Sunday, December 04, 2011

Baylor Annihilates Northwestern

#8 Baylor 69, Northwestern 41
Despite Baylor being ranked 8th in the country, I haven't believed the hype. I had them as a 7 seed in my most recent bracket projection. They have tremendous length and athleticism, but that's been true each of the past few years. My doubts are with their offense, particularly at point guard. And they did destroy a quality Northwestern team here. But I think there are some pretty big caveats here. First, Northwestern couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. They took 45% of their shots behind the arc and hit 15% of them. Meanwhile, Northwestern also had 12 offensive rebounds to only 5 for Baylor. Defensive rebounding has been a problem for Baylor not just this year, but nearly the entire time Scott Drew's been head coach. They've allowed an offensive rebounding percentage of 31.6% or better in six of seven games this season.

The perfect game for Baylor would be against a nonathletic team that can't hit threes. I don't think they'll get too many more games like this all season, if any. And their only other quality opponent all season has been San Diego State, a team that they beat narrowly at home. In other words, I think the jury is still out on Baylor. In no way have they proven that they're in the same class as a team like North Carolina, a team they'll probably be ranked in front of tomorrow.

This was a poor performance for Northwestern, but the silver lining is that in March nobody will care how many points they lost this game by. A loss to Baylor won't be a bad loss. They're still 7-1 with wins over Seton Hall, Georgia Tech, LSU and Tulsa. They play three cupcakes next before a tough road game at Creighton on December 22nd - their last quality opponent before starting Big Ten play. Considering the strength of the Big Ten this season, I'd say that if Northwestern can beat Creighton and then go 9-9 in conference play they'll be in an excellent position to finally earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

New Mexico 76, Missouri State 60
This wasn't the best that New Mexico has played this season, but they hit their threes (10-for-22), and that was enough. They actually shot better on threes than on twos (33.3%), which isn't a huge surprise against a Missouri State team that has a lot of size and does a very good job at defending the paint. Some very good news for the Lobos is that Demetrius Walker had his best game of the season, with 16 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. Walker is a kid with tremendous raw talent. Things didn't work out at Arizona State, and this is his first year playing for New Mexico since his transfer. He still has a lot to learn to be an efficient ball player, but he's obviously got the athleticism and talent to be a major contributor.

New Mexico had a very bumpy start to the season with losses to Santa Clara and New Mexico State. With wins over Missouri State and Washington State, things have settled down. They head to USC for a game next Saturday, and then will play Oklahoma State the following Saturday.

Missouri State has now lost two straight to Oral Roberts and New Mexico. They do have wins over Nevada and Tulsa, but those two wins won't outweigh those two losses if they're going to try to earn an at-large bid. They have a good chance for a quality win on Wednesday against Oklahoma State. After that they play a few cupcakes before a game against West Virginia on December 22nd.

Southern Miss 74, New Mexico State 66
This game wasn't even as close as the final score would indicate. Southern Miss grabbed a double-digit lead within the first five minutes of the game, and held that double-digit lead for almost the entire rest of the game. A late New Mexico State rally got the final margin of victory down to a more manageable-looking eight points. Southern Miss had nine more offensive rebounds and five fewer turnovers, and drew eight more fouls. It would have taken a lights-out shooting performance from New Mexico State to overcome that. Southern Miss did only really play a seven man rotation in this game, which is consistent with what they've done all season, but it appears to work for them. They play at a slow tempo and play a passive defense where they sit back and allow teams to shoot over the top but cut down on paint opportunities. It's a lot easy to play a lot of minutes without getting tired if you're never pressing or pushing the pace. It will be interesting to see what happens when they play a team like Memphis that is good at speeding up the game.

This is actually the second time in a little more than a week that Southern Miss beat New Mexico State. They had the identical margin of victory in the semifinals of the Great Alaska Shootout the day after Thanksgiving. Other than that, though, the season hasn't been too successful for Larry Eustachy's squad. Their next best win was over Colorado State, and they've lost to Denver and Murray State. They have a couple of soft opponents coming up before playing Ole Miss on December 17th.

New Mexico State was a team I thought would be really good this season, and they got off to a great start to this season with a win over New Mexico. But since then they have lost a pair of games to Southern Miss in addition to a loss to Arizona, with zero wins of note. They will head to UTEP for a game next Sunday, and then won't play another quality opponent until their rematch against New Mexico on December 28th.

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