Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Louisville Toppled

Western Kentucky 68, #3 Louisville 54
Who needs Darrin Horn? Louisville is the highest ranked team yet this season to lose a game. That said, I would hesitate to read too much into this. I think Louisville really just got burned here for the fact that they waited so long to start the season. Before this game, I believe they were the only team in the nation to have only played two opponents, and both of their opponents were very bad. They were a young team that has several key players that are either freshmen, or who have never played significant minutes in the past, and they hadn't yet been tested on the floor by a legitimate team. Western Kentucky, meanwhile, had played five games, including a few against good opponents. Their previous game had been a big upset against Southern Illinois, so clearly they were ready to take down a Top 25 team. I think that this game will serve as a shock to Louisville's system, and they'll be back with a vengeance this weekend against an 0-5 Indiana State team. Whatever the spread is, I'd bet on Louisville in that one. Still, this loss does back me up a bit for not putting Louisville as a preseasoon 1 or 2 seed, as most other bracketologists did. To me, I think this team just is not balanced enough. I don't see how they have an answer to a player like Luke Harangody inside. After all that David Padgett meant to this team - they basically ran the offense through him whenever he was on the floor - I don't see how Louisville fans can think he can be so easily replaced.

Saint Mary's 81, Providence 75
A solid win by Saint Mary's, a team which is attempting to prove that it is able to beat decent teams away from home (this game was on a neutral floor, at the 76 Classic). The loss to UTEP at this same Tournament backed up my theory that this team would really suffer this year with so many more games away from home. This win, despite being over a weak Providence team, still qualifies as solid. It suggests that Saint Mary's is good enough to at least be a bubble team this year. But the real test, as I said in the afore-linked post, is what comes now. Consecutive road games, starting Thursday, at Kent State, San Diego State, Oregon and Southern Illinois. This test will be very severe, because any less than two wins in those four games will be pretty devastating for their at-large hopes. And in my mind, two wins will be very tough. The Ducks will be looking for revenge after that huge upset last season (although as I noted at the time, it actually shouldn't have been seen as such a big upset). And winning at Southern Illinois is really difficult for even elite teams, of which Saint Mary's is not. I'd project three losses out of four, meaning that at best they'll be 9-4 heading into WCC play, meaning that they'd need a 10-4 WCC record at a minimum to have a shot at an at-large win. They might get to 10-4, but even in that case they'd probably still miss out. That's why I'm sticking by my projection that Saint Mary's will miss the Tournament this season.

#10 Gonzaga 83, #12 Tennessee 74
I thought that teams went out of their way to not play teams in preseason tournaments that they will have to play again in the regular season, but this game still happened. Gonzaga heads to Tennessee for a second match-up, on January 7th (mark your calendar now). The Zags once again showed their depth with five players in double-digits, led by Jeremy Pargo's 10 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. What I find interesting is that Gonzaga can win so many different ways. In their last game, against Maryland, they won by pounding inside. They blew away the Terps on the boards, and bigs like Josh Heytfelt scored big points in the paint. They only forced 13 turnovers, and only his 5 three-pointers. But against Tennessee, they lacked the size to do that again. Tennessee is not only big, but their bigs are incredibly athletic, and they can out-rebound almost anybody. So Gonzaga won this game with defensive pressure on the outside, and with a lot of fast break points and sharpshooting. Despite only 23 rebounds, they forced 21 turnovers and hit 55% from behind the arc. Gonzaga's stifling defense also held Tennessee to 36% shooting from the floor. Gonzaga isn't unbeatable, so I'm not putting them on an undefeated watch (as I am with UNC), but they could easily win 30 games before the Tournament starts. They're very good, and please watch them if you haven't gotten a chance yet.

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