Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gonzaga Destroys An Undisciplined West Virginia

#21 Gonzaga 84, West Virginia 50
This was the tip-off game of ESPN's 24 hour hoops marathon and it was... a blowout, to say the least. This game felt over after just ten minutes. And while I certainly don't want to diminish the fact that Gonzaga played well, what really stood out to me was how downright awful the West Virginia offense was. After getting a bunch of garbage points late in the game, West Virginia was able to finish with an offensive output of 0.74 PPP, their worst performance since a 54-43 loss to Kentucky in November, 2008. And you can put some of that on solid Gonzaga defense, and some of it on some ice cold shooting, but more than anything it was about terrible offensive execution. I lost count of how many possessions consisted of zero passes past half court. I repeatedly saw players dribble up the court and launch a three before any of their four teammates had even crossed inside the three-point arc.

There was a little bit of West Virginia hype preseason. I actually saw somebody on ESPN pick them to win the Big 12. But I think that sentiment all vastly underrated how strong Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant were. Those two mattered not only for their raw production, but for their leadership and their ability to get a basket when the team needed one. Because of some transfers, West Virginia has a bunch of individually talented players. But right now they're playing like they have five gunners on the floor at all times. There is no cohesion. They will probably play better later in the season, but they will have to play much better if they're going to make the NCAA Tournament.

As for Gonzaga, the story from this game was Gary Bell, Jr. He only had 15 points and 4 assists, but that was because he wasn't needed to do more than that. A year ago we were all talking about Kevin Pangos. But now we're talking about the backcourt of Pangos and Bell, which is one of the best in the nation. The emergence of Guy Landry Edi gives the Zags more front court depth to go alongside Sam Dower, and this looks like one of the better Gonzaga teams in the Mark Few era. Gonzaga's next competitive game will be November 22nd against Clemson at the Old Spice Classic. West Virginia heads to the same tournament, where they'll open against Marist.

Oregon State 71, New Mexio State 62
Wins over Niagara and New Mexico State are not going to shake the foundations of the basketball world. In fact, I doubt any casual non-Oregon State college basketball fans even noticed. But this is a nice win and this has been a solid start to the season for Oregon State. Ahmad Starks, for the second consecutive game, was the scoring spark for the Beavers. He scored 33 points on 11-for-21 shooting. New Mexico State was strong on the boards (Tyrone Watson had as many  offensive rebounds, five, as the entire Oregon State team combined), but they couldn't hit a shot and went down in a disappointing loss to start the season.

Beating New Mexico State is nice, but Oregon State will need a bigger scalp to start getting some at-large buzz. They'll get a chance to generate some of that buzz later this week when they head to Madison Square Garden for the 2k Sports Classic. They'll play Alabama on Thursday, followed by either Purdue or Villanova on Friday. New Mexico State's next quality opponent will be an impressive Bucknell team on Saturday.

Youngstown State 68, Georgia 56
This game was a disaster for Georgia for a number of reasons. Obviously the tiny crowd at the game is a sign that there's no excitement around this Georgia program. But more importantly, it wasn't that Georgia lost but how they lost. It would have been one thing if Youngstown State had shot out of their minds, or if something fluky had happened. But Georgia actually shot slightly better. Rebounds and turnovers were basically even. And Georgia star Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put in a really good effort with 27 points on 10-for-18 shooting. And I watched much of the second half, and if you couldn't see the uniforms you wouldn't have been able to tell which team was supposed to be better. I feel like if you  played this game ten times that each team would win five.

The reality is that this is going to be a long season for Georgia. Watching Caldwell-Pope play will be fun, and the fans can hope for some improvement from other players on the team. But it's hard to see this team even seriously contending for an NIT spot. They'll play Southern Miss on Thursday and then will head to the Barclays Center to play Indiana in the Legends Classic.

As for Youngstown State, the reality is that the Horizon League is wide open at the top. The exit of Butler means that there is no alpha dog. Valparaiso was my pick preseason, and they're still my pick. But you can make a good argument that their top competitor will be Youngstown State. The Penguins will get some good tests next week to see just how true that argument is. They will head to Duquesne University where, on consecutive days, they'll face North Dakota State, James Madison and Duquesne.

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