Saturday, November 12, 2011

Duke Escapes Belmont While Utah State & George Mason Get Quality Wins

#6 Duke 77, Belmont 76
There are few things are irritating as mainstream media analysts acting like they're Nostradamus for making predictions that anybody with access to some computer ratings would have predicted. A classic example is when they "call an upset" by picking a team favored big in Vegas that just happened to be ranked lower in the Top 25 polls. And another example is every media member saying that they called Belmont as a "sleeper" heading into this season. The reality is that Belmont isn't even really a sleeper any longer. They finished last season 19th in the Pomeroy ratings. The only reason I only have them as a 9 seed in the BP68 is because their schedule is soft and they don't have any quality opponents at home. I don't think there's any question that Belmont is one of the 30 best teams in the nation.

The test for Duke here was going to be hanging onto the ball, which is always a test against a team like Belmont that is so aggressive defensively, and without a reliable returning point guard after the loss of both Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith. I think Duke handled it well enough. They turned the ball over 19 times, but it came on 74 possessions, and only 9 were steals (Belmont relies on getting a lot of points on fast breaks, and so offensive fouls and throws out of bounds aren't nearly as problematic against them as straight strips).

I thought Austin Rivers lived up to expectations so far. He only shot 3-for-9 from the field, but his first step is incredibly explosive. He's definitely for real. I was also impressed with the bulk that Ryan Kelly put on. The extra muscle plus his facial hair makes it look like he's aged 10 years since last season, when he looked 15. Now he looks like a man and plays like one, too - he'll be more than a jump shooter.

Duke may be overrated at 6th in the country, but the fact that they almost lost to Belmont is not evidence of that. Any win over Belmont is an impressive win. Let's see how they do Tuesday night against Michigan State. As for Belmont, they head out Tuesday night to play at Memphis - a game that is a great opportunity in more than one way. Memphis is flat out overrated at 9th in the country (they were 87th in Pomeroy last year - nowhere near as good as mainstream analysts thought). They're young and sloppy with the ball, and the jury's out on whether Memphis can score efficiently. Memphis had the worst offense in Conference USA last season and it was because they had no coherent system - it was a series of players trying to take their respective defender one-on-one. That won't fly against Belmont. Circle that game on your calendar, please.

George Mason 92, Rhode Island 90, OT
Paul Hewitt won his debut as George Mason coach, but not in impressive fashion. George Mason is a borderline Top 25 team, and they should not have struggled this badly at home against a rebuilding Rhode Island team. Ryan Pearson will be The Man for George Mason this year, and he held up his end of the deal (28 points on 11-for-22 shooting, along with 12 rebounds), but he didn't get a lot of help. I know George Mason fans are expecting big things from recruit Erik Copes (2 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks), and they'll be hoping that it's just taking him time to adjust to the new level of basketball. As for Rhode Island, where did Jamal Wilson come from? The senior scored 172 points in his first three seasons, but just exploded for 38 points on 22 shots from the field in this game. This is supposed to be a rebuilding season for Rhode Island, and they're still waiting for the spring semester, when their two important transfers will become eligible (Billy Baron and Andre Malone). Rhode Island might be better than I thought they were going to be.

George Mason should have no trouble Monday night against Florida International, but a road game at Florida Atlantic next Saturday could be trouble. FAU is a sleeper team this year and will beat George Mason if they don't come in well prepared and motivated. Rhode Island's upcoming schedule is pretty brutal. They head to Texas on Tuesday night, and then head to Nebraska the following Sunday.

Utah State 69, BYU 62
Utah State is always a tough opponent at home, and despite losing four starters (including star Taj Wesley), they looked solid here. The reason Utah State is good every year is because the next man always steps up. After the graduations, the three best returners were Brockeith Pane, Brady Jardine and Preston Medlin. Those three all scored in double-digits in this game, combining for 48 points on 16-for-30 shooting, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. BYU got Brandon Davies back, but he was rusty (4-for-10 shooting, 5 rebounds). The big concern for them coming into the season was trying to find a point guard, and so far they haven't found one. Brock Zylstra seemed to get most of the time at the point, but he finished with three assists and five turnovers.

Utah State's next game is a potentially dangerous one at Weber State, on Tuesday night. They won't play any true quality opponents, though, until December. BYU's next quality opponent will be the week of Thanksgiving when they play at the Chicago Invitational. They'll play Nevada on November 25th, and then either Wisconsin or Bradley the next day.

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