Saturday, January 12, 2013

#1 Duke Falls To NC State

#20 NC State 84, #1 Duke 76
If NC State was ever going to take down Duke, this was going to be their chance. Ryan Kelly was out with an injury, then Seth Curry missed the tail end of the game with an injury. Duke had to work way down their bench even before two players fouled out late. Marshall Plumlee, who had played only 12 minutes all season (all in garbage time late in blowouts), had to play the final two minutes. Coach K doesn't even like giving minutes to Alex Murphy, who is seen as a talent but a project (not unlike Marshall Plumlee), but who also spent quite a bit of time on the floor in the final ten minutes of the game.

That said, even a short-handed Duke is still a good team, and a lot of credit has to go to CJ Leslie. Leslie's length makes him so difficult to guard in the paint. Mason Plumlee couldn't do anything to stop him, and Leslie finished with 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting, including a crucial post move with 1:41 to go after Duke had cut their lead to 4. Quinn Cook played well for Duke (17 points and 7 assists), but he was much less effective after Seth Curry left the game. Cook is a pass-first point guard, and he's not at his best when he has to try to create his own shot. The defense also could focus on him much more when they didn't have to worry about leaving Curry alone.

The idea that Duke needs to "panic" after this loss is absurd. Neither Curry or Kelly appear to have injuries that will keep them out for a long time (both could potentially be back for their next game, as far as I can tell). They should still have the best resume in the nation after this loss, and in a down ACC they should waltz to the ACC regular season title. They are still a heavy favorite to earn a 1 seed in March. They will play Georgia Tech on Thursday, and then will hope to be back at full strength in time for a road game at Miami on January 23rd.

This is NC State's first big scalp of the season, and it pushes them to 14-2 overall and 3-0 in the ACC, without a single bad loss. The top of the ACC is still all jumbled up, but it looks for the moment like NC State and Miami are the two teams with the best chance of finishing in second place. NC State has a tough game coming up on Wednesday, on the road at Maryland.

#5 Indiana 88, #10 Minnesota 81
Indiana was white hot in the first half, hitting 7-for-11 behind the arc and opening up a 23 point lead. But the shots stopped falling in the second half, and the Hoosiers also started missing free throws (only 26-for-40 for the game), and Minnesota almost pulled off an incredibly improbable comeback. They pulled within three with 18 seconds left and Jordan Hulls missed a pair of free throws... but Hulls somehow got his own offensive rebound. In his second opportunity at the line he hit both, and effectively ended the game.

We saw the good and bad of Victor Oladipo here. He led Indiana with 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting, but his defense gets a little too aggressive at times. He incomprehensibly fouled a three-point shooter three times, including twice late. Andre Hollins led Minnesota, scoring 25 points and also forcing 4 steals.

The media overreaction to short spurts was on full display in this game. Minnesota, coming off of three straight great performances was getting Big Ten title hype. By the end of the first half the media was telling us on twitter that Indiana was just too good for Minnesota to possibly compete with. By the end of the second half they didn't know what to say. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. Minnesota is not a serious contender for the Big Ten title, but they're playing really well. And with Ohio State's troubles on offense, Minnesota could realistically finish as high as third place in the Big Ten. Considering how strong the conference is, and the fact that Tubby Smith entered this season on the hot seat, that would be a terrific season.

Indiana only has a few days to get ready for Wisconsin on Tuesday. After that they'll get a little breather in their schedule with Northwestern and and Penn State up next. Minnesota will play Michigan on Thursday, a team that could potentially be ranked #1 in the nation when the game tips off.

Marquette 74, Pittsburgh 67, OT
Marquette has had a charmed start to their Big East schedule. They have won a pair of overtime games, and their one non-OT game was a one-point victory. Marquette has more than made up for that miracle loss to Butler in Hawaii. They came into this game ranked 25th in the Pomeroy Luck ratings, and second best among BCS conference teams (narrowly behind Kansas State). They'll move up even higher in tomorrow's ratings. And luck matters. Marquette entered today 56th in the Pomeroy ratings and 58th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, yet they're 3-0 in the Big East with wins over Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Wisconsin, and only one bad loss (Wisconsin-Green Bay).

Vander Blue led Marquette with 22 points, and Davante Gardner had a huge 13 points (on 6-for-6 shooting) and 8 rebounds off the bench. Lamar Patterson was the star for Pittsburgh, scoring 22 points and hitting 6-for-7 behind the arc, including the three at the buzzer that sent this game into overtime.

As lucky as Marquette has been this season, Pitt has been unlucky. They entered this game rated among the ten best teams in the nation by both Pomeroy and Sagarin, yet they don't have a single marquee win and they're now 1-3 in the Big East and reeling. If the season ended now they'd only be a bubble team. Their upcoming schedule is relatively soft, but there are no cupcakes. They'll play at Villanova on Wednesday, and then at home against UConn next Saturday.

Marquette will be solid favorites for three of their next four games. If they can pull the upset at Cincinnati next Saturday then they could get to 7-0. But they're way overdue for a close loss, so the odds are that they'll lose a game that they're "not supposed to lose". Their next game will be on Wednesday, against Seton Hall.

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