Despite nearly 100 hundred games on the schedule college basketball took a back seat on Saturday. Such is life during college football season but there were some talking points to be had. I'm sure there are some who wonder why a ranked team such as Oklahoma would take on a challenging road trip such as the Sooners' voyage to Richmond and there's an answer. VCU had it written into former head coach Jeff Capel's contract that the school that if he were to leave for a BCS job he'd agree to a home-and-home series. It's a way for schools in non-BCS league to shore up their scheduling if they're unable to keep their guy in town.
The game was also a win for the highly-successful Villa 7 Consortium, begun in 2004 by VCU with the idea of bringing together athletic administrators with some of the promising young assistants in the coaching industry. If you get a chance click on the link and check out some of the success stories, one of whom is first-year VCU head coach Shaka Smart. As for the game, the Rams won due to some cold shooting from the perimeter by Oklahoma (5-19 from three) and a 20-point outing from Jay Gavin, who sat out last season after transferring from Marist. Larry Sanders scored seventeen points in just twenty-one minutes due to fouls, and Oklahoma was led in scoring by Tony Crocker (19 points).
Willie Warren was just 3-14 from the field in the loss with eight points and six turnovers. Coach Capel is starting a pair of freshmen in Tommy Mason-Griffin and Tiny Gallon, and as freshmen are wont to do they alternated stretches of solid play with reminders that this is their first hostile road trip as collegians. Oklahoma's going to get better and eventually be a threat to get to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. But this was a big win for both VCU and the CAA, who watched some of its members miss on some good upset opportunities by small margins this past week.
Three Key Happenings
1. Houston isn't mentioned with the other Conference USA contenders for one reason. That would be defense; Tom Penders' Cougars can score with anyone but you have to wonder if they're going to be able to stop anyone. Houston gave up sixty-one points in the first half of their game at Nevada and while the Wolf Pack are a good team that should not happen in college basketball. Five Nevada players scored in double figures with three scoring more than twenty while a fourth finished with nineteen points; Joey Shaw led them with twenty-six. Aubrey Coleman (32 points) and Adam Brown (25 points) led the way for Houston but allowing a team to shoot 60.9% on sixty-nine shot attempts isn't going to get it done. Defense is what separates this explosive team from Memphis, Tulsa and UTEP right now.
2. Early returns aren't too good for Pac-10 basketball. The good news for new commissioner Larry Scott is that football has performed extremely well this season. The bad: the basketball could be in for a major fall if today's results are a harbinger of things to come. Oregon losing at Portland isn't terrible but it's not good either; the Pilots were picked to finish second in the WCC but with just about every key contributor back more is expected from Ernie Kent's Ducks. But for USC (Loyola Marymount) and Oregon State (Sacramento State) to lose to teams that combined to win five games last season isn't a good sign.
The Trojans, who are shorthanded to begin with, saw forward Kasey Cunningham go down with a knee injury (the severity of which remains to be seen). Oregon State is still waiting on Roberto Nelson to be cleared and that's been an issue but there's enough back to beat the likes of Sacramento State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Add to this some other results early in the season and this coming week becomes a big one for the league. Arizona is in Maui for the Maui Invitational while UCLA will take part in the 76 Classic in Anaheim.
3. It's early but things are going well so far for Tony Bennett in Charlottesville. You can't accurately predict where most teams will end up in March based on four games, but Virginia is off to a 3-1 start under new head coach Tony Bennett and his offensive system may hold the key as to why. Last season the Cavaliers seemed to use Sylven Landesburg as the centerpiece of a system that lacked structure and that's not good for a team that lacks a prolific scorer in the rotation. Coach Bennett's philosophy stresses ball and people movement, resulting in an efficient offense that may end up being a better fit for this group.
Four players scored in double figures in the Hoos' 76-55 win over Oral Roberts, their second straight over a team expected to contend in its conference by 20+ points. They're also defending far bettern than they did at any point last season, holding the Golden Eagles to 32.1% from the field. It's extremely early but Virginia looks like a different team despite many of the same players being back on campus.
Top Three Games
1. Delaware 97, Pennsylvania 94 (2OT) Hard to believe that a game between winless teams was the day's best, but Jawan Carter's 35 points gave the Blue Hens their first win of the year while dropping Glen Miller's Quakers to 0-3.
2. Northeastern 64, Utah State 61 It was a tight game that came down to the wire, decided on a pair of Nkem Ojougboh free thrown with four seconds remaining. Matt Janning led the Huskies with fourteen while Tai Wesley (Utah State) led all scorers with sixteen points.
3. UL Monroe 74, Morehead State 73 This one edges out Temple's win over Siena. Dynile Forbes led four Warhawks in double figures with seventeen points while Kenneth Faried paced Morehead State with twenty-four points and twelve rebounds. Tony Hooper's shot at the buzzer won it for ULM but keep an eye on Faried as the season progresses.
Three Notable Performances
1. G John Wall (Kentucky) 21 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks in the Wildcats' 92-63 win over Rider. The young man is the truth. Period.
2. G Armon Johnson (Nevada) 22 points, 12 assists and 5 rebounds in the Wolf Pack's 112-99 win over Houston.
3. G Jawan Carter (Delaware) Not sure which is more impressive: scoring thirty-five points or attempting twenty-six free throws (making nineteen). That's what Carter did in the Blue Hens' double overtime win at Penn.
What stuck out to you? Feel free to chime in below.