Last week was quiet due to finals, but the weekend was the complete opposite. Ohio St.’s Jared Sullinger suffered a minor foot injury. Kentucky’s Terrence Jones suffered a pinky contusion. Cincinnati crushed Radford despite the suspension of several players after last weekend’s brawl. But Xavier wasn’t as fortunate, losing to Oral Roberts without Tu Holloway and company.
And there were plenty of dramatic games. Butler came back to beat Purdue on a last second put back by Andrew Smith. Georgia came back to beat USC thanks to a huge game from freshmen Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Meanwhile, top-ranked Syracuse left the state of New York for the first time and looked dominant in their first true road test. And these headlines are only the beginning:
Game of the Weekend: Baylor defeats BYU
Coming to you courtesy of the newest channel to air college sports, BYU TV, the sixth ranked Baylor Bears traveled to BYU to take on the Cougars. Usually when a heavily favored team goes on the road in college, the underdog will take a conservative approach. They will try to shorten the game, and take perfect shots, and hope that over a shortened game they might outscore their opponent. But when an underdog starts out super-aggressive, you know the game is going to be special.
And from the beginning BYU was the more aggressive team. They were the team diving for loose balls and causing steals. They were the team relentlessly taking the ball to the basket and callously shooting open jumpers early in the shot-clock. If you thought Dave Rose would slow things down with Jimmer Fredette having graduated, think again.
And so the game had several acts. Act one was dominated on the boards. BYU grabbed the first 14 rebounds of the game. Shooting percentages always have something to do with rebounding, but there isn’t a scenarios where that isn’t an impressive stat.
And Brandon Davies was leading the way. Early on, Davies caught the ball off the post, and began what looked like a classic hook-shot move. But instead of taking a hook shot, he angled to the basket, and dunked over the Baylor defense. BYU was not afraid, and as the team built a 13 point lead, the home-team BYU announcers called it the best game of Brandon Davies’ career.
But then Davies picked up his second foul. And Baylor immediately went on a run. Baylor cut the lead to four points at halftime, but more than cutting into the lead, the fear of foul trouble seemed to reduce Davies’ aggressiveness the rest of the game. And that’s when BYU turned to its second option, Matt Carlino. Carlino was an Indiana kid who looked headed to the Hoosiers, but then went to UCLA, and then transferred after playing one exhibition game. Carlino was finally eligible for this game at the semester break, and he made the most of his BYU debut. Carlino started playing and shooting like he was the Jimmer, (complete with the ridiculous three point attempts from 8 feet beyond the arc.) And even though a lot of Carlino’s shots made you shake your head, quite a few of his crazy shots were going in. And 4 minutes into the second half, BYU had a nine-point lead again.
And that’s when the game entered its final act. Perry Jones III received a lot of accolades as a high school player. But with Baylor struggling to a disappointing season last year, and PJ3 often deferring in critical situations, there were questions about whether he could really become a star at the college level. Those questions were answered on Saturday. Jones decided to take over the game and there was nothing BYU could do to stop him. Whether Jones wanted to take a perimeter jumper, drive and pull-up in the lane, or post-up and finish inside, there was no one on BYU that could stop his game.
And just when you weren’t impressed enough with Jones leading the comeback, he had his hero moment. With two minutes left in the game Jones went down with a knee injury. It looked ugly and fears or an ACL or MCL tear seemed realistic. But after sitting on the bench for a few moments, Jones re-entered the game, found a spot in the lane, and sent home a Baylor miss to give his team a three point lead. His offensive rebound and finish was the final dagger.
The 5’10” Pierre Jackson ended the game with a great visual, blocking the 6’9” Brandon Davies three point attempt at the buzzer. But Davies was not a great three point shooter, and that was academic. The moment belonged to Perry Jones III.
I still have my questions about this Baylor team. People complain that Jones defers to much to his teammates. Fran Fraschilla says that Jones is too nice a player. But I think the problem is that Baylor plays like Texas prior to this season. They have so many scorers and playmakers, that everyone feels like they need to shoot when they get a chance. No one feels like they need to get Jones a touch on every possession. But by putting his team on his back on Saturday, his teammates may have learned a valuable lesson. With Jones leading the way, there is no team Baylor can’t beat.
Hidden Game of the Weekend: Miami (FL) defeats Florida Atlantic in double overtime.
This game had absurd imagery. I would love to have a photo of 5’6” 145 lb Florida Atlantic guard Raymond Taylor grabbing 6’10” 295 lb Miami FL forward Reggie Johnson’s jersey from behind to stop a breakout opportunity. (He was called for an intentional foul on the play, but the idea that Taylor could ever stop Johnson’s momentum was rather preposterous.)
This game had teeth rattling plays. Raymond Taylor had some crazy lay-ups in this game, and one of his drives nearly knocked Kenny Kadji’s teeth out.
This game had buzzer beating shots. With 1.8 seconds left before halftime, Miami used a double screen to get a tip-in lay-up. Then at the end of regulation, Florida Atlatic’s Omari Grier hit a three pointer to send the game into OT.
This game had buzzer beating misses. Miami tried to run a simple hand-off three at the end of the first overtime, and Malcolm Grant did such a poor job setting a screen, that Durant Scott barely got off a shot. Then at the end of the second OT, after making 15 threes, Florida Atlantic missed a deep but clean look, and fell 93-90. On paper, this game looked boring, but in execution this was basketball at its best.
I started watching this game to see how Reggie Johnson would perform in his return. As already noted, the Hurricane forward is a mammoth player, and since he was coming back from knee surgery, there were significant questions about how he would look. Would he be mobile enough to dominate the game? Would he have the conditioning to play to the final whistle? And this should matter a lot to ACC fans. Johnson was Miami’s best interior player last season, and without him in the lineup Miami had struggled to a 5-4 start this year. Their losses at Purdue, vs Memphis, at West Virginia, and at Ole Miss in OT are not horrible. But you have to believe with a healthy Johnson, Miami will be much more dangerous.
For the most part Johnson looked great in his return to action. He seemed to get up and down the court very easily for a player of his size. He still had the lift to get five blocks. He even drew a couple of charges. Offensively, he looked strong making four of five baskets and drawing a number of fouls. His passing was sharp both in and out of the post. And Johnson had plenty of stamina, hitting a critical lay-up in OT and playing 36 minutes in the game.
Johnson’s return was important to other Miami players too. He attracted a double team on multiple occasions, and his presence in the paint seemed to lead to more wide-open shots for the Hurricanes guards. And the biggest beneficiary might have been Miami Forward Kenny Kadji. Because of his size at 6’11”, Kadji has had to play a lot in the paint with Johnson out. But with Reggie Johnson positioned for rebounds in the paint, Kadji was free to hang out on the perimeter, and Kadji made 3 of 3 three pointers in the game. Also, because of his quickness, Kadji was wasted defensively when he was forced to guard immobile post players on the opposing team. But with Johnson in the game, Kadji provided a nice lanky defender on some of the Florida Atlantic’s guards. This led to at least one critical steal.
With all these positive signs, you might wonder why Miami needed double overtime to beat a 4-7 Florida Atlantic team playing without its most prolific scorer, Greg Gannt. But if Jim Larranaga was playing with a near full-set of playing cards for the first time this season, he finally got to see what was critically flawed about this Miami team last year. As great as Miami’s guards can be offensively, they tend to be terrible at defending the three point shot. Last year Miami was 224th in the nation in three point FG defense, and time after time last year the team lost close games when the other team hit key perimeter shots late.
On Saturday, one sequence said it all. Leading 43-40, Durant Scott failed to get around a Florida Atlantic screen and FAU knocked down a three to tie the game. But not only did Scott fail to get around the screen, he and Kenny Kadji did not communicate. And Scott and Kaji ended up fouling the FAU screener while the shot was in the air. That meant FAU got the ball back. Before the possessions was over FAU had hit another three to take the lead 46-43. Only the Hurricanes could find a way to give up a six point possession. Miami’s guards are fantastic, and as a team they hit 14 threes on Saturday. But Miami allowed FAU to make 15 threes. Now that Jim Larranaga finally has enough defensive options in the interior, the goal should be clear. Clean up the perimeter defense and turn Miami into an NCAA tournament team.
- The comedy moment of the weekend may have come when Indiana’s Cody Zeller appeared to be called for fouling Indiana’s Victor Oladipo. Comedy aside, because Zeller was pushed into Oladipo by Notre Dame, it appeared to be the right call.
- Illinois shot 25% against UNLV and one key sequence summed it up. First, Brandon Paul missed a wide-open three, then Meyers Leonard missed a put-back, then after another offensive rebound Tyler Griffey had his shot blocked.
- There is no worse feeling than when your team blows a double-digit lead in college basketball. It isn’t just the loss. It is the fact that every time your team has a 10-point lead the rest of the year, it will never feel safe. And now Purdue has blown double digit leads twice, to Xavier and now to Butler. It wasn’t that Purdue didn’t make any plays down the stretch. I thought for a moment that Ryne Smith’s steal of Ronald Nored on a late fast-break in the final two minutes might stop the momentum. But when it comes to making plays in crunch time, Purdue is really struggling right now.
- Arizona St. is not very good, but they’ve had two exciting non-conference games in a row. A week ago ASU’s Carrick Felix hit a buzzer beating three to beat North Dakota St. Then this weekend, Northern Arizona’s Stallon Salvidar hit a three with one second left to beat ASU.
- St. Joe’s has produced some highlight reel baskets this season. And in the few moments I watched of their game against Villanova, CJ Aiken added a killer dunk while Langston Galloway hit a ridiculous “throw it up on the rim and pray” shot. You expect Villanova junior Mouphtaou Yarou to be blocking those shots at this point, but his block rate has become rather average. Why has that part of his game receded since his freshmen year?
- If returning players were supposed to spark their teams, it didn’t happen this weekend. Khris Middleton is back for Texas A&M but the Aggies were blown out by Florida. The Gators led the Aggies 50-25 at half-time. And Festus Ezili’s return did not stop Vanderbilt from losing its third home game of the season, to Indiana St.
- Indiana St.’s Jake Odum was one of the best freshman point guards in the country last year, but he has struggled a bit with shooting this year. And down in Orlando, I saw possibly the worst five minutes of his career when Indiana St. blew a late lead to Minnesota. But against Vanderbilt, Odum owned the last 5 minutes of the game. With the game on the line he (1) Drove into the lane and kicked to a wide open teammate who hit a three. (2) Drove into the lane and dished to a teammate for a lay-up. (3) Hit a jumper in the lane to give his team a 4 point lead and effectively seal the game. It turns out you cannot keep a great player down.
- After Detroit’s Ray McCallum drove to the basket to tie the game at 75, who would you expect to try to take the game-winning shot for Mississippi St? Would it be the ultra-talented PG Dee Bost, the enigma Renardo Sidney, ultra-rebounder Arnett Moultrie, or even guard Brian Bryant who had 17 points on Saturday. No, it was Rodney Hood who took and made the game-winning basket. Basketball is like that.
By the way, don’t read too much into Renardo Sidney’s big day. He did most if his damage in the first half when Eli Holman and LaMarcus Lowe were in foul trouble. (The 6’5” Doug Anderson didn’t stand a chance guarding him.) I still cannot believe how often Sidney walks up the court. You keep thinking at some point he will get in shape but in never happens.
At one point Detroit was expected to challenge for the Horizon league title, but even though Eli Holman finally returning to the team, remember that Nick Minnerath is still injured. The 6’8” gunner was almost as prolific and efficient as Holman last year, and his absence is still a giant hole for Detroit.