Sunday, December 09, 2012

Marquette Wins Ugly Over Wisconsin

Marquette 60, Wisconsin 50
This was a poorly played game by both teams. And while Marquette has had a tendency over the years to play in crazy games like this, it's jarring to see a Bo Ryan Wisconsin team play like this. But this Wisconsin team has two problems. First, their backcourt is extremely young. A true freshman walk-on (Zak Showalter) played ten minutes, just because play from the starters was so sloppy (10 first half turnovers). The second problem is Ryan Evans, who is just mentally screwed up right now. Evans shot 73% at the free throw line last year and 74% the year before, and is at 32% this year, including 1-for-9 here (and the one make was banked in). As a team, Wisconsin was 9-for-23 at the free throw line - and remember, this team hit 81.8% two seasons ago. Considering how that this was a four point game with under six minutes to go, just some halfway decent free throw shooting would have probably led to a Wisconsin win.

It's really hard to figure this Wisconsin team out. They lost at home to a Virginia team that is really only bubble quality. But they also beat a California team that is as good as Marquette by 25. They're obviously a Tournament team, but they're not at all playing like a team that can contend for a top four spot in the Big Ten. History says that Bo Ryan will have this team playing smarter and more efficiently in February and March, but this team isn't a whole lot like previous Bo Ryan teams, so there are no guarantees. We'll just have to see how it plays out. Wisconsin should not be seriously tested in their three remaining non-conference games. They will also get to ease their way into Big Ten play, opening against the two worst teams - Penn State and Nebraska.

This was a huge victory for Marquette for two reasons. First, Vander Blue was superb, scoring 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting with 5 rebounds and 4 steals. Marquette's offense can be good, but only if Blue takes his game to the next level. Second, Marquette needed a quality win. They had lost their two previous games against likely RPI Top 100 teams. With this win, and assuming they can avoid any more bad losses, they will be in good shape for an at-large bid if they can get to 10-8 in Big East play. Even at 9-9 they'll be able to earn an at-large bid with a run in the Big East tournament. Their next game will be on Saturday, against Savannah State.

Butler 74, Northwestern 65
Even in defeat, I thought Northwestern played very well here. I expected them to get blown off the boards by Butler's front line, but they actually held their own (a 46.7 OR% for Butler and a 40.0 OR% for Northwestern) and would have won if they hadn't gone cold from outside (7-for-24 behind the arc). Jared Swopshire (5 offensive rebounds and 5 assists) continues to do the dirty work in the paint for Northwestern.

The star for Butler was Andrew Smith, who had 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting with 10 rebounds. But what really stood out about Butler's play was their defense. They held Northwestern to a 35.4 2P% and 0.95 PPP. For the season, Butler is allowing a 50.2 2P% and 1.00 PPP. The Final Four teams that Brad Stevens had were built around defense, and with the athletes they have (particularly in the front court) their defense should be much better. We will see over the next few weeks whether this performance was a fluke or a trend.

Butler is now 8-2 with wins over North Carolina, Marquette and Northwestern, and an iffy loss to Xavier. They have a big opportunity against Indiana on Saturday. Northwestern is 7-3 with wins over Baylor and Illinois State and a bad loss to Illinois-Chicago. Their remaining three non-conference games are all at home, against Texas State, Stanford and Brown. Sweeping those three games will be important, because if they don't then they'll have to get to at least 9-9 in Big Ten play to have a chance at an at-large bid, and getting to 9-9 will be tough for Northwestern this season. The Big Ten is good enough this season that an at-large bid can be earned by going 8-10 if that includes a couple of big scalps, a good overall won/loss record and no bad losses.

#8 Arizona 66, Clemson 54
Littlejohn Coliseum was rocking, and Clemson nearly pulled off a huge upset here. Arizona jumped out to a 22-8 lead, but the crowd helped keep the players mentally in the game as they chipped away. Clemson actually grabbed a six point lead in the second half before Mark Lyons (20 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) took over down the stretch.

While Clemson played hard, they played sloppy. Arizona forced 13 steals and also brought down 17 offensive rebounds (compared to only 18 defensive rebounds for Clemson). All of those extra possessions helped Arizona overcome a brutal shooting day. Solomon Hill was the worst of all, hitting only 2-for-16 from the field.

Arizona is a team that, in general, depends on strong shooting. They shoot a lot of threes and have hit 40.5% of them. So not only does it show something to win a game when the shots aren't falling, but this is also Arizona's best win of the season. They still haven't played a game against a likely RPI Top 100 opponent. Their first major test will be on Saturday, when they will take on Florida. Arizona is ranked so high because of high preseason expectation and because of inertia as they have run their way through a soft schedule. A win over Florida would justify this top ten ranking.

This is a tough missed opportunity for Clemson. The players and fans were fired up, but the sloppy play that doomed them was not dissimilar from what they've done all year (their defensive rebounding has been particularly bad). They have now played three games this season against likely RPI Top 100 opponents, and lost all of them. They will now take on four creampuffs before opening ACC play on January 5th against Florida State.

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