Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tough Few Days For USC

#4 Kansas 59, #24 USC 55
#2 Memphis 62, USC 58, OT
USC got to play two of the top four ranked teams in the country in a three day period, came within shouting distance of winning both, but ended up losing both. As for as the Kansas game, yet another close win for the Jayhawks. This is a very encouraging development. Last year it seems like they always made a few big mistakes down the stretch of close games. This year they are playing with much more maturity and consistency. As for the Memphis game, you would think that result was actually a big discouraging for the Tigers. Davon Jefferson played great for the Trojans (12 points and 13 rebounds), but for the most part USC's offense was completely inept. The Memphis defense was as good as it's been all year, but USC did them a favor by shooting 29%. These early season Tournaments are so important to Memphis because they don't get any good opponents in conference. They get Georgetown in two and a half weeks, followed by Arizona. And, in a pure sign of frustration at the lack of in-conference teams to play, have schedule Tennessee and Gonzaga in the middle of the conference season. But to bring the discussion back to USC, they missed some big chances, but showed that they are an elite team to be reckoned with. As Dick Vitale pointed out, there's no way this is only the sixth best team in the Pac-10.

Arizona 78, #9 Texas A&M 67
A very impressive comeback for Arizona. A&M went up 20 points in the first half, and the Arizona crowd was absolutely silent. The Wildcats did the essential job of making up a little bit of ground before halftime. They then went on a huge run to start the second half, bringing the crowd to life. For the first time, Texas A&M was exposed without Acie Law. Last year, when they needed a basket, they could let Law create something. This year they don't really have a go-to guy. Having a lot of balance is good in that your team rarely has a real bad day all the way around, and you can survive injuries better. But it also hurts you when you're facing a hostile crowd and your opponent is going on a run. Arizona also showed a little bit of why I thought this was going to be such a good team in the preseason. It's still not clear when Lute Olson will be back, but this team can go far with him.

#8 Texas 63, #1 UCLA 61
The second half of a great doubleheader. And at first, this game seemed to parallel the Zona/A&M matchup. Texas went up big (16 points) in the first half. UCLA made up a bit of ground by halftime and then went on a big run to start the second half. In what seemed like only a few moments, the Bruins came all the way back and took a one point lead. But unlike Texas A&M, the Longhorns have a go-to guy. More than one, actually. DJ Augustin had a big 19 points, and Damion James put up 19 and 10. Meanwhile, this was still only Darren Collison's second game back, and I think he's still struggling to get up to speed. Now, just because Texas won this game, this doesn't make them the better team. I'll talk about this in the follow up to my last column, which will have the apt title "How NOT to Rank Teams". I still think UCLA is one of the two best teams in the country. But Texas is clearly in the same league as Kansas, and the battle for the Big 12 title will be as good as any in the country, perhaps only matched by Carolina/Duke in the ACC.

Miami (Fl) 66, St. John's 47
This score was very deceptive. It was about a 3-to-7 point game most of the way before Miami hit their free-throws at the end of the game. But I have to say, Miami did a great job of scheduling. They created the exact schedule necessary to build a great RPI, which is why they still have the #1 RPI in the country despite not even being a Top 25 team. They scheduled a lot of decent teams, like St. John's, but no great teams that can beat them. On the 13th they head to Mississippi State, and they also have a game against Winthrop. But other than that, the rest of the out of conference schedule is really easy. I'm not ready to move this team into the BP65 yet, but if they can with both of the aforementioned games I'll have to put some serious thought into it. They'd be 14-0, meaning that even a 9-7 season in the ACC would probably be enough. As for St. John's, they were off to a good start, but this loss isn't a very good one. They have a lot of talent, but simply no real system on the floor. Their offense consists of an array of different players trying to score in one-on-one opportunities. They need to learn how to pass and play like a team if they're going to get back in the mix in the Big East in the next few years.

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