Sunday, January 18, 2009

Duke And Georgetown Settle Nothing

#2 Duke 76, #12 Georgetown 67
I don't mean to dismiss this win for Duke, because it's certainly a good win. But I barely watched any of this game for two reasons. First of all, the result seemed obvious to me. Georgetown does not have the offensive firepower to come into Cameron Indoor and walk out with a win. Secondly, I couldn't bear to listen to the announcers try to turn this into some ACC vs Big East battle. It's one of the most irritating ploys that announcers and analysts use to try to artificially inflate interest in a game. First of all, as I've explained many times, one game can never be used to determine which conference superior. Secondly, I don't see a legitimate argument that the Big East is as good as the ACC. In fact, I'd argue that the Big East is only the third best conference. I would rank the Big Ten second. As I've said before, it's always dumb to rank conferences by the number of Top Ten or Top 25 teams, and not just because the rankings don't actually rank teams by how good they are, but also because it ignores the other teams in the conference. The Big East does, in my opinion, have more of the 25 best teams than any other conference. But they also have 16 teams. And the difference to me is the bottom of the conference. The ACC has no bad teams. Anybody can lose to anybody on any given night, even at home. The Big Ten, in my opinion, has one bad team (Indiana). The Big East has several. I actually laughed out loud when Digger Phelps claimed Saturday morning that every Big East game is like the Super Bowl. Somehow I don't see him turning off Duke/UNC to watch Rutgers/South Florida. I have one objective test for ranking the Big East, which is to watch Digger Phelps. No matter how good or bad the Big East is, Digger Phelps is always going to claim it's the best conference. But if his arguments are legitimate then the Big East might indeed by the best top to bottom. If his arguments are asinine then you can dismiss the Big East as the best conference. And within the same commercial segment of his aforementioned stupid comment, Digger argued that the Big East was better because its ten best teams are better than the ten best ACC teams. I couldn't believe that nobody else on College Gameday (even ACC homers Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis) pointed out that the Big East has 16 teams while the ACC has 12, and therefore any comparison of only the top ten teams is intellectually dishonest. I mean, I bet the 13 best Big East teams are better than the 13 best ACC teams, too. That 13th ACC team really stinks, you know.

#5 Oklahoma 69, Texas A&M 63
I'll get off my soap box for a moment to actually talk basketball. I was impressed with the way that Oklahoma came out strong early on against Texas A&M here. After that huge victory over Texas, there was a chance that they'd come out flat after celebrating. I was impressed with the A&M crowd, and they really pushed the Aggies late in the contest. But that early cushion was the difference, and Oklahoma held on for a very solid road victory. Oklahoma may have that big win over Texas, but they really just held serve. They have to head to Austin in late February, and Texas will probably be favored there. Oklahoma has played well enough that they might be able to get a 1 seed without the Big 12 tournament title, if they can win the regular season title and put up a respectable tournament performance. But they've got to keep winning games like this one. For Texas A&M, they basically fought Oklahoma to a draw in every category of the game. The difference in the game was a go-to scorer, and the fact that the Aggies don't have one. But this is what I would consider a luxury game, where you're not supposed to win and so it doesn't really hurt your resume to fail to get the big scalp. They are 15-3 with a 4-3 record against the RPI Top 100. One thing to be careful of is that the computers feel that Texas A&M is overrated. Both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR do not consider them a Top 70 team. They also enter a very dangerous stretch, heading on the road for games at Kansas and Texas, with a road game to Norman right over the horizon. At 1-2 in the Big 12 they have to be very careful not to fall too far below .500. It's unclear at this point whether a 9-7 Big 12 record will get them into the Tournament, but it's also unclear how they have a realistic path to ten conference wins.

#21 Baylor 98, Oklahoma State 92, OT
Baylor has sure played a lot of fun games since Scott Drew came to town, haven't they? It must be a lot of fun to be a Baylor basketball fan. Despite all of the close games, they are safely through this point of the season at 14-3, with a good strength of schedule. The 4-3 record against the RPI Top 100 isn't overwhelming, but all of the computer rankings really like them. With wins over the likes of Arizona State, Washington State and Providence out-of-conference, I find it hard to see a 9-7 Baylor team missing the Tournament. And since I see them likely finishing somewhere around 9-7 or 10-6, they're in good shape. Oklahoma State is also hanging in there, despite the missed opportunity to collect what would have been their biggest win of the season. They are 12-4 with a 4-4 record against the RPI Top 100. The RPI of 22nd is probably a bit overrated (due to things like that win over Siena, which is currently ranked 29th by the RPI but will fade as the MAAC regular season drains their strength of schedule). Like Baylor, the Cowboys would be in the Tournament if the season ended now. But their room for error is smaller than Baylor's is, and they have to continue playing as well as they have so far.


Anonymous said...

Well, I'm happy to talk about the Duke/Georgetown game. I agree, you can't judge the relative strengths or weaknesses of teams or conferences very well from a single game on a court with an expected large home court advantage. But there were a number of things that we learned about the individual teams from this game.

First, it's now crystal clear how important Greg Monroe is to Georgetown. They are very thin upfront, and pretty much had to go to a 4 guard lineup with Monroe out. The minutes Monroe was on the floor, they were noticeably better than Duke. Interestingly, Duke was able to keep the score nearly deadlocked anyway. That must mean something, but I don't know what yet.

Second, outside of Freeman, Georgetown's guards are its weakness. They really struggled offensively against Duke. Some folks commenting on the game wondered if Wright and Sapp were in danger of losing their starting jobs.

Third, Duke can win against top competition even when Kyle Singler has an off game. He shot horribly, which would have been more obvious had he not made a few baskets at the end when the game was nearly over.

Fourth, Coach K is still unsettled with his rotation. His use of players this game was different than any previous game this season. He let a number of players outside the normal rotation get playing time early to show what they could do (Elliot Williams, Marty Pocius, Miles Plumlee), and some of the players that had been logging major minutes got squat (Zoubek, Lance Thomas). Additionally, Paulus earned more floor time than he had gotten in any close game this season. We'll have to see if this results in someone breaking into the rotation late in the season, or if it's a sign that Duke has weaknesses and is still searching for a solution.

Jeff said...

I agree with you on most of those Georgetown comments. But I think there's a reason why Duke's lineup is so unsettled, and that's because it is simultaneously incredibly deep, yet so varied in its abilities. There is no five man lineup that is best for every opponent.

It's like what I said earlier in the season about Brian Zoubek. The kid is clearly very smart and very talented, but he's just too slow to play against up-tempo teams. Sometimes Duke is best playing their lineup where they have no power forwards or centers on the floor.

But even with all of that varied talent, they don't have everything. And what they really struggle against are athletically long teams like Florida State.

As for your comment about how it can look like Duke is getting outplayed while never giving up any ground in the score, hasn't it been that way for a few years now? They can stink for several minutes, and then hit four straight three-pointers to set everything back to equilibrium. I give Coach K a lot of credit for managing to mix and match his lineups as much as he has to do the best he can with his talent.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right that Duke's weakness is athletic teams. The interesting thing is that, defensively, that is by design. Duke's defense focuses on pressure on the basketball, and denying the passing lanes. It takes away a lot of teams' standard options, but it does leave Duke vulnerable to back door cuts (somewhat lessened if the ball pressure is very good), and dribble penetration. Duke has always had (and will, as long as they stick with these defensive principles) a weakness to athletic teams driving the ball against them.

Valvano would just have his guards drive against Duke all day long, and have the rest of his team hit the glass. It worked amazingly well.