Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kyle Weems Sparks Missouri State's Win Over Creighton

Missouri State 77, #19 Creighton 65
Kyle Weems always has the potential to explode offensively like he did here, with 25 second half points on the way to 31 points for the game. But that was only half of the reason why Missouri State won a true road game at an excellent Creighton team. Creighton only scored 0.98 PPP, only their third game below 1.10 PPP this season. I had a post last weekend talking about Creighton's mind-boggling offensive stats, and the fact is that they still shot okay from behind the arc here (43%). But what happened here was that Missouri State's interior defense, which has been great all season, was spectacular. They held Creighton to a 35.3 2P%, by far their worst of the season.

Kyle Weems is a strong defensive player in his own right, but it's a team effort on defense for the Bears. Caleb Patterson, Jamar Gulley and Keith Patterson are all quality defenders. And that defense is a big reason why Missouri State, as weak as their resume was coming into this game, is still a very good team. The Bears now have their first quality win of the season, though they only have one soft loss to go with it (Oral Roberts). They're only 1-4 against the RPI Top 100, but they'll get plenty of chances to improve on that in a solid Missouri Valley Conference. Their immediate upcoming schedule, however, is relatively soft - they'll play Drake on Saturday and then Illinois State on Wednesday.

You never want to lose at home to anybody, and this will be a disappointing loss for Creighton, but they had built some slack in their resume after a strong non-conference performance. They have wins over San Diego State, Northwestern and Nebraska, and only have losses to St. Joseph's and Missouri State. They'll still be an at-large team if they can get to 12-6 or better in Missouri Valley play and perform well in the MVC tournament. They've got a huge game up next, on Saturday at Wichita State. After that they shouldn't be tested again until a game on January 10th against Northern Iowa.

New Mexico 89, New Mexico State 69
New Mexico State actually won at New Mexico back in mid-November. But in the rematch at their place? They were just taken to the woodshed by a New Mexico team hitting on all cylinders. New Mexico star Drew Gordon (23 points, 19 rebounds) outplayed New Mexico State star Wendell McKines (25 points, 15 rebounds), but the real difference was on the perimeter. Tony Snell was white hot (5-for-8 on threes, 9-for-9 at the line), and New Mexico as a team finished 12-for-24 on threes, with 9 steals.

The reality is that New Mexico is just playing much better than they were two months ago. They started the season by losing to New Mexico State and Santa Clara, but have won nine straight now, including victories over Oklahoma State, Missouri State, Washington State and New Mexico State. They've slid into the Top 25 in both the Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy ratings. They will play St. Louis in a huge non-conference game on Saturday. If they can win there, then even an 8-6 conference record will probably be enough for an at-large bid.

New Mexico State is now 8-5, with a bad loss to UTEP and only that one nice win over New Mexico. It's hard to see a path for them to an at-large bid, but they are clearly one of the favorites in the WAC (Utah State and Nevada are probably their two top rivals). They'll open conference play on January 7th at Louisiana Tech.

North Dakota State 96, Oakland 69
To say that North Dakota State shot the lights out here is an understatement. They hit 60% of their threes and finished with a 74.6 eFG%. That's not just their best shooting performance in nearly five years (since a January 20, 2007 game against Winston Salem State), but it's the second best shooting performance by any team in the nation this season that had more than 75 possessions in a game (UNLV shot slightly better against in a game played last night as well, against Central Arkansas). In fact, Oakland fought to a draw in the rebounding and turnover battles of the game, and earned more than twice as many free throw attempts, so shooting was the real difference in this game.

This is a game that didn't get any attention outside Summit League fans and media, and there's a reason for that. It's going to be a one-bid league, so this game doesn't really affect the at-large hopes of any team from any other conference. But the Summit has four dominant teams, and these are two of them (Oral Roberts and South Dakota State are the other two). However it happened, for North Dakota State to destroy Oakland like this is notable.

North Dakota State shouldn't have much trouble with IPFW on Friday, but then they've got a huge road game at Oral Roberts on January 5th. A win there would really give them a step up in the battle for the Summit regular season title. Oakland, meanwhile, has a chance to bounce back in a big way tomorrow at South Dakota State. They'll also play Oral Roberts at home on Tuesday.

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