Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mississippi State Gets A Big Win At Detroit

#16 Mississippi State 80, Detroit 75
This was a game of runs. Mississippi Sate went on a 10-0 run early in the second half, and Detroit responded with their own 10-0 run. And while Detroit's resume makes it look like they're not a particularly good team, that has more to do with the Eli Holman suspension than anything else. Holman is back and playing well (12 points and 9 rebounds here), though it was a huge block of a Holman shot by Arnett Moultrie that delivered the win for Mississippi State. Moultrie, the transfer from UTEP, is the best big man MSU has, though it surely is encouraging that the Bulldogs got so many good minutes from Renardo Sidney (16 points on 7-for-10 shooting, along with 7 rebounds).

The breakout performer in this game was Rodney Hood. The true freshman was hampered with foul trouble, and only played 17 minutes, but he had four assists and scored eight points, none bigger than a jumper with 22 seconds to go to put MSU ahead for good. His emergence gives MSU three quality backcourt players, and helps them keep the offensively inefficient Deville Smith off the floor.

This is an impressive win for Mississippi State, though they're still way overrated at 16th. They have a Tournament quality resume right now, but I have my doubts that they're going to be much more than a .500 team in SEC play. I expect them to be on the bubble all season long.

MSU's next competitive game will be December 28th against Baylor. They open SEC play on January 7th at Arkansas. As for Detroit, they now fall to 5-7 overall. Whatever at-large hopes they thought they had preseason are now dashed, but there's no question that once Holman really gets his game legs under him they'll be contenders to win the Horizon League's auto bid. They're off to an 0-2 start in Horizon League play, so they need to bounce back against Illinois-Chicago (December 29th) and Loyola-Chicago (December 31st), two bottom-feeders that they should beat.

Charleston 71, Tennessee 65
With finals going on, it's been a very slow week of college basketball. This was one game to talk about from the middle of the week, though. One thing I'll point out is that despite Charleston's students rushing the floor after this win, it was not an "upset". Pomeroy projected a four point victory for Charleston, and they were favored by 1.5 points in Vegas. Charleston has been a good team for several seasons now under Bobby Cremins, and Tennessee is simply struggling this season.

The difference in this game was the post defense of Charleston, which pushed the entire Tennessee offense away from the basket and forced them into a lot of long jump shots. Tennessee took a majority of their shots from the field behind the arc, where they shot only 31% for the game. Offensive struggles have been a continuing issue this season for Tennessee, and it's why their results have been awful. The Vols are now 0-6 this season against non-cupcakes. Five of those losses have been by six points or less, so they've been unlucky, but their at-large hopes are looking bleak before even opening SEC play.

Tennessee's next game will be Tuesday against UNC-Asheville. They also will play at Memphis on January 4th before opening SEC play against Florida on January 7th. As for Charleston, it is looking increasingly likely that I was right back in April when I projected them and Davidson to dominate the Southern Conference. Davidson is still, in my opinion, the narrow favorite. The two teams will play a home-and-home this season. The game at Davidson will be January 19th, and the return trip will be February 11th.

#2 Ohio State 74, South Carolina 66
Ohio State did manage to avoid the upset, and so the story of this game isn't the game itself but the health of Jared Sullinger. After missing the Kansas game with a back injury, he played only six minutes in this game before injuring his foot. It's still a little unclear what his health status is, though Ohio State is calling it a bone bruise and is saying he's day-to-day. Even if he's able to go, Thad Matta might prefer to get him some rest before Big Ten play. I don't think Sullinger is the best player in the nation, but I believe that he's the most important player on any team in the Top 25. Ohio State's entire offense revolves around having Sullinger drawing defenders in the paint and then kicking out to their shooters.

As was the case in the Kansas game, which Sullinger also missed, Deshaun Thomas stepped up in a big way (30 points on 13-for-16 shooting here). Thomas is more of a perimeter player, so he doesn't open up the game for his teammates the way Sullinger does, but he's a tremendously efficient offensive player. And this isn't a big surprise - even in very limited minutes last season I thought he looked like the type of player who would score a ton of points if given the minutes.

This was a huge missed opportunity for a South Carolina team that desperately needed a big win. They're now 4-6 with only a win over Clemson to go with bad losses against Elon, Tennessee State and Providence. They could struggle with Wofford on December 28th, but otherwise will be able to feast on some cupcakes before opening SEC play on January 7th at Kentucky. Ohio State next plays Lamar on Tuesday, which might not be a pushover game if Sullinger doesn't go. They open Big Ten play on December 28th against Northwestern.

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