Saturday, December 08, 2012

Colorado Holds Off Colorado State

Colorado 70, Colorado State 61
I always feel like the way to tell if a game is a "rivalry game" is if the fans think it is - not the media. Most rivalries come and go over time as programs change. And right now, Colorado/Colorado State is a great rivalry. Both teams are the on the upswing, Spencer Dinwiddie escalated things by talking trash in the media, and the Colorado crowd was awesome here. Colorado almost suffered a devastating loss, though, nearly blowing a 25 point lead. A 19-5 run midway through the second half dragged the lead down to three. Colorado State then lost the momentum after a timeout, and went more than 6 minutes without scoring a basket (only breaking that streak with a meaningless basket just before the final buzzer).

Spencer Dinwiddie backed up his talk, of course, hitting 8-for-10 from the field and also 8-for-10 at the free throw line for 29 points. Andre Roberson (15 points, 14 rebounds). also deserves a lot of credit for going toe-to-toe almost single-handedly with Colorado State's tremendous front line. Colorado State still won the rebounding battle, of course, but not by enough to overcome that poor shooting late.

One thing that has become interesting to me is just how much Colton Iverson has improved, and how he seems to have turned into the on-court leader for Colorado State. His fiery play (he got one technical and could have been called for a second) is the biggest reason for this, of course. Pierce Hornung, who is the best player on the team, has a much quieter personality on the court. But Iverson also has dramatically improved as a basketball player since his time at Minnesota. In his final year at Minnesota, Iverson had 5.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, with a 44.6 eFG%. This year he's at 16.9 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, with a 61.1 eFG%.

Colorado is now 7-1 and up to 3rd in the RPI, but that's a bit of a joke. The RPI is a decent measurement of resume strength in March, but it's terrible now. Sagarin rates them the 51st best team in the country and Pomeroy has them 57th. And the fact that this is their second-best win (their best came over Baylor) means that, unless they knock off Kansas this afternoon (unlikely), they're going to enter Pac-12 play needing to go at least 10-8 to have a good shot at an at-large bid.

Colorado State doesn't have any particularly good wins, but they don't have any bad losses either (this is their only loss, in fact). They won't play any big time opponents before starting Mountain West play, but there will be plenty of opportunities in the Mountain West for big wins. They have to avoid any more bad losses, and then they need to get to at least 9-7 in conference play with at least two wins over the UNLV/UNM/SDSU trio. They need to be careful today with a very tricky game on the road at a red hot Illinois-Chicago team. It should be their toughest remaining test prior to Mountain West play.

#10 Gonzaga 71, Washington State 69
The ending of this game was just awesome. Unless you live on the west coast this game ended in the wee hours of the morning (after 1 AM eastern time), but hopefully you were able to see DaVonte Lacy score to put Washington State ahead with only a few seconds to go and Gonzaga without timeouts, only for Kevin Pangos to streak down the floor Danny Ainge style to hit the game winning layup with two seconds left.

The story of this game was Kelly Olynyk, who played out of his mind in the second half. Olynyk had all 22 of his points in the second half. In fact, there was a two minute stretch starting at around 2:50 to go when the game was initially tied up where the scoring was Olynyk 8, Washington State 4, other Gonzaga players 0. At one point during Olynyk's barrage (he shot 10-for-12 from the field in the second half) I expected him to do the Michael Jordan shrug.

Olynyk's play is meaningful for more more than just this game. In my 2012-13 preview of the WCC, I cited as my biggest concern (other than Elias Harris potentially eschewing the NBA Draft) the loss of Robert Sacre. What made the Sacre/Sam Dower duo so lethal was that at least one of them was on the court at all times. I named Olynyk as the most likely player to step into the Sacre role, but he's been better than I could have predicted. Gonzaga has so many weapons, and that's why they are so consistently good. They have so many different players who can step up and lead on any given night.

After a brutal start to the season (no big wins and a bad loss to Pepperdine), this is a crushing home loss for Washington State. It's a mini-rivalry game, and I thought their crowd was great. This would have been a huge win for Ken Bone. They will try to lick their wounds tomorrow against Fresno State. Gonzaga will play a high profile game tonight against Illinois - an opportunity for the type of marquee win that can help them earn a 2 or 3 seed in March (and to perhaps even contend for a 1 seed, though I find that scenario unlikely).

Vanderbilt 66, Xavier 64, OT
As I say all the time, there's never much "reason" why a team wins or loses a game like this. While most sports analysts and casual sports fans don't understand the fact that all teams are going to win almost exactly 50% of their overtime games over a large enough sample size, it's true. But the problem for Xavier is that in college basketball all that matters is who you beat and who you lost to. And in March, nobody is going to remember or care that this loss came in overtime. It's a loss, and it's a bad loss. For a team that can't afford bad losses.

The hero of this game, of course, was Kyle Fuller. He had 25 points, including all 12 of Vanderbilt's points in overtime. The best performer for Xavier was Towson transfer Isaiah Philmore, who led all players with six offensive rebounds and also collected 11 points. Star Xavier freshman Semaj Christon had a relatively quiet 12 points and 5 assists.

When I say that Xavier couldn't afford a bad loss, that might be a little exaggeration. Their at-large chances aren't over, of course. But they now have two bad losses (the other came against Pacific) to go with only two decent wins (Butler and Purdue). Their upcoming games against Cincinnati and Tennessee will be crucial now if they want to enter Atlantic Ten play with a reasonable path to an at-large bid. The A-10 is too strong for a good-but-not-great team like Xavier to go 12-4 or 13-3. The best realistic scenario for them is probably something like 10-6. Their next game will be tomorrow, against Kent State.

This is a really nice win for Vanderbilt. It's their best win of the season, and they have a couple of pretty bad losses (including an incomprehensible loss to Marist). They're not going to seriously contend for an at-large bid this season, but they're young and improving under Kevin Stallings. With their goofy homecourt advantage, expect them to steal a couple of nice upsets at home in SEC play. Their next game will be December 15th, against Alabama A&M.

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