Tuesday, November 8, 2011
The Morning After: Hey, hoops is back!
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
The Morning After is our semi-daily look at last night's best hoops action, and man, is it happy to be here. Actual basketball to talk about! This is awesome! Weeee!
If you wanted a good example of why college basketball's big early-season events still need some work, look no further than Monday night. It was college hoops' big return, and any other sport would have a big kickoff event lined up. Instead, there were three games total. Two of them were televised on ESPNU ... right in the middle of ESPN's "Monday Night Football." With the Carrier Classic and Champions Classic, we're getting closer to a galvanizing start to the hoops season. But we're not there yet.
OK, rant over. Here's a brief look at Monday night's trio of season-opening games:
No. 16 Arizona 73, Valparaiso 64: In a recent chat, one question asked came on the topic of Arizona's Josiah Turner -- Sean Miller's highly-touted point guard prospect -- and his disappointing exhibition performances to date. If Turner isn't ready yet, the chatter asked, who can carry the Wildcats' load?
It's a little too early -- OK, it's way too early -- to start fretting about Turner's transition to the college game. He is clearly very talented. But he has struggled, and Monday night was no different: Turner was 1-of-6 from the field and had only one assist in Arizona's slow-but-sure home victory over a sloppy Valparaiso team. Turner's decision-making was questionable, and he occasionally dribbled himself into trouble; he's got a lot to figure out. But it's important to remember that a) sometimes freshmen, even really talented ones, take time to adjust to college hoops (see: Harrison Barnes) and b) he's not the only player on Arizona's team. Fellow freshman Nick Johnson (14 points, eight of which came at the free throw line) was impressive, an aggressive and decisive shooting guard with the athleticism to drive and finish near the rim. Another of Miller's talented recruits, forward Angelo Chol, could contribute earlier than many expected. And veteran shooting guard Kyle Fogg turned in an efficient 5-for-7 shooting night.
There was a lot of ugly basketball on hand, and it's far too early to draw many conclusions. That goes for Arizona as well as Valparaiso. The Crusaders hung around for a while, but they couldn't match Arizona's length for long.
On the bright side -- literally and figuratively -- Bryce Drew wore a sky-blue suit coat. That was pretty awesome.
St. John's 74, William and Mary 59: This was a popular upset pick on Twitter among some of the college hoops congnoscenti, and for much of the first half, that prediction looked prescient. St. John's, the youngest team in the country -- and one missing three of its nine incoming freshman due to eligibility issues -- looked the part. The Red Storm were out of sync on offense, the pace of the game was slower than they'd prefer and their 2-for-9 mark from 3-point range didn't help much. But the second half was all good things: Nurideen Lindsey scored 15 of his 19 points as the Red Storm stepped up their press, forced the Tribe into frequent turnovers, and used those giveaways to get their fast, athletic youngsters into easy scoring positions in the open floor. It was an impressive display, but it begs the question: Will St. John's be able to repeat the feat when its athletic advantage isn't so overwhelming? Can a team this shallow and young pressure quality squads on bi-weekly basis? It's a long season. We'll see. But for now, the formula worked.
Mississippi State 76, Eastern Kentucky 66: If you're a Mississippi State fan, you're encouraged by a couple of things. The first? Dee Bost's 23 points (plus six rebounds) on 7-of-15 from the field. The second? UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie's 13-point, 10-rebound double-double. You're also discouraged by a couple of things. The first? Your team's 14 turnovers. The second? Forward Renardo Sidney's line. Sidney posted nine points on 3-of-5 shooting, and there's no shame in that. He was also fairly active on defense, where he recorded three steals and a block. But he also turned the ball over four times, and he was on the floor for a mere 23 minutes. No other Bulldog starter played fewer than 32. Sidney's conditioning has been the focus of much debate and consternation, and we were told -- for the second-straight season -- that this was the year the talented big man had finally put in the work. Needless to say, the jury is still out.