Friday, November 25, 2011

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.

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