Thursday, November 25, 2010

UConn Continues Its Amazing Run

UConn 84, #9 Kentucky 67
At some point when a team wins enough games in a row it stops being a fluke. Kemba Walker went for 29 points, and of course was the most impressive player at the Maui Invitational. But lost in this remarkable UConn run is the fact that Alex Oriakhi has completely taken off after a very quiet freshman season. He had his third double-double of the season, following up a 15 point, 17 rebound game against Michigan State with an 18 point, 11 rebound game against Kentucky. You can't be successful at basketball with only one good player, which is why Oriakhi has been nearly as important as Walker so far this season. But at this point, I do want to say that we should cool down the UConn hype. Let's not forget that they barely survived Wichita State in the first round in Maui, and they also struggled a bit with Vermont before that. These wins over Michigan State and Kentucky give their resume a tremendous boost, but I'll be very curious to see how this play carries over to the Big East, particularly considering how soft their schedule is before Big East play begins, meaning that they'll enter conference play very likely with an undefeated record and a ton of confidence. As for Kentucky, they didn't play too badly here. They did a better job of taking care of the ball and the boards, and they are passing the ball better. They do leave Maui with a quality win over Washington, and they can now turn their attention to what should be an interesting game at Chapel Hill on December 4th.

#7 Villanova 82, UCLA 70
Villanova is again a streaky offensive team. When they are struggling they shoot a lot of long jump shots, but when they start scoring they tend to score a whole bunch in a row. Villanova was on fire in this first half here, opening up a 15 point lead, but UCLA got it down to around eight points for much of the latter part of the game and just were unable to complete their comeback. When the shots weren't falling (and they went something like seven minutes in the second half without a field goal) the points came from Corey Fisher, who did a very good job of attacking the basket and getting to the line. They ended up taking and making ten more free throws as a team than UCLA, which was effectively the difference in the game. As for UCLA, they were surely excited to get Malcolm Lee back from his minor injury, and I was also impressed with Reeves Nelson, who seems a lot more athletic than he was last season. UCLA is actually probably the second most talented team in the Pac-10, although they're still very young and at this point are nothing more than a sleeper team. This was Villanova's first legitimate opponent this season, and they will now play Tennessee on Friday in the NIT final. After that they really shouldn't be too tested until they play Temple on December 30th. I'm not sure why Jay Wright wanted such an easy schedule - we've seen so many teams in recent years get punished by the Selection Committee for this. As for UCLA, they should be encouraged by this strong play against a Top Ten ranked team, but have to be careful of a dangerous VCU team in the NIT third-placed game on Friday. They will then head to Kansas for a game on December 2nd, but then shouldn't be tested too badly (other than a home game against BYU) before beginning Pac-10 play.

Utah State 79, Utah 62
The difference in this game was one word: aggression. Utah State earned 39 free throws, and Utah earned 13. The Aggies earned 22 more points at the stripe, more than making up the entire score differential over the Utes. Taj Wesley (21 points, 8 rebounds) had yet another big game for Utah State - with so many post players gone from the WAC he's going to eat that conference alive. A more surprising Utah State star here was Brady Jardine, who had only scored 20 points total in his first three games this season before scoring 20 tonight - 8 of them at the line. Utah State has now gone 3-1 in their Beehive State round robin (BYU, Weber State, Utah, Southern Utah), and now has a few dangerous games ahead before WAC play begins (Northeastern, Georgetown, Long Beach State). They can lose the Georgetown game if they can win the others, avoid bad losses, and dominate the WAC. Although as down as the WAC is this year, I'll be shocked if Utah State doesn't get the auto bid, so they shouldn't need an at-large. For Utah, the prime concern is guard play. The team combined for 14 turnovers to only 7 assists, and obviously was completely unable to get to the free throw line. They're strong defensively as a team, but they're not big enough to make a run at an at-large bid without very strong offensive guard play. Utah is now 3-1, without any big wins, and we'll learn a lot about them over the next couple of weeks when they play Oral Roberts, Fresno State, Bradley, Pepperdine, Michigan and Boise State. A Tournament team should win at least five of those six games.

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