My recap of the last Gopher game is here (the win over Fairfield). In summary, I thought that although it was a very ugly game and the offense was truly atrocious, I liked how the Gophers were able to grind out the win using tough defense and free throw shooting. That's something the teams of the past couple years wouldn't have been able to do. They haven't had any easy wins (that should change tonight), but each of their wins so far has shown something positive about this year's edition of the squad. I feel like I'm setting myself up for some serious disappointment with how I'm starting to think of this team. God I hope I'm wrong.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Iowa State. And I'm actually talking the football team here, because they were a 28 point underdog against the #2 team in the country on Friday night in Oklahoma State, one of the best offenses in the country, and they stayed with them step for step, tying the game up at 24 with 5 minutes to go in the fourth after a long ass drive culminating in a huge TD. After forcing a punt, OSU picked off the Clone QB and looked to have a shot to win, but they missed the field goal and we were headed to OT. Tied up after the first one, some LB dude who the announcer guys said was a superstar dove in front of a Brandon Weeden pass and tipped it up where some other ISU dude picked it off. All ISU had to do was run the ball straight ahead and kick the field goal to win, but instead every time they gave it to this big white dude OSU basically dove out of the way and then TD Iowa State storm the field woo-hoo! Seriously though it was pretty awesome, especially because the Cyclones haven't been to a bowl game since I think like 1945. Of course this also means the BCS Championship could end up being two SEC teams that have already met which would be yawn, but whatevs. Awesomely fun game to watch.
2. Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue didn't win the Puerto Rico Shootout (Alabama beat them in the title game), but they did answer some questions by winning their first two games over Iona and Temple. Temple is a clear tournament team and Purdue's win over them is the best win any Big 10 team has so far this year, and although people who are dumb like you are going to say "Iona? Who gives a crap about Iona?" in reality the Gaels are legit and should win the MAAC (they're much better than Fairfield) and that might be the second best win any Big 10 team has (Iona just blew out Maryland by 20+). So if you were worried about Purdue being bad, you don't really have to worry anymore. I'm glad I could make you feel better.
3. Kentucky Wildcats. It's not that what they did was super impressive or anything (winning the Hall-of-Fame tipoff tournament by beating Penn State and Old Dominion), but it's just watching this team is simply stunning. They are so freaking good. Anthony Davis is ridiculously athletic and at 6-10 has the ball handling skills of a guard and fellow freshman Marquis Teague and Michael Gilchrist are just as talented if not more so. Then they got Terrence Jones, who will probably be a top 3 pick if the NBA comes back, as well as Doron Lamb who would be the best player on almost any team in America. Add in do it all senior Darius Miller and another freshman in Kyle Wiltjer (who, by the way, just dropped 19 on Penn State) and they're just loaded. I mean it's ridiculous. Hopefully they fall apart at some point in the tournament against an opponent who can take advantage of it, because this is easily the best team in the country and I really don't want Calipari to win a title. But just wow.
4. St. Louis Billikens. It seems like Rick Majerus should have turned the St. Louis program around by now, but so far all they have to show for his four years of service is a second round appearance in the CBI. Every year St. Louis looks like they might have the players to finally contend in the A-10, and every year they don't. Maybe this is finally the seasons, because the Billikens knocked of Washington on Sunday, and although Washington isn't ranked or anything they should still be an NCAA Tournament team, so this is certainly a significant victory. Actually, looking back over Majerus's tenure there, his only other notable non-conference wins were over Nebraska and Boston College, so it's probably safe to say this is the biggest win they've had since he got there. The schedule is gooey soft until a game at New Mexico on New Year's Eve, so there's a very good chance the Billikens start off the season 11-0. There's also a very good chance they end up missing the tournament after that start, but hey, it's something.
5. Northwestern Wildcats. No it wasn't exactly murder's row, but beating LSU, Tulsa, and Seton Hall to win the Charleston Classic is still a nice accomplishment early in the year. It also made it clear that it's pretty much going to be Shurna and Crawford this year. The two were Northwestern's top two scorers in each of the three games, with both of them averaging 24 per game, and with the Wildcats averaging 79 points per game that means Shurna and Crawford accounted for 60% of the team's scoring. Actually besides those two only Luka Mirkovic and Dave Sobolewski managed to hit for double figures in any single game. And you know what they say, only having two reliable scorers is always a recipe for long term success.
1. UCLA. Holy effing meltdown. First they lost their season opener to Loyola Marymount, which is not good but not 100% terrible. Then coach Ben Howland suspended the team's best player Reeves Nelson for basically being a whiny bitch, and the team responded by getting whooped by 20 at home by Middle freaking Tennessee State in what would easily be the most embarrassing lost of the year so far if it wasn't for Cincinnati (see below). It's ridiculous, UCLA should be good. Here's a list of the top 100 recruits currently on the roster - Norman Powell, Tyler Lamb, Josh Smith, Reeves Nelson, Brendan Lane, Jerime Anderson, David Wear, and Travis Wear - damn near the entire roster! And yet, here we are. And next up? The Maui Invitational, which means they'll probably (probably!) beat Chaminade in the opener since they got lucky there and then get their doors blown off twice and start the year 1-4. Fire Howland? Fire Howland.
2. Virginia Commonwealth. And this, Shaka Smart, is why you should have taken one of those coaching offers at a power school. When you catch lightning in a bottle like last year, as opposed to Butler who slowly built their way up, you need to parlay that into a nice step up and a big payday, lest you fade away in bolivian. VCU went down to the Charleston Classic and walked out with a shiny 7th place finish after losing to Seton Hall and Georgia Tech and then beating an incredibly shitty Western Kentucky team. Seriously, it was a nice run and a great story, but with the fluky way it happened and losing 4 of their top 5 players Smart needed to bolt. He may never get this chance again. Not a very "smart" decision, Shaka. God I'm clever.
3. Akron. When you're a good team in a terrible conference, you need to do everything in your power to boost your NCAA profile because even 1-2 conference losses makes it tough to get a bid unless you have some high profile, quality victories outside of conference. So when you're the Zips and you beat Mississippi State (at MSU, even) you're all like "dude, sweet!" Then you go to some tournament held at Valparaiso for some reason and what do you do? Lose to Valparaiso and Duquesne, two non-tournament teams. Literally, assuming you don't count things like getting hit by a meteor or the whole team dying of Gonorrhea, this is the worst thing that could have possibly happened. Considering the best teams left on the schedule are Detroit, West Virginia, and Cleveland State, Akron nearly has to run the table or damn near to get a bid. Four games into the season and it's already over. It's like the Gophers of basketball. Or something. I don't know.
4. Cincinnati. Well there's no easy way to intro this, so I'll just come out and say it: the Bearcats, who were ranked 20th in the country, lost to Presbyterian. Presbyterian, who are a D-I squad for just the fifth year. Presbyterian, who have won a total of 37 games over the last five seasons, and six of those were over non D-I schools including a win over Carver Bible College. Presbyterian, whose biggest win in history was probably the one over Wake Forest last year, the worst Big 6 NCAAB team ever I'm pretty sure. Presbyterian, who lost to Duke by 31 already this year and got beat by Western Carolina who lost to South Carolina (who lost to Elon) by 25. Presbyterian, whose nickname is the Blue Hose for the love of christ. Yes, that Presbyterian. This is an awful, awful, awful, awful, awful loss. Awful. If the Gophers were 0-3 right now they wouldn't have hurt their NCAA chances as much as Cincinnati did on Saturday. Just wow.
5. Eli Manning. Holy jesus does this guy suck. Seriously he's got to be the worst quarterback in the NFL outside of Christian Ponder. It's unbelievable that this guy won a Super Bowl, and not only won one but beat maybe the best team in NFL history in doing so. God I hope he sends David Tyree a really kick-ass Christmas present every single year, or at least let's him live in his basement. Seriously if Peyton Manning's neck is all effed up and they like, end up having to put a Frankenstein bolt through his neck and he can't turn his head at all he'd still be a way be QB than Eli. Cooper is probably better, too. And Marqueis Gray.
And I'm not writing a preview for the freaking Mount Saint Mary's game. Seriously, it's a middling team from one of the worst conferences in America whose big goal for the year is to finish .500 in conference play. This needs to be a 30 point victory.