Merry Christmas and all that. FYI - I'm off all week, so you can probably expect either a lot of posts or zero posts. I'm probably going to be pretty busy watching Eastbound & Down, Community, and Parks and Rec DVDs or reading Pillars of the Earth, The Girl who Kicked a Hornet's Nest, or Moonlight Mile.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Butler Bulldogs. Just as everyone, myself included, are questioning if Butler is any good this year they head out to Hawaii and take down the Diamondhead Classic. They beat Utah, Florida State, and Washington State, and that's probably two wins over NCAA Tournament teams. The only negative would be that they didn't get a chance to face Baylor, but they did beat WSU, the team that beat the Bears. Butler needed good wins in the worst way after pissing away every chance, so this was huge for their at-large chances. With Cleveland State looking pretty studly in the Horizon, Butler gots some competition, so they're going to need everything they can get to help them out in case they can't get past the Vikings in the conference tourney.
2. USC Trojans. I think it might be time to recognize USC as an actual halfway decent team, which, along with Washington, Arizona, and Washington State gives the Pac-10 four potential NCAA teams. After a very, very shaky 4-4 start that included some embarrassing losses, they seemed to start to hit their stride by beating Texas and then Fordham transfer Jio Fontan joined the team and made them immediately much better, giving the Trojans an outside threat to go along with stellar inside dudes Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic. Fontan, who scored 15 points per game last year for Fordham, has scored 15, 13, and 21 in his three games. leading the Trojans to wins over Tennessee and Lehigh and a near win over Kansas. Official Pac-10 sleeper here. Which doesn't mean much, to be completely honest with you.
3. Klay Thompson. Ok, so I just assumed Thompson wasn't all that good and people were just all spazzy about him because of his dad, but I watched him play this weekend and the guy's pretty good. He scored 28, 20, and 31 points in their three games in Hawaii, and he's not just a deadeye shot who can't leave open, although you can't, but he's also good with the ball, can drive and score, and also has a nice mid-range game. In short, he's a really good scorer. His zero rebounds against Baylor is a bit disconcerting since he's 6-6, but he's a pretty good defender overall from what I saw. Very impressed by him Believe the hype.
4. Dwayne Bowe. Confession time. I traded away Bowe in a keeper league. I really needed a young, franchise type running back and nearly had a trade in place for Maurice Drew, but the other owner couldn't quite pull the trigger. After a couple weeks I put together a different trade with Snake for Ray Rice, but he insisted I include Bowe, who I didn't have to include in the trade for Drew. I emailed the first owner to say I had a trade in place and if he wanted to move he had to make up his mind. I waited four days, he never said anything, and so I made the trade for Rice. The next morning I get an email from owner #1 who says "I came in to work today and was going to accept the trade for Drew, but I see you moved on." Well, suffice it to say, every time Bowe has a good game (like this week's 153 yards with a TD) I die a little inside.
5. Colorado State Rams. Well you can chalk this up as a pretty freakin' big surprise, because I was pretty well convinced this team was terrible, particularly because they lost to Sam Houston State, but they went to Cancun and ended up winning the Cancun Governor's Cup tournament which is a real thing. It wasn't exactly a loaded field, but they did beat two pretty decent teams in Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi. This is the part where I'd usually saying something smart about the players involved, but I don't know a god damn thing about Colorado State this year so I'll just post this picture instead:
1. Gopher Basketball. Seriously, I'm so sick of this team right now I can't really even write any words. If they keep doing this crap where they don't play defense or play hard and let the other team dictate the how the game is going to be played and fall behind early they are going to get absolutely destroyed in the Big Ten play. It's been fine since they've played a bunch of crap schools over the last few weeks, but we're about to start conference play and I have zero confidence that they're going to do anything other than get destroyed. I can't even talk about it right now.
2. Michigan State Spartans. Tom Izzo and the Spartans have earned quite a bit of latitude on slow starts, seeing as their MO seems to be starting slow, grabbing a 3-6 seed in the tournament, and then making the Final Four. So when they lost to UCONN nobody panicked, especially seeing how the Huskies were playing at the time. Then they lost Duke and Syracuse, and everybody was ok with it because those are two of the ten best teams in the country. They struggled to a one-point win over Oakland, and we shrugged. But Wednesday night they again faced a good challenger in Texas, this time in East Lansing, and they got completely and totally shredded. And although Texas may be a good team this was not another case of a good team getting beat by a really good team. This was a case of Michigan State playing like crap: lackluster on offense, mediocre on the boards, and just all-out terrible on defense including getting beat down the floor for easy Texas lay-ups. This isn't the same thing we've seen before, this is far more dire - like getting AIDS instead of the clap. Both suck, but one is annoying while the other can really wreck your year.
3. Baylor Bears. This team is good enough and had a good enough year that there's no need to panic or call the Hawaii trip a disaster, but it was definitely a huge disappointment. The won their opener against San Diego easily enough, but then lost a surprising one to Washington State and got beat by an unranked, but good, Florida State team as well. Coming on the heels of a loss against Gonzaga and there are some warning flags being tossed about here. One thing that would really help is if they could shoot from the outside. In their last four games they've shot just 25% from behind the line, not helped at all by Lace Dunn who went 4-20 in their final two games in Hawaii. Twenty three-point attempts in two games? Hey Dunn, you do realize you don't have to just shoot behind the line, right? You can actually get closer to the hoop. Who do you think you freakin' are, Rick Rickert?
4. Northwestern Wildcats. I've talked about it on here before, but I really don't get Northwestern's schedule. In a year where they have a very good chance of making their first NCAA tournament, they schedule like crap out of conference (293rd strength of schedule in the nation, easily the worst in the Big Ten) and set it up so their only chance to get a decent non-conference game was this week in the MSG Holiday Tournament against St. Johns. But they lost, and they lost bad. So now they sit at 8-1, and it's a completely empty 8-1, and they are guaranteed that their best out-of-conference wins are going to be Georgia Tech, a bottom ACC team, and Creighton, a mid-level MVC. And a bunch of wins against sub-200 teams. In other words, all the other Big Ten contender type teams can aim for 9-9 and be assured of a bid, where Northwestern is going to need 10-8, or maybe even better. Good luck, nerds.
5. Renardo Sidney. The #16 overall recruit last season and #5 power forward, Sidney is a 6-10, 250 lb. beast who by all accounts is extremely skilled. The problem is he can't get on the court. He had originally committed to USC, but late in the process there was a "mutual agreement to end the recruiting process" so he landed at Mississippi State. Where he was then ineligible all last season due to receiving improper benefits while in Los Angeles, and had to sit out the first nine games this year. He finally played against Virginia Tech, scored 12 points in 25 minutes, and was then immediately suspended for a violation of team rules. He went out to Hawaii with the team, played in their second-round matchup against San Diego, put up 19 points and 6 boards in 20 minutes, and got in a fistfight with a teammate and was suspended indefinitely. This guy is a complete mess. Kind of what I imagine Zach Randolph's college career would have been like it he hadn't been under Izzo's capable watch. Footage of the fight is below. Pretty sweet. Freakin' Buster Douglas and shit.