Around the NCAA
Editor's Note: This was written on January 24. We're posting it late. Our apoligies. It's still a great read.
Sometimes, you can see it coming.
Bill Self did. The Kansas coach saw what many of us saw: a
team just getting by, playing on borrowed time. Time ran out
at Villanova on Jan. 22, as wings Curtis Sumpter and Allen
Ray combined for 52 points in an 83-62 romp.
"It had been coming," Self told reporters after the
game. "We've been putting a lot of band aids on our
Had Kansas been winning? Yes. Is that all that matters?
Well, yes and no. A 109-75 North Carolina thrashing of
Maryland counts for the same number of wins as a 59-57
Kansas nail-biter over Nebraska. However, it was clear that
Kansas, while undefeated heading into Philly, was not
playing top-flight basketball, regardless of what misleading
RPI and strength-of-schedule numbers might say.
In other words, it was clear, or at least should have been
clear, what was coming- a thrashing at the hands of
the 'Cats that wasn't even as close as the already wide
After come-from-behind wins- at home, no less- against
underwhelming foes like Vermont, Pacific, South Carolina and
Texas A&M, the Jayhawks appeared to be vindicated by wins
over Top 10 foes Georgia Tech and Kentucky, especially
considering they won both games without All-American big man
In retrospect, those wins don't look as amazing as they
Georgia Tech was also missing a star, B.J. Elder. They were
manhandling Kansas in the first half until Elder
went down with an ankle injury. Tech has not been a good
team without him, having lost their last three games.
Though winning at Rupp Arena is always impressive, Kentucky
is a very young team, and not a very good one on that day.
That's the nature of a team with so many young players in
their rotation; they may be great on some days, and very
much the opposite on others.
Kansas is also still trying to figure out which of their
young players are mature, and which aren't. Fortunately for
the beakers, Bill Self-coached teams have a history of
finishing strong. But there may not be enough time to fix
this team's deficiencies- a young bench, a disappointing
J.R. Giddens, and an inconsistent offense marred by mediocre
Even if a team's record is flawless, the course of a season
will eventually expose their flaws. No longer holding a
perfect record, Kansas is now fully exposed. How they
respond will be a gauge of this team's maturity level and
Self's coaching ability.
A few hours later, another upset took place in Big East
territory, this one also stunning and predictable all
UConn had certainly been having their ups and downs,
following losses to Boston College and Oklahoma with gritty
road wins over Georgetown and Seton Hall, respectively.
Obviously this is not the same UConn team that won it all
last year. Nearly half of their points from last season,
Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, are currently first and second
among NBA rookies in scoring.
But this sure didn't look like the same Pittsburgh team
coming into Storrs- one of the nation's toughest places to
win, don't forget- that had won 13 Big East games in each of
the last three seasons.
Pitt played one of the most embarrassingly easy
nonconference schedules a good team has ever played. Perhaps
a case of karmic backlash, the Panthers dropped a home game
to one of those patsies, Bucknell. It didn't get any better
once conference play started, as they fell to Big East
lightweights Georgetown and St. John's and barely got by
Rutgers and Seton Hall.
With an RPI freefalling toward triple digits and a
nonconference strength of schedule checking above
300- nearly dead last in the nation- there is no way Pitt
would have been an NCAA tournament team had the season ended
on Jan. 21.
If their name hadn't been Pitt, you would have given no
thought of them winning at UConn. And when UConn was up 49-
34 with 18 minutes left, it was all but decided that they
So why was UConn's monumental collapse and Pitt's comeback
not as surprising as it should have been?
Two reasons. First, UConn does not have the guards to close
out a game. Both Wake Forest and Illinois faced similar
onslaughts after building double-digit leads last week,
against Cincinnati and Iowa, respectively. Why did the Demon
Deacons and Illini find a way to hold on? Because they have
great guards who control a game.
Chris Paul drilled a pair of free throws and a thre-pointer
on consecutive posessions when the Bearcats had closed the
gap to three points late in the second half. In overtime,
Dee Brown hit all four of his free throws, and Luther Head
locked up Pierre Pierce and hit an impossible floater with a
minute left to seal the Illinois win.
UConn does not those kinds of guards. They don't even have
very good guards. Marcus Williams has the makings of a
brilliant playmaker- and his assist/turnover numbers
certainly suggest that- and will some day be a better player
than Taliek Brown. For now, though, the Huskies miss
Brown's veteran hand more than they would have imagined, not
to mention Ben Gordon's dominant performances, which have
been replaced by wayward shooting from Rashad Anderson and
Denham Brown, both shooting well under 40% from the floor
No matter how many talented big men the Huskies have,
college basketball is a guard's game. When their backcourt
play catches up to the likes of Boone and Villanueva up
front, they will be scary to opponents. In the meantime,
UConn fans will be the nervous ones.
The second reason? Pitt was simply due. They aren't as bad
of a basketball team as recent weeks suggested. Carl Krauser
showed why he's one of the nation's better point guards with
15 points and eight assists, and Chevon Troutman dominated
the Huskies' touted frontcourt, scoring 23 of his 29 points-
on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor- in the second-half
The next few weeks will answer the important questions.
Are Villanova and Pitt good teams, after all? Are Kansas and
UConn flawed teams that are due for a March letdown? Or were
both of these games prove meaningless blips on the large
radar of a five month season?