Saturday, November 10, 2012

Kentucky Outlasts Maryland With An Unexpected Star

#3 Kentucky 72, Maryland 69
One of the few issues Kentucky has had in the John Calipari era has been short benches. Coming into this season their lineup was made up of Kyle Wiltjer, Ryan Harrow and their 2012 recruiting class. And one of the concerns was who would play backup point guard behind Harrow, the transfer from NC State. And with Harrow suffering from the flu and playing poorly in a game Kentucky was losing to Maryland, Calipari turned to 6'2" walk-on Jarrod Polson, who entered the game having scored a grand total of 7 points in 62 garbage minutes during his first two seasons. He came off the bench here and more than doubled that production, scoring 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting, along with 3 assists. It will certainly end up as one of the most unlikely cameos this season.

It's interesting seeing so much over-reaction to this game in the media. A lot of people are ready to jump off the Kentucky bandwagon because of one bad game. Now, I'm somebody who thought from the start that Kentucky was overrated. I picked them to finish second in the SEC behind Florida, and have them only as a 2 seed in my latest BP68, but I'm not going to over-interpret one game. This is a very young Kentucky team, and these Calipari teams always play much better in March than they do in November. Have to let these guys get some games under their belt before we scream "Overrated!!!" at them.

The star for Maryland, of course, was 7'1" Alex Len, who has improved leaps and bounds since last season. He was the best player on the floor for either team, and led all player in points (23), rebounds (12) and blocks (4). Nerlens Noel looked very good defensively for Kentucky, but his offensive game has a long way to go before we can start comparing him to Anthony Davis.

Kentucky now jumps out of the frying pan and into the fire, getting Duke at the Georgia Dome on Tuesday. After that they will get to recover with only cupcakes before Thanksgiving. Maryland is a team I think will end up right on the bubble. In my most recent BP68 I have them as the last at-large team in the field. So obviously this result will end up being a huge missed opportunity to capture a scalp on opening day. They next play a string of cupcakes before heading to Northwestern as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on November 27th. It will be interesting to see whether this Kentucky performance was a fluke, or a sign that Alex Len is ready to make them an ACC contender.

Alabama 70, South Dakota State 67
You know it's college basketball season when you finally get to watch a buzzer beater live, and Trevor Lacey hit a three as the clock expired to knock off a very good South Dakota State team. Nate Wolters, who is one of the best players in the nation, was dominant in this game for South Dakota State. He played all 40 minutes and put up 30 points on 10-for-15 shooting (including 5-for-6 behind the arc). He didn't get a ton of help from his teammates, but he won't need much to make SDSU a dangerous opponent. They are my pick to win the Summit League, and they are a potential Cinderella team in March.

Alabama certainly didn't look like a team that could push Kentucky and Florida at the top of the SEC, but there's also no reason for Crimson Tide fans to be down about a win over a likely RPI Top 100 opponent. We'll get a better sense of this team next week when they play Oregon State in the semifinals of the 2k Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden. They'll play either Purdue or Villanova in the title/consolation game.

This is a tough loss for South Dakota State if they're going to make any noise as a bubble team, just because there's such a small margin of error in a conference like the Summit. Their next game will be Tuesday against Tennessee State, and their next serious test is likely to be Marshall, next Saturday.

Colorado State 72, Montana 65
Colton Iverson, the transfer from Minnesota, made a big impact in his first game at Colorado State, scoring 18 points and bringing down 8 rebounds. And speaking of rebounds, how can you not love Pierce Hornung, who might be the best offensive rebounder in the nation. He came down with 6 here, along with 10 on the defensive glass. With as well as they played, however, you have to respect the good effort that Montana put in without an injured Will Cherry. Montana is my pick to win the Big Sky, and they're going to be a feisty Round of 64 opponent in March.

This game meant more to Colorado State because they have realistic hopes of a second consecutive at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They didn't make things easy on themselves with their schedule, however, with true road games at Washington, Colorado and Denver over the next few weeks. If they can somehow escape those games unscathed then they'll be in great shape heading into the Mountain West regular season. The Denver game is up first, on November 21st. Montana plays a non-Division I team next before heading to Idaho for a road game next Saturday.

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