Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Memphis Wins Sloppy Game Over Miami

#19 Memphis 72, Miami (Fl) 68
ESPN's 24 hour hoops marathon started at midnight this morning with this interesting match-up between two teams that enter this season improved after disappointing 2009-10 seasons. The refs played a big role in this game by being very whistle-happy, calling 29 fouls on both teams. Both teams had a player foul out, and had a bunch of others in foul trouble. Last year that would have been a huge problem for a very thin Memphis team, but this year they actually have a lot of depth, even after Jelan Kendrick (as I had thought would happen) was booted off the team. The biggest positive for Memphis was speed - Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Antonio Barton (who actually looked better than his more highly recruited brother, Will) were basically unstoppable on the fast break. Miami just couldn't stop the Memphis guards one-on-one, and eventually settled on not only a zone, but a playing style where their guards sprinted back as soon as any shot was taken, sacrificing potential offensive rebounds for a better transition defense. And it worked, because the downside for Memphis is that they are atrocious offensively in the half court. It wasn't just guys trying to take their man one-on-one, but players actually just launching 25 foot threes with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Josh Pastner has a lot of work to do with his guys. Their perimeter defense is strong with all of those athletic guards, but they are small, and they struggled with Miami's interior players (Reggie Johnson was an immovable force, although he needs to lose some more weight to become one of the better ACC post players). But the difference in this game was the fact that as ugly as Memphis's offense looked, Miami didn't look much sharper. They certainly didn't play like the experienced squad that they are. They'll have to clean things up on the offensive end. The Hurricanes will next be tested either on Sunday at Rutgers, or on November 30th against Ole Miss. Memphis will next be tested against LSU on Sunday.

VCU 67, Winthrop 54
VCU had a pretty dominant win here against a solid Winthrop squad. They opened up a 25-9 lead and the game never really got close again. The Colonial Athletic Association is off to a solid start, and VCU is the team I projected to be second best in that conference after Old Dominion. They've got a chance to collect some good wins in the Preseason NIT, where they will play a Wake Forest team tonight that they're better than, and if they can win that then they'll head to Madison Square Garden next week to potentially play Tennessee or Missouri State in the semifinals, followed by another quality team in either the championship or third place game. I also really like the scheduling that they've done, putting together a whole bunch of decent-but-beatable opponents like South Florida, Richmond, UAB and Wofford that will allow them to put together a quality win-loss record while keeping their computer rating strong. As for Winthrop, I picked them to win the Big South, but even if they win that conference they're a potential 16 seed, so this game was always going to be a reach. One player to keep an eye on for Wofford is sophomore Gideon Gamble. Winthrop was a very strong defensive team last season (80th in adjusted defensive efficiency), but atrocious at shooting the ball (344th in the nation in effective field goal percentage, including a 25.8% three-point shooting percentage that was dead last in the entire nation). Gamble hit only 26% of his threes last season, but played very limited minutes. In extended time this season he's 6-for-9 from behind the arc, including 4-for-7 here against VCU. If he can give Winthrop even a half-decent shooting offense they'll cruise to the conference title because their defense is far better than any of the other Big South squads.

Saint Mary's 76, St. John's 71
A loss at Saint Mary's is nothing for Steve Lavin to be ashamed of in his coaching debut. The Gaels have one of the best homecourt advantages in the nation, and they're a potential bubble team to boot. Obviously St. John's doesn't have the raw talent that they'll have next year when Lavin's first recruiting class shows up, but the team does have a lot of athleticism that was on display while they did a great job of getting to the rim and to the line in the first half. But St. Mary's made some adjustments at halftime that slowed that offense down, and the defensive deficiencies of St. John's really came to the fore. The Gaels had 18 assists on 21 made baskets, which is really impressive against any opponent. Saint Mary's doesn't have Omar Samhan in the paint anymore to run their offense through, but they do have some strong returners, with some players showing nice improvement over last season. Clint Steindl was particularly surprising, leading all players with 22 points (after scoring 20 points in the Gaels' first game) after scoring only 6.9 points per game as a sophomore, and even fewer as a freshman. You have to give Randy Bennett a ton of credit, because a lot of mid-majors have had a lot of success with one set of players that they could never repeat again with other players, but Bennett has lost Diamon Simpson, Patty Mills and Omar Samhan over the past few years and yet he still has an NCAA Tournament quality team. St. Mary's isn't yet Gonzaga, but they're not far off. Of course, the worry with St. Mary's is always whether they can win on the road, and their first road test will be November 26th at Texas Tech. As for St. John's, they follow this very tough opener with a pretty cupcake schedule over the next few weeks that will allow them to run up a few wins and build their confidence before Big East play begins. They will be at the Alaska Shootout next week, but there hasn't been a really good field there in years, and their next decent opponent outside of that tournament will probably be Davidson on December 20th. So we might actually not know too much about this team until they play a few Big East games.

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