Friday, November 11, 2011

North Carolina Beats Michigan State, UConn Begins Title Defense

#1 North Carolina 67, Michigan State 55
Everybody was looking forward to this game, played on top of an aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson. The teams shot a combined 6-for-32 behind the arc, but that's about what I expected. There's no way to expect good outside shooting outside in the elements. And so the difference in this game was the fact that North Carolina was able to attack the rim on offense while Michigan State couldn't. The Tar Heels earned ten more free throws than Sparty, while taking eight fewer three-pointers. The one area where Michigan State impressed was on the boards, where they just manhandled UNC (a 43.2 OR% to 20.7%). North Carolina has as much size as any college team in recent memory (they had 11 blocks in this game), so it's all a question of execution and attitude.

I'm not sure there's a whole lot to get out of this game going forward. This will go down as a quality win for North Carolina and a missed opportunity for Michigan State, of course, but we didn't learn much else. Is UNC as good as we think they are? We might not know for a few more weeks. Their next quality opponent will be South Carolina, on November 25th. Five days later they play Wisconsin, and then head to Rupp Arena for Kentucky. Michigan State is heading right back out on Tuesday night against Duke.

#4 UConn 70, Columbia 57
If I see one more person in the media make a comment about "a Lamb among Lions" I'm going to throw something. You're not clever. That said, Jeremy Lamb was who I thought he was. I expected him to be UConn's go-to scorer this year, and to be in the running for Big East Player of the Year. And he dominated here, pouring in 30 points on 11-for-17 shooting. UConn also dominated this game physically, with 13 blocks to zero for Columbia. That said, you had to admire the hustle from the Lions, forcing 11 steals and bringing down 16 offensive rebounds. If Columbia could have hit a few outside shots they might have actually made a game of this.

I'm not sure we learned a whole lot about UConn here. They were out-hustled by Columbia, but it's not unusual for elite teams to get out-hustled by inferior opponents. Unfortunately, it'll be a couple of weeks before UConn actually plays a quality opponent, when they head to Bahamas during the week of Thanksgiving. As for Columbia, this is an encouraging performance for them to build on. They next play Furman on Monday night.

Rutgers 62, Dartmouth 56
This was an underwhelming performance from Rutgers, to say the least. I'm not the only person who thinks Rutgers is a sleeper this season. I don't expect them to make the NCAA Tournament yet, but I do think they have a chance to win seven or eight Big East games this season. They'll have to play better than this to achieve that, of course. Dartmouth is simply a bad team, and Rutgers should have wiped the floor with them. Rutgers was just sloppy - 16 turnovers to only 9 assists. If Dartmouth had an effective field goal percentage over 40% they might have won this game.

It's never fair to judge teams too harshly for mediocre performances against cupcakes in early November. Rutgers gets a better test on Tuesday when they'll play Miami. The Hurricanes are a weak team this year, and Rutgers should win if they play to their potential. Dartmouth next plays Wednesday night against Vermont.

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