Monday, November 17, 2014

Morning News: Kentucky Struggles, Holy Cross Upsets Harvard, Demetrius Treadwell Suspended, And Much More

Buffalo's Justin Moss absolutely posterized Willie Cauley-Stein

Kentucky Struggles Against Buffalo Kentucky ended up winning this game by 19 points, but the final score is deceptive. Buffalo led by five points at halftime, and this one was tight all the way until the final ten minutes of the game. Kentucky finished the game on a 20-5 run, to give the illusion that they played better than they did. The much-talked about platoon system had to go by the wayside when Karl Towns picked up his third foul late in the first half. But although we might see it again I think this game demonstrated one of the big problems with it: minutes are too balanced.

The ten guys in the "platoon" are all averaging between 16 and 24.5 minutes per game this season. All but Towns (who was in serious foul trouble all game) played between 18 and 26 minutes here. But they're not all the same player. Marcus Lee, in particular, has been ineffective. But he has to play as much as Tyler Ullis, who has looked really good off the bench. In fact, Ullis appears to run the offense better than either of the Harrison twins, who are in the starting platoon. Kentucky would be better off working Ullis into the starting rotation, or at least giving him and some of their other best players more minutes, while reducing the minutes for Marcus Lee and Devin Booker.

Kentucky's defense was lazy and slow in the first half of this game, but much better in the second half. This Kentucky team is still really good, but John Calipari is going to have to earn his salary figuring out how to manage the minutes and egos of so many athletic, hyped players. Basically, the problems we all knew would exist preseason have not yet been solved. But it's just November, after all.

Holy Cross Upsets Harvard Harvard didn't impress anybody in their regular season opener by struggling with MIT (they actually trailed midway through the first half), and they followed this up with a rough one point loss to Holy Cross. The problem for them, without question, has been a disjointed offense. They committed 24 turnovers here after committing 15 against MIT. After grabbing a two point lead with three minutes to go in this game, they committed turnovers on their next three possessions, relinquishing a lead they'd never get back. The real stunner was Siyani Chambers, who was so good as a freshman but has plateaued. He played all 40 minutes here and finished with 1 point on 0-for-3 shooting from the field, with 6 assists and 9 turnovers. Gross.

Harvard has one more cupcake next week (Florida Atlantic) before heading into a crucial stretch where they play home games against Houston, UMass and Northeastern. If they don't play well in that stretch, their at-large hopes (and the hopes of a two-bid Ivy League) could be dead by early December.

I have American University as the favorite in the Patriot League, but with Holy Cross as their top contender. It remains to be seen how much this result has to do with Holy Cross playing well versus how much has to do with Harvard playing poorly, but this is a good start for the Crusaders.

Demetrius Treadwell Suspended Indefinitely The Akron star violated some sort of unspecified team or school rule. And while Akron wasn't the preseason favorite in the MAC, they were considered one of the contenders, and Treadwell was their best player and also preseason first team All-MAC. So unless his violation was minor enough that he can return soon, this suspension absolutely could sink Akron's season.

UMass Beats Boston College This game actually started well for Boston College. Despite being five point underdogs, they opened up a 13 point lead and led by eight at halftime. But in the first six minutes of the second half, UMass forced six turnovers and got out on a 21-5 run. They finished with a ten point advantage in fast break points and a staggering 46 free throw attempts to 27 for Boston College. The Golden Eagles became a jump shooting team, launching 18 more shots behind the arc than their opponents, and hitting only 24% of them.

It's only fair to give Jim Christian some time to get his players used to his new system, but it's looking like it will be a pretty bumpy start to his tenure. UMass, meanwhile, is off to a solid start after beating Siena on Friday night. They'll play Manhattan on Tuesday, and then head to the Mohegan Sun to take on Notre Dame and Florida State. If they can win two or more of those three games, they might start moving into some projected tourney brackets.

Wisconsin Cruises Again There's not much to say about the two cupcake demolitions Wisconsin has performed to start this season other than that they are who we thought they were. They pass well, they shoot well, and they have really nice depth, particularly in the front court. Sam Dekker looks bigger and more physical, and Nigel Hayes is showing an increased shooting range. I think we all could have agreed before the season started that Wisconsin has the highest floor of any team in the nation. Barring catastrophic injuries, this Wisconsin team is a guarantee to be Top 10 in the nation and a Big Ten title contender. We all knew that. But the question is, can they take the step up (particularly defensively) to be the best team in the country. And games against Chattanooga and Northern Kentucky just won't answer that.

Wisconsin-Green Bay will be a test on Wednesday, but their first premier opponent will come in the Bahamas, where they'll open against UAB, but will potentially play Florida in their second game, and perhaps North Carolina, Oklahoma or UCLA in their third game. We know Wisconsin can score. The question is whether they can defend elite teams better than they did last season, when they were only 7th in Big Ten play in defensive efficiency.

Arizona Wins Despite Sloppiness I don't think Arizona fans will be particularly excited about this win over Cal State Northridge. They were never at risk of losing, but the final score was where it was because Arizona was just too sloppy offensively. 18 turnovers to 17 assists is not a good ratio against an opponent like this. That said, there were bright signs, particularly freshman Stanley Johnson (17 points on 7-for-10 shooting). TJ McConnell also played well (7 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds), but that's not exactly a surprise.

Certainly there's no reason to panic over one sloppy game. And the good news is that Arizona has a slew of quality opponents coming up. They will face a dangerous UC-Irvine opponent on Wednesday, and then the following week head out for the Maui Invitational.

Rutgers Offense Stinks Against George Washington This was just an ugly performance for Rutgers in their season opener. They shot 22% on three-pointers, 21% on two-point jumpers, and committed 16 turnovers, leading to 0.76 PPP. To put that in perspective, that's the second worst offensive performance by a Power 5 team so far this season (Washington State scored 0.71 PPP in their loss at UTEP). If we're looking for a mitigating factor, there is the fact that Kadeem Jack is still out injured and should be back soon. Also, the lone bright spot was freshman DJ Foreman, who poured in 9 points on 4-for-5 shooting off the bench.

But this Rutgers team looks bad, and their easiest Big Ten regular season game will be their opener, at home against Northwestern. After that they'll likely be a significant underdog in every remaining game. The odds are still against a team going 0-18, because that's really hard to do, but if Rutgers falls to Northwestern then the "0-18 Watch" will definitely get fired up. As for George Washington, the question remains whether this performance was particularly impressive or if Rutgers is just a really bad team. We'll get a better idea on Friday, when George Washington goes on the road to face Florida. They don't need to win that game, but a close, competitive game would be nice validation of this thumping of Rutgers.

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