Lessons learned from near-misses, upsets during weekend's games
Notice all the debris from the past college basketball weekend. Must have been some party.
Twelve overtime games. Thirty more decided by one possession. Ten of the top 25 ranked teams were beaten, and No. 1 Kentucky barely escaped its unranked counterpart. Twice. Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest, but No. 2 Duke, No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 7 Arizona all followed the downfall of No. 5 Louisville and No. 10 Texas that Saturday had produced.
What’s going on out there? Surely, something, anything must have been learned after a weekend shindig like this?
For starters, it’s only January. By mid-season, nobody is immune from bad days, bad breaks or bad karma, and it’s showing.
“Every team right now has issues in the country,’’ Kentucky’s John Calipari said on the SEC teleconference Monday. “Every team. Every team’s working through something.’’
Including his. Which brings us to our next lesson ...
The idea of Kentucky cruising to a perfect and stress-free regular season is officially put on hold. Invulnerability is a fading fad.
The Wildcats have now been pushed into overtime in consecutive games and one of the games was against a Texas A&M team that was without its best player -- and the Aggies needed only to hit a couple of free throws and they would have finished the job.
The platoon system is no longer the flavor of the month. Kentucky can be awful on offense -- note the Harrison brothers’ 6-for-30 shooting at Texas A&M, or the Aggies outscoring the Wildcats 38-14 in the paint -- and wayward in its thought processes. “Like having eight-year-olds,’’ Calipari said after the near-miss at College Station.
On Monday, Calipari delivered a State of the Cats address.
“I’ve said all along I don’t want to go through a season where you’re never in a close game, because you don’t learn about your team," he said. "You need to be down 10 or 12 and see how they respond. You need to be in overtime games where they’ve got to really lock down and be efficient offensively and make free throws or create good shots.
``But enough is enough. We’ve had enough of these games now. Let’s get some games that are a little bit easier for us. But I don’t think we’ll have any, I think every game we play is someone’s Super Bowl. They’re going to play out of their minds. That’s what I’m trying to tell our team; if you don’t play with desperation and they do, you’re losing.
``One of the things we’re addressing today is, how we lost our edge? Have we lost our swagger? Have we lost a little bit of our focus? ... Then the question becomes, how do we get it back?
``We’re still winning tough games and we’re fighting like crazy. It’s just that we’re not exactly where we were. And it’s all good, because I don’t want us to be like it’s March right now. It’s too early to be like it’s March. It isn’t.’’
Then there was a young Duke team that has learned there are nights that youth is going to come with a price. It did Sunday, when the Blue Devils were pushed around by North Carolina State.
The non-conference pleasure cruise is over. The team that had trailed only 11:19 all season and never by more than a field goal in the second half was plowed aside by a 22-5 Wolfpack run. Thus, this soliloquy from Mike Krzyzewsi:
``You learn through experience how tough you need to be. You might think you’re playing tough, but [not] until you’re placed in a situation that requires a whole other level," he said. "Were we as tough as we needed to be? No. Does that mean we’re soft? No. But we need to learn to play at that level.
“We start these three freshmen. They’ve got to go through it in a short period of time and be who most people think Duke is after three years. That’s what we have, we know it. And we’re ok with it. We’ve just got to do it.’’
|AP TOP 10 (Jan. 12)|
Behold, the capriciousness of basketball. Rutgers was the worst shooting team in the Big Ten. Wisconsin had the best defense. Rutgers shot 54 percent. The Scarlet Knights might have lost to St. Francis (Pa.) and Saint Peter’s, but they made St. Bo (Ryan) its highest ranked opponent they've ever beaten.
“What’s next, we’re not sure,’’ Ryan said Monday of the status of his missing Wisconsin starters. Rapidly approaching major changes will hit Madison soon enough, and they'll hit even harder if they show they're a team that can't compete without Kaminsky.
Another team that has needed to brave some changes this season is Rick Pitino's Cardinals.
So how do you like life in your new league so far, Louisville?
The Cardinals blew a 13-point lead in the last 8 1/2 minutes to lose at North Carolina in the final seconds. They have joined a conference that usually requires 40 full minutes, and even that’s not always enough.
“Our players are very hurt by it, but this is the ACC,’’ Pitino said afterward. “There are going to be a lot of games like this.’’
Surely, losing to another ranked team isn't much of an upset, but in this college basketball season, nobody is safe. Just ask then-No.7 Arizona, who dropped a game at Oregon State -- a team that held open tryouts last fall, lost an exhibition game to a Division II opponent, and was considered an afterthought in the Pac-12, until Sunday night.
“We were not supposed to be anything,’’ said Oregon State's Langston Morris-Walker, whose late basket beat the Wildcats 58-56, in a game that had 20 lead changes and 15 ties.
But it happens. Sometimes teams get hot. Looking back on Rutgers' upset of Wisconsin, the Badgers were outscored 44-27 in the second half. Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack combined for 31 second-half points for a team that scored 26 points in an entire game against Virginia earlier this season.
That type of thing is bound to happen, but the hottest thing in the game right now might be Virginia’s defense.
The Cavaliers’ latest show of strength was going into Notre Dame to face the nation’s No. 3 scoring and No. 1 shooting team, and shutting the Irish down to 56 points on 33.9 percent shooting. “Two teams throwing big punches,’’ Notre Dame coach Mike Brey called it.
The 15-0 Cavaliers are off to their best start since the early Ralph Sampson days in 1983, and they have held 40 consecutive ACC opponents to under 50 percent.
Quite a weekend, then. Nor was the tumult confined to big name basketball.
Was that Miami (Ohio) behind 25 points in the first half, and the catching and beating Eastern Michigan in overtime? Sure. Was that Northwestern State hitting the 133rd field goal attempt of the game to finally dispose of Incarnate Word 103-101? Yes. Was that Howard hitting the 70th and 71st free throws of the game with a half-second left to edge Coppin State 71-69? You bet.
Unrest, unpredictability, the unknown. "You see that all over the basketball landscape,’’ Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said.
Even Kentucky. The last place so many expected.
"All I’ll tell you is I’m happy I’m coaching this team,’’ Calipari said. "I believe I have the best team in the country with the best players. So we’ve got some things to figure out. We’ll do it together.’’
If there is anything that this past weekend told us, they're not alone.