Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Memphis Over Tennessee In A 2OT Thriller

#8 Memphis 99, Tennessee 97, 2OT
This was the game of the day. I warned you yesterday that this would be a fun one. Will Barton led Memphis with 25 points and 11 rebounds, and the Tigers also got a nice performance off the bench from his brother, Antonio, who had 21 points and 6 rebounds. Star freshman Adonis Thomas also had the best game of his young collegiate career (19 points on 7-for-10 shooting). For Tennessee the star was Jeronne Maymon, who was an attitude and behavior problem at Marquette, but has really come alive at Tennessee. He's gotten himself into incredibly physical condition and exploded for 32 points (including 16-for-17 at the free throw line) and 20 rebounds. Maymon has always been a good rebounder and defender, but this offensive spark he's brought this season can really open things up for the Vols.

I'm still not quite sure what to make of Memphis. They look to still not really know what to do on offense, and are again resorting to one-on-one play, but their turnover numbers have been low and they're shooting very well. Most likely that shooting will eventually cool off, but I'm not as sure about the turnovers. Michigan was able to shut Memphis down yesterday, but they were particularly experienced at running the zone and shutting down driving lanes, and I'm not sure anybody in Conference USA can replicate that. I don't think Memphis has earned that #8 next to their name yet, but they do look like clearly the class of their conference, at the very least. Memphis will play Georgetown tomorrow. They do have a few potentially tricky games coming up, particularly a game against Murray State on December 11th.

Tennessee will leave Maui with nothing but moral victories. They played both Duke and Memphis very close, but came up short in both. They'll be stuck playing Chaminade tomorrow. Despite having nothing to show for their resume, I was encouraged with how Tennessee played. They're better than I thought they'd be in Year 1 of the Cuonzo Martin Era. I'll be very curious to see how they play on December 3rd when Pittsburgh comes to Knoxville for a game.

Georgia 61, Notre Dame 57
Notre Dame got a nice performance from Jerian Grant (20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists), who is rapidly turning into a nice perimeter weapon for Notre Dame (double-digit scoring in five of six games so far this season), but they were just outshot by a Georgia team that was uncharacteristically hot from behind the arc. After shooting 23.3% this season on threes coming into this game, Georgia shot 12-for-26 (46.2%) on threes in this game. To put that number in perspective, it was better than they shot on twos (40%) or even free throws (45.5%).

With this loss and the 29 point thumping at the hands of Missouri, the CBE Classic has been brutal for the Irish. Everybody knew the team would take a step back this season, but they aren't even playing like a Tournament team at this point. Even their six point win over Detroit is being devalued by the day as Detroit struggles without Eli Holman. The Irish will come home to play Bryant on Sunday, which is a game they should win easily. After that they head to Gonzaga and then Maryland.

Georgia has been playing a bit better than expected to begin this season, and a big reason is that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been better than expected. Caldwell-Pope was the top recruit in Mark Fox's 2011 recruiting class, but he wasn't that highly rated when he signed (his top offers were Xavier, Virginia Tech, Indiana, Tennessee and Cincinnati). But he's been an immediate impact, scoring in double-digits in every single game this season. Georgia's upcoming schedule is pretty brutal, though. They don't play another cupcake for almost a month. First up is a true road game at Xavier on Friday.

Illinois State 76, Rutgers 70
Illinois State was the more aggressive team, and it paid off with a big win here in Cancun. They attacked the rim over and over again, earning 38 free throw attempts to 18 for Rutgers. And with those 20 extra free throw attempts, they had 20 more free throw makes, which was far more than the eventual margin of victory. Their leading scorer for the season, Jackie Carmichael, fouled out with only six points, but John Wilkins picked up the slack with 18. The Missouri Valley Conference has been playing so well in the early going this season that, after a loss to Fresno State, it started to look like Illinois State might get left behind. This win helps get them back on the right track. Tomorrow night Illinois State will play the winner of the Illinois/Richmond game going on right now. After that they have a couple of cupcakes before playing UNC-Wilmington on December 3rd.

From the Rutgers perspective, this is yet another disappointing performance, after a loss to the University of Miami and only a six point victory over Dartmouth. The silver lining perspective on this is that Rutgers is a young team that is learning how to deal with expectations. And since there was never much chance Rutgers could actually make the NCAA Tournament this season, these early season struggles don't even really matter. If the players can learn from their mistakes and improve their play it could mean some nice victories in Big East play. To me, this season for Rutgers needs to be judged on how many Big East games they can win, and if they can finally pull themselves out of the cellar and into the middle of the pack. The Scarlet Knights next play the loser of the Richmond/Illinois game. They also have games looming against Florida, LSU and Princeton before starting Big East play.

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