It takes a full-time job, or a full-time class schedule, for one to truly appreciate a four-day weekend. And when those two extra days off come courtesy the Thanksgiving holiday, the full-time college basketball fan (or writer) goes into overtime mode.
Just about every D-I team in the country seemed to be playing in a holiday tournament this past weekend â€“ from the balmy paradise of the Bahamas to the cold-ass bustle of New York City on Black Friday. When it was over, some top dogs were going home with their national-championship promise in doubt, while some underdogs returned to campus with brand-new hero status.
Here are the highlights and lowlights from the long weekend:
4 Games I Hope You Watched
UNLV 90, North Carolina 80 â€“ Saturday nights in Vegas are supposed to be surreal. Maybe that’s why it made sense that, in the Las Vegas Invitational title game, UNLV’s shooters were getting so wide open that it looked like UNC had left their fifth defender on the bus. It made sense that the most talented frontcourt in the country got outplayed by a group of guys on which Roy Williams wouldn’t waste a home visit. It made sense that Runnin’ Rebels swingman Chace Stanback posted four points and two rebounds against USC on Friday, then blew up for 28 points and 10 boards against the top-ranked Tar Heels on Saturday.
Central Florida 68, Connecticut 63 â€“ Before UNC went down, the defending national champs were the weekend’s first major upset victims. Marcus Jordan (20 pts, 7 rebs, 7 asts) made the go-ahead free throws with three minutes remaining, putting the cap on a comeback that began when UCF trailed by 17 in the second half. “That wasn’t a run,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun told reporters. “It was an avalanche.”
Connecticut 78, Florida State 76 (OT) â€“ The consolation game nobody saw coming at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas was won by UConn point guard Shabazz Napier‘s three-pointer in the final minute of overtime. Napier (26 pts) redeemed himself after shooting 1-for-7 and turning the ball over seven times against Central Florida.
Virginia Tech 59, Oklahoma State 57 â€“ I’m not sure what made me feel older: Watching the Bayou Classic matchup between Southern’s 11-year-old quarterback and Doug Williams‘ son at Grambling, or watching Oklahoma State senior Keiton Page barking out orders and hitting huge shots while looking like Steve Nash‘s child. Page kept the third-place game at the preseason NIT interesting until the last drop, converting a driving layup with 11 seconds left and an off-balance running three with 0.7 remaining that prevented the Hokies from breathing easy until the clock showed all zeroes.
4 Future Pros You Know
William Buford, SG, Ohio State â€“ He came into college billed as a highlight machine ready to create more insane YouTube clips than Miss Prada. Four years later he’s become an outside shooting ace on the radar of any NBA team looking for a shooter first and an athlete second. Buford dropped 25 points on Valparaiso, hitting all four of his threes. He’s shooting 50 percent beyond the arc this season. Oh, and he can still jump over your head.
Terrence Jones, SF/PF, Kentucky â€“ I could pick a different Wildcat each week for the “Future Pros” section and have enough ammo for two months. And if you ask me, Jones is going to be the best pro of the bunch: a 6-9, 250-pound lefty with perimeter skills, interior strength, and an MMA fighter’s intensity. Jones had 19 points, two steals and two blocks in Kentucky’s latest laugher, this time against Portland.
C.J. Leslie, SF/PF, NC State â€“ Once upon a time Leslie was a lock for the Lottery, but a so-so freshman year has put him in a position where he’ll (probably) have to prove he’s more than just a pile of potential before leaving the Wolf Pack for the pros. The 6-9 lanky Leslie put up 13 points, eight boards, five blocks and three steals against Elon, and faces tough tests against Indiana and Stanford in the next week.
Kris Joseph, SF, Syracuse â€“ He likely won’t get buckets like Carmelo, bully his way to domination like John Wallace, or make March miracles like Gerry McNamara, but Joseph could soon take his place alongside those ‘Cuse legends if he winds up being the marquee player on a national championship team. Joseph (6-7, 210) is a solid NBA role player in the making, but for now he’s The Man; he had 18 points, nine rebounds and four steals in the Orange’s preseason NIT title win over Stanford.
4 Future Pros You May Not Know
Keith Clanton, PF, Central Florida â€“ The 6-8, 245-pounder was already putting together a solid resume for NBA scouts, but now his 20-point effort in the upset win over UConn gives him a signature moment to build around. Clanton also had 28 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks against Charleston earlier in the weekend.
Kendall Marshall, PG, North Carolina â€“ His one-on-one matchup with Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor on Wednesday will be the last time Marshall appears on any “you might not know this guy” database. He’s the best pure passer I’ve seen in college over the last two seasons and could finish the Wisconsin game known as the best point guard in the nation. Marshall handed out 14 assists to go with six steals in another clinic against South Carolina, and had eight dimes and seven points in the UNLV loss.
Mike Scott, PF, Virginia â€“ Standing 6-8 and knocking on 250 pounds, Scott is one of those guys you’ll forget all about until he’s playing key playoff minutes for an NBA title contender. Scott posted 15 points and 10 rebounds against Wisconsin-Green Bay, in line with his senior-year averages.
Trevor Mbakwe, PF, Minnesota â€“ He could slip into the NBA Draft’s second round because he’s an “old” senior, but Mbakwe has first-round talent. (He played his freshman year at Marquette, transferred to a junior college, and then sat out another year while trying to get out from under an assault charge.) He’s a high-energy leaper at 6-8, 240 pounds, who will contribute as a rebounder and finisher in the pros. Mbakwe had 16 points and 12 rebounds against DePaul, nine points and nine boards against Indiana State, and nine points and two blocks against Dayton. (UPDATE: Minnesota announced Monday that Mbakwe is likely out for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL suffered in the Dayton game.)
4 Fab Freshmen
P.J. Hairston, SG, North Carolina â€“ Some say Hairston is just as important to his team’s success as the law firm of Barnes, Henson & Marshall. UNC’s biggest weakness is its outside shooting, and Hairston is the designated gunner. The 6-6 backup hit five threes (19 pts) against South Carolina and three triples (15 pts) against UNLV.
Dorian Finney-Smith, SF, Virginia Tech â€“ You want freshman inconsistency? Check the game log for Finney-Smith’s first five appearances: double-double; one point with foul trouble; double-double; two points with foul trouble; double-double. The good Finney-Smith showed up for Va-Tech’s win over Oklahoma State, pulling down 14 rebounds (eight offensive) and chipping in 10 points. Then he broke the pattern and managed a second consecutive strong performance with 11 points and eight boards against St. Bonaventure.
Khem Birch, PF, Pittsburgh â€“ The most touted recruit of the Jamie Dixon era finally showed what all the hype was about. After four games where he was harder to find than a classy cast member of “Basketball Wives,” Birch broke out with a 15-point, 10-rebound, three-block effort against Penn and an eight-point, 11-rebound, six-block line against Robert Morris.
Andre Drummond, C, UConn â€“ When his team was comfortably smashing everybody in their path, Drummond alternated between being the next Amar’e and the next Kwame. When his team looked surprisingly mortal over the weekend, Drummond was solid as a rock. The 6-11, 275-pounder averaged 12.5 points, 9.5 boards and 5.0 blocks as the Huskies lost to UCF and edged Florida State, connecting on 64 percent of his shots.
4 Teams Running Suicides On Monday
Massachusetts â€“ In Friday’s loss to Florida State, the Minutemen shot 27 percent from the field (19-of-68) and EIGHT percent from three-point land (2-of-23). They committed 22 turnovers versus six assists, and point guard Chaz Williams registered all six of those dimes. In Sunday’s loss to Charleston, the Minutemen shot 34 percent from the field, 14 percent from deep, and despite collecting 23 offensive rebounds, still lost by 24 points. Sandwiched between those two pieces of hairy, moldy bread was a convincing win over Utah, but I’m guessing UMass coach Derek Kellogg won’t make that the focus of the team’s next come-to-Jesus meeting.
Texas Tech â€“ During a 7-0 run in the second half that allowed DePaul just enough cushion to win, Tech fell apart under the Blue Demons’ full-court press, dribbling off their feet and generally handling the ball like it was covered in cranberry sauce. That was the second loss of a 0-3 weekend for the Red Raiders, who also dropped games to Indiana State and Wake Forest.
Cincinnati â€“ After beginning the season ranked in the Top 25 and playing what would normally be considered a soft pre-conference schedule, the Bearcats have lost twice to unranked opponents and looked poised for another one of those underachieving Cincinnati seasons. Friday’s overtime loss to Marshall saw the Bearcats get owned on the glass (40-27) and commit crucial turnovers down the stretch.
Penn State â€“ Assuming he hasn’t opted for the head-in-sand method of coping with a crisis, first-year Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers has surely gained a certain level of perspective lately. But he’s still a coach at the core, and his team’s performance on Saturday won’t be tolerated. Penn State (5-2) fell behind 22-0 against St. Joseph’s, had only 10 points at halftime, and lost by 18 points.
4 Teams Running Toward The Final Four
Wisconsin â€“ One lesson from 2011: As long as you have one NBA-caliber go-to star, play solid team defense and protect the ball, your team has a good shot at the Final Four. Call it my Theory of Kembanomics. The Badgers lost one NBA player in Jon Leuer from last season, but they still have point guard Jordan Taylor (11.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.3 spg), a gritty defensive style and smart decision-makers. Wisconsin (6-0) made light work of Bradley and BYU over the weekend, and have North Carolina next on the schedule.
Florida â€“ And then there are those teams that can simply overwhelm you with offensive talent. Through Sunday’s schedule the Gators (4-1) ranked No. 3 in the country in scoring, averaging 89.8 points per game after a 107-62 drubbing of a Jacksonville team that upset Florida last year. The backcourt foursome of Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Brad Beal and Mike Rosario are the team’s top four scorers, with Erik Murphy and The Immortals extra Patric Young also averaging double-figure points.
Ohio State â€“ Gearing up to face Duke on Tuesday, the Buckeyes (6-0) had a trap game against Valparaiso on the schedule that they handled like champions. Ohio State’s 19-2 second half run included a Jared Sullinger three-pointer and paved the way for an 80-47 win. The Buckeyes have already beaten Florida, who is arguably more talented than Duke.
Missouri â€“ There are a lot of people in South Florida who would bet their beach house on Frank Haith never coaching a team to a Final Four, but Haith has never had a team as talented and deep as this undefeated Mizzou (6-0) squad. Senior swingman Kim English (18.2 ppg) leads the way, a natural two-guard playing power forward for the guard-heavy Tigers, while Flip Pressey (3.0 spg) spearheads a relentless pressure defense that forced Sunday’s victim, Binghamton, into 23 turnovers.
4 Questions That Need Answers
With two winnable games between now and Dec. 8 â€“ at Vermont and home for Seattle U â€“ what are the chances that Harvard (6-0) will be ranked by the time they play UConn?
If you were Marcus Jordan, would you even want to be drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats? Would you embrace the nepotism (and pressure) or consult Nick Van Exel on how to tank your pre-draft workout?
Not counting Duke vs. North Carolina, what is your favorite college hoops rivalry?
Now that the NBA is back in business, will you be watching less college basketball?
What were your takeaways from college basketball this weekend? Let us know in the comments below.
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