Raphielle Johnson's Blog
Sunday signals the end of the Thanksgiving tournament schedule with title games in both Orlando and Anaheim. West Virginia, who welcomed back Devin Ebanks in their win over Texas A&M, will take on a Portland team that's looked every bit the challenger to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference in wins over UCLA and Minnesota. But they're going to have their hands full with the Mountaineers, who are more versatile offensively than either of the two teams the Pilots have beaten in Anaheim.
Friday afternoon's meeting between #7 Duke and #13 Connecticut had all the pregame hype of a championship bout. With the all-time series tied at four wins apiece (Connecticut having won the last four meetings) this was seen as the latest chapter in the short yet captivating novel being written by these two national powers. But by the end of the game it felt as if this were a hardwood replay of Manny Pacquiao soundly whipping Miguel Cotto.
The Saturday schedule is lacking in big-time matchups but there are some intriguing games on the slate. La Salle and Villanova face off in a Big 5 game at the Pavilion and Dr. John Gianinni's team has the talent and depth to hang around with the Wildcats. And with it being the Big 5 you never truly know what's going to happen. Louisville had better be on "upset alert" in Sin City; Lon Kruger's Runnin' Rebels are deep with talent and experience, a recipe for consistent success.
A lot of attention has been sent the way of Friday's NIT Season Tip-Off final, which matches Connecticut and Duke in their ninth all-time meeting. The Huskies have won the last four in the series and are coming off of their most impressive showing of the season. The small forward matchup of Kyle Singler (Duke) and Stanley Robinson (UConn) should be worth the price of admission but there are also issues that both teams would like answers to both now as well as down the line.
Had you told someone that UCLA lost to Portland the result likely wouldn't have registered much shock. The Pilots have already beaten Oregon and Eric Reveno's team is expected to be a challenger to Gonzaga in the WCC. But 74-47? Portland got off to a good start and their offensive efficiency combined with the Bruins' offensive ineptitude resulted in a game that got out of hand; the margin reached thirty points in the second half. Guards T.J. Campbell and Jared Stohl each scored fifteen points to lead the Pilots, who shot 11-for-20 from behind the arc and 54.2% from the field.
The #13 Connecticut Huskies arrived in New York concerned about their rebounding; heading into the game with LSU the Huskies had a rebounding margin average of +2, a far cry from what those both within and outside of the program had come to expect. Head coach Jim Calhoun felt that changes needed to be made, beginning with moving senior Gavin Edwards to the bench. The motivational ploy worked for Edwards, who went for fifteen points and seven rebounds, and as a team the Huskies won the battle on the boards 43-27.
There are just eleven games on the Thanksgiving Day schedule with tournaments beginning in both Orlando (Old Spice Classic) and Anaheim (76 Classic) while play continues at the Great Alaska Shootout. The showcase game: #16 Minnesota taking on #10 Butler in the third quarterfinal of the day. This is going to be the first test of the season for Tubby Smith's team, who hasn't won any of their three games by less than 25 points. Four Golden Gophers are averaging in double figures, led by guard Lawrence Westbrook's 18.5 ppg.
This much became painfully obvious in Maryland's 69-57 loss to Cincinnati in the Maui Invitational on Tuesday: Greivis Vasquez needs another consistent offensive option to step up. The senior guard from Venezuela is still going to take the majority of the shots and he should. But for no other player to score more than nine points when Vasquez finished with nineteen won't get it done against the level of competition the Terps will have to beat to make a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
A champion will be crowned out in Maui when Gonzaga takes on Cincinnati on ESPN. Both teams played well in semifinal wins on Tuesday, and there are some intriguing matchups to be seen. Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray going up against Deonta Vaughn and Cashmere Wright, Yancy Gates and Robert Sacre banging inside and a pair of talented freshmen (Lance Stephenson and Elias Harris) can all be seen in this one.
The game of the day lived up to the hype as Purdue beat Tennessee 73-72 in the title game of the Paradise Jam. E'Twaun Moore led the Boilermakers with twenty-two points while Tennessee's Wayne Chism led all scorers with twenty-four. Tight throughout, the game changed in tempo from the first half to the second. Purdue led at the half 42-41 but the fast tempo made that lead a bit of fool's gold; a game in the eighties wouldn't bode well for the Boilermakers.