So I didn't watch the Gopher game. I would have, but circumstances conspired to keep me from witnessing that crime against basketball. We had a family bowling tournament that normally would have ended up with me watching the game with Snacks and Grandslam at a bar or at the alley, but one of my damn wiener kids got all barfy and we had to go home before after just one game (132 - holla). Then I had the game tivo'd and was going to watch it later, but I got a texted from Bogart referencing the NIT, one from Dawger that mentioned he hated the gophers and hated his life, and one from Snacks that just flat out said, "Don't bother watching. Gophers lose." So I didn't watch.
I mean, what's the point? I would just end up angry and probably hurt either a loved one or myself or a stranger who was walking past my house life before, so I didn't bother. Not sure if I'll watch another Gopher game this year outside of the Penn State game, and that's only because I'll be in attendance with WonderbabyTM who rocks way more than you do. There were years in the past when I really enjoyed the NIT, and enjoyed going to games at Williams and checking out teams I normally would never see in person. This is not that kind of year. This is more like, at the beginning of the year the NIT was a worst case scenario and the kind of thing that could only happen if there was a complete collapse. Nobody thought this would be the end result, even if there was always a little nervous laughter and whistling past the graveyard if it was brought up.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Syracuse Orange. Well here's a team that's impossible to figure out. They start 18-0 and look like they're on the road to a #1 seed, then lose six out of eight and appear to be unable to guard quick, penetrating guards, then they follow it up with a four game winning streak including two this week against Villanova and Georgetown - teams with excellent guard play (and even with Wright hurt the Hoyas have good guards), and win both of those on the road no less. I had a chance to watch decent chunks of both those games and all I can say is wow to Scoop Jardine. Kris Joseph is a dynamic scorer and Rick Jackson is a beast in the paint, but this team may go as Scoop goes, and this week he was on fire going for 20 pts and 6 assists against Nova and 17 and 5 against G-Town. I was convinced I would have the Cuse as an early out in March as soon as they faced a team with good guards, but watching the adjustments Boeheim has made to their 2-3 (less ball pressure, more gap help) and Scoop's resurgence now I just don't know. Just like everything else about this god damn stupid season.
2. BYU Cougars. If you're like me you're handsome, rich, and successful, but you also figured that San Diego State was the real threat out of the Mountain West while BYU was more of a one-man trick with Jimmer and weren't a "real" team. Well you couldn't have been more wrong and should hang your head in shame because the Cougars went to SDSU this weekend and smacked them right in the face, walking out with an 80-67 win, a season sweep of the Aztecs, and what is now looking quite likely like a 2-3 seed in March. That win followed up a trouncing of bubble hopeful Colorado State earlier in the week, and suddenly BYU's challenges prior to a MWC Tournament semi-final are pretty much done with. Will this finally be the year they breakthrough and make a run? Last year they beat Florida in overtime, their first NCAA victory since 1993, snapping an 0-7 streak. With most of the same team back that went first round-first round-second round, a bonafide star in Fredette, and at worst a 4-seed, I'd say the sweet 16 should be an absolute minimum goal right now.
3. Colorado Buffaloes. I realize as Gopher basketball fans we aren't really accustomed to this, but occasionally it happens where a team making a run towards an NCAA bid has the opportunity for a huge, almost status-changing win and actually, you know, wins. Colorado is just such a team this year, seizing their chance and knocking off the #5 Texas Longhorns 91-89. They did it in very impressive, "we're not going to let this season die yet dammit we're going to fight" fashion, storming back from a 22-point first half deficit to grab the marquee win they really needed, moving themselves from probably not in to squarely in the middle of the "maybe" tier. It's just so nice to see a team actually rise up and win a tough game they really need. I wish I knew what that was like.
4. Marquette Eagles. Another middle of the bubble team that took a huge step towards the good side, it now looks extremely likely the Big East is going to send 11 teams to the big dance. The Eagles snagged a huge marquee victory earlier this week by going into Storrs and beating UCONN. Not only was that a monster win for them in terms of beating a top flight team on the road, but it also got them above .500 in Big East play - a not insignificant milestone considering the strength of the league. They then managed to avoid falling into a lull and beat Providence this weekend. I guess that's not that big a deal since they've lost six straight, but anytime you got a guy who can go for 52, as the Friars' Marshon Brooks did against Notre Dame on Wednesday, you're dangerous. In any case, Marquette is now almost assuredly in - as long as they don't choke here in the last few games.
5. JaJuan Johnson. Man, as much as it's going to help the Gophers I'm really going to miss watching this guy - he's freaking unreal. When he was younger I compared him to Hakim Warrick, and Snake always refers to him as "The College KG", and he might be better than that. I loved Hakim Warrick, and compared Johnson to him because of their long arms and ability to shoot outside, but Johnson is so much more than Warrick ever was - and that's no slight to Hakim. His line in Purdue's 67-47 win over Michigan State was incredible: 20 points on 8-13 shooting, 17 rebounds, and 7 blocks. The amazing thing is that it's not really even that far off his normal night. He's shooting 50% on the year, and while that might not seem that great for a center, if you watched him play you know how many 18 footers and so on he takes, so that 50% is very, very good. [Side note: does anybody know of a site that keeps insane stats for college like shooting percentage on long 2s or other things like that you can find for NBA players?] The guy is absolutely in a class by himself and should be the runaway winner for Big 10 player of the year. I'm going to shed a tiny tear when Purdue gets bounced from the tournament and his career comes to a close. And I'll make sure to follow his pro career in Europe closely.
1. Corey Fisher. Holy Scottie Reynolds, batman! Villanova lost two games this week, both at home, but both were to very good teams (Syracuse and St. Johns) so it's hard to rip on the Wildcats too much. Good thing for us though it's not too hard to rip on Corey Fisher, who had a truly Reynolds-esque run this week, shooting a combined 4-26 from the floor in the two games. That's not a joke or anything, he went 3-16 against 'Cuse and then went 1-10 against St Johns. And this is their leading scorer here. Is there some kind of law that Nova must always have a gunner with no conscience who sucks at shooting but loves shooting? Did Reynolds "will" his ability to Fisher in the school paper after he graduated? Seriously, anybody who has Villanova surviving the first weekend in their bracket should be committed.
2. Arizona Wildcats. Ah, the Pac-10, where good teams continually find ways to die. Washington looked like the class of the league but bombed out, leaving the top clear for Arizona. Until this week, that is, when the Wildcats took their LA trip and lost to both USC and UCLA, and although both losses are understandable the USC loss is a game a good team wins and the UCLA loss was an absolute shellacking by 22. Suddenly UCLA is looking like the class of the league, but in reality I still think Washington is the only Pac-10 team with a legit chance at making the sweet 16. Arizona would have to get a really good draw to do it and UCLA has no chance, so it's up to Washington, who recently got swept by the Oregon schools. Wow, the Pac-10 is awesome. Good thing for them they have all the hot chicks at least.
3. Nebraska Cornhuskers. On the completely opposite end of the spectrum from Colorado stepping up is Nebraska, who crashed on burned their NCAA chances to a level that could only be described as St. Marysian. First they got bounced at home by Kansas State, a fellow bubble team, and then followed it up by losing at Iowa State - a school/team I love but also a team that you absolutely, 100%, guaranteed cannot lose to if you want to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. So that won't be happening, but you'll be very happy to know that Nebraska, after decades of ineptitude, has decided to become frisky just as they're about to enter the Big Ten. Yeah, another team the Gophers should beat but won't. Another crappy team that will beat them at home as the season winds down and the Gophers desperately need a win. Another shitty team they won't be able to beat on the road, even when they are supposed to have a good team. God dammit. All of it. Everything. I hate everyone. I hate you.
4. Boston College Eagles. Allegedly BC is still alive to get a bid, but after they lost to Miami - at home, I'm just not seeing it. They bounced back by beating Virginia over the weekend, but that brings them to just 7-7 in a very weak ACC this year. They do have a very good win with their victory over Texas A&M in Orlando, but they also have some brutal losses - Harvard, Yale, Rhode Island, and they got swept by the Hurricanes. They're just a thoroughly mediocre team, and if they get in the tournament this year that just goes to show just how weak the teams are and just how easy it is to get a bid this year. And yes, I'm aware that in a year where it's looking extremely easy to get in the Gophers won't make it in Tubby Smith's fourth year here. Yeah, I'd say we're right where we thought we'd be in Year Four.
5. Tennessee Volunteers. There are plenty of confusing teams this year, teams who you can't quite get a handle on, but Tennessee might be the worst of all. Just this week was a pretty good microcosm of their season - beating a very good, sweet-16 type team in Vanderbilt on the road, and then coming home and losing to mediocre at best, potential Gopher NIT opponent Mississippi State. As far as the entire season goes, here are some impressive games they've won: @ Kentucky, @ Vandy, Memphis, Pitt, Villanova, Vandy, VCU - that's a damn impressive list of wins. But here are some of their losses: Oakland, Charlotte, USC, @ Arkansas, Mississippi State - those are some bad teams. Just a mess of a confusing and weird team. They're so schizo I won't even bet on them come March.
Take heart, Gopher fans. Not because of anything to do with the Gophers, but this week kicks off conference tournament week, which is followed by BCS conferences tournament week, which is then followed by the NCAA Tournament. So just go ahead and let go of this season and enjoy all the high quality ball that's coming in the next two weeks.