Guess what I can't bring myself to talk about right now? Yep, Gopher basketball. I know this is supposedly a gopher basketball blog (and Twins), but I just can't do it. I am livid. Liv. Id. But it's really my own fault. Here I somehow started to believe this was a "special" team, meaning a sweet 16ish type. Now I'm coming to realize that it's not even close. It's just like last year - and why wouldn't it be? It's pretty much the same team. All the same warts. So we can expect to be in a fight for a bid, probably make it, and be happy with that as the upside. Great. Better than the Monson years no doubt, but I feel like a kid who just found out Santa isn't real. I can't even come close to rationally discussing this right now. And, as they say, if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all. So I won't.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Cincinnati. If not for some Tim Donaghy-level reffing (huge foul disparity, blown call on game-winning layup attempt) and an unfortunately timed foul shooting meltdown (2-7 in overtime, with two misses by Deonta Vaughn (career 80+ shooter), the Bearcats would be returning from Maui as the champions of the Maui Classic - as it is, they return instead as a legitimate contender for the Big East title after beating two top-25 teams (Vanderbilt and Maryland) and losing in overtime to Gonzaga. I told you people this team was going to be good, and there are some very good things. Freshman Lance Stephenson has Carmelo Anthony-type potential. They have other potential stars both outside (Vaughn) and inside (Yancy Gates), are very deep, and are an excellent defensive team. I still think they have final four potential. Sure, there are some things they need to work on - they settle for too many jumpers and struggle against athletic big men, and I'm not sure about Cashmere Wright at the point just yet, but they could make some noise in March. And don't forget, Ibrahima Thomas won't be eligible until December.
2. Purdue. Even with all the cross-pollenating tournaments and all that jazz, it's still rare to get a matchup of two teams ranked in the top-11, so when that happens this early, the winner should feel pretty good about themselves. In this case and using this tortured multi-part sentence, I'm talking about Purdue and their very good 73-72 win over Tennessee in the Virgin Islands on Monday. It was the three usual suspects bringing the Boilers to victory - Robbie Hummel (20 pts, 7 rebs), the "College KG" JaJuan Johnson (11 pts), and E'Twaun Moore (22 pts) - and those three will be the key to how far the Boilers go this year, but a lot of credit needs to go to Keaton Grant, who's being forced to fill in at the point with the injury to Lewis Jackson and doing a nice job. I'm not sure when Lew-Jack is supposed to be back, but Purdue hasn't missed a beat without him.
3. John Shurna. Wasn't Northwestern supposed to be dead in the water after Coble got hurt? It certainly isn't looking that way, especially after they won the Chicago Invitational by beating Notre Dame and Iowa State, two teams with NCAA Tournament aspirations, and completely on the back of Shurna, the 6-8 sophomore who won the tournament MVP award - quite an accompishment consider Luke Harangody and Craig Brackins were both involved. And where did this come from? Shurna was a lightly recruited, 3-star player out of high school who ended up at Northwestern because they were his best offer and has suddenly turned into a Coble clone. He's the same guy, although I think Coble would beat him at horse, but he's got the same inside/outside, unathletically effective game, and he defintiely came to play this weekend. He put up 25-8-4 against Notre Dame (Harangody: 21-9-0) and 23-7-4 against Iowa State (Brackins: 18-9-3) to lead the Wildcats to what must surely be their first place trophy in anything basketball related. I hate to say it, but with Shurna and Thompson both back next year with more experience, the Coble injury might have been the best thing that could have happened to them. If they don't get their first ever NCAA bid this year, next year should be it.
4. Richmond. After losing earlier this season to William & Mary, a Spiders team that was supposed to challenge for the A-10 crown was looking like more of a CBI caliber team. They made up for that loss, however, by winning the South Padre Invitational with wins over Mississippi State and Missouri, wins that aren't what you would called marquee, but very nice quality wins that should end up looking good on selection sunday. They also got a boost with William & Mary's win at Wake Forest this weekend, which shows W&M is a legit team and softens the sting of that early season loss.
5. Florida. The Gators won the Legends Classic in Atlantic City by beating Rutgers and Michigan State (yet another Big Team who bombed this week), and started the week by crushing Florida State. I wasn't sure exactly what to make of the Gators coming in to this year, but the newcomers have been great (Kenny Boynton leads the team in scoring and Vernon Macklin is in double-figures as well), and Erving Walker is settling in as a pretty good point guard. Looks like they'll be back in tournament, and not the NIT this time.
1. Oklahoma. Losing Blake Griffin will obviously make things a little rough, but the Sooners had Willie Warren and Tony Crocker back as well as a really nice recruiting class with two projected starters in it, so the thought was that they would be ok. Well, the Great Alaska Shootout showed that perhaps that isn't exactly the case since the Sooners came home with a prestigious 7th place trophy after going 1-2 in the frozen north. They lost to both San Diego and Houston prior before drawing the now 0-8 Nicholls State Colonels, who actually led 47-41 at one point in the second half before falling 81-60. This was basically an unequivacable disaster for Oklahoma, who were ranked 25th before this tournament. Neither Houston nor San Diego is awful, and both will probably be on the fringes of the bubble come tournament time, but you just can't do this if you're a major conference school who has hopes of competing for your league's championship. They shot 33% and were out rebounded 39-30 against San Diego in game 1 and then turned it over 18 times while allowing Houston to shoot 46% from three in game two. You can probably just go ahead and cross Oklahoma off your NCAA bid list right now. I'll bet anything it's because of Tony Crocker and his retarded long sleeve t-shirts. Either that or they miss the power of Austin Johnson's mohawk (and his Miles Tarver-look-like-ness).
2. Greivis Vasquez. Maryland had a rough go this week at the Maui Invitational, losing two out of three games - to Cincinnati by 12 and Wisconsin by 9, and picking up their only win by beating tournament host and noted high school program Chaminade in the opening round. The main issue here, is that their main man and 8th year senior Greivis Vasquez suddenly can't shoot. In the three games, he shot 2-7, 5-17, and 6-13, which is a combined 35% and actually a nice improvement on his season-total of 30% field goal shooting. Now, his other numbers are good, he's averaging a career high 6.0 assists and 2.2 steals per game, his 2.1-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is his best as well and his rebounding is right in line with his career numbers, but his scoring is at just 9.8 per game, exactly half of last year's average, and his shooting, as mentioned, as Nolen-Level atrocious. The Terps can't win without Vasquez scoring, as shown last week, so he needs to get it together if they're going to make the tournament.
3. Illinois. You know who hates Las Vegas? And no, I'm not talking about Dr. Acula, I'm talking about the not so Fighting Illini, who had an awful Las Vegas Invitational. It should have been a nice resume building weekend. Beat a crappy Utah team on Friday night and then take on Oklahoma State on Saturday - win or lose, it's overall going to help your resume. Well, things didn't quite work out, because Illinois managed to screw it up and lose to Utah on Friday, despite having a 32-16 lead at halftime, the same Utah team who lost to Seattle earlier in the week. Then, instead of at least salvaging the weekend by winning the consolation bracket with a win over Bradley, the go out and get beat by four instead. Obviously this doesn't exactly look good for the Big Ten, but hey, maybe the Illini are actually terrible and it will be a couple of easy wins for the Gophers. Special props out to "star" freshmen Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, who combined to shoot 6-27 in the tournament. If I'm an Illini fan, I'm very worried right now.
4. UCLA. Well you knew this was coming, but there's just now way to avoid pointing out the colossal flop the Bruins pulled this weekend. Even in a down year, would you ever expect the Bruins to finish 8th in an 8-team tournament? The loss to Portland is obviously not that bad, and the loss to Butler isn't a killer, but to then drop a game to Long Beach? Especially after having already gone 0-2 they knew they needed this one to salvage, well, anything, out of this, and instead got destroyed by a Dan Monson coached team. Ouch. And what the F ever happened to Drew Gordon? He was supposed to be the stud daddy, but had an awful rough weekend to go along with a subpar career so far. He failed to break 10 points or 4 rebounds in any game of the tournament, bottoming out in him just playing 12 minutes against Long Beach. I don't exactly know what's going on down in Westwood, but this is the worst I can remember the program being since I started watching basketball.
5. Arkansas. Most of the teams in either category are pretty obvious this week due to the tournaments and such. Insert winners into "awesome" and insert 8th place teams into "suck." Pretty straight forward. Arkansas (an NCAA hopeful, mind you), on the other hand, had three cupcake games this week - all home games - versus Morgan State, East Tennessee State, and South Alabama. Well guess what? They lost all three. ALL. THREE. This is, perhaps, the worst week an NCAA hopeful has ever had this early in the season against this level of opposition. Now, I know the Razorbacks are a bit hamstrung right now with Courntey Fortson still out due to some sort of disciplinary issue, but these are not losses you see from an NCAA team no matter who they're missing. In any other week, this would be by far the thing that sucked the most. But not this week.
The thing that sucked most this week was Dayton coming back and beating Towson after being down by 18 with just nine minutes to play. That would have given them an 0-2 week capped off with a loss to one of the worst programs in history, and given me an excuse use the Towson picture I have. Craptacular.
Actually, when am I ever going to have a chance another chance to use a Towson picture?