Friday, November 26, 2010

Sleepers Playing on Thanksgiving

I hope everybody had a wonderful Turkey Day. I watched a lot of sports with my family, and after working off some of Thanksgiving Dinner at the gym this morning I'm ready to talk about three sleeper teams that played yesterday and went 2-1:

Boston College 67, Texas A&M 65
I know that I'm pretty much the only person that considers Boston College a sleeper team, and I understand why others doubt them. They stunk last season, and if anything are even less talented this season. And then they went and lost to Yale, and everybody wrote them off. But here's the thing: their new coaching staff is basically an Ivy League staff. They hired Cornell coach Steve Donahue as the new head coach, and he brought the new Director of Basketball Operations and one of the two assistant coaches with him. And his associate head coach is Joe Jones, who last season was the head coach at Columbia. So this team has an Ivy League mentality, which means they're far improved in the categories that Ivy League teams tend to excel in: free throw shooting, taking care of the ball, defensive rebounding, etc. It's early for Pomeroy stats, but let me throw a few at you: their free throw shooting has moved from 71.6% last season to 80.0% this season. Their turnover percentage is up from 123rd in the nation to 2nd in the nation. Last season they were 26th in the nation in offensive rebounding but only 156th defensively, and this season those numbers have flipped to 272nd in the country and 186th respectively. Remember, teams that are better on the offensive than defensive boards are out-athleting their opponents - teams that are better on the defensive boards are fundamentally sound. So this is why BC is a sleeper. They still probably won't make the Tournament just because their talent level is so low, but they're going to be a bubble team. This is their best win so far this season, and they'll get a chance for a real big win today against Wisconsin. As for Texas A&M, they did a good job of taking advantage of BC's tiny front line, forcing the ball into the paint and dominating the boards on both sides of the floor. But their guard play was poor, including a missed layup by Dash Harris at the buzzer that would have put the game into overtime. This won't be a bad loss for Texas A&M, but the loss robs them of the chance to get a big win today, as they'll be stuck playing Manhattan instead of Wisconsin. They'll have to hope for a decent opponent for their final game at the Old Spice Classic, because they still are looking for an RPI Top 100 win.

Notre Dame 89, Georgia 83, 2OT
Georgia has so much more athleticism and raw talent than Notre Dame that this game felt like a mid-major upset over a BCS power, even though Notre Dame was actually favored coming into it. What I find most interesting with Notre Dame is how identical they seem every single season. Playing the role of Luke Harangody: Tim Abromaitis. Playing the role of Kyle McAlarney: Ben Hansbrough. Playing the role of Tory Jackson: Tyrone Nash. The only shocking thing was Notre Dame's missed free throws here, because they're usually so good. But I take the blame for that, because we turned this game on late in the second half and I jinxed them by telling the people I was with that Notre Dame wouldn't blow their big lead because they never miss clutch free throws. They hit only 69.8% for the game, including 2-for-6 in the final 80 seconds. But as bad as they shot, Georgia was embarrassingly bad, including 2-for-12 as a team in the second half. To be fair to Georgia, a sleeper team in my opinion, Trey Thompkins was playing his first game of the season and this team will be sharper once he really gets going. The SEC is wide open if Georgia can do a better job taking care of the ball and hitting free throws (they're at 61.8% as a team for the season).

Murray State 55, Stanford 52
Anybody who was surprised by this result hasn't been paying attention to college basketball. Murray State is an athletic team that gets a ton of points in transition off of turnovers. Their guards are also pretty good at getting to the rim in the half court. Stanford wasn't ready for the pressure, and they fell behind 11-2 and were down 11 at the half, which was too big of a deficit to make up against Murray State's suffocating half court defense. With 18 turnovers, and the way Murray State grinds the clock, Stanford only got 46 shots from the field and 16 at the line - in all, only 44 possessions that did not end in a turnover. And that's why Murray State will be a dangerous NCAA Tournament team, because if you come out asleep they'll jump out to a quick ten point lead, and a ten point deficit against them is like a 25 point deficit against most teams. This is a quality win for Murray State, and they'll play UNLV today before playing either Virginia Tech or Oklahoma State on Sunday. I don't think they can beat UNLV, but they can definitely beat Va Tech or Okie State. If they can collect two solid wins at the 76 Classic then that can definitely be the difference between a 14 seed in the Tournament or a 12 or 13. As for Stanford, they do have a decent win over Virginia, and they'll have chances for decent wins the rest of the 76 Classic with a game today against Tulsa followed by a possible game against DePaul. I don't think they're likely to be a bubble team this season, but a loss to Murray State doesn't bury them yet.

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