Sunday, December 20, 2009
Final thoughts on a wild Saturday
By Andy Katz
Was this just a post-finals funk? Something was amiss Saturday.
While the more traditional and somewhat predictable teams held serve -- like Texas running away from North Carolina, Duke playing harder and defending tougher than Gonzaga and top-rated Kansas holding serve once again at home -- there seemed to be something askew across the land.
Dwight Lewis led all scorers with 21 points in Saturday's win.
The Pac-10, which was headed for an abyss, managed to pull off the biggest stunner of the day. USC pounded SEC East title contender Tennessee at the Galen Center in what was the most lopsided loss of the Bruce Pearl Era. The USC staff had stated privately that transfer guard Mike Gerrity would be a huge lift once he got eligible. Having a healthy Alex Stepheson in the post was also supposed to be a major lift.
Well, Gerrity was 10-of-11 at the free throw line, with 10 assists (and six turnovers) and Stepheson was a force in the middle with 19 points and 15 boards. The win over the Vols is by far the best nonconference win of the season for the Pac-10 -- the first against any ranked team.
The Trojans are a long shot to get an NCAA at-large berth after losing at Texas, Georgia Tech and at home to Nebraska in its other power six matchups. But with the way the Pac-10 is wide open, why not give the Trojans a shot if they have somehow figured out how to play going forward, especially with Kevin O’Neill settling in as head coach.
Some more observations on a wacky Saturday of hoops:
Florida, which won rave reviews after wins over Florida State and Michigan State, didn’t lose much cachet with a loss to title-contending Syracuse last week in Tampa. But, while Richmond is a threat to win the Atlantic 10, Saturday's game was in Sunrise, Fla. The 56-53 victory by the Spiders, who already had wins over Missouri and Mississippi State, proves they are truly a conference contender and that the Gators have to be considered a step below Kentucky at this juncture.
Georgetown should stop inviting Old Dominion to McDonough Gym. For the second time in three years, the Monarchs beat the favored Hoyas on GU's campus. ODU was the preseason CAA favorite, but hadn’t done much thus far to warrant an in-season tab. This certainly helps.
Seton Hall suffered the fate as other teams that have added a key player midstream (see UTEP and BC) by losing at home to Temple on the day Keon Lawrence and Jeff Robinson became eligible for the Pirates. Temple has now knocked off two Big East teams from the ranks of the unbeaten: Seton Hall and Villanova.
The A-10 continues to be one of the deeper conferences in the country as Richmond, Temple, Xavier, Charlotte, Dayton and Rhode Island have all made their marks so far this season.
It's pretty clear Illinois isn’t ready for prime time yet, despite the incredible comeback win at Clemson a few weeks ago. Losing to a mediocre Georgia team won’t spark massive confidence in Champaign.
Give Herb Sendek five full days to prepare for a game and you get quality results. Arizona State beat San Diego State by three in Tempe. Over the last three seasons, Sendek is 10-1 when given a week of prep.
Hope everyone caught the crazy endings in Boston (UMass beating Memphis on a Terrell Vinson freak layup that bounced into his hands with 0.7 seconds left) and in Indianapolis (Butler beating Xavier with 1.2 seconds left on a Gordon Hayward layup that was nearly as opportunistic as Vinson’s, before a clock controversy that should have the X fuming).
Wofford must be pretty good to nearly beat Pitt, take out Georgia and then beat South Carolina 68-61, ending a 21-game losing streak to the in-state Gamecocks. South Carolina just isn't the same team without Dominique Archie.
Remember the name Robo Kreps. He had quite a week. The Illinois-Chicago junior beat Oregon State on a runner in the final seconds earlier in the week and then led UIC to a 20-point win over Northern Illinois on Saturday. The Flames, now 3-6, had only beaten Division 3 Illinois-Springfield prior to this week.
Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado is quietly putting together another great season. In a six-point win at Houston, he contributed 13 points, 17 rebounds and 5 blocks, including one in the final minute that put away the Cougars for good. It was a nice road win for the SEC on an otherwise forgettable day.
Washington smacked Portland by 35, officially ending the early-season crush on the Pilots and proving that the Huskies might have something going after all.
Wichita State is back under coach Gregg Marshall. The Shockers are 10-1 and handed Texas Tech its first loss of the season. Clevin Hannah scored 24 points. He was suspended for the only Shocker loss, to Pitt in Kansas City in the CBE semifinals. Wonder what would have happened if he'd played?
What was West Virginia doing going to Cleveland State? Not sure, but at least the Mountaineers got out with a two-point win to preserve a potential undefeated showdown at Purdue on Jan. 1.
Eastern Washington won at Utah earlier this season and lost on a 3-pointer in the closing seconds at Nevada on Thursday. That heartbreaker must've taken a lot of the Eagles. How else to explain a 91-34 annihilation at BYU? EWU went 10 minutes without a point at one stretch, as the Cougars used a 33-0 run to lead 55-14 at halftime. Ouch.
After a win over Rick Majerus and Saint Louis, Missouri State is 10-0. Let that sink in. It doesn’t mean as much as Northern Iowa’s one-loss record since the Panthers have more quality wins. But at least it makes the Valley even more interesting.
Get to know Darington Hobson. The New Mexico junior put together another double-double (22 pts, 16 reb) and helped lead his still-unbeaten Lobos (12-0) from 16 down to a 66-61 win over Creighton at the Pit.
Don't look now, but Northwestern is 9-1. The Wildcats beat back Stanford 70-62 as John Shurna (22 points, 8 rebounds) continued to be the newfound star for the Wildcats, who are on a quest for their first-ever NCAA tournament berth.