Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Miami Crushes #1 Duke

#25 Miami (Fl) 90, #1 Duke 63
I've been saying for some time that Miami is one of the most underrated teams in the country, but nobody saw this kind of demolition coming. What happened? A few things, naturally. Reggie Johnson came back after being injured for more than a month, finally get Miami back to full strength. Duke was still without Ryan Kelly. Those two things combined to give Miami a huge size advantage in the paint. Miami hit 61.5% of their two-point attempts, led by Kenny Kadji (9-for-11). Durand Scott (25 points on 9-for-14 shooting) also generated a lot of his offense by getting into the paint. And while this alone would have been enough for a Miami win, some terrible Duke shooting (4-for-23 behind the arc) turned a loss into an embarrassing blowout.

You're not going to find too many silver linings for Duke in a game like this, but I do think that they should be pleased with Alex Murphy (11 points and 5 rebounds off the bench). Murphy has seen his playing time increase with Ryan Kelly injured, and he's showing a lot more polish than he did early in the season. Coach K had him buried on the bench, but I think he's starting to prove that he deserves more playing time even after Kelly comes back.

It had been increasingly looked like Miami was the one team that could steal the ACC regular season title from Duke, and now they have that huge head-to-head win. They will have to play at Cameron on March 2nd, though for the time being they just have to avoid bad losses. They have a fairly easy week coming up on paper (vs Florida State on Sunday, at Virginia Tech next Wednesday), but they always have to beware the classic letdown game after a big win.

The fact that the ACC is down this season means that Duke doesn't have the margin of error that they usually have for earning a 1 seed. But that all said, there's no reason for them to panic. Unless Ryan Kelly is still on the bench a few weeks from now, they're still the favorites to win the ACC. If the sweep the regular season and tournament titles, they're still very likely going to earn that 1 seed. They have a pretty easy schedule coming up the next few weeks, so they should be able to run off on a little winning streak. Their next game will be against Maryland on Saturday.

La Salle 54, #9 Butler 53
La Salle fans rushed the court not once, but twice in this game. After Ramon Galloway drove to the basket and scored the apparent game-winner for La Salle, Roosevelt Jones launched a desperation full court shot that wasn't even close. But the officials decided that there might still be some time on the clock due to an error on Andrew Smith's basket prior to Galloway's shot, and ordered all of the fans off the court. But after a review they upheld the original call and the La Salle fans got to rush the court a second time.

What was interesting about this court rushing was that La Salle actually didn't cover the spread. They were 2.5-3 point favorites in Vegas, depending on where you looked. Why? Well, La Salle is a bubble quality team while Butler is way over-ranked at #9. And yes, I know that Butler beat Indiana and Gonzaga, as well as teams like Marquette and North Carolina. But let's be honest, three of those games came down to buzzer beaters, and they have struggled against teams like Pennsylvania and Evansville while also losing by double-digits to Illinois and Xavier. Even before this game tipped off they were rated 30th by Pomeroy and 37th by the Sagarin PREDICTOR.

That all said, this is a huge win for La Salle. They needed a big win and they finally got one. They have bad losses to Central Connecticut, Charlotte and Xavier, though they're now 3-2 in Atlantic Ten play. They have a brutal road game at VCU looming, on Saturday, but after that their schedule eases up. They'll need to get to at least 10-6 in A-10 play to have a real chance at an at-large bid.

Butler falls to 3-1 in A-10 play with this loss. I think VCU matches up very well with them in terms of personnel and style, and the one match-up between those two teams this season will be at VCU, so it's unlikely that Butler will win the A-10 regular season title, but they're certainly still in good shape for second place, assuming Rotnei Clarke comes back soon. They will play Temple on Saturday, followed by a road game at St. Louis the following Thursday.

Lehigh 65, Bucknell 62
I have to admit that I don't know what to make of this game. With CJ McCollum out with injury and with the game at Bucknell, you'd have assumed Bucknell would win this game easily. And while Lehigh won, I'm not sure that they were actually better. The difference in the game was 10-for-18 three-point shooting for Lehigh, compared to 2-for-14 three-point shooting for Bucknell. If both teams shot their season average behind the arc then that 3 point Lehigh win would have turned into a 12 point Bucknell win.

But that all said, Lehigh has actually been playing pretty well since McCollum got hurt. McCollum is a true stud player, but his teammates aren't that bad themselves. Lehigh had rolled through their first three Patriot League games without him. So even though Bucknell is better than a McCollum-less Lehigh team, the gap isn't as large as most people thought it would be. And Lehigh now definitely has the confidence that they are the best team in the Patriot League. Certainly they proved to themselves that they can contain and limit Mike Muscala offensively.

These two teams will meet again on February 18th. And you have to presume that they'll play again in the Patriot League tournament title game. Lehigh's next game will be on Sunday, against Lafayette. Bucknell will try to bounce back at Holy Cross on Saturday.

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