Thursday, November 24, 2011

Harvard Meets Expectations In Dominant Win Over Utah

Harvard 75, Utah 47
This isn't your father's Ivy League team. Ivy League teams have certainly had success in the relatively recent past. Those Princeton teams in the late 1990s under Bill Carmody were borderline Top 25 teams for a couple of years. But those teams were running the Princeton offense, and fit the stereotype of a bunch of nonathletic white kids using backdoor passes to get by more talented opponents. That is not what this Harvard team has been under Tommy Amaker. He's been bringing in tremendous athletes and talents, and his recruiting classes have been better and better each year. They play like a major conference team with major conference athleticism, and they just blew Utah off the court here. They actually led by 29 points at one point in the first half.

Utah, of course, is not good this season. They're probably going to be the worst team in the Pac-12, although there are some other bad teams that could contend for the cellar (Colorado is probably the most likely to steal the cellar from the Utes). Utah is now 0-3 against Division I opponents this season, and will try to get their first win tomorrow against UMass. Their final game in the Bahamas will be against either College of Charleston or UNC-Asheville. They should have a decent shot against both UMass and UNC-Asheville, should they get the chance. I would think Utah would be a clear underdog against Charleston.

Harvard moves to the semifinals in the Bahamas, where they'll play Florida State. As athletic as Harvard is, they're not as athletic as Florida State. It would be incredibly impressive if they could somehow pull off that upset. Their final game in the Bahamas will be against either UConn or Central Florida.

Minnesota 86, DePaul 85
I don't think a loss here would have been quite as big of an upset as it would have been between these two teams last season, but it still would have been pretty bad for Minnesota. And the Gophers came out asleep in this game, falling behind by double digits in the first half and trailing for most of the first 30 minutes of this game. They finally tied it back up with eight minutes to go, and held a small lead for most of the rest of the way. Rodney Williams put the team up three by putting back an offensive rebound with 13 seconds to go, and DePaul's Moses Morgan missed a potential game-tying three (Krys Faber got a meaningless basket off the missed three at the buzzer to give the final margin of one point).

There are a few reasons not to panic for Minnesota. Trevor Mbakwe is a beast, and the team has upgraded at the point guard position since late last season, when they didn't even really have one. They have some quality wins this season (a ten point win over a Fairfield and a 12 point win over Bucknell both look pretty good), and this was just a bad day. Besides, DePaul isn't as bad as they were last year. I do think Minnesota is the best team in the Old Spice Classic, particularly since I think Fairfield is the best team in the tournament other than Minnesota, and they've already lost to the Golden Gophers by 12. If Minnesota can play better tomorrow they should get by Indiana State. If they do then they'll play in the finals against either Dayton or Fairfield.

DePaul, as I said, does look to be a little better than last season. They're still a long way from being competitive in the Big East, but Oliver Purnell has them going in the right direction. I don't think they'll go 1-17 in the Big East again this season. They will next play Texas Tech in the Consolation Bracket. Their final game in Orlando will be against either Arizona State or Wake Forest. Despite the names and histories of past successes, the reality is that neither Texas Tech, Arizona State or Wake Forest is going to be any good this season. I'll be surprised if any of them end up as Top 100 teams this season. So DePaul has to feel like anything less than a split in these two games will be a disappointment.

Dayton 80, Wake Forest 76
Believe it or not, this was an encouraging result for Wake Forest. They were truly awful last season, finishing 251st in Pomeroy and 242nd in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. That made them the worst ACC team in more than a decade. Jeff Bzdelik has had to get rid of some bad characters, and does seem to have the program moving in the right direction, even if they're still very short on talent of any kind. At the very least, I doubt they'll finish 250th in the computer ratings again this year. Nearly beating Dayton, particularly when the game was legitimately close (as opposed to just some hot shooting performance from Wake Forest), will be encouraging as they get ready to play Arizona State tomorrow. Arizona State is in total rebuilding mode as well, and will be vulnerable. Wake Forest will play their final game in Orlando on Sunday, against either DePaul or Texas Tech.

This result is yet another warning sign for Dayton under brand new coach Archie Miller (who looks like he's about 16 years old, by the way). Losing to Miami-Ohio and then nearly falling to Wake Forest is not what at-large quality teams do. They certainly look to be a step below the Xavier/Temple/Saint Louis trio atop the Atlantic Ten. They will have a chance to bounce back tomorrow against Fairfield. Their final game in Orlando will be on Sunday, against either Minnesota or Indiana State.

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