Saturday, December 01, 2012

Baylor Breaks Multiple Streaks At Rupp

Baylor 64, #8 Kentucky 55
This was the first loss that Kentucky has had at Rupp since March 4, 2009, when Billy Gillispie was still the head coach. In addition, this is apparently the first road win Baylor has ever had out of conference against a Top 25 team. That latter stat is more quirky than anything else, but still.... ever?

Anyway, the reality is that this was a very poorly played game. Kentucky got off to an early lead not because they were playing well but because the Baylor offense was atrocious. Kentucky had six turnovers in the opening ten minutes of the game, which was pretty good in comparison to the eight that Baylor had already amassed. In all, Baylor committed 19 turnovers and allowed 20 offensive rebounds, and still won. How did they do it? Their zone defense isn't great, but it was good enough to make the Wildcats play as if they'd never seen one. Kentucky has two very good outside shooters (Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays), but Kentucky couldn't figure out how to attack the zone to get them open shots.

Even after back-to-back losses, I don't think Kentucky fans need to freak out too much. Ryan Harrow is playing better, and it's obvious that Archie Goodwin will be more productive if he can play of the ball more. I think John Calipari has plenty of talent, and he just needs to figure out a team identity. Kentucky is heading into cupcake city for the next few weeks, but the key will have to be execution. Just spending three weeks out-athleting inferior opponents isn't going to help them once they get into SEC play.

This is a great bounce-back win for Baylor after their loss to Charleston. That said, they honestly didn't play that great. Kentucky lost this game a lot more than Baylor won it. Baylor's defensive rebounding remains a disaster, and they just take way too many dumb shots. Getting Brady Heslip back is huge, though. It's a misconception that all he does is shoot threes - he also directs the Baylor zone from the top of the key. Baylor just looks like they know what they're doing a whole lot more when Heslip is on the floor. Baylor comes home to play Northwestern next, on Tuesday.

#6 Syracuse 91, Arkansas 82
James Southerland was 5-for-5 behind the arc.... less than ten minutes into this game. Southerland finished the night of his life with 35 points, including 9-for-13 shooting behind the arc. Now as with any game involving two teams heavily dependent on transition offense, this game was one of long runs. But Syracuse was able to hang onto their lead for most of the night because their defensive rebounding was relatively strong (by their standards) and because Arkansas lacks any outside shooters (5-for-24 behind the arc, dropping their season average to 26.2%).

Syracuse had that win over San Diego State to open the season, but it's hard to draw too many conclusions from an aircraft carrier game. Arkansas is the best team Syracuse has played since then. And they won't play another quality opponent until they see Temple on December 22nd. This is how Jim Boeheim schedules, of course. He never likes to challenge his team on the road prior to Big East play - the only reason this game happened was because it was forced on him by the Big East/SEC Challenge.

Arkansas falls to 3-3 with three consecutive losses, including an iffy loss to Arizona State. I thought that they had a real chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament this year, but so far they're not playing like it. They will play Oklahoma on Tuesday, and then on the road at Michigan next Saturday. Those will be their final quality opponents before opening SEC play. Considering that they're very unlikely to win on the road at Michigan, they really need to beat Oklahoma to avoid a complete disaster of a non-conference performance this season.

#5 Louisville 69, Illinois State 66
One of the myths of home field advantage is that it's primarly due to players performing better in front of a home crowd. Athletes probably perform a little bit better at home, but it's been shown by several different statisticians that home field advantage is almost entirely due to reffing - refs get intimidated by the crowds and give the 50/50 calls to the home team. And Louisville needed all of that homecourt advantage here, as several 50/50 calls all went their way in the final few minutes. No call looms larger than the no-call on a three-pointer attempted by Tyler Brown as time was expiring.

Jackie Carmichael was the star for Illinois State, dominating inside with 20 points and 9 rebounds. They should definitely take a positive feeling out of this game, taking some of the best Louisville has to offer (Peyton Siva and Russ Smith were both sharp, combining for 44 points on only 30 shots from the field) on the road and still having every chance to win. There is no conference in the nation where the crowds are more underrated than in the Missouri Valley, and Illinois State has clearly proven that they will not be intimidated.

Despite the troubles here, this is a quality win for Louisville. Their resume right now isn't overwhelming, but it doesn't need to be. They are, in my opinion, the favorite in the Big East. And if they sweep the Big East regular season and tournament titles than they'll be a 1 seed in March. Their next game will be on Tuesday on the road at a feisty Charleston team.

This is a second straight tough loss for Illinois State, after an overtime loss to Northwestern. They will come home to play Wyoming on Tuesday, and also will head on the road to face Dayton before starting Missouri Valley play. Illinois State is definitely a good enough team to make a run at an at-large bid, but the lack of a big win (unless they take out Creighton) means that they're going to need a really good won/loss record to have a shot on Selection Sunday. In my opinion, I think they need to get to 13-5 in conference play to feel good about their chances.


DMoore said...

When you say "Ryan Harrow is playing better", what are you noticing (I didn't see the game)? His stat line looks fairly bad -- 18 minutes, 2 points on 1-9 shooting (but he did have 2 assists and 0 turnovers).

Jeff said...

The stats didn't look great, but in the second half Calipari allowed him to run a lot of the offense and shifted Goodwin back to 2 guard, and the Kentucky offense definitely flowed better.

Harrow doesn't look great yet, but he doesn't need to be. He just needs to be a capable point guard so that Goodwin doesn't have to play the point.