Monday, November 30, 2009

Alabama Slays Michigan

Alabama 68, #15 Michigan 66
The Tide did a great job of fighting in this game, coming back from a double digit first half deficit to grab the lead late, and then holding off a late Michigan rally. I assumed that even with their new young coach, Anthony Grant, they'd be a year or two away from making the NCAA Tournament, but he's accelerated the development of the guys he inherited. I was particularly impressed with JaMychal Green, who seems to be emerging as the leader of the team. He led the team with 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting, and also had four blocks, none more important than a block of a Darius Morris layup as time expired. Green hadn't showed this type of explosiveness and leadership this season, but if he can continue this play then you have to consider the Tide a legitimate bubble team. Michigan, meanwhile, needs to go back to the drawing board, because they have shown this past week that they struggle down the stretch of games if you can take the ball out of the hands of Manny Harris. I do still think that they're a Top 25 team and that they shouldn't panic, but if they don't take care of business next week against Boston College then that might be a sign of real problems with this team.

Iona 63, Creighton 55
Iona had been scratching the surface of a big win throughout the Old Spice Classic, losing in the final moments to Florida State, then losing in overtime against Baylor, before finally taking out Creighton here. I continue to really like Alejo Rodriguez, and was particularly impressed with a play that he made late in the game when he stole a pass and dribbled down the length of the floor for a dunk. Schools like Iona don't usually get 6'8", 235 pound athletes who can make plays like that. All in all, Iona is a young team that is probably a year or two away from being a potential bubble team, but the way they've fought against elite teams this week proves that they'll be tough competition for anybody in the MAAC. Considering how underwhelming Siena has been so far this season, it's not totally out of the question for Iona to make a run at the MAAC title. As for Creighton, this tournament has exposed their team. If they can make the necessary fixes then they can still contend for a Missouri Valley title, but they've got a long way to go to get back into the bubble discussion. P'Allen Stinnett has been particularly disappointing this year, and will have to improve his play (only 2 points in 18 minutes here). The Blue Jays were counting on a quality win at this tournament to have a scalp for the resume. They don't have much left on their out-of-conference schedule.

Nebraska 51, USC 48
This was a pretty ugly game between two fairly mediocre teams. It was also an interesting contrast of styles, with USC blowing Nebraska off the boards, but then being utterly incapable of taking care of the ball on offense. For Nebraska, this is their best win of the season, and they get their next shot at a quality win when they head to Creighton in about a week. They also play Oregon State and Tulsa before Big 12 play begins. It's not out of the question for Nebraska to make a run toward the middle of the Big 12. As for USC, they actually have been a better team this year than I thought they would. I thought that the Kevin O'Neill hire was a good one under the circumstances, and he appears to have done a pretty good job salvaging what little talent there was to be had at USC. Of course, they're still not a particularly good team, and with a 2-2 record heading into road games at Texas and Georgia Tech, and with Tennessee ahead, as well as possibly one or two quality teams at the Diamond Head Classic, there's a pretty good chance that they'll be below .500 when Pac-10 play begins. But if Kevin O'Neill can get this team to close to .500 for the season, including Pac-10 play, then that has to be considered a success. They never had any realistic chances of being a bubble team this season anyway.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Louisville Loses To UNLV... Again

UNLV 76, #16 Louisville 71
UNLV almost blew this one, after letting an 18 point second half lead shrivel completely away, but they managed to pull ahead in the final couple of minutes to collect a very nice early season victory. The Rebels won with a very good, experienced set of guards that wasn't afraid of Louisville's defensive pressure, collecting 21 assists on 27 made baskets, and forcing 16 turnovers of their own. UNLV didn't even shoot particularly well in this one. They came into this game with three consecutive victories over three good teams (Nevada, Southern Illinois, Holy Cross) by an average of over 14 apiece, and they move to 5-0 with very nice computer numbers. They now have three tough games the rest of the way until Christmas week, and all are quite winnable: at Arizona, at Santa Clara, vs Kansas State. If the Rebs can continue their winning ways they might head into Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu at 11-0 and flying high. As for Louisville, there's no reason to draw too much from this game. Let's recall that Rick Pitino's teams always start out slow and finish strong. They lost to UNLV last season also, as well as to Western Kentucky, and still got themselves to #1 in the nation and earned a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. So if they could do all of that last year then there's no reason to worry too much about another loss to UNLV now. You have to get the sense that Pitino is still working out players combinations when he had ten different players earn double-digit minutes in this game - he'll have to shorten that rotation before Big East play begins. In standard Pitino style they have pretty much a cupcake out-of-conference schedule. This year it will lead up to that big match-up in Lexington against John Calipari's Wildcats on January 2nd.

Bradley 72, #21 Illinois 68
Another close loss for an Illinois team that just had a tough week. They did a better job of rebounding here than in the loss to Utah, but they still couldn't make a shot when they needed one. Just one little hot shooting streak at any time late in the game might have made the difference, but it never came. The Illini now get about a week to regroup before heading to Clemson as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. They'll have a few more quality opponents before Big Ten play begins. They're still probably an NCAA Tournament team, but we'll get a better sense over the next month of whether this team will finish near the top of the Big Ten, or whether they'll end up near the Tournament bubble. Bradley, meanwhile, really needed to have this win. After losing to BYU and Oklahoma State they were still without a quality win, and quality wins will be hard to come by in the Missouri Valley. This will probably be the only Top 25 team that they play all season long. And while Illinois probably won't look like a Top 25 scalp by the time March rolls around, this will still be a good check mark to have on the resume. Bradley still could make a run at Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley, especially since the disappointing play by Creighton down at the Old Spice Classic seems to have dampened expectations that they might be the ones to challenge the Panthers.

St. John's 55, Temple 48
Patience has been running thin among Johnnies fans toward coach Norm Roberts, but his solid recruiting classes - not exactly Lou Carnesecca players, but still better than they had been getting recently - are starting to pay off. They are now 5-0 with wins over Siena and Temple, and this game was practically a road game since it was played at the Palestra. They still have to head to Duke on December 5th, and it's hard to see them pulling the upset there, but every other game that they've got before Big East play begins is one that they can win. If they can find a way to get into Big East play at 11-1 then they'll be in superb position to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2002. Meanwhile, Temple fans shouldn't get too down about this loss. They probably outplayed St. John's, yet while the Johnnies didn't shoot well from the field, Temple was downright awful shooting the ball. They hit 28% from the field, 21% from behind the arc and 60% from the line. The large number of fouls called on them didn't help either. And when you consider that this is only their second loss of the season, with both losses coming to Big East teams, and that those two losses are balanced out by wins over Virginia Tech and Siena, it's hard to be anything but pleased with how this season has begun. Their next test will be against Penn State on December 5th. If Temple can collect another nice victory or two and then avoid bad losses then they'll be in position to earn an at-large bid if they can get a nice enough record in conference play (maybe 11-5 or 12-4, depending on who their wins and losses are against).

Portland Wins, Big Ten Loses

Utah 60, #21 Illinois 58
This is a particularly damaging loss for Illinois when you consider the fact that they had a 16 point halftime lead, and that Utah was coming off a recent loss to Seattle. These are the types of losses that kill a team's computer numbers. But that said, Illinois was overrated to me. All season I've had them as a team that I think will narrowly sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Demetri McCamey is a very good player, but he hasn't developed into a player in the class of Evan Turner or Manny Harris, and there isn't an obvious sidekick. Also, while Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale are both big, neither is a great individual rebounder, and Illinois often struggles to rebound as a team (Pomeroy rated their offense rebounding last season as 266th in the nation). As for Utah, this win helps after a slow start to the season, but it's still a slow start to the season nonetheless. Losses to Idaho and Seattle will be hard to explain in March. Of course, Utah fans will point out, the Utes lost to Idaho State and Division II Southwest Baptist last season and still earned a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And that's all true, but that Utah team also won a share of the Mountain West regular season title, won the conference tournament, and went 5-6 against the RPI Top 50. If Utah does all of that again, and avoids any bad losses, then they can definitely get back to the NCAA Tournament. But that's a lot to ask from the team two years in a row.

Portland 61, #16 Minnesota 56
Unlike Illinois, I don't think Minnesota is overrated where they are. I think that with their great athleticism and depth that they're one of the 20 best teams in the country, which is what makes this loss much more damaging to the Big Ten than the reality check for Illinois. But if this result tells us one thing, it's how good this Portland team is. I was with my dad for Thanksgiving and the way I tried to explain this to him was "Pretend that Portland is actually called Gonzaga", and I think that's the way to think about it. They even have a Raivio family member on their team as part of a great backcourt. The one worry that I have for this Portland team is that they haven't been in this position before. When Gonzaga fell down by 15+ points to Colorado last week they stayed calm and slowly worked their way back because they'd been in those situations before and knew how to win those games. What happens when Portland falls down double-digits to some team - will they have the poise and confidence to come back? It remains to be seen. But it's hard to see how they aren't thrilled with a season that begins 5-0 with wins over Minnesota, UCLA, Oregon and Seattle (looking at how well Seattle has been playing, that 17 point victory over them is no longer something to sniff at, trust me), even if they don't find a way to topple West Virginia later today.

#10 Butler 69, UCLA 67
Imagine trying to explain to somebody ten years ago that they were a decade away from a game where UCLA would come into it believe that if they could hit all of their shots and if everything went right that could go right that maybe, just maybe, they could pull off an upset of Butler? UCLA shot 47% from the field here, which I believe is their best performance of the season, and held Butler's excellent outside shooters to under 40%, including 29% from behind the arc. Yet they still fell short, with Butler's Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack leading the charge to hold back the Bruins. If I'm going to criticize this Butler team it's on the development of Matt Howard. During his freshman season I thought he was going to become the next Butler star, and now he's just struggling to stay on the floor. He has now fouled out in four of the five games they've played this season, and only made it 16 minutes before fouling out of this one. And while you'll struggle to find more than four or five teams in the nation with better perimeter play than Butler, their inside play is really pretty mediocre when Howard is not on the floor. He will have to stay on the floor for Butler to beat good teams. For UCLA, the 76 Classic will be a bust as their final game will be against Long Beach State. Right now they don't look remotely like a Tournament team, but I do think that they'll improve as young players like Drew Gordon and Malcolm Lee start to realize that they've got to be the leaders of this team. Michael Roll cannot be the focal point of the offense. After Long Beach State they head home to get slaughtered by Kansas, but I'm looking towards games against Mississippi State, New Mexico State and at Notre Dame, all in December before Pac-10 regular season play begins. If UCLA is going to get back to the NCAA Tournament they've got to win at least two of those three games.

W-15 BP65

I'm going to get a little bit behind on the game recaps over the next week or so, as my non-college basketball life is going to be a little busy. But the rate of match-ups between quality opponents does drop a bit in December as we'll be in the purgatory between the early season tournaments and conference regular season play, so I think you'll get by without me posting every single day.

Anyway, here is this week's BP65. Next week will be the first where I break down the teams that didn't make the cut into three categories. For the time being I'm still squeezing all of those teams into only two categories:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Texas
2. West Virginia

3. Tennessee
3. Ohio State
3. Michigan State
3. Duke

4. Clemson
4. Louisville
4. Minnesota

5. Vanderbilt
5. California
5. Maryland

6. UConn
6. Syracuse
6. Texas A&M

7. Georgia Tech
7. Wisconsin
7. Oklahoma

8. Florida
8. Georgetown
8. Wake Forest
8. Arizona State

9. Michigan
9. BYU (MWC)
9. Cincinnati
9. Missouri

10. UNLV
10. Mississippi State

11. Oklahoma State
11. UCLA
11. Baylor

12. Illinois
12. Pittsburgh
12. Portland
12. Marquette





Other teams considered, but that missed the cut:
Boston College, Florida State, Miami (Fl), NC State, Virginia Tech, Temple, Xavier, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Northwestern, Penn State, Kansas State, Tulsa, Bradley, Creighton, Missouri State, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, LSU, Mississippi, South Carolina, San Diego, Saint Mary's, Nevada

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Virginia, Duquesne, George Washington, La Salle, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph's, Saint Louis, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, South Florida, Indiana, Iowa State, Nebraska, Texas Tech, George Mason, Old Dominion, UAB, UCF, Houston, UTEP, Wright State, Niagara, Rider, Akron, Ohio, Evansville, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Wichita State, TCU, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, North Texas, Troy, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Florida Knocks Off Michigan State

Florida 77, #2 Michigan State 74
Florida has built up a nice new core of young talent, and they showed that when things are going good for them they can beat just about anybody. Michigan State is over-ranked (they're not the second best team in the country), but they are better than Florida. But the Spartans were treating this game like another November grind, while Florida's players were treating this one like a Sweet Sixteen game. The difference in intensity was glaring, with Florida players diving all over the place forcing turnovers, and willing themselves to the basket and to the foul line. Even though Michigan State's overwhelming size advantage meant a slaughter on the boards (38 to 20), Florida managed to force 11 more turnovers. In all, despite the rebounding disadvantage, they managed to take two more shots from the field, and 11 more shots from the line, and that was the difference in the game. For Michigan State, this seems eerily similar to last season, when they'd beat up on elite teams, and sleepwalk to losses against vastly inferior foes. Of course, last season ended up with a trip to the National Title game, so it's not too bad of a parallel. For Florida, this win means so much because of how weak the SEC is. Collecting a big scalp out of conference will mean so much in March if Florida is still on the bubble. But the way they've been playing so far this year, they might not even end up on the bubble. Florida might enter March with a Tournament bid already sewn up.

Northwestern 72, Notre Dame 58
I don't pay any attention to the Top 25 polls, so I hadn't realized that Notre Dame had moved into the AP Top 25 until this game started. But that's just ridiculous - there's no way that Notre Dame is one of the 25 best teams in the country. They weren't remotely close last season, and I don't see how they're any better than they were then. I know that Luke Harangody is one of the best players in the country, but wasn't he one of the best players in the country last season also? I just don't get the hype. It's not like this is Notre Dame football - Notre Dame basketball usually doesn't get overhyped like that. But even so, this is a very impressive win for Northwestern. Most people assumed that this team would roll over and die once Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan went down with injuries, but they're hanging tough. This is their first good win, but they're now 4-1 with that only loss coming to Butler. If they can beat Iowa State next then they'll really have some people paying attention. It's hard to see this team competing day in and day out in the Big Ten, but you can't rule them out just because of those two injuries, as this game proved.

Temple 61, Virginia Tech 50
Temple doesn't have any really big wins over ranked opponents, so they're still under the radar, but you have to respect their start to this season. They're 4-1 with wins over Siena and Virginia Tech, and that single loss was a one-pointer to Georgetown. It's not clear whether they or Xavier have played better so far, but those two teams are beginning to emerge as key contenders for at-large bids out of the Atlantic 10. Temple could use another win or two over BCS conference teams, and if they can avoid any bad losses then they'll be in a very good position heading into what appears to be a strong A-10 this year. As for the Hokies, they really are starved for any offense from players other than Malcolm Delaney (who had 32 of their 50 points here). Temple is a good opponent, but if you're only scoring 50 points against them, how are you going to score enough to compete with the top teams in the ACC? Of course, you don't want to draw too many conclusions from a single game, and this was the first non-cream puff that Virginia Tech played this season. We'll see if they prove that this game was a fluke, or if they continue to struggle to score against good teams.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Duke Impresses Against UConn

#7 Duke 68, #13 UConn 59
Even though Duke came into this game higher ranked, the expectation had to be that Duke's thin front line would struggle against the superior athleticism and size of UConn. I talked yesterday about the possibility of UConn fouling out Duke's entire front line, and it basically did happen: Miles Plumlee, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas all fouled out. Plumlee didn't foul out until the final minute, though, so Duke was able to survive through the final few minutes of the game with a frontline of Plumlee and Kyle Singler, which isn't awful. They're a bit lucky that Plumlee didn't foul out earlier, forcing Ryan Kelly to have to play extended minutes. But Coach K did a great job of adapting to his disadvantages, and his players also did a great job of outhustling and outworking the Huskies players. They took advantage of weak UConn guard play, forcing 16 turnovers and not allowing a single successful three-point attempt. The Huskies will have problems coming back from deficits if they can't find somebody on the roster who can hit a trey. I'm still not sold on the Duke frontline, but they proved here that they're good enough to beat more athletic teams. They won't see a team in the ACC all season that has a frontline with the pure size and strength of UConn's (although they will certainly see frontlines that are more skilled and better at scoring). Duke has proved so far this season that they're a legitimate challenger to win the ACC.

#8 West Virginia 73, Texas A&M 66
This wasn't the best I've seen from this West Virginia team, but a win is a win. They don't have good size inside, and might struggle with some of the bigger teams in the Big East, but it's clear that they're very athletic and talented on the perimeter. They are good at passing the ball around and working their players into favorable match-ups. They're not an overwhelming offense, but it always feels like they can get a score when they one. I still think that the Big East will come down to them and Villanova. Meanwhile, this goes down as a missed opportunity for a Texas A&M team that could have really made a splash with consecutive wins over ranked teams. They'll get another chance for a solid win in their final game at the 76 Classic, against either Minnesota or Portland. It might be their last chance to get a win over an RPI Top 50 team (unless they can knock off Washington on December 22nd) before the Big 12 regular season begins.

Florida State 60, Alabama 51
Florida State has been underwhelming, sneaking past athletically inferior Iona and Alabama, but they still have two wins and have found themselves in the final at the Old Spice Classic. They will play Marquette, in a battle of two teams assumed to be in rebuilding years, trying to prove that they can indeed work their way back to the NCAA Tournament. Florida State did hit their three-pointers in this game (9-for-13 overall), but it's hard to view those kinds of numbers as anything but a fluke. The Seminoles still need a go-to offensive player who can make his own points, and I haven't seen that yet. If they can get offense they will be a dangerous team in the ACC, because they can certainly defend and rebound. As for Alabama, they've got their own offensive problems, with zero players in double digits in this game. It seems like they've got several good second fiddles (JaMychal Green, Mikhail Torrence, Senario Hillman), but no clear leader. Who is the player they turn to on the offensive end when the game's on the line? There will be plenty of chances for Alabama to fatten up their final record against the SEC West, but they've got to prove that they can beat an elite team, and that Baylor win might not mean too much at the end of the year. I'm curious to see what the Tide can do against Purdue in a couple of weeks.

Marquette, Arizona State and Xavier Win

Marquette 79, #15 Michigan 65
It's hard not to notice the really nice start that Marquette has had to their season after being projected by just about everybody to finish near the bottom of the Big East. Manny Harris got his points, but Marquette did a great job of keeping the rest of the team from hurting them. You have to wonder whether Michigan's lack of depth hurt them a little bit here, in their second game in as many days. Although in the end, the statistics were pretty much identical between the teams, except for shooting percentage. So maybe this was just a terrible shooting day for Michigan, one of those days that happens. But either way, it brings up questions about who this Michigan team is, as that win over Creighton may or may not turn out to be a quality win, and all of Michigan's other wins have come over cupcakes. It will be important for them to take care of business against an inferior Alabama team tomorrow. As for Marquette, they now get a chance to win the Old Spice Classic tomorrow against Florida State. They should be favored there, and shouldn't have too much trouble beating NC State at home next weekend, which means that their only really tough game left before Big East play begins will be at Wisconsin on December 12th. This means that a win over Florida State tomorrow could potentially mean an 11-1 or even 12-0 record entering Big East play, which would give them a fantastic shot of getting back to the NCAA Tournament with only a 9-9 Big East record.

Arizona State 71, LSU 52
This game was closer than the final score, but Arizona State was clearly the better team. Eric Boateng is really starting to make a name for himself inside for the Sun Devils, and considering how starved the Pac-10 is for big men, there's no reason that he can't have a really effective season. The problem for Arizona State is that their only remaining quality opponents are Baylor, at BYU, and vs San Diego State. This means that there is a decent chance that they'll fail to get any RPI Top 50 wins before Pac-10 play, which is a problem amplified by the fact that the Pac-10 is really down this year. It's important for Pac-10 teams to collect quality scalps out of conference in order to make their at-large case. As for LSU, Tasmin Mitchell played better in this one, and Storm Warren continues to do well inside, but there's not much else on the roster. They also have the same problem that Arizona State has, which is that their conference is not very good, and they don't have many chances left to beat decent teams before conference play begins (at Washington State, at Xavier, vs Utah). It's hard to see them making the NCAA Tournament out of the SEC West without an 11-5 or better record.

Xavier 80, Creighton 67
Jordan Crawford showed nice poise coming back from that 4-for-20 performance with 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting here. Xavier also boasts a really nice nine or ten man rotation, which will keep them in games against just about anybody even though they lack true stars. It's important for them to keep winning as many of these out-of-conference games as they can to buoy their computer numbers, since they're very unlikely to win the Atlantic 10 over Dayton. Meanwhile, Creighton will likely leave the Old Spice Classic without a quality win, as they'll probably play Iona in their final game. The Missouri Valley is no longer an automatic multi-bid conference, so it's particularly important for Valley teams to play well out-of-conference. Creighton is off to a bit of a sluggish start.

Team Rankings

I want to remind people of all of the good websites with team rankings at this point. For the best computer rankings I recommend Jeff Sagarin. Ken Pomeroy is also good. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy still have a few funny rankings due to the low number of games played, but the rankings should both be robust by mid-to-late December. The RPI can be found on many websites, but I'll recommend Warren Nolan because his "Nitty Gritty Report" will be invaluable when it starts coming out some time in January or so. If you want to see how other websites are projecting the bracket, you can go to the Bracket Matrix.

The RPI is still a little bit ridiculous because of its composition, where strength of schedule matters more than absolute record - the numbers are fairly accurate at the end of the season, but they're total nonsense in November. Right now they rate the Big Ten 10th and the Summit League 13th... somehow I think if those two conferences matched up in a Big Ten/Summit League Challenge that it wouldn't exactly be a close competition. I wouldn't believe anything out of the RPI until late December. It's not worth really worrying about team RPIs until early January.

Sagarin and Pomeroy are both more reasonable with their rankings right now. Sagarin rates the top conferences in order as the Big East, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC fairly evenly apart, then a bit of a drop to the Pac-10, which is narrowly ahead of the Atlantic 10. Pomeroy puts the Big 12 slightly ahead of the ACC, then a bit back to the Big East, then a bit further back to the Big Ten, then the SEC, C-USA, A-10, Missouri Valley and Pac-10.

You can make a good argument that the A-10 is as good as the Pac-10, or even better, but the SEC should be a lot closer to the Pac-10 than to the other four BCS conferences. And while the Pac-10 has been bad, I wouldn't throw C-USA or the Missouri Valley ahead of them. You could probably argue for the Big East, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten in just about any order right now, although right now I'd argue that the Big East and ACC have been fairly even, with the Big Ten a bit behind and the Big 12 fourth. But that's just my opinion.

As the year goes along the three computer rankings will begin to line up. They are all out of whack now because the sample sizes are so small. Also, remember that Sagarin keeps a component based on last year's results (that slowly goes away over the next few weeks) while Pomeroy starts his rankings from scratch each season, which is why the Sagarin ratings are more accurate early on.

Minnesota Topples Butler

#16 Minnesota 82, #10 Butler 73
This shouldn't really have been too much of a surprise, because Minnesota is probably better than Butler. To be fair, it was hard to tell much about either team with the insane number of fouls called by the refs (30 on Minnesota and 26 on Butler, leading to a combined 81 free throws). But Butler showed why they never should have been ranked 10th in the country. I understand the way that the voters think: Butler was a Top 25 team last season, and they return every key player, so you've got to move them up 10-15 spots just for bringing back everybody. But this is a flawed thought for a few reasons. First of all, Butler wasn't a Top 25 team - the voters put them in the Top 25, but the voters were wrong. Their Sagarin rating was 43rd and their Pomeroy was 45th. And while they do bring back all of their key players, there are limits to the "They bring everybody back, we've got to move them up" philosophy. Butler has great basketball players, but not great athletes. Once you get into the Top Ten you're talking about teams with super athletes of the type that Butler doesn't get. When Butler doesn't have their shots falling, they can't win a game against a quality team with their pure talent and athleticism. UConn can do that, and Texas can do that, which is why they are legitimate Top Ten contenders. Butler is probably a Top 25 team this year, but #10 was just too high, as I've been saying all the way back since the polls first came out. As for Minnesota, this goes down as a great legitimizing win. They worked their way into the Top 25 last season only to fall all the way out. This year's team is deep enough and talented enough that they should be a contender to win the entire Big Ten.

Portland 74, UCLA 47
I warned you that this might happen. While I don't think anybody saw this victory margin coming it was, to be fair, a little bit of a fluke. Everything Portland threw up at the basket went in, from off-balance layups to banked three-pointers. They shot 54% from the field, including an insane 58% from behind the arc. And UCLA couldn't make anything, shooting 33% from the field and 22% from behind the arc. Other than the shooting, the game was fairly even: Portland had 17 turnovers, UCLA had 16. Portland grabbed 43% of the rebounds when they were on offense, and UCLA grabbed 34% of the rebounds when they were on offense. But here's the problem: why is Portland fighting to a draw on rebounding and ball handling with UCLA, even when you take out the effects of Portland's better shooting? The answer is that Portland is as good as UCLA is this year. UCLA just has no stars this season - the only player who looks like somebody who'd have started for a UCLA team the last decade is Drew Gordon, or perhaps Malcolm Lee. And both of those two are young and still have to develop before they'll fulfill their potential. I asked about a month ago if UCLA was a bubble team, and I think we've got our answer: they are. It's actually not out of the question for California and Washington to be the only NCAA Tournament teams out of the Pac-10. As for Portland, they just need to focus on not having a letdown. Obviously they could really make a splash by beating Minnesota tonight, but the real thing they have to worry about is not having any bad losses. With the success that Gonzaga has had in the WCC tournament, Portland really needs to build up an at-large resume. And a key for mid-major teams is not having those losses to teams like Denver.

Alabama 79, Baylor 76
This was a pretty surprising result considering how poor Alabama (and the entire SEC West) had played so far this season. I was impressed that they were able to basically fight to a draw on the boards, and did a good job of taking care of the ball (only ten turnovers). It will still be an uphill battle to get back into the at-large discussion this season, but they'll have plenty of opportunities. Playing in the SEC West is a huge advantage because of the unbalanced schedule that will allow them to play 10 of their 16 SEC games against that awful division, and they will only have to play the likes of Tennessee and Kentucky once each. As for Baylor, I hyped up this young team back in April, but it appears like they might not be ready for prime time. Ekpe Udoh has been everything I thought he would be and more: he's really just a very savvy inside player, especially for an athletic player who could easily just rely on his natural talent while trying to get away with stupid decisions. But one thing I was counting on that hasn't happened was immedate contributions from star freshman Nolan Dennis. He got 19 minutes in his first regular season for Baylor, but has seen his time decrease due to lack of production. He only got 4 minutes here against Alabama. The other two key freshmen have also been slow to get going: Givon Crump has been getting 7 minutes per game and didn't even play in this one, and A.J. Walton is showing the wild behavior that you often see from true freshmen point guards (4 assists per game, 4 turnovers per game). If Walton can get under control and Anthony Grant can rapidly develop Crump and Dennis then there's no reason that Baylor can't still compete for third place in the Big 12 against teams like Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Kansas State.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Michigan Holds Off Creighton

I hope everybody had a Happy Turkey Day. I certainly ate my share of food with my family. I also watched a heck of a lot of sports, mostly college ball, although a bit of football as well. There were a lot of good games today, and so let's get to a few of the early games first:

#16 Michigan 83, Creighton 76, OT
Michigan didn't look good here, but showed a lot of poise in overcoming a late deficit to hold off a good Creighton squad. Manny Harris was a beast, going for 20 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds, and the rest of the starting lineup all looked good. But guys like DeShawn Sims, Zach Novak and Laval Lucas-Perry are all established quality Big Ten players. The question I have is where the depth is. Michigan basically went with a six man rotation here. They're going to have to get more production out of the young players on their bench or they're going to wear out during the brutal Big Ten season. As for Creighton, they need to look at the positives from this game: they played terribly and still took a Top 20 team to overtime. P'Allen Stinnett fouled out with only 7 points on 10 shots from the field, which is one of the worst games I've ever seen him have. Creighton now gets a great chance tomorrow (or today, depending on what time zone you live in) to beat another potential bubble team in Xavier. They've got to get at least one win out of their three games in Orlando or they'll really have an uphill battle to get into the at-large discussion later this season.

Marquette 71, Xavier 61
Speaking of Xavier, it's hard to draw too many conclusions from this game because of how poor these two teams played. There were a lot of turnovers and a lot of ugly, forced shot attempts. Xavier's star sophomore, Jordan Crawford, came into this game averaging over 21 points per game this season, and promptly shot 4-for-20 from the field here. Other than Lazar Hayward for Marquette and Jason Love for Xavier, I wasn't impressed with anybody. But this is a key win for a Marquette team that is trying to prove that they're actually a legitimate middle-of-the-pack Big East team this season. It's hard to argue with a 5-0 start, although Xavier is the first good team they've beaten. We'll get a better idea of where they stand when they play Michigan in about 12 hours (noon eastern time). As for Xavier, they don't necessarily have the same degree of urgency as the team they're playing next (Creighton) because their conference is better. There will be plenty of chances for building a resume and building up the computer numbers in the Atlantic 10. But I still feel like they've got to have the win over Creighton, because their final opponent in the Old Spice Classic could potentially be Iona, which would not be a resume-building win. You don't want to leave a tournament like this without a single resume-building win.

Texas A&M 69, Clemson 60
You saw in this game why Clemson misses Terrence Oglesby, and his ability to hit clutch threes and to stretch the floor. It kept feeling like they were in a position to make a run to even up the game, but they didn't have anybody on the floor who could hit a three. The team as a whole went 3-for-18 from behind the arc (not that the 34% from the field or 61% from the line was much to brag about either). Also, while Trevor Booker is still a beast, his numbers are down from last season and he hasn't even had to play ACC opponents yet. It's clear that he's struggling with all of the hands in his face - something he wasn't used to when opponents had to stretch their defenses out to keep tabs on Oglesby. One thing that Clemson needs to do is to advance the development of Noel Johnson, who has the ability to be an offensive spark, and to open things up underneath for Booker. Although considering how many great starts have turned into terrible finishes the last few seasons, maybe it's a good sign that Clemson is starting off the year slow. Maybe this means they'll finish strong late in the ACC season for once? I'm not sure if it works that way. Anyway, Texas A&M has a couple of returning players that all Big 12 fans know and respect (like Donald Sloan), but I was impressed with the emergence of B.J. Holmes, who was deep on the bench last season, but absolutely torched Clemson's backcourt, getting to the line for 12 free throws, hitting 11 of them and scoring 20 (leading all scorers for both teams). This goes down as a very nice win for the Aggies, but they get a chance to really make a splash this afternoon against West Virginia. A win over West Virginia would give A&M the best start of any Big 12 team other than Kansas or Texas.

Gonzaga Wins Maui Invitational

Gonzaga 61, Cincinnati 59
Gonzaga didn't have a very pretty Maui Invitational by any stretch of the imagination. They had to make a big comeback just to overcome Colorado in the first round, and then benefited from atrocious shooting performances by Wisconsin and Cincinnati to sneak through their other two games. But college basketball isn't about beauty points, it's about winning, and Gonzaga collected three nice wins and is well on its way to its 12th straight NCAA Tournament (only Arizona, Kansas, Duke and Michigan State have longer active streaks). Gonzaga has won the WCC conference tournament 9 of the last 11 years, so they generally don't worry about their out-of-conference resume except for the purposes of Tournament seeding, but it's always nice to have that reassurance that even if a team like San Diego pulls another shock upset in March that you'll still be Dancing. As for Cincinnati, it's hard to be too disappointed by a two point loss to Gonzaga after very convincing victories over Maryland and Vanderbilt. That makes a 2-1 record against teams that will probably all be RPI Top 50. Any time you can win half of your games against RPI Top 50 teams over a season out of a BCS conference you're in really good shape. Cincy has a very easy out-of-conference resume the rest of the way, but should be poised to make a lot of noise in the Big East this season, especially as long as Yancy Gates is playing with this level of intensity. The conference is very wide open this season, with the bottom of the conference improved, but the top of the conference not nearly as good as last year. The Bearcats won't compete to win the conference, but they'll be up in the top half.

#7 Duke 64, Arizona State 53
A mildly unimpressive win by Duke. The final score belies how close this game was, as both teams were within 3-4 points of each other for the first half hour of the game before Duke slowly pulled away over the final ten minutes. Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer both played really well here, so while the Duke backcourt is thin, the starters are clearly going to be very good together. Singler had a poor shooting night, but the reason the game was so close was because Duke's frontline just did not produce. Neither Miles Plumlee or Lance Thomas is producing points, and Brian Zoubek really struggles to stay out of foul trouble (he's averaging 3.8 fouls in only 15.8 minutes per game this year, and has never averaged less than 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes in any season of his collegiate career). I don't think Ryan Kelly will be ready to play more than about 7-8 minutes per game until he has another year to bulk up, so unless Zoubek can stay out of foul trouble, or until Mason Plumlee can get healthy, Miles Plumlee and Lance Thomas will just have to be more productive offensively. They are going to get a real test tonight when they go against UConn, which has one of the most athletic front lines in the nation. You have to wonder how Duke is even going to keep five bodies on the floor late in that UConn game if they start getting players fouled out. As for Arizona State, they did show some life here. I really like the savvy play of Derek Glasser, and Trent Lockett is off to a solid start to his freshman year, so Arizona State should have a good enough backcourt to compete in the Pac-10. They will be one of the contenders for third place in the Pac-10, along with Arizona, UCLA and a few others.

San Diego 76, Oklahoma 64
Oklahoma has gotten off to a fairly disappointing start, with this loss coming on the heels of a loss to VCU. Their only chances for big scalps during out-of-conference play will come against Arizona on December 6th and at Gonzaga on December 31st. What makes this loss disappointing from my perspective is that I expected Oklahoma to be a decent team this year because of what I saw out of Willie Warren last season when Blake Griffin was hurt. Yet Warren had a great game here: 30 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in 37 minutes. The problem was that the rest of the team gave him nothing: 34 points, including 3-for-15 from behind the arc. I'm particularly disappointed with Tony Crocker, who does not seemed to have improved at all since a very promising freshman season. Willie Warren is a superstar, but he can't carry this team to the NCAA Tournament by himself. As for San Diego, fifth-year senior Brandon Johnson appears to be regaining his form from two years ago, and led the way with an extremely efficient 22 points on 4-for-9 from behind the arc, 3-for-4 from inside the arc, and 4-for-4 from the line. The Toreros have that disappointing 1 point loss to Pacific, but they will be allowed to get away with one bad loss in November if they can prove that it won't happen again all season. With wins now over Oklahoma and Stanford, they are still in a position to make a run at an at-large bid. But right now they just need to make sure not to have a letdown against Houston tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

UConn Rolls In The Garden

#13 UConn 81, LSU 55
It's hard to tell how good UConn is from this game just because their opponent was so bad. LSU just looked terrible - even Tasmin Mitchell didn't impress me. One bright spot was Storm Warren, who looks like he's developing into a really dominant low post presence. After being at the end of the team's rotation last season, he's emerged as perhaps the best player on the team other than Mitchell. Still, as awful as LSU played, UConn did look like they always look: they're athletic, they can rebound, and they can block shots. I'm particularly impressed with the development of Stanley Robinson, who was an after-thought for the last couple of years, but has now emerged as a true inside threat. We'll get a better sense of where UConn is as a team whenever they play a worthy opponent. That will happen in their next game if Duke takes care of Arizona State tonight. As for LSU, there are plenty of opportunities to win games in a terrible SEC West, but they're going to have to play a lot better than this to beat anybody.

Wisconsin 78, #24 Maryland 69
A nice performance by Wisconsin here salvages the Maui Invitational after their bad performance against Gonzaga yesterday. For the first time in this tournament they hit their outside shots, with Jason Bohannon particularly deadly (4-for-5 from behind the arc). I also really like the inside presence of Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, who have both really developed since last season and are poised to be one of the better frontcourt duos in the Big Ten. The one worry I have for this Badgers team is depth, as I'm not too impressed with the backcourt when Trevon Hughes is off the floor, and they don't have anybody who can score inside when Nankivil and Leuer are out (as we learned during their victory over Arizona a couple of days ago, when both were in foul trouble). Still, two quality wins means that Wisconsin is well on their way to another at-large bid. I think they'll finish somewhere in the 4th-7th range in the Big Ten, and the Big Ten should get seven Tournament teams. As for Maryland, this was not a good tournament for them at all. They looked unimpressive against Chaminade before opening up the game late, and then were out-worked and out-played on consecutive days by Cincinnati and Wisconsin. I thought they might have had the ability to challenge for second or third in the ACC with all of the players they brought back from last season, but instead they look like a bubble team. They get a quick chance to bounce back against a bad Indiana team next week, but will have to beat Villanova on December 6th to salvage anything at all from the out-of-conference portion of their schedule.

#24 Vanderbilt 84, Arizona 72
This tournament was looking like a bit of a disaster for Vanderbilt, but they went on a really nice run over the last five minutes of the game to land a solid victory over Arizona. They clearly have room for improvement (for example, an atrocious 15-for-29 from the free thrown line), but I think Vandy will be a Tournament team when all is said and done. But Kentucky and Tennessee look a class better, and Florida is a solid team as well. And don't forget South Carolina in the battle for third place in the SEC East either. As for Arizona, I don't see how the Maui Invitational is anything but a bust for them. The losses to Wisconsin and Vanderbilt will not be bad losses, since both will be RPI Top 50 teams, but that overtime victory over a bad Colorado team isn't going to do anything for them. The Pac-10 is wide open this season, and there's no reason that Arizona can't finish as high as third, but the Selection Committee is going to want to see out-of-conference victories from Pac-10 teams, since so few quality victories will be available in conference play. The rest of their out-of-conference schedule features UNLV, at Oklahoma, at San Diego State, vs North Carolina State and vs BYU. They've got to win at least three of those games and then avoid any bad losses, or else they'll probably need to go 12-6 or better in the Pac-10. An 11-7 record along with one more loss than I recommended would put them at 19-11 heading into the Pac-10 tournament - it's hard to see how that will be a Tournament resume considering how weak their strength of schedule will possibly be.

Varez Ward Out For Season

Texas got dealt a blow today as it's been announced that sophomore guard Varez Ward is out for the season. He was getting plenty of playing time through the first three games, averaging 23.0 minutes, 6.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists, so he will not be a trivial replacement. That said, in my opinion, he was probably their fourth guard option, or maybe even the fifth. Here are the stats from the five scholarship guards:

Avery Bradley: 2 starts, 23 minutes per game, 9 points per game
J'Covan Brown: 3 starts, 21 mpg, 12 ppg
Varez Ward: 3 starts, 23 mpg, 7 ppg
Justin Mason: 4 starts, 18 mpg, 2 ppg
Dogus Balbay: 0 starts, 21 mpg, 4 ppg

With J'Covan Brown emerging as a real star, I think Texas still really has the depth to go forward with their four healthy guards. You can't go wrong with Bradley and Brown together, and I love what Dogus Balbay brings to the table. Justin Mason isn't a spectacular talent, but he's a savvy senior who you can trust out there in extended minutes. You can throw each of those guys about four or five more minutes per game and they'll still be fine. Coaches normally worry a bit about giving so many minutes to freshmen, who occasionally wear out from their first long season, but Brown is not a true freshman, and Bradley is a superfrosh who should be able to handle it.

The only real worry is, what happens if another guard goes down for one reason or another? They have two other guards on the roster eligible to play, and both are walk-on freshmen, with one combined minute played thus far. So there are no more backups.

The Longhorns have four very good guards that they can challenge for a Big 12 title and a 1 seed in the Tournament with. But one more injury or suspension will really give them problems.

Purdue Wins Epic Over Tennessee

#6 Purdue 73, #11 Tennessee 72
This was the best game I've seen so far this season, with two teams already looking like they're in mid-season form. But not only was it a fun game, but I also enjoy how up close and personal the cameras can get at these little tournaments, and because the crowds are so small and quiet you can hear the coaches and players yelling at each other. I particularly enjoyed Bruce Pearl, one of the most animated coaches in the nation, yelling at the refs. At one point I thought he was going to storm over to try to beat up Matt Painter. This game also featured the greatest hustle play I've seen in years, when Chris Kramer dove near halfcourt after a Tennessee dribbler, missed the ball, yet somehow kept sliding down the court... and about 10-15 feet later managed to tip the ball out of bounds off a Tennessee player to give the ball over to Purdue. There's no better way to really describe it, and shamefully the play was not one of the highlights of the game when I saw Sportscenter that night, but somebody on youtube seems to have caught the highlight (here). Anyway, there was a result here, but in reality it doesn't matter all too much. Both of these teams are in play for a 1, 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and it's mostly going to come down to how they play during conference games. The only chance this game has of being a tiebreaker is perhaps if these two teams are fighting for the last 1 seed, or the last 2 seed. But that's the irony of these match-ups between Top Ten teams: while they're a lot of fun to watch, they don't have nearly as much to do with the eventually Tournament brackets as games between bubble teams.

Arizona 91, Colorado 87, OT

This was a very narrow win that means a whole lot for this Arizona team. Because really, they should have lost. Nic Wise did have a great game (30 points, 6 assists), but Arizona just won because they got white hot from behind the arc (14-for-24 for the game) while Colorado was ice cold (5-for-19). Colorado was the better rebounding team (total rebounds were 33-to-33, but that was because of the shooting disparity. Colorado collected offensive boards on 31% of their missed shots, while Arizona only collected them on 22% of theirs), and also won the turnover battle, leading to 9 more shots from the field and 9 more shots from the line. It's rare that a team gets that many more shot attempts than their opponents and still loses. For Arizona, a win over Colorado won't mean much in the big picture, because Colorado is not particularly good. But what it does is give them a chance to do is to salvage the Maui Invitational today by beating Vanderbilt. Arizona really needed one nice win from this tournament, and Chaminade wasn't going to do it for them. If they can get that win today then they'll actually be in good shape because of how bad the Pac-10 is. Can anybody honestly say that Arizona hasn't been playing at least as well as any of the other teams fighting for third place in the Pac-10 (UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, etc)? I find it hard to believe the Pac-10 won't get at least three Tournament teams, so if Arizona can finish third, then collect a scalp or two out-of-conference while avoiding bad losses, I think that adds up to an at-large resume.

Florida 68, Florida State 52
A nice early season victory for Florida over their intrastate rivals. Kenny Boynton looks like he'll be one of the better freshmen in the nation, and I also like the skill set Dan Werner brings, with his ability to drag his defenders outside with his shooting ability. Florida is going to be in a battle all season in the SEC East with teams like Vanderbilt and South Carolina for third place. The fact is that as good as the SEC East is, the SEC West is so bad that it gives the appearance that the conference as a whole stinks. And it's just going to look really bad if Florida finishes in fourth or fifth out of six teams in one division of that SEC. And their SEC record will also end up being better than it appears because they have to play 10 of their 16 games against the East, while some SEC West teams will get to fatten up their record on other SEC West teams. Unfortunately, they did a poor job of scheduling out-of-conference teams. Their remaining schedule involves a game at Michigan State, a home game against Syracuse, and then a bunch of cream puffs (other than, perhaps, Richmond or whichever team they play in the Legend's Classic: Rutgers or UMass). That puts a lot of pressure on Florida to knock off one of those two teams (both currently ranked in the Top Ten), or they potentially will have no RPI Top 50 wins out of conference (or even RPI Top 100, depending on where Florida State, Richmond and UMass end up). That really puts them in the uncomfortable position of potentially having to put together an 11-5 or better record in a tough SEC East. As for Florida State, this season was always going to be about rebuilding. I never understood why people thought it would be so easy to replace Toney Douglas when he was their entire offense last season. They can still rebound and play good defense without him, but their offense was absolutely lost last season when he was on the bench, and they don't appear to have gotten much better. They could still make a run at an at-large bid, but until they show that they have offensive weapons I'd bet against it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Yancy Gates Leads Cincy Over Vandy

Cincinnati 67, #24 Vanderbilt 58
Vanderbilt might have come in a little bit too confident for this one after reaching into the Top 25 for the first time of the season, but this result had more to do with the Yancy Gates show than anything else. Anybody who watched Gates play last season knows that he has the potential to be one of the top players in the Big East, and he showed why here with 16 points and 10 boards. Cincy now gets the chance to really make a splash at the Maui Invite with Maryland in their second game, and then either Gonzaga, Wisconsin or Arizona in their third. The Big East isn't top heavy like last season, and is wide open for a team like Cincy to make a run. As for Vandy, this will not be a bad loss as Cincy will almost definitely be an RPI Top 50 team. Unfortunately, they do not get a chance to atone in their second game, as they're stuck playing Chaminade. They'll get one shot to salvage this tournament, against either Colorado, Arizona or Wisconsin on Wednesday night. But more importantly, the Commodores have got to improve their inside play. It wasn't just Gates who blew them away on the boards here (45-to-27 was the final tally).

Gonzaga 76, Colorado 72
Gonzaga showed a lot of poise here coming back from a 15 point deficit, including 11 at the half. It would be easy for a young team to start thinking about the beach when in front of a tiny crowd in Hawaii and down by double-digits, but Steven Gray and Matt Bouldin did a great job of keeping the team in this one. Gray, especially, is emerging as a really nice offensive threat. I also think the Zags have more to get out of Demetri Goodson, who is a player I like and who occasionally shows flashes of truly electric play. As for Colorado, this is a demoralizing loss for a program that really needs a big win. Colorado hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003, and has only won a single Tournament game over the last 40 years. I like Jeff Bzdelik, and I think he's got the team going in the right direction, but they're obviously at least a year or two from seriously contending for an at-large bid. If they can get a single win from this tournament that is not Chaminade then I think they'll view it as a success, and something to build upon. The Big 12 is getting a lot of attention for its top two teams, but things are really wide open after that. There's no reason that Colorado can't make a run at something like 8th or 9th place if they can keep playing like this.

Northern Iowa 81, Boston College 69

Northern Iowa has been picked by many to win the Missouri Valley, including myself, and they're off to a decent start. This is the type of game that they've got to win if they're going to have a good shot at an at-large bid should they fail to win the Valley's automatic bid. Boston College is an ACC team, but will probably finish near the bottom of the conference. And the Panthers were powered by a player whose name I've got to learn how to pronounce: Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who scored 12 points per game last season, but exploded for 32 points on 14-for-17 shooting here. The established star of the team is Adam Koch, and he also played well, but Ahelegbe looks like he'll be a nice partner. They now get one cupcake before a key stretch in December: at Iowa State, vs Iowa, Siena and at Creighton (not consecutive, but all played in the month of December). We'll know after those four games how realistic an at-large bid is for Northern Iowa. As for Boston College, this is clearly a rebuilding season. Things will get better whenever Rakim Sanders gets back from his ankle injury (probably some time in mid-to-late December).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Purdue and Villanova Look Sharp

#6 Villanova 79, Mississippi 67
There's a reason why I always warn fans never to get too upset or worried by one performance in November. It was easy to get worried after that one point squeaker over George Mason, but all of those worries have melted away with solid victories over two good teams: Dayton and Ole Miss. Scottie Reynolds played like we know he's capable of for the first time of the season, and you can clearly see that Taylor King is finally getting comfortable in the offense. Even when he doesn't have big stats, he has an impact on games by attracting defenders and opening up the paint for Villanova's driving guards. If there's one worry I have about this team it's that they rely too much on players who drive to score, rather than driving to pass. They only had 8 assists and 22 turnovers as a team, and that's not a good combination for an elite squad. As for Ole Miss, this tournament probably goes down as a success, with double-digit victories over Indiana and Kansas State. Nobody will hold a loss to Villanova against them on Selection Sunday. They have a very easy schedule until late December, so we probably won't know much about this team until close to the end of 2009. But for the time being they have to be considered a serious contender to win the SEC West, which makes them a serious contender for an at-large Tournament bid.

#7 Purdue 85, Saint Joseph's 60
Purdue looks to have gotten a little bit of the rust off, as they absolutely slaughtered a good Saint Joe's team here. If I had to pick one thing I liked the most it was how well Robbie Hummel moved around the floor. His injuries last season had him often looking like a corpse on the floor, and his playing style (ceaseless movement without the ball on the offensive end) requires him to be mobile. If he can move like this all year long then he might be second only to Evan Turner in the Big Ten. And don't forget that Evan Turner might be the favorite to win National Player of the Year. Purdue did a great job of both rebounding and taking care of the ball, ending up with a remarkable 22 more shots from the field (and only 4 fewer shots from the line). The Boilermakers get Wake Forest on December 1st, but otherwise have a fairly easy out-of-conference schedule. It doesn't matter a whole lot, as Matt Painter just needed to put together whatever schedule he thinks puts his team in the best position to win the Big Ten. It's not like they need to collect out-of-conference scalps to put together an NCAA Tournament resume. As for St. Joe's, the margin of victory here isn't good, but they didn't have much of shot of beating this outstanding Purdue team. We'll see how they bounce back in their next game, November 30th at Rider. Rider is a pesky team, and the Hawks need to be careful not to let one mediocre performance snowball.

Pullen and Clemente Power Kansas State

Kansas State 83, #21 Dayton 75
Dayton falls for the second straight game, in a slightly disappointing end to a preseason tournament that started so nicely with that win over Georgia Tech. This was a fairly even game the entire way, and in the end the difference was Kansas State's star backcourt of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. Those two were good together last year, but they took it to another level by absolutely torching Dayton here. The two combined for 47 points, with only 26 shots taken from the field. Some credit also has to go to the Kansas State frontline, which managed to outrebound a Dayton team that has a good frontline of its own. The Wildcats have this win to go with three wins over cupcakes, and a loss to a quality Ole Miss team. They have a couple more cupcakes before they get some serious opponents in December (Xavier, UNLV, Alabama, Washington State). Considering how valuable guard play is in college basketball, you've got to consider Kansas State a Tournament contender until they prove otherwise. As for Dayton, they need to regroup a bit, but they also need to realize that close losses to Kansas State and Villanova are nothing to be ashamed of, especially on the heels of victories over Georgia Tech and Creighton. And their hard schedule will pay off during Atlantic 10 play when they'll be seasoned and sharp right from day one, while teams that feasted on cupcakes will be slow out of the gate. Dayton continues to be the heavy favorite to win the Atlantic 10.

Miami (Fl) 85, South Carolina 70
For South Carolina, the result of this particular game is secondary to the injury to Dominique Archie. The senior leader of the team had scored 15 or more points in South Carolina's first four games (all victories), and was leading Miami all by himself, 7 points to 2, when he went out with a serious-looking knee injury. Things went quickly downhill without him in the game. It might be a couple of days before we have a better sense of Archie's injury. South Carolina is a team that does not have a lot of room to spare on their NCAA Tournament resume. They're not good enough that they lose one of their two key players (Devan Downey being the other) for an extended period of time and still earn an at-large bid. As for Miami, they move to 5-0, although this qualifies as their first victory worth crowing about. The won this game because of a huge rebounding advantage, although part of that had to do with the injury to Dominique Archie. Their backcourt was outplayed, however, and they're going to have to improve their ball handling to seriously compete in the ACC, because they'll face much better frontcourts in the ACC, and will not be able to get away with this kind of sloppy play. Miami gets their next challenge on December 2nd, when they host Minnesota as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

#11 Tennessee 57, DePaul 53
You have to give credit to Jerry Wainwright for putting together a battle plan and getting his team to execute it well. He slowed this game down to a crawl, and did a great job of keeping Tennessee's athletic players from getting to the rim, forcing them to take outside shots. In the end, the overall difference in quality and talent between the teams was large enough that Tennessee got the win, but it was a moral victory for DePaul by just keeping this one close. You have to wonder a bit if Tennessee was softened up by that joke of a schedule they'd played before this one (average margin of victory: 48 points). On the plus side, it's clear that Tennessee has a ton of depth, and will likely go with a 10 man rotation. Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith, of course, are the team leaders and stars, but I also expect more of Scotty Hopson as the year goes along. As for DePaul, obviously this team doesn't have much of a hope at any postseason play. This season is about showing improvement, and showing a way forward for Jerry Wainwright. He has struggled recruiting, and shook up his staff this past offseason to try to build a fence around Chicago's recruits. He needs to show those kids that they'll be on a winning team if they come to DePaul.

Oklahoma, Siena Stumble

VCU 82, #17 Oklahoma 69
It's amazing to me how VCU keeps hiring young coaches, keeps losing those young coaches to bigger schools, keeps hiring new young coaches, and yet continues to roll. They have another new coach this year, and he handed a rude "welcome back" to one of the previous young VCU coaches, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel (VCU head coach from 2002-through-2006). To be clear, this will probably not be a really bad loss for Oklahoma. The Sooners are not going to be in competition for a 1 or a 2 seed (they're unlikely to finish higher than 3rd in the Big 12), so they can afford a loss to what will very possibly be an RPI Top 50 team in November without too many bad repercussions. Willie Warren is still struggling to establish his role as leader of the team, and he had an awful performance in this one (8 points scored, including 0-for-8 from behind the arc, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 turnovers). They will be better as the year goes along. As for VCU, this is a great bounce back after a disappointing loss to Western Michigan. They can probably only afford only one more of those bad losses if they're going to have a good chance at an at-large bid. There are not a lot of chances for good wins in the Colonial, so despite how good VCU is, they might still be dependent on the automatic bid at the end of the year.

Temple 73, Siena 69
This shouldn't be the surprise that some people think it is. I've argued that while I think Siena is better than they were last year, they were so overrated last season that I believe they'll underperform this season relative to last season, and expectations. A Top 25 team should have taken care of business against Temple, but Siena is not a Top 25 team. They are still the heavy favorites in the MAAC, but I'll be pretty surprised if they earn an at-large bid at the end of the year. For Temple, this win follows a tough one point loss to Georgetown, a signal that this is a team to reckon with in the Atlantic 10. It's looking like the conference is wide open after Dayton, and that Temple has to be in the mix, with the likes of Duquesne, Xavier, St. Joe's, Rhode Island and others. It's too early in the season for me, or anybody else, to really differentiate between these teams. But Temple has announced with this win that at the very least they deserve to be in the discussion.

Portland 88, Oregon 81
Portland is going to sneak up on some people this season. There's a reason why I picked them to finish second in the WCC, ahead of the likes of Saint Mary's and San Diego. They were actually a near-bubble team last season (their RPI, Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings were all inside the Top 100 late in the season before ending up just outside the Top 100), and had zero seniors on the roster. I'd be shocked if they're not an RPI Top 100 team this year, and wouldn't be surprised at all for them to be a serious bubble team. This win now gives them a great opportunity to make a splash this coming week at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, where they open up against a very vulnerable UCLA team (which may or may not be without Nikola Dragovic). Don't be surprised to see them take out the Bruins and then cause college basketball fans everywhere to scramble, trying to find out who this Portland team is. As for Oregon, this will likely not go down as too bad of a loss. It seems likely that Oregon will be a bubble team most of the season, so one game will not make or break anything. We'll know a lot more about this team in December, after they play the only other good teams on their out-of-conference resume (Saint Mary's and Missouri). Although I would add that Oregon is putting themselves behind the eight ball by fighting for an at-large bid without scheduling a single BCS conference team out-of-conference (they did not "schedule" Missouri, it was assigned as part of the Big 12/Pac 10 Challenge).

W-16 BP65

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Texas
2. West Virginia

3. Tennessee
3. Ohio State
3. Clemson
3. Michigan State

4. Minnesota
4. Maryland
4. Louisville

5. California
5. Duke
5. Vanderbilt
5. Oklahoma

6. Georgia Tech
6. UConn
6. Wake Forest

7. Texas A&M
7. Wisconsin
7. Michigan

8. Syracuse
8. Georgetown
8. Florida

9. Missouri
9. BYU (MWC)
9. Arizona State

10. Mississippi State
10. UNLV
10. UCLA

11. Baylor
11. Cincinnati
11. Oklahoma State
11. Illinois

12. Boston College
12. Pittsburgh
12. LSU





Other teams considered, but that missed the cut:
Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duquesne, St. Joseph's, Xavier, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Northwestern, Penn State, Kansas State, UTEP, Tulsa, Wright State, Niagara, Bradley, Creighton, Utah, Arizona, Oregon, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Portland, Saint Mary's, Nevada

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Miami (Fl), NC State, La Salle, Rhode Island, Saint Louis, Temple, Marquette, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, South Florida, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas Tech, George Mason, Old Dominion, UAB, UCF, Houston, Valparaiso, Rider, Akron, Ohio, Evansville, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Wichita State, New Mexico, TCU, Wyoming, Oregon State, USC, Arkansas, Auburn, Davidson, North Texas, Troy, San Diego, Santa Clara, Boise State, Fresno State, New Mexico State

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Big Win For Vanderbilt That Nobody Knows About

Vanderbilt 72, Saint Mary's 70
Vanderbilt entered this season under the radar. They are possibly a Top 25 team, yet they are overshadowed in their own conference by the John Calipari traveling circus at Kentucky, Tennessee's 60 point victories over cupcakes, and even the Renardo Sidney show at Mississippi State. And so it's fitting that they get one of the most impressive victories by any team in this young season and it comes well after midnight eastern time, in a game that nobody is paying attention to and that got absolutely no mention on any national sports radio or television show I heard from this morning. Remember that St. Mary's almost never loses at home: the last two years they had a grand total of two home losses, and both came against teams that earned single-digit seeds in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season (Gonzaga last year, Kent State the year before). And they'd opened the year with blowouts of New Mexico State and San Diego State. I don't think I consider Vanderbilt a contender to win the SEC, but they are probably one of the 25 best teams in the country right now. As for Saint Mary's, they get to regroup against a couple of inferior opponents. I'm looking towards a road game at Oregon on December 12th. That series has turned into a decent west coast rivalry, and Oregon looks far improved this season. If Saint Mary's wins that game then I'll be convinced that they can be an at-large team this season.

Saint Joseph's 84, Boston College 80
St. Joe's shot the lights out of the building with 10-for-21 shooting behind the arc, and collected a nice early season scalp. I only picked them to finish 4th in the Atlantic 10, but at this point it appears like things will be wide open in that conference in the battle for second place (Dayton appears to be a step better than everybody else). They've done a good job of taking care of business thus far, and have four more tough opponents before A-10 play begins: Purdue, Villanova, at Minnesota, and at Siena. If they can split those two games, and avoid any other losses (I'm looking at games at Rider and at Cornell over the next few weeks as other potential trip-ups) then they'll be in excellent shape for an at-large bid. As for Boston College, it's looking like this will be a rebuilding year without Tyrese Rice. I'm not saying that they can't make the NCAA Tournament again, but I'd say that their ceiling is a team that just barely sneaks in. They won't compete with Duke, North Carolina or the other powers at the top of the ACC.

South Carolina 69, South Florida 66
This is actually a pretty good win for South Carolina. South Florida appears to be better than they've been in recent years, opening the season with wins over Virginia and Davidson. The Bulls actually have a chance to make a run at something like 10th or 11th in the Big East if they keep improving. But South Carolina has higher aspirations, as they enter this season looking for an NCAA Tournament bid. They entered this game 3-0, but mostly against patsies (although La Salle could end up being a decent team). With this win under their belts they now go on to play Miami (Fl) in the championship game of the Charleston Classic tomorrow evening. They have a pretty easy out-of-conference schedule in general, so it's really important for them to beat BCS conference teams when they get the chance. All they've got left is a home game against Baylor, and road games at Clemson and Boston College. Considering the fact that they'll struggle to finish higher than fourth in the relatively tough SEC East, they need to have a good out-of-conference resume, and the only way they'll have one of those will be if they enter SEC play with something like a 12-2 record. They're off to a good start.

Friday, November 20, 2009

California, North Carolina Struggle

#24 Syracuse 87, #4 North Carolina 71
Roy Williams has been telling anybody who will listen that his team isn't ready for that #4 ranking, that they're too young and inexperienced, and boy did he look right tonight. While the team showed flashes of top talent, at times they looked downright awful. The Tar Heels do have a lot of shooting guard talent, as Marcus Ginyard was the one bright spot for UNC, and Dexter Strickland also looks good. But they have no point guard, and the team is averaging 20 turnovers per game. They'll be better later on in the year, but for the time being there is no way that North Carolina is a Top Five team. And as for Syracuse, I've been saying that the Orange cannot be an elite team without an elite scorer, and Wesley Johnson has answered the call. I knew that Johnson was athletic and versatile from his days at Iowa State, so I assumed that he'd get rebounds, steals and blocks. But his offensive explosion in this game was eye-opening. The scouting report on him is that he's a streaky shooter, so they probably can't expect 50% three-point shooting all season long, but he clearly gives them the offensive spark that they need to be a contender in the Big East. I would urge the media to hold off on the National Championship contender talk, because poor play by Cal and UNC had as much to do with these last two Syracuse wins as anything else. But this is unquestionably as good of a start as any team in the nation has had so far this season.

#15 Ohio State 76, #12 California 70
This game wasn't nearly as close as the final score suggests. Ohio State led by as many as 24 points in the second half, and Cal simply narrowed the final score up in the final 10 minutes of the game. That said, Ohio State still has questions to answer. Evan Turner led the way with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists, but he didn't get a lot of support. The Buckeyes are going to have to get Dallas Lauderdale more involved in the offense, and they still need a second offensive creator - I'm not sold on William Buford yet. As for Cal, I know that they're missing Theo Robertson, but they have been extraordinarily underwhelming thus far. They looked weak against two inferior opponents leading up to the trip to New York, and they got throttled by Syracuse and Ohio State once they got to New York. They are a streaky three-point shooting team that is always a threat to go on big scoring runs, but they are totally invisible in the paint, are weak defensively, and struggle to score when the threes aren't falling. The Pac-10 as a whole has been underwhelming so far, so Cal is still a contender, and I still think they're the second best team in the conference. But they've got to go back to the drawing board.

#6 Villanova 71, #21 Dayton 65
Villanova didn't look great here, and still is struggling to shoot, but they are showing improvement since that near-loss to George Mason. I've been surprised at how Scottie Reynolds seems to have regressed this season. Still, it's hard to be too negative about a team after they beat a Top 25 opponent. And they have put together a tough out-of-conference schedule which means that they'll be sharp when they begin Big East play in about six weeks. As for Dayton, there's no reason for them to be down about a close loss to a Top Ten opponent. It's easy to think that Dayton is just the Chris Wright show, seeing as Wright is thought to be the favorite to win Atlantic 10 player of the year, but in fact this Dayton team has shown a lot of depth. They have a really solid 9 or 10 man rotation, and are still very good even when Wright is on the bench. Dayton is clearly the favorite to win the A-10.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Syracuse, North Carolina Ready To Match Up

#24 Syracuse 95, #12 California 73
A very nice early win for a Syracuse team that has looked very athletic and tough inside. This night wasn't likely to go well for Cal, with Theo Robertson out, and because they just match up horribly with big teams. Cal has absolutely no size, and in order to try to deal with Syracuse's big men had to give 12 minutes of playing time to Max Zhang, a 7'3" popsicle stick who looked like he hadn't seen a basketball court before. Cal clearly benefits from the fact that there are no teams with elite size in the Pac-10. They'll never see a team like Syracuse. And as for Syracuse, nobody is going to remember or care that Cal was shorthanded when the Selection Committee puts together the brackets in March, so this will go down as a very nice win. I still have questions about the Syracuse offense, but it seems clear that against teams with inferior size that the Orange can score plenty of points on transition after defensive stops, forced turnovers or long rebounds. I'm definitely very interested to see what happens tomorrow night against North Carolina, one of the only teams in the country that can go toe-to-toe with Syracuse in the paint. Syracuse is bigger than North Carolina, but the Tar Heels big men are more talented overall, so it should be a good battle.

#4 North Carolina 77, #18 Ohio State 73
A quality win for North Carolina that sets up a nice match-up with Syracuse, that I just talked about a few sentences ago. If I'm going to bring up one worry for this Tar Heels team it's that Ed Davis and Deon Thompson both suffered from foul trouble almost this entire game, and their outstanding front line (which I think is the best in the country) really struggled without them. John Henson was really disappointing here. As for Ohio State, it has to be encouraging that they played UNC this close with such an awful performance. Evan Turner had 10 turnovers by himself, and while the team shot 30% from behind the arc, most of that came in the final moments after the result was mostly decided. Before the last 2:30 of the game, when they were down 13 points and the game was basically over, Ohio State was only 2-for-15 from behind the arc. If they could play this poorly and still only lose by four points to North Carolina, that bodes well for this Ohio State team when are more tuned offensively later in the year. Other than the California game tomorrow, Ohio State only has two other quality opponents before Big Ten play starts: a home game against Florida State on December 2nd, and a road game at Butler on December 12th. If Ohio State can win two of those three games, and avoid any bad losses in their other games, then they'll be in really good shape when they roll into Wisconsin on New Year's Eve to start their Big Ten slate.

Mississippi 89, Indiana 71
Tom Crean is putting together good recruiting classes, but it's clear that Indiana just is not quite ready for prime time. This young team just kills itself with silly mistakes that experienced, savvy teams don't make. One play that perfectly exemplified this was with just under six minutes in the game. The Hoosiers had scored six straight points to pull within eight, the Indiana fans were making noise, and the defense forced a steal. With a chance to pull within two possessions, on a 3-on-1 fast break, the player leading the break (I forget who it was) dropped off a short pass to Jeremiah Rivers, who bobbled it and kicked it out of bounds. A player of that skill catches that ball 99 times out of 100, but he failed in the clutch. More and more it seems like the bottom of the Big Ten is not living up to expectations. We knew Iowa was going to be terrible, but Northwestern has been decimated by injuries, and neither Penn State or Indiana looks very good so far. It's only mid-November, but it already looks like the Big Ten has split in between seven good teams that are heading to the NCAA Tournament, and four teams that are way back and fighting for 8th place. As for Ole Miss, they haven't looked outstanding so far, but they don't have to be really good to have a Tournament resume. They should run up a good record in the SEC considering that 10 of their 16 games will be against the awful SEC West. So if they can collect one more decent out-of-conference victory and avoid any bad losses then they'll be in really good shape to win enough SEC games to make the Tournament.

Dayton Proves They Belong

#21 Dayton 63, #19 Georgia Tech 59
Most people thought Dayton would be good this season. They were picked to win the Atlantic 10 by most, including myself, and they were put into the Top 25. But you never know until a team gets on the court, and so far in this young season it does seem like Dayton deserves the hype. And this win was impressive because it wasn't even that great of a performance. They shot only 43% from the field and 67% from the line, and their offense was still out of synch with 22 turnovers. But despite Georgia Tech's great size, they hung in there on the boards (they lost 25-to-31) and just found a way to win. As for Georgia Tech, this a tough start for what is a key season for Paul Hewitt and his future with the school. He had his miracle run to the NCAA Championship game six years ago, but otherwise the school has not progressed past the second round. The team is coming off two consecutive below-.500 seasons, but finally has a great set of talent to win with. Superfrosh Derrick Favors joins established stars like Gani Lawal and Iman Shumpert. I named them as a dark horse to win the ACC. This team should win. If Paul Hewitt can't win with this talent then he might be looking for a new job sooner rather than later.

#6 Villanova 69, George Mason 68
Live by the three, die by the three. That seems to be the philosophy for Villanova this season. They fired away and couldn't hit their shots all throughout this game... until their final two in the final minute of the game, which went in and gave them the one point victory. But I caution against drawing too many conclusions from this goofy game. In all, 54 fouls were called. Villanova had four players foul out. George Mason had five players get four fouls or more. Nearly half of the game's points and shots were from the free throw line, and neither team shot well from the field. It was just a weird game. Besides, George Mason is a good, talented young team. They should make a run at the Colonial title, which appears to be between them, VCU and Old Dominion at this point.

UNC-Wilmington 80, Penn State 69
What makes this loss depressing for Penn State is that Talor Battle played well. Battle had 29 points on 23 shots from the field, with only 8 rebounds and only 1 turnover. But he got absolutely no support. The Nittany Lions also have a real problem inside: they had zero blocks and could not outrebound UNC-Wilmington (each team had 30). Jamelle Cornley is sorely missed, for sure. They are going to have to get more support from Battle's teammates, and they're also going to need to get more contributions from the bench (only six Penn State players combined for all but 13 minutes and 2 points in this game) if they're going to make the NCAA Tournament. Right now it's looking more and more like they are 7 good teams in the Big Ten that are separating themselves, and Penn State is getting left behind.

Memphis Pushes Kansas

#1 Kansas 57, Memphis 55
Elliot Williams has already proved how important it was that Memphis was able to get him, and to get him playing this season. He's already the best player on the team, and took them on his shoulders and nearly carried them to victory over the #1 team in the nation. Memphis will get a challenge from Tulsa in Conference USA, but it's hard to see them not getting back to the NCAA Tournament after this solid performance. As for Kansas fans, there's no reason to draw too many conclusions from this game. Their offense was atrocious, and looked like an offense full of a lot of young players who haven't had a lot of time together. With all of the talent that they have, they'll get their act together soon. I still believe Kansas is the best team in the country.

#10 Butler 67, Northwestern 54
You have to feel bad for Northwestern. They entered this season thinking this was their best chance ever at making the NCAA Tournament. A Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan injury later, and now it's really looking like a long shot. And when you see how close they came to beating Butler even without those two players, you get a sense of how good this team would have been if everybody was healthy. As for Butler, I do feel like they're a bit overrated at 10th in the country, but I do think they're a Top 25 team. Wright State has looked really good early on, and will push Butler a bit, but it's hard to see Butler not winning the Horizon again.

Saint Louis 69, Nebraska 55

I believe that Saint Louis is the youngest team in the country, with only one junior and zero seniors on the roster. It's what you had to expect with Rick Majerus in as a coach, considering how unique and difficult his coaching style is. His first year or two it was just so obvious watching Saint Louis play how little he liked some of the kids he inherited, and how little they liked him. But now he's getting the kids he wants, and he's developing a pretty good team. I do think that it will be another year before they seriously contend for an at-large bid, but it's not out of the question that they'll make a run this season. They have a pretty easy out-of-conference schedule, so don't be too surprised to see them making noise at 9-1 or 10-1. Their most difficult out-of-conference game might be at the Chicago Invitational Challenge next week, where they'll play Iowa State, and then either Notre Dame or Northwestern. As for Nebraska, I do think they're starting to put together some decent talent, but they're probably another year or two away from being a Tournament team. This was not a good performance at all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

UCLA Is Struggling

Cal State Fullerton 68, UCLA 65, 2OT
I watched a lot of this game and, honestly, it didn't feel like much of an upset. A couple of weeks ago I talked about how this UCLA team might be a bubble team, and you could see in this game how much the lack of experienced players, and the string if minor injuries, has affected this team. They looked like a team that just hadn't practiced together. And while the freshmen and sophomores on the team are quality recruits, none of them are super-duper stars like a John Wall or Abdul Gaddy that a BCS team can rely on from day one. So they're left relying on a senior class that just is not very good. I do expect the team to improve as the season goes along, when you consider the fact that things have to get better once the team gets healthy and gets to practice together a bit more. If there's one more thing to point out that alarmed me, it was a startling lack of athleticism on the perimeter. Washington and California, the two best teams in the Pac-10, have plenty of weaknesses, but both have a slew of quick, creative guards. The way that UCLA looked in this game, you just get the sense that Washington and Cal will tear them up. In my opinion, the best UCLA can hope for is a third place finish in a mediocre Pac-10. Worst case scenario? Missing the NCAA Tournament altogether.

Saint Mary's 80, San Diego State 68

Omar Samham dominated inside, and Saint Mary's also dominated with guard play, and in the end this game wasn't even close. Saint Mary's has looked dominant in their first two home games, but the question now is how they'll do on the road. I'm looking ahead at road games at Utah State and Oregon. If they can win those two games, and avoid any bad losses, then they'll be in good shape entering the WCC regular season. If they can beat Vanderbilt on Friday night then they're really in good shape. As for San Diego State, this loss goes down as a missed opportunity, but it will not be a bad loss at the end of the season. In the Mountain West there are plenty of chances to make up for a loss like this one.

#2 Michigan State 75, Gonzaga 70
The question people want to ask is: Does this mean that Michigan State is overrated, or Gonzaga is underrated? In reality, it's always a mistake to draw too many conclusions for one game. It's quite possible that neither team is overrated or underrated. But I have been saying that Michigan State is a little overrated, and what we saw during this game was what I was warning about. Too many people are underestimating the effect of the loss of Goran Suton, in two important ways. The fact that he could stand near the top of the key and they could run the offense through him meant two things: they could run their offense closer to the basket, and the paint was cleared up so that Kalin Lucas could cause havoc. Watching this game I saw two bad things: Michigan State was running their offense by passing the ball around behind the three-point line, and Lucas found the paint full of Gonzaga defenders who did not near to go away from the basket to guard Michigan State's big men. Michigan State is still an elite team that will contend for a Big Ten title, but in my opinion they are not the favorites. That would be Purdue. And as for Gonzaga, they look again to be the favorites in the WCC. I'm not sure they're a Top 25 team, but they're good.