Saturday, November 14, 2015

Morning News: Opening Day, Western Illinois Stuns Wisconsin, UNC Rolls, Illinois Is Routed, And Much More

Western Illinois collected their first ever program victory over a Top 25 opponent
...And The Ball Is Tipped It's here, you guys. The college basketball regular season is upon us. And we tipped off with, well... not the world's most exciting game. Eastern Michigan knocked off Vermont. Vermont, one of the preseason America East favorites, certainly underwhelmed, scoring 0.74 PPP, including 30.8% on two-pointers and just 9 assists to go with 21 turnovers. In the end their season will be defined by what they do in conference play, but this was a poor start. As for Eastern Michigan, you don't want to overreact to a single game, but it's not like the MAC has an overwhelming favorite. Maybe Eastern Michigan is a contender?

Western Illinois Stuns Wisconsin This is not your father's Wisconsin team, more than anything because of a freshman class that is going to get a ton of playing time. This is perhaps the most talented freshman class Bo Ryan has ever had, but they are very raw, and are being forced into situations that freshmen usually don't have to play in for Bo Ryan teams. And the result is a lot of silly mistakes, particularly defensively (1.21 PPP allowed). Of course, it takes more than just mistakes to lose to Western Illinois, and in this case it was jump shooting. Western Illinois was 7-for-9 on threes and 57% overall on jump shots, while Wisconsin hit only 30% of their jump shots. Wisconsin only hit 7-for-17 on layups. Sometimes it's just not your day.

Wisconsin fans knew that there were going to be some bumps early in the season. They also potentially have two players on the way, as highly regarded true freshman Brevin Pritzl is recovering from an injury while Andy Van Vliet (yet another freshman) is waiting to be cleared by the NCAA. There's no doubt that the Badgers will be significantly better in March than they are now, but at this point they can't be perceived as a Top 25 team until they prove otherwise.

North Carolina Rolls Temple is absolutely a good enough team to beat a Marcus Paige-less North Carolina team, but the Tar Heels impressed in pulling away late in the first half and never letting go. They dominated the glass and had a really nice 17 assist/9 turnover ratio as a team. 7-for-12 three-point shooting inflated the final score, but the Tar Heels played like the best team in the nation here. Things did get heated in the final minutes, though, as Brice Johnson hung on the rim too long and got shoved by Levan Alston. Not shown in the video below is Nate Britt running on the court and being automatically ejected.

Illinois Is Routed By North Florida The final score isn't indicative of how one-sided this game was. North Florida led by as many as 23 points in the second half. This result didn't come out of nowhere, as North Florida is my pick to win the Atlantic Sun while Illinois is dealing with the season-ending injury to Tracy Abrams. Throw in some fluky 17-for-33 three-point shooting for North Florida and you end up with this rout. Beau Beech was the star, pouring in 25 points on 7-for-8 three-point shooting.

William & Mary Rolls NC State This game was never close. William & Mary got off to an early 23-5 lead, and other than the first five minutes of the game never led by fewer than double-digits. If NC State plays well in ACC play, nobody is going to care about an upset loss in November, but they didn't look here like the type of team likely to live up to preseason expectations. Meanwhile, is William & Mary a dark horse at-large contender?

UCLA Falls To Monmouth UCLA was the physically dominant team in this game (unsurprisingly), but they were a disaster offensively, committing 23 turnovers compared to just 7 by Monmouth. UCLA had their chances to escape with the win, but missed their final five shots in overtime. The worry for UCLA is that despite good games from their two returning stars (22 points from Bryce Alford and 19 points/19 rebounds from Tony Parker), the Bruins got almost nothing from anybody else. Prince Ali and Aaron Holiday, their two star freshmen, combined for just 17 points, 10 rebounds and 1 assist on 5-for-20 shooting in 49 combined minutes. They are going to need to have a much bigger impact for UCLA to contend in the Pac-12.

Washington Defeats Texas This game was poorly played. The two teams combined to shoot 5-for-35 on three-pointers with more made free throws (55) than made field goals (44). It's hard to draw too many conclusions from a game like this, but one observation is that a Texas team with a massive front line that relied heavily on rebounding last season actually found themselves outrebounded here (Washington had a 49.0 OR% while Texas was at 38.3%). This Washington team does have a lot of length, and it will remain to be seen whether this rebounding performance is sustainable or just a one-off performance. Lorenzo Romar has added quite a bit of talent this offseason, though, and the Huskies do look improved.

As for Texas, you simply can't panic a single game into the Shaka Smart era. The fact is that this roster is not the type of roster that Smart would have built, and it's going to take some time for Smart to optimize his system for his personnel. They have almost two weeks now until they have to play another non-cupcake (Texas A&M).

Pitt/Gonzaga Cancelled They played the full first half before deciding to call the game (Pitt led 37-35 at the half, for what it's worth), but the first half was played despite numerous players slipping on the unsafe court. You can get a taste for the problems below:

Even though the game didn't count, there was still plenty to see. And personally, I was impressed with both teams. Gonzaga's front line looks even better than last season, and Pitt went toe-to-toe with them. This was the highest quality game I saw on the opening day of the season.

Iowa State Escapes This was the first match-up between Power 5 teams of the season, and Iowa State won despite foul trouble and a short bench. Steve Prohm played only seven guys all game long, despite three of those players compiling four fouls apiece. Things will get better when Deonte Burton is eligible at the end of the fall semester. There's no reason for Iowa State fans to really worry here. They didn't play at their best and still beat a Colorado team that has a chance to be bubble-quality. A solid win to start the season.

Belmont Knocks Off Marquette Marquette has a significantly improved roster over last season, but the year is off to a bumpy start with an 83-80 loss to Belmont in their season opener. This game was basically a three-point shooting contest (60 of the 131 attempted shots were three-pointers), and Belmont hit them at a higher clip (35% vs 23%), and that was the difference in the game. By the end of the season, November results don't really matter too much, so this is no crushing loss for Marquette's at-large hopes, but it's a reminder that this young team still has a long way to go under Steve Wojciechowski.

Meanwhile, after two straight down seasons, I projected Belmont as the Ohio Valley favorite preseason, and they looked very good here. Rick Byrd teams are always a tough draw in the NCAA Tournament, and this squad is no different.

EC Matthews Injured Rhode Island rolled in their opener, but that wasn't the story here. The story is a potentially serious knee injury for EC Matthews, who led Rhode Island with 16.9 points per game last season. At this point we don't know the severity of the injury, but it didn't look good. Hopefully we'll get good news later today it's not as serious as it looked. This Rhode Island team is built to make a serious at-large run if they can stay healthy.

Baylor Annihilates Stephen F. Austin Baylor winning this game was no surprise, but the 42 point margin makes it probably the most impressive performance by any team in their game opener. Stephen F. Austin returns four of five starters from a team that went 29-5 last season, so this really should be a pretty good team. Baylor had some fortunate shooting (9-for-16 on threes, for example), but that alone doesn't create a 42 point blowout against a bubble-quality opponent. If there's one caveat it's that Stephen F. Austin is one of the shortest teams in the nation and that Baylor won't have the same ease in the paint against Big 12-quality size, but it's hard to deny after this performance that they're a true Big 12 contender.

Arizona State Falls To Sacramento State The first Power 5 team to fall to a non-Power 5 opponent was, by a few minutes, Arizona State. They had their chances down the stretch, but just couldn't hit a jump shot to save their lives. They finished an ugly 2-for-17 behind the arc. You don't want to overreact to one horrible jump shooting performance, but this result wasn't all about Arizona State either. Sacramento State showed here that they should be in the mix in the Big Sky race again, despite all of their graduation losses.

Georgia Drops Their Opener This is one of those results that we can't really evaluate after just one game. Georgia might have been overrated preseason, but it's also possible that this Chattanooga team is pretty good themselves. Chattanooga is my preseason pick in the SoCon, and they have a chance to be a Top 100 team in the nation. They dominated the glass here (a 15-to-8 offensive rebounding advantage) and forced 21 turnovers, overcoming 10-for-20 three-point shooting from Georgia. We'll get a better idea of just how good this Chattanooga team is next weekend when they take on Illinois.

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