Thursday, January 27, 2011

BYU Beats SDSU: What Did We Learn?

#9 BYU 71, #4 San Diego State 58
On first glance, this game didn't reveal anything we didn't know. I have thought all season long that BYU was slightly better than San Diego State, and throw in a very good homecourt advantage and an ill Kwahli Leonard (Leonard did have 22 points and 15 rebounds, so either he wasn't that sick or he had a tremendous B12 shot) and I would have expected a 7-10 point BYU win. So they pretty much hit expectations. But we did learn a few things (besides the fact that Jimmer-Mania is getting out of control). First of all, Jimmer by himself is not going to beat good teams. In the first half of this game he had 20 of BYU's 30 points, and they still trailed by a point. They need big games by Jackson Emery and Brandon Davies to be at their best. Emery had a poor game here offensively (1-for-7 shooting), but he did play well defensively and helped BYU get out into their transition offense. And Davies was quiet in the first half but had 10 big second half points. Another thing we learned in this game was just how important tempo is to these two teams. BYU is 24th in the nation in adjusted tempo, and SDSU is 315th. There is a reason for this. BYU is weak inside - their strength is in the backcourt. They want to get out and run, particularly since it prevents opposing defenses from having a coherent defensive strategy against Fredette. SDSU, on the other hand, has a weak backcourt but a tremendous frontcourt. They rely on not only attacking the paint offensively but also grabbing a ton of offensive rebounds. They need their big men in the paint to have success, and don't want to run. BYU needs to get out on the break against San Diego State. One reason they struggled early in this one was because they really didn't get out into fast breaks much. The game only had 63 possessions, which is well under the 72 that BYU is averaging. These teams will play at San Diego State on February 26th, and a key will be if San Diego State is again able to enforce a deliberate pace. BYU very likely won't be able to win a 63 possession game on the road at San Diego State.

#18 Minnesota 81, Northwestern 70
This was Minnesota's first game since losing Al Nolen to injury, and if anything this was a good opponent for them to start with. The Gophers were able to go with a lineup of four forwards and Blake Hoffarber, and Hoffarber is much more of a spot-up shooter than a primary ball handler. But the fact is that Northwestern doesn't have the backcourt athleticism to take advantage of this, and they lack the frontcourt depth to handle all of Minnesota's size. And Minnesota did get everybody but the Northwestern team managers in foul trouble in this game. The Gophers committed 13 fouls and drew 31. Eight different Northwestern players had three or more fouls, with two fouling out. Minnesota also earned 46 shots from the line while only allowing 11. But that said, all is not well for Minnesota. For one, they won't get such a foul disparity in a road game anywhere, and they also will eventually face teams that will be able to exploit this lack of backcourt play. In fact, they will as early as Saturday afternoon, when they head to Purdue. It's hard to see how Minnesota will handle the athleticism of Purdue's backcourt. But for now they are 5-3 in Big Ten play with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that is all the way up to 18th. They have built enough of a buffer between them and the bubble that they can lose quite a few games down the stretch without falling out of the Field of 68. Northwestern, on the other hand, is now 0-7 against the RPI Top 50 and 13-0 against everybody else. They are also 3-6 in Big Ten play. They will need to get to 9-9 in Big Ten play and they'll need at least one big scalp to make the Tournament. They will play Ohio State at home on Saturday, and then will have a week to prepare for a home game against Illinois.

Michigan 61, Michigan State 57
This game proved why the loss of Korie Lucious is so important for Michigan State. I know that some of the APBRmetricians were scoffing at the Lucious loss because of his 40.4 eFG%. But what that discounts is the value of having a guy who can create and open the defense up, even if it doesn't result in an assist in the stat column. Last year, when Kalin Lucas got hurt, Chris Allen initially took over the ball handling duties and was terrible. The team only got back on track when Lucious got comfortable being the main ball handler, and he was tremendous down the stretch and in the Tournament. Now the team has no Lucious or Allen. Lucas was spectacular in this game (27 points on 10-for-18 shooting), but is Michigan State going to expect him to play at that level for 37 minutes for every game the rest of the season? The rest of the Michigan State's backcourt players combined for 2 assists and 6 turnovers. That said, the mainstream media is going to go the other way and is going to draw too many conclusions from this loss. The Spartans are still 4-4 in the Big Ten with wins over Washington, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and this is their first loss against a team outside the RPI Top 55. Their RPI is 36th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be near 30th when the new numbers come out in the morning. Even if they finish 8-10 in the Big Ten they will still likely make the Tournament if they win a game in the Big Ten tournament. And if they can get to 9-9 they'll be a near lock for an at-large bid no matter what happens. So I just don't see why anybody thinks Michigan State is going to fall all the way out of the Tournament. Have they seen the teams on the bubble right now? As for Michigan, this win moves them to 2-6 with a home game against Iowa up next on Sunday. But they would need to pull a couple more big upsets to get all the way back to the bubble.

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