An otherwise non-descript non-conference game in mid-November included one of the more tantalizing-and enjoyable-scenes we will see all of this college basketball season.
Wednesday night provided something very unique when UC Irvine traveled across country to face Central Florida. The game featured not one but two 7-foot-6 players in the Anteaters’ Mamadou Ndiaye and recently eligible UCF freshman Tacko Fall. For those scoring at home, that’s a collective 15 feet of post battling it out.
The game was billed as the tallest matchup in NCAA history. Fall got the better of Ndiaye head-to-head, but Ndiaye got the last word in by scoring all three of the Anteaters’ points in overtime for a 61-60 victory.
Fall finished with six points, seven rebounds and four blocks, outplaying the veteran UCI big man who scored just five points and was in foul trouble a good share of the game. UC Irvine got 22 points from Luke Nelson, though, to earn a win for its 2,500-mile trip.
For anyone who has seen UC Irvine play a couple times in recent years, they understand just how much someone of Ndiaye’s size changes the game-for both teams. Defensively, the Anteaters play a Syracuse-like 2-3 zone that attacks the wings but has a soft middle, because you can when you have a center with an 8 foot, 1 inch wingspan. Offensively, Ndiaye has a fairly limited game and isn’t going to be darting to the basket on a pick-and-roll-but again, when you have a guy who is 7-6 and can dunk nearly flat-footed, how much more do you need? Not a problem in the least when a team plays to its strengths.
UCI is now 3-0 and should be 4-0 when it heads into the Wooden Legacy tourney next week. There they’ll face Boise State and have the chance for shots at the likes of Arizona and Michigan State if they can keep winning.
On a completely unrelated note, Wednesday night also brought us another example of one of college basketball’s current so-ridiculous-it’s-true features.
Akron went on the road and never trailed in defeating Arkansas 88-80, a solid road win for the Zips no matter how much the Razorbacks may struggle this year.
In the small print on the schedules, it is noted that this game was part of the NIT Season Tip-Off. It stands to reason, then, that Akron should be moving on in some kind of in-season tournament then. Or, at the very least, Arkansas shouldn’t be advancing…right?
Instead, the preseason NIT-like many other tournaments now, it must be noted-has decided to pre-select beforehand four teams to its semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Arkansas-based on the size of its fan base and its residence in one of the major football conferences, is one of those four teams. Akron is not.
Somehow, the whole reason why we play the games-to determine a winner and a loser-is inconsequential. Akron does the work. And Arkansas reaps the award.
We know why it is-TV and money talking. Again.
Something is messed up, though, when a tournament isn’t really a tournament, yet still is allowed to call itself a tournament and benefits under NCAA rules with an exemption…and this hasn’t been seen for what it is-so silly that it should be a no-brainer to fix.
Heaven knows the NCAA has enough rules, but there should be a little room for another one: any in-season tournament event must actually be played like a tournament-with a bracket involving all teams-or else is limited to two games per participant.
If you want Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Stanford and Villanova automatically in your semifinals, no problem, but then cut the fat. There’s no reason for the NCAA to give an exemption when a tourney brings in teams with no real interest in their participation. At least Akron got the chance to play-and win-at Arkansas, but they could’ve played in a tourney, too. The opportunity doesn’t change the absurdity of this format.
- In the best matchup of the night, Providence held off Illinois 60-59 after the Illini missed three chances in the final seconds. Ben Bentil stepped up for the Friars with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
- Purdue and Gonzaga played similar games Wednesday night. Both faced inferior opponents, but teams also dangerous enough to make them sweat if they did not bring their ‘A’ game. Both favorites did just that, with the Boilermakers routing Incarnate Word 96-61 and Gonzaga rolling past Northern Arizona 91-52. It’s so simplistic, but both games showed one of those first truths of college basketball, so obvious that sometimes it slips the mind: talented size can win you a lot of games.
- North Carolina got a challenge from Wofford for about 30 minutes before the Tar Heels’ size also took effect, finishing off a 78-58 win. Brice Johnson posted a double-double (16 points, 14 rebounds).
- Cincinnati and Bowling Green was a good game for a half, with the Bearcats up just four at the break. Then they played the second half. UC won 83-50, behind 20 points from Farad Cobb.
- Richmond just missed an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last year, and a home loss to Wake Forest was one reason why. The Spiders corrected that this year, winning 91-82 in despite allowing 57.1% shooting and being minus-16 in rebounding (39-23). So how did Chris Mooney’s team win? Try 20 Demon Deacon turnovers to just six for Richmond.
- New Mexico really, really missed Cully Neal last year, and this year we’re getting a feel for just how much. The Lobos are a much better team with him back, evidenced by a 75-51 win over Loyola (Ill.). Neal’s stat line Wednesday night was actually fairly benign (9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), but Tim Williams rolled up 22 points in a dominant win over a good team.
- Valparaiso is the first 4-0 team in Division I after a 78-40 win over Indiana-Kokomo. While a non-Division I win is hardly notable, it’s the second of three games in three days for the Crusaders, including their win at Rhode Island Tuesday morning.
- Also some quiet 3-0 teams: Southern Illinois after a 72-69 win over Kent State, Army after winning 96-85 at Fairleigh Dickinson, and Savannah State after tipping Arkansas State 76-75.
- It’s another day with a wealth of TV viewing options as the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and Charleston Classic both get underway with action already in the morning. The best quarterfinals in Puerto Rico include Temple taking on Minnesota (11:30 a.m. Eastern, ESPNU) and Miami against Mississippi State (6 p.m., ESPN2), while the most intriguing first round game in a middling field in Charleston has Seton Hall against Long Beach State (7 p.m., ESPNU). Ray Floriani has more on the Pirates early this season here. Virginia also is a part of the field there and opens with Bradley (9:30 p.m., ESPN2).
- Creighton has looked good in a few early blowout wins, and the Bluejays will get a much better test of where they’re at when they go to Indiana (7 p.m., BTN).
- Yale similarly has played well in a 2-0 start, and the Bulldogs travel to take on a Lehigh team among the Patriot League favorites.
- South Dakota State is at Illinois State, and don’t be surprised if this is a top 75 or even higher win at the end of the season for one of these two teams. The Jackrabbits will be challenged by ISU’s athleticism, and the Redbirds will be challenged by SDSU’s excellent backcourt.
- Stony Brook has one of the best frontcourt players in the country in Jameel Warney. Vanderbilt has one of the best frontcourts, period. Fascinating matchup between the Seawolves and Commodores at Memorial Gym.
- Boise State is at Arizona in what is the marquee matchup of the night. The Wildcats started to find their stride in the second half against Bradley on Monday, while the Broncos are good enough to win this on the road. These two also could meet again next week in the Wooden Legacy.
- Finally, several good ones on the west coast: Pepperdine will give UCLA another home challenge-don’t underestimate the strength of some of the teams the Bruins have been playing. SMU also is at Stanford (11:30 p.m., ESPN2) and will provide us a good look at where the Mustangs are at emotionally in this season of postseason ineligibility.
Have a terrific Thursday.