Friday, December 23, 2011

Middle Tennessee St Is Another Mid-Major To Watch

Middle Tennessee State 68, Ole Miss 56
This game was tight most of the way, and Ole Miss actually led with under ten minutes to go. But over the next 4:30, Middle Tennessee went on a 13-1 run driven by four Ole Miss turnovers. For the game, Ole Miss finished with 21 turnovers and had only a 43.3 eFG% (ending up with a brutal 0.81 PPP). And offense has been a problem for Ole Miss all season long. Their 0.96 PPP is 230th in the nation. Their strong defense slowed down a hot Middle Tennessee attack, but not enough.

Middle Tennessee State is team that hasn't been relevant nationally since.... well, I can't remember the last time they were relevant. But they looked terrific in two very-well played games against Belmont (they lost the first in double overtime, and won the second by three points), and they also have wins over UCLA and Akron to go with this win. A loss to UAB is their only mediocre loss thus far, and their Sagarin PREDICTOR is all the way up to 40th (Pomeroy has them back in 60th). There's no question that they'll be a dangerous team if they can make the NCAA Tournament... but that's going to be a tall task. The fact is that the Sun Belt has several strong teams this season, and both Denver and Florida Atlantic will pose tough challenges. Florida Atlantic was my preseason pick to win the conference, and I still stand by that pick. But any of those three teams will be a scary Round of 64 opponent in March.

Mississippi's inability to score the basketball has been sinking their season. They now have losses to Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee, with the closest thing to a quality win being an overtime home victory over the University of Miami. They'll get a chance to bounce back on December 30th at Dayton, but even if they can pull the upset in that game they'll still have an uphill battle in SEC play to work their way onto the bubble. That means probably going 10-6 or better, which I don't see as likely.

#12 Florida 84, Florida State 62
This is only the second time in the past 12 months that Florida State has given up 80 or more points, and the other time was on the road at North Carolina last season, which should put in perspective what Florida did here. The Gators did two things very well here. First, they got around FSU's tremendous halfcourt defense by getting out in transition with 12 steals. Second, they took advantage of the one FSU defensive weakness - defensive rebounding (Florida had a 36.4 OR% here).

Florida State's poor defensive rebounding is something they should able to fix. They have tremendous size and athleticism and are excellent on the offensive boards. But like so many other teams that rely on size and athleticism, they haven't felt the need to learn how to box out (Baylor sticks out as another team with this affliction). The Seminoles right now are 8-4 without any bad losses, but they don't have a single quality win either. I do think they're a borderline Top 25 team, but eventually they've got to turn that into wins. They still will play Auburn and Princeton before beginning ACC play, but neither of those will turn into quality wins. This means FSU will have to get some big wins in conference play. They'll get home games against both North Carolina and Duke, so those are two games that really stand out as key opportunities for the Seminoles.

Florida now has this win to go with wins over Arizona and Texas A&M, and both of their losses came to Top Ten opponents (Ohio State and Syracuse). With some hiccups by Alabama and all sorts of struggles for Vanderbilt, Florida is looking like the clear top contender to Kentucky in the SEC. They'll play a potential trap game next Thursday at Rutgers, and then will play Yale and UAB before opening SEC play at Tennessee on January 7th.

Alabama 69, Oklahoma State 52
Alabama had really struggled over the past two weeks, so it was good for them to get back in the groove of things with a dominant victory over Oklahoma State. They had given up a jarring 1.04 PPP in their previous four games, but returned to the suffocating defense we expect with only 0.78 PPP allowed here. Oklahoma State couldn't get an open shot all day, and finished with a 35.5 eFG%. And keep in mind that Alabama did this without star JaMychal Green, who sat out with a shoulder injury.

Despite all their struggles the past two weeks, Alabama really only has one potentially bad loss (Dayton) and they have wins over Purdue, Wichita State, VCU and now Oklahoma State. It's a good resume, though they've lost ground in the SEC and now only look like the third best team (behind Kentucky and Florida). They have a potential trap game on January 3rd at Georgia Tech before beginning SEC play on January 7th at Georgia.

Oklahoma State has played fairly well this season, but it absolutely has not translated into results. They don't have any bad losses, but they're only 6-5 overall with a road victory over Missouri State being the closest thing they've got to a quality win. I think they'll be a bubble team in March, but they've got to start winning some of these games against quality opponents. They have a potentially tricky game Wednesday against SMU, and then will play Virginia Tech before opening Big 12 play on January 4th against Texas Tech. If they can beat both SMU and Virginia Tech then a 9-9 conference record will get them onto the bubble, though they'll still probably need to get to 10-8 to earn that at-large bid.

No comments: