Thursday, November 15, 2007

Better to Lose Than to Win?

#1 North Carolina 72, Davidson 68
Obviously the game of the year so far. Nobody who follows college basketball closely was surprised that Davidson hung in here. In fact, they really missed a lot of opportunities. Their shooting was rather poor by their standards (4 for 22 from behind the arc). Poor William Archambault must have missed four layups, and even Stephen Curry was only 8-22 from the field (although part of that was great defense and the fact that he forced a bunch of shots towards the end of the game). Davidson was clearly the team with more energy and with more hustle. Carolina showed moments of brilliance, and clearly ooze with individual talent, but they would have lost without an excellent coaching job from Roy Williams. His first good decision was to start an occasional full-court, or 3/4-court press, to force his players to pick up their energy and intensity. His second good decision was to recognize that Tyler Hansbrough could easily outrebound the whole Davidson team by himself, and so spent much of the game playing four smalls with Psycho-T as the only big. This gave Carolina a big speed advantage, while maintaining a rebounding advantage.

One thing that you have to wonder is whether it's almost a good thing for Davidson to lose this game. They obviously have a lot of confidence after playing closely with the #1 team in the land. However, you had to wonder about the hype getting to these guys. If they won this game they'd immediately jump into the Top 15 in the country and they'd face a ton of pressure all year long. Every one of their opponents would be out to get them, and the regular season would become exhausting. They'd be too tired, and too much of a marked target to make a Cinderella run in the Tournament. The way their schedule is lining up, they really only have four games the rest of the way that they have a reasonable shot of losing, and all happen on the road and before Christmas (App State 11/26, Duke 12/1, UCLA 12/8, NC State 12/21). After that, they could easily go undefeated the rest of the way (though watch out for a home game against App State in the final week of the regular season. I could easily see Davidson go 25-3 in the regular season. If they can go undefeated in conference and take out one of their three big remaining out-of-conference games then they could see something like a 5-8 seed. If they can beat Duke or UCLA then they can probably lose one bad game and still get an at-large. But, really, the margin of error is slim. It will be much better for Davidson to stay as far under the radar as possible. It's just so hard to keep winning with so much pressure on every single game.

Butler 76, Indiana State 48
A pretty surprising result in a game that should have been a bigger deal than it was. With everyone jumping on the Gardner Webb bandwagon, a team with one fluke win and that will certainly fade and be lucky to even get an automatic bid and a 14-seed, college basketball analysts would do better to talk about actual good teams from the mid-majors. I have doubted Butler's at-large chances this year (they are still the heavy favorites to win the Horizon, and I put them in the most recent BP65 as a #13 seed), but they are off to a great start. It's hard to imagine a better game than this: 12-for-23 from behind the arc, 16-for-17 from the line, all while holding the Sycamores to 33% shooting from the field. Indiana State got off to a slow start and never recovered. Butler has got a great schedule set up for a possible at-large run, with Michigan, Ohio State, Florida State and Bradley at home (not to mention this game at home against the Sycamores). Then they have a game at Southern Illinois. This gives them quite a few shots at reasonable "quality" wins. If they can win a couple of these, and keep their bad losses to a minimum, a repeat at-large seed (i.e. a seed of 12 or better) is a real possibility. And if I'm going to compliment Butler's scheduling, I have to show surprise at the poor scheduling for Indiana State. They only have one half-way decent out-of-conference opponent (at Purdue, on December 1st). And since Purdue will likely finish in the 2nd half of the Big 10, this basically assures Indiana State of a mediocre out-of-conference resume at best. This means that the only way Indiana State will get an at-large bid will be with an 11-7 conference record or better (meaning something along the lines of a 19-9 total regular season record) and a big in-conference win (like at Southern Illinois). Even that might not be enough. You've got to take more shots at a big win, and this poor scheduling could cost Indiana State an at-large bid this year.

Bradley 65, Iowa State 56
Iowa State has really struggled so far without big man Wes Johnson, who is recovering from a sprained ankle. I didn't see this game on tv, and after seeing that Bradley out-shot the Cyclones by seven attempts, I assumed this meant that the Braves had dominated the boards in Johnson's absence. Rather, it seems that ballhandling was the issue, as Bradley forced 12 steals. This is Iowa State's first loss, and certainly Bradley isn't a "bad" loss. But a 10 point win over Centenary and a 14 point win over Winston-Salem can't have anybody too excited in Ames. Obviously, Iowa State's season is far from over. They have a slew of good out-of-conference games (for which I certainly give them kudos). They can get right back on board if they can beat Minnesota at home on Tuesday. But in the end, I just don't see it. Iowa State simply does not look very good this year. Bradley, meanwhile, has a nice bounce-back win here after the bad loss to Illinois-Chicago. They still have a bunch of shots at a good out-of-conference win, and there are always good wins to be had in the Missouri Valley. I wouldn't bet on this Bradley team making the Tournament, but they should be in the discussion for most of the year.

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