Monday, November 07, 2011

Opening Night!... Arizona, St. John's & Mississippi State Win

It's now officially college basketball season! Three Division I games were played tonight, and here are some brief thoughts on all them:

St. John's 74, William & Mary 59
William & Mary isn't going to be a very good team this season, and the Johnnies actually trailed for most of the first half and were down by as many as nine points early in the second, but I still think this is an encouraging win for them. This team has a major depth problem through at least this semester (it's possible that some or all of the three players suspended for the fall semester will be back for the spring semester), and I thought they might back off their uptempo pressing style. But in fact, St. John's came out and pressed, and took care of the ball far better than anybody could have expected from such a young team with so much roster turnover. They forced 21 turnovers while committing only 4, and they actually got stronger as the game went along. It's just flat out impressive for a team playing only seven guys to actually get stronger as the game goes on. Their first game against a quality opponent will be November 17th, when they take on Arizona. William & Mary will try to get back on track on Saturday at Hampton. The Tribe won't play another strong opponent until they get Richmond on November 30th.

Mississippi State 76, Eastern Kentucky 66
This was an underwhelming performance from Mississippi State. Dee Bost picked up right where he left off (23 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists), and Rodney Hood had a nice debut (12 points on 5-for-9 shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists), but it's disconcerting to see how little Renardo Sidney has progressed. Sidney finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds and 4 turnovers, and actually was on the bench down the stretch. The Bulldogs will get a tougher opponent on Wednesday night when they play Akron, and they'll get Texas A&M on November 17th. So they won't have a lot of time to figure out what went wrong. Eastern Kentucky next plays at Winthrop on Saturday.

#16 Arizona 73, Valparaiso 64
This truly was a close game. In fact, if Valparaiso could have hit an outside shot they might have won this one. For the game, Valpo was only 5-for-21 behind the arc, despite having an a slew of open shots. Starting just before the end of the first half, they actually went more than ten minutes of game time without hitting a field goal at all. That said, Arizona's superior athleticism and physicality did seem to wear Valparaiso down in the second half. The star for Arizona was Jesse Perry, who dominated the paint with 14 points and 10 rebounds. I'll reserve a little judgment on Perry, though, because Valpo's front line isn't the most formidable. It will be interesting to see if Perry can continue this play against a bigger opponent. Arizona will get a strong opponent on Wednesday night in Duquesne. Valparaiso's next game will be at Georgia Southern, though their next strong test should be Akron, on November 18th.

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