Saturday, December 06, 2008

Pac 10/Big 12 Update

#6 Oklahoma 73, USC 72
Yes, there is such a thing as the Pac 10/Big 12 Challenge, but you're forgiven for not knowing that it's going on. Unlike the ACC and Big Ten, this challenge has no coherent pattern to it. It's just a bunch of games between Big 12 and Pac 10 teams stretched over many days. The ACC and Big Ten do a much better job of making it succinct enough that people will actually tune in to root on their conference. Anyway, the story from this game was probably the dirty shot that Blake Griffin took below the waist from USC's Leonard Washington. It's interesting how chippy this game was, because these teams have no history against each other. I can't remember the last time these two teams met in basketball. That said, I can understand why it might be infuriating to play against Griffin. He is big and has a ton of energy, and just like Tyler Hansbrough he loves to throw his body around. He loves to lower his shoulder to bowl over defenders, and basically never gets called for charges. I'd probably get upset, too, if I had to guard him. But once you try a dirty play, you lose all sympathy. Blake Griffin becomes the victim. But if he could inspire this much hate against a team he has no history with, you've got to expect some more pushing and shoving when Griffin gets up against Big 12 rivals that he has history with, or that he has to play multiple times in the season.

#8 Texas 68, #9 UCLA 64
This was a really good game that went back and forth the whole way. And I hate to continue harping on the kid, but UCLA continues to be hamstrung by Jrue Holiday on defense. The way that he has tunnel vision on his man and is oblivious to everything else around him makes him a backdoor pick waiting to happen. It's not a surprise that a team like Michigan was able to take advantage earlier this season. In this one, UCLA's overall ability was enough to make this essentially a draw, in Austin. UCLA's overall shooting was relatively weak, and Texas did a wonderful job keeping Darren Collison from being able to get to the rim (something which I thought was almost impossible to do). The only reason this game was as close as it ended up was because of a breakout performance by Alfred Aboyo, who dominated with seven offensive rebounds. But in the end, UCLA just did not have an answer for A.J. Abrams, who continues to make the case that he's the best shooter in the nation. I know that there are a ton of amazing shooters this year, but Abrams has to be in any discussion. The depth that Texas showed here reaffirms my belief that Texas is the solid favorite in the Big 12. And the way that UCLA stayed in this one, with the knowledge that they'll be so much better on defense when Holiday learns how to have defensive floor awareness, makes it clear that they are still the clear favorites in the Pac-10, despite the great start by Arizona State.

Washington 83, Oklahoma State 65
We heard big things about star recruit Isaiah Thomas before this season started, and he's proving that it's not just hype. He is already the team's second-highest scorer, behind only future NBA player Jon Brockman. Thomas actually led all Huskies in this one, with 18 points. Jon Brockman's 11 rebounds (to go with 16 points) were the key behind Washington's domination of the boards. And in the end that was the difference in the game. All of the major statistics were even between the teams, except for rebounding, where Washington had 14 offensive rebounds compared to only 21 defensive rebounds for Oklahoma State. This results was a bit of a surprise for me, since it seemed like the Cowboys were the better team thus far this season. This game could be huge down the road, because I think both of these teams will be bubble teams all the way through the year. Both are good enough to make the Tournament, but neither is good enough to expect that they'll be able to have an at-large bid wrapped up by the time March rolls around. I expect both of these teams to enter their conference tournaments still uncertain of their Tournament status.

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