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November 28, 2009, 02:38 AM ET
Fridays in conference play aren’t this busy

by John Gasaway

No shortage of hoops this evening. Some quick comments.

Did we mention these two coaches have won a lot of games?
Duke beat Connecticut 68-57 in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Madison Square Garden. This was a really ugly game, the kind it would probably be wrong to burden with too much meaning. Except for this: Jim Calhoun had Stanley Robinson guarding Andre Dawkins when the versatile UConn star wasn’t guarding Kyle Singler. That speaks volumes about Dawkins (though Jon Scheyer was probably offended), who scored 11 points in just 17 minutes.

This time of year you can’t swing a cat without hitting at least ten highly-touted freshman that are looking merely mortal now that we can actually see them play. Dawkins, conversely, is living up to the hype.

The All-D, No-O Florida Gators beat the All-TO Michigan State Spartans
No team in the history of college basketball has ever scored more than a point per possession while looking as ugly as Michigan State looked against Florida in their 77-74 loss to the Gators at the Legends Classic in Atlantic City. Tom Izzo’s team committed 23 turnovers in a 71-possession game. Either MSU gave the ball away in notably ugly fashion (I counted no fewer than 17 over-and-back calls) or they scored. There was no in between.

Still, the remarkable aspect of this game was not that mighty Michigan State was held to 1.04 points per trip, but rather that a Florida offense that’s been largely impotent thus far this season could somehow notch 1.08 points per possession against this big scary team that’s such a sure thing for the Final Four. For the year Florida is making less than 25 percent of their threes, but they scored enough points to beat the Spartans because they took care of the ball, got to the line, and made their free throws. No fewer than five Gators (Chandler Parsons, Erving Walker, Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin, and Ray Shipman) scored between ten and 14 points.

Thank you, AP! This is precisely why I don’t follow rankings!
I mean that literally: I do not follow rankings. They’re meaningless. We have a tournament in this here sport. I know Kansas is number one, of course, but past number 12 or so it’s just so much noise to me.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to my DVR’d version of the second half of Northwestern’s 72-58 win over Notre Dame at UIC Pavilion in the Chicago Invitational Challenge. With my own two ears I heard the announcers say what a nice win this was for the Wildcats since the Fighting Irish…are…a…top-25 team?! What?

Let me see if I have this sequence correct. A team is terrible–I mean perfectly dreadful–on defense over the course of an entire season. (Actually multiple consecutive seasons, but we’ll leave that aside here.) As a result that team goes to the NIT. The following year said team loses three starters and brings in no John Wall-types to replace them.  The team starts the season by beating North Florida, St. Francis (PA), Long Beach State, Liberty, and Kennesaw State, all at home (duh). And this is somehow judged as worthy of a top-25 ranking?

Can we all just agree to ignore rankings? Every morning I thank the hoops gods that these things do not help determine the national champion in my sport. I honestly don’t see how college football fans stay sane.

Too bad, too, because the pollsters’ manifest malpractice detracted from what was indeed a nice win by Northwestern. Youngsters like John Shurna and Alex Marcotullio are looking feisty! Beware, NC State

Congratulations, Portland
The Pilots defeated Minnesota 61-56 in the semifinals of the 76 Classic in Anaheim and if you saw this game you know it did not look at all like an “upset.” Eric Reveno’s team played like the favorites all game long. T.J. Campbell looks like he might be ready to make the leap from efficient supporting player to highly-efficient star. (Heck, he might even start someday!) And late in the game when the Gophers looked primed to take the lead, Robin Smeulders proved a dagger can come from inside the arc, scoring on a beautiful post move over Ralph Sampson and hitting Tubby Smith’s team where they live. The Pilots will now face West Virginia in the title game on Sunday evening.     

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