Thankfully, ESPN’s 24-hour hoops marathon has finally fully replaced "Late Night" as the official start to the college basketball season. The idea of cramming into an arena at odd hours of the night to watch some cheesy skits and a scrimmage is outdated and was always overblown.
That said, I know the networks and basketball enthusiasts are trying to breathe a little more life into the late night idea by putting schools on television (earlier in the evening, ironically), but let’s face it, there’s no substitute for live action, and contrary to Dick Vitale’s belief, the season’s start time doesn’t need to be pushed back even a few days, let alone Thanksgiving or later as he’s repeatedly stated.
The ability to tune in anytime and see a wide range of teams, some of which may not appear in front of another national audience the rest of the season, effectively conjures up the same feelings folks get in March. It also lets ESPN get back to its earliest roots, back before Chris Berman and Stuart Scott and "The Decision," and just give fans what they want – competition.
This year’s games, for the most part, were competitive, and for those who like to try to slot teams as early as possible, enough information could be gleaned in order to validate some early predictions, like, for example, it showed pollsters got the top teams right.
No. 1 Duke (which wasn’t on the marathon, specifically, but still played) looks every bit the part of preseason favorite having won its first two games by an average of 35.5 points. Those wins came against Ivy League preseason-favorite Princeton and middle-of-the-pack MAC Miami (Ohio), but the Blue Devils were dominant and have confirmed opponents’ fears that they can score from anywhere on the floor. Nolan Smith is shooting 63.6-percent from the floor and averaging 16 ppg (how he or Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas OR Durrell Summers is behind BYU’s Jimmer Fredette for first-team All-American is beyond me, but that’s another rant for a different time). Freshman Kyrie Irving has been as good as advertised and, oh yeah, there’s that Kyle Singler guy.
No. 2 Michigan State appeared to be on its way to blowing out South Carolina, but sloppy play kept the Gamecocks in it until late. The Spartans are going to be patient while waiting for Kalin Lucas to gain full confidence in his healed Achilles, and in the mean time are going to have to work around his apprehension. Lucas’ teammates are used to him playing and making decisions far faster than he is currently, and it has disrupted the team’s normal flow. The sooner he regains his step, the sooner Sparty will be back to complete domination.
Wholly unexpected, No. 3 Kansas State found itself with an opportunity for to prove its young depth. Though his facial expressions didn’t show it, Jacob Pullen obviously was out-of-sync in his short time on the floor – making uncharacteristically bad decisions with the ball and getting caught in bad positions more than once. It led to early foul trouble for Pullen and opened the door for true freshman (and Kansas City kid) Will Spradling to get not just extended minutes, but a full game against a Top 25 opponent in Virginia Tech.
K-State’s version of Tyrel Reed was just fine, getting five points, an assist, a rebound, no turnovers and, most importantly, playing excellent defense against Va. Tech’s guards over 27 minutes. For how that stat line fit into the context of the game, the effort was phenomenal. Sophomore Martavious Irving was also good in an extended role, hitting key threes in the second half to secure the win.
Irving’s classmate, sophomore Rodney McGruder was KSU’s star, with 13 points and nine boards – proving to be a rebounding nightmare for guards who can’t or don’t want to block out and forwards who lose track of him. Jamar Samuels also had 13 points in the win.
This team can shoot, rebound and play defense. On Tuesday, it proved it is much more than a couple of (albeit good) seniors. Va. Tech, which is built around its backcourt and little else, found out first-hand what the difference looks like.
No. 4 Pittsburgh didn’t take part in the ESPN hoops-fest, but sitting 3-0 with a trio of blowout wins makes me think the Panthers are right where they need to be.
If K-State fans took notice, and they should since it featured an upcoming opponent, No. 5 Ohio State destroyed No. 10 Florida (who KSU gets next month). The Buckeyes shot 43 percent from 3 and 63 percent from the field, rendering the Gators’ press useless. Much like I think KU is better this year without Sherron Collins or Xavier Henry, Ohio State is a team without Evan Turner – making it much harder to beat them.
Bottom line: All five teams dubbed the best in the land prior to the start of the season haven’t disappointed, and this season is off to a rockin’ start.
– Had an interesting exchange on Twitter with a guy over Butler and my initial tweet regarding the Bulldogs having not yet attained Gonzaga-status. He took offense, saying that Butler has made it to that level having played in a "freaking national championship game." I get it, however, my response to that is since 1999, Gonzaga has made every NCAA tourney (12 appearances). In those, the ‘Zags have five Sweet 16 appearances (the last in ’09), including an Elite 8 run in ’99. Butler has seven appearances since ’99 and three Sweet 16’s, including last year’s title game run.
Verdict: Consistency. Gonzaga still has my long-term vote as the better overall program. Their season got off on a bumpy note, losing to San Diego State on Tuesday, but that’s a Top 25 worthy SDSU. Also, we’ll have to see how the rest of the season goes for Gonzaga after the team lost its best rebounder, NBA prospect forward Elias Harris, in the SDSU game with an Achillies injury. It comes at an awful time for Gonzaga as the team prepares to face K-State on Monday in Kansas City as part of the CBE Classic.
– Former Oklahoma Sooners forward and current Western Kentucky senior Juan Pattillo took home the first Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week honors of the 2010-11 season after two wins to start the Hilltopper season. WKU beat St. Joseph’s and Alabama A&M with Patillo recording a pair of double-doubles – averaging 19.0 points and 12.0 rebounds. Oklahoma, on the other hand, needed overtime on Monday to outlast North Carolina Central…in Norman.
– And, if the Hoops Marathon wasn’t enough to prove it’s basketball season: Wyoming head coach Heath Schroyer had to cancel (for the first time this year) a weekly conference call as weather-related road closures in and around Laramie delayed his team’s return from playing Northern Colorado.
Yes, it’s that most wonderful time of the year…
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