Monday Madness: College Basketball’s Weekend In Review

Hidden between the lines of the most depressing sports stories of the week – Penn State’s cover-up scandal putting a dark cloud over college football, and the NBA lockout threatening to put pro basketball on indefinite hiatus – are two words that should cheer up anybody who frequents this site: “college” and “basketball.”

The first full weekend of college hoops 2011-12 has been played, and it was indeed full: 24 of the Associated Press Top 25 teams were in action, just about every player you’ll see on next year’s mock draft boards graced the court, and the sidelines were populated with enough top-flight coaches to fill a Barnes & Noble with motivational books.

It was like college basketball’s Black Friday – with a Black Saturday and Black Sunday thrown in just because. Who were the stars and stooges of the show? Let’s get to it:

4 Games I Hope You Watched

Duke 77, Belmont 76 – You knew it was going in. Up by one with 20 seconds left, shot clock close to zero, and on the verge of having their 36-game home win streak snapped, Duke’s offense started to fall apart on the most important possession of the game. But when Andre Dawkins took a handoff and squared up 25 feet from the basket, you knew the outcome. And that’s why Duke is the team you love to hate. Dawkins’ trey ended an inspired Belmont comeback and gave the Blue Devils enough cushion to put Coach K one win closer to becoming the most successful coach in D-I history.

Evansville 80, Butler 77 (OT) – Is it safe to stick Butler back in the box with the other mid-majors? Now that Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard are gone, there’s no way Brad Stevens can coach this team deep into the Big Dance again, right? Right? Butler’s march toward a third straight NCAA championship game appearance began with a stumble, as Evansville guard Colt Ryan (23 pts, 14-18 FT) put the Bulldogs on blast.

Ryan tied the game at the line with 0.9 seconds left in regulation, and on the ensuing possession, Butler center Andrew Smith made a Christian Laettner shot at the buzzer. Only Smith had been fouled before the shot, so with 0.2 on the clock, his Laettner moment turned into a Nick Anderson moment as he bricked both free throws. Ryan then scored six of Evansville’s 11 points in overtime.

Virginia Military 103, The Citadel 100 – That’s right, no overtime. VMI is the running, gunning, Golden State Warriors of college ball, having led the nation in scoring five years in a row. And when they seduce an opponent into playing their style, scoreboards hit triple digits. The opener of the All-Military Classic provided an instant classic, as VMI almost blew a 15-point lead in the final four minutes before finally getting a defensive stop on the last possession of the game.

North Carolina 67, Michigan State 55 – This wasn’t just a showcase for the top-ranked Tar Heels. Playing on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, this was a stage for college basketball, for ESPN, for Nike, and at risk of sounding corny, for America to show off. And everybody brought it; even a Michigan State squad that was overmatched on paper but kept it competitive enough to entertain the most famous fan in attendance, President Obama.

4 Future Pros You Know:

Jeremy Lamb, SG/SF, UConn – Lamb has that sleepy-smooth T-Mac vibe about him, but in UConn’s win over Columbia, he showed he’s also got a lot of fire. On his way to 30 points, five threes and four steals, Lamb had a Lipton Special baseline dunk that made one of Columbia’s big men a YouTube punch line.

Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State – It’s hard to avoid making contact with a 6-9, 280-pound monster truck in a small space, and even worse when that monster truck makes you pay for it. Sully went 10-for-12 at the free throw line against Wright State, finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.

John Henson, PF, North Carolina – Picture JaVale McGee with an offensive game. Henson dominated defensively in UNC’s win over Michigan State with nine blocks to go with seven boards and 12 points, then dominated all over the place against UNC-Asheville with 20 points, 12 boards and two blocks.

Draymond Green, PF, Michigan State – There may not be a more uniquely talented player in college, or another NBA prospect who could go anywhere from Lottery to late second round. At 6-7, 230 pounds, Green is built like a classic “undersized” power forward but can do everything on the court that a two-guard can do. He posted 13 points and 18 rebounds (seven offensive) against North Carolina.

4 Future Pros You May Not Know:

Arnett Moultrie, PF, Mississippi State – Three games in, he’s been everything MSU wanted from Renardo Sidney but haven’t seen yet. Moultrie, a 6-11 junior transfer from UTEP, put up 28 points and 13 boards against South Alabama. He’s averaging 16.3 points and 12.7 boards, and more importantly, has been consistently productive for a Bulldogs squad that is never consistent.

Ryan Pearson, SF/PF, George Mason – The 6-6 senior has turned himself into an NBA prospect by adding range to his jumper and improving his ability to score off the dribble as a complement to his interior scoring skills. Pearson had 28 points and 12 rebounds in the Patriots’ overtime win over Rhode Island.

Allen Crabbe, SG, Cal – Last year’s Pac-10 Freshman of the Year averaged 22.5 points and hit nine threes in blowout wins over UC-Irvine and George Washington. Crabbe has pro size already (6-6, 205) and a smooth stroke from the perimeter, but can also hit regularly from deep when he’s off-balance.

J’Covan Brown, SG, Texas – Ripped from the pages of the Ben Gordon blueprint, Brown would have been weighed down with a “tweener” label once upon a time. But the NBA game has changed, meaning this 6-1 shooting guard doesn’t have to pretend he’s a point guard. Brown dropped 28 points and eight dimes on Boston U in a Texas rout.

4 Fab Freshmen:

Austin Rivers, PG/SG, Duke – No freshman’s debut was as anticipated as his, and Rivers showed why he deserved the hype. Rivers scored 16 against a tough Belmont team on Friday, playing all but two minutes in a nail-biter, then put up 15 points and six assists the next day against Presbyterian. The 6-4, 200-pounder is leading the Blue Devils in scoring, steals and free throws made.

Quincy Miller, PF, Baylor – Future NBA Lottery pick Perry Jones should watch out, because by the time he gets back from his five-game suspension, Miller might have made this Baylor team his own. Miller scored 17 points apiece in wins over Texas Southern and Jackson State, hitting 5-of-7 three-pointers and getting stronger in the second half of each game.

Anthony Davis, PF, Kentucky – Davis joined Terrence Jones and Sam Bowie as the only Kentucky freshmen to put up 20-and-10 in their UK debuts, giving Marist 23 points and 10 boards (plus five blocks) on a collection of alley-oop finishes and putbacks.

Chane Behanan, PF, Louisville – The McDonald’s All American is making this college thing look easy: Get open, make yourself a visible target, finish when you get the ball. And if they’re not passing it to you, work the glass and get it yourself. Behanan had 14 points (6-6 FG, 2-2 FT) and 12 boards against Tennessee-Martin.

4 Teams Running Suicides on Monday:

Vanderbilt – Following an impressive win over Oregon on Friday, the No. 7 Commodores were outhustled, outrun and out-executed in their own gym by Cleveland State on Sunday.

Southern Illinois – It’s nothing new for D-I teams to soften their early schedule with D-II (or D-III) opponents. The Salukis, NCAA Tournament regulars who aren’t expected to contend for a Missouri Valley Conference title this year, brought in D-II Ohio Dominican for one of these glorified scrimmages. Only they forgot the part about the winning-easy part and lost by one, committing 21 turnovers in the process.

UCLA – Careless turnovers, insufficient effort, amateur-hour execution and a pile of bricks from the three-point line (2-for-15) defined UCLA’s season-opening loss to Loyola Marymount. It was basically a coach’s nightmare, one that Ben Howland has seen too often during his tenure with the Bruins.

Kennesaw State – And after the running, more shooting drills. The Owls had an eight-minute stretch in the first half against Wisconsin where they didn’t score, then had an 11-minute scoreless drought in the same half, falling behind 41-8 at the break and eventually losing by 54 points. Kennesaw State shot 3-for-23 in the first half and 10-for-43 overall.

4 Teams Running Toward the Final Four:

North Carolina – The best team in the nation according to anybody with ESPNU and a keyboard overwhelmed Michigan State on Friday with their athleticism, length, execution, depth and defense. On Sunday, the Tar Heels were even sharper on the road against UNC-Asheville. As great as Henson and Harrison Barnes have been, the MVP so far is point guard Kendall Marshall (10.0 apg), who has to keep this roster of future pros happy with touches and shots.

Syracuse – Walking into Jim Boeheim‘s 2-3 zone must be like walking into a bee’s nest … if those bees ranged between six and seven feet long and were hungry for more than pollen. Syracuse put a chokehold on Fordham, forcing 20 turnovers and luring the Rams into 21 three-point attempts, 17 of which were misses. Senior forward Kris Joseph led the ‘Cuse offense with 16 points.

Kentucky – Not even alumnus Rik Smits would have changed the outcome for Marist, who got smashed by 50 in Kentucky’s house of horrors. Jones didn’t even start in this one, coming off the bench as a disciplinary measure for breaking curfew. Freshmen forwards Davis (23 pts, 10 rebs, 5 blks) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (15 pts, 7 rebs, 2 blks, 2 stls) led the Wildcats in a ruthless display.

Ohio State – Last year’s Buckeyes were good because they had a lot of experience and one superstar freshman. This year’s Buckeyes are good because that freshman is a sophomore, and that experience has been traded for pure talent. Sullinger played like a Top-5 NBA pick in a blowout over Wright State, while William Buford, Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas showed they can fill the gaps left by graduates Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale.

4 Questions That Need Answers:

If the Paterno/Penn State scandal is being called the biggest sports controversy of all-time, imagine how much bigger the story would be if it were Coach K and Duke?

Can UCLA bounce back from its season-opening loss and fulfill their Pac-12 championship potential?

What went wrong during Romero Osby‘s time at Mississippi State? The multi-talented forward couldn’t even get decent playing time for Rick Stansbury‘s underachieving Bulldogs, and now he’s the best player on Oklahoma’s roster.

Who has the nation’s best backcourt: Duke, Florida, Kentucky or North Carolina?

What were your takeaways from college basketball this weekend? Let us know in the comments below.

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