So how about those Minnesota Gophers? The second half, and specifically that huge run to start the half, was great and all, but this team is just flat, man. Sampson and Mbakwe played well when they go the ball, and Trevor continues to shock me with the things he can do, but this team is certainly in a bit of trouble. Up just three points at half to Eastern Kentucky? And that lead was only because Maverick Ahanmisi hit a half-court shot. Not to mention how much worst it should have/could have been if the Colonels didn't miss a whole ass-ton of wide open three-pointers.
I know Al Nolen is gone, and he's the "glue guy" or the "catalyst" or whatever, but he's not going to be back until something like three weeks into the Big Ten season and if they don't learn to play better without him they're going to dig themselves a nice hole in the standings. The Big Ten is deep and very good this year, playing like they have the last three games against any Big Ten team, including Iowa, will result in a quick deficit leading to a quick loss.
I won't say they sucked, because they did win and do a nice job in the second half and pounding the ball in the paint, but I can't say they're awesome either because they won a game they should have won by 25 by just 13. Just two more games to get their shit together before conference play starts and the Gophers travel to Wisconsin and then Michigan State to open. Right now I don't see any possible way they aren't starting 0-2.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Jared Sullinger. In our Big Ten Fantasy Hoops league, Sullinger went #3 overall to Elk and there was some questioning of the pick by some of the other players. Although he was putting up good numbers he was outscored in Week 1 by several players who went right after him - Draymond Green, Jon Leuer, Demetri McCamey, etc. which made the pick look even more curious. But Sullinger turned it on this week with a 40 point, 13 rebound performance against IUPUI and followed it up with "just" 17 and 5 against Western Carolina. No, the competition wasn't exactly the best, but Sullinger is now 6th in scoring and 2nd in rebounding (to Mbakwe) in the Big 10. Not bad for a freshman, and not bad for the #3 pick in the fantasy league.
2. Rick Jackson. I don't know if you're aware of this but Rick Jackson - the Syracuse power forward - has become an unstoppable monster. He's like a better version of Trevor Mbakwe - yes, I'm serious. After putting up a 17 pts./16 reb game against Michigan State during the week he followed it up with an 18 & 10 against Colgate this weekend, and that now gives him 8 double-doubles in the Orange's ten games this year. With Jackson's development into a stud, Kris Joseph's big-time scoring ability, and solid point play from Scoop Jardine, the Orange are suddenly a contender without having gotten anything from their heralded freshman class. If those develop as the season goes along, watch out.
3. Terrence Jones. I read somewhere a lot of talk about how this class of Wildcats isn't like the last one, and you shouldn't expect a full-on stripped down roster: Doron Lamb is almost certainly a 2-year player, Brandon Knight might have to go a second year, etc. But one player who is basically certain to bolt is Jones, who is basically running circles around every opponent other than North Carolina. He's had five double-doubles in nine games and has put up some absolutely monster performances including Wednesday against Notre Dame where he put up a 27 point, 17 rebound performance - and that was his second 17-rebound game on the year. Guy is a beast. He's also going to be a bust in the NBA. That's a call, Bert.
4. Louisville Cardinals. I don't know exactly how this ended up happening because based on personnel it was looking like a down year in Louisville, but suddenly the Cardinals are 8-0 and extremely relevant after beating an awfully good UNLV team this weekend in Vegas. Terrence Jennings is finally starting to show some of the Terrence Williams/Earl Clark he was supposed to be, but this is a very balanced team with 9 players who score at least 5.5 points per game and 6 who score at least 8.4, and is led by a dynamic backcourt of Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva. I don't know if they have enough size to get through in March, but right now kenpom.com has them as the 11th best team in the country and an absolute lockdown defensive squad. Good back court, balanced scoring, and great defense? That's basically a blue-print for March success. Add in Pitino and they could be a nice sleeper team.
5. Boston College Eagles. Coming into the year it was supposed to be Duke at the top of the ACC, followed by whoever emerged out of Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, or Florida State, and then a bunch of crap. While most of the bunch of crap has lived up to it's name, BC has risen to the top and may have had the best week out of anybody this week, beating a pretty good Providence team at home and then going into Maryland and knocking off the Terps. An embarrassing early loss to Yale has basically been wiped out, because other than those two wins they've also knocked off a bunch of BCS teams - not good BCS teams, but good enough to help out that RPI - Indiana, Cal, Texas A&M (also UMass). Nice little surprise team here.
1. Mid-major "dynasties." If we don't count the Atlantic-10 as a mid-major, and I don't, the two biggest mid-major dynasties are clearly Butler and Gonzaga, and suddenly each of them is facing the prospect of having to win their conference tournament to get into the big dance. Butler sits at 5-4 and has lost every meaningful game and lost to crappy Evansville. Gonzaga is 4-5 and in the middle of a three game losing streak, and outside of a win over Marquette they've done nothing, getting crushed by Illinois, Washington State, and Kansas State. A couple of other really solid mid-majors over the last few years, Siena in the MAAC and Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley, are looking like they can forget at-larges as well. Siena is now 2-5 with some really, really bad losses (Albany, Princeton) an dis dead in the water, and Northern Iowa is 4-3 with losses to Iowa and Milwaukee. Basically the first four teams I think of when I think mid-major are all either already out of the running for an at-large or are facing a major uphill battle. Weird year. Not counting the A-10, Mountain West, or Memphis, the Colonial might have the three best mid-major teams in the country.
2. St. Johns Red Storm. Wow we wow wow. Well apparently my sleeper Big East squad is more sleepy than sleeper, because they had an absolute brutal week, losing to two A-10 bottom feeders in St. Bonnie's and Fordham this week. St. Bonnie's is bad, but they are at least a halfway decent squad, but the loss to Fordham is inexcusable. The Rams are 5-4, but are still one of the worst teams in the country after winning a total of just 5 games the last two years. In short, these two losses are hugely embarrassing for St. Johns, and they almost kill their post-season chances. They play in the Big East so they could go on a run and end up in good shape, but losing these two games says pretty definitively that this team sucks way too hard to do that. I am awesome and picking sleepers.
3. Pac-10 Contenders. There are exactly two good teams in the Pac-10: Washington and Arizona. Both played road games against decent, but beatable, teams on Saturday with a chance to show how good they really are. Both failed miserably. Washington lost by one to Texas A&M and Arizona got crushed by BYU. This whole demise of the Pac-10 thing is completely out of control. I think this is year 3 of them sucking it up. Get your shit together or we're going to have to replace you with the Mountain West.
4. The Metrodome. Nice stadium, lol. Where are we, exactly? Bratislava?
5. Kyrie Irving. I'm not a Duke fan, not remotely, but Irving's injury and possible out-for-the-yearedness really sucks in a lot of ways. First, he was incredible and fun to watch. Like a Ty Lawson who could score, and he was only a handful of games into his freshman year and was just getting better. Seventeen points per game on 53% shooting and 45% from three with 5 assists and 4 boards as well and a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio? Wow. And we lose out on a juggernaut Duke team that had a legit shot at going undefeated. Not that I like Duke, I hate them, but remember how much fun it was rooting against the Patriots their undefeated year? And how awesome it was when the Giants beat them in the Super Bowl? We could have had that again in March, but now we will just have to root against Duke with all the regular hate, not super extra hate. I miss super extra hate. I wish Favre was still a Packer.
And about this whole JJ Hardy trade: I don't get it. The assumption is that the signing of Nishioka is apparently now imminent, which is fine, but we don't know anything about how his game will transfer. Ichiro is great, but look at Kaz Matsui - no thanks. And either way, he can play both middle infield positions, so would you rather roll with a starting tandem of Nishioka and Hardy, or Nishioka and Casilla? Should be obvious. With such a pedestrian return for him - two middle reliever prospects of dubious value - this trade doesn't make much sense to me. I'll let Aaron Gleeman break it down since he does a better job than I and I've already written enough for one day, but Hardy was a valuable piece. Even if one of the two players they got back becomes a competent reliever that's not as valuable as a quality everyday shortstop. Not impressed with this off season so far. Not at all.