|I, for one, welcome our new UT-Arlington overlords.|
Ben Simmons And LSU Fall Too much is going to be made of Ben Simmons, but we did see both the good and the bad of him here. The good is that he's an athletic freak, pouring in 21 points, 20 rebounds, and 7 assists. The bad is that he not only struggles to shoot, but has no confidence in his shot. Marquette was playing off of him all game, begging him to shoot, and he refused. It's why the fact that he passed up a chance for the game-winning jumper on the final possession was no surprise - he had passed up that shot all game long. In the end, however, the difference in this game was that Simmons's teammates just aren't very good. Marquette did everything they could to blow this game, committing 22 turnovers, shooting 58% at the free throw line, and looking completely out of sorts of offense, but LSU just isn't a very good team, as good as Simmons is.
LSU's Top 25 ranking was just a function of Simmons hype. They are very likely a bubble-quality team, and aren't doing their bubble hopes much help with a really soft non-conference schedule. They will play NC State later today and then Wake Forest on December 29th, but that's it for likely RPI Top 100 opponents before SEC play. LSU does add Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor soon, so they will get better, but they're likely going to need something like an 11-7 SEC record to make the NCAA Tournament.
As for Marquette, I'm not sure how much this win really means. They didn't play particularly well, and have looked shaky in their other games as well (a loss to Belmont, a blowout loss to Iowa, and an OT win over IUPUI). They have two talented young big men in Luke Fischer and Henry Ellenson, but they're going to need to better perimeter play to make a run at a postseason tournament.
Wake Forest Upsets Indiana So the Big Ten has been secretly mediocre to start this season, huh? Michigan State, Purdue, and Iowa are the only Big Ten teams that have really impressed in the early going. Indiana here was undone by some putrid defense, particularly off the pick-and-roll. Star freshman Thomas Bryant often looked totally lost all game, including the play on which Bryant Crawford hit the game-winner. Overall, Wake Forest finished the game on a 19-6 run.
Bryant Crawford's game winner
Wake Forest scored on 25 layups/dunks, finishing with a ridiculous 52-to-32 advantage in points in the paint. Tom Crean is going to have to make some adjustments to fix that, perhaps a zone. We know that this Indiana offense is tremendously explosive, and when they're hot from outside their defense won't matter, but when they get bogged down in tight games they're going to need to find a way to get a stop to contend in the Big Ten.
UT-Arlington Pulls Another Upset Three days after knocking off Ohio State, Texas-Arlington proved it wasn't a fluke by taking out Memphis. And amazingly, they did it despite ugly 5-for-28 shooting behind the arc. They won with the same pressing defense that caused Ohio State problems, forcing 10 steals and holding Memphis to just 36% shooting on two-pointers.
Memphis is scoring just 0.98 PPP this season despite an awfully soft schedule. As long as their offense is unable to shoot the ball (they are hitting just 21% of their threes thus far), they're going to struggle to even be in the bubble mix in February and March. As for UT-Arlington, an at-large bid isn't a realistic possibility out of the Sun Belt, but they are making a very strong case that they should replace Georgia State as the conference favorite.
UCLA Hangs On Late UNLV charged hard late, scoring on their final three possessions, including a pair of Patrick McCaw three-pointers, but UCLA hit ten consecutive free throws down the stretch to hang on by the skin of their teeth. For the game, UCLA shot an absurd 23-for-24 at the free throw line. Aside from free throws, UCLA was led by big man Thomas Welch (20 points on 9-for-12 shooting, with 8 rebounds).
This win for UCLA is about a lot more than just this win. It means that later today they get a shot at a significantly short-handed Kansas team in Maui, which will be perhaps their best chance all season at a resume-building win. UNLV is stuck playing Chaminade, and is going to have trouble getting anything out of this trip to Maui now. And throw in the relative weakness of the Mountain West Conference this season, and UNLV just made their task of building an at-large quality resume significantly harder.
Illinois Upsets Chicago State At The Buzzer Okay, that's kind of a joke. It wasn't technically an upset. But Illinois did finally get some joy out of this miserable season with this beautifully drawn up final play and the buzzer beater by Jalen Coleman-Lands. Watch it below:
UMass Smokes Clemson This game was over early. UMass was up 39-16 at one point, and led by 26 points midway through the second half before taking their foot off the gas pedal. To be fair to Clemson, they weren't outplayed by as much as the score might suggest. The difference was white hot Massachusetts outside shooting (16-for-31 on threes). But it's never a good sign when a team loses to their first opponent of the season with a pulse.
UMass entered this game 3-0, though all three games were against opponents ranked 200th or worse by Pomeroy, and two of the three were close in the final minute. But fluky shooting aside, this was still an impressive performance. The Minutemen have one of the most explosive backcourts in the country, so it's not inconceivable that they could get into the at-large picture out of a strong Atlantic Ten.
Kansas State Routs Missouri This result probably is more about Missouri not being any good than about Kansas State being a good team, but this is still an impressive thrashing by Kansas State. The Wildcats led 31-14 at halftime and then by 20+ for almost the entire second half. Their defense completely stifled Missouri. The 0.65 PPP was the fewest that Kansas State had allowed vs a power conference team since holding Rutgers to 0.61 PPP on November 15, 2006.
Kansas State moves to 4-0 for the season. It's come against a soft schedule, but there's still something to be said for taking care of business. We'll have a much better idea of where they stand as a team when they take a step up in competition and play North Carolina later today.
Arizona State Upsets NC State It's been a rough start to the season for NC State, now 0-2 in games against non-cupcakes. The star for Arizona State was Savon Goodman, who had 7 offensive rebounds as the Sun Devils rebounded 42% of their own misses. He also scored 21 points. As a whole, the Sun Devils simply had easier shots to make, as they finished with a 17-to-10 advantage in layups/dunks.
For Arizona State, this win helps to remove the bad taste from that loss to Sacramento State on the opening night of the season. A November upset can be easily forgotten by March, but a single strong result is not a trend. Bobby Hurley's team is going to need to show this level of performance consistently to contend for a postseason berth.
South Carolina Defeats Tulsa In a game between two potential bubble teams, it was South Carolina's hot outside shooting (7-for-14 on threes) which was the difference. Shaq Harrison did his best to carry Tulsa, forcing himself to the foul line 16 times and finishing with 20 points, but it wasn't quite enough. South Carolina is quietly 5-0 with wins over a pair of likely RPI Top 100 opponents in Tulsa and Hofstra. Frank Martin teams have a tendency to be inconsistent, but so far they've played like a Tournament team.
Tulsa's win over Wichita State more than balanced out this loss, but the margin of error between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT will not be huge for Tulsa this season. They'll want to build up as strong of a resume as they can before AAC play starts, because we learned last season what the Selection Committee thinks of the AAC, and it's not good.