Friday, December 29, 2006

More Holiday Hoops

#4 Florida 86, #3 Ohio State 60 No one saw this coming, so don't even say that you did. The game was relatively close throughout the first half and into the second half, before everything that could go wrong began going wrong for OSU. What really buried them was their immaturity. As soon as they fell behind by 8, 9, 10 points they started launching threes every time down the floor. They had a ton of time left but panicked. For a team that is ridiculously young, you had to expect this to happen at some point, although not to this extreme perhaps. Ohio State could use this as a building block, if That Motta can stress this as what not to do when down by a few points on the road. Ohio State needs to learn soon, because they head to Wisconsin in a couple weeks for a monumental game. If Ohio State can sweep the regular season and postseason Big 10 titles, they will still get a #1 seed and this game won't even matter.

Tennessee 111, Texas 105, OT Tennessee sure is a fun team to watch, aren't they? Bruce Pearl is a great coach and this team really matches his excitement and energy. This game could have some seeding implications in March, but for now it was just a game to sit back and enjoy. A big 26 and 8 out of superfrosh Kevin Durant matched by 35 and 11 (plus a clutch 3-pointer late) by All-American Chris Lofton. The game was just close in every way. 45% shooting to 44% shooting, 48 rebounds to 45, 10 rebounds to 7, 29 fouls to 24. Nothing for either team to be ashamed about.

USC 60, #8 Wichita State 56 This game just goes to show what I've been saying all year: the Mid-Majors struggle when they play games they're supposed to win. It goes to a larger point that I will make a longer post about: It's so much easier to win as an underdog when you have a long time to focus on one game. It's much, much harder when you have to beat quality teams night in and night out, two or three times per week. So we've gone from under-rating these teams to over-rating them. If we're going to lavish praise on these teams for beating Iowa and Purdue, then we have to lavish praise on BCS schools that do it almost every game. Wichita State, like other mid-majors has struggled in games it's supposed to win (as opposed to games they're just happy to win), and when you combine that with a team that is not only an underdog but which also has Pac-10 talent... no one should be surprised at this result. So, should I shove this result in the face of those Wichita State fans that tried to deface this blog with insult-filled posts for suggesting (egads!) that Wichita State would only end up with a 6 or 7 seed, and not a 1, 2 or 3 seed... nah.

USC 86, #13 Washington 79 Speaking of USC: Welcome back to big-time basketball! As big as the win over a Top 10 team was, this was clearly an even bigger win for the program. I thought I was being optimistic for thinking they'd be back to the Tournament as early as next year. They might be back this year. The only real question regards how USC handles the success. How do they play once they become the hunted instead of the hunters? Can they win some games on the road in the Pac-10? I mean, they could easily fall on their face and lose their next game to Washington State. They still have a lot to prove before we start putting the cameras in their building on Selection Sunday.

#21 Clemson 75, Georgia 60
I talked about this possibility a few weeks ago, and it's become reality. Barring a monumental flop against Georgia State, they're going to enter ACC play at 14-0. Even if they only go 8-8 in conference play, it's going to be tough to keep a 22-8 ACC team out of the Tournament. If they go 9-7 and making the ACC Tourney Semifinals, I'd have to actually consider them a LOCK to get in, which would have been a pretty amazing statement two months ago. Of course, before we get ahead of ourselves, Clemson hasn't actually beaten a Tournament-quality team yet. This is the best win they've had. But when you go through the schedule you have road games like Old Dominion and Minnesota and home games like Georgia and Mississippi State. None of those, by themselves, is all too impressive. But when taken together, they represent a decent minefield traversed. All of those are games they could have lost and didn't. If they can win their ACC opener at FSU they might really be ready to explode on the ACC scene.

Indiana State 89, Purdue 70
Speaking of the "Clemson of the Big 10", as I've been calling them, Purdue's out-of-conference play has taken a different turn from that of Clemson. After a great 8-1 start that included wins over Missouri, Virginia and Oklahoma, they've lost two of their last four, including this romp by the Sycamores. But all is not lost for the Boilermakers. In a lot of ways their out-of-conference schedule has a different style than that of Clemson. Clemson didn't win a single game as an underdog, and many of their games were blowouts. They were building momentum and confidence, and building a resume before ACC play began. Purdue, on other hand, has played some real close games and tough road games. They are already prepared for tough conference play. We don't know how Clemson is going to respond when they lose two tough games in a row. Will they bounce back or will they roll over? As for Purdue, they start off with four winnable Big 10 games. If they can win three of four they'll be back on track and in excellent shape. If they only go 2-2 they'll be okay, but they really need to avoid a 1-3 start heading into Madison to face the Badgers. A likely loss there would drop them to 1-4, and make them really need a big turnaround to get back onto the Bubble.

UNLV 74, Texas Tech 66
You could really tell why Bob Knight wants this record over with. The Red Raiders just looked so unbelievably tight throughout the first half. They didn't loosen up until the final ten minutes, when they finally came to realization that they probably weren't breaking the record and just went out and played Texas Tech basketball. As for the record: Like Andy Katz said, Knight isn't really going to own this record. He's just keeping it warm until Coach K takes it. He's closing hard and will have it within four years of when Knight retires. If Krzyzewski sticks around and coaches until he's in his 70's he could put that record out of reach. He'll blow past 1000 wins before he even hits 70, most likely while he's 68. Back to the Red Raiders, they've had some good wins this year, and some real flashes of excellence. They have the potential to be a really tough team to beat, especially at Lubbock. We just won't really know how good this team is until they get the burden of win 880 off their backs. Hopefully they can get it against New Mexico so they can start Big 12 play with a clear mind.


D. Moore said...

I'm not going to disagree with your expectation that Wichita State (or insert other impressive early-season mid-major here [Butler]) will get a 6 or 7 seed. After losing some conference games against good but not well known opponents, that's inevitable.

But, I think you're drawing the wrong conclusion from your observation that "Mid-Majors struggle when they play games they're supposed to win". Yes, they do. However, there is another common pattern to those games that explains it very well -- those games are ROAD games.

You mention Wichita State's loss to USC, and right below, you cover Washington's loss to the same team. This loss doesn't prove that Wichita Sate is unworthy, or that Washington is over-rated, or that USC is a top ten team. It just shows that it's much, much harder to win on the road.

If you look at it that way, then the early-season accomplishments of the mid-majors are more impressive than the early season accomplishments of the BCS league schools, since the mid-majors have to go on the road to do it.

Jeff said...

It's true that they have to do a lot on the road, but not entirely. Wichita State did their damage on the road, but Missouri State took down Wisconsin on a neutral floor. Same for Butler's wins over Gonzaga and Tennessee. My point was that it's sexy for everyone to jump on the bandwagon of these mid-majors when they a top team, but who was jumping on the bandwagon of Georgia or Washington State when they took out Gonzaga as well? Upsets happen, on the road or at home, some finite percentage of the time. But when a mid-tier BCS school pulls one big road upset and loses 6 other road games we dismiss the upset as just a good game on a good day. But when a top-tier mid major pulls one or two big road upsets, we forget about the other games that they lose because they just don't play enough and because it's a lot more fun to root for Butler or Wichita State than for Georgia or Washington State.

As for Wichita State, I wouldn't have gone on that rant purely for the loss to USC. First of all, the game wasn't at USC, but on a neutral floor. And even so, I wouldn't have made a big deal except that Wichita State lost the night before on the same neutral floor to New Mexico. For some reason they only dropped to 16th, even though I'm pretty sure the voters would drop much more quickly off a team like Clemson or Oklahoma State if they went and lost to two medium-quality teams on consecutive nights on a neutral floor. Let's remember that Texas (a school that certainly never has a problem with getting hype) was dropped from 18th to 25th for a week in which they lost to Michigan State on a neutral floor and beat St. John's on the road. If a Missouri Valley team lost a close game to the Spartans and beat the Johnnies at the Garden, everyone would be singing their praises, talking about how underrated they were.

I think it's all a lot of over-compensating for the 1990's, when these mid-majors were largely ignored despite the great amounts of talent they were starting to bring in.