"Somewhere along the lines our guys think that you can win basketball games without passing the basketball," said Coach Martin. "We had six assists and 23 turnovers and all 23 were non-aggressive turnovers. It is frustrating to watch. We battled and fought and it was nice but now we had them on their heels and we have to play. They got a baseline drive and then we cut it to one. Dead-charge and Rodney (McGruder) got out of the way. And they got a three-point play. That is not a winning play and we have got to make winning plays." (quote courtesy of Kansas State University)
Kansas State out-rebounded UNLV 43-26 with McGruder and Jamar Samuels combining for 19, but that edge didn't matter when considering the turnovers (which allowed UNLV to take three more shots despite allowing 15 offensive rebounds) and missed free throws (14-26) and their impact. Tre'Von Willis led UNLV with 16 points while Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall added 11 apiece, and despite some poor shooting (2-for 13 3PT) Lon Kruger's team added another good win to their resume. But this result became more about the Wildcats as soon as news of the suspensions came out. There were already questions about this team, thought by many as ready to unseat Kansas atop the Big 12 despite the loss of Denis Clemente, due to their play leading up to last night. Now? It's time for players such as McGruder and Samuels, and even a Will Spradling at the point, to step up and be accounted for as leaders. K-State should be fine and remain a factor in the Big 12 but they've got some issues that can become even more of a problem if allowed to fester for the long haul.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Renardo Sidney suspended for today's game against Washington State.
One of the major questions many had about Renardo Sidney throughout the recruiting process, in addition to the off and on motor, was his maturity level. Well, the more things change (his now being cleared to play) the more they stay the same as the talented big was suspended for Wednesday's game against Washington State. "Conduct detrimental to the team" was the phrase used to describe the reason for head coach Rick Stansbury's move, which came after the team's Monday practice. But in a situation like this, when a school did everything imaginable to get a young man into school and kept him around through a lengthy suspension (plus augmenting the schedule to account for his return), you'd expect more out of Sidney. At the least Coach Stansbury is being proactive in dealing with this now because the Bulldogs need Sidney on the court, especially since PG Dee Bost isn't eligible until January 8th. A big stretch for Mississippi State in regards to earning an NCAA berth has already gotten off to a shaky start.
2. St. John's shows why there's need for moderation in regards to the Northwestern talk.
It should be common knowledge by this point that Northwestern is the lone team in a BCS conference to have never been to the NCAA Tournament, but that didn't stop some from taking that leap with the Wildcats during their 8-0 start to the season. But you can't ignore the fact that the Wildcats, who do have three of the top 11 scorers in the Big Ten, had yet to be truly tested by a team with anything close to NCAA Tournament-level talent going into last night's final of the MSG Holiday Festival. St. John's put on a near clinic in the second half, making 16 of 20 field goals (and didn't attempt a three-pointer) in running away 85-69 as Dwight Hardy (24 points) and MVP Justin Brownlee (21 points) led the way.
Northwestern made just 42.8% of their two-point shot attempts and for a team that shoots the three as much as they do (27 attempts against St. John's) the Wildcats need that percentage to be in the 50% range (51.1% average) in order to be successful. Offensively Northwestern needs more from Luka Mirkovic (1-6 FG, 2 points) on a consistent basis and he may have been bothered by the Red Storm's athleticism in the paint (Justin Burrell especially). Defensively they were poor in the second half as St. John's was able to get about any look it wanted, but it's not all doom and gloom for the Wildcats despite the troubling aspects of last night's loss. The trio of Drew Crawford, John Shurna and Juice Thompson can get it done offensively and it's rare that Northwestern defends as poorly as they did on Tuesday. But they need all hands on deck upon entering Big Ten play as the six teams ahead of them in the projected pecking order will be tough outs for Northwestern. In order for this group to reach heights never scaled by the program performances like Tuesday's will have to be few and far between.
3. Tennessee may be in serious danger of having their season spiral out of control.
SEC teams, outside of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, have shown themselves incapable of dealing with prosperity this season. But what Tennessee has done since knocking off Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago borders on being a complete nosedive instead of a blip on the radar screen. USC did the honors on Tuesday, knocking off the Volunteers in Knoxville 65-64 despite not scoring the final 2:13 of the game. Tennessee shot just 38.3% from the field and turned the ball over eighteen times, nullifying a 38-23 rebounding edge as a result. Scotty Hopson hasn't been the same since that win over Pitt, shooting 1-for-5 from the field and scoring just eight points. While the mental toughness of this group was widely praised following their big win in light of the Bruce Pearl suspension you have to wonder what's going on with Tennessee. It's one thing to struggle and get knocked off in an upset, but something more has seemed afoul in losses to Oakland, Charlotte and USC. Hopefully the Vols can figure out (and solve) the issue before this turns into a complete train wreck.
Top Three Games
1. Austin Peay 86, Morehead State 85 (OT) The Eagles were able to erase a four-point deficit in the final 7.8 seconds of regulation, but all that did was delay the inevitable as Dave Loos' squad moves to 4-0 in OVC play. TyShawn Edmondson led the Governors with 22 points while Melvin Baker added 19 and 10 rebounds, and Demonte Harper led the Eagles with 34 points.
2. Valparaiso 103, Oakland 102 The Golden Grizzlies haven't won since knocking off Tennessee, falling in the Lou Henson Award Tournament final to the Crusaders. Brandon Wood (35 points) and Cory Johnson (33) led the way for Homer Drew's squad while Reggie Hamilton (26 points) and Larry Wright (24) combined to score 50 for Oakland.
3. Army 88, Brown 86 Jeremy Hence led the Black Knights with 21 points and eight rebounds as a Mitch McDonald layup with 21 seconds remaining gave Army an 86-84 lead. A pair of Nathan Hedgecock free throws sealed the game with six seconds left after a Peter Sullivan (24 points) missed three.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Brandon Wood (Valparaiso) 35 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the Crusaders' win over Oakland.
2. G/F Marshon Brooks (Providence) 25 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals in the Friars' 84-76 win over Sacred Heart.
3. G Demonte Harper (Morehead State) 34 points, four rebounds and three assists in the Eagles' 86-85 loss at Austin Peay.