Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Kansas & Syracuse Win At Jimmy V Classic

#4 Kansas 81, #14 Memphis 68
Kansas was expected to get off to a slow start with Josh Selby on the pine, and they haven't played a tough schedule, so it was shocking to a lot of people to see how awesome they looked here against Memphis on national television. They bested Memphis on the boards, forced eight steals, and shot the lights out (55% on threes, 58% on twos). What's really interesting is the one Kansas flaw: turnovers. They've been mediocre all season at hanging onto the ball, and committed 20 in this game. Josh Selby will likely be the team's starting point guard by the end of the season, and even as a true freshman he is expected to be very mature with the ball. He was projected by most analysts as the best point guard prospect out of high school last year other than Kyrie Irving. When Selby gets going, Kansas could be the second best team in the nation. I also think they've passed Texas as the favorite in the Big 12. They have a pretty easy schedule for the next few weeks, so Kansas could enter the second half of January still undefeated, when they'll be playing Baylor, Texas and Kansas State in a two-week stretch. As for Memphis, they again looked very disjointed offensively - a lot of one-on-one basketball. But by hanging in with a Kansas team playing this well, Memphis actually made a good impression. They're clearly the best team in Conference USA right now. They are without any big wins, but this was their first loss and they still have games against Georgetown, Tennessee and Gonzaga. Georgetown will be up first, on Decemer 23rd.

#7 Syracuse 72, #6 Michigan State 58
This game was a little closer than the final score, but Syracuse deserved the win. This was the best they looked all season, and Michigan State looked really confused offensively. Kalin Lucas may have lost a step from his achilles problems, but his biggest problem might be mental, because he seemed afraid to attack the zone all night. Durrell Summers also seemed very afraid of doing anything but launching jump shots. When your senior stars are afraid, it spreads to the rest of the team. Michigan State still lacks paint scoring as well. I wouldn't panic too much, though, because Tom Izzo's teams have a history of starting slow and finishing strong. As for Syracuse, Rick Jackson was the man in this game. He had 17 points and 16 rebounds, and had as many offensive boards as Michigan State's entire team combined. It's fascinating how little impact Fab Melo has had compared to the hype, and how little that's mattered because of how well Jackson and Kris Joseph have played. If Melo gets going this could be the best frontcourt in the nation. The Orange are 9-0 now, but this is by far their biggest win. Their next serious test will be on New Year's Day against Notre Dame. Michigan State has only lost to elite teams this season, but they're now a shockingly poor 6-3. They have a deceptively dangerous Oakland team coming up December 11th, and then have Texas coming up on December 22nd. They open Big Ten play on December 31st against Minnesota.

St. Bonaventure 67, St. John's 66
People forget that St. Bonaventure used to be a pretty good basketball program. The Bonnies were a national contender back in the 60s, but more recently they were consistently a Top 100 team under current Rhode Island coach Jim Baron, most recently making the 2000 NCAA Tournament. But since Baron left the team in 2001 it's been a steady downward path, and it's gotten to the point that it's pretty shocking when they knock off even a bubble team like St. John's. The Bonnies actually aren't awful this season, but this will likely be the year's highlight. As for the Johnnies, I keep getting the feel that it's just going to be a couple of years for Steve Lavin to get his players in place. He's got a ton of seniors on this year's roster, and a gigantic, highly-rated recruiting class coming in for next season. He just doesn't seem to click with these kids, and right now I just don't see them making the NCAA Tournament. They are now 5-2, and their other loss was respectable (at Saint Mary's), but their best win came over Arizona State team. They head to Fordham on December 11th, but have to already be looking ahead at a brutal start to their Big East schedule (Syracuse, Georgetown, West Virginia and Notre Dame twice in their first six games). They could get buried before they even really get going this season.


Mark L. said...

Jeff, I watched this game and I watched Michigan St. play pretty tough against Duke...but, there was no way MSU was trying to get an interior pass against Syracuse's zone. Izzo is a great coach and I'm just a spectator but an inside-outside look or a drop-down pass to bring the zone defense in and a possible kick-out would have been better than what I watched. To tell you the truth, I was frustrated watching MSU play as they had all sorts of opportunities to break down the zone but the exterior passing made me fall asleep. Tell me what you thought if you watched it. If there is a strategy now against Sparty, it may be a tough zone. And, I don't want to hear about their brutal travel schedule. I went to Maui last year and I live in NJ and I was at work the next day. Yawn. These guys are 18-22.

Jeff said...

I agree. I heard the announcers talking about how tired Michigan State was from their schedule and that's nonsense. Gameday is easier than practices at many of these schools. Back in the day freshmen would wear out because they weren't used to the long season and the plane travel, but nowadays they all play the AAU circuit and are plenty capable of playing the college basketball schedule.

I do agree that Michigan State was getting killed by the zone... but to be fair, nobody in the college basketball world plays better zone than Syracuse. There are three ways to beat the zone, and the problem is just that MSU isn't doing any of the three well. Either you have to attack it on the dribble, or you need to use a point forward at the top of the key (like MSU used to do with Goran Suton), or you need to hit a lot of threes.

Kalin Lucas should be able to beat the zone. That's why I was talking about it being mental more than physical - he has the ability to beat most guys off the dribble, even if he's a step slow. And I think Draymond Green has the ability to play the point forward. They're not a particularly good three point shooting team, though...

But like I said, MSU has a history of starting slow and finishing strong. So I wouldn't lose faith on them yet.

Mark L. said...


Last post for me tonight...with Syracuse winning against Michigan State and Pitt rolling through their non-conference schedule....Georgetown looks good, ND looks good, Nova looks good. How solid is the Big East and how many teams can go into the dance? Oh, and I forgot to mention UConn. The league is stacked. Is it possible that they get 8, 9 or 10 into the dance? Taht would be crazy and kill some mid-majors.

Jeff said...

The Big East does look very good, and could challenge the Big Ten as the best conference. And keeping in mind that the ACC and Big Ten often get a majority of their teams into the Tournament (I think the Big Ten will get 7 out of 12 this season), it shouldn't be crazy to think that the Big East can get a majority of its teams in as well.

But the worry, as always, is conference play. These teams will start playing each other, and any team that slips to 7-11 in Big East play is very likely not going Dancing. I think the bottom of the league is better than it's been the last few years, which ironically will make it harder for bubble teams to get to a good enough conference record to go to the Tournament.

So right now I'm projecting 9 Big East teams in, but they could easily fall back to 8.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I don't think that the St. John's kids have EVER clicked. I think it has less to do with Steve Lavin than the fact that they're consistently shooting 40% and worse from the field, around 65% from the stripe, and that they've grown accustomed to losing even after having double digit leads in many games. I agree with you: they're going to be crushed early in the season after the first six Big East games. But I persist in the excruciating folly of rooting for them. Oh, well. Just have to wait a couple of years.