Sunday, November 27, 2011

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.

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