Saturday, January 03, 2009

Kansas Rebounds, Tennessee Falls Flat

Kansas 92, #18 Tennessee 85
I have to say that I was pretty disappointed with the way that Tennessee played in this one. Kansas is a young team, and despite their 25-9 opening lead they continued to make mistakes that let Tennessee back in the game. But the Vols were just incredibly timid, settling for three-pointers when they had the athleticism to get to the rim. For the first half they couldn't hit anything, which was why they ended up not making up much ground after that initial 16 point deficit. Late in the game they had a stretch where they hit 4 out of 6 three-pointers, cutting the Kansas lead from 16 to 7 with 4:35 left to go in the game, but it was too little too late. For the game they were 9-for-26, and that was the difference here. An additional problem with all of the three-pointers, besides the obvious inefficiencies, is that it makes them a streaky team. When they hit their threes they can set up the press, getting free points off of the all of the turnovers they force (I don't know if anybody traps better than Tennessee). But when they're missing their threes, they can't set up the press, and the failures build on each other, since their half court defense isn't all that great. I saw a lot of bad defensive rotation, leading to a slew of open layups and dunks for Kansas big men. That said, the rest of the SEC is pretty weak, so Tennessee is still the clear favorite to take the conference. But they're much more likely to be something like a 3 seed, even if they win both the SEC regular season and tournament titles. As for Kansas, they face a situation in the Big 12 similar to what the Pac-10 is dealing with. Both conferences have two teams that have blown clear ahead of the field (Oklahoma and Texas in the case of the Big 12), and a slew of teams fighting for third place. In the case of the Big 12, I'd say that Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Missouri all have a decent shot at third place. If I had to pick one as the favorite, I'd go with Kansas, but I need to see more consistency out of them. They're a young team, and they need to find a way to grind out games against opponents like Iowa State and Nebraska on the road to win enough games to finish third in the Big 12.

#21 Minnesota 68, #23 Ohio State 59
Just two days ago I talked about this upcoming Ohio State game, saying that Minnesota fans might suffer a bit of an existential crisis if they lost two straight home games to start the Big Ten regular season. The Gophers answered the challenge by going on a 19-2 run to end the first half, and never looking back in an impressive win over the Buckeyes. A loss here would have led to more questions about whether Minnesota's gaudy record was just an artifact of their easy schedule. With this win they can now shrug off that Michigan State loss the same way Georgetown is shaking off that Pitt loss: "Hey, it's a tough conference, and you can't win every game." I still have questions about how good this Minnesota team really is, but this win is pretty good evidence that this is a Tournament-quality team. The questions, rather than being about Minnesota's gaudy record, will now focus on Ohio State's gaudy record. Yes, they have those wins over Miami of Florida and Notre Dame, but Jack McClinton missed over 30 minutes of the former after being thrown out of the game, and Luke Harangody was ill for the latter. After those two, the Buckeyes have a three point win over Butler, and that's it. Their last three games are a 28 point demolition by West Virginia, a three point win over Iowa at home, and this 9 point loss at Minnesota. They're a very talented team, but they're young. They will drop out of the Top 25 this week, and we'll see how long it takes them to get back.

Missouri 83, Georgia 76
Missouri is a team that has really floated under the radar, even though their resume is pretty solid thus far. They are now 12-2 with three wins over the RPI Top 100, and zero losses to any teams outside the RPI Top 25. And they won this game the way that they always win, which is with high intensity pressure. Georgia shot a high percentage from the field (52%) because they got a ton of layups and dunks, just like all of Missouri's opponents. But Missouri's press forced 13 more turnovers than they themselves gave up, and despite their smaller size they took four extra shots from the field, and 11 from the line. The Tigers still need to improve their defense so that they give up less open shots to opponents that beat the press, but they have clearly improved at taking care of the ball on the offensive end. When Mike Anderson first came to Columbia, his press immediately caused stress for his opponents, but it also led to a ton of turnovers for his own offense. It is clear that in year three of Forty Minutes of Hell, Version 2.0, the Tigers are starting to really learn how to play organized chaos, limiting their own turnovers and winning more games. Whether it will be enough to make the Tournament for the first time under Anderson remains to be seen, but they're off to a solid start.


Unknown said...

You keep saying that Harangody was ill for the Ohio State game. His stats don't show it. I don't think you could expect more production from him, so it doesn't feel right to discount that win for Ohio State. You could, however, start to argue that a win over Notre Dame isn't that big a deal.

Jeff said...

He was ill for the game. And in fact, if you go back to my recap of that game (I'm too lazy right now to go fetch the link) you will see me point about how his stats don't really show how ill he was. And in fact, despite the large number of points he had, his illness did cost them in the end. He had two straight five-footers with about a minute to go, and he missed both. Making them would have won the game for the Irish.

Harangody's performance was very impressive under the circumstances. Not quite Jordan in the playoffs, but just like how somebody might not have known the Jordan was sick by his final stats, it is easy to misunderestimate Harangody's performance, and not realize how much better he would have played if he were healthy.