Saturday, January 16, 2010

Syracuse Continues To Own West Virginia

#5 Syracuse 72, #9 West Virginia 71
Syracuse entered this game having won 10 of their last 11 games against West Virginia, and the trend continued today. West Virginia often gets credit for having a tall team because they have so many long players, and can easily put out a lineup where nobody on the floor is shorter than 6'5", but at the same time they do not have the really big players that seem to grow on trees in Syracuse. They don't have that 6'10", 260 pound player to pound down low with players like Rick Jackson or Arinze Onuaku. And while I can't say that West Virginia's players weren't hustling their butts off, they did a poor job of boxing out, allowing a lot of Syracuse offensive rebounds that had nothing to do with their size advantage. West Virginia does a great job of sneaking in and hustling for offensive rebounds, but their poor job of defensive rebounding in this game meant that Syracuse wound up with a ten rebound advantage. With this win Syracuse moves to 4-1 in the Big East, and is firmly in the battle for the Big East title. The Big East is unlikely to get multiple 1 seeds in the Tournament like they did last season, but any team that can sweep the regular season and postseason Big East title will be a near lock for a 1 seed. West Virginia, meanwhile, drops to 4-2, and sixth place overall in the Big East. But their upcoming conference schedule is fairly easy, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them win a few straight and get right back into the Big East title race, which is still very wide open.

#20 Pittsburgh 82, Louisville 77, OT
This run that Pitt is on really is remarkable. They seem so overdue for a reality check loss, but they continue to pull out these close games, and move temporarily into first place in the Big East with a shocking 5-0 record. Let's recall that this is a team that looked like they wouldn't even make the NCAA Tournament about a month ago, but just has had every piece fall into place. I give all of the credit to Jamie Dixon because it's not like he's had one player that has gotten hot - it's been a different player every night making the key baskets, that have gone along with the good team defense and team rebounding (Pomeroy rates their defense 19th overall in the nation, and their defensive rebounding 14th) to make the win. Today it was Nassir Robinson, who scored 1.2 points per game last year as a freshman and had not broken seven points in a Big East game yet this season, yet he exploded here for 26 points and 11 rebounds (both career highs, as well as game highs). I still can't believe that Pitt can keep this up for the whole season, and still view Villanova as the favorite to win the Big East with teams like West Virginia, Syracuse and Georgetown as more realistic contenders for the conference title, but Pitt might continue to prove everybody wrong. Their next game is a huge home game against Georgetown, on Wednesday evening. For Louisville this marks their second straight heartbreaking defeat against a Top 25 Big East opponent. It's still not clear whether the Cardinals will improve to the point that we view them as a contender for one of the top spots in the conference, or whether they regress and end up on the bubble in March.

Oklahoma 66, Missouri 61
Oklahoma did a great job this week of really maturing as a team. They won two big conference home games (over Oklahoma State and over Missouri) and they did it by finally providing support for Willie Warren. Early in the season when Oklahoma was really struggling it was because Warren was the only player looking for his own shot, and he ended up forcing way too many shots and despite scoring 20+ points every game his team was losing. He still occasionally forces a dumb shot, or commits a silly turnover, but they're becoming less frequent because he's gaining more confidence in his teammates. In fact, you could argue that the MVP of this game was Cade Davis, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and seemed to be in the middle over every big play, both on offense and defense. After an atrocious out-of-conference performance in which they went 9-5 against a schedule Pomeroy rates 237th, Oklahoma is off to a quick 2-1 start in Big 12 play. But they've still got a long way to go, as their computer numbers are barely bubble quality (their RPI is up to 78th, but both Sagarin and Pomeroy will have them just inside the Top 100 even after this win). They end the Big 12 season with a really brutal final three weeks, so they're going to have to win some road games in addition to a bunch of consecutive home games in the near future or else they're going to need to pull a bunch of upsets late in the season to earn an at-large bid. As for Missouri, they can take solace in the fact that they actually played pretty well in this game. They forced 20 turnovers and would have won this game if they could have hit a shot (they were 36% as a team from the floor, including 24% from behind the arc). Zaire Taylor, J.T. Tiller and Kim English, the three players they like to lean on for big baskets, combined for 7-for-24 shooting, including 0-for-6 behind the arc and 1-for-3 at the line. As a whole, Missouri has looked pretty good the last few weeks, and is still 2-1 in the Big 12 with a pretty easy game next (home against Nebraska). They should be solid favorites in five of their next six games, and could potentially have a really nice Big 12 record by mid-February.

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