Friday, November 23, 2012

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.

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