Sunday, November 28, 2010

Butler Shocked At Home

Evansville 71, #23 Butler 68, OT
Evansville is a Missouri Valley Conference team, so they're not a pushover, but they're not expected to be one of the better teams from the conference. But they just kept hanging around in this game, and overcame a double-digit deficit when Butler went through an extended cold stretch beginning late in the first half when they scored 14 points over something like 17 minutes of game time. Butler dominated the boards with their size, but got horrid guard play, which is always going to be a big problem for them since I'm pretty sure that Matt Howard has never played in a collegiate game where he wasn't in foul trouble. They were outplayed by Colt Ryan, whose 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting with six rebounds are actually all near his season average in what has been a strong sophomore season for him. But really, this was just a case of Butler letting an inferior team hang around, missing layups and all manner of other shots to hit just under 33% of their two point attempts (they hit 51% of their two-pointers last season). Butler will fall out of the Top 25 with this loss, and they have games against Duke and Xavier looming. No matter what happens in those games Butler will remain the heavy favorite to retain the Horizon League title, but their NCAA Tournament seed could really begin to drop. As for Evansville, this is a very good win, but it's their only win over a decent team and they are coming off losses to Indiana and Middle Tennessee State. I still think they're destined for a sub-.500 Missouri Valley record.

UTEP 65, Michigan 56
This is going to happen a few more times to Michigan this season. The team just does not grasp the concept that if you're bricking three-pointer after three-pointer you should eventually stop shooting them. In this game they hit a pathetic 5-for-29 behind the arc - and they're going to struggle to beat just about anybody if they're wasting that many possessions. And the thing is, they actually have some good options for attacking the rim. Darius Morris has exploded this season, and he led the team in this game in points (20), rebounds (7), assists (4) and steals (3). Tim Hardaway, Jr. also has played well this season. But teams know that Michigan will just keep launching threes, and a perfect example of Michigan shooting itself in the foot was the performance by Blake McLimans, a 6'10" freshmen who hasn't hit a three-pointer in his entire college career but in eight minutes on the floor managed to go 0-for-4 behind the arc. Those just are shots that shouldn't be taken. This season so far has been John Beilein's worst as coach at Michigan. As for UTEP, it was interesting seeing star Randy Culpepper come off the bench. I'm not clear exactly why he was brought off the bench, but it worked: 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting. UTEP is 4-2 with a couple decent-but-not-too-impressive wins (Michigan, New Mexico State) and both losses coming against marginally decent teams (Georgia Tech, Pacific). They still can get into the at-large discussion, but they've got to play better. Most teams won't give away games like Michigan gave away this one.

Nebraska 60, USC 58
This was a below-the-radar game because neither of these teams is likely to go Dancing, but this was an interesting game to me for a couple of reasons. For one, these are both rebuilding programs that I believe have brighter futures ahead, and it was a chance to view the progress of each. Second, games like this will do a lot for conference computer ratings, and a USC win here would have helped the Pac-10 start to get its computer ratings up closer to the Big Four conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12). And one thing we learned here is that USC is still very young. They blew this game open, with a 20 point first-half lead, but they took their foot off the pedal and let the lead melt away, eventually blowing the entire game. One thing they're really lacking is an offensive playmaker. Kevin O'Neill has had to basically rebuild this team from scratch. Maurice Jones and Bryce Jones are the first two good high school guards he's been able to get, but they're both true freshmen and still finding themselves. The two combined for six assists and five turnovers, which isn't going to get it done. USC had eight assists as a team. It's still early for Pomeroy's stats to be taken too much like gospel, but right now they're ranked the 30th most efficient defense, and the 143rd most efficient offense, which is pretty telling. But they do have Jio Fontan coming soon - I believe that the transfer from Fordham will be eligible to play once the fall semester ends, and he's a very good player. But even with Fontan, I do think that USC is still at least one more year from contending seriously for a Tournament spot. Nebraska likely isn't talented enough to finish better than .500 in what is going to be a pretty good Big 12 this season, but they have found a pretty good offensive big man in 6'11" sophomore Jorge Brian Diaz, who has scored in double-digits in three consecutive games. Nebraska is 4-2 with a couple of decent wins (USC, Hofstra) and two quality losses (Vanderbilt, Davidson). A telling stretch is upcoming for Nebraska: they play nine consecutive home games, against Creighton, TCU, Iowa State and six cupcakes. If Nebraska is truly improved as a team then they should win at least eight of those nine games. If they can achieve that then they'll be 12-3 heading into Big 12 play with some real hope of going 8-8 in the Big 12 and sneaking into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than a decade.

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