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And They’re Off

November 25, 2003 Columns No Comments

Mitch’s National Notebook: And They’re Off!

by Mitch Schneider

Though the 2003-04 college basketball season is still in its infancy, numerous storylines are quickly taking shape. From Connecticut’s dominant start out the gate to California’s embarrassing trip out the door, our b-ball nation has already given us plenty of points to ponder while postin’ around the pool (or, water cooler).

Sure, the sports world may be presently amped on football (no thanks to the entire Manning family). But college hoops has finally returned to roost and it seems only a matter of weeks before we reach total nirvana.

Until that point, please indulge in the following notes related to the week that was in college basketball. And rather than feed you all that occurred throughout our NCAA arenas, here’s an appetizing sampler to hold you over before that one day we give thanks for turkey (along with that other sport).

U-Conn Do It

The top ranked Dawgs (3-0) put together three wins in six days thanks in large part to Connecticut’s explosive offense. UConn averaged 90-plus points per contest while shooting over 53% from the field (55% from downtown). The Huskies flexed their defensive muscles as well by swatting 29 shots and collecting 23 steals in their triumphant hat trick.

While UConn center Emeka Okafor (19.0 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 4.3 BPG) has so far played about as well as a pre-season All-American can play, guard Ben Gordon has proved he’s just as valuable as his talented roommate. “Flash” Gordon (25.7 PPG) netted 37 and 27 points, respectively, in UConn’s most recent wins, and has shown a Ray Allen-like touch from the outside after converting 11 of 15 (73%) shots from three-point range.

Now before we ship the NCAA trophy to Storrs, Conn., please keep in mind the Huskies haven’t exactly been beating up on NBA-caliber teams. After all, Yale, Nevada and Sacred Heart are by no means the Los Angeles Lakers (even without Kobe). But Connecticut has taken care of business in decisive fashion and it may be awhile before any UConn basketball team, be it men’s or women’s, drops a game this year.

Tech Opponents Seein’ Red

The Texas Tech Red Raiders have also jumped out to a 3-0 record, exhibiting an incredible defense second only to Michael Jackson’s team of lawyers.

In Tech’s three wins, Bobby Knight’s crew has held opponents to just 53.6 points per game (the Red Raiders are averaging 81 PPG). Tech’s defense forced 81 turnovers in victories over Davidson, UMass and East Tennessee State, and those three schools managed to hit on just 36% of all shot attempts.

Texas Tech has looked downright ferocious at times in their man-to-man and zone sets as Knight has clearly convinced every Red Raider that defense is the key to success in this sport. His message has not fallen on deaf ears, and TTU has looked exceptional because of it.

A Bear-y Bad Loss

Armed with a top-notch recruiting class and a roster loaded with talent, expectations surrounding the 2003-04 California Golden Bears were about as high as a Telegraph Ave. hippie (cough, cough). Unfortunately, the Cal players missed the memo and proceeded to stink it up last week in their 63-62, season-opening loss to Cal Poly (1-0).

Cal’s inexperience was paramount as the young Bears (0-1) blew a 13-point, second-half lead to a team it should have crushed. California turned the ball over 17 times and shot under 42% in front of more than 9,000 stunned fans at Haas Pavilion.

Freshman sensation, Leon Powe, played well in his collegiate debut notching 12 points and 10 boards for the Bears. But even Powe’s promising performance couldn’t hide the fact that California suffered a major blow to its ego while incurring the nation’s first significant upset of the new season.

ACC and Big 12, Partners in Perfection

The ACC and Big 12 each accumulated sparkling 12-0 records this past week, and currently stand as the only major conferences yet to suffer a loss this season.

Next best in terms of overall winning percentage are the Big East (17-1, .944), SEC (14-2, .875), C-USA (11-3, .786) and Pac-10 (7-2, .778). The Big Ten (9-4, .692) is currently scraping the bottom of the barrel, but like your 401(K) plan, it usually takes some time to develop.

I’m not exactly sure how these early win-loss statistics relate to the rest of the college hoops season. But if they are any indication of how this year will play out, my advice is bet heavily on Duke, Missouri and UConn.

Stat Line of the Week

Even though Kevin Martin’s Western Carolina team dropped its season opener to Georgia 78-67 last Friday, the junior still lit up the scoreboard with a 44-point effort — tops in the country.

The 6-7 guard connected on 14 of 25 from the field, and also pulled down five rebounds for good measure.

44 points against a SEC squad? It looks like there’s a new K-Mart in town.

Out of Bounds

I went and saw the third Matrix movie this weekend, and I left the theater utterly stupefied.

First off, who the heck is this French guy, and why is he so important? If the Matrix was constructed by the Machine World, how come the machines just can’t pull the plug on Smith? And why hasn’t the Oracle moved into a nicer apartment? I mean, she’s the freakin’ Oracle for gosh sake!

Also, could Neo’s relationship with Trinity be any lamer? Let’s at least see a little skin before the final curtains draw. Jeez!

Catch ya next week. Happy Thanksgiving!


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