Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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.

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