Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tennessee Outshoots Pitt

#13 Tennessee 83, #3 Pittsburgh 76
This game wasn't as close as the final score. Tennessee had the lead in double digits in the first ten minutes, and got it up to 21 midway through the second half before Pitt went on a furious run in the final four minutes to make the final score close. What made this dominating performance so bizarre was how sloppy Tennessee was. They committed 20 turnovers and 32 fouls (three Vols fouled out, including Kenny Hall who managed to collect his fouls in only five minutes on the floor). Pitt ended up with 42 foul shots, although they only hit 25 of them (historically Pitt doesn't shoot free throws well, so this wasn't too surprising). It was also surprising that Tennessee's star freshman Tobias Harris had a really quiet game, but he was picked up by the Tennessee backcourt. Pitt is going to wonder how they could shoot 42 free throws along with 17 assists on 21 made field goals (i.e. a lot of easy baskets), but could still get spanked. This will be a wake-up call for a Pitt team that came in 10-0 against a relatively soft schedule (they have wins over Texas, Maryland and Duquesne). Their next tough opponent will be UConn on December 27th. Tennessee is quietly now 7-0 with wins over Pitt, Villanova, Missouri State and VCU. They still have to play Memphis, UConn, USC, Oakland, Charleston and Charlotte, in addition to their SEC slate. Kentucky is still the SEC favorite, but Tennessee is narrowing the gap.

Louisville 77, #19 UNLV 69
Louisville's soft early schedule almost bit them in this game. They came out flat while UNLV came out fired up and shot off to an early lead. The crowd eventually woke Louisville up and they came out much stronger in the second half, including a 21-6 run that featured a slew of three-pointers. The star of that run was Kyle Kuric, who hit 5-for-8 behind the arc for the game. As for UNLV, they played well, but this game revealed that they're a bit too dependent on outside shooting. They actually shot well in this game as a whole (8-for-17 behind the arc), but they went cold during Louisville's big run. Also, fans typically underrate the importance of turnovers, and UNLV's sloppy ball handling and passing (18 in this game, along with a turnover percentage of over 20% on the season) means that they have to be red hot or they need to get a lot of offensive boards to maintain a good offensive efficiency. Louisville moves to 8-0, but this is by far their best win now that the win over Butler doesn't look too impressive. Louisville fans are already looking at a December 31st match-up against rival Kentucky, but the team can't look past a December 22nd game at Western Kentucky.

Wisconsin 69, Marquette 64
Wisconsin won the first annual Vander Blue Bowl (I talked about the Vander Blue situation at the time here). This game wasn't actually as close as the final score would suggest, with Wisconsin dominating the boads (15 offensive rebounds, compared to only 17 defensive rebounds for Marquette), and Marquette's offense lacking much flow. Marquette's offensive gameplan seemed to be to have one of their guards careen out of control into the lane and hope for a bailout foul. Sloppy play is always amplified against a team like Wisconsin that plays such fundamental ball, but there's no excuse for a team with such a large athletic advantage as Marquette had in this game to not have a more coherent plan to attack the defense. For Wisconsin, this is their first quality road win, and goes along with wins over NC State and Boston College. Assuming they don't get shocked by the cupcakes they play before beginning Big Ten play, Wisconsin should only need a 9-9 Big Ten record to go Dancing (they should end up closer to 12-6). As for Marquette, they had that really good performance against Duke (only a five point loss), but still have zero wins over quality teams. Their last chance out-of-conference will be on December 29th at Vanderbilt, a team that has a very good homecourt advantage and will be tough to beat. There will be plenty of chances for quality wins in the Big East, of course, but it's a slightly worrying early sign.

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