The first few days of the Big East conference schedule certainly haven't lacked drama, with Seton Hall, Marquette and Cincinnati all having opportunities to knock off more established programs. But the difference between the Bearcats and the other two schools is that they were able to take full advantage of their opportunity, knocking off #10 Connecticut 71-69 at Fifth Third Arena. Lance Stephenson passed his first conference test with flying colors, scoring 21 points and knocking down two free throws with seven tenths of a second remaining to provide the final margin.
The question that many will ask in regards to this game will be whether or not Stephenson was fouled on his final drive. John Cahill simply called what he saw and is generally regarded as one of the better referees in the business. But to point to that as the sole reason for the Huskies' loss would be extremely unfair. Offensively Connecticut struggled to run their offensive sets efficiently and the Bearcats deserve some credit for that. But if UConn can't figure out how to go about making things happen in their half-court sets they're going to be in trouble as they advance through Big East play.
As for what this win means for Cincinnati it's a solid result that nets them a 1-0 conference record. But they aren't without their issues either; Ibrahima Thomas needs to become more physical in regards to finishing inside and there were stretches of play in which it was hard to notice that Yancy Gates was even on the floor. But with Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn leading the way, Mick Cronin's team may be able to build on the momentum gained from this victory.
Three Key Happenings
1. William & Mary picks up another good non-conference win. There really hasn't been a mid-major "team du jour" since Portland returned back to reality following their run to the title game of the 76 Classic. But maybe the Tribe of William & Mary should receive more praise for their 9-2 start, and they added another line to their resume with a win at Maryland. The Tribe led by as many as sixteen in their 83-77 win at the Comcast Center, their second road win over an ACC opponent this season (Wake Forest).
Quinn McDowell led the way with 28 points and at 9-2 the Tribe are off to their best start since 1977. Could William & Mary's turnaround following an 0-2 start help the CAA make a case to be a two-bid league? That remains to be seen, especially as league play progresses since five or six teams will be able to throw their hat into the title race. But the Tribe's recent play has certainly helped in that department.
2. Illinois survives Northwestern in Champaign. Had there been an extra second or two on the clock at the end of regulation this spot could have been about Bill Carmody's Wildcats picking up a huge road win. But it wasn't granting the stripped D.J. Richardson a reprieve in the form of overtime, which Illinois took over to pick up the 89-83 victory. And despite the high score it was the Illini defense that helped secure the win, limiting Northwestern to 33.3% shooting from the field and 16-for-47 from behind the arc.
Giving up eighty-three points isn't necessarily the best way to start Big Ten play but as those percentages show it may have been a start. And when all else fails Bruce Weber can look to his two Mikes on the inside. Tisdale and Davis combined for 51 points and 28 rebounds in the win, and if they can continue to produce while getting some help from the perimeter Illinois should be a safe bet for the NCAA Tournament.
3. Radford's going to be tough to beat in the Big South. George Mason has been a bit erratic this season but for the defending Big South champs to beat them in the fashion that they did on Wednesday night should serve notice to the rest of the conference. Artsiom Parakhouski and Lazar Trifunovic combined for 49 points and 29 rebounds in the 80-53 pasting, and Radford held the frigid Patriots to 27% shooting from the field. The Highlanders didn't make a three pointer (0-9) on the night but that doesn't matter when you can get just about anything you want inside.
That's a luxury that having a player
the caliber of reigning Big South POY Parakhouski affords you. And when
you add Joey Lynch-Flohr to the aforementioned tandem you've got a trio
that will likely control the glass in most conference games. If one or
two of their guard consistently knock down perimeter shots don't be
surprised if Radford returns to the NCAA Tournament come March.
Top Three Games
1. Illinois 89, Northwestern 83 (OT) See above.
2. Cincinnati 71, Connecticut 69 See above.
3. Central Connecticut St. 89, UMBC 86 (2OT) Robby Ptacek led the victorious Blue Devils with 23 points while UMBC's Chris De La Rosa led all scorers with 25 and teammate Robbie Jackson added 24 points and 15 rebounds.
Three Notable Performances
1. C Artsiom Parakhouski (Radford) The senior big man was a man among boys against George Mason, tallying 34 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in the Highlanders' 80-53 victory. Teammate Lazar Trifunovic added 15 points and 17 rebounds.
2. C Mike Tisdale (Illinois) Tisdale posted a line of 31 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in the Fighting Illini's 89-83 overtime win over Northwestern. Teammate Mike Davis added 20 points and 17 rebounds.3. F Kevin Thompson (Morgan State) Thompson scored 13 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the Bears' 87-70 win over LIU. But that rebound total was a far cry from his season-high: 25. And he's just a sophomore.