Sunday, December 02, 2012

Creighton Crushes St. Joseph's

#11 Creighton 80, St. Joseph's 51
This wasn't even as close as the final score would suggest. Creighton was up 45-15 with 3 minutes left in the first half, and led by as much as 34 in the second half before calling off the dogs. Creighton was obviously in a bad mood after that brutal loss to Boise State, and they took their frustrations out on an unsuspecting St. Joe's squad. Doug McDermott was 5-for-7 behind the arc, and Grant Gibbs has 9 assists as the Bluejays ended up assisting on 70% of their made baskets.

St. Joe's did get that early season win over Notre Dame in overtime, but have struggled since, falling to Florida State and getting waxed here by Creighton. With just that one quality win, St. Joe's now heads into a tough stretch - they will play Villanova, Drexel, Iona and Fairfield before starting Atlantic Ten play. None of those wins are likely to be RPI Top 50 wins, and at the same time it's very likely that St. Joe's will fall in at least one of them. Can't imagine that teams ever enjoy going through stretches of schedule like that.

Creighton will play on the road at Nebraska on Thursday. They also will take on Akron and California before starting Missouri Valley play. They are the favorites to win the Missouri Valley, of course, but if they're going to have a shot at a 2 or 3 seed in March, they really can't afford another non-conference loss.

Texas A&M 70, Houston 59
Texas A&M isn't a particularly tall team, but they're long, athletic and aggressive. They really get after the offensive glass, and it's why they're outperforming expectations this season. The Aggies had a 43.3 OR% here, pushing their season averaged up to 40.4%, which is 22nd best in the nation. Ray Turner led the way here with 14 points and 11 rebounds. One other key for Texas A&M has been the play of 6'5" freshman point guard Alex Caruso, who had 7 assists to only 1 turnover here, and is up to a 3.6 A/TO ratio. As he improves, the Texas A&M offense is actually looking pretty darn good.

There is one reason for skepticism about this quick 6-1 start for Texas A&M: their soft schedule. The one team that they have played that is ranked higher than 85th in the Pomeroy or Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings, St. Louis, represents Texas A&M's only loss. The fact that they're giving up 1.00 PPP against this soft schedule is a concern, and they won't be able to out-athlete more elite SEC teams on the offensive glass. So until the Aggies start beating better teams, I can't project them as an NCAA Tournament. They will play Stephen F Austin on Wednesday, and then will take on Oklahoma on December 15th.

As for Houston, it's pretty clear now that their 5-0 start to the season was fraudulent - all they did was beat a bunch of cream puffs. Texas A&M was their first RPI Top 100 opponent, and they fell by double digits. They will have an interesting game on Tuesday on the road at TCU.

VCU 75, Belmont 65
This was an interesting battle between two underrated mid-majors that love to attack their opponents and generate transition offense. VCU and Belmont are 6th and 13th in the nation, respectively, in steals forced per game. They are also 8th and 11th, respectively, in defensive turnover percentage. And these two teams combined to force 22 steals and 37 turnovers here.

As you'd expect in a game like this, it was a game of runs. VCU opened up a 21 point lead late in the first half, which Belmont ate away at with a 21-8 run. VCU pushed the lead out to 13 again, with under 6 minutes to go, but consecutive forced turnovers allowed Belmont to go on a quick 8-0 spurt that forced VCU to sweat out the final few minutes. The biggest difference in this game was rebounding. VCU really gets after the offensive glass, and Belmont is brutal at defensive rebounding. VCU ended up with 16 offensive rebounds, and in all took 10 more shots from the field and 16 more at the free throw line. It's pretty hard to lose when you take that many more shots than your opponent.

VCU is only 5-3, but that's because of a really strong schedule. They have wins over Memphis and now Belmont, and all of their losses have come against likely RPI Top 50 teams. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS, the best objective measurement of resume strength, is 20th. If they can avoid any bad non-conference losses and get to 12-4 in Atlantic Ten play, that should be plenty for an at-large bid. If they drop to 11-5 or 10-6 then they will probably enter the A-10 tournament with work left to do. They will try to navigate a road game at Old Dominion on Friday, and then will come home to face Alabama on December 15th.

Belmont falls to 5-2 with this loss. They have a quality win over Stanford and a bad loss to Northeastern. They will play Lipscomb on Tuesday before a very tough two-game stretch: Middle Tennessee followed by Kansas. Unless they somehow knock off Kansas, it's hard to see Belmont having a plausible at-large case in March. They are most likely going to need to take out Murray State in the OVC title game.

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