Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Northwestern Stuns Baylor

Northwestern 74, Baylor 70
Coming off a road victory at Kentucky, Baylor stubbed their toe badly in this home loss to Northwestern. And what makes this loss particularly amazing is that you'd think Northwestern matches up terribly with Baylor. Baylor can get after the offensive glass and they are very strong at scoring in the paint (neither of which Northwestern is good at stopping). But the one big flaw that Baylor has is defensive rebounding - it's been their problem throughout the entirely of the Scott Drew era - and Northwestern is an atrocious offensive rebounding team. Northwestern has not once in the last decade finished in the Top 300 in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. And for good measure, they've only finished in the Top 200 in defensive rebounding percentage once in the past seven seasons. Yet while Northwestern only had a 25.4 OR% last season, they had a 35.7 OR% against Baylor (and it was over 50% for most of the first half, as Northwestern was building its lead). Baylor, for comparison, only had a 16.1 OR%.

While Baylor getting out-rebounded (badly) by Northwestern was the craziest thing about this game, it wasn't the only thing that stood out. One other concern I had was the way the offense started to devolve into Pierre Jackson hero-ball as Baylor tried to make a comeback. Yes, Jackson is an excellent scorer, but he didn't have it here (5-for-15 shooting), and it gets Baylor away from their dominating post scorers. Get Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson the ball and they will score. The two have been taking 18.6 shots per game, with a superb 60.9 eFG%. Here against a very soft Northwestern front line? They took only 14 combined shots, and neither player scored in double-figures. I don't think Baylor's odds of winning are improved by Jackson taking more shots than both of those players combined, particularly against an opponent like Northwestern.

As nice as this win is for Northwestern, by the end it felt like it would have been devastating if they lost. With foul trouble they were in (four players from their seven-man rotation had four fouls or more), and the way they started to melt in the face of Baylor's full-court pressure, it felt like only a matter of time before Baylor swamped them. If this game went on another minute or two they probably would have lost. But it's a win, and it's a big win mentally after that bad loss to Illinois-Chicago. They have home games coming up against Butler and Stanford, with the Butler game up next on Saturday. If they can win those two games then they'll actually enter Big Ten play only needing to go 9-9 in conference play to be in good shape for their first ever at-large bid. Should they fall in one of those two games, 9-9 probably won't be enough unless they have a couple of really big scalps (e.g. Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State).

With this loss and a loss to College of Charleston sandwiching the win over Kentucky for Baylor, it's easy to think that the win over Kentucky was just a total fluke. But I think Baylor is just inconsistent. They're very talented, but they're poorly coached - the same situation they've been in for the past three or four years. So one night they're going to look great, and another night they're going to look like crap. They should be an NCAA Tournament team, but I don't think they have the consistency to finish higher than a 5 or 6 seed. More likely they're going to be in the 7-10 seed range. They have a couple of cupcakes ahead before playing BYU on December 21st.

#25 NC State 69, UConn 65
DeAndre Daniels is a talent, but he was clearly overwhelmed by the wave after wave of big men that NC State threw at him. Enosch Wolf gave UConn some pretty good minutes off the bench (12 points and 9 rebounds in only 21 minutes), but Richard Howell (13 points, 7 offensive rebounds) and CJ Leslie (16 points on 5-for-7 shooting and 13 rebounds) were dominant for NC State. While the Wolfpack front court dominated, their backcourt struggled. Shabazz Napier was unstoppable early (he scored ten points in just the first five minutes of the game) and Ryan Boatright took over late (18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists).

Considering the decent probability that UConn won't even be an RPI Top 50 team this year, this isn't a great win for NC State. And they certainly didn't look dominant in winning it. But good teams just have to fight through games like this, and NC State can move onto an easier stretch in their schedule now. A home game against Stanford on December 18th is probably their only remaining serious test before ACC play begins.

Despite the optimism after that opening night win over Michigan State, UConn's season continues to be one of total uncertainty. Will the program commit to Kevin Ollie long term? How will these kids respond mentally if the team keeps struggling? This season could spiral out of control. And in fact if it doesn't, and Ollie can get this team to 9-9 or 10-8 in Big East play, I'd sign him up to a four year extension. It would be a very good job done. Their next game will be on Friday against Harvard.

San Francisco 81, St. John's 65
This was just one of those nights for St. John's. The started settling for jump shots early, and it snowballed. It was San Francisco attacking the basket, getting to the line 25 times and assisting on 16 of 27 made baskets. And of course, 9-for-15 three-point shooting by San Francisco helped, too. Meanwhile, depth is a very serious concern for the Johnnies. Jakarr Sampson has been an outstanding freshman, and D'Angelo Harrison is a good player (though he was an ice cold 5-for-16 here). But after that? Amir Garrett is okay, I guess. But there really isn't much else. If opposing teams shut down Sampson and Harrison, the Johnnies just don't have an answer.

This St. John's team is very young, so maybe they'll get better throughout the season, but it's hard to see them contending for an NCAA Tournament bid. They have zero quality wins this season to go with bad losses to Murray State and now San Francisco. And they will have no more opportunities for quality wins prior to Big East play. I think they'd need to get to 10-8 in Big East play to even be seriously considered for an at-large bid, and I'd be shocked if they got there.

San Francisco moves to 5-1 with this win, and with their one loss coming to a pretty good Stanford team. I don't think they're good enough to finish higher than fourth in the WCC, but without a senior in their regular rotation they could be pretty darn good next season. Their next game will be on Saturday at Pacific. St. John's will next play on Saturday against Fordham.

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