Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Canisius Beats Temple; Now The MAAC Favorite?

Canisius 72, Temple 62
Temple is not an explosive offensive team, and they typically struggle to shoot the ball. When they go cold they can go ice cold, and that's what happened here at home against Canisius. They shot 4-for-27 behind the arc, including a brutal 1-for-12 from Scootie Randall. In fact, all of the Temple players not named Jake Ryan combined to hit 1-for-23 behind the arc. You'd think they could hit a higher rate than that taking one-handed shots from midcourt.

Canisius is led by Jim Baron, the longtime Rhode Island coach who was fired at the end of last season. Baron also brought his son Billy with him to Canisius, who has already become the best player on the team. Billy Baron led all players here with 19 points and 5 assists.

Canisius is now 8-2, including 2-0 in MAAC play with road wins at Fairfield and Marist. And that brings up the obvious question: Is Canisius the new MAAC favorite? Loyola-Maryland was my preseason pick, and their resume so far is not overwhelming, but that's because they put together a cupcake schedule. They are a strong defense and they can really get after the offensive glass, which is a key against a Canisius and Iona team that can struggle to protect the defensive glass. Speaking of Iona, they have wins over Georgia and Denver and nearly took out Rutgers, so they're a contender as well. At this point I think the level of play between these three teams has been even enough that I'm going to stick with my preseason pick of Loyola-Maryland, but another couple of weeks of this level of Canisius basketball will likely cause me to change my mind.

As well as Canisius has played, this is a bad loss for a Temple team that doesn't have a huge margin of error. They don't have a single big time win yet this season. They will play Syracuse at Madison Square Garden and also have a road game at Kansas, but barring a big upset in one of those two games they'll have quite a bit of ground to make up on other bubble teams in Atlantic Ten play. The Syracuse game is up next, on Saturday. Canisius will also play next on Saturday, at UNLV.

Stephen F Austin 56, Oklahoma 55
This was a terrible performance from Oklahoma. The stat that stood out to me was assists - Stephen F Austin had 17 and Oklahoma had 6. It's very difficult to only have 6 assists in a game, but this has been a problem for the Sooners all season long. They're only assisting on 46.7% of made baskets this season, which is 301st in the nation. It's a big reason why their shooting has been so bad (a 45.9 eFG%) and why their offense is so sluggish (they've broken 1.02 PPP only three times in ten games).

And yes, Oklahoma would have likely sent this game to overtime if Buddy Hield had made a free throw in the final seconds, but they deserved to lose this game. They didn't play well in any facet  of the game. The Sooners are now 7-3 with half-decent wins over West Virginia and Texas A&M to go with this bad loss and a potentially iffy loss to Arkansas. They now have more than a week to recover before taking on Ohio, on December 29th. It's the final quality opponent in their non-conference slate.

Stephen F Austin was my preseason pick to win the Southland, and they're playing even better than I had projected. Their defense is suffocating (they've allowed more than 0.92 PPP in only one of seven games against Division I opponents), and they now have a nice win to put on their resume. They're not going to contend for an at-large bid, of course. But this is the type of win that can mean the difference between a 16 or 15 seed, or between a 15 or 14 seed. And that can make the difference between having a winnable game or a not-really-winnable game in the Round of 64. Their next game will be tomorrow, against Grambling.

#25 NC State 88, Stanford 79
Stanford acquitted themselves very well here. On the road, they hung in with NC State's explosive offense. And they actually did it without a good shooting night from Chasson Randle (5-for-15 from the field). Dwight Powell was the star for Stanford, scoring 23 points (on 10-for-21 shooting) and adding 8 rebounds and 4 assists. As a team, Stanford also outrebounded NC State, and had 19 assists to only 6 turnovers. The 1.17 PPP that they scored represented their most efficient offensive performance since 1.27 PPP against Nevada during last season's NIT.

But NC State is tough to beat because they are so efficient at scoring in the paint. Richard Howell and CJ Leslie are both very good at scoring down low, and Lorenzo Brown is really good at attacking the basket (he led all players with 24 points and 5 assists here). NC State is now 6th in the nation in 2P% (57.4%) and fourth in the nation in eFG% (57.5%). It would be fascinating to see them take on a team with really dominant post defense, like Kansas. The best interior defense in the ACC is probably Virginia, so that will be one of the match-ups to watch in ACC play.

NC State is now 8-2 with this win and a win over UConn, and without a bad loss. Assuming they can beat St. Bonaventure on Saturday they will only have a pair of cream puffs left after that before beginning ACC play. Even a 9-9 ACC record will probably be sufficient for an at-large bid. A 10-8 record would put them in a very safe position.

Stanford is 7-4 with no terrible losses, but without any really good wins either. They have an important road game coming up at Northwestern on Friday. Without a win there they're going to need to go at least 11-7, and probably 12-6, in Pac-12 play to earn an at-large bid.

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