Saturday, December 20, 2008

Goran Suton Powers Michigan State

#22 Michigan State 67, #5 Texas 63
Goran Suton is still feeling his way back into the lineup, and he was nowhere near his best today (despite leading Michigan State with 18 points), but his presence was without a doubt the difference in this very competitive game. He just makes such a difference on the defensive end, and with his rebounding. From what I could see, Suton is still figuring things out on offense, as he occasionally ran into his own men and struggled to spread the floor, but that will come as the season goes along. If nothing else, this win gives Michigan State legitimacy as they head into the Big Ten regular season. They've proven that they can beat legitimate teams, and that they are going to be serious Final Four contenders once everybody is completely healthy. For Texas, it's not too devastating of a loss to go down to a very good Michigan State squad. They are still 9-2 with wins over UCLA, Villanova, St. Joe's and Oregon. And they get a great chance to bounce back on Tuesday evening at Wisconsin. All in all, they just had a bad day. This is the first time since a March game against Oklahoma State that A.J. Abrams failed to hit a three-pointer. And the offense will always sputter a bit when Justin Mason misses time (as he did with a small injury in this one). In my mind, Texas is still the strong favorite to take the Big 12 and to earn a 1 seed.

Minnesota 70, #9 Louisville 64
Speaking of legitimizing wins for Big Ten teams, how about this one for Minnesota? Even though Louisville showed flashes of how strong their full court press can be, it was Minnesota that did the better job of running off of screens and hustling for rebounds. They held Louisville to 4-for-17 shooting from behind the arc, and slightly out-rebounded the larger Cardinals squad. And in case you were wondering, Minnesota is now 10-0, with a win over a Big East (Louisville) and ACC (Virginia) squad. They don't have the star power to seriously compete for a Big Ten title, but they're scrappy enough to win 10 games in conference play, and that might just be enough for an at-large bid. For Louisville, this makes us all really question why we ever ranked this team so high. They are still 7-2, but haven't beaten anybody. Their schedule has been atrocious. I can certainly make excuses for them, namely that this weak schedule has made them soft and they have to re-adjust to the speed of big-time college basketball, but they have to prove it on the court. There are no more Morehead States or Lamars left on the schedule, so it's time for Louisville to prove that they deserve to be named among the top Big East teams.

#6 Duke 82, #7 Xavier 64
This game wasn't remotely as close as the final score might indicate. Duke was actually up by 31 points in the first half, and just cruised through the second half. The day isn't over yet, but it's going to be hard for any team to top Duke's overpowering performance here. There's no point in even analyzing the stats, because Duke just blew Xavier away in every aspect of the game. For Xavier, I think this game was a bit of a reality check. When I saw this match-up I was shocked to find out that Xavier had actually moved up to 7th in the country, because there's just no way that they're the seventh best team. They pulled off that nice upset of Memphis, but otherwise have just beaten the teams that they're supposed to beat. If their kids actually started believing their own newspaper clippings then that could easily explain the way that an experienced Duke team blew them away. The Musketeers get a chance to bounce back Tuesday evening against Butler, and in the grand scheme of things it can never be that bad for an Atlantic Ten team to lose to Duke. Xavier fans just needed a reality check. For Duke, they continue to look extremely dangerous. When they're on their game, they can beat anybody. Although when the shots aren't falling, they can also lose to Michigan. But don't be surprised to see Duke with a record like 21-2 when UNC comes to town on January 28th.

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