11/22 – College Hoops Week in Review: The preseason tournaments start; some leagues disappoint

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Game of the Week: UNLV 68, Wisconsin 65

We’ve already touched on the Iowa State-Creighton finish and the San Diego State-Gonzaga tilt out in Spokane. The refs ruined a potential classic in Provo, which leaves us with UNLV’s win over Wisconsin. Neither team could really find any kind of offensive rhythm in the first half, and if it wasn’t for the performance of the two point guards — Jordan Taylor and Oscar Bellfield, who both ended up with 16 points heading in to the break — the score could have been really ugly.

UNLV made a couple of pushes to try and break the game open in the second half, but every time Chace Stanback — who scored 18 of his 25 points in the final twenty minutes — made a clutch jump shot, Wisconsin was able to answer despite their star Jon Leuer having an off-night (10 points, 3-11 shooting). With just over a minute left in the game, Wisconsin’s Ryan Evans knocked down two free throws to give the Badgers a 65-64 lead, but Stanback answered with an 18 foot pull-up with just 54 seconds remaining. The two teams would trade misses before Wisconsin eventually wound up with the ball underneath their own basket with just eight seconds remaining. The Rebels switched a screen on the inbounds, leaving 6’3″ defensive specialist Justin Hawkins to cover Leuer, and Hawkins stole inbounds pass before getting fouled. He would knock down both free throws, and Taylor would miss a three at the buzzer that would have tied the game.

Player of the Week: Tu Holloway, Xavier

Xavier looks like they might be in a bit of trouble this season. The Musketeers are 4-0, but they have yet to notch anything close to a convincing victory. Just imagine where they would be without Holloway. Holloway is averaging 27.0 ppg and 4.3 apg for Xavier. In back to back games last week he set his career high, scoring 28 points in an 86-73 win over Iowa and 31 points in a 57-52 win over Seton Hall. You read that right. Holloway outscored the rest of his teammates on Sunday night, hitting a three with 17 seconds left that broke a 52-all tie and gave the Musketeers the win. It was the third game this season that Tu has single-handedly won for his team. There is no way that Holloway can shoulder this heavy of a workload all season long; he looked exhausted at the end against Seton Hall, and has to come back tonight to play an even tougher opponent in Old Dominion. Holloway has to be on every early season all-american list. Tired or not, I’m not sure there are five players (if there is one!) I would rather have with the ball in their hands in a critical moment.

The All-they-were-good-too team:

  • G: Casey Mitchell, West Virginia: Mitchell proved to the nation why he won the national JuCo player of the year award in 2009 with two impressive performances. He went for 31 points in West Virginia’s win over Vanderbilt, and had 27 to keep the Mountaineers close in their title game loss to Minnesota.
  • G: John Jenkins, Vanderbilt: Jenkins, like Mitchell, was impressive in his three games out in Puerto Rico, averaging 21.7 ppg in a 2-1 week.
  • F: Chace Stanback, UNLV: Stanback averaged 17.5 ppg for the week, but it was his 25 point performance — including 18 in the second half and the game-winning jumper with 54 seconds left — against Wisconsin that got him on this list.
  • F: Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota: Mbakwe’s numbers — 15.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg — were not as impressive as his dominating physicality in the paint against West Virginia and North Carolina. He may be the most pleasant surprise of this young season.
  • C: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: Sullinger’s 26 points, 10 rebound performance against then No. 10 Florida convinced a lot of people that he may be the only freshman that was properly hyped.
  • Bench: Jordan Hamilton, Texas; Harper Kamp, Cal; Anatoly Bose, Nicholls State; JaJuan Johnson, Purdue; Kemba Walker, UConn

Team of the Week: Minnesota Golden Gophers

This was a pretty easy pick. Minnesota has gone from a preseason after thought to arguably a top ten team in the country after notching five consecutive impressive victories. This week, the Gophers beat Siena before taking home the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title with wins over Western Kentucky, UNC, and West Virginia. Trevor Mbakwe was the MOP out in Puerto Rico, and rightfully so as he has anchored a front line that will be considered one of the best in the country (which also includes Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson) while become the leading scorer and rebounder for Minnesota. There are athletes and playmakers (Austin Hollins, Rodney Williams, Blake Hoffarber, Chip Armelin) on the perimeter, and Al Nolen is one of the more underrated point guards in the country. This team defends, they beat you up in the paint, and they are efficient and balanced scoring the ball. And you want to know what is scary? They still may only be the fifth or sixth best team in the Big Ten.

Much of the talk when it comes to the worst conferences in the country focuses on the Pac-10 and the SEC. Those sentiments are not necessarily wrong.

The Pac-10 claimed a few impressive victories this week — Arizona and USC both dismantled New Mexico State; Stanford beat Virginia by 21; Cal smacked New Mexico by 25 — but the number of questionable losses continued to mount. Before USC’s win at NMSU, they lost by 20 to Rider at home and dropped a one point decision to Bradley in Springfield, MA. Cal’s win over New Mexico came just four days after the Lobos had beaten Arizona State at The Pit by 14. The state of Oregon took an 0-fer this week, as the Ducks lost to San Jose State while the Beavers lost on the road to Seattle and at home to Texas Southern.

The SEC hasn’t been much better. The western division is down right terrible. Auburn needed a 68-66 win over Middle Tennessee State to avoid an 0-4 start at home against mediocre mid-major competition. Alabama is currently playing in the 7th place game in the Paradise Jam. LSU surrounded a 23 point win over UT-Martin with a loss to Nicholls State at home and a loss to Memphis in Mississippi. Ole Miss (win over Murray State, loss to Dayton) and Mississippi State (two point win over Appalachian State) have looked far from dominant, but at least their struggles are coming against better competition.

The SEC East was supposed to be as competitive as any of the Big Six conference races. We thought it was due to the quality of the teams, but it appears that mediocrity will beget parity as much as anything. Tennessee struggled looked far from a top 15 or 20 team in their two wins in the Preseason NIT. Georgia had a nice win over Colorado, but surrounded it with two point wins over Mississippi Valley State and St. Louis. Florida’s 50 point win over North Carolina A&T wasn’t as telling as their 18 point loss to Ohio State of their struggles in a win over Morehead State. Vanderbilt looked good in a win over overrated North Carolina but also lost to unranked West Virginia. Kentucky, who handily beat Portland on the road, is the only team that looks like they are really clicking early in the season.

But will anyone mention the struggles that the ACC has had. Can it be that North Carolina, the team that lost twice in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament this weekend, is the second best team in the conference?

It looks like it.

That is, of course, unless you are willing to name Florida State the league’s second best. The Seminoles have looked good, there’s no question, but this is a team that many considered borderline top 25 coming into the season. I’m not sure that four 20 point wins in guarantee games should really impress us.

Virginia Tech? They were exposed against a Kansas State team that was missing Jacob Pullen for a half and Curtis Kelly for the entire game. They aren’t hitting shots from the perimeter (26.9% on threes) and have gotten an impressive 7.0 turnovers per game out of superstar Malcolm Delaney.

NC State hasn’t been much better. They lost Tracy Smith for three weeks to a knee injury, and their win over George Mason without him doesn’t speak as loudly as their unimpressive second half performance against Georgetown.

Wake Forest got lit up at home by both Stetson and VCU. Boston College took a loss to Yale. Virginia had any goodwill they built in their back to back 20 point iwns to open the season erased with a 21 point loss to Stanford. Miami followed up an ugly performance against Memphis with a loss to Big East cellar dweller Rutgers. Georgia Tech at least bounced back from their 17 point loss to Kennesaw State with a couple of big wins in guarantee games.

Perhaps the biggest sign of problems for the ACC is that Clemson, who trailed for majority of the second half in a one point loss to Old Dominion, and Maryland, who went 0-2 this weekend in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, both look like they can finish in the top half of the league.

Its looking more and more like Duke can go through the ACC schedule undefeated.

Other News and Notes from the past week:

  • Twice this week a team lost because they called a timeout when their team didn’t have any left. The first team was Southern Illinois, who called their timeout with the score tied and just 2.5 seconds left on the clock against Northeastern during the Tip-Off Marathon. Colorado also lost in overtime to San Francisco on a similar call. The Dons had tied the game up with 2.4 seconds left. Colorado inbounded the ball and Alec Burks missed a potential game-winning three. The game looked like it was head to overtime, but the referees huddled and the scorer’s table and ruled that Cory Higgins had called a timeout when the Buffs didn’t have any remaining. He denied it, but to no avail.
  • You should already know this by now, but the Mountain West is legit. And not just legit in the sense that they are one of the best conferences outside the Big Six. There is an argument to be made that the MWC is the fifth best conference in america. After beating Gonzaga, San Diego State should climb somewhere up into the mid-teens in the next top 25 poll, and that still may be too low. UNLV notched a very good win at home against an underrated Wisconsin team, made all the more impressive by the fact that their star Tre’Von Willis made only two shots returning from his suspension. All homer referees aside, BYU picked up a quality win against WAC favorite Utah State. New Mexico did lose by 25 to Cal, a middle of the pack team in the Pac-10, but they also beat another middle of the pack Pac-10 team — Arizona State — by 14. And the Lobos won’t have one of their best players, UCLA transfer Drew Gordon, available until mid-December. Put those four teams up against the top four of the SEC, the Pac-10, and the ACC. Who ya got?
  • Duke, Ohio State, and Pitt have all asserted themselves as Final Four favorites thus far. Kansas State would probably get thrown into that mix had they looked better against Presbyterian. Michigan State will get thrown into that mix if they have a good showing out in Maui. The thinking is that Kansas will as well once Josh Selby becomes eligible. But outside of those top five or six teams, its essentially a coin flip when it comes to the rest of the top 25. Take a look at the rankings. Georgetown will be near the bottom of the top 25. Have they been any less impressive that Villanova or Syracuse, who will almost surely be ranked in, or near, the top ten? Texas will likewise be near the bottom of the top 25, but are they really behind Baylor or Missouri based on what we have seen this season? There is a pretty significant drop off from the top five or six teams to the next 20 or so, but those 20 or so teams are incredibly difficult to differentiate.
  • There are different levels of wins and losses, and anything that happens this early in the season should be taken lightly. We’ve touched on UNC already, but what about Butler’s loss to Louisville? Probably not as bad as it was made out to be. Louisville was underrated and playing on the raw emotion of opening a new arena and attempting to erase the critics from the offseason. Yes, Butler was a bit overrated, but regardless of opponent, Louisville was going to be tough to beat that night.
  • In that same light, be careful of how you rank Syracuse this season. The Orange are 4-0, yes, but its not been an impressive 4-0. In four games, the Orange have probably played a grand total of 40 minutes of impressive basketball — the second half of their wins against Northern Iowa and Canisius. Their latest effort? A 63-60 win over a William & Mary squad that lost to Virginia by 24. The Orange had to come back from four down with three minutes to go. Maybe Jim Boeheim was right when he called this his most overrated team at Syracuse. They remind me a bit of the 2007-2008 team. Those Orange added freshmen Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn to the likes of Andy Rautins, Paul Harris, and Eric Devendorf, and while they were a preseason top 25 team, early struggles continued and the Orange eventually were headed to the NIT. With this club, the issue seems to be that no one wants, and is capable of, being the star. Kris Joseph was expected to be the guy, but he’s been up and down through four games. Scoop Jerdine is talented, but not talented enough to be taking 17 or 18 shots a night on a consistent basis. Freshmen Fab Melo and Dion Waiters haven’t quite become the players they were expected to be, either. There aren’t many shooters on the roster and as a result the Syracuse offense has looked stagnant and out of sync early in the season. These are solvable problems, but do the Orange have the pieces to solve them?Staying in the Big East, it would be wrong not to give some credit where credit is due. The Georgetown front line has been criticized left and right this season. The general consensus is that the big three in the back court will carry this team as far as they can. While I know it was against NC State’s young front line that was without Tracy Smith, it still deserves to be mentioned that Georgetown’s big guys were impressive. Julian Vaughn had 8 points, 7 boards, and 4 blocks, as well as scoring on a couple of post moves. The oft-maligned Henry Sims finished with 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Sophomore Jerelle Benimon added 6 points and 4 assists, while Hollis Thompson (who is more of a three, but whatever) led the team with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Combined, they got 15 offensive rebounds.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.