Thursday, December 26, 2013

Morning News: Iowa State Wins Diamond Head And The Nightmare Continues For Saint Mary's

Quick! We got the trophy! Let's use these oars and row out of here before they notice it missing!

I hope everybody is enjoying this time with their family, and in the final calm before the real college basketball storm. The only college basketball that we had yesterday was the Diamond Head Classic, though we did have a couple of interesting games that you can read about below.

Today we have no college basketball games, so don't look for a Morning News post tomorrow. There also might not be one on Saturday (it'll depend on if anything particularly interesting happens on or off the court today or tomorrow). We do have a full Saturday of action, so look for a new bracket late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, as well as a full Morning News post on Sunday.

Those teams that haven't yet started up conference play should all start conference play next week. And we're only a few weeks away from my bracket projections including the "full bubble", when I start eliminating teams from at-large contention each week. Conference season barely gets started before the bubble battles really start heating up.

Anyway, let's talk about a couple of yesterday's games:

Iowa State Wins The Diamond Head Classic Over Boise State These were the two best teams at the Diamond Head Classic, so they deserved to play in the title game. Boise State grabbed the early lead in a game that was well played and efficient. The refs started to take over in the second half, with Boise State suffering a bit worse from foul trouble. If there was a difference in this game, though, it was Iowa State being able to use their size to control the glass. Melvin Ejim in particular was too physical and aggressive for Boise State to handle.

Iowa State is now 11-0 with wins over Iowa, Michigan, BYU and Boise State. That's a heck of a resume. Are they really as good as that resume, though? I'd say that they're close. This is clearly a very good team with real potential to win a few games in the NCAA Tournament. At the same time, four of their wins have been by four points or less or in overtime, with a fifth game also coming down to the final minute. Throw in a very good FT% and 3P% defense (two measures of luck that should regress to the mean over time), and Iowa State isn't quite as good as they've played, and they haven't played quite as well as their resume. So in my opinion, Iowa State is still a tier below Kansas and Oklahoma State in the Big 12. But I'd certainly take the Cyclones well before either Texas or Baylor, both of whom are very overrated.

The Mountain West has had a lot of struggles in non-conference play this season. There's no risk of it being a one-bid league or anything, but teams like New Mexico, UNLV and Boise State just have not won the games that they wanted to. Boise State is 11-3 with no bad losses, but with no big wins either. Without any big scalps to be had in conference play, they're realistically going to need to finish at least 11-7 in conference play to earn an at-large bid.

The Nightmare Continues for Saint Mary's At this point, it's almost getting redundant to talk about the woes of the WCC. But St. Mary's just can't get out of their own way, suffering yet another bad loss (this time to George Mason). And once again, it just seemed like they got out-worked. The Gaels were happy to settle for long jumpers all day (52% of their shots were taken behind the arc) while George Mason attacked the rim (26 free throw attempts, 5 three-point attempts).

This Saint Mary's team seems too reliant on three-pointers in general. Their defense isn't good, and when the threes aren't falling they lack a real go-to scorer. It's hard to imagine anybody could have seen them losing to South Carolina, Hawaii and George Mason back-to-back-to-back, and at this point the Gaels have a huge uphill battle to get back into the NCAA Tournament. Realistically, they're going to need something like a 15-3 conference record.

Paul Hewitt's squad had lost six of their last seven games coming into this one. So this is a great win, but it could be the highlight of their season. They're going to need to prove that this win wasn't a fluke if they're going to make a run at the top half of the Atlantic Ten.

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