Thursday night was another light, finals week-inspired schedule of games. Among the headlines of the night: reserves making their mark.
We know what Penn State went through a couple of years ago with their football program. It’s been through a lot, and they are now back in a bowl game this year. While the basketball program never had to go through a criminal and then NCAA investigation, it has had its own demons. Life inside the program is not easy.
Penn State is a classic example of a “football school.” Football is sport 1, 1-A, 1-B and more there, especially for the fan base. The basketball team plays a distant second fiddle, if that. I won’t go much into detail – a respected colleague who attended the school did a great job of that right here.
Earlier this week, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was the center of attention. For the past couple of nights it’s the SEC/Big 12 Challenge that has taken over. And just like one game in particular in the former got everyone’s attention, and was about as good as billed, there was one matchup in the latter that many were eagerly awaiting. It wasn’t quite as good as billed in the second half, but it was a competitive game, for the most part.
Texas had about as good a month of November as Kentucky, as previously detailed in this space. The Longhorns also have a lot of length, so they figured to be able to match up with Kentucky. Texas led several times in the first half and had a big edge on the glass, and the teams were tied at 26 at the break. It figured to be quite a second half.
While there is much talk about Kentucky early in the season, as well as the likes of Duke and a few others, one team we must talk about is Texas. Granted, we’ve done that already here, but on Sunday it became clear that they deserve a little more pub, because quite frankly, the Longhorns had as good a month of November as anyone in the country.
Texas is more than just back to life after struggling a couple of years ago. They are playing like a national power once again, and on Sunday they went up to Connecticut and did what such a team sometimes does – not play their best and beat a good team on the road. They didn’t do it convincingly – it took a three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left by Jonathan Holmes for the final 55-54 margin – but a win is a win, and this has to do wonders for Texas.
Sunday was the big day in several early season tournaments, so they lead the way once again. This time, though, three of them crowned champions.
We start with the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which was an old Big East matchup. West Virginia made a strong start stand up, leading by 15 points at the half en route to a 78-68 win behind 21 points from tournament MVP Juwan Staten. Connecticut suspended four players before the game for a violation of team rules, two of whom are walk-ons and only one of whom has seen the court for the Huskies this season.
Early season tournaments continue to lead the way, and will for much of the next week. Friday featured plenty of such action leading into the weekend, setting the stage for what’s to come. In one of them, a champion was crowned.
At Madison Square Garden, Texas won the 2K Classic 71-55 over California, frustrating the Golden Bears with their defense all night long, especially the 10 shots they blocked. In the consolation game, Syracuse held off Iowa 66-63 behind a career-high 20 points and nine rebounds from freshman Chris McCullough, who also got the game-sealing steal in the final seconds. More coverage on this is coming soon, so stay tuned.
Holiday tournament basketball tipped off on Thursday, one of the many things we can give thanks for over the upcoming holiday. Though perhaps not too much thanks.
The proliferation of large, eight-team in-season tourneys has been a boon for teams looking to get in an extra three games each season, but it also has played a part in watering down the importance of such tournaments as a whole.
Every team has a player or two whose performance is a barometer for how the team does – as he goes, they go. It’s not necessarily their best player, although it can be; rather, it’s often someone either playing a key position or having to take over for a departed star at a position. In some cases, it’s a player who seems most likely to step into a larger role.
Certainly, the best players are important ones. If they fall short of what they have done in the past or are expected to do based on their past performance, other players must do more.
A year ago at this time, much about the American Athletic Conference was unknown. The conference had a new name for barely a month, and aside from that, what we knew it had was a bunch of schools that were breaking away from the old Big East. It did have an office – that which had long belonged to the Big East in Providence, even though Providence College would remain in the Big East.
But when the 2013-14 season was over, it was clear the conference had quite a bit going for it on the hardwood. They had the runner-up in the NIT and the national champion – not bad for a conference that barely existed a year before the season ended.
Shabazz Napier wasn’t always the easiest kid to root for. He was rough around the edges and could let his competitive streak get the best of him on occasion. Early on, he was an underachiever in the classroom. It would be easy to watch him and see him as a selfish player at times. You could be excused if you wondered if he wasn’t going to be one more example of a city legend somewhere who flamed out when it came to college.
If you knew him back in those days, you knew none of that was who he really is. And if you have followed him over the years, you know that none of that has been true for quite a while now. He wakes up on Tuesday morning with an incredible college legacy that includes two national championships, and one that is the product of tremendous growth into the player and person he always had the potential to become. That he is a two-time champion does not change him from what he was into something else; rather, it is his evolution into the person he is that changed him into a champion.
A busy Saturday is in the books, and we saw the matchups get better, the results continue to be noteworthy and tell us more, and a couple of the games needed a lot of extra time to decide.
Stony Brook was able to hang with Providence until the roof caved in several minutes into the second half. It’s part of a growing process this team in transition needs, and it continues despite dropping a few games along the way.
Maine has a long road ahead as they rebuild under new head coach Bob Walsh. Amidst the early struggles, the Black Bears have shown some reason for hope going forward.
We look at some notes and evaluations from Sunday’s action at the Scholar Roundball Classic, where the blowouts included some noteworthy performances.
We look back at Sunday’s action in the Hoop Mountain Prep Classic, which included an overtime thriller and a couple of lopsided contests, and some prospects who helped themselves out with their play.
The busy weekend that just passed also included a few games at the National Prep Showcase. Here are a few notes from some of the action early on Friday and Saturday.
With a series of prep school open gym visits in the book and the season not far away, here’s a look back at open gyms and a look forward to the season in the New England prep school ranks.
Marianapolis Prep is far from loaded with talent, but they have enough perimeter talent to be dangerous. As is usually the case, they will battle and be a tough out in Class AA.