Saturday, December 22, 2012

Temple Topples Syracuse

Temple 83, #3 Syracuse 79
You know what you're getting with the Syracuse zone. Teams that don't come in prepared and disciplined just get eaten up by it. Teams that rely on one-on-one offense have no chance. But if you're a well-coached team that knows how to attack the zone, particularly in the high post, you can have success. Temple is one of the best coached teams in the nation, and they were very sharp here. More than anything, they were able to draw fouls in the paint and capitalize, finishing 29-for-36 at the free throw line.

Speaking of the free throw line, Syracuse was a putrid 19-for-34, though to be honest that's not that out of the ordinary for this team. They came in to the game hitting 66% at the line for the season, meaning that their expected performance was only 22-for-34. Since they continue to struggle with defensive rebounding, Syracuse is vulnerable to teams that can score at a reasonable rate and don't turn the ball over much.

Interestingly enough, I don't think Louisville fits these characteristics. They run a lot of one-on-one offense and love to play up-tempo, sloppy games. That plays into what Syracuse wants to do. Louisville is still my pick to win the Big East, but only narrowly. And that's why it's always a mistake when too many conclusions are drawn from games like this. The media always acts shocked when top teams lose. I have news for them: all of the top teams are going to lose multiple times this season. It's going to happen. It doesn't mean that we need to question whether Syracuse is still a Big East contender. They are.

This is a massive resume-building win for Temple. Coming off that bad loss to Canisius, they now have a big scalp for Selection Sunday. If they can get past Detroit on Friday, and then Bowling Green, they'll have a nothing-to-lose game at Kansas on January 6th. Even with a loss there they'll only need to go 9-7 or better in Atlantic Ten play to be on the bubble, and a 10-6 finish should put them in the Tournament.

While Syracuse surely would have preferred to be undefeated, it helps them to play a tough game like this. Boeheim, as he usually does, put together a cream puff non-conference schedule for this season. And his team even has a soft opening to Big East play. They won't play a likely NCAA Tournament team until they take on Louisville, on January 19th.

Baylor 79, BYU 64
Every once in a while, Baylor will get hot like this behind the arc. It's always led by Brady Heslip, who hit 3-for-5 on threes here. As a team, the Bears hit 9-for-18. Baylor has a significantly more imposing front line than BYU does. They weren't going to lose if they out-shot them from deep, too. Isaiah Austin continues to impress - he had 10 rebounds and 5 blocks here... and should have had a sixth block if not for that terrible foul call late. Austin has tremendous poise and physicality for a freshman. He's one of the most underrated freshmen in the country.

I can't figure out what's wrong with this BYU team. They have a lot of players who should be offensive weapons, or who have been good scorers in the past, but it's not working this year. And the sample size is starting to get large enough that it's very concerning. For example, not only is BYU hitting under 30% of their threes this season, but they've hit 24% or worse in all four of their losses (also their only four games against Pomeroy Top 100 opponents).

Baylor has this win and that Kentucky victory, but they also have a bad loss to the College of Charleston, and a potentially iffy loss to Northwestern. It's a Tournament resume, but they haven't yet given any signs that they can win consistently enough to seriously challenge Kansas in the Big 12. Right now they look like they're in a battle with two or three other teams for second place. They'll play at Gonzaga on Friday, and then will open Big 12 play against Texas on January 5th.

BYU is now 8-4 with no big wins and a potentially iffy loss to Florida State. They will play Northern Arizona on Thursday, and then Virginia Tech next Saturday. That Virginia Tech game will be their last chance for a decent non-conference win. Either way, with an ELO_SCORE that has dropped out of the Top 75, they're probably going to need to get to 11-5 in WCC play to make the NCAA Tournament.

#20 Michigan State 67, Texas 56
In a surprise to nobody, the Texas offense got bogged down and struggled to score. Their defense has gotten better the past couple of weeks, though, and they managed to really shut down the Spartans offense for the first half. A 16-6 run in the second half, sparked by Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, blew this game open. But in the end, Texas finished with only 0.74 PPP, which isn't going to be sufficient against almost anybody.

This season, Texas is 0-4 when scoring 0.87 PPP or less. When scoring 0.88 PPP or more they are 7-1, with the one loss being that goofy loss to Chaminade in Hawaii. Assuming that they beat Rice next Saturday, they will need to go at least 10-8 in Big 12 play to earn an at-large bid. And even at 10-8 they'll enter the Big 12 needing a win or two. With four games against TCU and Texas Tech, that should be manageable, but they're going to need to win some road games. They haven't won a true road game yet this season.

There are still a lot of question marks about this Michigan State team. They got that great win over Kansas in the Georgia Dome back in early November, but other than that they had no other decent wins until taking down Texas here. They had actually fallen all the way to 25th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR before this win. They're obviously a Tournament team, but at this point they're a step below the big three of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State atop the Big Ten. To me, they're in the second tier with Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. Their next game will be their Big Ten opener, on New Year's Eve at Minnesota.

No comments: