Friday, November 30, 2012

Duke Beats Ohio State; Should They Be #1?

#2 Duke 73, #4 Ohio State 69
Mason Plumlee had a career night (21 points and 17 rebounds) as Duke knocked off Ohio State despite trailing most of the night. The key stretch came with around 6-7 minutes left, when the Blue Devils hit threes on three consecutive possessions to turn a four point deficit into a three point lead that they would never relinquish. Duke also did a really good job as a team denying the ball from DeShaun Thomas, who only scored 16 points, on 6-for-14 shooting.

This Duke win sparked conversations nationally both about the top team in the country, and the National Player of the Year. I'll get to both of them in this post. First, as for the top team, it comes down to what I say all the time about the difference between the best resumes and the best teams. Duke has the best resume in the country - they have wins over Ohio State, Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota and VCU. In fact, they were #1 in the Sagarin ELO_CHESS even before this win over Ohio State. But the team with the best resume is not necessarily the best team, and Duke is not the best team. All four of those wins have been close, and they easily could have lost one or two of them if luck had gone the other way. That's why they're only 5th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy ratings. So what do you want polls to be about - the best teams or the best resumes? Your answer to that question will determine whether Duke deserves to be #1 or not.

As for Player of the Year, it's not absurd to pick Mason Plumlee as the early favorite, but I definitely disagree with picking them. The reality is that Player of the Year hype always biases toward guys with huge NBA lottery potential (such as Anthony Davis last year) and stars on top ranked blue chip programs (like Mason Plumlee on Duke this year). In addition, there is a clear bias against high efficiency players who don't put up spectacular Sportscenter highlights and who play in medium-to-low tempo offenses. Mike Scott and Jordan Taylor were examples of two players drastically underrated last season for these reasons. This season it appears to be DeShaun Thomas who can't buy the respect he deserves. He was awesome last season, but his stats this season are ridiculously good. He's taken 33.5% of Ohio State's shots while on the floor, shooting with a 61.7 eFG%, only turning the ball over on 8.6% of the possessions he uses and hitting 94% at the line. If he somehow keeps that up for the season it would be one of the greatest offensive seasons we've ever seen. He's my NPOY so far, even with this loss to Duke and Mason Plumlee.

Ohio State will play Northern Kentucky tomorrow and shouldn't be seriously tested again until they play Kansas on December 22nd. Duke will play Delaware on Saturday, followed by Temple next Saturday.

Notre Dame 64, #8 Kentucky 50
Notre Dame had everything working in this game... other than their uniforms, of course, which were hideous. The Irish hit 8-for-15 from behind the arc, and also seemed to come down with all of the loose balls. I generally find the argument that more experienced teams are stronger/tougher unconvincing, so I'm not going to try to draw those conclusions here. It was just a good day for Notre Dame and a bad day for Kentucky. That's how it goes sometimes.

Kentucky is a team that is still finding themselves. Ryan Harrow has been sick and playing badly, but appears to finally be getting his act together. And despite all of their troubles, they're still 9th in the Pomeroy ratings and 10th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They're still a Final Four contender, even if they don't improve dramatically between now and March. They will play Baylor tomorrow, and then will take on a series of cream puffs before their big game at Louisville on December 29th.

The Irish have this win to go with a win over BYU. With a decent chance that their loss to St. Joseph's will end up an RPI Top 50 loss, their resume is in pretty good shape. Their one real test remaining before Big East play will be December 15th against Purdue.

#7 Florida 82, Marquette 49
Florida's a really good team, but I was surprised by how they wiped the floor with Marquette. Florida shut down Jamil Wilson (1-for-8 from the field), though that was at least partially made up for by a really nice night for Vander Blue (20 points on 8-for-14 shooting). This game was a blowout because Marquette could not in any way slow down the Gators offense. Florida had 16 assists to only 8 turnovers, along with a 61.3 2P%. Overall, Florida scored 1.38 PPP. The Gators are 10th in the nation with 1.18 PPP overall, but this was still their best offensive outburst of the entire season.

The Marquette defense is definitely a concern. They are allowing 0.96 PPP this season, compared to 0.93 PPP. That doesn't sound like a lot worse, but consider that five of their seven games this season have been against RPI 100+ opponents, with four of them being outright "cream puffs". Pomeroy rated their defense 14th in the nation last season, compared to 66th so far this season. The biggest reason for the decline has to be the graduation of Jae Crowder, who was a monster inside both on defense and on the defensive glass. Defensive rebounding, in particular, has been a mess for Marquette so far this season.

Florida was my pick to win the SEC preseason, and they're certainly looking like the conference favorite so far. They definitely deserve to be ranked higher than 7th, too. Florida is a legitimate National Title contender. Their next game will be on the road, at Florida State on Wednesday. Marquette has more than a week to lick their wounds before they take on Wisconsin a week from tomorrow. After that, their schedule is pretty manageable before Big East play begins.

Boise State Shocks Creighton

Boise State 83, #11 Creighton 70
This game got lost in the shuffle with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge going on simultaneously, but this is one of the most shocking upsets of the year. Creighton had just been rolling everybody, with a dominating offense tied with a solid defense. Strong defensive rebounding and the fact that they don't foul much means that opponents really have to earn points. Boise State earned this one with incredible shooting - 10-for-19 behind the arc and a 70.8 eFG%. To put that shooting performance in perspective, it's the best shooting all season by any team against an RPI Top 100 opponent (second best was a 69.4 eFG% by Baylor over Lehigh on the opening night of the season).

As outrageous as Boise State's shooting was, Creighton still could have won this game if their offense had been sharp - but Boise's shooting clearly took them out of their game. Somehow, Grant Gibbs took as many shots (11) as Doug McDermott, with Josh Jones taking only two fewer. McDermott usually takes 1/3 of Creighton's shots when he's on the floor, but in a game where they really needed his explosive offense he took just over 1/5th. In all, Creighton finished with only 1.07 PPP, which is tied for their worst offensive performance of the season (tied with their opening night win over North Texas where they were up by so much that all of the starters were pulled with several minutes left, and 14 different Creighton players ended up seeing the floor).

A loss like this hurts Creighton more than it would a major conference team, for reasons I have touched on several times already this season - their schedule lacks Top 25 opponents. Their top opponents this season are Wisconsin, St. Joseph's, Illinois State and California. All are likely RPI Top 50 opponents, but none will really wow the Selection Committee. Unless Creighton finishes with a jaw-dropping won-loss record (say, 29-4), it's going to be awfully difficult for them to earn anything higher than a 4 or 5 seed in March. And now they have a bad loss on top of that. It's a serious problem.

Boise State won't repeat a performance like this all season, but it's worth noting that they're not a "bad" team. Even before this win they were Top 100 in Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. It's hard to see them finishing better than fifth in the Mountain West, but it's not inconceivable that they could challenge Colorado State for fourth. They head on the road next, to face Seattle on Sunday and Utah on Wednesday. Creighton heads home to face an underrated St. Joe's team tomorrow.

#22 Illinois 75, Georgia Tech 62
Georgia Tech put up much more of a fight here than most people expected. Georgia Tech only trailed by one at halftime and actually led for much of the second half. An 11-2 run by Illinois over the final four minutes of the game made the final score appear much more lopsided than it probably deserved to be. And in fact, Illinois probably only won this game at all because of hot outside shooting (14-for-28 behind the arc), led by 3-for-4 performances from both Tyler Griffey and Joseph Bertrand.

Georgia Tech falls to 4-2 with this loss, though both losses have been to quality opponents and they have a nice win over St. Mary's. They have an important game coming up on Tuesday against Georgia. Beyond the general rivalry bragging rights, a win will send them off to a series of cupcakes, with a likelihood of entering ACC play 10-2 and confident. If they can back that up with a 10-8 ACC record? They'll be looking at a likely at-large bid, believe it or not.

Illinois moves to 8-0 with this win, although their schedule has been relatively soft. This win and their win over Butler are their only victories against likely RPI Top 100 opponents. So while inertia is moving them up the Top 25 rankings, I don't think we can put them higher than the second tier of the Big Ten right now, along with Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Of course, a week from tomorrow they'll play on the road at Gonzaga. A win there would give some credence to the argument that Illinois deserves to be in the conversation with Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State atop the conference.

Washington 66, St. Louis 61
The difference in this game was simple - Washington could get to the rim and St. Louis couldn't. Washington earned 22 free throw attempts vs only 3 for St. Louis, while the Billikens took more than twice as many three-pointers. The inability for St. Louis to get to the line has been a problem all season long, though this was a problem when Rick Majerus was head coach as well. Washington's CJ Wilcox was the star of this game, finishing with an absurd 100 eFG% (11-for-13 from the field, including 4-for-5 beyond the arc), scoring 27 points.

Wilcox's hot outside shooting brings up a reminder that St. Louis fans shouldn't be in total panic mode over their 3-3 start. The reality is that they've been awfully unlucky with opponent outside shooting this season. They are allowing an absurd 50.8 3P% against - the only team in the nation allowing worse than 50%. The reality is that 3P% defense is basically just luck - the sign of good perimeter defense is preventing three-point attempts, rather than holding opponents to a low 3P%. And by the way, St. Louis is actually really good at preventing threes - their 19.7 3PA/FGA ratio is third best in the nation. So one of the best perimeter defenses in the nation is giving up 50.8% behind the arc? That won't keep up - that's a guarantee. So once opponent outside shooting returns to realistic levels, expect St. Louis to suddenly look a lot better in the won/loss department.

St. Louis will take on Valparaiso on Sunday before heading into Cupcake City for the next few weeks. Washington will play Cal State Fullerton and, for the most part, shouldn't be challenged until they play on the road at UConn on December 29th.

Miami And Virginia Are Better Than They Appear

Miami (Fl) 67, #13 Michigan State 59
Miami had to play without Durand Scott for the first three games of this season, getting him back for the Detroit game. In general it's too simplistic to say that a bad loss (such as Miami's loss to Florida Gulf Coast) wouldn't have happened if a key player was in the lineup, but Miami looked like a totally different team here. Scott is the best scorer Miami has, and beyond the offense he generates (15 points on 6-for-10 shooting here) he also opens things up for his teammates.

Miami won't get a pass for that loss to Florida Gulf Coast, of course. Nobody in March is going to care that Durand Scott wasn't there. But they will be forgiven that one bad loss if they can play well throughout the rest of their non-conference slate and then go 10-8 or better in ACC play - that should be enough to go Dancing. They have a very tricky stretch coming up, though, beginning with a road game at UMass on Saturday. They also will be play Charlotte and La Salle, and on the road at UCF. Just going 3-1 through those four games will be a pretty good performance.

There are reasons for concern at Michigan State here, namely the total lack of front court offense. They were going up against a pretty formidable Miami front line, but it's pretty bad when your entire front line (including the bench) hits four baskets from the field in an entire game. Certainly Michigan State isn't at any risk of missing the NCAA Tournament, but at this point they're not playing like a team that can contend for the Big Ten title. They now have a series of cupcakes up next, beginning with Nicholls State on Saturday.

Virginia 60, Wisconsin 54
This game was very similar to the Michigan State/Miami game for several reasons. Like Miami, Virginia suffered a "bad loss" early in the season that in retrospect isn't really as bad as it sounds (Virginia's loss was to Delaware). Like Miami, Virginia was boosted by the return of a very important player (Virginia's returner was Jontel Evans, their best point guard). Like Miami, Virginia is a team that should be getting more at-large hype than they're getting due to that one early loss when they weren't yet at full strength. And like Michigan State, Wisconsin both is not playing like a team that can win the Big Ten but simultaneously is not a team that in any way should fear missing the NCAA Tournament.

Virginia is a very tough match-up for Wisconsin with the way they play defense. Tony Bennett pushed his defense out well beyond the three-point line, taking away Wisconsin's outside shooters while knowing that they weren't much of a threat to attack the basket. That said, Wisconsin does have two very clear problems right now. The first is defensive rebounding - Wisconsin only had a 61.9 DR% here, and is only at 72.1% for the season. For comparison, their worst DR% over the past six years was 71.5%, playing the majority of games against elite opponents rather than cupcakes. Considering that their entire front court returns from last season, it's pretty incomprehensible why their rebounding has been so bad this season. A second problem is Ryan Evans, who is taking 25.3% of Wisconsin's shots when on the floor (leading the team) but is shooting an atrocious 39.6 eFG%. With so many good shooters around him, he has to stop forcing so many bad shots.

But while Wisconsin isn't looking great this year, there's no reason to panic over one bad game. They still look to me overall like a borderline Top 25 team, and they should be safely in the NCAA Tournament. But at this point, it's hard to see them challenging Indiana, Michigan or Ohio State at the top of the conference. They head home to play California on Sunday. Virginia comes home to play Wisconsin-Green Bay on Saturday and then Tennessee on Wednesday. By the way, considering the fact that Tony Bennett played his collegiate career at Wisconsin-Green Bay and then started his coaching career at Wisconsin (including a short stint as an assistant under Bo Ryan), it's amusing that he's playing those two teams back-to-back.

Purdue 73, Clemson 61
While several Big Ten teams had poor performances during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Purdue was not among that group - they were dominant here. Purdue led by 20 at halftime, and held a double-digit lead throughout the entire second half. Clemson was without Milton Jennings, who was suspended after an arrest for marijuana possession, but the real difference in the game was shooting, Purdue was hitting from all over the floor, and Clemson couldn't seem to get an open shot. In all, Purdue had a 59.2 eFG%, compared to a 43.1 eFG% for Clemson. For good measure Clemson only hit 55% of their free throws.

DJ Byrd broke out of an early season shooting slump, hitting 6-for-11 behind the arc. That outside shooting helped open things up for Terone Johnson, who had 13 points and 6 assists. Terone Johnson is a guy whose potential I've always liked, but he had gotten off to a slow start this season.

Purdue is only 3-3 after this win, with dicey losses to Villanova, Bucknell and Oregon State, but playing in the Big Ten means that they have plenty of slack in their at-large resume. If they can get to 10-8 in Big Ten play, as good as the conference is, that will go a long way toward erasing any those non-conference struggles. But that said, this is the first time all season Purdue has really looked like an at-large team, and it would be a mistake to overreact to one game.

The Boilermakers head home to face Xavier on Saturday. Clemson will head on the road to face South Carolina on Sunday. If they can avoid a bad loss there then they will have a nice opportunity on December 8th against Arizona. They don't have any bad losses so far this season, but they don't have any good wins either. Arizona would be a quality victory, if Clemson can pull off the upset.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Indiana Destroys North Carolina; Are The Tar Heels Actually Good?

#1 Indiana 83, #14 North Carolina 59
North Carolina kept this game close... for the first few minutes or so. In the second half this game just got embarrassing, with the Tar Heels falling behind by as many as 32 points. The North Carolina transition defense was a mess (Cody Zeller had a number of fast break layups), they were badly out-rebounded, and were out-assisted by Indiana by a count of 21 to 8. This game was a blowout in every possible way.

This result could be a fluke, or it could be a sign that Indiana is a really great team... but there's also a chance that North Carolina just isn't that good. Remember, Indiana has beaten up on cupcakes but they needed overtime to escape Georgetown and only beat Georgia by 13. Meanwhile, North Carolina has only beaten cupcakes this year. Their only previous quality opponent was Butler, who beat them by 12.

I'm not saying that North Carolina isn't good. I'm saying that we don't know. They will play UAB on Saturday, and won't be too seriously tested again until they head on the road to play Texas on December 19th.

Now 7-0, Indiana has a really soft schedule left before beginning Big Ten regular season play. Their only serious test will be Butler, on December 15th. Their next game will be on Saturday, against Coppin State.

#21 Minnesota 77, Florida State 68
A 15-7 run by Florida State to close this game made the final score closer than it probably deserved to be. Minnesota torched the Florida State defense for 1.20 PPP, including a 65.4% A/FGM ratio. Last year, Florida State's Pomeroy Adjusted Defensive Efficiency was 0.89 PPP. This season? They haven't held a single opponent below 0.89 PPP. Their defense was always going to take a step back this year, but it's surprising just how large of a step back it's been.

With back-to-back-to-back wins over Memphis, Stanford and Florida State, Minnesota is starting to get some real hype. I don't think anybody thinks they can seriously contend to win the Big Ten, but they can definitely contend for a top three or four spot in the standings. They shouldn't be too seriously tested again before Big Ten play, but they aren't playing too many cupcakes either. Beginning December 4th they'll play against South Dakota State, on the road at USC, and then at home against North Dakota State. That's a pretty tough three game stretch.

Florida State is looking more and more like a bubble team. They have nice wins over St. Joseph's and BYU, along with that bad loss to South Alabama. They'll play Mercer at home on Sunday before a huge opportunity against the Florida Gators on December 5th.

Maryland 77, Northwestern 57
Northwestern always struggles with rebounding. Going up against the team leading the nation in offensive rebounding percentage was always going to be ugly, and the Terps dominated with a 45.2 OR% (compared to a microscopic 8.6 OR% for Northwestern). More than anything this game was about an athletic disparity. Northwestern couldn't keep Maryland players from getting into the paint at will, while they were stuck launching long jumpers over the top of the Maryland defense. 25 of the 53 shots Northwestern attempted were from behind the arc.

Dez Wells was superb here, with 23 points on 9-for-11 shooting, but the dominant force on both ends of the floor was Alex Len. Len had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks and looked like a man among boys against Northwestern.

That all said, I think we need to chill all of the Maryland hype. They're playing well, but beating Northwestern doesn't mean we should treat them as a serious contender in the ACC quite yet. Northwestern is a perfect match-up for them. Let's see them do this a few more times against quality teams before we view them as anything other than a bubble team. Unfortunately, their game against George Mason on Sunday is probably their final real test before ACC play.

Northwestern is now 6-1 with a win over Illinois State. They will lick their wounds on Saturday against Illinois-Chicago before going on the road to face Baylor next Tuesday.

Michigan Escapes A Late NC State Run

#3 Michigan 79, #18 NC State 72
I thought that Michigan would win this game relatively easily, and was very impressed with the way NC State fought back from a 15 points deficit with under six minutes to go. After a 14-4 run to pull within five, CJ Leslie was called for a dubious offensive foul that popped their momentum. A Lorenzo Brown travel on their next possession was the clincher.

Trey Burke (18 points, 11 assists) was the star for Michigan, as usual, but Nik Stauskas had his best collegiate performance with 20 points on 4-for-7 three-point shooting. CJ Leslie led the way for NC State, scoring 16 points and adding 10 rebounds against a Michigan front line that really didn't know how to contain him. Overall this was the worst the Michigan defense has looked all season (1.14 PPP allowed), and it remains to be seen if this is the sign of a bigger problem or if this was just the case of NC State having a really good combination of a game plan and talent.

Michigan is now 6-0 and through the toughest part of their non-conference schedule. Arkansas and West Virginia will be their only serious tests before starting Big Ten play. I don't want to look too far ahead, but there's a very realistic chance that they'll be 16-0 and flying high as they head into a road game at Ohio State on January 13th. It's a game that could make both of those schools forget about football for a little while. But that's a long way off. Their next game will be Saturday at Bradley.

NC State falls to 4-2 with this loss and could really use a quality win. I'm not sure if beating UConn will be looked at as a "quality win" at the end of the season, but NC State will get a chance against them in Madison Square Garden next Tuesday. After that, a home game against Stanford is their only serious non-conference opponent before they begin ACC play.

Georgia Tech 65, St. Mary's 56
There was an opportunity in this game to see what happens when Matthew Dellavedova has a bad day for St. Mary's, and it wasn't pretty. Dellavedova is averaging 17.2 points per game this season, but he scored only five points on 1-for-8 shooting here. St. Mary's ended up with only 0.88 PPP on offense, after not finishing below 1 PPP in any of their previous five games this season. Brandon Reed led the way for Georgia Tech with 19 points on 4-for-6 three-point shooting.

Coming off a loss to Pacific, this has been a very disappointing two game stretch for St. Mary's. You never want to overreact to performances in early season tournaments, but if nothing else the Gaels have badly damaged their at-large resume. They really can't afford any more bad losses before starting WCC regular season play. They will face Cal Poly on Saturday.

This is one of the better wins that Georgia Tech has had the past few seasons. Brian Gregory appears to really have things moving in the right direction. They'll get a great test tomorrow, on the road at Illinois. If they can somehow pull an upset there then we actually might need to talk about their at-large chances.

Virginia Tech 95, Iowa 79
Iowa made a game of this early in the second half, going on a 14-0 spurt to pull within three points of Virginia Tech. But the Hokies pulled away by scoring on almost every possession over the next 7 minutes. In a stretch beginning with just over 11 minutes left in the game, they scored 27 points on 15 possessions (an absurd 1.80 PPP). For the game, Virginia Tech finished with 1.27 PPP.

The concern for Iowa coming into this season was defense. They are allowing only 0.88 PPP so far, but most of that has to do with a very soft schedule. This game proves that defense is still a very serious concern, particularly with the uptempo style that Fran McCaffery plays, which opens them up to allowing massive amounts of points in short periods of time.

Iowa is 5-2, but has lost to both of the quality teams they have played (their other loss came against Wichita State). They have a couple of cupcakes up next before taking on Iowa State on December 7th. Virginia Tech is now 6-0, though this is their first win over a quality opponent. They will play Oklahoma State on Saturday, and then a week later will play at West Virginia.

Cal Poly Embarrasses UCLA

Cal Poly 70, #11 UCLA 68
This loss was horrific for UCLA in so many ways. First of all, the mere fact that they lost to Cal Poly (a program that had not beaten a Pomeroy Top 150 team since upsetting Pacific on January 22, 2009) is embarrassing. Second of all, they lost this game despite leading by 18 points with fewer than 12 minutes to go. And third, the winning points for Cal Poly came after Norman Powell "committed a Jamelle Horne", in honor of the former Arizona Wildcat who cost his team a game against UAB in November, 2008 when he lost track of the score and intentionally fouled 70 feet from the basket with 0.4 seconds left in a tied game. Here, Powell intentionally fouled Kyle Odister around 60 feet from the basket with 14.2 seconds left in a tie game.

UCLA fans will argue that the team only lost because they couldn't hit a shot late. And that's partially true, but it misses the larger point. For the game as a whole, Cal Poly didn't shoot better. They forced four more steals, collected two more offensive rebounds and committed one fewer turnover. They were, overall, the slightly better team.

The results for UCLA this season have been less than impressive. Their best win was by four points over a mediocre Georgia team, and they also have a loss to Georgetown. I'm not ready to project the type of total meltdown that this program had in 2009-10, but they are going to have to play better to earn an at-large bid, let alone contend for the Pac-12 title. They will play Cal State Northridge on Wednesday, followed by San Diego State on Saturday. Cal Poly, meanwhile, has a few days to celebrate this win before heading on the road to play St. Mary's on Saturday.

#14 Creighton 87, Arizona State 73
Creighton was uncharacteristically cold from the field here. Their 34.8 3P% and 54.0 eFG% were both their second lowest marks of the season so far. And they had to overcome a huge game from Arizona State redshirt freshman Jahii Carson (30 points, 7 assists, 4 assists). But the overall talent gap between these two teams is massive, and Creighton played well enough to win relatively easily. Doug McDermott led the way for Creighton with 29 points and 9 rebounds.

Creighton looked awfully good in Vegas, and they're playing like a team that can seriously contend for the Final Four. The concern for them is that they lack a lot of big names on their schedule, and so they're going to struggle to earn anything higher than a 4 seed in March. Wisconsin will likely be the best team they play all year. Their remaining tough non-conference games will be against St. Joseph's, California, Boise State and Akron. The Boise State game is up first, on Wednesday.

Arizona State fans have to be extremely encouraged by Jahii Carson. The star recruit was expected to save their down-and-out team last season, but he failed to qualify academically and couldn't play in games. But he's off to a great start to this season, and is already looking like one of the best freshmen in the entire nation. He's averaging 21.0 points and 5.0 assists per game. They're a long way from contending for the postseason, but they're definitely playing a lot better than last season. They head home now for a series of cream puffs, beginning with Arkansas Pine Bluff on Wednesday.

Oklahoma 77, West Virginia 70
This result just reinforced for me the idea that West Virginia isn't very good this season. All of their key players looked relatively good - even Deniz Kilicli poured in 13 points on 6-for-12 shooting. And yet they fell quietly to an Oklahoma team that is a bubble team at best. I'm not totally sure why West Virginia is so "eh" this year other than that they really aren't that good at anything. They can't do anything well consistently, other than maybe offensive rebounding.

That white hot shooting West Virginia had against Marist looks to be an aberration. They have lost to the three quality opponents they have played, and only have games left against Michigan and Virginia Tech to try to salvage something from their non-conference slate. They head home now to play VMI tomorrow.

I think Oklahoma will come home from the Old Spice Classic feeling good about how they played. They fell to Gonzaga, but the Zags look like one of the ten best teams in the nation, so there's no shame there. With wins over UTEP and West Virginia, the Sooners get a third place finish. They will play at Oral Roberts tomorrow before heading home to play Northwestern State on Friday.

Catching Up On Recaps

I know I'm a couple days behind on game recaps. There are a number of reasons why I haven't had time to blog (most related to post-holiday travel). But it's time to catch up. Let's get started:

#5 Duke 76, #2 Louisville 71
It was amazing to me that this was the first game between Coach K and Rick Pitino since the Christian Laettner game 20 years ago. And it was definitely unfortunate that Gorgui Dieng had to miss the game (and as we learned after the game, he'll be out for another 4-6 weeks). In the absence of the big man, Duke was able to have a much easier time getting the ball into the lane. Quinn Cook was superb, scoring 15 points on 4-for-8 shooting, along with 6 assists and only 4 turnovers. Cook is one of the most improved players in the nation, and he (with Seth Curry not totally healthy) has been the biggest reason Duke has gotten off to such a hot start to the season. Duke's Sagarin ELO_CHESS leads the nation, so (with all the usual caveats about computer ratings this early season in the season) they have the most impressive resume of any team in the nation so far.

What has to be frustrating about Louisville is that they lost this game despite a really nice game from the inconsistent Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. Siva was a menace on both ends of the floor with 6 steals and 19 points. The reason it wasn't enough was that their defense wasn't good enough. They gave up 1.02 PPP here, when their previous worst this season was 0.88 (against Missouri). In other words, they are at risk of a couple more upsets before Dieng gets back and locks down the paint again. Their next game will be Saturday, against a very good Illinois State team. But the real concern on the calendar has to be their home game against Kentucky on December 29th. Dieng may or may not be back for that one.

As well as Duke has played to start the season, they are flawed, just like every other top team in the nation. Duke's big flaw, without question, is rebounding. They were beaten on the boards in all three games that they played in the Bahamas. VCU, Minnesota and Louisville are all teams good at getting after the offensive glass, but that's still a real concern. Mason Plumlee is their only quality rebounder right now. Either Ryan Kelly has to start stepping up, or else Amile Jefferson has to start earning more minutes. Jefferson has great potential, but so far he's a project who is only earning 7.7 minutes per game.

Duke's upcoming schedule is tough, beyond their home game against Ohio State tomorrow. The following two Saturdays they'll play Delaware and Temple, two teams that will give Duke trouble if the Blue don't come to play. Devils

Charleston 63, #24 Baylor 59
Charleston hit 6 of their first 11 three-pointers to start the game up 24-18, and that they gave them the confidence to stay step for step with Baylor the rest of the game. And certainly the 9-for-18 three-point shooting that they finished the game with was a huge reason that they won, but what really stood out to me was their 2P% defense. Baylor has been dominant this year offensively in the paint, hitting 57% of their two-pointers. Here? They hit 44%. A lot of the credit has to go to Charleston big man Adjehi Baru, who recorded no official blocks but misdirected a lot of shots.

It's not news that Charleston has a lot of athletic, tall big men, particularly for a "small" conference team. It's why they're always a menace against BCS conference teams. It's unlikely that they'll get by Davidson for the SoCon's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but if they do then they'll give some highly ranked team a lot of trouble in the Round of 64. Don't sleep on them on December 4th against a Louisville team missing Gorgui Dieng.

To be sure, Baylor is better than their record. They have played two close games this season and lost both. And both losses came in games where their opponent got red hot and they were ice cold (Baylor's eFG% was under 43% in both games). So while the voters have dropped Baylor out of the Top 40 in both major polls, and there is a lot of concern that they'll miss the NCAA Tournament altogether, I'm telling you to ignore the concern. Baylor is one of the four best teams in the Big 12 and I'll be shocked if they miss the NCAA Tournament. I have them as a 7 seed right now. Their next game will be on Saturday at Kentucky. After that they'll come home to play Northwestern.

#22 Cincinnati 77, Oregon 66
Cincinnati was led by 5-for-9 three-point shooting by Cashmere Wright as they were able to overcome yet another sloppy game. These two teams combined for 35 offensive rebounds, 34 turnovers and only 22 assists in just 70 possessions.

One thing people don't realize about this Cincinnati team is how big and imposing they are in the paint on defense. They held Oregon to 36.8% shooting inside the arc, and are 2nd in the nation with a 34.4 2P% against (trailing only Florida). They are also 6th in the nation with 7.7 blocks per game, and are 8th in the nation with only 0.77 PPP allowed. Throw in a couple of explosive perimeter weapons in Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick and you have a team that will often win sloppy, but which has a really high ceiling. I'm not ready to consider them consistent enough offensively to challenge Syracuse and Louisville at the top of the Big East, but there are only a handful of teams in the entire nation that at their best are as good as Cincinnati at their best.

This loss is a setback for Oregon, but the victory over UNLV makes this trip to Las Vegas a success for them. That dominant win over Vanderbilt is looking less and less impressive as Vanderbilt struggles mightily with a very young roster, but the Ducks at the very least look like a bubble team. I have them projected as an NIT team at the moment, but they're not far away from being good enough to earn an at-large bid.

That win over UNLV will be Oregon's only quality win before entering Pac-12 regular season play, as there are no more quality opponents left on their non-conference schedule. Next they come home for a pair of cupcakes in Texas-San Antonio and Arkansas Pine Bluff. Cincinnati will play Alabama on Saturday before playing a pair of cupcakes next week.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wisconsin Beats Arkansas; Northwestern Beats Illinois State

Wisconsin 77, Arkansas 70
Arkansas actually led by 11 at halftime of this game, but Wisconsin erased it with a 16-5 run to open the second half. I was actually surprised that Arkansas was able to play as well as they did in the first half considering that Wisconsin is not a good match-up for them at all. Mike Anderson's style depends on a lot of turnovers, and they're never going to get that against Wisconsin. The Badgers also had a massive height advantage, which they weren't able to take advantage of.

Sam Dekker was superb off the bench, scoring 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting. In the Bo Ryan era I am so used to Wisconsin's freshmen barely playing - his program is all about developing talent over years. To see a true freshman already be the team's best playmaker is remarkable. Dekker is a tremendous all-around player. This was an important win for Wisconsin after losses to Florida and Creighton. They will come home to face Virginia on Wednesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Next Sunday they will play California.

As for Arkansas, BJ Young is a very good player, but he tries to do too much. So much of the Arkansas evolves revolves around him, and Wisconsin was able to completely shut down the Arkansas offense in the second half merely by limiting his effectiveness. I thought that Arkansas as a team would be more advanced in Year Two of the Mike Anderson era. But they are improved, and remember that it took a few years for his system to stick in Missouri. The Razorbacks are definitely headed in the right direction. They head home next to play Syracuse on Friday.

Northwestern 72, Illinois State 69, OT
This was an exciting game between two quality teams. A clutch three by Tyler Brown sent the game to overtime. Jared Swopshire took over in overtime, scoring six points with an assist, as Northwestern held off Illinois State despite two more clutch threes by Tyler Brown. Tyler Brown finished a superb 7-for-13 behind the arc, with 36 total points.

This was the first chance to see Northwestern against a quality opponent this season. It's obvious that the Jared Swopshire transfer will be huge as they try to replace John Shurna and Davide Curletti. Considering how big of a problem rebounding has been for Northwestern in the Big Ten the past few years, Swopshire's ability to get after the glass is a tremendous asset. The Big Ten is awfully good this season, and Northwestern is going to have to find a way to at least get to 9-9 in conference play in order to earn their first ever at-large bid. But they're definitely a contender. Their next test will be on Tuesday against Maryland.

Illinois State will be disappointed to have wasted this Tyler Brown performance in an otherwise sloppy loss. Their win against Drexel will probably end up an RPI Top 100 win, but a win over Northwestern would have been a nice scalp to have for Selection Sunday. They will play at Louisville next Saturday. Unless they can pull a huge upset there, their best remaining opponents prior to Missouri Valley play will be Dayton and Wyoming. In my opinion, they're going to need to beat Louisville or else they'll probably need to go 13-5 or better in Missouri Valley play to earn an at-large bid.

#18 UNLV 82, Iowa State 70
This was an underwhelming win by UNLV. Some hometown reffing earned them 35 free throw attempts compared to only 9 for Iowa State. They got destroyed on the glass (22 offensive rebounds for Iowa State, vs only 11 for UNLV) and allowed 23 more shot attempts from the field. But UNLV hit 40% of their threes, compared to only 28% for Iowa State, and that was enough to get them through.

The highlight for UNLV here was another monster game from Anthony Bennett (22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks). Bennett is up to 19.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, and has looked like one of the best freshmen in the entire nation.  And regardless, this is a quality win for UNLV, and nobody in March is going to care how they got it. The Runnin' Rebs have a pretty soft upcoming schedule. Their next real tough opponent should be California, on December 9th.

Iowa State leaves the Global Sports Classic in Vegas with a pair of losses. Neither is a bad loss, but both are missed opportunities. The Cyclones have only BYU and Iowa left as potential quality wins before they open Big 12 play. The BYU game is up next, on Saturday.

Ohio Rolls Richmond; Two Bid MAC?

Ohio 73, Richmond 48
This was actually a competitive game into the early second half. But Ohio ended on a dominating 28-7 run. Ohio's defense just sunk their teeth in Richmond and never let go. During those final 12 minutes, Richmond was 1-for-11 from the field with 6 turnovers. By my calculation, Richmond has a 0.36 PPP performance over that stretch. In their defense, Ohio has not allowed more than 0.86 PPP in a game this season, and are currently 7th in the nation with 0.78 PPP allowed on the season.

Jim Christian, the new Ohio coach, was not an assistant under Jim Groce, and the biggest concern I had during the preseason was whether Ohio could match their lofty expectations under a different coach. We've seen this same situation fall apart at other schools, such as St. Louis this year or George Mason last season. But Ohio, in a small sample size, looks really good to start this season. And with Akron rolling as well, the MAC is looking more like an at-large league than in several years. Remember, the MAC used to be a regular multi-bid league in the late 1990s. They're not back to those glory days, but they're definitely in the at-large mix at this point. Ohio will try to keep their perfect start going on Wednesday against St. Bonaventure.

While I agree with the computers more often than not (and often get accused of just rating teams by their Pomeroy rating), one team that I very much disagreed with the computers on preseason was Richmond. I didn't get the hype, and didn't even have them particularly close to being on the bubble. And again, it's a small sample size, but Richmond has struggled against both the quality opponents they have played so far - falling by double digits to both Minnesota and Ohio. They will go lick their wounds against William & Mary on Wednesday. Their next potentially competitive game will be on Saturday against Wake Forest.

Minnesota 66, Stanford 63
The ending of this game was... controversial.  With a tied game, Andre Hollins was fouled launching a desperation 60 footer with 0.4 seconds left in the game. He hit all three free throws to end the game. On one hand, it was a call that Stanford was furious about - it's just a call that you never see and it was a relatively soft foul. On the other hand, if you're Chasson Randle you just cannot put yourself in a situation where the refs can even make that call. Nothing good can come out of trying to wrest the ball away at that point.

Trevor Mbakwe was the best player on the floor for either team, scoring 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting and adding 12 rebounds. The question with him is staying healthy and staying out of trouble, but for now he's looking like he did before his ACL injury.

The Gophers have to feel good about their performance in the Bahamas. They fell to Duke, but beat Memphis and Stanford, and now have three wins this season over likely RPI Top 100 teams. They will head on the road to play Florida State on Tuesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. A win there would definitely push them into the Top 25, although they probably should be there already. Sustained success has always been a problem for Minnesota in the Tubby Smith era, with so many injuries and off-the-court problems, but for now they're playing really well.

Stanford has had a mentally tough start to the season. They have played four games against quality opponents, three of which were close, and they lost all three of them. None of the losses are bad losses, but it means that they have only one quality win (Northern Iowa), with only NC State and Northwestern left before Pac-12 play. And with both of those games coming on the road, Stanford will probably be the underdog in both.

Colorado State 73, Washington 55
The way Pierce Hornung gets after the boards has always been awesome - he was one of my favorite players last season. The addition of Colton Iverson gives the Rams yet another weapon on the boards, and they just annihilated Washington here. Iverson had 6 offensive boards (with Hornung adding 8 more) as Colorado State had a 59.3 OR%, compared to a 22.2 OR% for the Huskies. Right now, Colorado State is third in the nation with a 47.8 OR% for the season, and second in the nation with an 83.7 DR%. Their overall 70.9% rebounding percentage clearly leads the nation (Stephen F Austin is the only other team above 67.3%). It's impressive to watch.

CJ Wilcox tried to take Washington on his back, and he finished with 28 points on 11-for-25 shooting. The concern is that he only had 1 assist, and his entire team combined for 7 assists. There just are not a lot of weapons on this team as long as Scott Suggs is hurt, and Wilcox just tried to do everything himself. Unlike a lot of Washington fans, I do think that Abdul Gaddy still has a pretty high ceiling, even though he's never going to live up to the hype he had as a recruit. I think he should get a chance to have more of the ball to help spark the Huskies offense.

Washington is now 2-3 to start the season. They have one decent win (Seton Hall), but it's more than wiped out by a bad loss (Albany). They will get a chance to bounce back on Wednesday against St. Louis, and also have a game against UConn before opening Pac-12 play. Colorado State, now 4-0, will take on Northern Colorado on Monday. A very important test will be their rivalry game at Colorado on December 5th.

W-16 BP68

Thanksgiving week tends to be a terrific time for college basketball, and this year definitely lived up to that. It was a little easy to get lost in all the action.

I didn't blog much today because I just didn't have the time. I know I owe you guys a few game recap posts. Look for those Sunday morning and afternoon. For the time being, please enjoy this newest bracket projection.

Remember, this is a projection of the final bracket on Selection Sunday, rather than of how I think teams would be seeded if the season ended now. There's a difference.

Here we go:


2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. Ohio State
2. Michigan
2. Kentucky

3. North Carolina
3. Syracuse
3. Michigan State

4. Notre Dame
4. NC State

5. Wisconsin

6. Marquette
6. Alabama
6. VCU
6. Minnesota

7. Baylor
7. Georgetown
7. Iowa State
7. Missouri

8. UCLA (PAC 12)
8. New Mexico
8. Stanford
8. Kansas State

9. California
9. St. Louis
9. St. Mary's
9. Cincinnati

10. UMass
10. BYU
10. Maryland
10. Temple

11. Pittsburgh
11. Illinois State
11. Arizona
11. Illinois

12. Tennessee
12. Iowa
12. Florida State
12. Oklahoma State

13. OHIO (MAC)




Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Clemson,  Miami (Fl), Virginia, St. Joseph's, Xavier, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Akron, Wichita State, Colorado State, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas, Ole Miss

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Virginia Tech, Dayton, La Salle, Richmond, Rutgers, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, Purdue, George Mason, Marshall, Northern Iowa, Nevada, Belmont, Oregon State, Washington State, Texas A&M, North Dakota State

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Georgia Tech, Providence, South Florida, Delaware, Southern Miss, UTEP, Tulsa, Detroit, Evansville, Boise State, Arizona State, USC, Lehigh, Auburn, Georgia, LSU,  Vanderbilt, Santa Clara, New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Louisville Thumps An Undermanned Missouri Team

#2 Louisville 84, #13 Missouri 61
This game got away from Missouri in the second half, and ended up as an easy Louisville victory. Missouri fans continue to hope to have Michael Dixon back soon, but it's still unclear just exactly why he is suspended and how much longer he'll be suspended. Missouri is also waiting for transfer Jabari Brown, who will be eligible at the end of the semester. Louisville's defense forced 21 turnovers, and Peyton Siva was sharp (4-for-8 shooting, with 6 assists to only 1 turnover).

Getting Dixon and Brown will be very helpful for Missouri, but it's a misconception that their biggest need is a second perimeter playmaker behind Phil Pressey. The reality is that Missouri is scoring plenty - even their 0.85 PPP here, while not great, is the most Louisville has given up all season. Mizzou's problem here was defense. Getting back Dixon and Brown won't hurt, but I don't think it will be enough for them to be one of the 15 best teams in the nation. They're overrated, in my opinion. Missouri will play VCU in the Battle 4 Atlantis third place game.

Louisville is 5-0 after this win, but take a huge step up in difficulty next when they take on Duke. That game is on at 9:30 PM eastern time, so try your best to tune in - should be a good one. After this game, Louisville will get a week off before taking on an underrated Illinois State squad.

California 68, Georgia Tech 57
The DirectTV Classic has been.... underwhelming. There wasn't a great field to begin with, and none of the teams have really played that well. It's made sleep seem more appealing than staying up late to watch the end of these games, to be honest. Even here, California's win had more to do with bad Georgia Tech offense than anything else (a 41.0 eFG%). Still, California will always be happy when they can win on an off day from star Allen Crabbe (4-for-13 shooting).

California will take on an upstart Pacific squad in the DirecTV Classic title game. After that they will play consecutive games against Wisconsin, UNLV and Creighton - a pretty brutal stretch, and a great opportunity for Cal to build their at-large resume. Georgia Tech will take on St. Mary's next, and then will head on the road to face Illinois as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Their rivalry game with Georgia, on December 4th, will be their final game against a quality opponent before ACC play.

#19 Memphis 52, Northern Iowa 47
Memphis had to do something to avoid a total wipe out in the Bahamas, and they did that with a win here in the 7th place game against Northern Iowa. Joe Jackson bounced back after doing almost nothing positive in their first two games in Bahamas, scoring 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting and adding 3 assists. Northern Iowa was flummoxed by the athletic Memphis defense, scoring only 0.76 PPP.

Memphis is a good team, but they're inconsistent offensively, and a down Conference USA is not going to do them any favors. Unless they can knock off Louisville in a few weeks then there's a good chance they will finish the regular season without a single RPI Top 50 victory. Northern Iowa could end up in the Top 50, as could Ohio, a team Memphis plays on December 5th. At this point, it's pretty hard to project Memphis as any higher than a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, simply because of their schedule.

Northern Iowa is a pretty good team. Even after this loss they will still be in the Top 80 of both the Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings. But a wipe out in Bahamas really messes up any at-large chances that they had. They'll be a contender in the Missouri Valley Conference, but there's a good chance that by the time league play starts they'll basically just be gunning for the automatic bid. Their next game will be next Saturday, against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Oregon Stuns UNLV

Oregon 83, #18 UNLV 79
The Pac-12 is still the weakest of the six BCS conferences, but it's definitely improved over last season. And the best win for the Pac-12 in this young season is this one - a victory on the road at UNLV. And in fact, you can argue that Oregon should have won by more than four. They were an ice cold 3-for-19 behind the arc, while white hot 23-for-25 free throw shooting kept UNLV in the game late. The Ducks were able to exploit a sloppy UNLV squad, forcing them into 18 turnovers and collecting 9 steals.

In UNLV's defense, they are trying to incorporate several new players. Freshman Anthony Bennett was probably the best player on the floor for either team (22 points on 7-for-14 shooting, along with 10 rebounds). Freshman Katin Reinhardt and transfer Bryce DeJean-Jones also scored in double digits. This was also UNLV's first game against a competitive opponent this season. So I don't think there's reason to panic in Vegas yet. They will try to bounce back against Iowa State.

Oregon had shown hints of being a good team when they whooped Vanderbilt by 26 points last week. Now sure, Vanderbilt isn't good this year, but a 26 point margin is still impressive. Thrown in with this win and you can make a serious argument for Oregon being a bubble team this year. The emergence of Damyeon Dotson as a really good freshman is a huge reason that Dana Altman's rebuilding job is going ahead of schedule in Eugene. Their next game will be against Cincinnati, a team that looked less than impressive in taking out Iowa State.

#17 Gonzaga 72, Oklahoma 47
This was the first chance to watch Oklahoma against a likely RPI Top 100 team, and they did not look physically ready for the challenge. They were dominated on the boards (a 40.6 OR% for Gonzaga compared to an 8.6 OR% for the Sooners), seemed to lose every loose ball, and couldn't score in the paint (a 32.3 2P%, compared to 56.8% for the Zags). Oklahoma's offense doesn't have a lot of weapons, so if they're not getting the loose balls and ugly baskets then it's going to be very hard for them to score this season.

Gonzaga's offense struggled against Clemson, but they have whooped up on Oklahoma as well as West Virginia. It's a great start to the season, and it's starting to earn them buzz as a potential Final Four team. It's a stat worth repeating since most people forget, but Gonzaga has not been back to the Elite Eight since that original Cinderella run in 1999. This is a team definitely good enough to get back if they can get the right Tournament draw. They will play Davidson in the Old Spice Classic title game. Their next chance after that to build their resume will be December 5th at Washington State, or else December 8th at home against Illinois.

Oklahoma will face West Virginia in the Old spice Classic third place game. Their remaining schedule prior to beginning Big 12 play is a soft one, so they can definitely use a win over WVU. Their toughest remaining non-conference games will be against Texas A&M, Arkansas and Ohio.

#14 Creighton 84, Wisconsin 74
We know that Creighton can shoot the ball, of course, and they continued that here. They hit 40% of their threes, and hit 22 of 23 free throws before two meaningless misses in the final seconds. But what stood out to me watching this game was how incredibly physical Creighton is. And it's not just Gregory Echenique and Grant Gibbs either. Doug McDermott, for example, really throws his whole body around in the post, making him an almost impossible match-up. I don't think there's a player in the nation who can physically stop him in the post while also chasing him around the perimeter. The only way to contain him is to double-team or zone him. Wisconsin caught a bad break here when their best McDermott defender, Mike Bruesewitz, picked up a couple of soft fouls and ended up fouling out after only 9 minutes on the floor.

For Wisconsin, Jared Berggren was terrific (27 points on 9-for-14 shooting, along with 7 rebounds). The concern is that as a big guy he can't play at a high level for all 20 minutes in a half, and when he went to the bench to rest for a minute Creighton always went on a run. Frank Kaminsky is the one player on Wisconsin who has the ability to fill Berggren's shoes when he's on the bench. Wisconsin also can't afford too many 2-for-12 shooting days from Ben Brust, their best shooter and leading scorer, against top opponents.

Wisconsin will play Arkansas in the third place game in Las Vegas. After that they'll come home to face Virginia and then California. Unless Arizona State is way better than we thought they were preseason, Creighton shouldn't have a ton of trouble with them in the Las Vegas title game. After that they'll head home to face Boise State and St. Joseph's.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Duke Fights Off VCU In The Bahamas

#5 Duke 67, VCU 58
VCU's press really gave Duke troubles here. It didn't show up in turnovers (they only forced 8), but Duke's offense was really out of sorts all game long. Duke managed to score 1.03 PPP, but only because they had a steady walk to the free throw line and got red hot there (24-for-27 for the game). VCU had their chances to win this game, but just could not buy a shot, finishing with a brutal 36.5 eFG%. Particularly in the final few minutes they just couldn't get a big shot to fall.

One player who really stood out for me was Quinn Cook. The sophomore did a great job dealing with the VCU press as well as possible, and helped spark a bunch of transition opportunities when VCU over-extended their press. He finished with 9 assists and only 3 turnovers. Duke will face either Louisville or Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. Assuming it's Louisville (since Mizzou is not at full strength), that will be a heck of an early season battle.

VCU will get a chance in the Battle 4 Atlantis third place game to really make this a successful tournament. If they fall and leave the Bahamas with only one win in three games, they'll feel like they blew a golden opportunity to build their Tournament resume.

#22 Cincinnati 78, Iowa State 70
This was a physical, sloppy game. A lot of loose balls, a lot of offensive rebounds, a lot of steals.... and not a lot of good shooting. Both of these teams are athletic and talented, but both teams looked pretty unprepared. To be fair, this was the first non-cupcake for either team this season.

Sean Kilpatrick was the man for Cincinnati, scoring 32 points, including 16-for-16 at the line. He will be one of the premier scorers in the Big East this season. Cincinnati didn't play like the 22nd best team in the country this season, but they'll play more in sync when they have more games under their belt. Mick Cronin has a lot of video to work with after this game.

Iowa State won't be happy with their sloppy play and poor shooting, but the play of Tyrus McGee has to be a highlight. He has scored 16+ points in four of their five games this season, including 22 on 7-for-14 shooting here. I was underwhelmed with Korie Lucious, though. He was never particularly consistent with Michigan State, and I think Iowa State's offense will be limited if he's their primary playmaker.

Arizona State 83, Arkansas 68
Arizona State was surprisingly sharp on offense here against the Arkansas press, and it delivered a very nice upset win. Arkansas was only able to force 11 turnovers, and Arizona State had 14 assists and a 70.0 2P%. Getting Jahii Carson back is obviously very important, but considering how awful Arizona State was last year, their expectations for this season were pretty darn low. This is just one game, but it's a very impressive performance.

As I warn all the time, you never want to overreact to a single game performance, particularly one that happens at an early season tournament. Weird things happen. It will be interesting to see if Arizona State can do this twice in a row when they take on the winner of Creighton/Wisconsin.

This is a poor loss for Arkansas. But again, we don't want to overreact to one game, and there's a chance that Arizona State is actually a decent team. Arkansas will take on the loser of Creighton/Wisconsin next. They will also face Syracuse, Michigan and Oklahoma in the next few weeks, so we'll get plenty of chances to see how good Arkansas really is.

Is Pacific The Big West Favorite?

Pacific 76, St. Mary's 66
Some hot second half shooting allowed Pacific to open up a 19 point lead with six minutes left. A furious 19-7 run by St. Mary's forced Pacific to sweat out the final minute, but they were able to hang on. Lorenzo McCloud led the way with 18 points on 5-for-10 shooting. Coming on the heels of a win over Xavier, Pacific now heads to the DirecTV Classic title game, where they will face either California or Georgia Tech.

I hadn't realized until I was watching this game that this is Bob Thomason's final season as head coach of Pacific. His players are going to be highly motivated to send him out in style, and without a dominant Big West team this year, is Pacific the favorite? For the time being, my answer to that is no. As I warn every year, it's a mistake to draw too many conclusions from these early season tournaments. They're unlike anything else these players do all season long, and weird things have a tendency to happen. If Pacific is still playing like this a month from now then they'll have a better case as a potential Big West favorite.

This is a tough result for St. Mary's. Most likely this will end up as an RPI 100+ loss. St. Mary's can afford a couple of these while still earning an at-large bid, but their margin of error this season is now significantly smaller. They'll play in the third place game next, against either California or Georgia Tech. Their next game after that will be December 1st, against Cal Poly.

Stanford 66, Northern Iowa 50
Chasson Randle has been torching opponents all season long. The one thing he hadn't been doing on offense was shooting - he was shooting an ice cold 15% behind the arc for the season. He was still scoring 16.5 points per game, along with 2.8 assists per game. But here? He broke out of his slump, hitting 4-for-6 behind the arc and finishing with 21 points and 6 assists. And as Stanford was breaking this game open in the second half, it seemed like Randle was involved in every scoring play.

Northern Iowa shot poorly here (a 42.6 eFG%), though a big part of that was poor ball handling. They finished with 16 turnovers and only 10 assists. They can get a little bit of a pass for it coming against a tough defense, of course. If they can beat Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantic 7th place game then they can feel good about a 1-2 performance in Bahamas, considering the strength of schedule.

This is Stanford's first quality win of the season. They'll get a chance for another one against Minnesota in the Battle 4 Atlantis 5th place game. They will also face Northwestern and NC State before beginning Pac-12 play. With the Pac-12 improved this season, Stanford won't need a 14-4 or 13-5 conference record to earn an at-large bid. But a couple more quality non-conference wins will help increase that margin of error.

#4 Michigan 71, Kansas State 57
Kansas State has a lot of talent and they have a good head coach, but there just seems to be something missing. I could be wrong, but it has the feeling of a program between eras. Bruce Weber is a very different head coach than Frank Martin, and it seems like the players are struggling to adapt to his style. They crash the boards much more than Weber teams usually do, and struggle to move the ball on offense.

I do think Kansas State is still underrated, despite this result. Bruce Weber is a better coach than Frank Martin, and he will mold this team throughout the year. I do think that they're an NCAA Tournament team. Their next game will be December 2nd against USC Upstate.

Michigan should be very happy with the way Tim Hardaway Jr played here (23 points on 10-for-15 shooting) on a day that Trey Burke struggled. Having two perimeter weapons like that gives John Beilein so many options and makes their offense extremely consistent. With the NIT title they will now head home to face NC State on Tuesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Andre Hollins Leads Minnesota Over Memphis

Minnesota 84, #18 Memphis 75
Andre Hollins had the game of his life here, scoring 41 points on 12-for-16 shooting, including 5-for-5 behind the arc. Minnesota is a borderline Top 25 team, so it's going to be pretty difficult to beat them when their primary playmaker can't miss. The bigger concern for Memphis is that their ball handling issues are far from solved. A day after getting eaten alive by the VCU defense, Joe Jackson was basically benched here, playing only seven minutes. Jackson, for all of his problems, is the one true point guard that Memphis has. With him not playing, the Memphis offense devolves into a variety of players taking turns trying to take their man off the dribble.

A loss to Minnesota isn't a bad loss, but it's a missed opportunity. Memphis will play Northern Iowa in the 7th place game in Bahamas. Their remaining quality non-conference opponents are Louisville, Ohio, Tennessee and Harvard. Considering the fact that the Conference USA doesn't have any other elite teams, Memphis might need that upset of Louisville to avoid going the entire season without an RPI Top 50 win (Ohio is probably the best shot of the other teams to sneak into the Top 50). That's a major concern for their resume on Selection Sunday.

It would be a mistake to draw too many conclusions from this Minnesota win since Andre Hollins probably won't have a game like this the rest of the season. But it's a sign that Minnesota is throwing their hat in the ring near the top of the Big Ten. Right now there are seven Big Ten teams looking really good, and Minnesota is one of the them (the others are Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois). Purdue, Iowa and Northwestern are the teams that realistically can make the Big Ten an eight-bid NCAA Tournament league. But those seven teams, including Minnesota, are all playing like NCAA Tournament teams right now. Minnesota's next game will be the Battle 4 Atlantis fifth place game, against Stanford.

Davidson 63, West Virginia 60
Davidson's interior passing was excellent in this game. Nik Cochran led the way with 7 assists, and as a team they assisted on 60% of made baskets, and made 56% of attempted two-pointers. West Virginia, on the other hand, struggled to get the ball into the paint. They settled for a lot of long jumpers, and it was why dominating the boards was not enough to beat Davidson here.

With every game Davidson plays, that loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee is looking like more and more of an aberration. This win comes on the heels of that 13 point victory over Vanderbilt. They'll face either Oklahoma or Gonzaga in the Old Spice Classic title game.

West Virginia had this clunker on the heels of their 43 point destruction of Marist, so it's hard to know quite what to make of their performance here in Orlando. They'll play either Oklahoma or Gonzaga in the third place game, where they'll need a win to salvage something from this tournament.

Marist 50, Vanderbilt 33
This was an ugly, ugly loss for Vanderbilt. There was a lid on the rim, and they finished with a 24.6 eFG% and only 0.54 PPP. I was able to pull up efficiency stats going back a full decade and couldn't find a shooting or scoring performance that bad from Vanderbilt. The only Division I team to beat those two stats this entire season is North Carolina A&T, which did so in a 93-39 loss to Cincinnati.

We knew this was going to be a rebuilding season for Vanderbilt, but this is brutal. They have a great homecourt advantage, which will deliver a few wins, but they'll be near the bottom of the SEC. Their next game will be against UTEP in the Old Spice Classic 7th place game.

This is a nice win for Marist, and they'll get a chance to really enjoy their trip to Orlando with a win over Clemson in the Old Spice Classic 5th place game. I still don't like their chances to win the MAAC, but it's always good for a program like Marist to collect a scalp like Vanderbilt.

Iffy Call Helps Louisville Escape Northern Iowa

#2 Louisville 51, Northern Iowa 46
Louisville's defense is ferocious - it's probably the best in the nation. But like all of the top teams in the nation, they have a clear flaw. Their flaw, as it was last year, is offensive consistency. Both Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are explosive scorers who also will have games like this - a combined 9-for-26 from the field with 6 assists and 10 turnovers. As a team, Louisville scored 0.76 PPP here, and could have lost if not for a very fortuitous call.

Up by two with just under ten seconds to go, Siva drove into the lane and missed, and Northern Iowa came down with the rebound. A day later I can't remember off the top of my head who the players were, but a Louisville player completely bear-hugged the Northern Iowa rebounder. But instead of the obvious foul call the refs gave a jump ball, with the possession arrow to Louisville. Off the inbounds, Russ Smith scored and was fouled, effectively ending the game. A tough break for Northern Iowa, to be sure.

Louisville has been underwhelming to start the season, but this was their first game against a quality opponent all season. There's no reason to jump to hasty conclusions. They'll play Missouri next, in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals. Northern Iowa will head to the consolation bracket, where they will play Stanford.

St. Mary's 76, Drexel 64
You have to feel for Drexel. A season with such promise has gotten off to a nightmare start. Star Chris Fouch broke his ankle and is out for the season, and they lost the first two games of their season in overtime. This loss was more convincing, as they just don't have enough offense without Fouch to keep up with a very good St. Mary's team. At this point, the one piece of good luck for Drexel is that VCU is gone from the Colonial. Their at-large hopes are pretty well dashed, but they are alive for an automatic bid by winning the CAA. That has to be their primary season goal at this point.

St. Mary's moves to 4-0 with this win, though this was their best opponent of the season thus far. Because Pacific knocked off Xavier, the Gaels will face Pacific in the semifinals of the DirecTV Classic. They will face Georgia Tech or California in the finals (or consolation game). The Gaels are the clear favorites to win the tournament, of course.

Drexel will face a vulnerable Xavier team in the consolation bracket. They will then see Drake or Rice in their final game. They will open CAA regular season play on January 2nd, at Georgia State.

#17 Gonzaga 57, Clemson 49
This performance by Gonzaga at the Old Spice Classic was their worst of the season thus far. Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos were kept in check, and they were held to under 1 PPP for the first time all year. Clemson isn't a team with a lot of weapons, but they play solid defense and take care of the ball (they currently lead the nation with only 7.3 turnovers per game, as well as with turnovers on only 12.4% of offensive possessions). So it means that they will play a lot of these ugly, low-scoring contests. Gonzaga deserves credit for fighting a way through a game like this and escaping with the win.

Gonzaga will look to have a more convincing victory in the Old Spice Classic semifinals against Oklahoma. In the finals (or third place game) they'll face either Davidson or West Virginia. Clemson moves to the consolation bracket, where they will play UTEP. Their final game in Orlando will be against either Marist or Vanderbilt. It's unclear if Clemson is an NCAA Tournament quality team - right now I'm projecting them to finish just narrowly outside the field. Neither UTEP, Marist or Vanderbilt would be a good loss for an at-large team, so Clemson will certainly be looking to sweep their final two games.

Pacific Stuns Xavier

Pacific 70, Xavier 67
It's generally hard to tell from the national media what is and what is not a surprise result. The media will call a game a "shocking upset" if #20 knocks off #12, even if #20 was favored in Vegas and by the computers. And generally the media will call a game an upset if a team from a smaller conference knocks off a team from a bigger conference, even if (again) they were favored. But this game? This was a real upset.

Xavier, of course, was always going to get off to a slow start to this season. Due to several different reasons, all five of last year's Xavier starters are no longer on the team. But their new lineup is still filled with the type of elite recruits that they always get. Pacific, meanwhile, has gone eight years since being a Top 100 team. And coming off back-to-back losses to Fresno State and Oral Roberts, things weren't looking to be too different this season.

Not only was there nothing particularly fluky about this win (other than the fact that there's always a little bit of luck when any team wins by as little as three points), but what stood out most to me was how Pacific's bench front court players dominated the Xavier bench bigs. In all, Pacific finished with a 38.1 OR%, compared to a 16.7 OR% for Xavier.

I think this result tells us more about Xavier than Pacific. Xavier did knock off Butler, but it was in a game where they were hot-shooting and Butler was ice cold. This result against Pacific might be closer to where Xavier will be for most of this season. With as strong as the A-10 is this season, Xavier is at risk of not even finishing .500 in conference play. Pacific moves to the semifinals in Anaheim, against St .Mary's. Xavier will play Drexel in the consolation bracket.

#5 Duke 89, Minnesota 71
Duke was incredibly sharp on offense here. They hit 80% of their threes and had a 61.8 eFG%, led by Seth Curry's 3-for-3 behind the arc and 25 points. Quinn Cook is really coming into his own as well, as he tormented the Minnesota backcourt with 17 points, 4 assists and 5 steals. Minnesota played like a Top 25 team here, and still got walloped.

Duke came into this season with some obvious flaws - they're probably only the fourth or fifth best Coach K team in the past 10-12 seasons. But the top of the polls is soft this season. Team like Indiana, Louisville and Florida have clear flaws as well. And honestly, you can make an argument for Duke as the best team in the country. I would disagree with that argument, but you can make it. And I feel more confident in my preseason pick of Duke as the ACC champion. They will try to continue their strong play next against VCU.

Minnesota only has a win over Richmond and victories over cupcakes to go with this loss, but I have been impressed with how they have played this season. Right now I could see them finishing anywhere between 5th and 8th in the Big Ten. They definitely have a great chance to make the NCAA Tournament. They could use some quality non-conference wins, though. Taking out Memphis in the consolation bracket in the Bahamas would be a nice start.

VCU 78, #19 Memphis 65
Everything went right for VCU here in what is a huge victory for the program. Joe Jackson will have nightmares about this game for a long time. The VCU pressed forced him into 7 turnovers (and 22 total by Memphis). And with some white hot 13-for-22 three-point shooting, this game reminded me of how VCU looked during their Final Four run.

VCU  obviously won't keep up 59.1% three-point shooting all season, but they are looking very much like that Final Four team. They are very talented and athletic, and their press is ferocious. They are forcing turnovers on a staggering 29.8% of defensive possessions so far this season. They are definitely a contender in a very strong Atlantic Ten, and at this point they are my pick to win it. They will try to take things to the next level next as they take on Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals.

This was just a bad game for Memphis, but they also have not yet looked like a Top 20 team. They are obviously still the heavy, heavy favorites in Conference USA, but they need some quality non-conference wins since there will be none to be had in conference play. They will try to get one next against Minnesota in the consolation bracket. Their final game in the Bahamas will be against either Stanford or Northern Iowa.

Illinois Takes Out Butler For The Maui Title

Illinois 78, Butler 61
The Illini jumped out to an early lead over Butler and never really looked back, cruising to the Maui Invitational Title, a really nice achievement for John Groce's new team. After a 6-0 start to the season and a title at one of the premier early season tournaments, it's for expectations to not begin to rise among Illini fans. I would advise caution there, however.

While there were a bunch of really good teams at Maui this year, they were basically all on the other side of the bracket. Illinois had a very soft path (USC and Chaminade) to the title game. Beating Butler is a nice result, but it's the first win Illinois has had all season over a likely RPI Top 100 team. And if not for a disparity in three-point shooting (40% for Illinois vs 25% for Butler), this game would have been awfully close. Butler's front line dominated the boards (15 offensive rebounds vs 5 for Illinois).

So this is a good start to the season for Illinois, but it would be a mistake to confuse them with the top five or six teams in the Big Ten at this point. They will come home to face Gardner Webb on Sunday before playing Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

Butler drops to 3-2 on the season with this loss, but they are 2-2 against likely RPI Top 100 teams. They have good results so far, even if their offense (particularly front court offense) has been inconsistent. They shouldn't be too tested again until a road game on December 8th at Northwestern.

#13 Missouri 78, Stanford 70
Neither of these teams could get much consistent offense from the field going, and the game basically turned into an impressive free throw contest. Both teams hit 22 free throws, and combined to do so at an 86% clip. In comparison, these two teams combined to hit only 22% of their three-pointers.

The difference was Phil Pressey, who was the one Missouri player able to get his own shot and get to the basket, which he basically did at will. Pressey finished with 18 points and 8 assists, and the Mizzoui offense really stalled when he wasn't in the game. Chasson Randle poured in 22 points for Stanford, though he doesn't quite have the same ability as Pressey to create for his teammates as well as himself.

Missouri has played well to start the season, but haven't had the chance to prove it against a quality opponent. Stanford was the first likely RPI Top 100 team they've faced this season, through they'll get tested more in a hurry. Their next game in the Bahamas will be against Louisville. Their final game will be against either VCU or Duke.

Stanford has this loss to Missouri on the heels of a narrow loss to Belmont. Their next effort to take down a decent team will come in the Battle 4 Atlantic consolation bracket, where they'll play Northern Iowa. After that they'll face Memphis or Minnesota in their final game in the Bahamas.

Davidson 75, Vanderbilt 62
This final score sounds like an upset, but it's really not. Vanderbilt is in more of a rebuilding mode than a reloading mode just because they were completely decimated by graduations, and this is the best Davidson team since Steph Curry was raining threes for them. Depending on which computer rating you prefer, Davidson probably came into this game as the slight favorite.

Davidson's offense doesn't strike you as explosive when you watch it, but they're been playing with very steady precision and efficiency. The team had a nice 14 assist-to-9 turnover ratio here, ending up with 1.20 PPP. It was the third time in four games this season that they have scored at least 1.10 PPP.

It's unlikely that Davidson can make a serious run at an at-large bid. The margin of error is so small in the SoCon, and they blew a lot of that margin on their loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But they are the heavy favorite to win the SoCon auto bid and to be a scary Round of 64 opponent. They'll play West Virginia next, in the Old Spiace Classic semifinals. Vanderbilt heads to the consolation bracket, where their next opponent will be Marist.

Michigan Escapes Physical Pittsburgh Panthers

I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving yesterday. Like many of you I was enjoying yesterday with family, and didn't do any blogging. So that means that I still have a few games to catch up on from Wednesday. Once I get through those I'll have some posts later today going over some interesting action from Turkey Day itself.

#4 Michigan 67, Pittsburgh 62
This was an enjoyable game between two athletic and physically tough teams. Michigan managed to escape Pitt despite 3-for-17 three-point shooting (compared to 40% for Pitt). The difference in the game was that Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr were able to get into the lane at will (10-for-18 two-point shooting plus 7 assists combined) while Pitt was forced into being a jump shooting team in the second half. They seemed very confused by the long and athletic Michigan zone. Watching this game I was very impressed by Glenn Robinson III, who had the best game of his young collegiate career. His ability to muscle inside and shoot outside makes him incredibly important for a Michigan team that otherwise has no real front court depth behind Jordan Morgan.

Prior to this game, the only chance most people had to see Pittsburgh play was that overtime game against Oakland. And they certainly didn't look good there, but it's a mistake to judge a team on one game. They have otherwise played well this season, and even in defeat here had the look of an NCAA Tournament team. They will face a feisty Delaware team on Friday in the NIT consolation game. After that their schedule is pretty soft prior to Big East play. The toughest game will be against Duquesne, on December 5th. Considering the lack of big non-conference wins, Pitt will probably need to go at least 10-8 in Big East play to make the NCAA Tournament, but I think they have that in them.

I had two big concerns about Michigan's Top 5 ranking to start the season. One was where they would get outside shooting from considering how much John Beilein's system relies on it. The second was where they would get front court depth from. Glenn Robinson III has lived up to all of the hype and deals with much of the latter problem. Meanwhile, Nik Skauskas has a very pretty shot, even if he hasn't had any real breakout games yet. I still don't really buy Michigan as the 4th best team in the country, but they're a very realistic top ten team if Skauskas can find more consistency with his shot. They'll play Kansas State in the NIT title game on Friday. They'll then come home to face NC State on Tuesday.

Marquette 72, USC 64
On the court, this was something of a ho-hum game for Marquette. They were decent-but-not great in dispatching a mediocre USC team by eight. Jamil Wilson was white hot, hitting 7-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-4 behind the arc. The concern for Marquette was late, when star Vander Blue went down with an apparent knee injury. He was standing around and limping after the game, and it was diagnosed as just a sprain. Marquette will obviously hope that's all it is.

Marquette has been solid to start the season, even if the results haven't been wonderful. Their one game against a likely RPI Top 100 ended in a brutal buzzer-beater defeat. They will get their chance to prove themselves against quality opponents next week, when they'll play at Florida on Thursday. They also have a home game coming up against Wisconsin on December 8th. If they can steal one of those two games and avoid any bad non-conference losses, then a 10-8 Big East record should be enough for an at-large bid.

USC has been fairly unimpressive to start the season. I wonder if there are still lingering issues for Jio Fontan, because he just hasn't been the same player that he was before his torn ACL. JT Terrell, the Wake Forest transfer, has been the best USC playmaker and scorer. Even with the Pac-12 still pretty mediocre this season, I expect USC to be contending for the basement. Their next game will be Sunday, against San Diego State.

Wichita State 75, Iowa 63
When you shoot 7-for-8 on three-pointers and are only up by two points on halftime, that's usually not a great sign for the second half. And that was certainly the case here for Iowa. Their offense fell apart in the second half - in the opening six minutes they shot 0-for-5 from the field with 4 turnovers - and Wichita State built a quick eight point lead that was never seriously threatened the rest of the game.

Juco transfer Cleanthony Early was big for Wichita State off the bench here (25 points on 7-for-13 shooting, along with 9 rebounds), but a real standout was 7-footer Ehimen Orukpe. Orukpe's five blocks were a big reason that Iowa was completely unable to get a good shot near the basket (they shot a mind-boggling 4-for-31 on two-pointers).

Iowa is going to score a lot of points this year because of Fran McCaffery's uptempo style, but offensive efficiency remains a very serious concern. They have enough talent to be an NCAA Tournament team, but they didn't play like one here against Wichita State. And coming off less-than-impressive wins over Gardner Webb and Western Kentucky, I'm starting to rethink having them as a projected at-large team. They will be on the road to face Virginia Tech on Tuesday. After that, games against Iowa State and Northern Iowa will be their only action against quality opponents before beginning Big Ten play.

Wichita State, powered by a really good defense, is now 6-0 with a pair of a nice wins (the other nice win came over VCU). They're good enough to make a run at an at-large bid, but have several minefields that they have to pass through to get there. The margin of error is just less in the Missouri Valley than it is in a conference like the Big Ten. Their next task is to get past a couple of tricky road games over the next ten days, at Tulsa and Air Force.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shorthanded Indiana Survives Georgetown

#1 Indiana 82, Georgetown 72, OT
Indiana was pushed hard here by an underrated Georgetown team. Georgetown is a borderline Top 25 team (and thus generally underrated when called "unranked"), but the bigger issue here is that Indiana is missing two of their key freshmen: 6'8" Hanner Mosquera-Perra and 7'0" Peter Jurkin. Without them, Tom Crean really just plays a seven man rotation, and his team is particularly short on front court depth. Cody Zeller (17 points, 8 rebounds) played well here, but he's the only consistent front court player Indiana has right now (Christian Watford is too hit-or-miss). Throw in some superb play by Otto Porter (15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) down the stretch and the Hoosiers got pushed to overtime.

The big question for Indiana coming into the season was defense, and whether they could play enough of it to be a plausible #1 team in the country. And the sample size is small, but there's no question that the Hoosiers defense looks a lot better than it did last year. They gave up 0.98 PPP here, and it was their first game all season giving up greater than 0.90. Getting back some front court length and athleticism in Mosquera-Perra and Jurkin can only help.

The play of Otto Porter here has to be very encouraging for JTIII as he looks to replace Henry Sims this season. I just don't think Nate Lubick is a good enough basketball player to run the Georgetown offense through. Porter appears to be a much better candidate. And he proved late here against Indiana that he can beat his man off the dribble to score if he needs to.

Indiana heads home to face Ball State next, on Sunday. On Tuesday they'll get their next big test, from North Carolina. Georgetown leaves the Legends Classic with only a 1-1 record, but with a lot more confidence and believers around the nation. They have a pair of home games upcoming, against Mt. Saint Mary's and Tennessee.

#12 Kansas 73, Saint Louis 59
St. Louis played well here defensively, though not well enough. They were able to limit good looks for Kansas, and unfortunately just saw the Jayhawks hit 7-for-13 behind the arc. Offensively, the Billikens played okay despite a nothing game from Jordair Jett. Jett has been hit-or-miss to start the season. Until Kwamain Mitchell gets back, St. Louis really needs more steady production from Jett. Mike McCall, Jr is the only other St. Louis player that can really create offense on his own.

As for Kansas, Jeff Withey was tremendous - 25 points on 7-for-12 shooting with 12 blocks. I don't understand why Withey, despite being in one of the real blue chip programs, doesn't get enough hype. He is a potential All-American, in my opinion. Withey is the most dominant low post defender in college basketball, and he's actually started to develop a pretty good offensive game now, too.

This is the first real quality win that Kansas has collected this year. They'll play San Jose State on Monday, but then head into a pretty brutal stretch: Oregon State, Colorado, Belmont, Richmond and then Ohio State, all back-to-back.

Now 2-2, St. Louis will head home to face Southern Illinois on Saturday. After that they'll head on the road to face Washington on November 28th.

Texas 69, Mississippi State 55
Texas avoided the ignominy of finishing in last place in Maui with this win. Besides the fact that Mississippi State just isn't a good team, Texas was able to blow this game open with atypically hot shooting (10-for-18 behind the arc). Sheldon McClellan led the way, scoring 19 points on 4-for-5 three-point shooting. 22 turnovers are still a problem.

This win in no way salvages Maui for Texas. The losses to Chaminade and USC were embarrassing, and beating "Mississippi State" isn't nearly as impressive as it sounds this season. MSU is in total rebuilding mode and is going to be one of the worst BCS conference teams in the nation this season. They are still in a lot of danger of being dropped from my next BP68.

Texas does get to come back home for a couple of cupcakes next (you can also argue that 2012-13 Mississippi State is a "cupcake"). Their next competitive game will be December 4th against Georgetown. Mississippi State isn't going to win a lot of games this season, but one that they should win will be their next game, on Tuesday at home against Alcorn State, one of the worst teams in the nation. After that they'll be off to play at Providence on December 1st.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Butler Takes Out North Carolina, Opens Eyes

Butler 82, #9 North Carolina 71
North Carolina almost pulled off a remarkable comeback here. Down by 28 with 11 minutes to go they went on a furious 37-15 run to pull within six with a minute to go. But they went cold on a couple of consecutive possessions, and Chase Stigall hit enough free throws to put the game away. The story of Butler's early lead, though, was their ferocious and athletic front line. They were able to out-muscle and out-rebounded North Carolina, and got better shots in the paint. Khyle Marshall was huge, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds (he also led all players with three offensive boards).

Games like this are why Butler has such a high ceiling. I thought they were a Top 25 team preseason, but they have the potential to be a Top Ten team. The development of Marshall, Roosevelt Jones and Kameron Woods is the key. By the way, it was interesting to me that with all of the trouble that Butler was having with the UNC press late in this game that Jackson Aldridge could barely get on the floor. He was a point guard who came into Butler with a lot of hype, but right now it's clear that he's in the Brad Stevens dog house. They could use another point guard if he can find his game.

This is a setback for North Carolina, and the high likelihood of having to play Chaminade in the third place game is going to make Maui a disappointment. But the reality is that this is not a bad loss, and it's a good learning experience for their young players. The way that they fought back when this game seemed over was impressive.

North Carolina doesn't get a break after Maui. They will head to Indiana for a game on November 27th. Butler's schedule will ease up after Maui. Their next competitive game will be December 8th, at Northwestern.

USC 59, Texas 53, OT
The Longhorns' offensive futility continued here. They have yet to break 1 PPP on offense in any game this season, and this game was a new low: 0.74 PPP. Their turnover rate has also been above 20% in every single game. This is also the third time in four games that they failed to break 20% on three-point shooting. Losing Myck Kabongo was always going to be tough to overcome, but this is getting embarrassing.

Texas is now 2-2 on the season, but they have zero good wins and a pair of terrible losses (USC is very unlikely to end up an RPI Top 100 team). If they can't beat a bad Mississippi State team in the Maui 7th place game then this season will really get into crisis mode in Austin. They will get a couple of cupcakes when they get back home. Their next competitive game after Maui will be December 4th against Georgetown.

As for USC, this was a very ugly win over a reeling Texas team, but it helps get some of the bad taste out of their mouth after that debacle against Illinois. They will get Marquette in the Maui 5th place game. They'll head home after that to face San Diego State on Sunday.

Columbia 75, Villanova 57
Columbia has been playing well to start this season, but it's still a shock to see them walk onto Villanova's home court and just spank the Wildcats. Villanova's 3-for-17 three-point shooting did them a favor, but that in and of itself wasn't why Villanova lost. The 12 steals Columbia forced stood out more than anything else.

Columbia is not a program with a lot of basketball history. They haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1968, and haven't even been close to a postseason appearance for years. Kyle Smith has them moving in the right direction as a program, and they came into this season as an Ivy League dark horse. Back in April it looked like Harvard was destined for another borderline Top 25 season in 2012-13, but the loss of Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry has thrown the top of the Ivy League into total disarray. There is a good chance that the conference won't end up a single RPI Top 100 team, and it's wide open for a team like Columbia to sneak through.

This is a bad loss for a Villanova team that had been looking better to start this season than they had played last season. The loss to Alabama wasn't great, but it was a result of white hot Crimson Tide shooting. And it had come on the heels of nice victories over Purdue and Marshall. But as well as Columbia has been playing, this is a bad loss for Villanova. They'll try to bounce back on Sunday, against La Salle.