Wednesday, December 1, 2010
This was billed preseason as number 1 vs. number 2. An epic early season battle. A clash of the titans. Then Michigan State lost to UConn and now it's 1 vs. 6. Less sexy. It seems like every year the Spartans decide that the season actually starts sometime towards the end of January. Then, some good teams that got the memo about the actual start time make them look silly. For my money, tonight is destined to be one of those times.
If you would like some good analysis and serious breakdowns of tonight's action:
If you want my off the cuff rambling wander down a road that I feel remotely resembles something approaching analysis, by all means keep reading. The obvious and heavy hit bit in this match up are the 17 turnovers the Spartans are averaging a game. That black eye of a stat isn't a result of the competition. Against Tennessee Tech on Sunday, MSU coughed the ball up 17 times. When you're dealing with a team whose opponents are averaging 20 turnovers a game, you get how this could turn into a long night for fans of the Green and White.
Add early season chemistry issues to that concern for Michigan State. Derrick Nix, 6'8 sophomore center, could really cause some match up problems for Duke down low. After sitting out the Hawaii trip due to possible issues with his playing time, however, he may not be out of Izzo's doghouse. If Nix isn't contributing, it decreases the small chance MSU has of winning to an even smaller chance.
Meanwhile, the plan for MSU is to stick Korie Lucious on Kyrie Irving on defense. If you watched the UConn game and saw the systematic dismembering job Kemba Walker performed on Lucious, you wonder if tonight is going to be the dismembering part deux. Kyrie is younger than Walker, and isn't as pure of a scoring threat yet, but he has so much more talent around him it's scary. How do you account for Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry? It's a question that is going to be giving coaches in the ACC nightmares all season long.
So what does Michigan State have going for it? Draymond Green, Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. The past three years they've been through a lot. No matter what Duke can boast, I still believe they will be the best 3 players on the court. Izzo hasn't figured out his rotation yet (surprise, surprise). The turnovers are glaring. Sadly, the Spartans aren't rebounding particularly well this year and that used to be something you could count on with this team. Still, if the 3 upperclassman perform like they're capable of, which means no disappearing act from Summers, State has a chance. A very small chance. They are 10 point dogs, after all. But a chance is a chance.
I've been out of it forever. I could blame the real job. I could blame personal crises. I could blame the loss of my awesome dog to my ex--seriously, I've lost sleep over it. However, in the end the truth is the best policy. I've been lazy. There you have it. My long absence has now been explained to my 2.5 followers. Don't spend an overabundant amount of time trying to figure out how I have half of a follower, just accept it and move on. I already have.
Now here is a smattering of rapid fire topics to make myself feel like I've caught up to the season thus far:
Duke Really Is Number 1, No Question...Sadly I'll admit my bias. I'm a dookie hater. I really love Coach K, I'm a fan of Nolan Smith and I think the Blue Devil mascot is pretty damn cool. Still, their level of sustained success rankles me. In the end it's just fun to hate them. So, preseason I was going to call the unquestioned Duke is number 1 mentality out. I was going to point out that a lot was resting on Kyrie Irving, a freshman point guard who had never played a single college game. I was going to call the universal acceptance that the Plumlee brothers would step up laughable. After all, Coach K didn't exactly show much faith in Mason during last year's NCAA tourney run as the kid rode pine for ever increasing stretches. Zoubek was the man while Mason was an afterthought. Add the unknown Seth Curry variable to the team chemistry equation and there was certainly reason to doubt Duke's place on the throne.
Man, I'm I glad I never wrote that. It would just look silly at this point. I'm accustomed to looking ridiculous, of course, but the more I can avoid it in one season the better. They looked almost human for stretches of their game against Marquette. Then Duke throttled Kansas State and the Beard, in the Octagon of Doom no less, and I was forced to accept the truth. Duke is playing as the best team in college basketball. No question. The freshman, Kyrie Irving, is one of the most efficient point guards in the country. Mason Plumlee is a beast (that hurt to write). Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are just as good, if not better, than last year. It's a complete team, that happens to be number 2 in the nation in KenPom's tempo free stats right now. So yeah, I accept that number 1 ranking now.
North Carolina Ain't So Great, Again Taking a small trip down Tobacco Road, there's that other team that's really fun to hate. And the hatin' is good in this young season. North Carolina is a meager 4 and 3 so far. Their losses are to Minnesota, Illinois and Vanderbilt. Granted, two of those teams are in the top 25 and the Tar Heels aren't. At least they aren't in the top 25 anymore. They were to start the season. Then people realized that Harrison Barnes wasn't the second coming. He's playing well as a freshman, averaging 11 points and 6 boards. Sadly, that isn't the missing piece that takes a tourney-less team from mediocre to top 10 as many had anticipated. Considering the lack of competitive play in a loss to Illinois last night, 79 to 67, it would appear the young Heels are in for some more growing pains this season. Do they miss the tourney for a second year in a row? I would hazard to say no. Still, unless you're an NC fan, one can hope.
The Best Conference Is I should wait until after the conclusion of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge tonight, but I'll be foolhardy instead. Why, might you ask? Because the best conference might be the Big East. This isn't really scientific at this, or any point. And if you're looking top to bottom, it's pretty hard to argue against the Big Ten right now. After all, Michigan was picked to finish near the bottom of the league. Nobody told the Wolverines that they were supposed to roll over this season, I guess, because they played Syracuse tight before going to Clemson last night and handing them an embarrassing loss on their home court.
On the Big East side of the debate, you have some really sleek and shiny offenses. And I like sleek and shiny. UConn has Kemba Walker averaging a flashy 30 points a game. Michigan State couldn't stop him in a close loss, and neither could Kentucky as the Huskies blew by them 84 to 67. They're also getting some really good, unselfish play from the rest of the team highlighted by Alex Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier.
As for the rest of the Big East? Georgetown just had a very impressive 110 to 102 overtime victory over number 8 Missouri last night. Notre Dame is looking sharp early, with a solid win over Wisconsin. Syracuse is carrying on without missing a beat, despite missing Andy Rautins and Wesley Johnson. Pitt's doing what it does every year, and already has a resume win over Texas. Villanova...well, there are still some really solid teams in the Big East. Top to bottom solid? Maybe not as much as the Big Ten.
Washington, Arizona and the Rest of the PAC 10 The PAC 10 is not in the discussion for best conference this year and for good reason. Especially after the sad, sad showing of just last year. Despite the lack of quality, or depth, you have two dangerous tourney bound teams in Washington and Arizona. Washington has two close losses to Kentucky and MSU on its record, but that doesn't diminish their value in my eyes. Isaiah Thomas started a little slow last year, and tended to be turnover happy at points. This year he's starting sharp out of the gate and has been masterful at the point for Washington, averaging 15 points and 4 assists a game. Justin Holiday is another gem for the Huskies. An experienced senior forward who is making the best of his final go round.
Arizona, I am also in love with thee. They lost by 8 to Kansas, at Kansas, but gave Bill Self and the Jayhawks a tough game. Derrick Williams, sophomore forward for Arizona, is averaging 21 points and 7 boards a game. He had 27 points and 8 rebounds against Kansas, before fouling out in the final 3 minutes. I'm not saying Arizona would have won that game if Williams had played to the end. It just would have been a whole lot more interesting.
The rest of the PAC 10 has been written off in my book. Luckily for the PAC 10, my book is very tiny and often flawed. There's my catch up.