Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday Morning Update

I know that most people are more interested in late-season college football action than early-season college basketball action, but there have been some important basketball games over the past couple of days. In case you spent yesterday absorbed in college football, I'll give you an update of the most important recent results:

Clemson 84, Mississippi State 82
This was a very important game, although you wouldn't have known it from the complete lack of coverage. I guess these two teams simply aren't very sexy, and are generally overshadowed by their more famous intra-conference counterparts. If you scroll down to my most recent BP65, I think that both of these teams are severely underrated, and both should be real threats to make a Sweet 16 run. What was interesting in this game was the contrast in strengths. Mississippi State showed its power on the inside, getting a dozen boards apiece from Jarvis Varnado and Jamont Gordon. Neither team shot well from outside, but Clemson did a great job of getting to the line. A remarkable 38 free throws, outdoing even the 31 free throws for the Bulldogs. What made the difference in this game wasn't just the seven extra free throws, but what they did with those free throws, ending up making nine extra free throws. How often does it get said: free throws are the most underrated part of basketball, and can make or break a lot of games singlehandedly. I still think MSU is the slightly better team, and I'm keeping them ranked ahead of Clemson for now. Let's also remember that Clemson got off to a great start last year, and that didn't end well either.

Providence 72, #18 Arkansas 58
This was made out as a bigger upset that it really was. Providence isn't that great of a team, but neither is Arkansas . They were way over-ranked. In my mind, this is a bubble team at best that will pay for messing up its coaching situation over the offseason. The real problem for Arkansas in this particular game was ballhandling, where 32 turnovers led to 13 extra shots for Providence. If you're going to struggle with guard play, atleast you should enforce your will on the inside, but Steven Hill only got 13 minutes of playing time and the Razorbacks actually got outrebounded.

#3 Memphis 81, UConn 70
A very entertaining game, for those that got a chance to watch it - even with a somewhat-subdued Dick Vitale. Throughout the first seven or eight minutes, Memphis simply looked unbelievable. Anyone who saw the first seven minutes and turned off the rest of the game is voting Memphis #1 in the country on Monday's ballot. UConn also looked awful, but ended up making an epic comeback to actually take a small lead at the half. Memphis then enforced their will in the second half, and ended up with a somewhat deceptive final score. The star of this game was obviously Chris Douglas-Roberts, who went for 33 points on 14-for-24 from the field. But we already knew that Memphis was a great team, and that "CDR" can give other teams fits. What impressed me was that UConn finally looked good, for the first time since the 2006 Tournament. Experience and leadership was in very short supply last year, and it appears like they'll get it from Jeff Adrien this year. His final stat-line is unimpressive, but he got his team back in the game and built up confidence for AJ Price and Stanley Robinson. A final observation was that Hasheem Thabeet was practically invisible. Some day this guy is probably going to get it, but right now he is still all potential. He was, at best, the fifth best UConn player on the floor in this game.

Siena 79, #20 Stanford 67
Like the Arkansas-Providence game, the biggest surprise was actually that anybody thought Stanford was a top-20 team. Siena has been putting up points on everybody this year, and has an excellent shot to win the MAAC. There is also history in this game, for those who can remember back to the 1989 Tournament when the 14th seeded Saints took out the 3rd seeded Cardinal. The real surprise of this game was the 3-point shooting. The general style of games between elite teams and small conference teams is that the elite team dominates the 2-point area while the small conference team launches threes. See the Gardner Webb-Oklahoma game for a perfect example of this in action. In the Stanford-Siena game, however, the Saints only took 16 three-points compared to 31 for Stanford. I know that Stanford is missing a Lopez brother, but they still have far more athleticism than this Siena team. Settling for all these three pointers rather than pushing the action showed a devastating lack of confidence. They only forced 11 fouls on Siena, as well as only 8 turnovers. All in all, an awful performance for a Stanford team that is a bubble team at best. Their only hope of feeling comfortable as Selection Sunday arrives is for this team to get its act together when (if?) the Lopez brothers are reunited on the floor.

Cleveland State 69, Florida State 66
To be fair, FSU simply had a collectively awful day from the field. They shot 35% from the field and an atrocious 1-for-14 from behind the arc. Unlike Stanford in their aforementioned loss to Siena, FSU made the smart decision to press the action. They got to the foul line 31 times and made an excellent 29 of them. They couldn't force a whole lot of turnovers, but got enough to stay in the game. Obviously, a bad loss for Florida State. But Leonard Hamilton is a very good coach, as he showed in this game by doing everything he could to try to win this game for the Noles. FSU made a good decision in extending his contract. All in all, though, I think FSU just doesn't have the overall set of basketball players to be a real factor in the ACC. They should be a bubble team, but they have to show some improvement before anyone starts putting them in a bracket.

USC West 85, USC East 75
Okay, that title was a bit of a joke. Nobody from out of the SEC calls South Carolina "USC", but I couldn't pass up this rare meeting between these two teams. South Carolina is a rebuilding team, and they will show improvement throughout this year, but I think they're atleast a year away from their recruiting class paying real dividends. As for Southern Cal, it remains to be seen how they will find a comfortable equilibrium with the headline-stealing OJ Mayo. Even in this game, the story was "OJ Mayo scored 29 and led the Trojans to a victory over South Carolina", when the story should have been "Sophomore Daniel Hackett had a coming-out game with a triple-double over the Gamecocks". This USC team has a ton of talent, but I just don't think that Tim Floyd will be able to handle all of these personalities and the media attention.

Wisconsin 78, Colorado 52
It was easy to ignore Wisconsin's big wins over basketball powerhouses Savannah State and Florida A&M, but after this result it's hard to miss how good this Badgers team is looking. The consensus in the preseason was that this team wouldn't be able to score without Alando Tucker. But anybody who's followed Wisconsin in the Bo Ryan era knows that this is a system offense that actually works best when there isn't a single star. Wisconsin spent too much team getting away from a pure swing offense last year while watching Tucker create Sportscenter highlights by himself. This year's team is getting back to the basics, showing great teamwork and passing on the offensive end. In addition, expect Big Ten opponents to be shocked at how Trevon Hughes has turned into a star overnight. Last year he showed talent coming off the bench, but often had too much energy and lost control and doing as much harm to his own team as to his opponents. So far this year he has been in control and is scoring about 20 points per game while being a force on the defensive end. With Michigan State struggling and question marks remaining about Indiana, don't be surprised if Wisconsin becomes a real contender for the Big Ten title.

Virginia 75, #17 Arizona 72
There's no reason for Wildcat fans to jump off a bridge here. They should have Lute Olson back soon. Virginia came in here looking for revenge after getting blown out in their last trip to Arizona, two years ago. And the Cavaliers simply wouldn't miss the shots that they got, going 57% from behind the arc and 87% from the line. Arizona had a shot to win this, with the ball under Virginia's basket and down by one with about 20 seconds to go. But the inbounds pass-and-catch went awry and Virginia got a hold of the loose ball and hit both free throws. Zona then had a few shots at the tie but couldn't get any to drop. This is a good Virginia team that has really impressed in the early going, and this win could go a long way towards strengthening their Tournament resume. I still think Arizona is the second best team in the Pac-10, so they should still have plenty of good games to look forward to.

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