Monday, November 21, 2011

Alabama Outlasts Purdue To Win Puerto Rico

#15 Alabama 65, Purdue 56
Alabama blew this game open with a 10-1 run midway through the second half. It took a 7-1 run by Purdue in the final 75 seconds of the game to make the final score more respectable. The reality was that while the outcome of this game was in doubt, Purdue could do nothing against the Alabama defense. Purdue was held to a 39.5 eFG%, and it wasn't due to bad shooting - they just couldn't get an open shot. Florida State has been the top defense in the land the past few years, and I'll continue considering them the top defense until the sample sizes on this season get larger, but Alabama has as good of a shot as any team at dethroning them. They're vicious and aggressive, and make every opponent uncomfortable. Alabama's offense looks a little better than last season also, and that's why they're now a contender atop the SEC. Kentucky is still the clear favorite, but Alabama has looked as good as Florida and Vanderbilt have so far.

Purdue didn't play their best here, but they probably won't see another defense that presses them like this again all season. They're still finding their way offensively with so much roster turnover, so it's to be expected that they'd struggle a little bit early on. They did get to leave Puerto Rico with quality wins over Temple and Iona, also. They head home to play Western Michigan on Wednesday. Their next true test will probably be a road game on December 3rd at Xavier. Alabama is 5-0 and heads home with victories over Purdue, Wichita State and Maryland. They get Alabama A&M next, and then VCU before a game against Georgetown on December 1st.

Northwestern 80, Seton Hall 73
Northwestern won the Charleston Classic with the victory here, and while that's nice enough, what's even more encouraging is how they won it. John Shurna was able to take a step back and be more of a role player (19 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks), allowing his teammates to take a lot of the initiative against a quality opponent. They didn't need Shurna to carry the team with 37 points, like he did when they struggled with LSU in the quarterfinals of this tournament. This tournament win is also important for Northwestern's hopes of finally breaking through and making the NCAA Tournament. They only have two more non-conference games remaining against likely RPI Top 100 teams (Baylor and Creighton), with one more opponent that might sneak in to that Top 100 (Georgia Tech). Northwestern's lack of big time non-conference wins has saddled their resume the past few seasons, and so beating the quality teams they do play is key.

As for Seton Hall, they have a huge depth problem. Kevin Willard originally inherited an older team, and was depending heavily on a 2011 recruiting class that hasn't really paid off yet. Kevin Johnson was ruled academically ineligible, and Freddie Wilson has been so shaky at point guard so far that he didn't even get on the floor in this game (he has zero points and two assists in 22 minutes in four games so far). Willard went with a hard six man rotation in this game. The rest of the team outside those six players combined for seven minutes and zero points, zero rebounds, zero assists, zero blocks, zero shots taken and zero assists. Not good.

Northwestern, now 4-0, will play Stony Brook on Friday. Their next game will be against Georgia Tech, on November 29th. Seton Hall, despite their struggles, should be fairly heavy favorites for their next few games (Yale, St. Peter's, Auburn, NJIT, Wake Forest and Mercer). There's a good chance that they'll win all six games, despite their depth problems.

#19 Marquette 96, Ole Miss 66
This game was never close, though in Mississippi's defense, it would have been closer if they could have hit a shot. Marquette had a 60.6 eFG%, compared to a 34.0 eFG% for the Rebels. Jae Crowder gives Marquette more of an offensive paint presence than last season, and that opened things up outside for their array of quality shooters. But as I said, in Mississippi's defense, the score is a bit deceptive. Marquette isn't that much better than them. What this game does do is it sets up a bizarre rematch between Marquette and Norfolk State for the Paradise Jam title. These two teams played just a week ago, and Marquette won by 31. I don't think anybody considered the possibility these two teams could end up playing each other in this tournament when planning that game last week.

Ole Miss just got steamrolled here. There's not much you can say about a game like this. They actually took 26 more shots from the field than Marquette... not that those shots did them a lot of good. They'll have to treat this game as a learning experience, and will have to move on this evening in the third place game against TCU. They'll then head home to play the University of Miami on Friday.

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