Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lots to Talk About

Sorry for the spotty posting this week. Here are some notes on some of the biggest games from this week. As for today's matchups, I'll get to those later this week:

Indiana 57, Southern Illinois 47
As I mentioned a few weeks back, it's amzing to think about how this game was going to be more important for Indiana than Southern Illinois, but it's just a fact that up until this game the Salukis had a better Tournament resume than the Hoosiers. Now, this game goes highlighted why Indiana will be a dangerous opponent for anyone in the Big 10 this year - they simply play hard and hustle and fight for points. Even against a Missouri Valley team like Southern Illinois, they didn't have overwhelming talent and they didn't score well (only 38% from the field), but they hustled. They forced 19 Salukis turnovers, brought down 8 offensive boards and drew 27 fouls. They're not going to score 85 points against Ohio State or Wisconsin because they just don't have the talent, but they're a pesky team to play. Even if it does seem like a bizarro world when Indiana is the pesky upstart. Meanwhile, this game also highlighted the biggest problem for Southern Illinois - offense. Everyone knows they can play defense, but they just lack any offensive firepower at all. And when you can't make your own shot, and you can't shoot, you'd better be able to get some offensive boards or get some fast breaks. Two offensive rebounds and two steals is just not going to cut it at all. Play like this is going to knock Southern Illinois right out of the Tournament.

St. Louis 51, Missouri State 50

Just a bad performance by the Bears, in every sense of the word. After leading 46-35 with just under 10 minutes to go, they only managed four points the rest of the way. If Blake Ahearn wants to be a star, he needs to learn to take over and score some points in situations like that, but he failed to even make a shot. They just allowed St. Louis to hang around, never putting them away. They even missed several front-ends to one-and-ones, which should be a stat in itself. That should count for more than just one missed free throw, since in reality two points are left on the table. And all of this highlights the problem with considering the top teams in the Missouri Valley comparable to good teams in BCS conferences. Teams like Missouri State and Wichita State have done a great job getting up for big games against top schools like LSU and Wisconsin. But when they're no longer the underdogs, and forced to face the expectations of winning the game, they struggle. It's a lot harder to win when you're a favorite than when you're the underdog.

Illinois 73, Missouri 70
A very good win for an Illinois team that is solidifying its spot in the Tournament. And good practice, too, since Missouri runs the type of up-tempo basketball that the dangerous first-round Tournament opponents will play. Missouri doesn't yet have real big-time talent, especially in the size department, so it was natural that they'd struggle on the inside with a traditional Big 10 power. Illini big men had a field day on the offensive boards, but methinks they won't have so much success against the real big squads. As for Missouri, this all highlights the fact that they need some time to develop under Mike Anderson. He needs a few years to bring in the type of players that can compete at the highest level of college ball. The success he's had this year (including the resurgence of crowds at Mizzou Arena) should help recruiting.

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