Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Another Mid-Major To Watch? Oakland Beats Tennessee

Oakland 89, Tennessee 81
This game is why top teams typically don't schedule true road games against quality mid-majors. Tennessee had played fairly well in Maui, though they had lost their games to Duke and Memphis. They'd given great effort and just come up short. It was natural for them to lose a little bit of intensity against a team from the Summit League, but this was no pushover team. Oakland lost star Keith Benson from last year's team, but they still return several key cogs from that team (which beat Tennessee, giving them the confidence to do it again). The key returner was Reggie Hamilton, who led all scorers here with 35 points (including 15-for-15 at the free throw line), but they've got plenty of other talent. Heck, Laval Lucas-Perry (who played 20 minutes per game in two seasons at Michigan) has to come off the bench.

This is the best win Oakland has had this season. They are my favorites to win the Summit, and have been all season long. They're not at the Harvard/Iona/Belmont level, but they'll be a dangerous NCAA Tournament opponent. They have a couple of soft opponents coming up next, starting with a game against South Dakota on Thursday. Their next potentially tough opponent will be December 7th against Ohio.

As for Tennessee, they have played tough so far for Cuonzo Martin, but they're now 3-3, including 0-3 against teams in the Sagarin or Pomeroy Top 250. They've got a big game coming up on Saturday against Pittsburgh. After that they'll have a week off before playing Austin Peay before playing yet another true road game against a quality mid-major (College of Charleston).

#11 Xavier 82, Vanderbilt 72, OT
Xavier trailed by as much as ten in the second half, but Vanderbilt just has not been steady enough this year. Being without Festus Ezeli is a big problem, of course, and they'll be very excited to have him back... but you really can't blame Vandy's struggles this season on that alone. First, their perimeter defense has been brutal. Having Ezeli to wipe out perimeter mistakes will help, but Vanderbilt simply can't allow themselves to get gashed that way. Second, their lack of a point guard prevents the whole team from getting involved on offensive possessions. Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins are both excellent scorers, but the Vanderbilt offense can't just be those two making their own shots while the other three players stand around watching (the two combined for 29 shots taken and 2 assists). The lack of consistent point guard play has led to a lot of turnovers as well, including a turnover rate of 20% or higher in five of their seven games, including this one.

Tu Holloway led all scorers with 24 points, but he was relatively inefficient (6-for-20 shooting). Instead, this game was about Xavier's rebounding (Andre Walker led the way with 14 of them). Xavier dominated with an offensive rebounding percentage of 47.6%, compared to 22.2% for Vanderbilt. This win follows a win over Georgia, and pushes Xavier to 5-0. They have a tough schedule upcoming that could really push them to the top of the Atlantic Ten pecking order. It begins with Purdue on Saturday, and then a road game at Butler on December 7th.

Vanderbilt falls to 5-2 with this loss and a loss to Cleveland State. They have wins over Oregon, Oregon State and NC State, though none of them have been in dominant fashion. Eventually getting Ezeli back will do a lot for their defense, but they still need to clean things up on offense to contend at the top of the SEC considering how good Kentucky, Florida and Alabama have looked. Their next game will be on the road at Louisville on Friday.

Colorado 70, Georgia 68
Georgia jumped out to a quick 26-14 lead, and actually hit six of their first eight three-point attempts. But the hot shooting was not to last, and their offense really fell apart in the second half. They scored a grand total of one point in the first 7:25 of the second half. But the story of this game was Andre Roberson (15 points and 15 rebounds) and true freshman Askia Booker (14 points and 4 rebounds), who had the best game of his young college career.

This is a very young Colorado team that is building for the future, and a win like this will help build their confidence. This is their first win of the season against a team likely to finish in the RPI Top 100. They already have losses to Maryland and Wichita State. Their next game will be tomorrow night at Colorado State.

This is a game that Georgia will want to have won, but it's not a terrible loss. Colorado isn't that bad, and remember that it's always tough to win on the road at altitude if you're not used to it. The problem for Georgia is that they're still looking for a quality win. They did beat Notre Dame by four points, but it's unclear whether that will end up being a good win after the Tim Abromaitis injury. The Bulldogs will try to collect a nice win on Friday against Cincinnati. Their next game after that will be against Georgia Tech.

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