Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weak Saturday Slate

#20 Xavier 60, Miami (OH) 53
All in all, yesterday wasn't a great day for college basketball. It never is when it's competing against regular season college football. Today's slate is much better. Still, there were a few big games to point out, including yet another close loss for Miami of Ohio against a quality opponent. It's got to be psychological at this point, they just panic down the stretch. They had a big fat second half lead here, but couldn't stop a furious Xavier comeback. But being able to pull out close games is what separates the Xaviers of the world from the Miamis of the world. Xavier looks like the solid favorite to take the A-10, or to take an at-large bid if they go down in the A-10 Tournament again. Miami of Ohio, meanwhile, is a long shot now for an at-large bid. It will probably come down to another MAC title game against Kent State. And it's too bad, because they're a good team. If they can learn how to win close games, they could still take the conference. They'd probably get a 12 or 13 seed, and they'd be a dangerous first round opponent. But to me, that's the ceiling for this team.

Dayton 89, #15 Marquette 75
Speaking of the Atlantic Ten, we now have a quality challenger for Xavier. With weak starts by Charlotte and UMass, and with the other chief contenders (like Saint Louis and Temple) showing serious flaws of their own, I was beginning to wonder if anybody would give Xavier a real run for their money. Dayton is now 6-0, with a real quality win. We knew that they lost a lot during the offseason, but all of their returners have improved on their quality play from last year. Sophomore Chris Wright, for example, has built on a solid freshman year to be even better this year. Remember, he was a big time blue chip recruit, so he was expected to eventually carry this team. A big addition has been Juco transfer Rob Lowery, who had a season-high 21 points off the bench here. For Marquette, I think this loss was something of a fluke. Their shooting was atrocious, including a combined 3-for-17 from behind the arc for the star trio of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews. You have to give Dayton's defense some of the credit, but not all of it. They have plenty of big out-of-conference opponents still to go, so they should still have a bunch of good wins heading into the Big East regular season. Marquette is still one of the better teams in the Big East, even though in my mind they're not quite in the league of Notre Dame or UConn. To me, they're going to settle somewhere between fourth and sixth in the Big East. It should be good enough for a solid seed in the Tournament, and the potential for another Sweet Sixteen trip.

#22 Villanova 78, Rhode Island 65
Speaking of the Big East, it was nice of Villanova to join this season with a legitimate opponent. Up until this game they had beaten up on five bad opponents, but this is a solid win over a solid opponent. I have to wonder how this schedule might lead them to have a big of a shock when they jump into the deep end at Texas in a couple of weeks. But this is a pretty experienced Villanova squad, with a lot of Big East games under their belts, so it shouldn't be a huge problem. They're not heavily dependent on freshmen. For Rhode Island, they now have two losses, but both have been against ranked teams. They still play Providence and Oklahoma State, along with a bunch of bad opponents, before the A-10 regular season starts. If they can win all of those games then they can challenge Dayton for the second A-10 Tournament spot. But I don't yet know if they're good enough for that. I'm not sold on Jimmy Baron being good enough to carry a team to the Tournament.

A Few More Friday Night Recaps

#4 Pittsburgh 80, Texas Tech 67
Pittsburgh continues to impress in the early season. They haven't played a very impressive schedule, but they've looked like an elite team in the way they've easily dispatched solid teams like Texas Tech. Texas Tech probably isn't Tournament bound, but at least it's not the Morehead States of the world that Louisville is beating up on. The whole out-of-conference schedule isn't all too difficult, but it doesn't really matter too much. There will be plenty of chances for big wins in the Big East. And besides, Pittsburgh isn't going to be a bubble team, so they're not worried as much about getting that resume-building win. Their top priority is winning the Big East, and they're going to be in the hunt. To me, they're among the handful of teams that has a really good chance of taking that conference. The scary thing is that Pitt can actually get better, because they can shoot a lot better than they did in this one.

#6 Michigan State 94, Oklahoma State 79
This was the result that you had to expect. As I said before, their loss to Maryland was something of a fluke. Goran Suton still isn't back, but they are still an elite team without him. Unlike the Maryland loss, their stars were able to stay out of foul trouble. Raymar Morgan, for example, made up for his 4 point & 4 foul performance against Maryland with a dominating 29 points on only 11 shots from the field. Kalin Lucas also has 10 assists, and I stand by my statement from my '08-'09 Big Ten preview where I said that it's not absurd when people compare him to a young Chris Paul. In my mind, Michigan State's consistency and depth make them the most likely team to roll through the Big Ten for the title. They're the favorites right now, with Purdue close behind. For Oklahoma State, this performance in Disney World seems to put them where I thought they'd be. They're not good enough to seriously challenge for the Big 12 title, but they're a solid team with a very good shot at an at-large bid. The key for them will be winning all of the games they're supposed to win the rest of the way. They should be favored for every single game they play between now and January 17th, when they head to Baylor. If they can find a way to actually win all of those then they'll be in great shape. If they do that, and get to 12-2 before the Big 12 season starts, and a 9-7 conference record will probably be enough for an at-large bid. A 10-6 would make things safe. If they do drop one of these games (the most likely losses being later this week at Washington, or December 20th against Rhode Island) then they'll really need to get that 10-6 record to feel good about a bid.

California 73, UNLV 55

This game was way the heck below the radar, but I don't think I've talked about California since they started the regular season, and this was one of those games that has big bubble implications regardless. Cal has shown nice depth early this season, including five players in double digits here. If I was going to find a flaw, it's on the inside, where they really lack a good scorer, or a powerful rebounder. They've been giving 7-footer Jordan Wilkes a lot more playing time than in years past, but he's really just not that good. I'm curious to see 7'3" Chinese import Max Zhang, but clearly they don't expect him to play a big part of this season. He hasn't played more than 8 minutes in a game all year. That said, the Pac-10 is pretty weak on the inside everywhere. Other than Arizona's Jordan Hill and Washington's Jon Brockman, I can't think of another real dominant big man. So Cal's lack of size should hurt them less than if they were in the Big East or Big 12. Cal has intentionally scheduled a lot of good-but-beatable opponents, without any ranked teams in the out-of-conference. They're going for the good record/good RPI resume, which is a decent way to go. They just need to make sure that they topple one of the ranked teams in conference play, because it's tough to get an at-large bid without a win over a ranked team.

Baylor 87, #14 Arizona State 78

Baylor continues to get better and better, and this marks their best win to date. They are now up to 6-0 with a chance for another huge win tonight against Wake Forest. They head to Washington State next weekend, and then it's mostly easy street until Big 12 play starts. But that's okay, because they've already accomplished plenty in this out-of-conference. Assuming that they can avoid a fluke loss or two against a bad team in December, they'll probably only need a 9-7 record in the Big 12 to make the Tournament. And I think that they'll be more like 11-5, and could even contend for one of the top two or three spots in the conference. Arizona State, meanwhile, shouldn't feel too bad about this loss here. This will not be a bad loss by any means, and they're not likely to be a bubble team anyway. For Arizona State this season is going to be about seeing whether they're ready to compete for a Pac-10 title. I wouldn't bet on it, but it's possible. They start off the Pac-10 with two good road tests, at Cal and Stanford. Two wins there and they could potentially be 5-0 in the Pac-10 when they head to Pauley Pavilion for a huge game on January 17th on CBS. That could be a match-up between two Top Ten teams, so mark it on your calendar now.

W-15 BP65

I'll have more game recaps later today and tomorrow, but I want to get the new BP65 out before today's games get started:

1. TEXAS (BIG 12)
1. UCLA (PAC-10)

2. Notre Dame
2. Duke

3. Purdue
3. Florida
3. Louisville

4. Wake Forest
4. Oklahoma
4. Pittsburgh
4. Georgetown

5. Syracuse
5. Kansas
5. Baylor

6. Clemson
6. Arizona State
6. Marquette
6. Wisconsin

7. Ohio State
7. Villanova
7. Maryland

8. USC
8. Miami (Fl)

9. Washington State
9. Kentucky
9. West Virginia

10. Michigan
10. Oklahoma State
10. Virginia Tech
10. Dayton

11. Texas A&M
11. Oregon
11. LSU
11. South Carolina

12. Utah
12. Missouri





Other teams considered, but that missed the cut:
Boston College, Florida State, NC State, Virginia, Rhode Island, Temple, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Illinois, Minnesota, UAB, Southern Miss, UTEP, Creighton, BYU, New Mexico, San Diego State, Arizona, California, Stanford, Alabama, Saint Mary's, San Diego, New Mexico State

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Georgia Tech, Charlotte, George Washington, UMass, Richmond, St. Louis, DePaul, Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State, Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas Tech, VCU, East Carolina, Houston, Illinois-Chicago, Rider, Miami (OH), Ohio, Bradley, Drake, Illinois State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Washington, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee State, San Francisco, Fresno State, Utah State

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another Close Big Ten Loss

#13 Oklahoma 87, #9 Purdue 82, OT
The Big Ten has had a tough week, with both of its top two teams going down in close contests. Blake Griffin actually had a disappointing game, finishing two points shy of a 20-20. That was a joke, of course, because Griffin looks to blow away Tim Duncan's record of five 20-20 games in a season by a kid from a BCS conference. This game was also a bit of a coming out party for the other Griffin, Taylor, who had 19 points and 8 rebounds in a team-high 43 minutes. As long as Blake is playing like this, Oklahoma is surely one of the fifteen best teams in the country, and they can compete with anybody. I've been hesitant to move up their seed because I didn't think that he could keep playing this well every night... but maybe he can. The longer he keeps up this run, the more impressed I get. For Purdue, they did play pretty here. Their biggest problem was foul trouble: They lost Robbie Hummel to five fouls late in the second half, and had four other players collect four fouls. A bright spot was the emergence of Nemanja Calasan, who has a pretty shot and also is a big guy to deal with in the paint. He scored 20 points here on 9-for-15 shooting, to go along with 8 rebounds. This game proved that Purdue is a good team, but that they still have improvements to make if they're going to win the Big Ten.

#24 Wake Forest 82, UTEP 79
A very nice job by a young Wake Forest team to pull out the tough win. Everybody (except UNC, apparently) has close games, and being able to squeak out a win when you're not at your best is a great sign. With a quiet game out of L.D. Williams, and not too much from Al-Farouq Amin, it was Jeff Teague who scored the key baskets at the end of the game to fight off a frantic UTEP second half rally. UTEP was, once again, the Stefon Jackson show. He scored 31 points (including 13 from the line) to go with 9 rebounds. But it wasn't enough to prevent UTEP's second very close loss. Still, even without a big win, they have looked very good so far, and seem on their way to being a real bubble team late in February and into March. Assuming they fall to Arizona State tomorrow, they can still salvage the out-of-conference slate if they can avoid any bad losses the rest of the way. They'll need somewhere close to 25 wins to earn at at-large bid, so they need to just start racking them up.

#10 Gonzaga 81, Maryland 59
We know that Gonzaga had an explosive offense, but it was actually their defense that was on display in this demolition of Maryland. They held Maryland to 37% shooting, including 1-for-13 from behind the arc. Gonzaga also dominated the boards with 41 rebounds to Maryland's 28. Gonzaga has a ton of hard opponents still to come in the out-of-conference, so we'll still get to learn more about them. But I don't think anybody has any doubts anymore that this is one of the best Gonzaga teams, if not the best Gonzaga team, we've ever seen. And what's scary is that I don't think Austin Daye has hit his ceiling yet. I still feel like he isn't where he could be at this point in his career, and I can't think of any player who hasn't eventually hit their potential under Mark Few. For Maryland, they obviously hoped to win this game, but they have to be happy with the way this tournament has gone so far. They get Georgetown tomorrow, and Michigan during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but otherwise it's going to be mostly easy street for these guys before the ACC season starts. Maryland looks like a more than likely Tournament team at this point, but they still have a lot to prove before we can pencil them in.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tennessee Clear SEC Favorites

#12 Tennessee 90, #16 Georgetown 78
One thing that I noticed during this game was, to invent a word here, the great "spurt-ability" of Tennessee. It seemed like Georgetown would repeatedly push out to a small lead, only to have it swamped by a 10-0 or 14-2 run by Tennessee. Tennessee eventually had a little spurt that Georgetown couldn't respond to, late in the game, and that was it. The fierce Volunteer defense forced 12 steals that led to a whole lot of fast break points. The game was also a coming out party for Cameron Tatum, who hit 5-for-6 from behind the arc, including 14 second half points. He keyed the final run that put Tennessee over the top. At this point, with the shape that the SEC is in, the Vols have got to be the solid favorites there. They are just way too deep, and way too athletic. Georgetown, meanwhile, showed improvement from their stinker against Wichita State, but they still don't look as good as they could be. They show flashes of why they could eventually win the Big East, but show too many lapses in concentration. They need to do a better job of grinding out wins. They'll get another chance against a good opponent in the final game of the Old Spice Classic, where they'll play either Maryland or Gonzaga. Either will be a good win, if Georgetown can earn it.

Baylor 72, Providence 56
At some point, this Baylor team will get the respect that it deserves. After bringing back almost everybody from a team that was pretty good last year, the Bears didn't get nearly the position that they should have in the preseason polls. And they've proven that last year wasn't a fluke with a solid start to this season. But of course, the tests start getting tougher, and Arizona State will be the opponent tonight on ESPN2, at 12:30 AM ET. Of course, Arizona State will be a much tougher opponent than Providence, and they probably should beat Baylor, but that shouldn't obscure the fact that Baylor is clearly now one of the better teams now in the Big 12. Even a loss against Arizona State would still give them an opportunity against UTEP on Sunday, which would be a solid win in its own right. They also have Washington State and South Carolina ahead before the Big 12 season starts. In my opinion, Baylor is currently somewhere between the third and fifth best team in the Big 12. As for Providence, they still had a chance to prove something in this game. but this is just another disappointment in the early going so far this season. The only positive is that they get to play a team tonight that might be off to an even more disappointing start, 1-4 Charlotte. Both teams will be desperate, but neither team will likely be a serious at-large contender.

Boston College 83, UAB 77
Tyrese Rice and Rakim Sanders are still at BC, and Joe Trapani is an excellent transfer. Together, they make up the lineup of an underrated BC team that is pretty far under the radar of most fans at this point. The close losses to Saint Louis and Purdue had them at a mediocre 3-2 record coming in here, but this marks their best win of the season and a potential springboard into the rest of the out-of-conference slate. The next test is Iowa during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and UMass and Providence are still ahead. Boston College hasn't had the best of all possible starts to a season, but they haven't done any big damage to their resume either. They're still very much in the at-large picture. UAB, meanwhile, loses its second straight game to an elite opponent. They continue to suffer from the fact that nobody else is stepping up to join the outstanding duo of fourth-year senior Lawrence Kinnard and eighth-year senior Robert Vaden (actually, it only feels like he's been around eight years). Without a third quality starter, UAB will continue to be good, but might not be quite good enough to earn an at-large bid. Especially with the emergence of UTEP as a legitimate challenger to the second place position in Conference USA. They have a slew of difficult out-of-conference games still to go, so there are plenty more good wins out there. And I bet UAB will collect a few of them. But they'll also collect a few more losses, and you've got to have a sexy won-loss record when you're not in a power conference. The Blazers really need to avoid too many more losses, even quality losses like this one.

#5 Duke 95, Duquesne 72
A rare game outside of a tournament for an elite team this week. Another impressive win for Duke, although yet another game that they were able to win with high intensity guard play and without much of a contribution by any bigs. They managed to force 14 steals, and that led to a whole lot of easy fast break points (ending up with an inflated 55% shooting from the field, despite relatively mediocre jump shooting). Lance Thomas was actually the primary big here for Duke, which is acceptable for Duquesne, but not for the ACC powers. There's no question that Duke is an excellent team, but I can't move them to a 1 seed without a good center or power forward. Even if they do possibly have the best set of guards in the nation.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Can Maryland Challenge For Third In ACC?

Maryland 80, #6 Michigan State 62
A very nice looking win, even if looks a little bit deceiving here. Goran Suton missed the game with injury, and Raymar Morgan missed extensive time with foul trouble (four points scored in 14 minutes). And in addition, the usually solid free throw-shooting Spartans were an atrociously bad 12-for-27 from the line. Still, a win is a win, and an 18 point win is a very nice win. Both of these teams have two more good games coming during the Old Spice Classic, so we'll get more time to learn more about both of these teams. Still, this win reaffirms my belief that Maryland is a likely at-large team in the Tournament. And this loss doesn't change my belief that Michigan State will duel with Purdue for the Big Ten title.

UTEP 75, Saint Mary's 62
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't think any team is as different in ability at home versus on the road as Saint Mary's. I spoke last week about how I was looking forward to see how Saint Mary's would fare once they left their comfortable home court, and we've now got our first result. To be fair, UTEP is a pretty good team, and I don't think that this will eventually qualify as a "bad" loss. But if Saint Mary's continues to struggle away from home, then this will just be the first of several losses in the out-of-conference slate. I'm not going to put them into the BP65 until they prove that they can win consistently away from home. They were able to earn an at-large bid last season based on their home wins. This year's schedule has too many good road opponents for them to repeat that performance. For UTEP, this win formally puts them in with discussion regarding the best team in C-USA outside of Memphis. At this point, they've played better than anybody other than perhaps UAB. They're still an unlikely at-large team, in my opinion, but they're certainly in the discussion.

#14 Arizona State 84, Charlotte 56
Arizona State just blew Charlotte away in this one. It was never that close. A lot of players have great freshman years and never really get any better, but James Harden has truly taken his game to another level this year. He's good enough that he could singlehandedly take a team to the Tournament, but he doesn't need to with the solid core of guys around him. And with how weak the Pac-10 has looked so far this year, the sky is really the limit for these guys in that conference. There's no reason that they can't actually make a run at UCLA if the Bruins can't figure out how to fix their front court. That said, their out-of-conference schedule is disappointingly weak. They could have a very good record when Pac-10 play starts. In fact, they could potentially be undefeated. But in the end, everybody plays everybody twice in that conference, so conference position will be earned on the court. Charlotte, meanwhile, has had a very tough out-of-conference schedule. But 1-4 is 1-4, and their Tournament hopes are already looking pretty dim. They have a bunch of good teams left to play, so there are plenty of potential good wins ahead. But if they've lost four in a row now, then there's no reason to expect that they're not going to lose a bunch more even before the Atlantic Ten season starts up.

#10 Gonzaga 83, Oklahoma State 71
This game was very close the whole way before Gonzaga pulled away in the final minutes. We all knew that Austin Daye was set for great things, and Jeremy Pargo, Josh Heytfelt and Matt Bouldin are all well known players in the starting lineup. But one guy I really like is senior Micah Downs, who never really got to play much in previous years. After never averaging more than 8.1 points per game in a season, he is up around 14 points per game this season and is a really good rebounder as well (he earned his first double-double of the season here). Gonzaga is just insanely deep this year, even by ordinary Gonzaga standards. I think they're a wee bit overrated at #10, but they're certainly a very good team. As for Oklahoma State, this loss doesn't change my belief that they're going to make the Tournament. They went toe-to-toe with the currently-tenth ranked team in the nation, keeping the game within a few points for almost the entire game. Everybody knows Byron Eaton, but the star here for Oklahoma State was actually Obi Muonelo, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds here. Oklahoma State has done a good job so far this year of taking care of business and avoiding bad losses. If they can get one or two good wins before the Big 12 season starts then I think quite a few more pundits will jump on the Oklahoma State bandwagon with me.

Maybe UNC Is Mortal?

#1 North Carolina 102, #8 Notre Dame 87
Despite the title of this post, this game wasn't really all too close. North Carolina got up by 14 points late in the first half, and I'm pretty sure that the game never got within single digits again. But that said, I did get the sense that North Carolina was mortal. Under different conditions, they could have lost here. For one thing, Luke Harangody was ill with the flu. He was able to play, but wasn't himself. Tory Jackson also just had an off day, so Notre Dame was really just the Kyle McAlarney show (10-for-18 from behind the arc). And on top of that, Carolina just had a great game. They shot 56% from the field, and 91% from the free throw line. And still, Notre Dame hung in there. What I'm trying to say is that while North Carolina is clearly the #1 team in the land, they're mortal. They can lose. The fact that this statement needed to be said, and actually warranted a blog post title, is a testament to how insanely good they have looked so far. For Notre Dame, I think they can be encouraged by what I said. Two of their three best players had off nights, North Carolina played out of their minds, and they still kept it close enough to keep eyes glued to tv sets around the nation. The Irish have that win over Texas, and the demolition of Indiana. The remaining out-of-conference schedule is very easy, so they could easily be 12-1 when Georgetown comes to town on January 5th. Even with this loss they're still a Big East and Final Four contender.

#13 Oklahoma 77, UAB 67
Another Blake Griffin show, as he poured in 32 points and 15 rebounds to drive Oklahoma to another close victory. I don't want to criticize Oklahoma, because they're 5-0 with a few good wins (including that great game against Davidson), but I'm worried that they are continuing to barely survive against inferior teams, and are only doing so with huge games from Griffin. Once the Big 12 season starts, he's not going to be much bigger than his opponents any more. And if Griffin gets shut down, I don't see any obvious player to pick up the slack. They're clearly a Top 25 team, and they're clearly a Tournament team, but I just don't think they're as good as Texas or Kansas. I just don't think they're well-rounded enough. As for UAB, this obviously could have been a huge win for them, but they have another chance for a nice win tomorrow against Boston College. They've got a monumental challenge late in December when they head to Louisville, but other than that every other out-of-conference game for them is winnable. They have a great chance to make a Tournament run with this experienced squad.

#16 Georgetown 58, Wichita State 50
A really bad, messy game. I don't know if it was Georgetown playing down to their competition, or just one of those games that you sometimes see in November when teams are still getting used to playing with each other. The bright spot for the Hoyas was the inside-outside combo of Austin Freeman and super-frosh Greg Monroe. Monroe still has some way to go before he'll be a true Big East star, but he sure has great athletic ability. I was blown away at points in this game by the way he ran the floor was able to move his body. If you didn't see the players around him, you'd never have guessed how tall he was. But that said, Georgetown did not look all too great today. And they're going to have to improve if they're going to be a true Big East contender. I want to see if they look sharper on offense tomorrow against Tennessee. If they truly just had a bad day then we'll see marked improvement tomorrow. If not, then JTIII just needs a little bit more time to really get these guys in shape. So far, Pitt, Notre Dame, UConn and Syracuse have all looked better than Georgetown (I can't throw in Louisville yet because they haven't played a real team yet, so I'm not too impressed that they can blow out Morehead State). That said, JTIII is a very good coach, and even a bad tournament here at the Old Spice Classic doesn't mean that they won't be rounding into form once the Big East season really starts getting going.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

UNC: Wow

#1 North Carolina 98, Oregon 69
We knew North Carolina was good, but my goodness. They were up 51-22 at halftime before taking their foot off the pedal. What amazed me most was the way that they actually outhustled Oregon for the entire first half, to the point that Ernie Kent reportedly had the challenge the manhood of his players during a timeout. Oregon is a pretty good team, and they were just annihilated. It can be argued that the best player on the floor for Carolina was Danny Green (21 points, 8 rebounds), which means it's going to be difficult to argue that Marcus Ginyard should get his spot back in the starting lineup whenever he gets healthy. And yet another double-double by Ed Green off the bench means that Tyler Zeller is really not going to be missed very much. And this brings up the Notre Dame game tonight, which any college basketball fan absolutely needs to watch. If UNC looks invulnerable yet again then I think we'll start hearing "undefeated season" whispered. For Oregon, obviously they didn't play well here, but nobody is going to hold it against them for losing to North Carolina. They get another chance for a huge win tonight, against Texas. They have a few more chances for solid wins before Pac-10 play begins. But the key will be intensity and hustle. When they look like the Kamikaze Kids, Version 2.0, they're a good enough team to make the Tournament.

Syracuse 89, #23 Kansas 81, OT
Another night, another former NCAA Champion, another victory. Just one night after taking out Florida, the 2006 and 2007 NCAA Champions, Jim Boeheim's boys took out the defending 2008 NCAA Champion Kansas. This game was once again the Jonny Flynn show, but all of the Syracuse stars played well here. When Arinze Onuaku can stay out of foul trouble, he joins Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris to make an excellent quartet. I still feel like they're a fifth starter away from being a true contender in the Big East, but the aforementioned quartet is plenty good to take Syracuse to the top half of the Big East and the inevitable at-large bid (since it's unlikely that the 16-team Big East will get less than 8 Tournament bids). For Kansas, this game was a bit of a reality check that last year's stars can't be so easily replaced. They blew the lead in this one because they lacked a star who could control the game and ice it. And when they had a chance for one last score in regulation, they failed to get any kind of a decent shot. If I had to pick one young guy to eventually become a floor general for this team, I'd go with freshman Tyshawn Taylor, who has improved in each of his outings. Taylor finished second on the team to only Sherron Collins with 17 points here. Even with this loss, it's still been a good start to the season for Kansas, as they've proved that they're not going to be like Florida or Ohio State last year - they're going to be a Tournament team, and it's only a question of how high of a seed they're going to earn. The next true test for them actually won't be until January, when they open up the year with Tennessee and Michigan State on successive Saturdays. They could potentially go undefeated until that Tennessee game.

Arkansas-Little Rock 71, Creighton 69
I didn't even see this game mentioned on Sportscenter, but this is a huge game as far as future bubble implications go. Creighton got a big lead early, and just took their foot off the gas before the game was no longer in doubt. They let their inferior opponents get confident and make it close, and they let it come down to the final possessions, where anything can happen. A very disappointing coaching performance by Dana Altman, who shouldn't have let this happen. This loss could be absolutely devastating for the at-large chances of Creighton, a team that is good enough to make the Tournament, but not necessarily good enough to absorb a horrible loss like this. Without any teams currently ranked on their remaining season schedule, it's all about avoiding the bad losses. Creighton really needs to get on a winning roll right now. Without any of the other Missouri Valley teams (other than SIU) really impressing me right now, it is possible for a second straight one-bid season for the Valley.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Notre Dame Continues To Impress

Oregon 92, Alabama 69
Before I get to the game that inspired this post's title, I want to get to one last game from last night. I know that this one was on past the bedtime of most, as it started at midnight eastern time, but it still had some important implications for both teams. One thing I've always liked about Oregon is how all of their parts are so interchangeable. It doesn't matter which guys they put on the floor, because they're going to hustle and they're going to run it down your throat. They didn't even get a big performance out of their most recognizable star, Tajuan Porter (12 points on 13 shots from the field). Obviously the way that they're getting rocked by UNC (as I type this) isn't all too encouraging. And that bad loss to Oakland is a problem. But the Pac-10, outside of UCLA at the top, is absolutely wide open this season. The conference is down, and Oregon has the chance to win 10 or 11 games there and earn a Tournament trip. As for Alabama, I talked before the season started about how important a healthy Ronald Steele was going to be. And he may be healthy, but if so then he's very afraid of re-injuring himself. Steele just seems terrified of putting stress on his bad leg, and he never seemed willing to push himself in this one. He consistently settled for long jump shots, and his 3-for-11 shooting was the result. Alabama has the advantage of being in a down SEC, and a very down SEC West. The conference wins will be there if they can play better. But they're going to need the 2006 Ronald Steele back. Right now he's an absolute shell of his past self.

#8 Notre Dame 81, #7 Texas 80

Doesn't it always seem like the Maui Invite has great games like this? It was a very gutty performance out of Notre Dame, as they hung in as their shots weren't falling, and while Texas was blowing them away on the boards. You do have to wonder, however, how long Luke Harangody, Kyle McAlarney and Tory Jackson (64 of their 81 points, 22 of their 33 rebounds, and 12 of their 17 assists) can carry this team. One of these days, two of those three will go cold, and it's going to be a long day. Or what if one of them gets injured? The Big East is just so ultra competitive that I just see way too small of a margin of error for these guys. That said, they're a really good team that is unquestionably one of the top teams in the country. At this point, they're in the 1 seed discussion. They've got to be after a win like this. For Texas, it's easy to get discouraged after this loss follows right on the heels of a big Kansas win. They're suddenly aware that the Big 12 isn't going to be the cakewalk that they thought it might be. But that said, they can take solace in the fact that they played poorly and still only lost by one point to a very elite team on top of its game. A.J. Abrams is arguably the best three-pointer shooter on this side of Stephen Curry, and he was only 5-for-16 here. He'll generally shoot a lot better than that, and Texas will be fine. They're still the prohibitive favorites in the Big 12.

#18 Florida 86, Washington 84
It was very important for Florida to hang on to the win here, as you never want to go home after an 0-2 performance at a preseason tournament. The defense obviously wasn't what it could have been, but Washington was also just shooting out of their minds. The Huskies shot 60% from the field, led by 5-for-5 three-point shooting out of Justin Dentmon. But Florida has a lot of scorers, and they hung in there and pulled out the important win. For the Gators, it's now time to relax a little bit. The out-of-conference schedule is pretty easy the rest of the way, and even the generally easy SEC schedule is somewhat back-loaded. In other words, Florida should win a whole lot of games over the next two months. The Washington Huskies, on the other hand, are reeling right now. They're 2-3, and know that even a great performance wasn't enough to beat a good-but-not-great Gators team. If Washington intends to make a run at an at-large bid, I'd really like to see them go undefeated until the Pac-10 season starts. The only real tests are at home, and none of them are too intimidating: Oklahoma State and Portland State probably being the two toughest. Washington needs to prove that they can take care of business and take advantage of a weakened Pac-10.

Nebraska 71, Saint Louis 57
Nebraska shot out of their minds (59% from the field) and earned a very nice early season win. The Cornhuskers obviously haven't had too many big basketball seasons lately, but you have to like the solid way that they've started the season. At the moment, they're 4-0 with wins over two solid mid-majors (at TCU, and here against Saint Louis). Nebraska has two more big tests before the Big 12 season starts, with Creighton coming to town this weekend, and then a game at Arizona State on December 7th. But to me, the real test is whether Nebraska can win the games that they're supposed to win. They usually get some good wins each season, but what kills them are the bad losses. If Nebraska can take care of business and win the rest of their out-of-conference games (excluding the Creighton and Arizona State games, neither of which would be bad losses), then you have got to consider them a legitimate at-large threat. That would put them, at worst, 11-2 heading into Big 12 play. Also, while the Big 12 should be fairly strong this year, Nebraska got a bit lucky with their Big 12 schedule (in my opinion). There's no reason they can't win 20 games this season. For Saint Louis, they really suffered again from the fact that they don't have a go-to guy offensively. When they need a basket, they just don't have that guy. I don't know who the leader is on this team. They still have that Boston College win in their pocket, but they're going to need to show a little bit more consistency before we can take them too seriously as at-large contenders.

Sampson's Penalty Was Right Move

Before I get to any game recaps, I've got to talk about the story of the day. The NCAA leveled one of its harshest penalties on Sampson, and largely exempted Indiana University itself from punishment. And I can't say enough how much I like what they did.

For Sampson, it's a legitimate question whether such a seemingly innocuous action should merit one of the toughest punishments the NCAA can levy. And my answer is that I don't feel bad for Sampson at all. He got caught doing this once and basically got a wrist slap. Getting caught twice doing such a stupid thing is his own fault. Secondly, this isn't as big of a penalty on him as you might think. He's not going to be able to get a collegiate coaching job for years now, but what were the chances of him getting an NCAA job anytime soon anyway? He is going to coach in the NBA for a while, and he might never want to come back to the college game anyway.

One thing I have really disliked in the past is that punishments are leveled on schools rather than on the people who commit the illegal acts. The coaches get off without any serious punishment, despite the fact that they were the ones that cheated. Punishing the school simply punishes the kids and fans who did nothing wrong. The only excuse for giving a school a big punishment on future activity (like postseason bans and major scholarship restrictions) are if the offenders are boosters of the school. In that case then it's fair game. But I hated situations like at Ohio State, when Jim O'Brien played a player, then not only didn't get any serious punishment but actually was able to sue and win millions of dollars in a wrongful termination lawsuit. And Ohio State fans had to suffer without postseason play. That wasn't right.

Besides, this season is going to be punishment enough for Indiana fans. A 26 point loss to St. Joe's this afternoon? Yikes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Can UConn Challenge UNC?

#2 UConn 76, #19 Wisconsin 57
I said earlier tonight that Wisconsin's only hope of winning this game was to get the UConn bigs in foul trouble, and they didn't get it done. UConn just played great in this one. Even discounting the uncontested layups, they shot very well from the field, including 5-for-9 from behind the arc. They also did a great job of rebounding against a Wisconsin team that is usually good on the boards. Obviously the Paradise Jam didn't have quite the talent of the Maui Invite, or Coaches vs Cancer, but you still have to take note of the way that UConn just rolled through the field here. North Carolina will stay the consensus #1 until they show a chink in the armor, but UConn has got to be at the top of the list of teams waiting to grab the overall top national ranking should the Tar Heels slip up. As for Wisconsin, their spin on this has to be that they played terribly and still had the ball with a chance to tie halfway through the second half. They shot terribly and had an abnormally high number of turnovers. They have tended to struggle with teams featuring a slew of highly athletic guards that full court press, and that's what happened here. Despite the large margin of defeat, this was a very close game until the last few minutes, and nothing here changes the fact that Wisconsin should be one of the better teams in the Big Ten this year.

#23 Kansas 73, Washington 54
Kansas put on a defensive clinic in this one. Their zone absolutely suffocated Washington in all aspects of the game. They couldn't get an open shot on the perimeter, and they couldn't even get the ball into Jon Brockman at all (only seven points, despite 18 rebounds, seven on the offensive end). In fact, the only Washington player to do much of anything was freshman Isaiah Thomas (17 points). For Kansas, this game is really good proof that they're going to be right back up near the top of the Big 12. Texas seems like the solid favorite at this point, but Kansas has looked at least as good as any other Big 12 team thus far. And it's not out of the question for them to actually challenge Texas for the title. For Washington, this seems like it should be a good team. You look at the lineup, and it seems really good. Justin Dentmon, Jon Brockman, Quincy Pondexter and Darnell Grant, combined with the good freshman Isaiah Thomas - that should be a pretty good starting lineup. They're a very big team and they handle the ball fairly well, but they just struggle to create shots. The 29% shooting here wasn't just random poor shooting, it was the fact that they couldn't get an open shot. To be fair, Kansas defense did a great job. But you can bet that Washington's other opponents are going to pore over this tape to learn just what to do to shut them down. There is plenty of time to turn this around, but right now Washington does not look like one of the better teams in the Pac-10.

Don't Forget Syracuse

Syracuse 89, #18 Florida 83
After a couple of straight seasons without a Tournament appearance, and with so many great teams in the Big East, Syracuse is surprisingly under the radar. But they announced themselves tonight with a very impressive win on a neutral floor over a Florida team that had looked very good so far this season. For one thing, I don't think enough people realize yet how good Jonny Flynn is, because he was overshadowed by the likes of Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley last year. And he basically never sat down for a moment last season, having to do everything with a thin roster. This year the team is much deeper, including adding back Eric Devendorf, who missed most of last season with injury. Throw in a good scorer in Paul Harris and the huge inside presence of 275 pound Arinze Onuaku, and that's a heck of a team. And like I said, they're deeper than they were last year, so their star players are fresher late in games than they were last season. Florida played well in this game, but Syracuse was just better. Syracuse still has a few more good opponents to go before the Big East starts, beginning with Kansas or Washington tomorrow night. They get Virginia on Friday night, and then head to Memphis just before Christmas. All of these games are so important, because as good as Syracuse is, the Big East is just so competitive. As for Florida, as I said, they played well. When you shoot 48% from the field, and have 19 assists to only 11 turnovers, you usually win. Syracuse just played really well, and shot even better from the field, and that was the difference. So don't be discouraged, Florida fans. Your team still looks like a Tournament team to me.

#8 Notre Dame 88, Indiana 50
A pretty dominant performance from Notre Dame. It's hard to focus on one guy, because everybody played well. That said, Indiana isn't exactly the greatest competition, so you have to take this with a bit of a grain of salt. We'll learn more about the Irish as the Maui Invitational continues. The Irish play Texas tomorrow, and either UNC, Oregon or Alabama on Wednesday night. Those two tests will tell us whether Notre Dame is a serious Final Four contender, or whether they're headed for another season in the 4-6 seed range. As for Indiana, I have to say that I was pretty disappointed in the way they played. We all know that they're vastly undermanned. Kevin Pritchard is a nice freshman, and should be a good Big Ten player someday. And I like the Eastern Michigan transfer Devan Dumes, but that's about it. Still, if Indiana hung tough in this one I would have considered it a very encouraging performance. But that's not what they did here. Notre Dame outhustled them and outworked them, and Indiana played bad team defense and did a bad job of distribution on the offensive end. These are things that Tom Crean teams aren't supposed to do. That said, we can't expect Crean to just waive a wand and make the last few years go away, and it will take a while for him to enforce his will on these kids. Needless to say, it's going to be a long year in Bloomington.

#21 Miami (Fl) 80, San Diego 45
This performance by Miami wasn't just impressive because of the final score, but because they did it without getting anything from Jack McClinton, who didn't score his first bucket from the field until the final seven minutes of the game, when Miami was already up by more than 20 points. The stars here were actually three seniors off the bench: Jimmy Graham, Lance Hurdle and Brian Asbury, all of whom scored in double digits. To be fair, a fourth star was San Diego's atrocious shooting, which was the key to a 20-0 run for Miami that broke this game open early in the second half. But the fact that Miami looked this good, just after I wrote about how much they needed to prove that they were more than McClinton, has to be very encouraging for Canes fans. The next test for Miami: the Buckeyes of Ohio State come to town for a game on December 2nd.

UConn, Wisconsin Set To Meet In V.I. Final

#2 UConn 76, #16 Miami (Fl) 63
This game wasn't even as close as the final score would indicate. UConn was up 24-7 halfway through the first half, and cruised from then on out. Suffocating defense was the difference here, as Miami shot only 35% from the field to go with 21 turnovers. It's pretty hard to beat anybody with numbers like that. The Hurricanes are a good team, but you can't pencil them into the Tournament just yet. I'd like to see them beat a good team before ACC play begins, and I'm not sure if San Diego qualifies (assuming they hang onto a lead that is about 10 points as I type this). They play Ohio State and Kentucky on national television in early December, and without a sweep there they are going to feel pressure to have a good ACC season to earn an at-large bid. They have to prove that they're more than just Jack McClinton. As for UConn, we all knew that their starting lineup was going to be great. And they've added high-scoring freshman Kemba Walker as a sixth man. Those six players are about as good as any six players on any team in the nation. But I'm not convinced yet about the rest of the bench, a group that combined for six points on 16 minutes here. We should get a better sense of the rest of the bench against Wisconsin later tonight, because Wisconsin generally finds a way to get their opponents into foul trouble. That necessitates big minutes for bench players, and we'll see how UConn's bench players respond.

#22 Wisconsin 64, San Diego 49
A good win for Wisconsin to build on after a somewhat disappointing overtime win over Iona. San Diego seems like a good team, although their early start makes it seem like they're going to be long shots for an at-large bid. For Wisconsin, though, the real question is on the inside. They have a great back court, but Keaton Nankivil is the only center getting minutes, and his 10 points and 4 rebounds here are his best performance of this season. I'm very interested to see how they play UConn tonight, because UConn has a few outstanding bigs, none bigger than Hasheem Thabeet. To me, the question for tonight's game will be whether Wisconsin can get some of the UConn players into foul trouble, because Wisconsin's bench is deeper and better than UConn's bench. But UConn's starting lineup is better and more athletic than Wisconsin's, so shy of serious foul trouble I don't see how Wisconsin wins. That said, this win over San Diego proves that the Badgers aren't going away after all of the graduations. As always, Bo Ryan will have this team in the top half of the Big Ten. If they can prove that they can play with UConn's size tonight then it will be a great sign that they're going to be ready to play with bigs on teams like Ohio State and Michigan State later in the season.

Sunday Games Minus Paradise Jam

There are slightly more games that I want to talk about from Sunday than would fit comfortably into one blog post, so I'm going to split up the day. Since I want to talk about two games from the Paradise Jam, and those were late in the day, the logical split is to put those two games in another post. So before I get to those, a few other interesting games from yesterday:

Missouri 83, #20 USC 72
A great second half run powered Missouri to a nice early season win here at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. By this point, everybody knows how Missouri likes to play under Mike Anderson. They press like crazy and try to turn the game chaotic. The way to beat Missouri is to stay calm and collected on the offensive end, because Missouri's chaotic style will generally lead to bad shots and turnovers of their own. But USC tried to run the whole game with Mizzou, and they got burned. In the end, USC lost because of turnovers and free throws: Seven more turnovers led to seven fewer shots from the field than Mizzou, and they only hit 54% of their free throws (compared to 67% for Mizzou). Fix those free throw and turnover numbers and USC wins. Missouri has really been buoyed by the emergence of fifth-year senior DeMarre Carroll as a star on the inside (29 points and 11 rebounds here). Missouri has gotten better and deeper every season under Mike Anderson, and I think that they have a great opportunity to finally break through and get to the Tournament this year. USC, meanwhile, should not be discouraged. The Pac-10, after UCLA, is very wide open right now. USC should be part of the battle for second place, and that should be their primary focus. If you can finish second in the Pac-10, your Tournament seed will take care of itself.

Seton Hall 77, Virginia Tech 73
I wanted to talk about this game to follow up on what I said about both of these teams over the past weekend. For Virginia Tech, I spoke about how they really needed a win here and against Wisconsin during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. With this loss, and a loss against Wisconsin, they would be at best 10-3 without any good wins heading into ACC play. A 9-7 conference record would then leave them 19-10 with a weak out-of-conference resume, which sounds a whole lot like an NIT resume. In other words, they had better beat Wisconsin at home on December 1st, or else they're going to need a really good ACC season to save their at-large hopes. For Seton Hall, I spoke about how their lack of depth wlil probably keep them from reaching the Tournament this season. And to be fair, this turned out to be a very successful tournament for them. Wins over USC and Virginia Tech, and a loss against Memphis? If you offered them that before the tournament began, they'd have taken it in an instant. With a pathetically easy out-of-conference slate the rest of the way, solid play will allow them to go undefeated until Big East play starts. If they can avoid a bad loss, they'll be 11-1 with wins over USC and Va Tech heading into Big East play. That's a Tournament-quality at-large resume. But that said, I still think that their depth is going to keep them out of the Tournament. A single injury would cripple them (especially if it was to Jeremy Hazell, who is their best scorer and who essentially carried the team on his back in this particular game). And the Big East is such a brutal schedule, with 18 straight games against quality opponents. Even if they stay healthy, I don't see how their depth doesn't cost them a close loss or two. And the Selection Committee is going to be loathe to give the Big East more than eight teams, which means that even that 11-1 out-of-conference record would still probably require a 10-8 Big East record for a serious chance at an at-large bid. And if they drop one more game out-of-conference then they might need to go 11-7. I think this program is making great progress under Bobby Gonzalez, but I think they're still a year away.

Xavier 63, #12 Memphis 58
I would love to give you a more satisfying explanation for this result, but the honest answer is that free throws decided this one. Xavier only hit 68% for the game, but they got better down the stretch. Memphis, on the other hand, was 50% for the game and got worse as the game went along. The game was eventually decided in the last 30 seconds. Xavier had the ball up one point and was fouled: Terrell Holloway hit both (he was 10-for-10 from the line off the bench). Xavier then hacked Robert Dozier in the post: He missed both of his free throws. C.J. Anderson rebounded the ball and hit his first free throw, effectively ending the game. John Calipari is a great college coach, but I really don't understand his nonchalance on this issue. Shaq's old line about how he "hits it when they count" line is a bunch of crap, and this game proved it. It's like Memphis expects to miss free throws late in games. They have a ton of raw talent, but raw talent gets exposed with turnovers, missed free throws and poor team defense. Memphis displayed all of those flaws here. That said, Memphis will improve as the year goes along. Tyreke Evans will be special eventually, even if he's really struggling so far (4-for-16 from the field in this one). They just have too much talent to not eventually play better. And as for Xavier, I think it's safe to say that they're playing better than anybody expected after all of the graduation losses. We all knew that they had a great freshman class, but it's actually been their returners who have sparked this start. None of their starters are freshmen, and their top scoring freshman (Holloway) only has 7.8 points per game thus far. The reality was that Xavier's team last year was about its depth, and not one single star. So the loss of a few players didn't change how good all of the returners are. The excellent wins thus far, plus the chance to get more good wins before the A-10 season starts, means that Xavier will likely have a big margin for error as they head into A-10 play. They won't have to feel like one bad loss will sink their at-large chances. And that's a great place for a team outside the BCS conferences to be.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

W-16 BP65

1. TEXAS (BIG 12)
1. UCLA (PAC-10

2. Notre Dame
2. Georgetown

3. Wake Forest
3. Duke
3. Tennessee
3. Michigan State

4. Baylor
4. Louisville
4. Marquette

5. Kansas
5. Ohio State
5. Clemson

6. USC
6. Oklahoma
6. Pittsburgh
6. Wisconsin

7. Villanova
7. Syracuse
7. Kentucky

8. Washington State
8. Arizona State

9. West Virginia
9. Virginia Tech
9. Miami (Fl)

10. Temple
10. Michigan
10. Maryland
10. Oklahoma State

11. New Mexico
11. LSU
11. Oregon
11. South Carolina

12. UMass
12. Missouri





Other teams considered, but that missed the cut:
Boston College, Georgia Tech, NC State, Virginia, Rhode Island, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas A&M, VCU, Southern Miss, UAB, Creighton, BYU, San Diego State, Utah, Arizona, California, Stanford, Washington, Alabama, Mississippi State, Saint Mary's, San Diego, New Mexico State

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Florida State, Charlotte, Dayton, George Washington, Richmond, DePaul, Providence, Rutgers, Indiana, Penn State, Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas Tech, Old Dominion, Houston, UTEP, Illinois-Chicago, Valparaiso, Rider, Miami (OH), Ohio, Bradley, Drake, Northern Iowa, Air Force, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee State, Fresno State, Utah State

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Atlantic Ten Action

Rhode Island 92, VCU 86
A wild and messy game that unfortunately was not on television nationally. The teams combined for 41 turnovers and 67 field goals in 40 minutes. Of course, college basketball is always obscured on college football saturdays. Still, this game represented a very nice win for Rhode Island. With Xavier, Saint Louis and others all looking good early in the Atlantic Ten, it was important for Rhode Island to toss their name into the Atlantic Ten ring with a solid win, and that's what they got here. They have a relatively easy overall out-of-conference schedule (at least when compared to the other A-10 powers), so it's very important that they avoid any bad losses. And since Penn State and Providence could end up as bad losses, Rhode Island needs to be very careful when those road games come up. The Atlantic Ten looks like a multi-bid conference, but it's not going to get five teams, so Rhode Island can't let themselves fall too far behind the leaders. As for VCU, this season is most likely coming down to the Colonial's automatic bid anyway, so the at-large implications of this game aren't that important. What is important are Eric Maynor's 10 turnovers, and the fact that he seems to actually have regressed a little bit over the past year and a half. The only way VCU wins the Colonial is if Maynor leads them there.

Clemson 71, Charlotte 70

Speaking of the Atlantic Ten pecking order, this tough loss was a big missed opportunity for the 49ers. It's still November, but Charlotte just feels like a team that is good, but just not good enough. Their last three games have been losses to Old Dominion, Appalachian State and Clemson by a combined five points. That's brutal. They've got a bunch of other good opponents left in the out-of-conference slate, so their season can be salvaged even before the A-10 begins. But they have to find a way to win the close game. As for Clemson, you have to be very impressed by their start. They deserve to be in the Top 25, even though they might not get in quite yet. Obviously North Carolina is the heavy favorite in the ACC, and Duke has looked outstanding in the early going, but Clemson is certainly very much in the running for third in that conference.

Missouri State 62, Arkansas 57
Arkansas fought back to take the lead late in this game, but a strong final surge made the difference for the Bears. I guess Missouri State was motivated by my declaration last week that they're not quite ready for prime time. Honestly, this game doesn't change my opinion too much. Arkansas just isn't that good this year. Missouri State might be good enough to keep an eye on, but there's no way that this game changes the fact that they're behind SIU, Creighton and a few other teams in the Missouri Valley pecking order right now. For Arkansas, this is their first loss, but not their first poor performance. The fact is that this is a rebuilding season for them, with three freshmen in the starting lineup. Sonny Weems, Patrick Beverley and Steven Hill weren't even the only key players to leave from last year's squad. I think John Pelphrey will have this team greatly improved next year, but they're just nowhere near a Tournament team at this point.

Georgetown Shows Up

#18 Georgetown 81, Drexel 53
I know that this is the only website projecting Georgetown as a 2 seed right now, with everybody else in the Bracket Matrix putting them as a 3 or lower, but their performance in this one is why I think they have an outstanding chance at winning the Big East and getting a second straight 2 seed. Yes, Roy Hibbert can't be replaced, but DeJuan Summers, Austin Freeman and Jessie Sapp are a pretty good trio to bring back. Still, the real reason I am projecting Georgetown so high is the same reason I'm projecting Wake Forest higher than anybody else: a super-frosh. Whereas Wake Forest has the super scorer of Al-Farouq Aminu, Georgetown has a beast of a young man in 6'11", 250 pound Greg Monroe. Drexel just didn't have anybody big enough to play him, and he went for 20 points and 8 rebounds, on 7-for-9 shooting. Even hacking him didn't do anything, as Monroe went 6-for-6 from the line. Obviously a win over Drexel (even such an impressively large win) won't mean much in March, and we all want to see what they do against the nation's elite, and we'll probably have to find that out next week at the Old Spice Classic. Other than a December 13th match-up with Memphis, the Old Spice Classic will feature their only real tough opponents before the Big East regular season in a little over five weeks. Georgetown opens the Old Spice Classic on November 27th against Wichita State. A win there will probably match them up against Tennessee (unless Siena upsets the Vols). Their final game will be against either Maryland, Michigan State, Oklahoma State or Gonzaga. It's a heck of a field, and we should learn a lot about all of those teams.

Saint Louis 53, Boston College 50
A nice bounce back for Saint Louis after the tough loss to Kent State. I spoke yesterday about how Saint Louis would get plenty of chances for a good win, and that the real question was whether they'd improve from the Kent State loss. So far it's looking like the answer is that they did. I don't think I'm quite ready to put them in the BP65, but they're certainly one of the first teams out of the field at this point. Turning our attention to Boston College, this is really not a loss to feel bad about. They actually played pretty well here, with more assists and fewer turnovers than their opponent. They were outrebounded, but that was mostly because they missed far more shots, as shooting was the real problem here: 33% from the field, 58% from the line, 3-for-18 from behind the arc. They're not going to shoot like that normally, and to hang close with what looks to be a very good Saint Louis team despite those awful shooting numbers should actually be somewhat encouraging. The lack of turnovers (only 12 the entire game), despite tight Saint Louis defense, is a sign of the fact that (other than most other teams from BCS conferences) they don't have any freshmen starting. Their top player off the bench, Biko Paris, is also a guy who got extended minutes last year (7 ppg, 3 apg). Now, it's off to New York for the final two rounds of the Preseason NIT, and a big match-up with Purdue. They then follow that with a game against either Oklahoma or UAB. Those two good match-ups will give us a better sense of where Boston College is.

UAB 77, Old Dominion 62
Speaking of UAB, how about this good early season win? On the heels of that crazy win at Arizona this is a great start for Mike Davis and his Blazers. Next come those two big NIT games, and honestly any win there (out of two games) will be a great result. Mike Davis obviously was confident enough in this team to give them a very tough out-of-conference schedule. He clearly is trying to make his team into the poor man's Memphis, earning them an at-large bid with a few good out-of-conference wins along with a good record in the mediocre Conference USA. I'd like to see a Top 25 win before I'm ready to put them in the BP65, but they've had about as good of a start as possible. As a half-serious note to complete this post, can you believe that Robert Vaden still had another year of eligibility? The fact that he was an established veteran under Indiana coach Mike Davis (believe it or not, that's three Indiana coaches ago) is probably what makes it feel like he's been around forever.

Finally Caught Up: Friday

Completing the last of the games from this week, and getting back to the present, I have a few recaps from last night's games:

Xavier 63, Virginia Tech 62
I've got to mention this game because of that crazy buzzer beater, if for nothing else. Dante Jackson had been 0-for-8 from the field before that shot, so logically his mistake was that he had been shooting too closely to the basket. Obviously this win was a bit of a fluke, but how about this start for Xavier? After a romp over an IPFW team that then nearly beat Michigan State, Xavier followed that up with wins over Toledo, Missouri and here against Virginia Tech. That's a heck of a start for a team trying to prove that last year wasn't a fluke. They definitely deserve to be a Top 25 team in the next poll, but they have a tough road ahead. The future out-of-conference schedule includes Memphis, Miami (OH), Auburn, Cincinnati, Duke, Butler and Virginia. That's quite a schedule. If they can reach the A-10 season with a 10-3 out-of-conference record, they're going to be in great shape for an at-large bid. In other words, at 4-0 already and with plenty of opportunities ahead, Xavier has a bit of room for error here. As for Virginia Tech, they have a big game coming up against Seton Hall tomorrow. They also have a huge game when Wisconsin heads to town for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. One loss against a good Xavier team isn't a huge problem, but there's no question that Virginia Tech hasn't played that well so far this season. Too many close losses against mediocre teams. If they lose to Seton Hall tomorrow then that Wisconsin game becomes something of a must win. Without it, the pressure will really be on for a big ACC season. Anything less than 10-6 would probably keep them out of the Tournament.

#2 UConn 89, La Salle 81
So is La Salle better than we thought, is UConn worse, or was this game just a fluke? Well, while UConn might be a bit overranked at #2, they're definitely a very good team. Jeff Adrien is a great team leader, and he led the way in this one. They've also added a great freshman in Kemba Walker, who saved the day with 23 points off the bench here. For La Salle, this was another missed opportunity, on the heels of a tough four point loss to Florida State earlier in the week. They get Villanova in a couple of weeks, but other than that I don't see an opportunity for a big win between now and the Atlantic Ten regular season. With this loss, they remain a long shot Tournament team.

Utah 83, Mississippi 72
Chris Warren did what he's expected to do, and played great (22 points, including 4-for-8 from behind the arc), but it still wasn't enough for Ole Miss here. I'm just not seeing the depth here, as there isn't anybody else who has stepped up to be Warren's sidekick. Utah, on the other hand, had five scorers in double digits, including star freshman Jordan Cypher's 12 points in 16 minutes off the bench. After the shocking upset to start the season against Southwest Baptist, Utah has bounced back with a big win over UW-Green Bay, plus this one. That loss is going to be a big anchor around their necks all season, but they can get back into the at-large discussion if they can win a big one between now and the start of the conference season. They head to Oklahoma and also play Gonzaga, as well as nearly half of the Pac-10, so big wins are out there if Utah can grab them. For Ole Miss, this isn't really that bad of a loss, but the rest of their out-of-conference schedule is just way too easy. I never like when teams schedule an out-of-conference slate with a ton of easy games along with one or two insanely tough games (in this case, a game at Louisville). It means that the team has no margin for error, and will likely end up with a couple of losses but no wins to brag about. In other words, Mississippi needs to avoid any bad losses if they want to stay in the at-large debate.

#1 North Carolina 84, UC-Santa Barbara 67
The story here, of course, was the return of Tyler Hansbrough. None of us have access to his health reports, so we can't know if this was too early of a return, but I certainly was a bit surprised to see Roy Williams play him in this game. And to not only play him, but give him big minutes and then him fly all over the floor. If this injury comes back then they are really going to regret the decision. That said, Hansbrough made a bunch of big plays (including a very important block late in the game when UCSB was going on a little run and had the deficit in single digits), and might have actually prevented the epic upset. But that said, UNC entered this game as the consensus #1 in the nation, and Hansbrough's return did nothing to change that.

Recapping The Week: Thursday

#5 Duke 83, Southern Illinois 58
Duke played absolutely awfully in the first half, having more turnovers than minutes played for much of it. The fact that Southern Illinois didn't capitalize and grab the lead made it obvious that Duke was going to open this game up in the second half. There was no way that they weren't going to play much better. Duke did get to use a lot of Brian Zoubek in this one because of the deliberate style of SIU. He's obviously a bit slow for the style of ball that Duke will want to play in the ACC, but I like how smart of a player he is and how he's a leader when he's on the floor. With his size, he'd be a great player if he were only a little bit more mobile. One comment about SIU was that I was amazed how confident sophomore Carlton Fay was in a game at Madison Square Garden against Duke. He had no qualms about creating his own points and making moves in the post. I don't think there's any doubt that he's going to be one of the best players in the Missouri Valley very soon. That said, I still don't like how Bryan Mullins is playing. I know that he's intelligent and a leader, but I feel like he dribbles way too much. He needs to have more confidence in his teammates. One final comment is actually on the announcing: What do people think about Bobby Knight in the booth? He clearly doesn't have the rhythm down, and often rambles on into the next play. But what I did like is that I felt like I learned a lot about basketball. And honestly, I prefer somebody who knows so much about the sport teaching me about it to those announcers who just say "Wow, what a play" all the time. I already have friends to watch games with and who get excited at good plays - I want something else out of my color commentators.

Seton Hall 63, #20 USC 61
Without a doubt the biggest win for Bobby Gonzalez as a coach at Seton Hall. You've got to love the way that Seton Hall's lineup has come together. Eugene Harvey has turned into a good floor leader, Jeremy Hazell is lighting up the scoreboard (15 points in this one, and is shooting 41% from behind the three-point line for the season), and John Garcia is a big guy to deal with in the paint. I really liked how Seton Hall's guys played their hearts out fighting back to win this game without ever taking a rest. Harvey played all 40 minutes, Garcia played 39 and Hazell played 35. It was a great effort, but that's not a sustainable way to play basketball. Without a deep bench, Seton Hall is going to really struggle trying to move up the Big East standings. That said, all of their best players should be back next season, and they should have a great shot at finally returning to the Tournament then (if not this year, of course). Looking at USC for a moment, they are going to have to get their act together as the season goes along. They have a lot of talent, but the whole is just a lot less than the sum of the parts. DeMar Derozen should be a good player eventually (3 points scored in 20 minutes here), and obviously Daniel Hackett is a star and will not normally shoot 0-for-7 from the field. There's no reason that USC can't be one of the top teams in the Pac-10, but they have to learn from this bad result.

Illinois 69, Vanderbilt 63
Illinois fans surely remember how much grief Bruce Weber got for losing Eric Gordon to Indiana. Below the radar of many casual fans, Weber picked up Demetri McCamey as a consolation prize. It turns out, McCamey may end up being better. Indiana only got one year out of Gordon, while McCamey is already one of the best players in the Big Ten as a sophomore. He led the way with 23 points as Illinois scored a good early season win in this one. The Illinois team rebounding did the rest, collecting 17 offensive rebounds (compared to 20 defensive rebounds for Vanderbilt). The Illini have a relatively tough schedule ahead, with one of the most intriguing match-ups being a road game at Kent State on November 28th, so we should know a lot about this team before the Big Ten season begins. I don't think anybody views Illinois as one of the favorites to win the conference, but they have a great shot to earn an at-large bid. I've been a bit down on Vanderbilt for some time now (since they were way overrated last year), but I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from this loss. Let's not give up on their at-large chances because they lost one game.

Michigan 55, #4 UCLA 52
Probably the most shocking upset so far this season. Michigan did all of the right things here: They minimized UCLA's rebounding advantage, they prevented turnovers by only coughing up the ball 9 times, and they held the Bruins to 42% shooting from the floor. Of course, this was also the perfect time to play UCLA, as I can't imagine Michigan pulling a similar upset in March. Early in the season, the advantage goes to teams that have played together and work well as a team. UCLA relies heavily on freshmen who still don't understand that they're not in high school anymore. The worst offender is Jrue Holiday, who is outstanding with the ball, but isn't entirely in the offensive flow. Much worse, though, is his atrocious defense. That will undoubtedly improve as the season goes along, as he has the athletic ability to be a good defender, but merely lacks the maturity and the know-how. I wouldn't panic too much if I were a UCLA fan. This team is still going to be a 1 seed in the BP65 coming out after tonight's games. But the biggest story from this one is the win for Michigan, as it practically assures that they're going to be in the at-large debate for some time to come. And if they do manage to go 10-8 or 11-7 in the Big Ten, how huge will it be to have this win on the resume? Clearly, a very much improved Michigan team.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Recapping The Week: Wednesday

Virginia 77, South Florida 75
An unfortunately narrow victory for Virginia, but a victory nonetheless. South Florida is improving as a basketball program, and they'll be better than they were last season, but nobody would have counted this as a quality loss for Virginia while resume reading in March. But a victory is a victory, and Virginia won't be kept out of the 2009 Tournament because they didn't beat South Florida by enough. I talked in the 2008-09 ACC Preview about how Virginia might need to wait a long time to find another Sean Singletary. Well, they might already have him in 6'6" freshman Sylven Landesberg. He led the team in the clutch during this one, and had 21 points to go along with 28 points in his Virginia debut against VMI this past Sunday. I still don't think Virginia has quite enough talent to earn an at-large bid this season, but they should be good enough to at least be in the discussion late in the ACC season.

Illinois-Chicago 84, Northern Iowa 77
I don't think anybody is taking UIC seriously as an at-large possibility, but they are looking like a real serious challenger in the Horizon League. A close loss to Bradley followed by a solid win over another Missouri Valley team is a sign of a good team. And with the Horizon wide open for the first time in years, you have to put UIC on the short list of favorites for the automatic bid. As for Northern Iowa, this is a discouraging start with this loss on the heels of a very narrow win over a bad Denver team. They obviously have plenty of time to make a run at an at-large bid, but I just don't see it. I viewed them as a long shot bubble team before the season started, and I haven't seen anything to change that perception.

Kent State 76, Saint Louis 74

A bit of a hiccup here early in the season for Saint Louis, but there's no reason to panic. They've scheduled a bunch of good opponents for November and December, including Nebraska, Southern Illinois and Depaul. And obviously there will be plenty of opportunities for wins in the Atlantic Ten. The question is whether St. Louis can play well as they go forward, as one loss to a good team isn't going to sink any of their hopes. As for Kent State, this win along with a mediocre start for Miami of Ohio has to be encouraging for them. I don't think there are any questions that they're the favorites for the MAC title right now.

Recapping The Week: Tuesday

#1 North Carolina 77, Kentucky 59
Anybody who saw this game knows that it wasn't nearly as close as the final score might indicate. Despite the absences of Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard, the Tar Heels were up 41-21 late in the first half before cruising to the easy win. But it didn't come without a cost, as 7'1" freshman Tyler Zeller broke his wrist and will be out for the season. The injury hurts, as Zeller looks like a pretty good player, but North Carolina is still deep on the inside even without Hansbrough. Deon Thompson had a great game, with a sick block to go along with 20 points and 9 rebounds. Freshman Ed Davis picked up some of the slack with Zeller gone, with 9 points and 10 rebounds during 23 minutes off the bench. It looks like Hansbrough will be back soon, possibly for their next game (tonight, at UCSB), and that is going to make them every bit the team we expected. The Marcus Ginyard injury really isn't affecting them that much because only North Carolina has a guy like Danny Green ready to start off the bench. To look at Kentucky briefly, this loss wasn't a big surprise. I don't think anybody expected them to come in and win this one. I'm still worried about their team depth, and I want to see something out of them. Some sort of a statement that tells us that they're ready to take the next step. If they don't blow out Delaware State or Longwood over the next week then that Kansas State game (next Saturday, the 29th) becomes even more important. Kentucky cannot struggle out of the gate like they did last year if they want to compete for a good Tournament seed.

#14 Oklahoma 82, #21 Davidson 78

This game is precisely why I don't understand people ranking Davidson so high. Yes, Stephen Curry is a great player. But who else can score? Curry had 50% of the team's field goals, 60% of their three-pointers and 70% of their free throws made. He scored 44 points and they still lost to an Oklahoma team that isn't yet in midseason form. Obviously Oklahoma also depends heavily on a star (Blake Griffin had a monster 25 points and 21 rebounds), but there's no question that they can still win when he isn't at his best. Davidson can't beat anybody who is any good unless Curry is playing out of his mind. And nobody plays at their best every game. People need to also understand that the SoCon is improved this season, and a 20-0 is not a given like it was last year. Don't get me wrong: Davidson is a very good team and they'll be a very scary opponent for anybody in the 2009 Tournament. But they're not a Top 25 team unless somebody else can step up as a good scorer/creator like Jason Richards was last season.

UAB 72, Arizona 71
What can possibly be said about this game that wasn't evident in the pictures of a horrified Russ Pennell as he watched Jamelle Horne intentionally foul Paul Delaney III with 0.8 seconds to go? To me, this game is what we're going to see out of Arizona all season. They unquestionably have Top 25 talent, with two superstars in Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. But to say they're a team in flux doesn't say enough how big of a mess this program is. And even if this team does sneak into the Tournament despite more stupid mistakes that are sure to come from their young players, what happens to Arizona after Budinger and Hill leave? Nobody can ever take away the success that Lute Olson had at Arizona, but he really left this team in shambles.

Recapping The Week: Monday

#6 Pittsburgh 82, Miami (OH) 53
An impressive second half surge led to a very nice win for Pittsburgh. Levance Fields led the way in this one, but all five members of the Pitt starting lineup scored in double digits. Anytime you have 10 rebounds and 13 assists more than your opponent, you're probably going to win. Pitt lost a lot to graduation, but you have to love the way that freshman Jermaine Dixon has jumped into the starting lineup. He's going to be a big time scorer. I'm curious to see how this team plays against an elite opponent, but unfortunately they have scheduled a relatively light out-of-conference schedule. Other than a match-up with Florida State on December 21st, the only good teams that Pitt will play before Big East play will be in the Legends Classic. They are matched up with Texas Tech in the semifinals (slated for November 28th), but I'd prefer to watch them play the next day against (potentially) Washington State. That could be quite a battle. If Pitt can win that one then they will have to be a serious contender in the Big East. As for Miami of Ohio, a tough out-of-conference schedule can giveth, but it can also taketh away. This one marks two straight losses against very good teams, but two straight losses nonetheless. It's impossible for a MAC team to earn an at-large bid within an insanely good overall record. Miami will have a few more shots at a good win before MAC play starts, and they absolutely need to capitalize on at least one of them. They also really need to avoid a loss to a bad team.

#12 Memphis 80, UMass 58

I didn't like how UMass performed in this game, as they were basically catering to the strengths of Memphis. Memphis has a ton of talent, but they are often out of control. They also are sometimes lazy on the defensive end, which is why John Calipari often full court presses just to keep the intensity up. The way to beat Memphis is to play slow deliberate ball. When you rush a bad shot early in the possession it's just sending a written invitation for a fast break and a dunk by Memphis. Forcing Memphis to play half court defense for 30 seconds is the way to go. But UMass tried to run up and down the floor in this one, and they got burned. All is not lost, of course, after losses to SIU and Memphis, but I'd like to see UMass beat someone good before the Atlantic Ten season starts. It's going to be a very competitive conference, and you don't want to have to count on the automatic bid. As for Memphis, I'm actually a bit surprised at how easy their out-of-conference schedule is. Perhaps easy in the wrong word, as it's better than many other teams, but we have gotten so used to seeing Memphis play insanely tough out-of-conference slates in order to balance out the weak opponents they're going to play in conference. Assuming they get past Seton Hall tonight, they'll play Xavier on Sunday. And they still have to play at Georgetown and Tennessee, but that's as far as it goes for ranked teams. Other potential tough games include home match-ups with Syracuse and Cincinnati. Not a gimme schedule, but one that can lead to questions down the road. If Memphis loses at Georgetown and Tennessee, they could potentially have zero wins over Top 25 teams. Can they possibly do better than a 3-seed without a big win? It's possible that last year's Championship Game appearance will earn them respect, but we have to see how the season progresses before we jump to any conclusions.

Saint Mary's 99, Fresno State 85
Saint Mary's always plays well at home, and this game was no exception. But this is also why I'm looking forward to the schedule they have coming up. I spoke last year about how this team was overrated because they had all of their good out-of-conference opponents at home, where they are significantly better than they are on the road. But as this all works out in the long run, Saint Mary's has an out-of-conference schedule that is very heavy on the road games this season. Starting on December 4th they have a four game stretch that could define their season, with road games at Kent State, San Diego State, Oregon and Southern Illinois. They also will have (possibly) some good neutral court opponents at the Anaheim Classic. Saint Mary's is very much in the at-large discussion, and this win can only help. As for Fresno State, I'm still going to keep an eye on them, but right now they've got to be considered a Tournament long shot.

Recapping The Week: Sunday

I'm back in town, which means that I have a whole lot of results to go over. A ton of important stories to talk about this week, from Tyler Zeller's injury to that big upset in the Garden last night. I want to get to them in chronological order, so we'll start with Sunday's games and work our way to the present:

#19 Florida 81, Bradley 58

Florida just ran all over the Braves in this one. The Florida backcourt of Walter Hodge and Nick Calathes is just way too good. That said, I'm going to actually offer a little criticism of the Gators here. The aforementioned two guards, plus Dan Werner, are all looking very good. But other than that, the Gators seem a little bit thin. Both Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus (9 points on 3-for-13 shooting, to go with 15 rebounds) struggled yet again. With Kenny Kadji still too raw to play a lot of minutes, you've only got three bench players getting any non-garbage minutes. And none of them have impressed me yet. Erving Walker was the best in this one (10 points and 3 assists in 17 minutes), although Allan Chaney has been the best overall (9 points in this one, and overall averaging 7 points and 3 boards). Florida looks like a Tournament team, but I just don't see how this lack of depth won't keep them from seriously contending for the SEC title. As for Bradley, there's no reason to get too discouraged by this result. Nobody is going to hold it against them for losing in Gainesville. The problem is simply that other than a very tough game at Michigan State, and a possible BracketBusters game, they have no real chance at a good out-of-conference win. The best chance is a home game against a Butler team that isn't nearly as good as it was the past few years. Still, a win over Butler and no other losses (besides Michigan State) would put them at 9-2 heading into conference play. Throw in a Bracketbusters win and a 12-6 Missouri Valley record, and they'd be 22-8. That's a possible at-large bid. Bradley just has to be careful not to mess this math up with a bad loss between now and the start of conference play.

Creighton 82, New Mexico 75

My analysis of Creighton is actually pretty similar to what I just said about Florida. It's not a surprise to see P'Allen Stinnett have a good game, but boy is he going to be good this year. Throw in a breakout game by senior Booker Woodfox (26 points on 8-for-13 shooting) and that's a very good backcourt. That said, the frontcourt was a bit weak here, and New Mexico's big rebounding advantage was what kept them in the game despite 20 turnovers. Also, Creighton got a total nothing out of its bench. The bench went a combined 1-for-14 from the floor, and that's not a typo. This win will do a lot for their computer numbers, and Creighton is very much in the Missouri Valley title hunt, but I'd hesitate to predict too much for this team until they show that they're more than P'Allen Stinnett. Meanwhile, a tough but not devastating loss for New Mexico. They were a bit sloppy here, but that should become less of a problem as the year goes on. And they'll get plenty of opportunities for good wins in the Mountain West, as well as in their out-of-conference slate (VCU, San Diego, Texas Tech and Mississippi, as well as a potential match-up with Drake or Vanderbilt at the Cancun Challenge). And the Mountain West should be good enough that a good performance there will be enough for an at-large bid even without a big out-of-conference win. So we have to wait a while to see how New Mexico improves as the season moves along.

South Carolina 86, Winthrop 63
I don't understand why so few people realize that South Carolina is going to be a good team this year. Actually, I do kind of understand it. They lack any stars that any casual fan would have heard of. But they have a whole lot of good players thanks to a few straight good recruiting classes, and they are clearly coming together under ex-Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn. They are a very deep team that plays well together, and the fact that they don't have a single star for a defense to focus on makes them hard to game plan against. They're obviously not a serious challenger to Tennessee in the SEC, but this very good win makes me feel better about keeping them in the BP65. As for Winthrop, well, at least they can count on the fact that the Big South is down this year. Nobody is going to get an at-large bid out of that conference, so it's all going to come down to who wins the Big South Tournament in the end. If they can use this loss as a learning experience then it can only help them.

Old Dominion 69, Charlotte 68
One of those very important games at this point of year that nobody hears about. The Jonathan Adams three-pointer that won this game will have serious impact on at-large resumes in both the Atlantic Ten and the Colonial. Not only is this a good win for Old Dominion's resume, but the simple fact that this slightly adjusts the relative conference strengths will be important. Both of these teams should be in contention for conference titles, and are both thinking about at-large possibilities as well, which is why this game was more important for Old Dominion. There is much less room for error in the Colonial compared to the Atlantic Ten, where Charlotte will get plenty more chances for a good win. Assuming Old Dominion plays well this year, this loss won't be too damaging to Charlotte. They're still very much in the at-large hunt if they can make sure that this mediocre early start to the season gets turned around soon.