Saturday, January 10, 2009

Duke Withstands Florida State

#2 Duke 66, Florida State 58
Florida State has given Duke a lot of problems over the past few years, and it's not a secret why. Florida State is very athletic, but also very long (to steal an awful NBA Draft cliche), so they're too fast for Duke to be able to give guys like Brian Zoubek a lot of playing time, meaning a big rebounding advantage. Florida State had 21 offensive rebounds in this one, compared to 19 defensive rebounds for Duke. Also, Florida State played with great intensity on the defensive side of the ball, including a remarkable possession where they held Duke for 41 seconds before Gerald Henderson hit a miracle off-balance three-pointer. If you're wondering why they held for 41 seconds and still gave up points, it's because the clock accidentally stopped for nearly seven seconds, and the referees met after the play and correctly ruled that Duke could not be penalized because the clock malfunctioned. That said, Florida State really struggled to score early in the second half, and they allowed that frustration to lead to defensive breakdowns, giving up open three-pointers that Duke couldn't even have dreamed about in the first half. And this is typical of the inexperience of this Florida State team, and the reason why Leonard Hamilton often looks like he's going to have an aneurysm on the sidelines. Florida State, like Syracuse, has come thisclose to a Tournament bid seemingly for the past four or five years. This year they are 13-3 with wins over California, Florida and Cincinnati, with zero bad losses. They could go 8-8 in a tough ACC and still make the Tournament, so there's no reason to panic too much that they opened the ACC regular season with a loss to Duke.

#16 Arizona State 76, Oregon 58
A very solid taking-care-of-business win for Arizona State. This is the type of performance that you'd expect from a team that wants to be taken seriously as a contender in the Pac-10. They opened up a 16 point lead by the half, and the game was never in doubt after that. The usual suspects all came up big for Arizona State here, but one new face is Junior Derek Glasser, a player who is pretty unknown outside the Pac-10. If he can play like this more often then that just gives the Sun Devils yet another offensive weapon. They are now 3-1 in the Pac-10, with that one loss being a very respectable road loss to California. Their next three games will probably be their most difficult three game stretch of the season (at USC, at UCLA, at Arizona). If they can go 2-1 in that stretch then we can be pretty sure that they'll be hanging around at the top of the Pac-10 standings all season long. Oregon, meanwhile, falls to 6-9, including 0-3 in the Pac-10. Anything is possible, but it's almost impossible to dream up a scenario by which Oregon will get their way back into the at-large hunt.

#13 Notre Dame 88, Seton Hall 79
This game was incredibly close the entire way, with Notre Dame not pulling away until the final two minutes. This actually would have been even more embarrassing than the St. John's loss, when you consider how many straight home games Notre Dame has won (this makes 44 in a row, I believe). Despite that home court advantage, and what one would think is a huge talent advantage, Notre Dame only won this game because of free throws. The big three of Luke Harangody, Kyle McAlarney and Tory Jackson combined for 24-of-26 shooting from the free throw line. The three combined for 75% of the team's overall points, as Seton Hall was actually the team showing more depth. But while I still doubt Notre Dame's chances at competing for a Big East title, a win is a win and the Irish move to 3-1 in the Big East. But they needed that quick start, because they now enter a preposterous stretch of games (at Louisville, at Syracuse, UConn, Marquette, at Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati, at UCLA). Seeing how poor Notre Dame has played on the road against good teams, I would actually be surprised to see them escape that stretch any better than 3-4. That said, I don't doubt this team's Tournament chances. But looking ahead at their schedule, I would project something like a 10-8 or 11-7 Big East record. That would be plenty good for a decent Tournament seed, but they won't be anywhere close to the 14-15 wins that will be needed to win the conference. Seton Hall, meanwhile, drops to 0-4, knowing that their next game is at UConn. It was a great start to the season, but they are real long shots to make the Tournament at this point.

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