Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Indiana Gets A Huge Program Win At NC State

Indiana 86, North Carolina State 75
Indiana came into this game having won six straight, and was coming directly off of a win over Butler. They were flying high, but heading into a road game at a quality NC State team. In years past, this is the type of game Indiana would have lost. But they won, and it's a huge win for that program, and will increase the hype that Indiana is "back". Cody Zeller is the difference this year, of course. He scored 19 points and had 5 offensive boards, and did a very good job of neutralizing CJ Leslie (10 points on 4-for-11 shooting). Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford also combined for 6-for-9 shooting behind the arc as the team finished with 54% three-point shooting).

NC State, I thought, was too passive. They had a physical advantage, and could have used their bigs to try to get Cody Zeller into foul trouble. Instead they took far too many jumpers. Even when they got the ball into the paint they tended to take fadeaways and hooks. Second, I thought the team really melted down mentally in the final couple of minutes. A few dumb mistakes cost them after this game had been really close for the first 35 minutes.

NC State is a talented team, but they're under-performing. I know NC State has continued to look for a coach post-Jim Valvano, and I know they'll refuse to admit they messed up by getting rid of Herb Sendek, but I don't see why a retread like Mark Gottfried is the answer. Still, they haven't had a bad loss yet this season, so they're very much in the Bubble hunt if they can get some good wins. They did beat Texas, and have a chance to get another big win on Sunday, at Stanford.

Indiana has a cupcake up next before they get their first real test against an elite team, when they play Kentucky on December 10th. A game one week later against Notre Dame will be their final game against a quality opponent before starting Big Ten play.

#17 Pittsburgh 80, Duquesne 68
The battle of Pittsburgh was a closer one than many people thought it would be. Pittsburgh had ten more offensive rebounds than the Dukes, but also committed 11 more turnovers. It was surprising how sloppy Pittsburgh was in the paint. Nasir Robinson had six turnover by himself. Lamar Patterson added four more. If Pitt hadn't shot so well on threes (11-for-21), they might have actually lost this game.

This is actually Pitt's first quality win of the season. Remembering the loss to Long Beach State, the reality is that Pitt just hasn't played that well early in the season. They actually entered this game with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS rated 98th in the nation. That will improve, of course. They have too much talent and a very good coach. I've still got them as a 3 seed. Their two final chances for quality wins before beginning Big East play will be on consecutive Saturdays against Tennessee and Oklahoma State. The Tennessee game is up first, this coming weekend.

I've already talked plenty this season about Duquesne's frustrating start to the season. And with this loss they drop to 3-3 against Division I opposition, with a win over Akron being their best. Without any games remaining against likely RPI Top 50 teams before starting conference play (George Mason and Robert Morris are their two toughest opponents), they're going to have to play really well in the Atlantic Ten to get themselves onto the Bubble. Their next game will be on Saturday against Tennessee Tech.

Ohio 70, Marshall 68
This game was far below the radar, but it was a very disappointing from Marshall. Marshall certainly can't complain about the reffing (38 free throw attempts versus only 11 for Ohio), but they fell behind early and just couldn't hit enough shots to chip into the lead. Trailing by 11 points with under four minutes to go, they actually got the game within two points and had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but DeAndre Kane couldn't be the hero.

Marshall had been 5-0 and was coming off a win over Cincinnati. But they're not the type of team that's going to have a large margin of error in trying to earn an at-large bid, so a loss to Ohio is a big problem. They now have close to a week off before playing at Syracuse on Tuesday. After that they'll have a big game at home against Iona.

Ohio, coming off a tough five point loss on the road at Louisville, came through with a big win here. The MAC, as it's been for about ten straight years, is a total toss-up. Ohio is definitely one of the teams to watch, along with Kent State, Ball State, Buffalo, Akron and others. The Bobcats will next take the court on Saturday, against Morgan State.

Don't Read Too Much Into Ohio St. Over Duke or LMU Over Saint Louis

#2 Ohio State 85, #4 Duke 63
This was obviously a tremendous result for the Buckeyes. Ohio State played excellent in every facet of the game, and Duke was run off the floor. But before I talk about the game let me just say that mainstream sportswriters always put too much emphasis on games like this. Duke is going to have a bad game or two this season. Sometimes Ohio State will be firing on all cylinders. It happens. Remember, Duke was run off the floor by St. John's last season, and nobody at the end of the season really thought that St. John's was the better team.

What did Ohio State do right in this game? For one thing they hit their threes (8-for-14). The ability of Deshaun Thomas, in particular, to hit from outside spread out Duke and opened things up for Jared Sullinger. It also helped them to somehow fight to a draw on the boards against a bigger Duke team. I felt like the Blue Devils were too passive in the paint, and should have run every possession through one of the Plumlees or Ryan Kelly. As good as Austin Rivers is, an offensive possession that consists of him taking his man off the dribble without looking to pass isn't the type of offense Coach K wants to run.

I thought before this game that Ohio State was the better team, so when you throw in the homecourt advantage I expected them to win this game by 5-8 points or so. They ended up playing much better than Duke, but it should be obvious that Ohio State won't always play this well, and Duke won't always play this poorly. Duke will have a week before they can take out their frustrations on Colorado State. Ohio State plays Texas-Pan American on Saturday, but then a week later will head to Kansas to test themselves on the road. The Buckeyes haven't played a road game all season, so it will be interesting to see how they play in their first hostile environment.

Loyola-Marymount 75, Saint Louis 68
Saint Louis came into this game 6-0 with wins over Villanova, Oklahoma and Washington. So what happened? It was a classic letdown game, coming off a huge tournament victory at the 76 Classic and traveling to a decent mid-major on the other side of the country from home. It's the perfect situation for a poor performance. I don't think it's a coincidence that the winners of the Maui Invite (Duke) and Old Spice Classic (Dayton) both had clunkers in their first games after tournament victories as well.

With all the quality wins Saint Louis has had, this loss won't hurt them too badly. They've still got a Tournament quality resume so far. The key will be not allowing one clunker to snowball into a slump. And their next two games are against opponents that they should beat, but that are in no sense cupcakes (Portland and Vermont).

This is Loyola-Marymount's second big win of the season after beating UCLA. Their loss to Middle Tennessee State isn't that terrible of a loss, and their only other loss was to a very good Harvard team. They're not going to contend for an at-large bid, but they're playing well. In fact, the WCC as a whole has gotten off to a really strong start to this season. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy actually rate the conference as better than Conference USA (I say that with the usual caveat that the computer ratings are still fairly inaccurate this early in the season). Santa Clara, another team that has over-performed, will probably contend for Loyola-Marymount for fourth place, behind the trio of Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's. They have a few cupcakes coming up, starting with Columbia on Friday.

Oregon 64, UTEP 59
Oregon struggled to play efficiently in this game, despite being at home against a team they're better than. They lost the rebounding battle and committed 15 turnovers. It took some hot outside shooting (44% on threes) and a breakout performance from sophomore Johnathan Loyd (24 points on 8-for-11 shooting) to escape with a win. But what was encouraging was that they did find a way to win. Good teams are going to struggle from time to time, and this is the type of game that Oregon would have lost in previous seasons. They're much better and more consistent now.

Oregon also has a win over Nebraska, and their only loss was to Vanderbilt. They're definitely a potential Bubble team, though I'll have to see more before I'm willing to put them in my bracket. They get a chance for a nice win on Saturday, when they play BYU. Their only other quality opponent before starting Pac-12 play will be Virginia, on December 18th.

UTEP has really struggled this season. This was arguably the best they've played all season, honestly. They are 1-4 with a couple of bad losses (UT-San Antonio and Stephen F Austin) and their only win coming over a cupcake (UC-Riverside). They will try to break through on Sunday when New Mexico State comes to town.

Arizona With An Underrated Win At New Mexico State

Arizona 83, New Mexico State 76
Even if the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and Duke/Ohio State weren't going on simultaneous to this game, it still wouldn't have gotten much attention nationally. But this was a really nice win. This game was a true road contest against a team that had already beaten New Mexico and UTEP this season, and whose only loss was in two overtimes against Southern Miss in Alaska.

That said, the struggles of Kevin Parrom (only four points scored in 15 minutes per game this season) have to be a concern for the Wildcats. There's no shame in struggling to get back after being shot, and after everything else that happened to Parrom during the offseason, but it makes you wonder if he'll ever get back this season to where he was. When Parrom's not playing, Sean Miller generally goes with a three guard lineup, without any true big man. It makes them very small, and they struggle on the boards (New Mexico State had a ridiculous 18 offensive rebounds in this game). This will be an issue against teams like Stanford and California that are good at rebounding the ball.

Coming off close losses to San Diego State and Mississippi State, Arizona needed this win. They've got wins over St. John's and Duquesne to go with this one. What they could really use is a high profile victory, and they'll get that chance on Wednesday when they head to Florida. They will also play Clemson and Gonzaga before starting Pac-12 play on New Year's Eve against Arizona State.

New Mexico State, believe it or not, is a very plausible Bubble team. They've got tremendous size and athleticism for a WAC team. Even quality BCS conference teams, like Arizona, have been unable to keep them off the offensive boards and off the free throw line. I still think Utah State is the favorite in the WAC this season, but New Mexico State is clearly the top contender. According to New Mexico State's schedule online (here), they are scheduled to play New Mexico and Southern Miss again. Seems kind of bizarre... but so be it. The Southern Miss game is up next, on Sunday.

Purdue 76, Miami (Fl) 65
Purdue is a team that is clearly much better and deeper in the backcourt than the front court. Miami tried to match up with this, often playing with four guards, but they still couldn't keep up. Purdue's guards torched Miami and got to the rim at will, as the Boilermakers shot 71% on two-pointers and earned 29 free throw attempts (a FTA/FGA ratio of 62%). I rated Purdue preseason higher than most other bloggers and writers, and the biggest reason was because I loved the backcourt players they returned. They have great skill and athleticism, but also great depth. I thought they might end up being the best backcourt in the entire Big Ten. This was the best they've looked all season so far.

This game was always going to be a reach for Miami. It's their second straight loss, but both losses have been true road games against quality opponents (the other loss was against Ole Miss). They return home to play UMass on Saturday, and then Memphis on Tuesday. Purdue is in a better situation. They're 7-1 with wins over Temple, Iona and now Miami, with only a close loss to Alabama. They have a tough true road game coming up on Saturday at Xavier. If they can somehow win that then they'll be in excellent shape heading into Big Ten play. A game against Butler on December 17th is the only other potentially tough game they'll have out-of-conference.

Clemson 71, Iowa 55
This game was never particularly close. Clemson was up by 14 points at the half and led by 26 late in the second half before Iowa went on a run with the scrubs on the floor. In Iowa's defense, this blowout was more about Clemson shooting the lights out (11-for-21 on threes) than anything else. Clemson's defense did a really good job of not allowing Iowa any easy shots, too. They were the better team on the floor.

It's been a frustrating start to the season for Iowa. This is the third time this season that a team has gone nuts from behind the arc against them (an eFG% of 62% or greater), and the other two games were losses as well (against Creighton and against Campbell). I doubt they'll continue to allow an eFG% of greater than 62% in half of their games, but at some point a fluke becomes a trend. Iowa's perimeter defense needs to get better. They play Brown on Saturday and then head to Northern Iowa for a game on Tuesday.

This is Clemson's best win of the season. With losses to Charleston and Coastal Carolina, they obviously haven't put together a Tournament quality resume so far. A game at Arizona on December 10th is their only real chance for a big time win outside of conference play. Without a win there, it's hard to see them making the NCAA Tournament with anything less than a 10-6 ACC record considering the fact that the conference is down this year.

Virginia Knocks Off Michigan To Open Big Ten/ACC Challenge

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge got underway tonight. Here are my thoughts on the first three games:

Virginia 70, #15 Michigan 58
Virginia had already proven earlier this season that they were a little better than most people thought they'd be. I thought they were still a year away from getting back to the NCAA Tournament, yet they'd been playing like a true Bubble team in November. But this was a truly impressive win in all facets of the game. First, Virginia sliced up a defense that had shut down Memphis (0.91 PPP). Michigan didn't seem to know how to handle Mike Scott (18 points and 11 rebounds), and Virginia did a really nice job of passing the ball to the open man whenever the Wolverines defense collapsed or over-pursued. Virginia finished with 16 assists on 22 made baskets, and 1.13 PPP.

It's not a surprise that Virginia played well defensively, of course. Tony Bennett, like his father, always has teams that play deliberate, scrappy defense. They also got some help with Tim Hardaway, Jr picked up two very early fouls, putting a lot of the offensive playmaking pressure on true freshman Trey Burke. So it wasn't a surprise that they held Michigan's offense as they did. It was their offensive outburst that made this win impressive, and made me think they really could make a run at an at-large bid this season.

Virginia's resume is still fairly soft. This is their only real quality win and they've got a bad loss to TCU. They will play a cupcake on Saturday, but then will play George Mason on Tuesday. Oregon is their only other quality opponent. In other words, they're going to have to finish 9-7 or better in ACC play to earn an at-large bid.

This is Michigan's second loss of the season. Neither loss was a bad loss (the other was to Duke), and they've got quality wins over Memphis and UCLA, so there's no reason to panic. Let's see how they respond on Saturday against Iowa State.

Northwestern 76, Georgia Tech 62
Despite this being a road game, this was a "taking care of business" game for Northwestern. This would have been a bad loss. And Northwestern didn't play spectacular here - no player had a great day - they just took care of business and won. In fact, if there was a breakout game it was from Georgia Tech sophomore Jason Morris, who had a career high 21 points (on 6-for-11 shooting) off the bench.

Northwestern is quietly up to 6-0, with wins over Seton Hall, Tulsa and now Georgia Tech. Of course, none of those are particularly good wins. Their two chances for resume-building wins before starting conference play will be against Baylor and Creighton. The Baylor game is up first, on Sunday. Georgia Tech is now 4-3, and while none of their losses (LSU, Northwestern and St. Joseph's) are horrible losses, they don't have any great wins either (VCU is the best). They will head to Tulane on Saturday, and then head to in-state rival Georgia next Wednesday.

Illinois 71, Maryland 62
The transfer of Sam Maniscalco from Bradley to Illinois went totally unnoticed in the national media when it happened, but think about where this team would be without him. Not only is he leading the team in scoring this season, but he's been best in the biggest moments. Illinois trailed at halftime, and Maryland was playing confident and with a very active crowd firing them up. But in the second half? Maniscalco scored 15 points on 4-for-7 shooting (including 3-for-5 behind the arc) and a perfect 4-for-4 at the line in the final minute to salt the game away. Meyers Leonard (12 points on 6-for-9 shooting) also continued his strong play.

For Maryland, James Padgett really impressed (16 points, 5 rebounds). He's become a very nice interior complement to Terrell Stoglin. But I felt like Maryland ran out of steam in the second half because they just don't have any other quality players. They're just short on talent. Mark Turgeon is a very good recruiter, and he's already tapped into the DC area AAU circuit better than Gary Williams did, so eventually the talent will be there. But it's not there yet.

Maryland doesn't have any "bad" losses yet this season, but the closest thing they've got to a decent win was beating Colorado by seven points. They will get Notre Dame on Sunday in a quasi-home game (it will be played in Washington DC). The Irish will be vulnerable after losing Tim Abromaitis for the season. After that, Maryland is really just playing cupcakes until beginning ACC play on January 8th at NC State.

Illinois is 7-0, though they still lack any really big wins. Victories over Richmond, Maryland and Illinois State are all decent wins, but there's a chance that none of those teams will end up in the RPI Top 100. They'll have a chance for a nice win on Saturday when Gonzaga comes to town. They also will play UNLV and Missouri before beginning Big Ten play on December 27th against Minnesota.

Another Mid-Major To Watch? Oakland Beats Tennessee

Oakland 89, Tennessee 81
This game is why top teams typically don't schedule true road games against quality mid-majors. Tennessee had played fairly well in Maui, though they had lost their games to Duke and Memphis. They'd given great effort and just come up short. It was natural for them to lose a little bit of intensity against a team from the Summit League, but this was no pushover team. Oakland lost star Keith Benson from last year's team, but they still return several key cogs from that team (which beat Tennessee, giving them the confidence to do it again). The key returner was Reggie Hamilton, who led all scorers here with 35 points (including 15-for-15 at the free throw line), but they've got plenty of other talent. Heck, Laval Lucas-Perry (who played 20 minutes per game in two seasons at Michigan) has to come off the bench.

This is the best win Oakland has had this season. They are my favorites to win the Summit, and have been all season long. They're not at the Harvard/Iona/Belmont level, but they'll be a dangerous NCAA Tournament opponent. They have a couple of soft opponents coming up next, starting with a game against South Dakota on Thursday. Their next potentially tough opponent will be December 7th against Ohio.

As for Tennessee, they have played tough so far for Cuonzo Martin, but they're now 3-3, including 0-3 against teams in the Sagarin or Pomeroy Top 250. They've got a big game coming up on Saturday against Pittsburgh. After that they'll have a week off before playing Austin Peay before playing yet another true road game against a quality mid-major (College of Charleston).

#11 Xavier 82, Vanderbilt 72, OT
Xavier trailed by as much as ten in the second half, but Vanderbilt just has not been steady enough this year. Being without Festus Ezeli is a big problem, of course, and they'll be very excited to have him back... but you really can't blame Vandy's struggles this season on that alone. First, their perimeter defense has been brutal. Having Ezeli to wipe out perimeter mistakes will help, but Vanderbilt simply can't allow themselves to get gashed that way. Second, their lack of a point guard prevents the whole team from getting involved on offensive possessions. Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins are both excellent scorers, but the Vanderbilt offense can't just be those two making their own shots while the other three players stand around watching (the two combined for 29 shots taken and 2 assists). The lack of consistent point guard play has led to a lot of turnovers as well, including a turnover rate of 20% or higher in five of their seven games, including this one.

Tu Holloway led all scorers with 24 points, but he was relatively inefficient (6-for-20 shooting). Instead, this game was about Xavier's rebounding (Andre Walker led the way with 14 of them). Xavier dominated with an offensive rebounding percentage of 47.6%, compared to 22.2% for Vanderbilt. This win follows a win over Georgia, and pushes Xavier to 5-0. They have a tough schedule upcoming that could really push them to the top of the Atlantic Ten pecking order. It begins with Purdue on Saturday, and then a road game at Butler on December 7th.

Vanderbilt falls to 5-2 with this loss and a loss to Cleveland State. They have wins over Oregon, Oregon State and NC State, though none of them have been in dominant fashion. Eventually getting Ezeli back will do a lot for their defense, but they still need to clean things up on offense to contend at the top of the SEC considering how good Kentucky, Florida and Alabama have looked. Their next game will be on the road at Louisville on Friday.

Colorado 70, Georgia 68
Georgia jumped out to a quick 26-14 lead, and actually hit six of their first eight three-point attempts. But the hot shooting was not to last, and their offense really fell apart in the second half. They scored a grand total of one point in the first 7:25 of the second half. But the story of this game was Andre Roberson (15 points and 15 rebounds) and true freshman Askia Booker (14 points and 4 rebounds), who had the best game of his young college career.

This is a very young Colorado team that is building for the future, and a win like this will help build their confidence. This is their first win of the season against a team likely to finish in the RPI Top 100. They already have losses to Maryland and Wichita State. Their next game will be tomorrow night at Colorado State.

This is a game that Georgia will want to have won, but it's not a terrible loss. Colorado isn't that bad, and remember that it's always tough to win on the road at altitude if you're not used to it. The problem for Georgia is that they're still looking for a quality win. They did beat Notre Dame by four points, but it's unclear whether that will end up being a good win after the Tim Abromaitis injury. The Bulldogs will try to collect a nice win on Friday against Cincinnati. Their next game after that will be against Georgia Tech.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Villanova Falls To Santa Clara

Santa Clara 65, Villanova 64
Even though Villanova struggled throughout this game, it still looked like they had this game wrapped up in the final minutes. They still led by seven and had the ball with a little over a minute to go, but from then on out it was a total meltdown. A few turnovers, a couple missed shots, and the missed front end of a 1-and-1 all led to an 8-0 run by Santa Clara to end the game. The final six points were scored by Evan Roquemore, who also led all players with nine assists and who is rapidly becoming the best offensive weapon Santa Clara has.

This is just one of a series of bad results for the Big East the past two weeks. The sample size is too small for the computer ratings to be that accurate, but it's worth nothing that the Big East has slipped to sixth in the Sagarin ratings. I don't think anybody really believes that Atlantic Ten is better than the Big East, but those stats are just a statement on what has happened in recent weeks. Villanova now has two losses, with one being a bad loss, and zero quality wins. Their next chance for a quality win will be December 6th against Missouri. Before that they'll play UPenn on Saturday.

Santa Clara now has two quality wins (they also beat New Mexico a couple of weeks ago). They have losses to Oklahoma and UCSB, but neither of those is particularly bad. While Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's are on another level, it's plausible to suggest that Santa Clara might be the fourth best team in the WCC. Their next game will be Saturday against Cal State Northridge.

Saint Louis 83, Oklahoma 63
Saint Louis hasn't gotten a lot of attention this season because they haven't had a signature victory, but boy are they continuing to roll. They are 6-0 with wins over Washington, Villanova and Oklahoma. Their Pomeroy rating (though obviously those ratings aren't that accurate this early in the season) is all the way up to 16th. A point of concern is that their hot shooting may not be sustainable (their eFG% is 58.4%, up from 48.7% last season, and they were at 69.8% in this game against Oklahoma). But at some point a fluke becomes a trend, and Saint Louis has had an eFG% over 60% in four of their six games. They get good shots, and they've got good shooters. They won't finish the season at 58.4%, but I expect them to shoot well all season.

Of course, St. Louis doesn't need to be that great shooting the ball. Rick Majerus teams are always about defense first, and they shut down Oklahoma the same way they've shut down everybody else they've played this season. The Sooners finished with a 44.2 eFG% and only five assists all game. But honestly, I think the 76 Classic was a success for Oklahoma. A loss to Saint Louis is not a bad loss (they should end up an RPI Top 50 team this season), and they earned wins over Washington State and Santa Clara.

That said, I don't think Oklahoma has a lot of chances to get quality wins before starting Big 12 play. They will play Cincinnati, Arkansas, Houston and Oral Roberts, all of whom will be decent wins, but nothing special. The only really good team St. Louis will play before conference play is New Mexico, but they don't need any more big wins. Avoiding any really bad losses and putting up an 11-5 record in A-10 play should be sufficient for an at-large bid at this point. Their next game will be late tonight against Loyola-Marymount.

#6 Louisville 79, Long Beach State 66
Louisville hasn't played like the sixth best team in the nation so far, but they were doing much of it without star Peyton Siva. He's now back in the lineup, and while he's still got a ways to go to get back to the player he was late last season, he should be there soon. And with Syracuse looking a little vulnerable, Louisville is definitely a true contender in the Big East. Siva had four points and six assists in his first game back on Friday against Ohio. Here, against a better opponent, he scored 11 and had five assists. As a team, Louisville did a good job of containing Casper Ware. Ware finished with 13 points and eight assists - Louisville will be happy to allow those types of numbers to him.

Louisville, while going against a soft schedule (this was probably their toughest game of the season so far), has gone 6-0 and is in a good position to play their first top tier opponent - Vanderbilt, on Friday. Long Beach State, meanwhile, has played well this season but falls to 3-3 because of their schedule. They've got a non-Division I cupcake up next, but then will play Kansas and then North Carolina. In other words, their record will likely get worse before it gets better.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Minnesota Loses Game And Trevor Mbakwe

Dayton 86, Minnesota 70
This isn't a terrible loss for Minnesota against Dayton, but the real story from this game is Trevor Mbakwe. While much of the team has struggled at times, Mbakwe has been a dominant force, and would have been one of the top big men in the entire Big Ten. And now he's done for the season. Mbakwe could potentially get a sixth season next year with a medical redshirt, but Tubby Smith honestly might not be around for that. His team has been decimated the past few seasons with injuries, transfers and off-court problems, and simply can't make it through a season with the roster in tact. The pressure was on Tubby to finally win this season and... now what? I already thought Minnesota was narrowly outside the Field of 68 even before the Mbakwe injury. Now? It's very hard to see them working their way to the NCAA Tournament.

This is a good win for Dayton, and honestly they probably would have won this game even if Mbakwe hadn't gotten hurt. Mbakwe played the entire first half, after which Dayton was still up by nine points. This team has really turned things around after that disappointing loss to Miami-Ohio. They've got consecutive wins over Wake Forest, Fairfield and Minnesota. Next up for them is a Wednesday night game against Buffalo and then a Sunday game at Murray State.

This is actually Minnesota's first loss of the season. While they have a few decent wins (Fairfield, Indiana State, DePaul, Bucknell), none are wins a Big Ten team will be bragging about on Selection Sunday. They have a tough home game on Wednesday against Virginia Tech, and then will go against USC on Saturday.

Indiana 75, Butler 59
Indiana fans have watched Butler have so much success the past couple of years, but they now feel like they've got the talent they need to contend in the Big Ten, and it was clear coming into this game that they had this one marked on their calendar. And Indiana put on a shooting display in this game, going 8-for-13 behind the arc (compared to 5-for-18 for Butler) and 80.6% at the free throw line (compared to 54.5% for Butler). Indiana's not going to shoot that well so often, and Butler can feel like the Hoosiers got a little bit of hometown reffing, but I don't think this result really was that much of a fluke.

First of all, Butler struggled in the same ways they've struggled all season. Their ball handling and offensive creation has been awful. Ronald Nored is the only backcourt player who can create his own shot, and even he's not creating a lot of offense for his teammates. As a whole they had seven assists and 19 turnovers, and allowed Indiana to collect 14 steals. In addition, this is just one in a string of disappointing results for Butler. They lost to Evansville, got destroyed at home by Louisville and had a very narrow win over a mediocre Gardner Webb team. Their Pomeroy rating has slipped to 105th and their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 193rd, believe it or not.

I expect things to get better for Butler. They're not playing up to their talent, and Brad Stevens does a terrific job of adapting his game plans to his talent. He's just still figuring this team out. They're not the 193rd best team in the country - that's for sure. I'm very curious to see how they handle their conference opener against Valparaiso on Saturday. It's a game that they should win if they play well. The Hoosiers are now 6-0, though their best wins were over Butler and Evansville, so they've still got to prove themselves. They've got an interesting Big Ten/ACC Challenge game on Wednesday night at NC State. It will be a great opportunity to steal a win against a team that they might be fighting with for an at-large spot on Selection Sunday.

Bowling Green 67, Temple 64
At first glance, it seems like Temple has really struggled this season. They needed some bad reffing in overtime to get past UPenn, and then needed another overtime (though no blown calls that I'm aware of) to beat Wichita State, and now have a bad loss to Bowling Green. They're only 3-2 overall. That said, Temple is not a team that's going to blow opponents away. Fran Dunphy's coaching style is to make his team solid and mistake-free. They don't beat themselves, but they will allow you to beat them if you play well enough. Bowling Green just played with great passion and energy. They blocked eight shots and won the rebounding battle (a 36.0 OR% to 29.6% for Temple). They fed off the home crowd and pulled out a huge victory.

This is the biggest win Louis Orr has had as head coach of Bowling Green. They also have wins over Detroit and Austin Peay, and both of their losses have been to decent/good opponents (George Washington and Georgia). The MAC, as it has been for the past few years, is wide open. There's no reason why Bowling Green can't throw their hat in the ring. Their next game will be Sunday, on the road at Western Kentucky. Temple will try to bounce back on Saturday against Central Michigan. Their next quality opponent will be a week after that, against Villanova.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#1 Goes Down: UNLV Beats North Carolina

UNLV 90, #1 North Carolina 80
New UNLV coach Dave Rice already has his first huge win as a head coach. This wasn't a fluke victory either - it's not like UNLV shot 60% on threes or something. There were just several small factors that added together for this win. They got poor performances from Tyler Zeller and John Henson (a combined 5-for-18 from the field) and had Harrison Barnes on the bench for a few minutes with an injury (he was on crutches after the game, which created some temporary panic in Tar Heell nation, but the word is that he's off the crutches and it sounds like he'll be good to go for their next game). UNLV also got some fairly good shooting (13-for-32 on threes), and just rode the energy of the crowd. UNC couldn't match the intensity - the game just didn't mean as much to them as it did to UNLV. The Runnin' Rebs even won the rebounding battle (a 31.7 OR% to 21.4% for UNC).

North Carolina will tumble in tomorrow's polls, probably to somewhere around 5th or 6th, and I think that's a bit silly. It drives me nuts how pollsters always overreact to a single loss by any team. I'm not saying that I'm certain North Carolina is a top four team, but I don't see how a close road loss against a really good team (UNLV was my preseason pick to win the Mountain West, and I had them as a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament even before this win over UNC) means we should drop a team so far. I've still got UNC as the #1 team overall until more evidence compels me to change that opinion. And we should learn a lot more this week. They'll play Wisconsin at home on Wednesday, and then head to Rupp for a game against Kentucky on Saturday.

As I just said, I already thought UNLV was a Top 20 or 25 team, and the best team in the Mountain West. They're now 7-0, though this is their only truly big win. Their other quality wins were over Nevada and USC (well, USC might not be a quality win...). We'll learn a lot more about them during a series of tough upcoming road games. They'll play at UCSB on Wednesday, and then Wichita State next Sunday. They also will head to Wisconsin and Illinois over the next few weeks.

UC Riverside 64, Washington State 63
I've been talking about Washington State's lazy defense, and it bit them again here. UC-Riverside hit 8-for-16 behind the arc to finish with a 48.4 eFG% and only six turnovers. They scored 39 points in the second half to overcome what was an early double-digit deficit. A Phil Martin layup with 13 seconds to go ended up being the game winner. Washington State now has a bad loss to go with zero quality wins and a 2-4 overall record. That bad start wouldn't be a total disaster for a team in the Big East or Big Ten, but in the Pac-12 there just won't be a lot of chances for quality wins. No matter what they do the next few weeks, it's hard to see any scenario where Washington State goes Dancing with worse than a 12-6 record in conference play. They simply don't have any quality opponents left in non-conference play.

Wazzu comes home to play Grambling State on Wednesday. They open conference play on December 29th against Oregon. As for UC-Riverside, this is a great win, but it's also their first win against a Division I opponent this season after five attempts. They're still a long way from challenging Long Beach State in the Big West.

Murray State 90, Southern Miss 81, 2OT
I was one of the poor souls staying up until the wee hours of the morning watching the second overtime of this game in Alaska, which ran until almost 2:30AM eastern time (which was where I was). The good part of this game was the effort - both teams were diving and fighting and really trying to collect the Great Alaska Shootout title. The problem was, neither of these teams was sharp. Both teams struggled to execute offensively late in the game, and when you throw in the small crowd, the clueless announcers and everything about the environment, it felt more like a high school game than a high level college game.

But the game was fun, and I was particularly impressed with Isaiah Canaan, who was the best player for either team. He's been a good player the past two seasons for Murray State, but he exploded for 36 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists here. If Murray State can keep winning, Canaan could start to break through nationally the way smaller conference guys like Casper Ware and Scott Machado are starting to do this season.

This win was one of several things that caused me to finally replace Austin Peay with Murray State as the favorite in the Ohio Valley Conference. They're now 7-0 with wins over UAB and Southern Miss. They won't be undefeated much longer, however. They will play at Western Kentucky on Thursday, followed by a home game against Dayton and then a road game at Memphis. It's hard to see them winning all three of those games. Southern Miss has this loss to go with a loss to Denver, but they've also got wins over New Mexico State and Colorado State. I'm intrigued enough that I added them to the list of teams whose at-large chances I'm at least keeping an eye on now. Their next game will be a rematch with New Mexico State on Sunday.

Wisconsin Continues To Roll... This Time Against A Quality Opponent

#11 Wisconsin 73, BYU 56
Wisconsin had been putting up gaudy numbers all season long, though against a joke of a schedule. This BYU game represented their first true quality opponent, and their first of several, as North Carolina, Marquette and UNLV are their next three opponents. And BYU did keep this game close throughout the first half, but Wisconsin shot the lights out in the second half and pulled away. The star was Ben Brust, who only played in garbage minutes as a true freshman last season, but who shot 7-for-10 behind the arc in this game, raising his season 3P% to 48.7%.

The concern for Wisconsin about depth has not been answered, however. They basically played a six man rotation in this game, and were reliant on outside shooting. The team strength is in the backcourt, and they've got a lot of good shooters, but that's still not a formula for consistency. I really want to see more from the backup bigs, be it Frank Kaminsky or Evan Anderson. I'm extremely curious to see what this team can do on Wednesday night at North Carolina, a team that probably has more height than any other top team in the nation. Playing in Chapel Hill, and angry after a loss to UNLV, UNC will pose a tremendous challenge.

From BYU's perspective, the silver lining is that most teams won't shoot 12-for-23 on threes against them. The problem is, most of those threes were wide open. They've got to do a better job of defending on the perimeter. While they're not playing badly overall, their resume is lacking so far. The only quality win they've had all season long was the win against Nevada. BYU isn't in the Mountain West anymore - in the WCC you've really got to go a long way toward earning your at-large bid before starting conference play. Wins over Gonzaga and Saint Mary's only go so far. Games ahead against Baylor and Oregon will be key.

BYU's next game will be on Wednesday night at Northern Arizona, which is no gimme game. Even though they've gotten off to a slow start this season, NAU is, in my opinion, a contender in the Big Sky Conference. The Oregon game comes up next, on Saturday. As for Wisconsin, they play their next game (as I said two paragraphs ago) on Wednesday night at UNC. On Saturday they'll play Marquette at home.

Montana 73, Long Beach State 71
This should mostly put to bed the Long Beach State at-large hype. That hype started after their win over Pittsburgh, and I talked at the time about why I didn't at all buy their at-large chances. Besides the fact that I don't think there's enough evidence that Long Beach State is good enough for an at-large bid, the reality is that their schedule isn't conducive to an at-large run anyway. They just play too many good teams and are going to rack up too many losses. They certainly didn't need a loss to Montana - a quality team, but a team that Long Beach State was favored against.

Long Beach State's next four games against Division I opponents will be against Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina and Xavier. Brutal. If they win any of those games it will be an accomplishment. This is Montana's best win of the season, and it comes after a bad loss against North Dakota. They have been my pick all season long as the favorite in the Big Sky, though Weber State is one of several teams that have a chance to knock them off. I think it will be a while before a clear pictures emerges in that balanced conference.

Northern Iowa 79, Providence 62
It's amazing that a school that has had so much success the past few years had lost nine straight games against Big East opponents. That streak ended in what was just a solid victory. They were just the better team. The silver lining in this game for Providence what that it was a minor breakout game for LaDontae Henton (16 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and 9 rebounds), the top freshman from their 2011 recruiting class. Ed Cooley has a couple of blue chippers lined up for next season (you can read more about that here), so while there won't be much success in terms of wins and losses this season for Providence, the development of their young talent will be fun for fans to follow.

Providence is now 4-2, with a win over Fairfield, and losses to Northern Iowa and Iowa State. Their next game, on Tuesday night against Holy Cross, is no gimme. They'll then be at South Carolina on Thursday. Northern Iowa is 5-1 with only a road loss to Saint Mary's, though a win over Old Dominion is probably the best they've got. There's no doubt that UNI is good enough to potentially make a run at an at-large bid, but they've got to build up their resume. They will play a true road game at Iowa State on Wednesday night, and then will come home for Colorado State and Iowa.

Harvard Wins The Battle 4 Atlantis

Harvard 59, Central Florida 49
It really is amazing that Harvard just won a November tournament containing the defending national champions UConn as well as Florida State and UCF, and historic programs like Utah and UMass. I think that it's the most impressive achievement by any Ivy League team other than Cornell's Sweet 16 run since the Bill Carmody Princeton teams of the late 1990s. I even had to break out one of my favorite old Simpsons jokes on my twitter feed to celebrate this achievement. That all said, I do need to pour at least a little cold water on this. The fact is that Harvard still only has one win this season over a likely RPI Top 50 team (Florida State), and unless they can somehow win a true road game at UConn on December 8th, they're not going to have a large set of quality wins on Selection Sunday. So despite the high ratings they have in the computer polls right now, I still have them as a 10 seed in my projected bracket. Just about any loss they have the rest of the way is going to be a bad loss, and Florida State could be their only real win of note. It's just very hard to do better than a 9 or 10 seed with that resume, no matter how good Harvard is.

This tournament was still a success for UCF. They surely would have preferred beating Harvard, but this will be a quality loss, and the win over UConn is huge for their resume and for their confidence. They're still in the mix for second place in Conference USA, which right now is a wide open battle between them, Tulsa, Southern Miss, Marshall and UAB. They have a few cupcakes coming up next. Their next quality opponent is Old Dominion on December 17th.

Northeastern 78, St. John's 64
St. John's really struggled defensively in the second half of this game. An 11-0 run late in the game, accumulated on five consecutive possessions, put this game away. Defensive rebounding, which has been a problem all season for them, was a mess here. They allowed a 50.0 OR%, and offensive rebounds were a big part of Northeastern's second half run. St. John's just could not get out of defensive possessions because they couldn't bring down rebounds. A big part of that is just seasoning and experience. Offensive rebounding is about athleticism and talent, but defensive rebounding is all about execution. A guy like God'sgift Achiuwa, who is a tremendous athlete and who finished this game with six offensive rebounds and four blocks, should not have had only three defensive rebounds. Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce to you, but on the season he's got nearly as many offensive rebounds (21) as defensive rebounds (25). The offensive rebounds are great, but with that talent he should have more defensive boards. Over time I think he'll get there.

St. John's has now played two teams this season likely to finish in the RPI Top 100 (Arizona and Texas A&M) and lost to both of them, and now they've lost to Northeastern. They're a feisty team, and they'll get better in Big East play if they can get some of their academically ineligible players back, but it's going to be a slow season for results. It's hard to see how this team can get too close to the NCAA Tournament this season.

Northeastern got off to a slow start this season, needing overtime to beat Boston University and then getting thrashed by UMass. But things have gotten better with a win over Southern Illinois and now a double-digit road victory at St. John's. They have a series of solid opponents up next that will give them an opportunity to really prove themselves. A road game at La Salle is next, on Wednesday, and then they play Old Dominion on Saturday.

Missouri State 69, Tulsa 64, OT
Missouri State struggled all day to hit shots, and finished regulation with only a 34.2 eFG%. In overtime, however, three different players hit threes to help the Bears to a win. One of those threes was from Anthony Downing, who has been an important Juco transfer this season. The biggest question about Missouri State preseason was what they'd do at point guard after the graduation of Nafis Ricks, since ball handling was such a big part of the success they had last season (they finished 15th in the nation in offensive turnover percentage). The two options preseason to fill that roll were Downing and DePaul transfer Michael Bizoukas. Both have been good this season, in fact, and the two combined for 6-for-13 shooting and 8 assists in this game. It's not spectacular, but it's enough to make Missouri State a Bubble team again.

Missouri State now moves to 4-0 with this win and a win over Nevada. They have a key stretch coming up with road games at Oral Roberts and New Mexico, and then a home game against Oklahoma State. If they're going to play like an at-large team, I'd like to see them win at least two of those three games. Oral Roberts is first up, on Wednesday. Tulsa is now 4-3. None of their losses have been "bad" losses, but they don't have any quality wins either. Their next chance for a quality win will be Wednesday night when they play at Oklahoma State.

UConn Gets Past Florida State In Overtime

#4 UConn 78, #20 Florida State 76, OT
The story in this game was, without question, Ryan Boatright. The true freshman had been suspended for the first six games of the season, but looked like a veteran here in his first ever collegiate game. He scored 14 points, but none were bigger than the three free throws he hit to tie up the game with seven seconds to go in regulation after being fouled while taking a three-pointer. It was a very soft foul call, and FSU fans will feel like the refs robbed them here, but you have to give Boatright credit for walking to the line and nailing three straight free throws with the game on the line. Florida State had plenty of chances to push this game to a second overtime, but just couldn't convert. They trailed by two with a minute to go in overtime, and UConn didn't score a point the rest of the way, but the Seminoles failed to score while missing three shots from the field and a pair at the line. Once again their offense let their defense down.

If there's a concern for UConn it's that in the clutch the primary ball handler was Shabazz Napier, and Lamb wasn't getting enough of the ball. Jeremy Lamb is the best player on UConn, not Napier, and so it's a problem when Napier is using twice as many possessions as Lamb. But a win over Florida State is a very nice win, and partially makes up for that bizarre loss to UCF. The Huskies return home to play a series of quality opponents, though UConn should be solid favorites for every one of them. Arkansas is up first, next Saturday. A game against Harvard on December 8th should be fun considering the fact that Harvard just won this tournament.

Florida State looks more and more like what they've been the past few seasons. Their defense is tremendous, and will be almost impossible to attack all season long, but their offense is just too flawed and inconsistent. They don't have enough guys that can make their own shot, or that can hit open shots if given them. I don't feel confident that any of them can hit an open jumper. I do think they're the third best team in the ACC, but I don't think they've got the go-to scorer they'd need to challenge Duke and North Carolina atop the conference.

Hofstra 63, Cleveland State 53
Cleveland State struggled with the aggressive play of Hofstra all night. Hofstra dominated the boards (a 47.8 OR% compared to a 15.4 OR% for Cleveland State). Hofstra shot 12-for-21 from the field in the second half, which sounds on paper like they got hot shooting the ball, when in fact ten of the 12 made baskets were layups or dunks. Hofstra just wanted this game more than Cleveland State did, and earned a huge win because of that.

Hofstra came into this game without a quality win, and with losses to Florida Atlantic, Oregon State and Rhode Island. Hofstra will next play Boston University, later today. Their toughest game before beginning conference play will be Iona on December 29th.

This is a disappointing loss for Cleveland State, particularly if they want to make a run at an at-large bid. This will likely be an RPI 100+ loss, and they don't have a lot of opportunities for good wins. They do have wins over Vanderbilt and Kent State, but they don't have much left on their schedule. They will play Rhode Island later today. Their next game after that will be a true road game at Wright State on Thursday.

St. Joseph's 65, Penn State 47
This was not Penn State's day. They shot 4-for-38 in the first half, and trailed by 23 at the half. They actually played respectably in the second half, but it was far too large of a deficit to overcome. They don't have the firepower to come from a 23 point deficit against anybody. This was actually a game that St. Joe's was supposed to win. I don't think St. Joe's is likely to make the NCAA Tournament, but they're still better than Penn State this season. This win comes along with wins over Georgia Tech and Tulsa, as well as losses to Iona and Seton Hall (both teams that are likely to finish in the RPI Top 100).

St. Joe's has a tough game coming up on Wednesday against Drexel, and another one a week later at Boston University. If they are going to get in the Bubble discussion, those are games that they really have to win. Penn State, of course, isn't thinking about the Bubble. They're just trying to get better. They actually have a pretty fair match-up in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge - they will be at Boston College on Wednesday. It's a game I'd actually give the narrow edge to Penn State in.

W-15 BP68

We're 15 weeks from Selection Sunday, and at this point basically every top team has played at least one quality opponent. The sample sizes are still small, and so it's a mistake to make too many judgments, but at least we've seen some of each of the top teams.

My regular readers know that I move teams slowly in my bracket - I'm not going to respond wildly to each upset. This week, for example, I'm not going to panic and drop North Carolina from that top spot. The pollsters will drop them from #1, of course, and I'm not too confident that UNC is still the best team, but I'm not going to overreact to one poorly played game in what was effectively a true road game against a team that (in my opinion) is one of the 25 best in the nation.

As for the field of 68, I've made two changes this week. I've finally dropped UCLA out, and I've moved Stanford into the field in their place. Among the auto bids, I've changed my pick in the Ohio Valley Conference, replacing Austin Peay with Murray State.

Among teams not in the field yet, but that have earned my attention and a place in this post, are Southern Miss (despite the loss to Murray State) and Kent State. Teams that were in last week's post that have been dropped from this week's post because of poor play and results are Evansville, Fresno State, Princeton and UTEP.

As always, this is my projection of where things will be on Selection Sunday, and not a statement on where things stand now.

Here we go:


2. Duke
2. Louisville
2. Florida
2. TEXAS (BIG 12)

3. Pittsburgh
3. Kansas
3. Wisconsin

4. UConn
4. Alabama
4. Vanderbilt

5. Marquette
5. Purdue

6. West Virginia
6. Michigan
6. Georgetown

7. Texas A&M
7. Xavier
7. Baylor
7. Florida State

8. Illinois
8. Michigan State
8. New Mexico
8. California

9. Virginia Tech
9. San Diego State
9. Oklahoma State
9. Saint Louis

10. Villanova
10. BYU
10. Cincinnati

11. Washington State
11. Missouri
11. Washington

12. Indiana
12. Miami (Fl)
12. Saint Mary's

13. Stanford
13. Notre Dame




Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
NC State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Kansas State, Tulsa, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Wichita State, UCLA, Oregon, Mississippi State, South Carolina, New Mexico State

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Clemson, Virginia, Dayton, Duquesne, George Washington, Seton Hall, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, UAB, Central Florida, Marshall, Cleveland State, Detroit, Indiana State, Oregon State, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Nevada

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Georgia Tech, Maryland, St. Joseph's, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, South Florida, Iowa State, Drexel, James Madison, Old Dominion, VCU, Houston, Southern Miss, Valparaiso, UW-Milwaukee, Fairfield, Kent State, Drake, Boise State, Colorado State, TCU, Arizona State, Colorado, USC, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Charleston, San Francisco

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wisconsin Continues To Roll Against Inferior Competition

#11 Wisconsin 66, Bradley 43
I haven't talked about Wisconsin since the start of the regular season, and it's because they haven't played anybody yet. In fact, I'm not sure Bradley is much better than the best team they had played up to this point (Wofford), but at least Bradley presented a higher level of athleticism and raw talent. That said, Wisconsin continued to do what they've been doing, which is to destroy these inferior opponents. Even after this game they have still scored more than twice as many points (365) as they've allowed (179). Obviously all of these stats need a big asterisk because of their schedule, but Wisconsin's defensive numbers really stand out. Despite the fact that Wisconsin's reputation in the national media is one of a defense-first team that grinds out wins, the fact is that tempo free analysis reveals that they've been an elite offense the past few years that has occasionally struggled on defense. Last year they finished 2nd in the nation in Pomeroy offensive efficiency, and 56th on defense. This year? 6th and 4th, respectively. They're actually leading the nation in eFG% against (30.9%).

If Wisconsin's defense really has improved so much since last season then they might actually have the ability to challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten title. The concern is going to be depth in the frontcourt against Jared Sullinger. They only have one player that earns a lot of minutes and is also taller than 6'6" (Jared Berggren). Their other options at C/PF are Evan Anderson and Frank Kaminsky, a redshirt freshman and true freshman, respectively. Kaminsky looks most likely to be the one who will spell Berggren against elite bigs. Certainly Wisconsin's backcourt and offense look to be as sharp as always. I like the fact that Jordan Taylor, a potential National Player of the Year, has taken a backseat in the early going (9.6 points per game and a 27-to-6 A/TO ratio). Taylor will step up and score the points when Wisconsin needs him against better opponents. For now he understands that helping his young teammates develop is more important than padding his stats.

While Wisconsin hasn't played any likely Top 100 teams yet, we should learn a whole lot more about them over the next couple of weeks. Their next game will be tonight against BYU. After that they'll play at North Carolina on Wednesday night, and then will play Marquette at home a week from today. Exactly one week after that they'll play UNLV. After those four games we'll know a whole lot more about whether Wisconsin's defense is as good as Pomeroy thinks they are, and if their front court depth is good enough to handle the best in the Big Ten. A quick word on Bradley: they just got blitzed by a superior team here. The loss three days earlier to Wofford was much more of a worry, particularly since they still lack a quality win this season. They'll get a chance this evening to get that first quality win, against Nevada. Their next game after that will be a week from today on the road game at Wyoming, which would actually be a pretty nice win for Bradley if they can get it.

New Mexico 72, Washington State 62
Washington State didn't show any strength mentally in this game. First, they didn't show up for the first 11 minutes of this game, trailing 26-9 at one point. Then as their offense was getting them back into the game in the second half, their defense kept letting them down by not playing 35 seconds of defense. New Mexico showed patience and worked the clock, and Wazzu kept giving up baskets in the final 5-10 seconds of the shot clock.

Coming into this season I thought Washington State was underrated. Yes, they only went 9-9 in Pac-12 play, but they were also unlucky. They finished 2-6 in Pac-12 regular season and tournament games decided by five points or less or in overtime. Also, I felt that the impact of Klay Thompson was overrated. The media treated that team as Thompson and a bunch of bums holding him back, but while he was a truly explosive scorer, he was also a ball hog and a little bit of a behavior problem. The team was better with him on the floor, of course, but they were just fine without him. But that all said, Washington State just doesn't seem to be mentally into the season so far. They played tough on the road at Gonzaga (they lost by eight), but gave poor effort in double-digit losses at the 76 Classic to Oklahoma and New Mexico. This tournament will be a bust no matter what, because even a win in the seventh place game against UC Riverside won't be anything worth writing home about.

As I've said many times, I try not to judge teams much on what happens in these November tournaments. They're weird events that often have weird results. Washington State could come home from this tournament and start playing much better. They also might not. We'll have to see. Unfortunately for them, they don't any other quality opponents left before starting Pac-12 play. Their toughest games will either be a road game at Idaho or a home game against Santa Clara. Considering how bad the Pac-12 is, Washington State will probably have to finish 12-6 or better in conference play to earn an at-large bid.

This was a very encouraging result for New Mexico. Their first three games this season against Division I opponents had all been disappointing - a loss to New Mexico State, a narrow win over Arizona State and a loss to Santa Clara. But they showed a lot of poise and no panic in this workmanlike win over Washington State. They will play in the 76 Classic fifth place game tomorrow against Boston College, a game that they should win easily. Their next quality opponent after heading home will be Missouri State, next Saturday.

Southern Miss 80, New Mexico State 72
Hey look, kids! I'm talking about the Great Alaska Shootout! In all seriousness, it really is amazing how much power ESPN has in making or destroying early season tournaments. It's a myth that the Greak Alaska Shootout, which used to be one of the three big early season tournaments (with Maui and the NIT), became so bad just because the kids didn't want to head to cold climates. It is true that are more tropical tournaments than their used to be to give coaches a tournament to appease their kids (since it's not like kids 25 years ago preferred a vacation to Alaska over Hawaii or Puerto Rico either), but the real reason the Alaska Shootout has been gutted (not a single major conference team showed up this season) has been television. ESPN chose not to televise it, and instead created their own tournaments. It's not a coincidence that the two biggest new tournaments are at Disney World (the Old Spice Classic) and Disneyland (the 76 Classic). The Walt Disney Company owns ESPN, after all. Teams want to play on ESPN in prime time. They don't want to play on Fox College Sports or some regional networks at midnight.

Anyway, I'm not just mentioning this game to rant about the Great Alaska Shootout. Despite the nonexistence of any BCS conference teams in this tournament, a few quality mid-majors did show up, and this semifinal was the first match-up between two such teams. This result was actually an upset, in my opinion. New Mexico State, with a lot of talent returning and having already beaten New Mexico and UTEP this season, looks like a potential Bubble team. This isn't necessarily a bad loss since Southern Miss has a decent shot of finishing inside the RPI Top 100, but it's not a good loss either.

This result is part of a little turnaround for Southern Miss. Their first game against a Division I opponent this season was a very disappointing loss to Denver. But they haven't lost since, including a 21 point thumping of Northern Colorado and now this win over New Mexico State. They're a long way from getting back into the at-large discussion, but a win over Murray State in the Alaska Shootout finals will get them closer.

New Mexico State will try to bounce back in the third place game against San Francisco. They will head home to play Arizona on Tuesday.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Marshall Upsets Cincinnati

Marshall 73, Cincinnati 69, OT
Marshall trailed by nine points in the second half here, in a true road game at Cincinnati, but were able to shoot themselves to a very nice win. Damier Pitts led Marshall with 19 points, but the most important contributor to the win was probably Dennis Tinnon, who had 15 points and 14 rebounds, including six offensive rebounds (compared to 11 offensive rebounds for the entire Cincinnati team). This win, in Marshall's first game against a quality opponent this season, allows them to throw their name into the hat as the potential second best team in Conference USA. Memphis is obviously the class of the conference, but Marshall and UCF have been the best of the rest so far. Tulsa, UAB and Southern Miss are the other potential contenders to finish second in the conference.

This loss continues a very disappointing start for Cincinnati. This could potentially end up a "bad" loss, and their loss to Presbyterian is definitely a bad loss. And they don't have any wins against quality opponents yet. Their next game will be on Tuesday against Miami-Ohio. They also have games against Xavier, Georgia and Oklahoma before starting conference play.

#12 Xavier 70, Georgia 56
This was a dominating win for Xavier, even if the final score doesn't indicate it. Xavier actually led by 36 points with nine minutes to go, and simply allowed Georgia to go on a run in garbage time to make the final score more respectable. Their dominance was clearly on the defensive end, as Georgia couldn't get anything going while Xavier was still exerting effort. Even with those garbage points, Georgia finished with a 38.4 eFG%. They scored a grand total of 27 points in the first 31 minutes of the game. If there's a silver lining for Georgia it's the continued development of star freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who led all Bulldogs with 14 points, and who still hasn't been held to single-digit scoring in any game in his entire collegiate career.

Xavier is now 4-0, though this is their first win against a quality opponent. Their schedule gets really tough really quick, however. Their next four opponents are Vanderbilt, Purdue, Butler and Cincinnati, and they still have games against Gonzaga and Long Beach State (and perhaps two other quality teams at the Diamond Head Classic) before beginning conference play.

Georgia does have that four point win over Notre Dame, but that's going to look less impressive in March since Tim Abromaitis just had his season ended by an ACL injury. Their two other games against quality opponents (California and Xavier) have both been blowout losses. Their next game is on Monday at Colorado, a team that has really struggled to start this season. Their next game after that will be against Cincinnati.

Wichita State 68, UAB 46
UAB's offensive woes, particularly in terms of shooting the ball, continued here. They came into this game having scored only 0.94 points per possession for the season. That average actually dropped here after they finished with a 33.0 eFG% and 16 turnovers. By my calculation they finished with 0.69 points per possession in this game. Cameron Moore scored 18 points here, and he's actually been pretty efficient offensively, but that's it. Mike Davis just doesn't have players that can put the ball in the hoop.

Wichita State, with their balanced attack, will be happy to be the beneficiary of UAB's offensive troubles. Coming off tough losses to Alabama and Temple, they just needed to get back on a winning streak. Wichita State will play Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, and then has three quality opponents in a row (UNLV, Tulsa and Utah State).

UAB is now 1-3 without a single quality win. Conference USA hasn't looked particularly strong in the early going this season, but none of the top teams preseason are struggling as badly as UAB is. They will try to bounce back on Sunday against Tennessee-Martin, and then will play at South Alabama on Wednesday.

Late Run Gives Syracuse The NIT Title Over Stanford

#5 Syracuse 69, Stanford 63
This afternoon had been a bad day for Big East teams all around, and it looked for a while like Syracuse might go down as well. They trailed by seven points with about six minutes to go. Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters started scoring late, and the crowd helped carry them to a victory (honestly, it often feels like Syracuse has more of a homecourt advantage in Madison Square Garden than St. John's does). The difference in this game, without question, was the ability of Syracuse to turn Stanford over basically at will. Syracuse finished with a remarkable 19 steals. But those 19 steals also lead to the question: how did they manage to still score under one point per possession? Their offensive flow and ball handling are going to have to improve. Their defense is outstanding, but they'll need better offense to deserve that #5 ranking.

With a win over Oklahoma State and a near-upset of Syracuse, this trip to New York City has to be considered a success for Stanford. It's still early, but their defense looks to be really sharp, as it needs to be for them to have success. They just don't have the offensive weapons to win a shootout against a top team. That said, the lack of offensive weapons also puts a ceiling on this team. They might be able to work their way into the NCAA Tournament, but I don't think they've got the potential to win the Pac-12. They return home now to play Pacific on Monday. Their next quality opponent will be NC State, on December 4th.

Syracuse is now 6-0 with a pair of quality wins (Virginia Tech and Stanford). They will head home to play Eastern Michigan on Tuesday, and then will play Florida next Friday.

BYU 76, Nevada 55
Nevada's defense had been pretty good this season coming into this game, but BYU just put on a shooting clinic. The Cougars shot 8-for-18 behind the arc and finished with a 61.4 eFG%. Olek Czyz is the only really good shooter Nevada has, and BYU did a good job of keeping the ball away from him (Czyz shot 5-for-7 from the field and finished with zero assists, so he was efficient in the limited opportunities BYU allowed him). Charles Abouo led BYU with 22 points and 8 rebounds, but this was a breakout game for redshirt freshman Anson Winder (9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals). Guard production was going to be the biggest issue for BYU this season, and Winder will apparently be a big part of that answer.

After a disappointing loss to Utah State to start the season, BYU beat up on a bunch of cupcakes and now has a nice win over Nevada to lead into a game tomorrow against Wisconsin in the finals of the Chicago Invitational. It will be an interesting match-up between a team deep in the front court and thin in the backcourt (BYU) and a team that's the opposite (Wisconsin). A win would be huge for a potential BYU at-large resume. Their next game after tomorrow will be on Wednesday night at Northern Arizona.

Nevada has a lot of talent, but they have come up short in all three games this season against quality opposition (BYU, UNLV and Missouri State). They've got problems in all aspects of the game and need to figure out why they're not executing. They will play Bradley tomorrow in the third place game of the Chicago Invitational. After that they'll head home for a game against Washington on December 2nd.

Dayton 56, Fairfield 49
Neither of these teams could hit jump shots (both finished with effective field goal percentages under 43%). Dayton managed to grab a lead early in the second half, and Fairfield was always just two or three made baskets in a row from taking the lead back but just could never do it. Fairfield's Rakim Sanders (17 points, 12 rebounds) was the best player on the floor for either team, but he didn't get enough support from his teammates.

This is Dayton's best win of the season. They have beaten Wake Forest, but Fairfield is a lot better (in my opinion) than Wake Forest. Dayton also has a bad loss to Miami-Ohio. They now head to the Old Spice Classic title game, where they'll get a shot for a nice win over Minnesota. Fairfield drops into the third place game, where they'll play Indiana State. Believe it or not, their next game after Indiana State is a conference game, on the road at Niagara on December 2nd. I don't know why the MAAC starts their conference season so early, but it means that Fairfield is going to have to be ready to go within a week to try to challenge Iona for the regular season title.

Harvard Knocks Off Florida State

Harvard 46, #20 Florida State 41
If there was any doubt about Harvard before this game, there's no doubt now. They're a legit team with the type of athletes that can hang with Florida State and deliver a huge victory. This was, of course, a low scoring game. Florida State, with their tremendous defense and inconsistent offense, tends to play low scoring games, but even by their standards this was bad. This game was 14-14 at halftime, and Florida State didn't reach 20 points until there were about 11 minutes to go in the game. Even with some scoring late in the game, the Seminoles still finished with only 0.67 points per possession.

It's the offensive struggle for Florida State that is the worry here. Their defense is very good, as it is every season. But after a really efficient offensive performance against UCF I was talking about the possibility that their offense had turned the corner. They didn't show any of that here. Not only did they turn the ball over plenty, as they often do, but the shots they got were bad shots. Too many one-one-one attacks leading to off-balance shots. That's not the way to score efficiently.

Harvard moves to the finals in the Bahamas where they'll play Central Florida. UCF is obviously a formidable opponent, having just upset UConn to get to this game, but they'll be more manageable than UConn would have been. And a win in a tournament that includes the defending national champions UConn, as well as Florida State, UMass, Utah, UCF and College of Charleston would be a really impressive achievement. Florida State was expected to win this game and to play UConn in the finals. Instead they'll be playing UConn in the third place game. They can't spend too long dwelling on this loss. Harvard will most likely end up in the RPI Top 50, so this loss won't get held against FSU on Selection Sunday. A win over UConn would be a very nice way to finish this trip to the Bahamas.

Virginia Tech 59, Oklahoma State 57
You could feel the nervousness of both teams through the television. Neither team wanted to come home from Madison Square Garden with a pair of losses, particularly since both of these teams have a good shot of ending up on the Tournament Bubble. The nerves got to their shooting legs, and the teams combined to shoot 7-for-33 behind the arc. This game didn't quite come down to the final possession - Keiton Page cut the final margin from five to two on a three only about a second before the final buzzer. The difference was Virginia Tech's bluechip true freshman Dorian Finney-Smith, who dominated the Oklahoma State front line for 10 points and 14 rebounds (including 8 offensive boards). The fact is that the OSU front line is almost nonexistent (they often play four guards at the same time), and Finney-Smith is not the first and will certainly not be the last to clean up the boards in a game against the Cowboys this season.

Virginia Tech heads home to play Saint Bonaventure on Sunday. They'll play at Minnesota on Wednesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Oklahoma State will play their next game on Wednesday against Tulsa. Without a single win over a non-cupcake this season, they really need that win to get back on the right track. They still have games against Pittsburgh, Alabama, New Mexico and Missouri State to come over the next few weeks.

Mississippi 64, Miami (FL) 61, OT
Miami will have a very bad taste in their mouth after blowing what would have been a nice true road victory over Ole Miss. They came out asleep, and were down 17-0 after the first eight minutes. Then after fighting all the way back they ended up being undermined by a little home town reffing. Despite similar foul numbers (21 for Miami, 19 for Ole Miss), and identical offensive rebounding and turnover numbers, Ole Miss somehow ended up with 30 free throws, to only 13 for Miami. I didn't watch much of this game, but stats like that are always a good sign of home cooking.

With their win over Rutgers looking less impressive than it did a week ago, Miami could have really used a win over a quality opponent. They won't have many more opportunities for quality wins before heading into ACC play. They will be pretty large underdogs for a game against Memphis and for true road games at Purdue and West Virginia. Unless they pull an upset in one of those three games they'll enter ACC play needing to work their way back into the Field of 68.

However this win happened, it looks good on the Ole Miss resume alongside wins over TCU and Drake. I think that 30 point loss to Marquette was just one of those fluke performances at a November tournament - they just had a bad day. They have a key stretch coming up on the road at DePaul (December 1st) and Penn State (December 4th). Both of those teams are likely to finish outside the RPI Top 100, and so both would be "bad" losses, but neither game will be easy. If Ole Miss is going to make a run at an at-large Tournament bid, they've really got to take care of business in those two games.

Central Florida Knocks Off UConn

Central Florida 68, #4 Connecticut 63
This is an upset, but not as big as you might think. I say that partially because UCF is a pretty good team that simply had a clunker early in the season against Florida State. But I say that also because UConn is overrated - that #4 rating is ridiculous. I've talked about this quite a few times, and you can click on the UConn label to see my recent posts on them, but it's summed up by the fact that people overrate how good they were last season. Yes, UConn won the National Title and that's what playing in the Tournament is about, but it doesn't in any way mean they were the best team in the country. If they had lost in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, as they almost did, they'd have gotten an 8 or 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They did add some very nice recruits, but when pollsters start from the assumption that UConn finished last season #1, they were logically going to overrate the Huskies to start this season.

UConn is a pretty good team, of course. They have a ton of talent and will be one of the better teams in the Big East. By the end of the season, when all of this raw talent matures a little bit, I think they'll be one of the 15 best teams in the country. But they've got a way to go. They really struggled against the UCF zone in this game. Their offensive struggles kept the game close enough that some poor defense for them down the stretch (UCF scored 1.31 points per possession over the final ten minutes of the game) cost them the win.

Marcus Jordan led the way for UCF (20 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists). Jordan has been good ever since he showed up at UCF, but he's been inconsistent the past two seasons. He's been consistently good in four games played this season, which is an encouraging start. This is the second straight good win for UCF, coming off an 11 point win over College of Charleston. If that Florida State demolition really just was a fluke performance, it's not implausible that UCF could be the second best team in Conference USA. They're nowhere close to Memphis, though. They will play Harvard tomorrow.

UConn had thought they'd be playing Florida State tomorrow in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. They will be playing Florida State tomorrow, but it'll be the third place game. That should be a tight, low-scoring game between two very athletic defenses. After they come home they'll play Arkansas on December 3rd.

Saint Louis 80, Villanova 68
Saint Louis shot well in this game (14-for-27 behind the arc), but that wasn't why they won this game. They won because against a Villanova team which tends to be very effective when they choose to press, they turned the ball over only seven times. This was just a nice steady performance from them, and felt like a "took care of business" game, despite being against a team likely to finish above .500 in the Big East. It's a statement on how good this Saint Louis team is.

This won't be a result that makes Villanova fans happy, but this was also their team's first game this season against a quality opponent. Saint Louis had already played a couple of quality teams and looked more ready for a game like this. Saint Louis now moves into the 76 Classic title game, where they'll play either Oklahoma or Santa Clara. Villanova will also play one of those two teams, but in the third place game. After tomorrow, Saint Louis won't play another quality team for a few weeks. Their toughest opponent over the next few weeks could be Vermont, on December 7th. Villanova will start playing their Philadelphia city rivals after they get home. They'll play UPenn on December 3rd, and then Temple a week later.

Minnesota 76, Indiana State 69
This was a tight game the entire way, which was what I think most people expected. Both teams shot the ball well from deep (10-for-21 for Indiana State, 8-for-15 for Minnesota), and Minnesota wiped out four more turnovers with four more offensive rebounds. The breakout performer for Minnesota was definitely Julian Welch, the transfer from UC-Davis. Welch has been slowly stepping into the role of point guard for the team. After not scoring in his first two games for Minnesota, he scored five against Mt. Saint Mary's, then 11 against DePaul, and 17 here against Indiana State. There's nothing the Gophers needed more this season than a point guard who could create offense for himself and his teammates, and it will be very good news for them if Welch can fill that role.

Minnesota moves to the finals of the Old Spice Classic, where they'll play Dayton on Sunday. While the field at the Old Spice Classic is a lot softer than it's been most of the past few years, a tournament victory would still be a nice early season accomplishment for Minnesota. Indiana State heads to the third place game, where they'll play Fairfield. This is their only loss of the season, and they've already got wins over Texas Tech, Ball State and Wisconsin-Green Bay. That won't blow anybody away, but it's a respectable start to the season. A win over Fairfield would be nice as well, since Fairfield has a good chance of finishing inside the RPI Top 100.

Santa Clara Upsets New Mexico

Santa Clara 79, New Mexico 76, OT
Hot shooting was what got Santa Clara into this game. In the first 8:30 of the game they shot 6-for-8 on threes, jumping out to a 25-12 lead. A ridiculous 31-for-33 performance at the line helped New Mexico back into this game, and a Tony Snell three sent them to overtime. But the whistle-happy refs had taken their toll. New Mexico was called for 28 fouls, and had three players foul out, with two others finishing with four fouls. Santa Clara finished with only one player with more than three personal fouls. New Mexico fans can blame the refs, but that's still not an excuse for this game being so close against a team that had lost to UCSB by 33 points a little more than a week ago.

Few teams have had a more disappointing start to the season than New Mexico. Their three games so far against Division I opponents have been losses to New Mexico State and Santa Clara, along with an unimpressive five point win over Arizona State. Not what was expected for a team picked by many to win the Mountain West (I didn't pick them to win the conference, but had them safely in the NCAA Tournament with a 7 seed).

The Lobos now head to the Consolation Bracket at the 76 Classic, where they'll play a hungry Washington State team that will pose another stiff test. Their final game in Anaheim will be against either UC Riverside or Boston College, neither of whom should provide too much resistance. For Santa Clara, they'll have to hope that this is their real team, rather than the team that was destroyed by 33 points by UCSB. But honestly, we often see weird results at these Thanksgiving Week tournaments, so I need more to believe that Santa Clara really will be relevant in the WCC this season. Their next game will be against Oklahoma. Their final game in Anaheim will be against either Villanova or Saint Louis.

Oklahoma 74, Washington State 59
Washington State actually led almost the entire first half, and looked to have this game under control, but their offense abandoned them in the second half. Over the final 14 minutes of the game they shot 3-for-16 from the field with seven turnovers, a period during which they were outscored 27-11. It was just one of those things where a few bad plays snowballed into a bunch of players looking around wanting the game to end. This is a tough loss for a Washington State team that I think is (or at least I thought was) underrated. This is a quality win for Oklahoma in their first game of the season against a quality opponent.

I'm not convinced I was wrong about Washington State. This is just one poor performance. They also have a solid road victory at Portland, and a narrow seven point road loss at Gonzaga. There's no reason to panic because of one poor performance. They will try to bounce back in the 76 Classic Consolation Bracket against New Mexico, a game that would be a very nice win if Washington State can get it. And they'll need it to salvage something from this tournament, because whoever they play in their final game will not be a quality opponent (either UC Riverside or Boston College). Oklahoma heads to the semifinals, where they'll play Santa Clara. Their final game will be against either Villanova or Saint Louis. It's irrational to make too many judgments about a team when they've only played one quality opponent all season. Let's see what Oklahoma does next. They should be able to handle Santa Clara, but either Saint Louis or Villanova will provide a really strong test.

Fairfield 55, Arizona State 44
This game wasn't as close as the final score. Fairfield grabbed a double-digit lead late in the first half and held it continuously, leading by 18 with about nine minutes to go when they relaxed a little bit too early and allowed Arizona State to nearly pull a backdoor cover (Fairfield was favored by 6.5). It says something about both of these teams that Fairfield didn't play particularly well but simply took care of business against a Pac-12 opponent. Fairfield is a good team that, unfortunately, is overshadowed in their own conference by a really good Iona team.

The reality is that it's very unlikely that the MAAC will be a multi-bid conference. So in the end, Fairfield and Iona will likely end up playing in the MAAC tournament title game for the auto bid... although even that might not come to pass. Remember, those were the two best teams in that conference last season, and they were shocked in the semis and finals by a mediocre St. Peter's team that stole the MAAC's auto bid. But that said, this early in the season anything is possible, and Fairfield is good enough that they're worth at least paying attention to as a potential at-large contender (as is Iona, of course).

I thought before the Old Spice Classic began that Minnesota and Fairfield were the two best teams, and the likely title game. So far we're on pace. Fairfield will play their semifinal this evening against Dayton. Arizona State is now 1-3 with only a six point win over a mediocre Montana State team. It's been a brutal start for a team that we knew was in rebuilding mode. They will play in the Consolation Bracket tonight against Wake Forest. Their final game in Orlando will be against either Texas Tech or DePaul.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Harvard Meets Expectations In Dominant Win Over Utah

Harvard 75, Utah 47
This isn't your father's Ivy League team. Ivy League teams have certainly had success in the relatively recent past. Those Princeton teams in the late 1990s under Bill Carmody were borderline Top 25 teams for a couple of years. But those teams were running the Princeton offense, and fit the stereotype of a bunch of nonathletic white kids using backdoor passes to get by more talented opponents. That is not what this Harvard team has been under Tommy Amaker. He's been bringing in tremendous athletes and talents, and his recruiting classes have been better and better each year. They play like a major conference team with major conference athleticism, and they just blew Utah off the court here. They actually led by 29 points at one point in the first half.

Utah, of course, is not good this season. They're probably going to be the worst team in the Pac-12, although there are some other bad teams that could contend for the cellar (Colorado is probably the most likely to steal the cellar from the Utes). Utah is now 0-3 against Division I opponents this season, and will try to get their first win tomorrow against UMass. Their final game in the Bahamas will be against either College of Charleston or UNC-Asheville. They should have a decent shot against both UMass and UNC-Asheville, should they get the chance. I would think Utah would be a clear underdog against Charleston.

Harvard moves to the semifinals in the Bahamas, where they'll play Florida State. As athletic as Harvard is, they're not as athletic as Florida State. It would be incredibly impressive if they could somehow pull off that upset. Their final game in the Bahamas will be against either UConn or Central Florida.

Minnesota 86, DePaul 85
I don't think a loss here would have been quite as big of an upset as it would have been between these two teams last season, but it still would have been pretty bad for Minnesota. And the Gophers came out asleep in this game, falling behind by double digits in the first half and trailing for most of the first 30 minutes of this game. They finally tied it back up with eight minutes to go, and held a small lead for most of the rest of the way. Rodney Williams put the team up three by putting back an offensive rebound with 13 seconds to go, and DePaul's Moses Morgan missed a potential game-tying three (Krys Faber got a meaningless basket off the missed three at the buzzer to give the final margin of one point).

There are a few reasons not to panic for Minnesota. Trevor Mbakwe is a beast, and the team has upgraded at the point guard position since late last season, when they didn't even really have one. They have some quality wins this season (a ten point win over a Fairfield and a 12 point win over Bucknell both look pretty good), and this was just a bad day. Besides, DePaul isn't as bad as they were last year. I do think Minnesota is the best team in the Old Spice Classic, particularly since I think Fairfield is the best team in the tournament other than Minnesota, and they've already lost to the Golden Gophers by 12. If Minnesota can play better tomorrow they should get by Indiana State. If they do then they'll play in the finals against either Dayton or Fairfield.

DePaul, as I said, does look to be a little better than last season. They're still a long way from being competitive in the Big East, but Oliver Purnell has them going in the right direction. I don't think they'll go 1-17 in the Big East again this season. They will next play Texas Tech in the Consolation Bracket. Their final game in Orlando will be against either Arizona State or Wake Forest. Despite the names and histories of past successes, the reality is that neither Texas Tech, Arizona State or Wake Forest is going to be any good this season. I'll be surprised if any of them end up as Top 100 teams this season. So DePaul has to feel like anything less than a split in these two games will be a disappointment.

Dayton 80, Wake Forest 76
Believe it or not, this was an encouraging result for Wake Forest. They were truly awful last season, finishing 251st in Pomeroy and 242nd in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. That made them the worst ACC team in more than a decade. Jeff Bzdelik has had to get rid of some bad characters, and does seem to have the program moving in the right direction, even if they're still very short on talent of any kind. At the very least, I doubt they'll finish 250th in the computer ratings again this year. Nearly beating Dayton, particularly when the game was legitimately close (as opposed to just some hot shooting performance from Wake Forest), will be encouraging as they get ready to play Arizona State tomorrow. Arizona State is in total rebuilding mode as well, and will be vulnerable. Wake Forest will play their final game in Orlando on Sunday, against either DePaul or Texas Tech.

This result is yet another warning sign for Dayton under brand new coach Archie Miller (who looks like he's about 16 years old, by the way). Losing to Miami-Ohio and then nearly falling to Wake Forest is not what at-large quality teams do. They certainly look to be a step below the Xavier/Temple/Saint Louis trio atop the Atlantic Ten. They will have a chance to bounce back tomorrow against Fairfield. Their final game in Orlando will be on Sunday, against either Minnesota or Indiana State.