Friday, November 16, 2012

Santa Clara Crushes Saint Louis

Santa Clara 74, St. Louis 62
Expectations were very high for this St. Louis team coming into the season. Losing Rick Majerus to health issues was the first sign that things were going wrong. Then Kwamain Mitchell got knocked out for around six weeks with foot surgery. But it's hard to fathom how things could have gotten so bad that they got beaten badly by Santa Clara at home here. That 12 point final margin is not deceptive - Santa Clara led by 10-20 points for almost the entire second half.

Perhaps the biggest problem for St. Louis here was that Jordair Jett was neutralized with foul trouble. He fouled out with only 8 points and 2 assists. Without him or Kwamain Mitchell, the Billikens don't really have another ball handler. Mike McCall Jr. finished with six assists, and also six turnovers. The star for Santa Clara, as it usually is, was Kevin Foster, who led all players with 30 points on 10-for-18 shooting.

The good news for St. Louis is that the CBE Classic is one of those tournaments that fixes its semifinal matches. So despite this loss, they will play Texas A&M in the CBE Classic semifinals on Monday. They will then play either Kansas or Washington State on Tuesday. Santa Clara will next play on Tuesday, against USC Upstate. Their schedule is very soft for the next 4-6 weeks, so don't be surprised if they have a really nice won-loss record heading into winter break. I wouldn't get too excited about them yet, though. It's only one good upset win.

Alabama 65, Oregon State 62
Oregon State showed great heart in this one, clawing all the way back from a 15 point deficit halfway through the second half. But a three-pointer by Rodney Cooper with 12.2 seconds left was the game winner for Alabama. Devon Collier and Angus Brandt were the two that sparked the Oregon State comeback, scoring a combined 20 points in the final 13:30 of the game. A win is better than a loss, of course, but the start to the season has been far from encouraging for Alabama. Their offense is still very far from consistent. And their defense is good (they forced 20 turnovers in this game), but it hasn't yet looked as dominant as it has been the past two seasons.

Alabama is 3-0 now, but a win over a non-Division I school and a pair of three-point wins over Oregon State and South Dakota State are far from convincing. They will get a chance to collect a third win over a likely RPI Top 100 team when they play Villanova in the 2k Sports Classic finals. Their next tough game after that will be a road game at Cincinnati on December 1st.

Oregon State will play Purdue in the 2k Sports Classic consolation. If they can't win that game then they've got a problem, because their non-conference schedule was poorly conceived. They will play Kansas, and then zero other NCAA Tournament quality teams. They're unlikely to beat Kansas, which means that without a win over Purdue they're likely to enter Pac-12 play with zero quality wins. The conference is improved from last season, but Oregon State would probably need to get to 12-6 to seriously contend for an at-large bid if they have zero quality non-conference wins.

Illinois State 86, Drexel 84, OT
Sooner or later, casual fans are going to figure out that Illinois State is a good team. They pushed Creighton to the brink in the Missouri Valley title game last season, and look to be even better this season. I picked them preseason to make the NCAA Tournament as a bubble team, and a win over Drexel after a 28 point thumping of UCSB is a nice start to fulfilling that potential. And if they do go Dancing, look for Jackie Carmichael to be a potential star. He filled up the boxscore in this game with 21 points, 4 blocks, 3 steals and 3 rebounds.

Drexel is not getting a lot of luck early this season. Both of their games have gone to overtime, and both have been losses. Neither loss is a really bad loss (the other one was to Kent State), but there isn't a large margin of error for Colonial teams trying to earn at-large bids. The good news is that with VCU gone, the path to an automatic bid is not too rough. And I do expect them to eventually earn that automatic bid. For now, they will try to bounce back on Saturday at Pennsylvania. They still have games against St. Mary's, Davidson and St. Joseph's before the end of the calendar year.

Illinois State will next play Delaware State on Sunday. They will be at the South Padre Invitational next week, where they will open against UAB.

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