In-season tournaments can be tricky to analyze when the dust settles. Sometimes the winning team can build on the experience and move on to bigger and better things, with last year's Connecticut team (Maui Invitational champs) being a prime example. Others, like Minnesota (last year's Puerto Rico Tip-Off champs) can temporarily hide flaws that get exposed later in the season. Essentially these early season results should be taken with a grain of salt, because while we see flashes of teams in reality it's a small sample size.
But in the case of Anthony Grant's Alabama Crimson Tide, what they showed off in San Juan was the ability to overpower opponents with one of the more talented frontcourts in the country along with a perimeter rotation that's rounding into form. Trevor Releford led the team with 20 points and five rebounds in Alabama's 65-56 win over Purdue, but just as important was the play on the defensive end of the floor.
As a team Purdue shot just 35% from the field, and while Robbie Hummel scored 17 points the fifth-year senior needed fifteen shots (making five) to do so. JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, who nearly tore the rim down on multiple occasions this weekend, made life tough around the rim for all three opponents faced and will continue to do so as the season wears on. To compare Purdue's offensive numbers over their three games in Puerto Rico would display the difference in the level of defenders.
Here are Purdue's offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage numbers in their three Puerto Rico Tip-Off games (courtesy of statsheet.com):
Iona: 113.8, 52.6%
Temple: 121.4, 52.7%
Alabama: 90.3, 39.5%
To say the least, things were a lot more difficult for Matt Painter's team offensively against the Crimson Tide. Offense can come and go by the game, but defense is something that is largely controlled by effort. Alabama used that to their advantage on Sunday night, and there really isn't a reason in their control as to why they can't continue to do so. While many will fawn over Kentucky, respect Florida and consider Vanderbilt with their offensive weapons, don't ignore Alabama in the SEC.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Xavier and Temple are the favorites in the Atlantic 10, but Saint Louis could be the league's third NCAA Tournament option.
While this game was expected to be a homecoming for the injured Scott Suggs and a return to his first head coaching job for Lorenzo Romar, it was also a dangerous one for the Washington Huskies. And it became more than dangerous from the start as Rick Majerus' Saint Louis Billikens sprinted out of the gates to 50 first half points, ultimately winning 77-64 in a game that wasn't as close as the final margin would indicate.
Brian Conklin scored 25 points and Kwamain Mitchell added 18 as the Billikens shot 53% from the field, and SLU led by as many as 29 in the second half. Washington may have won the rebounding battle 40-26 but that had more to do with the fact that they shot just 42% from the field, and their effective field goal percentage was nearly eight percentage points below their average. People within the conference have been high on the Billikens, and on Sunday the nation saw exactly why.
2. Weak non-conference schedules don't leave much room for error, a lesson Cincinnati learned on Saturday.
The key for the Bearcats now is to make sure their loss to Presbyterian doesn't rear its ugly head on Selection Sunday, but given the caliber of Mick Cronin's team they should be alright. The bigger concern is what happened in the second half of that game, which ended on a 24-7 run by the Blue Hose. Khalid Mutakabbir scored 25 points to lead the victors while the vanquished Bearcats seemed to forget the fact that in Yancy Gates they have one of the top interior players in the Big East.
Gates attempted just three shots in the second half, and the fact that UC finished the game with just a two-point edge in points in the paint (26-24) is inexcusable. Presbyterian deserves all the credit for mounting a rally capped by Mutakabbir's three with 8.6 seconds remaining, but this could have been avoided had the Cincinnati guards remembered where the team's bread is buttered. Look for the Bearcats to apply these lessons as they work towards a December 10th date with city rival Xavier.
3. Drew Crawford and John Shurna help lead Northwestern to the Charleston Classic title.
Just as it was noted earlier it's tough to forecast what teams are definitely going to do based on in-season tournament performance, but this was a good weekend for the Northwestern Wildcats. Drew Crawford scored 27 points and John Shurna 19 as the Wildcats beat Seton Hall 80-73 in the title game on Sunday night to win the Charleston Classic. But don't bother asking anyone associated with the program if this can be turned into the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance because it's far to early for that.
The Wildcats executed well on offense all weekend, and defensively their 1-3-1 trapping zone made a difference. Seton Hall did a better job than either LSU or Tulsa at attacking it, but down the stretch Crawford, Shurna and the rest of the squad did enough to regain the lead with 2:28 remaining. How many games the Wildcats win remains to be seen, but at the very least Bill Carmody's team will be a tough out in the Big Ten.
4. Creighton blasts Iowa in a neutral site meeting in Des Moines.
Many knew that the Creighton Bluejays were one of the better teams in a BCS non-AQ conference before the season began. But if there were any fans in need of evidence in favor of this, check out the Bluejays' 82-59 win over Iowa, led by Doug McDermott's 25 points and nine rebounds and Gregory Echenique's 15 points and nine rebounds. Avery Dingman scored 14 points off the bench in a game that turned late in the first half. The Bluejays led by as many as 19 points in the first half before an Iowa three just before the half cut the lead to 45-29.
But there wasn't much that Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery could game plan during the break: Creighton was that much better. Iowa shot 36.2% from the field and was out-rebounded 43-27, and forward Melsahn Basabe (two points, three rebounds) practically disappeared when his team needed an outstanding performance. But the credit should go to Creighton, who seems to have an answer at just about any position on the floor.
5. Ever think that you'd see a game in which Oregon State scored 100 points?
The two semifinal games of the Ticket City Legends Classic didn't feature much in the way of defense, but the surprise of the night was the 100 points put up by Oregon State in their 100-95 overtime win over Texas. Jared Cunningham led the way with 37 points and nine rebounds, 20 of his points coming at the foul line, and Oregon State took advantage of their furious rally late in regulation with 19 points in the extra session. Ultimately the difference was turnover margin, with the young Longhorns turning the ball over 23 times to Oregon State's 15.
The win earned Oregon State a matchup with Vanderbilt on Monday night in the title game, and given the way in which the Beavers have played on offense (no fewer than 82 points in any of their four games to date) it isn't far-fetched to think that they could do the same against the Commodores. With Oregon losing Jabari Brown (head coach Dana Altman did leave the door open to a return) does Oregon State become the trendy sleeper in the Pac-12? Maybe so.
1. Someone decided that Clemson was a 13-point favorite over College of Charleston on Saturday night, and this proved to be incorrect as the Cougars won 72-69. And while Adjehi Baru has a ways to go offensively, his weakside block late to preserve the win showed his value on the defensive end of the floor right now.
2. One day after scoring 19 points in Kentucky's blowout win over Penn State, freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer scored three points and grabbed five rebounds in 11 minutes in their 62-52 win over Old Dominion. Why? The physicality of the game. It remains to be seen if John Calipari is confident enough in Wiltjer's rebounding and defense to call on him in a game of this style at this point in the year, but Wiltjer will be needed as the season wears on.
3. There aren't too many names to be called on a list of the nation's top point guards before reaching Iona senior Scott Machado. Machado established a Puerto Rico Tip-Off record for assists in the tournament with 41 in three games (six turnovers), and he dished out 15 in the Gaels' 89-63 win over Maryland on Sunday. Machado's ability to set the table for Iona's many scorers is one big reason why they're the preseason favorite in the MAAC.
4. Louisville may have provided the most impressive result of the weekend as they beat Butler 69-53 at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Point guard Peyton Siva (ankle) didn't play but the Cardinals got the job done by limiting the Bulldogs to 39% shooting. Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith combined to score 32 for Louisville.
5. On the night that news came out that UCLA forward Reeves Nelson missed the team's flight to Hawaii, UNLV forward (and UCLA transfer Mike Moser) continued his personal demolition of the Rebels' non-conference slate. Moser finished with 23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and five steals in UNLV's 92-55 win over Morgan State.
Seven Notable Performances
1. F Mike Moser (UNLV)
23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and five steals in UNLV's 92-55 win over Morgan State.
2. G Shabazz Napier (Connecticut)
22 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds (9th triple-double in school history) in the Huskies' 87-70 win over Coppin State.
3. F Tarvin Gaines (Jacksonville State)
30 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench in the Gamecocks' 78-65 win over Alabama State.
4. F Herb Pope (Seton Hall)
32 points and nine rebounds in the Pirates' 80-73 loss to Northwestern.
5. G Jared Cunningham (Oregon State)
37 points, nine rebounds and three assists in the Beavers' 100-95 overtime win over Texas.
6. G C.J. McCollum (Lehigh)
32 points (10-16 FG), five rebounds, three assists and two steals in the Mountain Hawks' 90-80 win at Liberty.
7. G Scott Machado (Iona)
15 points, 15 assists, four rebounds, three steals and no turnovers in the Gaels' 89-63 win over Maryland.