Red Storm Rising
St. John's makes a statement vs. Duke.
By: Mitch Light | 2/1/11, 11:36 AM EST
1. What team had the best weekend in college basketball?
Mitch Light: I’ll go with St. John’s, which beat Duke with surprising ease at Madison Square Garden. It was obviously a big win for the '10-11 Red Storm, who are looking for wins to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. But this was significant for big-picture reasons, as well. Nothing catches the attention of the New York City basketball community like a lopsided win over Duke, and this one victory did more to make St. John’s relevant in the Big Apple than the Johnnies' 11 previous wins combined.
Braden Gall: A one-point, double-overtime thriller at UConn will get the nod from me every time. But Louisville got beat on Monday by the team who had the best extended weekend in the nation, Georgetown. After a 1-4 start in Big East play, the Hoyas pummeled St. John’s (no laughing matter these days) early in the week before beating Villanova on the road on Saturday. They followed that up on Monday with a three-point home win over one of the hottest teams in the nation, Louisville. JT3 had his team right back in the heart of the Big East race in a matter of days.
Nathan Rush: St. John’s took down Duke and played in front of a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden — both for the first time since Marcus Hatten dropped 29 on Coach K’s club, including a “walk-off” free throw to clinch the win at the Mecca in 2003. The Red Storm did not need a last-second freebie this time, however, as first-year coach Steve Lavin earned a signature win, 93–78, with a rowdy crowd of 19,353 at MSG cheering on an upset of the No. 3-ranked Blue Devils.
2. Name a player or two who has really stepped up his game since the beginning of conference play.
Mitch: Marquette junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom has been terrific in Big East games, averaging 19.9 points while shooting 44.4 percent from 3-point range. DJO has been solid all season for Buzz Williams’ club, but he has been producing at a higher level in league play. Five of his six 20-point games this season have come against conference opponents, highlighted by his 29-point effort in a win at Rutgers.
Braden: I will go with Georgia Tech’s Iman Shumpert. In the 12 games prior to the New Year, Shumpert averaged a solid 14.7 points per game. The Jackets lost to Kennesaw State, Northwestern, Georgia, Siena and Syracuse. Since the calendar changeover (seven ACC games and Charlotte), Shumpert is scoring at a 19.2-point clip, averaging 3.0 steals per game, and he added a triple-double in the win over Virginia Tech last week.
Nathan: I don’t know if anyone has been staying up to watch late night Mountain West games, but BYU has this kid named Jimmer Fredette. In seven MWC games, Jimmer is averaging 35.1 points, 4.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds, while shooting 49.0 percent from the field, 88.1 percent from the free throw line and 54.1 percent from downtown (33-of-61). The Cougars are carrying a 6–1 record in conference play, losing at New Mexico in a game where Jimmer had 32 points, seven assists, five boards and three steels. Jimmer-mania has lived up to the hype.
3. How worried should Syracuse fans be?
Mitch: It’s not time to panic, but Syracuse fans have to be concerned. The defense has been the issue for Jim Boeheim’s club. In its five Big East wins, Syracuse allowed 59.8 points per game; in the four-game losing streak, that number has ballooned to 80.8 points per game. Each of the past three opponents has shot at least 50 percent vs. the Orange — something that did not happen once in their first 19 games. Fixing this defense is the top priority if Syracuse plans on making a move in March.
Braden: An eight-point loss to Pitt on the road is nothing to be worried about. A six-point loss on the road to Marquette is understandable. Even the nine-point home loss to Villanova isn’t that alarming. But a 22-point home whipping at the hands of a 10–12 Seton Hall squad (even with Jeremy Hazell) is totally inexcusable. And with UConn, Louisville and Georgetown coming up, life isn’t getting any easier. That said, even if the Cuse loses to every ranked opponent it plays from here on out, it would finish 9-9 in Big East play. Whatever doesn’t kill you in February, makes you stronger in March, so I am not worried. A loss to South Florida or Rutgers. and I will change my tune.
Nathan: After an 18–0 start, Syracuse has dropped four straight — at Pitt (74–66), Villanova (83–72), Seton Hall (90–68) and at Marquette (76–70). And with a trip to Connecticut (Feb. 2), two games with Georgetown (Feb. 9 and Feb. 26), a visit to Louisville (Feb. 12) and roadie to Villanova (Feb. 21) still remaining, the Orange need to bounce back in a hurry. But with 35-year veteran coach Jim Boeheim on the sideline, no one needs to jump off the Carrier Dome yet. The Cuse will be dancing in March; they just don’t want to be doing the 7-10 shuffle when the brackets come out.
4. Name an under-the-radar team that no one is talking about. Can be from any league.
Mitch: I’ll go with Colorado State. San Diego State and BYU are stealing the headlines in the Mountain West Conference, but the Rams are 15–6 overall and 5–2 in league play with a visit from San Diego State looming on Wednesday night. Tim Miles, in his fourth season at CSU after a successful run at North Dakota State, has guided the Rams to wins over Ole Miss, Southern Miss, UNLV and Utah so far this season. With an RPI in the 40s, Colorado State should remain in the discussion for an at-large invite to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
Braden: Has an 18–4 Arizona team ever been under the radar? After a 7-2 start in Pac-10 play, which includes a 2-2 road record, the ship appears to be righted in Tucson. Forward Derrick Williams is the quietest 20-and-8 guy in the nation. After a 25-year tourney streak was snapped last season, Sean Miller has the Wildcats quickly back on the winning side of the ledger.
Nathan: Georgia is deceptively good, better than the 14–6 overall record and 3–4 mark in the SEC indicates. The Dawgs have lost to Kentucky at Rupp Arena (66–60), in double-overtime to Florida (104–91) following a near-halfcourt heave by Erving Walker, to Tennessee (59–57) on a leaning buzzer-beater by Brian Williams, at Vanderbilt (73–66), Temple (65–58) and in double-overtime to Notre Dame (89–83). But with skilled big man Trey Thompkins (17.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Olympic high-jumper Travis Leslie (14.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and transfer combo guard Gerald Robinson (13.7 ppg, 4.2 apg) leading the way, UGA is capable of making a late-season run in the SEC.
5. What game are you most looking forward to this week?
Mitch: I think Marquette’s trip to Villanova will be very interesting. The Wildcats jumped out to a 5–1 start in the Big East but have since lost two straight, at Providence and at home to Georgetown. Marquette finally won a close game, beating Syracuse over the weekend, 76–70, in Milwaukee. Both teams are perimeter-oriented and both teams are very athletic. Marquette has leaned on the 3-point shot a bit more than expected (16.6 attempts per game in Big East play), but the Golden Eagles are making them at a high rate (.430). Villanova also shoots it well from the arc (.422), but that was expected to be a team strength entering the season. This one should be highly entertaining.
Braden: Big Ten Sunday. Ohio State travels — and will likely put its unbeaten record on the line — to The Barn in Minneapolis. Tubby Smith has a resilient bunch that posted four straight wins (including a victory Purdue) after a three-point heartbreaker to the Buckeyes in Columbus. Additionally, two of the league’s best floor generals will go at it once again when Tom Izzo and Michigan State travel to face Bo Ryan and Wisconsin on the same day. The Spartans rallied from nine down in the final minutes to force overtime (and a win) a month ago. Expect both home teams to play very well.
Nathan: Saturday night’s Kentucky at Florida (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) is a game that features two high-profile coaches (UK’s John Calipari and UF’s Billy Donovan) with rosters loaded with NBA talent but lacking experience and consistency. I’m interested to see how freshman phenoms Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb handle the Swamp after losing close calls on the road at North Carolina (75–73), Georgia (77–70) and Alabama (68–66) earlier this season.
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