Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rutgers Shocks Florida

Rutgers 85, #10 Florida 83, 2OT
Most college basketball fans outside New Jersey don't understand how big of a deal it was when Mike Rosario signed with Rutgers. He was a home town kid who was more than just a blue chip recruit, he was going to be the savior of the program. The pressure was immense, and in the end he left the program to play for Florida. Rutgers fans and players felt tremendously betrayed. That program is now rebuilding under Mike Rice, and this was their chance to show Rosario what he was missing. Rutgers got off to a slow start to this game, but seemed to flip a switch when Rosario checked into the game for the first time. Certainly the crowd came alive.

When you've got a game that goes into multiple overtimes there's always going to be a lot of luck involved, but Rutgers deserved a win like this. They're a better team than their putrid resume would suggest. Coming into this game they had losses to Princeton, LSU, Richmond and Illinois State, and zero wins over the RPI Top 200 (their best win came over Stony Brook). But this is a team that I believe has a real chance to win six or seven games in Big East play, and to potentially be a bubble team next season. They will open Big East play on New Year's Day at South Florida. Their schedule through the rest of January is pretty brutal, so it will do them a lot of good to get off to a positive start at USF.

Florida came into this game with a really solid resume, with their only losses coming against Syracuse and Ohio State. Though if you think about it, Florida is the type of team that should be inconsistent, what with their heavy reliance on the three-pointer and an offense that too often rushes things and rarely works the ball into the paint. They now have a couple of relatively easy home games (Yale and UAB) coming up before beginning SEC play, where they still do look like the top contender to Kentucky. Their first SEC game will be January 7th at Tennessee.

#7 Baylor 54, #14 Mississippi State 52
This game was not an offensive showcase, but both of these teams are very athletic and talented and it was a fun game. To put this game in perspective with a single stat - there were nearly as many steals (19) as assists (20). I was impressed with the way Mississippi State hung in this game - I thought they'd get beaten more soundly than this. The one worry was at the end of the game when Renardo Sidney mentally regressed by fouling out and then getting called for a technical for whining about the call. The gorilla in the room with Mississippi State is always maturity, and it will be key if Sidney can immediately get back to where he was for the first 38 minutes of this game, when he actually played quite well (10 points on 5-for-6 shooting). Arnett Moultrie is the best big on MSU, but if Sidney's not playing then their front court gets very, very thin.

Mississippi State will play Utah State on Saturday. With a win there they'll head into SEC play knowing that a 9-7 finish plus a win in the SEC tournament will probably be sufficient to earn them an at-large bid. They'll open SEC play on January 7th at Arkansas.

Baylor moves to 13-0, though three of those wins have been by three points or less. I doubt they'll stay undefeated past January 16th (they'll play at Kansas that day, and also have a tough game at Kansas State six days prior), but it's an impressive start to the season nonetheless. They'll open Big 12 play on Monday against Texas A&M.

Purdue 79, Iowa 76
After an up-and-down non-conference season, including that tough loss a couple of weeks ago to Butler, there were a lot of people thinking Purdue is only a bubble team this season. I'm not one of them, but I might have changed my mind if Purdue opened Big Ten play with a bad loss at Iowa. Honestly, the only reason this score was as close as it ended up was because Purdue couldn't keep Iowa off the line (29 free throw attempts compared to only 11 for the Boilermakers).

Iowa is, in a lot of ways, very similar to the Rutgers team I talked about at the top of this post. Iowa is also a team rebuilding under a good second-year coach that I expected to be feisty in conference play this season, but that got off to a poor start to the season. In Iowa's case, that meant zero quality wins along with weak losses to Campbell, Iowa State and Clemson. I still think they have the ability to win six or seven games in Big Ten play, but falling at home to Purdue isn't going to help that cause. They're unlikely to bounce back on Saturday at Wisconsin, and then will play Minnesota on January 4th. After that they play Ohio State and on the road at Michigan State. If they don't win at Minnesota they could go quite far into this season without a win in Big Ten play.

Purdue will probably make the NCAA Tournament if they can go 9-9 in conference play and then win at least one Big Ten tournament game. They have an important "taking care of business" game on Saturday against Illinois. After that they'll have to avoid a potential trap game at Penn State on January 5th.

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