#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.