Sunday, December 20, 2009

Butler Gets Controversial Win Over Xavier

#17 Butler 69, Xavier 68
This game had a very bizarre ending. On the final play of the game the clock inexplicably stopped for a short period of time, Gordon Hayward then took a shot with 1.6 seconds on the clock that went through the net with 1.2 seconds on the clock. The refs then took about 10 minutes staring at monitors (supposedly it took three of four minutes just to get them a digital timer), and decided that the clock had stopped for exactly 1.3 seconds, meaning Hayward's shot counted but the game was over. Xavier fans were furious, and I think the refs messed this one up. They could have stopped the game when the clock stoppage happened, but if they didn't notice it then they should have just let Xavier have the ball with 1.2 on the clock. The clock operator makes split second human errors all the time during a game, and the players are taught to play the clock. If they had ruled that the clock had actually stopped for 2 seconds and wiped off Hayward's shot I would have found that wrong as well - the players were planning their actions based on the clock as they saw it, and you can't penalize them after the fact because the game officials goofed. But that said, this game meant more to Butler than Xavier anyway. They needed to prove that the win over the Evan Turner-less Ohio State Buckeyes was not a fluke, and now have a second very good win to go along with it (they also have wins over Northwestern and UCLA, but Xavier is better than those two teams). Xavier misses a big opportunity, but their season was going to come down to Atlantic Ten play anyway. The A-10 is good enough that Xavier just needs an 11-5 or 12-4 record and they'll be in good shape for an at-large bid. They've been playing better as the season has gone along, and will be toughened by this fairly strong out-of-conference schedule. Dayton has looked mortal these last few weeks, so don't be totally surprised to see Xavier contend for a conference title.

#1 Kansas 75, Michigan 64
Kansas opened up a 23 point lead in the first half before taking their foot off the pedal and letting Michigan back in the game. I put that mostly on the joke of a schedule Kansas has played thus far, where they've been used to getting an early lead and having their opponent roll over. Michigan is a resilient team that will get back in games if you let them. But when they were playing well, Kansas showed off that great athleticism and great depth. The return of Brady Morningstar paid off immediately because he was basically Manny Harris's shadow all game. Harris ended up with 16 points on 15 shots with 4 assists and 4 turnovers, which any opponent of Michigan will take in a heartbeat. The one worry I had for them was on the inside where Cole Aldrich was completely worked by DeShawn Sims. Sims is a good interior scorer, but Kansas will play better. They're going to have to do a better job of interior defense. But no team is perfect, and Kansas does still seem to be the clear best team in the nation. As for Michigan, obviously they could have used a road victory over the #1 team in the nation, but this wasn't exactly a win they were counting on. They are now 5-5 with no good wins (other than perhaps Creighton), but no particularly bad losses either. A .500 out-of-conference record is bad, and their computer numbers are weak (RPI of 209th, Sagarin PREDICTOR of 124th), but they haven't ruined their season yet. As bad as they've played, they can still get themselves right back into the at-large discussion with a little winning streak. They get a cupcake next, but then start their Big Ten schedule with about as easy of a stretch as you can have in that conference: at Indiana, vs Ohio State, at Penn State, vs Northwestern, vs Indiana. They could easily win all of those games, especially since Evan Turner will not be back for that OSU game. So don't count Michigan out yet.

Notre Dame 84, UCLA 73

This was as well as the Irish have played all season long. Their entire starting lineup scored in double-digits and they hit over 50% of their shots from the field (including 9-for-17 behind the arc). Tory Jackson was probably the best of the bunch with 10 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. They are now 10-2, but this is probably their best win of the year. And their losses aren't great: a narrow loss to Loyola Marymount and a 14 point drubbing by Northwestern. We'll learn a lot more about this team when Big East play begins, because they open with a brutal stretch. They play at UConn, vs West Virginia, at Cincinnati, vs Syracuse and at Villanova all before the end of January. If they can escape the month of January with a 4-4 Big East record then they'll be in pretty good shape for an at-large bid. As for UCLA, I'm continuing my .500 watch, to see when/if the Bruins can get back to .500. They are now 3-7 with two relatively easy home games before Pac-10 play begins. Even if they take care of business in those two games they will need to go at least 12-6 in Pac-10 play to have a shot at an at-large bid. If there's one good thing going on with the Bruins program it's the development of some of the young players. I think Malcolm Lee is going to have to start leading this team, because in the times I've watched UCLA this season he's looked like their best player. It's hard for a sophomore to take a leadership role on a team with three senior starters, but Ben Howland is going to have to help him take that next step. The Bruins have to be focused on the future, because this season is basically lost.

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