Yesterday was the first day in the season where I actually had to make some tough choices in terms of where I pointed my attention. About time! Hoops fans have waited eight long months for that particular problem. Here’s what I took away from a busy day.
Evan Turner’s been a point guard for longer than you think.
Obviously I was hoping for a great game between North Carolina and Ohio State and, obviously, it didn’t happen. Not until the last four minutes, anyway. The Tar Heels won by the deceivingly close-sounding score of 77-73 at Madison Square Garden last night because Roy Williams’ strikingly tall and imposing team was able to make the Buckeyes look perfectly dreadful on offense, really, until after the game’s final TV timeout. Some late threes from Thad Matta’s group and some missed free throws from the Heels were enough, eventually, to bring Dickie V.’s attention back to the game for the last 20 seconds or so.
By now you’ve no doubt heard that Ohio State’s Evan Turner recorded a triple-double of sorts: 23 points, 11 rebounds, and ten (count ‘em, ten) turnovers. Turner did indeed have a ghastly game, and I give full credit to UNC for making my All-American look like an over-eager freshman. But before you do anything hasty like term Turner a work in progress as a point guard or even put the very words “point guard” inside quotation marks next to Turner, you should walk yourself through the following pop quiz:
Who was Ohio State’s point guard last year?
Jeremie Simmons? Yeah, see the thing there is Simmons averaged just 23 minutes per game. Late-season starter P.J. Hill? Same deal more or less: Hill was on the floor less than half the time. So who was the Buckeye point guard in 2008-09?
To my warped and admittedly aberrant way of thinking OSU had multiple point guards, and the cream of this crop was one Evan Turner, who was on the floor at all times and recorded a higher assist rate than any other Buckeye. So what the heck was going on with that off-season “meeting” between Turner and Matta? The one where the coach allegedly told the player: I need you to play point, etc.? Hey, I don’t doubt such a meeting took place, it’s just that such a get-together was merely the outward and visible sign of a preexisting inner state of reality: This offense goes through Turner. It has ever since Jamar Butler left.
Final point. Last year Turner was on the floor, by my rough but serviceable count, for 1,859 of Ohio State’s 2,066 possessions. In those 1,859 trips he committed 117 turnovers while playing a point-guard-heavy brand of ball. That’s not excellent but it’s not awful, either. More importantly one season constitutes a really large sample size. It’s probable Turner’s totals will look pretty similar at the end of this year. Let’s not fret too much about one seriously ugly game in November.
Murphy Holloway is really good! So is Ole Miss.
Having just warned against reading too much into one November game, I promise not to read too much into the career-high 26 points that Murphy Holloway scored for Ole Miss yesterday in their 89-71 win over Indiana in Puerto Rico. Holloway had a nice game, but the Hoosiers aren’t exactly North Carolina when it comes to interior D and, anyway, a lot of his points came late against a fatigued and foul-blighted opponent. But I do want to flag Andy Kennedy’s situation at the season’s outset here because I think it’s pretty interesting.
In the book I went on at some length about what a good season Holloway had last year as a freshman and how he should get a long look now before being benched in favor of this year’s much more highly-touted freshman, Reginald Buckner. Well, yesterday Buckner looked raw against IU in every way (e.g., five turnovers in 23 minutes) but one: Shot-blocking. Very often that’s the first piece to arrive for developing big men and Buckner has it. Kennedy has a well-documented embarrassment of riches in the backcourt (Chris Warren, Terrico White, Eniel Polynice, Trevor Gaskins, Zach Graham) and so in the offseason he indicated he would play a lot of four-out one-in sets. But it has to at least have crossed the coach’s mind that a lil’ DeJuan Blair offensive rebounding beast like Holloway and a shot-alterer like Buckner could make some beautiful Adrien-Thabeet music together. I wonder if we might see those two on the floor at the same time. Anyway, it’s a nice problem to have, and with perpetually indeterminate Mississippi State losing at home by 14 to teams that then lose by 33 to Virginia, we might be christening a new favorite in the SEC West before too long.
Dayton’s bench is really good!
In other Puerto Rico action yesterday, Dayton in effect said “Derrick Favors Schmavors” and beat Georgia Tech 63-59. I’m going to put Ken Pomeroy’s number-crunching robots on this case: I want to know the last time outside of a Senior Day when a team’s bench outscored its starters by very nearly a three-to-one (47-16) margin. I’m guessing it’s not all that common. Speaking of uncommon, I don’t know why we haven’t heard more about a team that did away with West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament and now returns four starters. They may not be poetry in motion on offense, but Brian Gregory’s team plays outstanding D. Right now 13 opposing A-10 coaches are exhibiting fear of Flyers.
Cal’s work-in-progress defense is, uh, a work in progress.
Yes, yes, I know the Bears were playing without Theo Robertson. Yes, Syracuse (and especially Scoop Jardine) was outstanding in their 95-73 win over Cal at Madison Square Garden last night. Still, allowing 95 points in an 81-possession game? Take it away College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10! (More specifically the aforementioned Pomeroy.)
We’ve seen this script play out before. You know, the team that can score at will but can’t get stops. But they return everyone from the previous season…and this time they mean business! They’ve been thinking about defense all summer, blah, blah, blah. Last year at this time, these words were being spoken about Baylor, and to a lesser extent Notre Dame. Two years ago it was NC State. Each of those teams failed to improve their defense and fell short of lofty preseason expectations.
Cal is a good team that is going to win a lot of games this season….But they’re also a team with a significant weakness. One that history says is very difficult to overcome, even with hard work.
I tell you, these guys I work with are good.
Last word: This week’s “And Such Small Portions” Tough Audience award.
“Minnesota’s defense was atrocious.” This after the Golden Gophers held Utah Valley to 51 points in a 67-possession contest won by Tubby Smith’s men, 76-51. Apparently they set the bar for D pretty high in the Twin Cities. Allowing 0.76 points per trip? Unacceptable! Meanwhile in Lexington, Kentucky, a shy and retiring coach who always lacks for attention says: I wanna be atrocious! Please! (HT: Dan Hanner.)
John’s less thematically scattered on Twitter: @johngasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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