in the Big 12 from here on out. That’s thanks to A&M’s impressive 91-89 win in overtime over Missouri on Saturday, which cast a much-needed national glare on the quietly impressive bunch in College Station, Texas. Turgeon’s team entered the season with minimal hype thanks to the loss of three senior starters, including star guard Donald Sloan; those losses seemed set to plunge the Aggies into rebuilding mode for the foreseeable future. Instead, this team got even better. Credit the emergence of forward Khris Middleton -- who scored 28 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished four assists in the win over Mizzou -- and the Aggies’ solid brand of hard-nosed defense and highly active rebounding. Middleton is a shy guy who avoids cameras, the kind of player for whom the “lets his play do the talking” cliché is not only applicable but apt. In other words, he’s the perfect star for this team.
5. Oregon’s new court is, um, distinctive. This week marked the debut of Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena, its sparkling $227 million basketball facility. With that arena comes a giant Jumbotron -- the largest in college hoops, naturally -- a host of modern arena amenities, spacious seating, and all the trappings. The only problem? That unbelievable court. When Oregon’s gaudy tribute to the “Tall Firs” -- its 1939 national champions -- was first unveiled in the offseason, it was greeted with equal parts skepticism and amusement. Now that fans actually have to view basketball on the court, the amusement is starting to fade into annoyance. Not only is Matt Court’s half-court line barely visible, but, as we saw in Oregon’s debut home game, the combination of the shiny floor and the arena’s ribbon lighting creates a distracting glare for TV viewers and ticket-holders alike. Nifty in theory? Absolutely. Questionable in practice? That too.