Friday, November 18, 2011

Arizona Survives Strong Effort From St. John's

#16 Arizona 81, St. John's 72
St. John's got a good effort from a larger-than-average crowd at Madison Square Garden that helped push the team to an eight point second half lead. But Arizona's team has a lot of experience, and they tightened up down the stretch, going on a 16-2 run that included 6-for-8 shooting, two steals and three offensive rebounds. Over that 3:40 stretch Arizona scored 2.29 points per possession. You have to wonder if this was just the first of several times this year we'll see St. John's fade down the stretch. Steve Lavin will only be playing seven guys until at least the start of the spring semester, and it's just hard not to wear down, particularly with the uptempo style St. John's plays. Arizona is the best team St. John's has played this season, by far, and they're also the first team to cause St. John's so many late second half troubles.

Of course, one game is not a trend, and St. John's did play well late in the second half in their games against William & Mary and Lehigh. But now we'll see what the Johnnies do in their second game in as many days against a Texas A&M team that is presumably angry about that awful start they got off to yesterday that cost them a bad loss to Mississippi State. If there's anything to tired legs being a problem, Texas A&M should run St. John's off the floor tonight.

Arizona, meanwhile, moves to a very impressive 4-0. None of the wins have been blowouts (all have been between eight and ten points), but they've been against four quality opponents: St. John's, Duquesne, Ball State and Valparaiso. I know it's early and the computer ratings are still working off small sample sizes, but sometimes you can glean some information, and right now Arizona's Sagarin ratings tell us something - their ELO_CHESS is 5th and their PREDICTOR is 29th. The only teams with an ELO_CHESS (the best measure of resume strength that I'm aware of) better than Arizona are North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas. And obviously a team like Kansas is only there because of preseason ratings, which at this early stage are still a big part of Sagarin's numbers (preseason ratings will fall out of the formula around a month from now).

Is Arizona the fifth best team in the country? No. But they're a good team, and I feel confident that I made the right choice in picking them as the Pac-12 favorite. The Pac-12 has been awful in the early going this season - the worst of the six BCS conferences - so Arizona doesn't have to be as good as North Carolina or Kentucky to win that conference. Arizona shouldn't have much trouble later today when they play Mississippi State in the Coaches vs Cancer title game. They probably would honestly prefer to play Texas A&M, which would have provided more of a test and more potential resume material. They have nothing to gain against Mississippi State team that has a good chance of finishing the season outside the RPI Top 100.

Wichita State 67, Colorado 58
Wichita State took the lead for good late in the first half, and looked clearly like the better team all game. The final score was kept deceptively close by 46% three-point shooting from Colorado. Wichita State was particularly dominant inside on the boards (a 33.3 OR% to 15.6% for Colorado), and with their interior offense, where Colorado had no answer for Garrett Stutz (14 points, 11 rebounds). But it shouldn't be a surprise that Wichita State is better than Colorado. The Buffaloes were a Bubble team last season, but between graduation and the NBA Draft they lost four starters, including their two best players. The offensive spark and playmaking ability of Alec Burks was always going to be impossible to replace. This is a very young Colorado team that is rebuilding, and nobody expects them to be relevant in the Pac-12 this year.

How good is Wichita State? Are they going to be the top contender to Creighton in the Missouri Valley this season? It's impossible to tell that after they've only played Colorado and Charleston Southern. But they move on in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where they'll play Alabama tonight. They'll play either Purdue or Temple in their final game. Colorado heads to the Consolation Bracket, where they'll play Maryland today. Their final game will be against either Iona or Western Michigan.

Saint Joseph's 66, Georgia Tech 53
Georgia Tech wasn't a team anybody expected to do a whole lot this season. They went 5-11 in the ACC last season, and lost their star (Iman Shumpert) to the NBA Draft. And things were going to be even tougher with Glen Rice, Jr. suspended for the first three games. But they do have a young core that has some talent, and if anything there was encouraging play from Mfon Udofia (20 points on 8-for-16 shooting) and Daniel Miller (six rebounds, four blocks). But while they're athletic, they have a total black hole at point guard. Their only three capable ball handlers last season were Maurice Miller (graduated), Iman Shumpert (drafted) and Glen Rice, Jr (suspended). In theory, Pierre Jordan is a true point guard, but he collected a grand total of 37 points and 18 assists in his first three seasons in the program. You sometimes see bench players come alive in their senior season simply because they have learned the system so well and have so much experience that they can overcome their lack of raw talent, and maybe Jordan will be able to do that, but just maybe.

Saint Joseph's wasn't a team that I expected to do a whole lot this season. They were extremely young last season (329th in the nation in Pomeroy Experience), but were also bad (4-12 in Atlantic Ten play). I expect them to be better, but still outside the Top 100. A win over Georgia Tech isn't proof of too much, but it's an encouraging sign, particularly after a nice road win at Western Kentucky. They move to the semifinals of the Charleston Classic, where they'll play Seton Hall. Their final game will be against either Northwestern or Tulsa. They also will have a road game at Iona before Thanksgiving (I give St. Joe's a lot of credit for playing true road games at Western Kentucky, Iona and Harvard, since teams from bigger conferences are usually afraid of playing any game like that, let alone three in the same season). Georgia Tech heads to the Consolation Bracket, where they'll play VCU tonight. Their final game will be against either LSU or Western Kentucky.


Anonymous said...

Hello Jeff, where did you see that the elo chess of arizona was 5? because a have a page of the sagarin ratings but they are not whit the games of this year?

Jeff said...

I hadn't updated the link from last season. Try the Sagarin link on the right side of the page now.