Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is California The Best Team In The Pac-12?

#18 California 70, Georgia 46
Georgia couldn't get their offense going at all. They finished with a 36.8 eFG% and twice as many turnovers as assists. They finished with 0.71 points per possession. With some early struggles for the other top Pac-12 teams (Washington and Arizona being the other two teams commonly picked as the preseason Pac-12 favorite), this performance is causing a lot of people to call California the clear frontrunner (here is an example). California might be the favorite (although I'm sticking with Arizona for now), but I don't think this game is definitive evidence one way or the other. As Mike Montgomery pointed out in his postgame interview, Georgia simply runs an extremely similar offense to California, and so Cal had an easy time knowing exactly what to do. Considering that Cal hasn't exactly been a defensive power the past few years (they were dead last in Pac-10 conference play last season in Pomeroy defensive efficiency), I need to see more before I believe that Cal really has an elite defense. And seeing as how this is their first game of the season against a team likely to finish in the RPI Top 100, I'd like to see more of Cal before I proclaim them more than just a contender in the Pac-12.

Cal's next game will be late tonight against Missouri in the CBE Classic title game. It will be an interesting match-up between Missouri's deep and aggressive backcourt (which just eviscerated Notre Dame's backcourt) and Cal's own strong guards (Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe, etc). Don't sleep on Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs either - he's been good off the bench so far this season. Cal's next quality opponent after Mizzou will be San Diego State, on December 4th.

Georgia had a lot of turnover this past offseason. Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes graduated, but more important was the fact that Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie left a year early for the NBA Draft. Other than Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware, most of the best players on Georgia are freshmen and sophomores. So while I wasn't expecting a whole lot out of Georgia this season, they should at least improve throughout the season as these young players develop and as Mark Fox figures out what he has and which lineups work best. Georgia will play tonight against Notre Dame in the CBE Classic's third place game. Their next Division I game will be Friday night at Xavier.

#14 Kansas 67, Georgetown 63
Georgetown did a nice job of playing zone and frustrating the Kansas offense at times, but Bill Self prepared Kansas well to beat that zone by passing the ball over the top of it. The Jayhawks did a lot of skip passes across the court, as well as lobs under the basket and for alley-oops. Also, the fact that Georgetown plays a slow, deliberate pace means that they're not going to put too much pressure on the shallow Jayhawks bench. Kentucky was able to push up and down the floor to wear Kansas out, but Georgetown doesn't really have that in their arsenal. It was a nice performance by Georgetown, nonetheless. Some slightly better shooting (7-for-24 behind the arc) would have led to an upset win.

Georgetown, unfortunately, gets stuck playing Chaminade next. That's always a no-win situation for high level Division I teams in Maui because a win won't help you and a loss will be a disaster. The Hoyas will just have to win to move on to play either Memphis or Tennessee in their final game. Kansas moves to the semifinals where they'll play a UCLA team that I doubt will put up much of a fight. Assuming Kansas wins they'll the get the winner of Michigan-Duke for the Maui title.

#22 Vanderbilt 64, Oregon State 62
Vanderbilt seemed to be threatening the entire second half to really open this game up, but Oregon State hung in there and actually took this game all the way down to the buzzer. Brad Tinsley hit the eventual game winner on a pretty jumper with 4.5 seconds to go. Jared Cunningham's desperation attempt at the buzzer missed, and Oregon State fell short of what would have been a tremendous two-game performance at the Legends Classic, having beaten Texas two days prior. More than anything, Oregon State hung in this game by forcing turnovers (22 of them) against a Vandy team that has been allowing far too many of them so far this season (turnovers on 20.8% of possessions overall). Vanderbilt has plenty of excellent wing players, but they don't have a true point guard.

That said, Vanderbilt is playing without Festus Ezeli and still is 4-1 with wins over NC State, Oregon State, Oregon and Bucknell, and only a loss to Cleveland State. Whenever Festus Ezeli comes back, I'm confident that they'll be a contender in the SEC. The most likely case is that Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama will finish 2-3-4 in the SEC in some order. Vanderbilt's schedule doesn't ease up, either. After playing Monmouth on Friday they will play Xavier on Tuesday. Their next game after that will be at Louisville.

Oregon State, after wins over Texas and Hofstra and a narrow two-point loss to Vanderbilt, is starting to get a lot of at-large buzz. I wouldn't put them in the bracket yet, particularly when you consider the fact that it's going to be difficult this year for the Pac-12 when you consider how weak that conference is (Oregon State looks to be no better than the fourth best team in a conference that probably won't get four teams into the Tournament), but they're off on the right track. The Beavers head to Towson on Saturday, but after that really just have a bunch of cupcakes before beginning Pac-12 play at Washington on December 29th. It's not the type of schedule Oregon State would have put together if they thought they were going to have this good of a shot at earning an at-large bid, honestly.

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