Sunday, November 25, 2007

Recapping the Action

With Thanksgiving Break over, I'll be back to regular blog posts. So without further ado, a rather long recap of the best action since Turkey Day:

George Mason 87, #20 Kansas State 77
#19 Villanova 84, George Mason 76
A good set of tests for Jim Larranaga's boys. The Kansas State win is certainly a resume builder, although K-State was probably over-ranked at #20. The Villanova matchup was a very close one the entire way (the final score was actually deceptively large), although I'm still not sure what to make of Jay Wright's team. They could be a Top 15 team, but they could also end up as a bubble team. Either way, the fact is that Mason is for real this year. Will Thomas has been a monster on the inside (averaging 17 and 11) and they are oozing with experienced talent. The only real longterm question I have with this team is its depth. Larranaga starts 3 seniors and 2 juniors, and doesn't use much else. His bench is averaging a combined 10.4 points per game. The problem with a lack of depth is that the team eventually wears out. Plus, any injury is really a killer. Remember last year's Alabama team which had an outstanding starting five and almost nothing else, and ended up missing the Tournament. If George Mason can find a little bit more depth then they will be in great shape for a Tournament bid. But don't write them in your bracket with ink quite yet.

#18 Southern Illinois 63, Mississippi State 49

The Salukis have had a very quiet start to their season. They were one of the last teams in the nation to play their first game, and they haven't had much in the way of national tv exposure yet. There haven't been many opportunities, with only three games in the bank so far. But this lack of exposure means that a lot of people are sleeping on this team. You may not believe this, but these guys are almost definitely better than the 18th best team in the country. I still only have them as 5-seed in the BP65 simply because the Missouri Valley is a little bit down this year, which means that the Salukis can only get a 3 or 4 seed if they completely run through the conference. And I just don't see that as a likely scenario. But, make sure you get a chance to watch these guys play. Their defense is, as always, absolutely ferocious. And they have a very experienced trio of Randal Falker, Bryan Mullins and Matt Shaw that can put up points on the offensive end. Most people will be in their homes tonight, and you probably have cable or satellite, so pop onto ESPN2 at 11pm ET tonight. SIU plays USC in what could be a coming-out game for this team.

#15 Texas A&M 70, Ohio State 47
A final score that is a big mind-boggling, to say the least. A&M has been playing well, but nothing too special. And Ohio State had looked good. With Michigan State struggling, Indiana with question marks and Wisconsin still unproven, Ohio State was looking like a possible favorite in the Big Ten. Of course, I wouldn't necessarily consider this a sign of things to come. This Ohio State team is actually better offensively than they were last year (although obviously, without Oden, inferior on the defensive end and in the rebounding game). They simply couldn't shoot if their life depended on it in this one. The final count was 25% shooting and 4-21 from behind the arc. So was this a superior defensive effort on the part of the Aggies, or was this just an aberration by the Buckeyes? I'm leaning more towards the latter. Even if you didn't see the game, you can check out the box score: A&M only forced five turnovers the entire game. The defense did a great job, for sure, but this result was a fluke. I think these teams are still comparable in overall talent, and I wouldn't count Ohio State out of the Big Ten race yet. I'd say that this result says more about A&M, which has proved that they can win big games in the post-Billy Gillespie era. I doubted this team after Gillespie jumped ship, but I'm becoming a believer.

Texas Tech 73, #14 Gonzaga 63

Again, something of a fluky score. Texas Tech hasn't looked too good this season, other than this game, so I wouldn't jump on their bandwagon quite yet. But I'm highlighting this game because of the emergence of talented junior Alan Voskuil. After coming off the bench his first two years, he has exploded for 15 points per game this year on 61% shooting. In this game he put up 28 points, 7 boards, 4 assists and 4 steals while playing great perimeter defense. Hardly anybody outside of the state of Texas has heard of this kid yet, but don't be surprised to see him make a cameo on the All-Big 12 team.

#16 Texas 97, #7 Tennessee 78
Everyone thought that the Longhorns were all about Kevin Durant last year, but he was just one of the many talented players that Rick Barnes has brought into Austin. Witness DJ Augustin and AJ Abrams, who torched the Vols for 44 points on 16-29 shooting. The only question mark with the Horns is on the inside, where I'm not completely sold on sophomore center Connor Atchley yet. Rick Barnes has two tall freshmen to work with as well, in Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman. Expect to see one or both of them get some extended time as Barnes tries to put together the team with the best shot to win the Big 12. Kansas is still the more talented team, but Texas has the more impressive wins so far.


bryan said...

Jeff, what did you think about FSU's decisive win over Florida? I went to FSU's 3 games in Daytona Beach, when they lost 2 of them to Cleveland State and South Florida.. terrible losses to have on your resume to be sure, but I think playing in front of less than 800 people can be tough for any team. FSU definitely had the more experienced players, but I expected a little more from FLA, even though they are a much younger team. How do you see both of these teams doing later in the year? Thanks for your comments! --Bryan

Jeff said...

Well, my overall view of the teams can be expressed simply in my BP65. As you know if you're a regular reader here, my BP65 is not about where the teams rank now but about where I think the teams will end up. So, I think Florida will end up a clear Tournament team - not a competitor in the SEC, but not a bubble team either. I think FSU will be a bubble team, just like they've been the last few years.

Florida does have a lot of talent on their team. Unlike UNC this year, Florida didn't just stop recruiting because they had a great starting lineup coming back. And unlike last year's UConn team, this year's Florida team isn't a bunch of freshmen being thrown into the fire. Florida has a lot of guys who have a lot of experience backing up stars (Marreese Speights, Walter Hodge, etc). They won't be too overwhelmed.

As for Florida State, I just don't see why this team is different from last year's team, or the year before. They always have a ton of athletic talent, but they don't play well as a team. They constantly play good teams close, but they can't win consistently.

So what happened Friday night? FSU was simply the more motivated team. They were animals on the inside, and just wanted it more. Once they got Speights in foul trouble, Florida had no experience left on the inside. The Seminoles won the rebounding battle 37-22, won a lot of free trips to the line, and got a big resume builder.

I wouldn't get too excited as a Seminoles fan. You are right that it's possible to overlook the bad losses to Cleveland State and South Florida, because good teams often struggle in front of tiny crowds against bad teams - especially a team like Florida State that relies so heavily on emotion and athleticism. But you can also overlook the big win over Florida as a team being more motivated on a single day. This isn't last year's Florida, this is a marginal Top 25 team. Also, more experienced teams tend to play well early in a season and then plateau, while young teams (like Florida) improve more drastically as they gain experience and get used to playing with each other.

I realize that I'm going back and forth with my points here, so I'll try to sum it up: Florida State is not a Top 25 team right now. They could make the Tournament, but it will be a battle all year. I see something like 9-7 in the ACC, 21-10 overall as a reasonably optimistic possibility. This Florida win doesn't indicate FSU's emergence in the elite, but it does provide a great win to put at the top of the resume in March. If they manage to sneak in with an 11 or 12 seed, this win will be a huge reason why.

Bryan said...

Jeff, I appreciate your comments to my question.. and, to be frank, I'm never comfortable as a Seminoles fan =).. Every year they seem to get a few big upset wins, and then lose games they are supposed to win. I certainly agree with you that they are not a top 25 team, and probably won't be anytime this year.. I'll be a little more cautiously optomistic if they can somehow win at Butler and Providence before their ACC schedule starts. I would be thrilled if they got to 9-7 in conference play, although they do have to play UNC twice and Duke at home.. Unfortunately as a Seminoles fan, I learned two years ago that 9-7 in the ACC doesn't always get you in the tourney, but I certainly would give them a good shot, since their OOC SOS should be much better than it was 2 years ago.. Thanks for the great blog and predictions.. Keep up the good work! I look forward to conversing with you throughout the season.