Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Butler Faces A New Reality

Louisville 88, #18 Butler 73
Despite Butler's success over the last few seasons, teams still did not take them seriously last season. Despite a gift a draw to the National Title game, they still reached the National Title game, and they are suddenly finding themselves getting everybody's best shot this season. Louisville's players had extra motivation, playing their first game in their new home arena, and all of that meant that they came out like gangbusters, punching Butler in the mouth with an 11-2 start, and an 18 point halftime lead. The fact is, Butler didn't actually play that badly. Matt Howard showed more offense than he did last season (although he's still getting himself in constant foul trouble), and Shelvin Mack is a legitimate dark horse for the All-American teams. But it was the younger, less experienced players who struggled early - possibly intimidated by Louisville's intensity. This will be a quality win for a Louisville team that enters the season expected to finish closer to the bubble than to the top of the Big East. We'll get a better sense of whether this was a one-shot performance or a sign of something special next weekend when they play Marshall. As for Butler, there's no reason to get too down about a road loss to an upper echelon Big East team. They'll have two quality opponents next week in a road game at Siena, and a home game versus Evansville.

Penn State 66, St. Joseph's 57
Penn State didn't lose anybody from their regular rotation to graduation last season, so I expected them to be improved. Talor Battle was a star in the Big Ten last season, of course, but both Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones (a combined 33 points and 14 rebounds in this game) are finally filling the void in the paint that they couldn't fill last season after Jamelle Cornley's graduation. Star freshman Taran Buie is still finding his way, but he'll provide a nice scoring spark off the bench, and Cammeron Woodyard (5 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals here) is also providing quality minutes off the bench. I don't think Penn State is good enough to make the Tournament, but they're definitely better than last season. They should be able to handle Fairfield at home on Friday, but will be much more tested the following Friday at Ole Miss. As for St. Joe's, they are 0-2 so far. Even though both losses have come against decent teams (Western Kentucky and Penn State), it's just more evidence that they aren't one of the better teams in the Atlantic Ten.

North Texas 92, Texas Tech 83, OT
Texas Tech had no answer for Josh White in this game. He scored 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting, and even hit the runner that sent this game into overtime. Texas Tech likes to run and they can put up a lot of points, but against quality offensive teams (and North Texas is a quality offensive team) they just tend to get torched. They have no ability to get a stop when they need it. They also have a fairly thin rotation for a team that likes to run, which was part of the reason that North Texas ran away with this one in overtime. Texas Tech didn't enter this season with sky high expectations, but if they don't even get close to the Tournament yet again then you have to figure that Pat Knight's seat is starting to get warm. As for North Texas, this win emphasizes that they are a team to take seriously in the Sun Belt. I still think Western Kentucky is the narrow favorite, and Florida Atlantic is probably the sleeper contender. Their next game is at Kansas, but they follow that with what will probably be a more meaningful game at home against Rice.

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