Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Butler And Vanderbilt Go Down While Cleveland State Gains Confidence

I already apologized on twitter for the fact that I'm going to be intermittent with posting this week, since I'm out of town with internet access only from time to time. I'll try not to fall too far behind... For the time being, I want to catch up on a few games from over the weekend:

Evansville 80, Butler 77, OT
This was just a brutal, brutal loss for Butler, in more ways than one. Andrew Smith thought he had won the game in regulation with a buzzer-beating shot, but even though the clock stopped with 0.2 seconds left it had actually stopped when he was fouled, and the refs ruled that his shot actually left his hand after the buzzer. That meant that even though he made the basket, he had to take two free throws... which he missed, sending the game into overtime. Ryan Colt took over for Evansville down the stretch, scoring 9 of their final 14 points. The biggest thing that stood out to me in this game was how sloppy Butler was, in all aspects of the game. They committed 18 turnovers and 29 fouls. And Khyle Marshall, who broke out in last year's NCAA Tournament and was the best rebounder out of all 68 teams over those three weeks, had an incredibly disappointing 6 points, 4 rebounds and 4 fouls.

The thing to wonder with Butler is whether 2011/12 is going to be a repeat of 2010/11. Last season Butler struggled mightily against inferior opponents, losing to Youngstown State, Wright State, UW-Milwaukee (twice) and, yes, Evansville. It just seemed like they couldn't get motivated for lower-tiered opponents after playing in the National Title game. But all season long they brought it against the big time opponents, beating Florida State, Washington State, Cleveland State (three times) and nearly beating Xavier. Is this going to be a repeat? Butler fans may hope so, but they might also prefer it if they don't have to sweat out the Horizon League tournament. As for Evansville, the question is now what this win means. Did Butler just give this game away with their slop, or was there something to this Evansville defense that means we should pay attention to their chances in the Missouri Valley? I'll be curious to see how they perform Wednesday against Indiana. Butler should crush Chattanooga before playing Louisville on Saturday afternoon. Louisville is a wounded team right now, and they're eminently beatable. But which Butler team shows up?

Cleveland State 71, #7 Vanderbilt 58
Do-everything star Norris Cole is gone, but Cleveland State does return plenty of experience this season, and they're no pushover. Vanderbilt found this out here, where they just got flat-out beat. And what makes this loss particularly bizarre for Vanderbilt is that they didn't get beat the way you might think. With Festus Ezeli out, you'd figure Vandy would struggle on the boards, but Steve Tchiengang was fine (5 points and 10 rebounds, including 6 offensive boards) and they won the rebounding battle. It was actually the backcourt that got beat, with the Cleveland State defense (particularly D'Aundray Brown) causing all sorts of trouble. Cleveland State actually had 15 steals. Vandy stars Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins combined for 8-for-22 shooting (including 3-for-11 on threes), 1 assist and 9 turnovers.

With this loss coming right off a close win over a very mediocre Oregon team, there are all sorts of questions about where this Vanderbilt team stands. Ezeli might not be back for six weeks or more, so they can't just sit around waiting for him. They next play a feisty Bucknell team Tuesday night, followed by a game Saturday against NC State as part of the Legends Classic. Cleveland State's next Division I opponent is St. Bonaventure on Friday, followed by a road game at Kent State on Tuesday. I projected preseason that Cleveland State was the second best team in the Horizon, behind just Butler. I wouldn't change those positions yet, but after this win and Butler's disappointing loss to Evansville, Cleveland State can only be feeling more confident about their chances of winning a Horizon league title.

Northern Iowa 63, Old Dominion 46
It's been an impressive string of results to start the season for the Missouri Valley. Missouri State whooped all over Nevada, Evansville beat Butler, Northern Iowa rocked Old Dominion... and that doesn't even include Creighton, the unquestioned preseason favorite. It's been a struggle the past few years for this conference, which had so much success in the first half of the last decade. Are they going to get back to being a multi-bid league? It's too early to tell, but the early reviews are excellent.

Northern Iowa was actually my pick to finish second in the Missouri Valley this season, and while Old Dominion isn't going to be as good as they've been the past two seasons, this should at the very least end up an RPI Top 100 victory. Northern Iowa now heads into a deceptively difficult schedule. They don't play any glamor teams, but they have a bunch of quality opponents that will all pose tough tests (Saint Mary's, Iowa State, Iowa, Providence, Colorado State and UW-Milwaukee). If they can somehow navigate through that with only one or two losses, they'll have pretty good computer numbers heading into the Missouri Valley regular season. As for Old Dominion, I wasn't expecting a ton from them this season, but this loss was disappointing nonetheless. Their next decent opponent will not be until November 23rd, when they play Vermont.

1 comment:

Ken Miller said...

The Vanderbilt loss may seem puzzling from the Commodore perspective, but from the Cleveland State side it makes a bit more sense. CSU has been an absolutely terrible rebounding team for several years. I wouldn't expect them to out-rebound anyone in Division I. A big part of their game ever since Coach Gary Waters arrived has been steals, so they will often have a lot of them in the box score.

The surprise is that it all actually worked and CSU could win on that floor. You are still right on the money with CSU at second place in the Horizon, though. Opportunistic scores off steals and bad rebounding is an ineffective combination against disciplined teams like Butler.