Tsuj’s Ten: College basketball, 1/13
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • January 12, 2012 @ 11:30pm
The worst temptation in sports coverage, aside from abusing the free Coke refills, is making blanket statements about a team after watching a single game. If you looked quickly at the Ohio State vs. Illinois box score, a game that the Illini won 79-74 in Champaign, you’d conclude that Brandon Paul’s 43 point outing has him in line to be the next Kobe Bryant and that the Buckeyes have no business in the NCAA’s top ten. In reality, Paul is more likely to make a living playing basketball overseas, and Ohio State will, at the very least, reach the Sweet 16. When one game is so fresh in mind, however, it’s a challenge to remember that one off night isn’t always the true reflection of a team.
1) Bulls bow to Ohio: Bulls fans shouldn’t give up hope after the University at Buffalo’s 60-52 road loss to the Bobcats, as dismal as that defeat was. True, Reggie Witherspoon’s club had a real opportunity for a road win, as Ohio, who’d shot 37% combined in upset losses to Robert Morris and Bowling Green, missed plenty of open looks and closed at an even more embarrassing 32% Wednesday. But, it was only a matter of time before Javon McCrea had a forgettable night—when your best player is 4-13 from the floor in a mere 20 minutes of action due to foul trouble, you’re probably going to lose.
2) Finding Filzen: The Bulls find themselves in a predicament with guard Zach Filzen, the school’s record holder in three-pointers made in a season, who’s scored a total of 10 points in the last three meaningful games on 2-10 shooting (excluding the Buffalo State contest). That’s a mere 10 shots in 99 minutes on the floor! Something’s wrong here.
3) But what could it be? In theory, the Bulls’ dominant inside play should create more space for Filzen on the perimeter. To this point, the offense has been geared toward establishing McCrea and Watt in the post, mainly because opponents cannot match-up with their size. Temple couldn’t tame the Bulls’ bigs, and Kent State’s backcourt defense, especially from lockdown specialist Michael Porrini, is among the stingiest in the conference. That’s fine—consider those two games mulligans, as Filzen’s stroke looked perfectly fine in the meaningless tune-up game against Buffalo State.
4) Reaching a balance: The opposite case, as Reggie Witherspoon would more than likely argue, has more merit—special attention paid to Filzen lurking around the perimeter has drawn opposing defenders away from the paint, allowing room for Watt and McCrea to roam inside. For the senior shooting guard, it’s not that he’s passed on open looks; he’s simply not getting free. Like most good shooters, Filzen needs a reasonable volume of shots to find a rhythm—I don’t see why he doesn’t get 10 looks per game regardless of the opponent, as his three-pointing shooting remains one of the team’s deadliest weapons. How can Witherspoon keep Filzen effective without stealing too many touches for McCrea and Watt? That’s the $1 million question.
5) Finding positives for Canisius: And trust me, they’re tough to find. The Golden Griffins are win-less in five conference games after falling to St. Peter’s and Loyola (MD) on the road last weekend. Fortunately for Tom Parrotta’s crew, tonight’s opponent, the Marist Red Foxes, hasn’t won on the road yet this year in six games (they’re 7-3 at home, however). Let’s give Marist credit, however—the Red Foxes have already won more games this year than they did last year in a 6-27 finish. The Griffins’ defense and rebounding should keep this game close, but Canisius’ sheer offensive ineptitude will more than likely keep them without a conference win.
6) Red Foxes shy away from defense: In their last two contests, the Red Foxes have allowed an average of 99.5 points to opponents. That’s insane—usually 100-point barrages are reserved for lopsided games against inferior opponents (think UB vs. Buffalo State)—not in-conference head-to-heads. Watch to see how the Griffs’ inside trio of Chris Manhertz, Josiah Heath and Kevin Bleeker responds to Adam Kemp’s presence, as the Marist 6’10 sophomore swallowed up 10 offensive rebounds against Mike Glover and the Iona Gaels. For Marist, the strategy is this: launch as many threes as possible and let Kemp fight for put-backs and offensive rebounds.
7) Big Ten basketball: It’s not fair to say that Big Ten games always feature an ugly, grind-it-out style—Ohio State, Michigan and sometimes Michigan State play entertaining basketball, but it’s the styles of Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois that make conference play nearly unwatchable. Seriously, Bo Ryan—you force your opponents to play slow-paced, half-court basketball, and you regularly beat them at it. If I’m a basketball purist, I’ll shake your hand because you bucked the modern trend of exciting, high-pressure hoops for an old school methodical approach. If I’m a casual college basketball fan, I’ll find something else to do than watch Wisconsin. To me, point guard Jordan Taylor is more valuable as a leader than he is as a basketball player. The only reason he’s in the “country’s best point guard” conversation is because there’s a major dearth at the position.
8) I hate Duke: Never liked them, never will like them. You can call me out as the one who plants terrible rumors about Coach K—how cruel of a human being he is. Admittedly, I have little support for this, even if I took an uncomfortable amount of pleasure from reading this article. The #6 Blue Devils’ second half surge to down #17 Virginia last night left me with nightmares of Ryan Kelly yelling with joy and beating his chest. Scarring.
9) Saturday will be awesome: The opportunity is there to watch quality basketball all day on Saturday, and frankly, if this weather keeps up/gets worse, that’s not such a bad idea. Here’s what I plan on watching:
11 a.m.: Connecticut vs. Notre Dame, ESPN2
Noon: St. Bonaventure vs. Xavier, ESPNU
Noon: Kentucky vs. Tennessee, ESPN
1 p.m.: Texas vs. Missouri, ESPN2
2 p.m.: North Carolina vs. Florida State, ESPN
2 p.m.: Pittsburgh vs. Marquette, ESPNU
3 p.m.: Oklahoma State vs. Baylor, ESPN2
4 p.m.: Ohio vs. Akron, ESPNU
(Sunday bonus: 4:30 p.m., Indiana vs. Wisconsin, CBS).
10) Don’t look now, but…: Murray State is a top 15 team in the country. Seriously, the 17-0 Racers are for real. They have four regulars who shoot over 82% from the free throw line. They should roll right over the Ohio Valley Conference, and I’d say there’s at least a 50% chance they go undefeated. They have 28 of the 31 first place votes in the Mid-Major Top 25. Three of their top five scorers are seniors. They roll nine deep, as four bench players average more than 13 minutes per contest. Aren’t these the ingredients for a serious tournament contender?