Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gonzaga Beats Wazzu, Nebraska Beats USC

#23 Gonzaga 89, Washington State 81
Kevin Pangos was a fairly highly touted 2011 recruit, though he certainly was no superstar. Neither Scout.com or Rivals.com even had him ranked (both had him as a 3-star recruit, though ESPN had him as a 4-star). But it took him only two games to welcome himself as an immediate favorite at Gonzaga, exploding for 33 points on 9-for-13 shooting behind the arc (as well as 6-for-6 at the line). While Washington State is being criticized for their defensive effort, sometimes there's just nothing you can do about a guy like that. Sometimes a guy just catches fire. Wazzu's perimeter defense, other than on Pangos, was actually pretty good. They struggled more in the paint, though most teams are going to struggle with Robert Sacre and Sam Dower. One of the interesting observations of Gonzaga was that freshman Gary Bell came off the bench and outplayed both Marquise Carter and David Stockton. While those latter two were fine last season, they weren't great either, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a starting backcourt soon of Bell and Pangos.

That said, it's hard to win at the highest levels of college ball when your two best guards are true freshmen, and Gonzaga did need a ridiculous shooting performance from Pangos to escape with a win. And this win comes right on the heels of an eight point victory over Eastern Washington. So while this is a nice win, I think the jury is definitely still out on this Gonzaga team. They play Hawaii on Saturday, but their schedule doesn't really get tougher until after Thanksgiving. A three week stretch beginning on November 30th includes games against Butler, Michigan State, Illinois, Notre Dame and Arizona. That will be the stretch that will potentially have more say on Gonzaga's eventual NCAA Tournament seed than, arguably, their conference schedule. Washington State plays Sacramento State on Thursday, then heads to Portland on Sunday. After that they head off for the 76 Classic, where they open up with Oklahoma on Thanksgiving, and will play either New Mexico or Santa Clara in the next round.

Nebraska 64, USC 61, 2OT
This was an ugly, ugly game. Nebraska had as many turnovers (19) as made field goals, and somehow won this game. The reason? USC just couldn't hit a shot, from anywhere. They finished 30.4% on threes, 35.0% on twos, and 54.5% at the line. USC also only had eight assists in the full 50 minutes. I think the Trojans are really missing Jio Fontan, who did such a great job of creating offense in the latter half of last season. None of the USC point guards played well in this game, though we're obviously still very early in the season.

As ugly as this was, the reality is that this is the type of win that can matter on Selection Sunday. A loss to USC probably would end up being a "bad" loss, as there's a pretty good chance that USC will end up outside the RPI Top 100. It's amazing how a few plays in a random game in early November can have that kind of impact, but that's the kind of scrutiny that the final few teams on the Bubble face on Selection Sunday. Nebraska is certainly a candidate to be one of those teams. Nebraska's next game is Sunday against a Rhode Island team that has been feisty in its first two games, and then they play Oregon, a team that nearly beat Vanderbilt. A win in both games would really set them on the right path toward an at-large bid. As for USC, while I don't think they're going to be particularly good this season, they'll have plenty of chances to prove me wrong before Pac-12 play begins. They head to San Diego State on Thursday, and also have games ahead against UNLV, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico and others.

UNLV 71, Nevada 67
Nevada came out trying to prove that the 22 point thumping against Missouri State was a fluke, and they proved that to an extent. They're clearly athletically capable of hanging with an elite team like UNLV on the road. But they just take bad shots, and that's something that has to improve. Dario Hunt, in particular, needs to learn to distribute the ball when his shots aren't falling. He finished 6-for-20 from the field while collecting only one assist and earning only five free throws. Chucking up long shots and missing them doesn't do any good. One player that they really have to get going is Olek Czyz, who is a sharpshooter that finished with a 45% three-point percentage last season, but is a bizarre 0-for-7 from the field combined in the two games so far. He's on the floor to stand in the corner and shoot - get him the ball.

From UNLV's perspective, I think that the lack of depth appears to be a concern. Mike Moser was dominant, and we know that Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield will be strong players this season. The team also has to not rely on the three so much (they attempted 26 in this game, hitting only 7). That was a problem last season, where they would occasionally get hot behind the arc and have a great result, but more often would shoot themselves out of games by consistently chucking from deep instead of pushing the ball into the paint.

Nevada is a frustrating 0-2, and will try to bounce back Thursday against Pacific. Their next quality opponent will be BYU, on November 25th. UNLV, meanwhile, is a rather unimpressive 2-0. They play Canisius on Thursday, and their next quality game is also on November 25th, against USC.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff, i don´t understand why the teams are so inconsistent. For example South Carolina won for 25 points to W.Carolina and today lost with Elon, is this a joke or what. The team don´t wan´t to play? or you think that elon it is a better team that south carolina? I know that South carolina maybe will win one or few games in the sec but how lost to elon?

Jeff said...

There's always going to be variance in any sport. Some of it is mental attitude, but a lot of it is just randomness. A 40 minute basketball game is a small sample size - one player gets hot and hits five or six threes in a row and the game gets blown open.

If it were as simple as the better team always winning, Las Vegas wouldn't have such wealthy casinos.