Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kevin Ollie Extended, Leads UConn Over Washington

UConn 61, Washington 53
Kevin Ollie had been coaching UConn on a small one year contract, and earlier today he was finally extended out five years. The money isn't huge, and so I would presume that UConn could easily afford to buy him out after a year or two of it, but the extension at least gives the program some stability in the post-Jim Calhoun era. It should certainly help Ollie with recruiting.

This happened to be a pretty sloppy game. Neither team could shoot well (UConn was 2-for-14 behind the arc while Washington had a 32.8 eFG%), and in all the teams combined for 0.81 PPP. The difference in the game was probably the foul trouble for Washington's front line, which allowed DeAndre Daniels and Enosch Wolff to really dominate the paint for UConn. UConn can't play in the postseason this year, of course. But the strong play from young players like Wolff and Omar Calhoun who are very likely to be back next season has to be encouraging for Kevin Ollie. They will open Big East play at Marquette on Tuesday.

Washington is now 8-5. They knocked off St. Louis, but also have bad losses to Albany and Nevada. Their resume isn't terrible, but neither Sagarin or Pomeroy rates them as one of the 100 best teams in the country, so don't expect them to do much in Pac-12 play. They will open conference play next Saturday, at Washington State.

Tennessee 51, Xavier 47
Tennessee's offense continues to leave a lot to desire. They have played five teams in the Pomeroy Top 100, and this is the fourth time in those five games that they have failed to break 0.85 PPP. That's pretty brutal. They had a 41.8 eFG% here, with only 8 assists to 13 turnovers with 19 made baskets. Things will get better when Jeronne Maymon gets healthy and plays again, but he's not a miracle worker. Pomeroy rated Tennessee's offense 103rd in the nation even before this performance. That said, at least their defense is pretty good. They shut down Xavier by shutting down their primary playmaker, Semaj Christon (1-for-9 shooting, 1 assist, 6 turnovers).

Tennessee is 8-3, but their win over Wichita State is their only "quality" win of the season. They will get a chance for a second decent win on Friday when they take on Memphis. A win there and a 10-8 record in SEC play would be enough to put them on the Tournament bubble. A high priority for them will be collecting a big scalp or two. Home games against Florida, Kentucky and Missouri will be crucial.

Xavier continues to take on water. They're a fairly young team, and everybody expected them to take a step back this season, but they've taken a larger step back than most predicted (including me). They're now 7-5 with losses to Pacific, Wofford and Vanderbilt more than wiping out that early season win over Butler. They will play at Wake Forest on Wednesday, and then will open A-10 regular season play against Temple on January 10th.

North Dakota State 65, South Dakota State 62
There's no question that over the entirety of this season, North Dakota State has played better than South Dakota State. Heading into today, Pomeroy had North Dakota State 54th and South Dakota State 134th. The Sagarin PREDICTOR had them 45th and 199th, respectively. It's not that close. But all season long, South Dakota State has been my pick to win the Summit League. Why? Nate Wolters, who missed a couple of games and also wasn't himself for a few other games. And on any given night, in any given game (such as, say, the Summit League tournament title game), he can win a game almost by himself.

Wolters played all 40 minutes here, scoring 26 points on 1-for-21 shooting. Two of those misses, however, came on shots in the final minute that either would have tied the game or given the Jackrabbits the lead. Sometimes the shots fall... sometimes they don't. And that's what makes the result of this game difficult to process. When I put the finishing touches on my newest bracket projection tonight, I need to project the result of a hypothetical Summit League title game between these two teams in March. Should the result of two shots in a game in late December make the difference? I really don't think they can. The Bisons held serve in Fargo barely. They still have to go to Brookings. And in my view, I still don't think I can pick against Wolters in that title game. I could change my mind before March (particularly if the Bisons win the rematch in Brookings), but for now South Dakota State is still my pick to win the Summit League's auto bid.

North Dakota State will play their next game on Thursday, at South Dakota. South Dakota State will play their next game on Thursday also, at UMKC. These two teams will have their rematch in Brookings on January 26th.

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