Sunday, December 09, 2012

What Does The Illinois Win Over Gonzaga Mean?

#13 Illinois 85, #10 Gonzaga 74
Illinois came into this game a 10.5 point underdog in Las Vegas. The reason for the large spread was because the computers which set the Vegas lines were all unimpressed by Illinois. Sagarin and Pomeroy both had them in the 40s - they were 13th in the human polls because they'd run through a soft schedule undefeated and moved up via inertia. But this was the Brandon Paul show - Paul had 35 points on 10-for-16 shooting, including 5-for-9 behind the arc. In all, Illinois was a sharp 11-for-26 taking threes. Illinois scored 1.27 PPP for the game.

So does this mean that Illinois really does deserve the Top Ten ranking that they're going to get on Monday? Or does it mean that Gonzaga is way overrated? I'd actually argue that it's neither. First of all, this was not a typical performance by Illinois or Brandon Paul. Illinois needed overtime to get past Hawaii and had very narrow wins over Gardner Webb and Western Carolina. And let's recall that last season Brandon Paul scored 43 points in a dramatic five point victory over an Ohio State team that was a national title contender. And that Illinois team ended up only 6-12 in the Big Ten, and didn't even quality for the NIT.

This is, of course, the nature of small sample sizes. When Illinois had a game like this in the middle of the Big Ten season we knew it was a fluke because we'd seen so much of that team before that. We knew Illinois wasn't a top ten team. But this season? This was the first time we've seen Illinois play a Top 25 team. And before Illinois fans get angry at me, I want to be clear that I'm not arguing that Illinois is going to go 6-12 in the Big Ten. I think they're an NCAA Tournament team and could finish as high as fourth in the Big Ten. But I just don't want to overreact to a single game.

The defensive troubles for Gonzaga here are definitely a real concern. This Gonzaga team has as many quality offensive weapons as any of Mark Few's squads, and they can only be undone by defense. Their defense was poor here but, like Illinois, I don't want to overreact to a single bad game. I still do believe Gonzaga is one of the 15 best teams in the nation. But they have to prove that this defensive performance was a fluke.

Gonzaga's next game will be on Saturday against Kansas State. They also will play Baylor and Oklahoma State before beginning WCC play. Illinois will play a couple of cupcakes before playing Missouri on December 22nd.

#14 Minnesota 71, USC 57
Tubby Smith earned his 500th career win here over a USC team that is really floundering. The USC offense was a brutal 1-for-11 behind the arc and 10-for-18 at the line, with 17 turnovers to only 10 assists. This was the fifth time in nine games that USC has scored under 0.9 PPP, and for the season they're only at 0.93 PPP, They just look like they don't know what they're doing.

The Gophers will play North Dakota State on Tuesday, followed by Lafayette before Big Ten play. If they can win both of those games then they will finish their non-conference slate 12-1 with wins over Memphis, Stanford and Florida State, with their only loss coming to Duke. It doesn't look like they're going to have much trouble making the NCAA Tournament this season, which is something that we haven't been able to say very often in the Tubby Smith era.

USC has now lost five straight and fallen to 3-6 overall. It's been against a tough schedule, so they only have one bad loss (Nebraska), but this team isn't going to contend for an at-large bid this season. What they really need to do is show some glimmer of life, or else I really can't see why Kevin O'Neill should hang onto his job. To me, there are no signs that this program is turning the corner.

#21 UNLV 76, California 75
Trailing almost the entire game, California nearly pulled off an important upset here. California trailed by as many as nine in the second half, but a pair of Justin Cobbs free throws put them ahead with only 11.9 seconds left. But after Anthony Marshall missed a shot in the final seconds, Quintrell Thomas put back the offensive rebound to deliver a UNLV victory.

California's problem continues to be physicality on the glass and on defense. UNLV ran them off the boards (13 offensive rebounds vs only 4 for California). Cal stayed in this game with sharp offensive play. They assisted on 17 of 28 made baskets, and hit 54.5% of their two-point shots. Justin Cobbs had seven of those assists, and Allen Crabbe scored 18 points. Anthony Bennett, probably the least well known of this year's contenders for national freshman of the year, dominated for UNLV with 25 points (on 9-for-17 shooting) and 13 rebounds.

A concern for UNLV is Mike Moser, who suffered a dislocated elbow. That's the type of serious injury that could threaten his season. Moser hasn't been great this season, but if nothing else his absence will test the depth of a relatively thin UNLV squad.

The Runnin' Rebs are now 7-1 with this win and a win over Iowa State, and a possibly iffy loss to Oregon. They have a potentially tricky road game at UTEP on December 17th, and also will play Northern Iowa a couple of days later. California, meanwhile, continues to seek out their first quality victory. Their last chance for a big win before entering Pac-12 play will be on Saturday, when they will play Creighton at home.

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