Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Georgetown Beats Memphis, Denver Upsets Saint Mary's

Georgetown 91, #8 Memphis 88, OT
This game was closer than I thought it would be. I think that three games in three days was slowing Georgetown down defensively, as too often they allowed Memphis to get hoops in transition. When slowed into a halfcourt offense, Memphis struggled to score. Will Barton and Joe Jackson are the Memphis players most capable of attacking in transition, and they both scored 20+ here. For Georgetown the star was Henry Sims, who is looking far better than he was last season. He finished with 24 points (on 10-for-17 shooting), 8 rebounds and 5 steals. After only scoring 208 points in his first three seasons in the program, and is now averaging 13.4 per game this season. With Hollis Thompson and Nate Lubick already established as quality frontcourt players, Sims gives Georgetown a fairly formidable front line. Certainly in this game they made up for the backcourt disadvantage.

I think the Maui Invitational has to be considered a success for Georgetown, and a learning experience for Memphis. With a win over Memphis and only a four point loss to Kansas, Georgetown proved that they're better than most people thought. As always, JTIII has great passers, solid defense, forwards that know how to play facing the basket, and guards that can torch opponents with cuts and screens. Georgetown now heads home to play IUPUI on Monday, and then they head on the road to play Alabama on December 1st.

Memphis finishes Maui with a narrow victory over Tennessee along with close losses to Michigan and Georgetown. I'm sure they would have hoped to have played better, but they're so young and raw. These close games against elite teams will do them a world of good. They now get some time to go home to practice what they learned. Their next game will be on Monday against Jackson State, and then they'll play Austin Peay.

Denver 70, Saint Mary's 58
Without any television coverage, and with this game competing for attention with all of the Thanksgiving week tournaments, this game might as well have happened on the moon. And maybe it was the elevation, maybe it was thinking about Thanksgiving.... but Saint Mary's just didn't play well at all. They put no pressure at all on a Denver team that finished with just six turnovers, and 17 assists on 22 made baskets. Denver also shot 50% behind the arc and forced nine steals.

It's worth asking whether Denver might actually be a pretty good team this season. They are coached by Joe Scott, who was formerly the head coach at Princeton and Air Force, and his team returns every starter from a team that went 9-7 in the Sun Belt last season. They had already beaten Southern Miss earlier this season, and even before this game their Pomeroy rating was 150th and their Sagarin PREDICTOR was 142nd. That will obviously climb even higher. Back in April I picked Denver as one of the teams that I thought would contend in the Sun Belt, but they're beyond my expectations already. Florida Atlantic is still my pick to win the conference, but Denver is unquestionably in that debate.

Saint Mary's certainly has to hope that Denver is better than most people thought, because an RPI 100+ loss could be a big hindrance down the road if the Gaels end up on the Bubble. But Saint Mary's was just coming off a 16 point thumping of Northern Iowa, so there's no reason to panic because of one bad game. If there's one worry for them it's depth. Rob Jones and Matthew Dellavedova were supposed to be stars this season, but they're not getting a lot of help from their teammates. Those two combined for 41 of their team's 58 points here. The Gaels will go home to lick their wounds with a series of cupcakes. Their next competitive game probably won't be until they play Baylor on December 22nd.

Long Beach State 72, Boise State 62
I wanted to talk briefly about one final game from late last night. This game was actually more of a blowout than the final score would indicate. Long Beach State took a double-digit lead ten minutes into this game, and the lead then vacillated between around ten and twenty points the rest of the night. What was particularly interesting to me was that this game, a quality win for Long Beach State, was won despite star Casper Ware taking a backseat. Ware only had five points and two assists. Instead, this was about a Long Beach State defense that held Boise State to a 38.8 eFG% and 0.91 PPP. Remember that Boise State is no pushover - they came into this game 3-0 with a 21 point victory over Utah.

Long Beach State remains a long shot for an at-large bid, but there's no question that they're going to be a team that will scare their NCAA Tournament opponent(s). Their brutal schedule continues, with a road game at Montana up next, on Saturday. After that they head to Louisville for a game on Monday. As for Boise State, this isn't a bad loss (Long Beach State will likely be an RPI Top 100 team). But with that 21 point victory over Utah looking worse ever since the Utes fell to Montana State, Boise State could use another quality victory. They play Northern Illinois on Saturday, but then face a pair of Missouri Valley opponents - Drake and then Indiana State. Wins in those two games will really elevate a Boise State team looking to make a good impression in their first season in the Mountain West.

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