Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Posting frequency always drops around the holidays, but I'll give everyone a quick update on the action from "Feast Week" so far:
Miami 64, Providence 58
Another decent win for Miami, a team that has obviously been a pleasant surprise so far. No world beaters, but wins over Providence and VCU are decent wins, as both of those squads should finish in the RPI Top 100. Speaking of the RPI, for what it's worth, Miami is 9th in the country right now. The immediate counter is: Yeah, and Sam Houston State is 2nd. I'll give you that, but Sam Houston State has only played one game, which means that their RPI is irrelevant. Miami is 4-0 (3-0 against D-I opponents) against a very decent schedule. The most pleasant surprise for this Hurricanes team has been sophomore James Dews, who has really taken a step up this year. After sitting on the bench for most of last year, he's now scoring 12 points per game on 10-for-20 from behind the arc. Don't expect this team to go Dancing, but they're worth keeping an eye on, as I think they'll stay in the bubble picture for atleast a couple of months.
Missouri 84, Maryland 70
Mizzou fans have got to be encouraged by the steady improvement that this team is making. The defense (40 Minutes of Hell, Version 2.0) is still strong. But the offense is much more under control this year. Last year this team often worked too fast than their ballhandlers could handle, leading to a lot of easy turnovers. In this game, Maryland even pressed the issue by playing a bit of occasional three-quarter court press themselves. But Mizzou kept turnovers to a minimum (ten, to Maryland's 23). Personally, I'm not very impressed with Maryland. I think this is a rebounding year for them. I don't buy James Gist as that much of a star, and his backup staff is too young and inexperienced. Maryland could be good next year, but I can't see them in the Tournament this year. But back to Missouri, I like their array of talent. Everyone expected Stefhon Hannah to be an All-Big 12 candidate, but they're getting production from other players. Leo Lyons is developing as a force on the inside, putting up 23 and 11 here against the Terps. I also really like Darryl Butterfield, who outhustled everybody he was matched up against and earned a career-high 27 minutes.
#1 UCLA 68, #10 Michigan State 63
It took Kevin Love all of 90 seconds to learn about Michigan State basketball. He went up for a rebound and came down with a bloody nose. Early on it was clear that UCLA simply hadn't seen anyone play as physical as the Spartans, who feature quite a few guys whose skills I would define as "five fouls". But UCLA is young and very talented, and they got their act together eventually. They took their first lead of the game with about 30 seconds to go, and Drew Neitzel missed badly on an attempt to tie. Now, neither of these teams were at full strength. UCLA was short Darren Collison. And Drew Neitzel had a really bad flu. He toughed out most of the second half after missing much of the first, but was clearly not himself. Now, it's not fair to judge a team after playing the #1 team in the country, but I have to say that I don't really see a whole lot out of Michigan State this year. They are only marginally better than last year's team, because they're basically playing the same players as last year. The one newcomer is freshman Kalin Lewis, who has been starting, but has yet to really establish himself. This team should still be in the hunt in the Big 10, but I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised if they lose a few straight in conference and drop out of the Top 25. I would have dropped them in the most recent BP65, but I didn't quite know who to bring up (and the winner of the Big 10 will certainly get atleast a #2 seed). I don't think Indiana will have the consistency to win day in and day out and go 15-3 or 16-2 in the Big 10. Ohio State and Wisconsin have both looked good so far, and both of those are clear contenders for the conference. Illinois also deserves discussion, although I really can't see this team winning the Big 10. I see their ceiling as 4th place, and I'd probably put them 5th right now. Quite a bit will be settled in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.
Saint Mary's 99, #11 Oregon 87
Everyone has been proclaiming this an "epic" upset, but that's apparently because they haven't been reading this blog. As I've been trying to say in posts like this and this, this Oregon team is way overrated. They are a marginal Top 25 team. Still, you say, they lost to St. Mary's - that's like losing to Gardner Webb! And you'd be wrong. Everyone knows Gonzaga, but few outside the west coast realize that St. Mary's has been the second best team out of the West Coast Conference for some time. Last year they finished with a Sagarin Rating of 79th, and were even a bubble team for a brief time in February. Not only that, but they've been great at home, with a 35-11 record since the beginning of the 2004-05 season. This should help Oregon fans realize that they aren't getting a #2 or #3 seed, but they should also realize that this loss isn't worth jumping off a bridge. This won't be a "bad loss" on the resume, and Oregon is still one of the better teams in a Pac-10 that has been pretty disappointing so far.
Ohio State 79, #21 Syracuse 65
Another solid performance for an Ohio State that was clearly underrated by the national punditry in preseason polls. As I said earlier this blog post, I've been somewhat disappointed with Michigan State so far. Indiana has looked great so far, but I don't think they will have the consistency to win every night in the Big 10. Kelvin Sampson tends to just throw his great talent on the floor and let them play basketball, which is a style of play that sometimes backfires. More consistency comes from teams that play "systems", where the team play is more important than any of the individuals. You can get away with not having a system if you have overwhelming talent (see: Kansas), but system teams can thrive without star players and are more consistent because if one player struggles you can bring in his backup without losing much. As for Indiana's Big Ten challengers, I consider both Michigan State and Wisconsin to be "system" teams. At its best, Indiana will probably be better than both the Spartans and the Badgers. But I think Bucky and Sparty will be more consistent, and I wouldn't be surprised to see either of those two teams win the conference. But the reason I'm talking about this in a post about a Buckeye win is because I think Ohio State might slowly be turning into the favorite to win the Big 10. They are oozing talent, and so much of it is already flourishing. Kosta Koufos, for one, has been incredibly impressive on the offensive end. He has an array of outstanding scoring moves, and should be a good NBA player some day. He might only stick around for one year, but it's going to be a heck of a year.