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March 1, 2010, 10:39 AM ET
Weekend in Hoops: What can orange do for you?

by John Gasaway

If you were the home team, this was a good weekend to be playing in front of a rabid crowd that was wearing some form of orange. (Unless of course you were Illinois.) Will all D-I teams promptly change their school colors to some form of the citrus hue later today? They would have good reason!

Let those two NBA types handle the ball for Kentucky, not those other two NBA types
Tennessee got things rolling early on Saturday with a 74-65 win over Kentucky in Knoxville. In two games against the Cats this year Bruce Pearl got John Calipari’s team to shoot 41 threes. They made just nine of those attempts, including a 2-for-22 effort on Saturday. The scout on Kentucky appears to be to keep the ball away from DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, give it to John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, and say, “Here. Shoot a three. You know you want to.”

In conference play the Wildcats rank first in the SEC in 2FG percentage and 11th in 3FG accuracy. Over the past six games Wall and Bledsoe are shooting a combined 19 percent on their threes (8-of-43), with 38 assists and 40 turnovers. If you’re an opponent, you want the ball in their hands and not down low with the automatic two-point twins. 

Not that you’re home free at that point, of course. Actually Kentucky’s defense is way better than its offense. But getting UK to shoot threes might at least get your foot in the door.

Kansas is still the best team in the Big 12. However….
Trivia question. Between Oklahoma State and Syracuse (see below), two orange-themed home teams who scored points seemingly at will on Saturday, who shot better from the field? Answer: The Cowboys, and it’s not even close. In their 85-77 win in Stillwater, Travis Ford ’s team riddled Kansas with made shots like no Big 12 regular season opponent has done for at least five years. OSU scored 85 points in 71 possessions by making 65 percent of their twos and 53 percent of their threes. They couldn’t miss. (Literally! Matt Pilgrim scored 18 on 8-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 marksmanship at the line.) So, yeah, that part was a bit of an outlier. Burn the tape and move on, right?

What’s worrisome to me if I’m a KU fan is that this defense is good, sure, but it’s not even in the same area code as those great Jayhawk defenses from 2006 to 2008. (In the wake of the Stillwater debacle, Kansas State actually has the best defense in the conference.) When your D is allowing Big 12 opponents to make 40 percent of their threes, commit an average number of turnovers, and get an average number of offensive boards, I’m looking at a defense that is seriously dependent on Cole Aldrich. And look what happened on a day when he played just 24 minutes, blocked one shot, and got two defensive boards. 

It’s strange to be saying this about the latest in a long line of elite Bill Self teams, but I could picture this team not being able to control its defensive glass against a quality opponent in the NCAA tournament.    

Syracuse honors historically large crowd by doing a group portrayal of DeJuan Blair
Speaking of not controlling your defensive glass, diminutive Villanova was beaten senseless on theirs by Syracuse in Saturday night’s 95-77 blowout at the Carrier Dome. The Orangemen got to fully 48 percent of their misses, with Arinze Onuaku recording eight offensive boards in just 21 minutes. That and garden-variety fouling by Jay Wright’s team enabled the ‘Cuse to score those 95 points in 77 possessions despite, incredibly, suffering a night of slightly below-average shooting from the field.

Regular readers know that I’ve been vociferous in my praise of the Syracuse D while taking more of a wait-and-see attitude toward the Big East’s fifth-best offense. Well, what I’m seeing is that Jim Boeheim’s team has won its last two games, against Providence and ‘Nova, by scoring a ton of points. I hasten to add that those aren’t particularly great defenses the Orange were facing. (The Friars are allowing Big East opponents to make a no-after-you 56 percent of their twos.) Still, teams that have the ability to win games in more than one way are tough outs come March.

In today’s less orange venues….
Now for the really impressive Big East offense!
If you want to ooh and ahh about a high-octane offense in this here conference, I ask that you direct your attention to Notre Dame, where the Fighting Irish are achieving strange new heights of efficiency in the absence of the injured Luke Harangody. The big fellah has missed the last four games, during which time Mike Brey’s team has veered well north of 1.20 points per trip. Are we seeing an equivalent of the Ewing Effect here? Doubtful. Turnovers are actually up, the Irish are simply shooting out of their minds. If a team makes 46 percent of its threes and shoots a lot of them, they are going to be really tough to beat. Ask Georgetown, which lost by 14 at home to ND on Saturday by allowing the visitors to score 78 points in 57 possessions….Purdue without Robbie Hummel looked every bit as bad on offense as I feared in losing by nine to Michigan State at home yesterday. The Boilers, Spartans, and Ohio State are now all tied in the loss column in the conference race. An outright champion is unlikely….Duke is now outscoring the ACC by a wider margin than any other major-conference team can boast of with relation to its league. Is it ontologically possible for a Blue Devil team to be under-publicized? (Suggested headline: “Introducing a Team Besides Syracuse.”) More tomorrow in Tuesday Truths….Congrats to Cal! And in other Pac-10 news: I know you haven’t run into Oregon this season in anything but a death-watch context, but the Ducks just completed a regular-season sweep of USC and UCLA. What would a late-season push mean in Eugene?…Xavier was very fortunate to beat Richmond in double-OT in Cincinnati yesterday, after running really ugly possessions at the end of regulation and at the end of the first OT. Still, it’s a W. The Musketeers and Temple now share the top of the A-10….New Mexico laid claim to “best team in the Mountain West” status by winning at BYU on Saturday, 83-81. The Lobos may not stomp on the rest of the MWC like the lads in Provo, but they are 2-0 against the Cougars this season. If you had just one conference tournament to watch, you could do worse than choose the Mountain West, March 9-13 in Vegas. Four very good teams (above two plus UNLV and San Diego State), one of which (Aztecs) will be fighting for its NCAA life….Bold statistical outlier Hassan Whiteside, I salute you! You don’t often see a triple-double, and within that rare species you don’t often see one where the second-largest number comes from blocks. Be that as it may, Marshall freshman Hassan Whiteside recorded a 14-13-11 points-blocks-rebounds line against UCF on Saturday night. Now the bad news. The Herd needed triple-overtime to win a home game against the Knights….The West Coast Conference season is in the books. And Gonzaga reigns supreme. Saint Mary’s is appearing as a projected 12-seed….The Missouri Valley season’s in the books too. Barring Arch Madness surprises, it will be another one-bid year for the Valley and that bid will again go to Northern Iowa.

Unfiltered-back!
Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

I talked about announcers on Friday
And even though I broke the taboo 1500-word barrier with ease, I still left out some crucial details. Never fear, alert reader Austin is here to back me up. 

Great article today. I watch a ton of college basketball, and I’ve formed plenty of opinions about play-by-play guys and analysts and their abilities to either define or destroy the viewing experience.

I agree with your description of Vitale as a “celebrant.” I’ve also described him as the ambassador of college basketball. If there’s one thing I’d change about him, though, it’s the phrase “I really do.” He repeats it all the time, as if we’d have reason to doubt the words coming out of his mouth. My mother does the same thing, and it bugs me.

It’s not just the marquee guys at ESPN who do a very good job. Jon Sciambi and Bob Wischusen are often relegated to the undercard games, but they do terrific work. I hope they continue to climb the ranks.

I also love Doug Gottlieb. Yes, he can come across as smug and I didn’t like him as a player. But he knows what he’s talking about. With so much of sports and culture basking in anti-intellectualism, I appreciate someone who’s actually gone to great lengths to stay informed about as many obscure players and teams as he possibly can. When he says something it’s not unfounded, and he has a good radio presence as well. 

Austin G.

Thanks, Austin! Meanwhile alert reader Jerry has taken my headline to heart more than anyone I know, including yours truly.

Annually for the past few years I have sent letters to ESPN, CBS, Fox, and Raycom, suggesting that their stereo capabilities be used to put the announcers on one channel and crowd noise on the other. That way I could still keep the sound on. I actually like crowd noise.

Raycom actually replied one year and noted that I might not be able to keep up with the foul totals without announcers. I offered a two-pronged reply:

1. A lot of times your own announcers can’t keep up with the foul totals, although it is easier to distinguish between a foul and traveling now that traveling is no longer called.

2. You might want to look into some of those nifty machines that put graphics on the screen.

I have received no additional replies to any of these observations.

Jerry H. 

Novel, yet simple. Hey, if Admiral Ackbar as the new mascot for Ole Miss can catch on, this could too! Good luck with it, Jerry.  

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