Wednesday, November 24, 2010

UConn Shocks Michigan State

Connecticut 70, #2 Michigan State 67
This was one of the most shocking results of the early season. Not just because UConn beat Michigan State, but because they actually earned it. It's one thing if a team pulls off an upset by hitting a zillion threes, or because the other team gives the game away, but UConn won this game by dominating the boards, taking care of the ball, and having a player (Kemba Walker) who was unstoppable offensively on important possessions. Other than Draymond Green, none of the other Michigan State players were able to rebound - as a whole they were dominated by Alex Oriakhi (9 offensive rebounds by himself). For Michigan State, the real question is how they'll bounce back. As I type this they are tipping off against Washington. We'll see if this was a fluke or a trend. For UConn, again, we need to see them do this again (they'll get a chance tonight against Kentucky). And once again, we'll find out if this was a fluke or a trend for UConn. But if Kemba Walker can continue the play he's had in Maui, he is a potential All-American. He's been spectacular.

#9 Kentucky 74, #11 Washington 67
Kentucky is never going to play fundamental basketball - they have too many freshmen. But they managed to make this game a mess, and that worked into their favor. There were nearly twice as many turnovers as assists in the game, and both teams combined to shoot under 40% from the field (including 20% behind the arc). I watched a lot of this game, and for a long while it seemed like there were never ten players on the same half of the floor. But I have to say that I was really impressed with the composure of the Kentucky players handling and beating a really good, really experienced Washington team. Isaiah Thomas really struggled, and it really hurt the Huskies when their best defender (Venoy Overton) fouled out in only 21 minutes, but this was still a very good performance by Kentucky. I was convinced that Kentucky was over-ranked at 9th in the nation, but now I'm not certain. I still think they have too many freshmen in their rotation to make a Final Four, but they have to be the SEC favorites right now. Kentucky plays UConn tonight, and Washington will play Michigan State (a fairly titanic battle for a consolation game of any tournament).

#23 Butler 70, Siena 57
For those questioning Butler after the thumping they got at the hands of Louisville, this was a quality way for them to bounce back. This was a true road game at a Siena team that, while not as strong as the past two seasons, is one of the favorites to win the MAAC and has a good chance to be an RPI Top 100 team again. The biggest difference in this game was production from players other than Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. They got it from Shawn Vanzant (12 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists) and Andrew Smith (8 points, 7 rebounds). Andrew Smith is particularly important because of the loss of Gordon Hayward, which left Matt Howard as the only key returner over 6'3". Andrew Smith played lightly last season, but back in April in my Horizon League preview I mentioned him as the most likely post player to step up and play a major role in 2010-11. Khyle Marshall, a 6'7" freshman, will also earn big minutes and certainly has a higher ceiling than Smith, but he still has a lot of developing to do. At this point, Smith appears more reliable. Butler's schedule doesn't get much easier. In the next few weeks they'll play Evansville, Duke, Xavier, Stanford and Utah. For Siena, they'll be disappointed with the loss, but in all honestly their out-of-conference resume isn't as important as it was the past two years, when it was assumed they'd win the MAAC and they were playing for Tournament seed. This season they are not even my pick to win the MAAC, so their top focus has to be just finding a way to win the conference to get back to the Big Dance with any seed. This will be a good learning experience for them.

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