- © Copyright 2018 Tailgate Review
Well we are about 1/3 of the way through the College Basketball season and we have seen a lot of different things up to this point. We saw a mammoth clash between UNC and UK that went right down to the wire before the Cats pulled out a victory. We seen a great group of teams assembled for the Maui Classic, including Duke, Kansas, Michigan, Memphis and Georgetown but when it was all said and done, the “Dukies” continued their mastery of the islands and brought home the championship. We have already had 3 teams stand atop the polls at #1; we started with North Carolina, then we had Kentucky and now we have Syracuse. We have been surprised by some teams while disappointed by others but thru it all, we are prepared to witness even more great things as each team quickly approaches conference play. So with that being said, let me hand out a few honors as well as a few “head-smacks” for what has transpired thus far.
The Five Most Disappointing Teams:
The Five Most Surprising Teams:
The Best Conference: The Big 10 – After the Big 10 destroyed the ACC in their annual conference clash, there is no reason not to believe that this conference can put 8 or 9 teams in the “Big Dance” in March.
The Most Scrutinized Team: The Louisville Cardinals (10-0) – Some people are saying the Cardinals are the worst Top 5 team they have seen but the numbers show different. The have beaten Vanderbilt, Memphis and Butler but they have only played 1 game outside of the friendly confines of the YUM Center….that game was right up the road in Indianapolis.
The Most Scrutinized Conference: The PAC-12 – This conference does not boast ONE single team in the Top 25 in any poll at this point and that quite frankly is reason for concern. Stanford (10-1) and California (10-2) have the best records but when they have played a team of caliber, both have lost. The third best team at the moment is Oregon State………., yes I said Oregon State (9-2).
The Most Improved Player: Dion Waiters (Syracuse) – Waiters has gone from a guy that barely saw action last year to a star in the making. Waiters came out of high school highly acclaimed but then struggled to understand the offensive and defensive philosophies that Jim Boeheim teaches. Waiters even considered transferring this summer. But he seems to have a renewed spirit and dedication and he is one of the reasons the ‘Cuse are #1 right now.
The Conference Most Likely to Turn MMA: The Big East – Between the Georgetown Hoya’s brawl with the Chinese National team over the summer and the fight the Cincinnati Bearcats had with Xavier, the Big East referees must be fully prepared for anything once conference play begins. Factor in other physical teams like UCONN, PITT, Syracuse and Seton Hall, some of the conference games could resemble a match in the caged “Octagon”.
Conference With the Most to Prove: The SEC – Because John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats have ruled the recruiting and the conference for two consecutive seasons, it has overshadowed nearly every other team. This season, Alabama, Florida, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State are considered to be contenders to the throne but more importance will be placed on what they do in March.
The Best 5 Teams I Have Seen Up to This Point:
– Albert Pujos to the Angels was not necessarily about the money (although 10 yrs, $254 million is not “chump change”) as much as it was about the Cardinals not showing a lot of initiative to re-sign him. The fans in St. Louis are upset and rightfully so but they can’t or shouldn’t be upset with the player in this instance. This is more about management maybe being a little hesitant to give a great player a contract that would take him into his early 40s when they were probably eyeing maybe something around a 5 year offer. So with the defending champion Cardinals now without its two faces of the team (Pujos and Tony LaRussa), you have to wonder where the organization goes from here. As for the Angels, the sky is the limit provided Albert stays healthy and can continue to produce for them the way he did for St. Louis.
– The brawl this weekend between the Xavier Musketeers and the Cincinnati Bearcats was one of the ugliest in recent years for College Basketball and certainly it could have been a lot worse. Obviously with both of the teams in Ohio and not very far apart, the animosity in this rivalry has picked up over the last couple of years. But what occurred Saturday was just inexcusable and it shows the immaturity of the Bearcat squad. Even when Bob Huggins was the coach, it was know that the Bearcats were a very physical team that had players that actually looked as though they belonged on the “gridiron” rather than the “hardwood”. Who can ever forget the incident when form Bearcat hoopster, Art Long was arrested downtown Cincinnati (outside of a club) for punching a police horse…..yes I said a police horse. But the rivalry has spilled over to “Twitter” where UC players have allegedly being tweeting that the Xavier players were not good, specifically Xavier guard Tu Holloway and that if he was at UC, he wouldn’t even make the squad. Well I am not sure that is a true statement but then Holloway’s assessment of the incident in the post-game conference was not much better when he proclaimed “…..we have gangsters in our locker-room…..”! At this point, I am not sure that the six-game suspension handed down to UC PF, Yancy Gates was enough as he was the most serious offender in the brawl, as he literally knocked-out Musketeer big man, Kenny Freese with a stingy right hand. But I do know that as the Bearcats head into Big East play at the end of this month; this may not be the only on-court incident so coach Mick Cronin would be best served to get this under control now.
– The craze and the criticism that surrounds the new phrase: “We Got Tebowed” has merit no matter which side you are own. Tebow has helped elevate the Denver Broncos from a season to be lost to now possibly AFC West Champions and a play-off berth. Tebow is simply just a “winner” and always has been. He is not a prototypical QB and by no means will he ever be but he is a believer and a winner. The majority of the Bronco faithful are all in with the Tebow craze but they shouldn’t be completely secure for the future of the franchise unless a few things happen. #1 is that the Broncos need to make sure they give him a great QB coach that can continue to help him try and improve as much as possible. #2, the Broncos need to start to improve on the offensive line and add more talent (at the skilled positions) around him, particularly in the area of wide receiver. But for all it is worth, you have a guy just living out his dream of playing QB in the NFL and he is enjoying every bit of it.
– David Stern’s veto of the trade that would have sent Chris to the Los Angeles Lakers upset a whole lot of people but in reality, Stern was looking out for the NBA owned Hornets. Without Paul, and now with David West a pick-up the Indiana Pacers, who would have been even tougher to find an interested buyer for a Hornets franchise with no “name” player on its roster. The fact is simple, while “small market” teams are already behind the “big market” franchises in terms of money and fan support, the one thing small market teams hang their hat on is having a at least one star player to lure fans in. If Paul is in fact moved at some point, the Hornets will definitely need to recoup some young, serviceable talent in return as well as a stockpile of draft picks.
– Robert Griffith III was the correct pick for the Heisman based on the voters but he may have not been the popular pick by the people. Andrew Luck would have been just as deserving but it is hard to argue with what RGIII did against good competition. He opened the season with a bang when Baylor beat TCU. He was able to continue his play against the rest of the non-conference slate on into the Big 12 season. But what he did to Oklahoma (of course the Baylor’ “D” had a hand in it too) and Texas, both games toward the end of the season put him on the mind of a lot of voters as opposed to Luck. In fact, with Baylor playing the last weekend of the regular season and Stanford and Luck being off probably was just as key as anything. RGIII had the stage all to himself to make his bid for the Heisman. Now the talk that he could rival Luck for the #1 overall spot or at least the overall #1 QB taken in the 2012 NFL Draft is foolishness. While Griffith is definitely worthy of being one of the Top 5 QBS taken is one thing but Luck is NFL ready now in terms of almost every aspect of the game. In fact, the Indianapolis Colts may be so fortunate as to be able to draft Luck and still have Peyton Manning around for 1 or 2 more years. The Colts nor any other franchise looking to pick a QB in the draft should not be fooled into putting Griffith ahead of Luck. In fact, Griffith’s talents may best fit with a team like Kansas City Chiefs, the Seattle Seahawks or the Miami Dolphins. The Colts and the Washington Redskins would both be disastrous fits for RGIII if he was chosen either of those teams.
Kentucky 10 – Tennessee 7: The “Streak” is finally over………after 26 consecutive losses spanning back to 1985, the Kentucky Wildcats (5-7), behind WR turned QB for at least this game, Matt Roark used a stingy defense and an old school offensive game plan to beat the Vols (5-7) in Lexington, KY on Saturday. With QBs Morgan Newton and Maxwell Smith both injured and less than 100%, Joker Phillips turned to Roark, a former high school QB, to run the “Wing-T” for the majority of the game and that obviously was something Derek Dooley and the Tennessee Vols were not prepared for. Roark carried 24 times for 124 yds while passing for just 15 yds. But combine that with the running of Coshik Williams and any other back that entered the game and UK piled up over 220 rushing yds against a stunned Vol’s defense. Meanwhile, the Kentucky defense played absolutely “lights-out” in stuffing the run game (Taurean Poole had 32 yds on 9 carries) and confusing QB Tyler Bray most of the day by mixing-up its coverage. Bray passed for 215 yds, 1 TD & 2 INTs in route to one of his worst performances while wearing the Orange & White. The Cats not only ended a 26 game losing streak to the Vols, but they also prevented Tennessee from gaining bowl eligibility meaning both team’s seasons are over.
Georgia 31 – Georgia Tech 17: The Bulldogs seem as if they are ready to do battle with #1 LSU this Saturday in the SEC Championship Game; so they decided to get an early win in Atlanta as they disposed of their arch-rival, the Yellowjackets (8-4) in a game they took control of early. Georgia QB, Aaron Murray passed for 252 yds, 4 TDs & 1 INT while the Georgia (10-2) defense slowed down Tech’s potent rushing attack, holding them to under 200 yds on the ground. Murray has been red hot over his last 3 games throwing 4 or more TD passes in each. He will need to be just as hot this weekend because the “LSU express” is showing no signs of slowing down as they can see the National Championship game on the horizon. For Georgia the season has turned around since starting 0-2 and they would love to cap it off with an upset if the #1 team in Atlanta.
LSU 41 – Arkansas 17: In a game that started off rather precarious for the #1 Tigers, it was their ability to just make plays that was the difference in a match-up of #1 & #3 in the BCS on Friday. Arkansas (10-2) jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind an offensive & defensive score in the 2nd Qtr. That was about all that the Razorback fans would have to cheer for though as LSU would proceed to run off 21 straight points and 24 of the next 27 scored between the 2nd and 3rd quarters. The Tigers (12-0) would then add 17 points in the 4th to put the game away. Tiger QB Jordan Jefferson had his best game since coming back from an earlier suspension as he passed for 208 yds w/ 1 TD and he also had a 48 yd TD run in the 4th qtr. RB Kenny Hillard ran for 102 yds on 19 carries and the Tiger offense was just too balanced for Arkansas’s “D” to deal with. For Arkansas, QB Tyler Wilson passed for 207 yds & 1 TD but he was battered and bruised as he took numerous hits from the LSU defense. The game really changed when CB / PR Ryann Mathieu returned a punt for a TD in the 2nd qtr; however Mathieu would not stop there as he went on to strip D.J. Johnson of the football later on in that quarter when the Razorbacks were driving. LSU will prepare to battle Georgia for the SEC Championship on Saturday; but the goal is much higher than that; they want to be there playing for the National Title in January.
Alabama 42 – Auburn 14: Alabama’s mantra all year has been “Never Again” which is a reference to their blown 24 point 2nd half lead against Auburn last season. Well this time around, there would be no magic for the Tigers (7-6) as the Tide took control early and did not take their foot off the gas until the final horn. Alabama (11-1) led 24-7 at half-time (just like last season) but they outscored Auburn 18-7 in the 2nd half to insure there would be no comeback this season. RB Trent Richardson ran for 203 yds on 27 carries and QB A.J. McCarron passed for 184 yds. & 3 TDs. For Auburn, the defense spent way too much time on the field, largely in part to their continued problems on offense. Auburn had less than 200 yds of offense as their 2 scores came via the defense and special teams. The Tide can only sit and wait to see if they will be selected to possibly oppose what is thought to be LSU in the National Title game; a rematch Nick Saban wants very badly.
Vanderbilt 41 – Wake Forest 7: The Commodores (6-6) knew their bowl hopes rested on whether they could go on the road and beat a fairly solid Wake Forest squad. Well Vandy left nothing to chance as they jumped out to a 27-7 half-time lead and cruised to their 6th victory of the season. For Wake Forest (6-6), they are also bowl eligible but they seem to struggle over their last 4 games as they had a real shot of winning at least 8 games before their mini-collapse. Commodore RB, Zack Stacy ran for 184 yds & 3 TDs and Wake Forest really had no answer for him.
Florida St. 21 – Florida 7: In a game between to in-state rivals in which neither was ranked for the first time in over 12 years, it was the Seminoles (8-4) had more juice than the Gators (6-6). If the sting of seeing their club go just .500 for the season wasn’t enough, the Florida faithful are really mad after seeing former coach (1 year removed) Urban Meyer announce that he has accepted the head position at Ohio State this week. Gator fans are going to want answers from a man who supposedly was stepping down for health reasons and is all of a sudden better and ready to coach again. Well aside from that, Gator QB, John Brantley was absolutely horrendous against the Noles “D” as he tossed 3 INTs (including 1 taking back for a TD) and passed for just 104 yds. On the other side, Seminole QB E.J. Manuel was equally ineffective as he passed for just 65 yds. Neither team’s running game ever really got going but the turnovers absolutely killed Florida.
Mississippi St. 31 – Ole Miss 3: In a game that really didn’t mean much outside of the state of Mississippi, in a battle know as the “Egg Bowl” it was the Bulldogs (6-6) gaining bowl eligibility by beating cross-town rival Ole Miss (2-10). Neither team had the kind of season either was expecting but for Ole Miss it has been especially disappointing. They will now have to look for a new coach (there are plenty out there to choose from) and then try to rebound from the last two seasons. For the Bulldogs, it just seems as if the QB play really hurt them this season and that is something Coach Dan Mullins will have to address in the off-season and recruiting wise. But back to the game, Miss. St. ran out (literally) to a 21-0 lead at the half and that meant the ending was never in doubt. RBs Vic Ballard and Ladonn Perkins ran wild on the Rebel defense as each scored 2 TDs apiece (1 receiving & 1 passing), all plays longer than 15 yds. QB Chris Relf passed for 70 yds and both of those TD passes to Ballard and Perkins and that was all of the offense they needed. Ole Miss was held to under 225 yds of offense again, which was about 8 or 9 out of their 12 games.
South Carolina 34 – Clemson 13: The Gamecocks had a plan and it did not include losing to in-state rival Clemson this season. While they fell short of their goal to play for the SEC Championship in Atlanta, it appeared that Steve Spurrier’s club took out its frustrations on the visiting Tigers (9-3). South Carolina (10-2) got 3 TD passes from Connor Shaw (210 passing yds) and he also led them in rushing with 107 yds & 1 TD. WR Bruce Ellington had 3 grabs for 71 yds & 1 TD. For Clemson, the last couple of weeks have been anything but Stellar as they have lost two straight and 3 of their last 4. QB Taj Boyd passed for just 83 yds and he struggled all day long. The South Carolina defense looked as good as they did in any game this season. While both teams are bowl bound, they seem to be heading in different directions heading toward Bowl Season.