Notre Dame douses red-hot Syracuse, more Snap Judgments
A few thoughts on Saturday's crop of college hoops:
The program's eighth victory over a top-ranked foe came against a Syracuse squad that had won only five times by margins of fewer than 10 points while zipping to a 20-0 start.
The Orange played without sophomore center Fab Melo (7.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots per game) -- he didn't make the trip, for which Coach Jim Boeheim refused to reveal the reason -- but it's doubtful his presence would have been enough to overcome an Irish offense that hit 50 percent from the field, including eight of 16 behind the arc.
No one yet should start questioning Boeheim's team's status as best in the Big East and a firm contender to get to the Final Four -- assuming Melo isn't off the floor for an extending period.
The result did much, much more to help Notre Dame's NCAA Tournament at-large bid possibilities than it did to alter the consensus of opinion on the Orange.
Since then they edged host Virginia Tech by four points, nuked North Carolina by 33 -- I repeat, 33 -- points in Tallahassee and methodically dominated visiting Maryland by 14 points.
Oh, yes: They left that Cameron Indoor Stadium floor a few hours later after Michael Snaer's transition three-pointer from the right wing, after a snap pass from Luke Loucks, zinged the nets as the buzzer sounded, jolting the Duke Crazies to near-silence and snuffing the Blue Devils' 45-game win streak in the building.
What a difference 14 days can make: The Seminoles, since that thumping in Clemson, are in a first-place tie (at 4-1) with the Blue Devils. The moral for those who follow college hoops? How about "Judge thee, not too harshly, a team a week into January"?
Not to worry, though: That return trip to Columbia was just fine with an 18-1 record -- 5-1 in the Big 12 -- in tow.
How does a team hit 57 percent from the floor and score 88 points and still drop its second game in a row (the Bears were handed their first loss of the season Monday, Kansas doing the honors in Lawrence, 92-74)? By committing 19 turnovers, allowing the Tigers to shoot 54.5 percent from the field (including 23 of 34 inside the arc) and fouling enough to give Frank Haith's masters of "beating people off the dribble" the opportunity to hit 22 of 31 free throws.
The Jayhawks hit 35 of 61 from the field Monday night against Scott Drew's team.
We can guess what Drew will emphasize in practice before the Bears go to Norman for a Wednesday night game against Oklahoma.
But Bob Cousy Award voters, coach Bill Self and Jayhawk Nation had to be mightily impressed with Taylor's performances Saturday in Austin and Monday night in Lawrence.
Taylor had 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes Saturday -- six days after going for 28, two, six and five in 33 during the defeat of Baylor.
If Taylor plays anything close to that same level while teammate Thomas Robinson continues on his path to the John R. Wooden Award, the Jayhawks' ambitions will rightfully extend well beyond a Big 12 title.
Anthony Davis hit just two of 10 shots from the field, but the likely National Freshman of the Year -- and very possible SEC Player of the Year -- impacted the game in significant other ways via his nine rebounds, four steals, four blocked shots and countless "shot alterations."
The free-throw performance -- 27 of 40 -- was of the so-so variety but just good enough to keep poll voters from having a really difficult decision to make on Monday.
On an afternoon when one of the nation's most touted freshmen (Andre Drummond) and one of the players who led the Huskies to that national title (Alex Oriakhi) were on the floor, the best big man in the game was clearly another freshman -- mid-year high school graduate Jarnell Stokes (16 points and 12 rebounds), who made his college debut against Kentucky seven days before.
So much for enduring periods of adjustment ...
Is WVU senior forward Kevin Jones (26 points and 13 rebounds Saturday against Huggins' former program) the best player in the Big East? A compelling argument could be made in behalf of that suggestion.
Rick Pitino's team has done a remarkable job in dealing with a lot of injuries to win three of seven conference games and, at 15-5 overall, be in solid NCAA Tourney at-large bid position.
The Panthers? Barring a Connecticut-like run through the Big East Tournament, they're going to be part of the NIT field. Who would have imagined that a month ago?
First-year head coach Steve Prohm must be thinking, "It's got to get tougher from here, right?"
It sure will, Steve.
Coach Steve Alford's team has five games to play before getting a rematch with San Diego State (which beat the Lobos Wednesday night in Albuquerque) and they would be prudent to win at least four of them to stay in reasonable NCAA tourney at-large range.
As for the Rebels, they're playing for the best possible tournament seed -- regardless of what happens in the conference's postseason tourney on their home court.
Perimeter players Casper Ware, Larry Anderson and James Ennis combined for 47 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists with just four turnovers for Dan Monson's Long Beach squad while the Gauchos' Orlando Johnson was held to four of 15 shooting and 10 points.
The reason the Gauchos aren't panicking, though: They've beaten the 49ers in consecutive conference tourney title games, doing so last March after losing to Long Beach by margins of 16 and 18 points in the regular season.