Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Does Long Beach State's Win Over Pitt Mean?

Long Beach State 86, #9 Pittsburgh 76
Those that follow college basketball closely already knew that Casper Ware was a star, but he had something of a national breakout game on television here in a great victory for Long Beach State over Pittsburgh. He scored 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting, and also added six assists. Long Beach State also did a really good job of hustling on the boards, and actually fought to a draw against this much larger Pitt team (a 36.4 OR%, compared to a 37.9% rate for Pitt). Pittsburgh didn't even play too poorly in this game - they shot 45% on threes and had 17 assists on 27 made baskets.

Long Beach State isn't sneaking up on anybody, really. I picked them to win the Big West, as did just about everybody else. But what's changed with this win is the hype nationally. I saw all sorts of writers nominating Long Beach State as a potential at-large team (see here, here and here for examples). And what I have to say to the at-large hype is: relax. First of all, that "#9" next to Pitt's name doesn't mean that they're the ninth best team in the nation. They are replacing a lot from last season's team, and were coming off just an eight point victory over Rider before losing this one. And while Long Beach State torched Pitt's defense, the reality is that everybody has been torching Pitt's defense so far. They allowed only 0.96 points per possession last season. In home games against Albany and Rider to start this season they had allowed 1.10 PPP. Maybe Pitt's defense just isn't any good?

Let's also recall that if Long Beach State thought they had a real chance at an at-large bid they wouldn't have put together a non-conference schedule that could end up being the toughest in the nation. Particularly since they don't have the depth that the top BCS teams have. They will be playing true road games at Louisville, North Carolina, San Diego State and Kansas, and they'll play potentially three quality opponents at the Diamond Head Classic. The road game at San Diego State is up next, on Saturday. On Tuesday they'll play at home against a Boise State team that is no slouch either - they just beat Utah by 21.

As for Pitt, their next three games are going to be quite manageable (vs La Salle, at Pennsylvania, vs Robert Morris), but defensive improvement will be key. While Pitt's defensive prowess has always been somewhat overrated by their slow pace (they were great offensively, but only pretty good defensively, last season - though you wouldn't have known that by listening to tempo-biased television analysts), this type of poor defense is unprecedented under Jamie Dixon. Personally, I believe they'll clean things up.

Indiana 94, Evansville 73
Indiana just beat a team by 21 points that, in its only other result this season, beat Butler. You can feel the excitement from Bloomington, where they are antsy for a return to relevance - a place they haven't been in half a decade. But as I often warn this early in the season: don't draw too many conclusions from a small sample size. First of all, despite beating Butler, I don't think Evansville is that good of a team. I don't see them as any better than the fifth or sixth best team in the Missouri Valley Conference. Second of all, this game was closer than the final score. Indiana blew this game open in the first 15 minutes, when they shot 18-for-24 from the field to open up a 42-23 lead. For the game they finished with 11-for-21 behind the arc. While Indiana looked better, they didn't look 21 points better.

Evansville is the only quality opponent on Indiana's schedule prior to Thanksgiving. The Hoosiers will play Butler on November 27th, and will head to NC State for a game on November 30th. Evansville, after this performance against Indiana and the win against Butler, will remain a mystery for another month. Barring a miracle, they will lose at North Carolina on December 6th. And they shouldn't be too tested in their other games over the next month (TCU is the best team on their schedule, other than North Carolina, prior to a road game at Miami-Ohio on December 20th).

New Mexico State 62, New Mexico 53
This was a high-intensity, high-effort game from both teams - it was just unfortunate that the quality and efficiency didn't live up to the effort. The two teams combined for 52 fouls, 38 turnovers, and 33 made baskets. Wendell McKines led New Mexico State with 14 points, though it's not news that he's good. I was more pleasantly surprised with Bandja Sy, who scored only 4.7 points per game last season, but has scored 13 and 12 off the bench, respectively, in New Mexico State's two games thus far. New Mexico State is definitely in contention with Utah State and Nevada for the WAC title.

For New Mexico, the sloppy play is more than something that can just be written off as a fluke performance. As good as they were last season, they finished last in offensive turnover rate in Mountain West play. And the one good ball handler that they had - Dairese Gary - graduated. Kendall Williams looked to be a quality backup as a freshman last season, but he was only mediocre with the ball here (six assists and five turnovers). To be fair, he was also 0-for-9 from the field, and it might be easier for him to get others involved when defenders have to respect his shooting. But the Lobos have to find some way to clean up these turnovers.

New Mexico State's next game will be Saturday against UTEP. After that they head off to the Great Alaska Shootout, though some of my readers will have to ask their grandparents to tell them about when quality teams went to that tournament. No major conference teams are making the trip this season, and the Aggies are probably the best team there. They will open on Thanksgiving against Central Michigan, and the next day will play either Southern Miss or UC Irvine. New Mexico will get a chance to bounce back tomorrow against a rebuilding Arizona State team. Thanksgiving week they head off to the 76 Classic, where they'll open against Santa Clara.


Anonymous said...

I agree that it'll take more than this win to put LBSU in at-large contention, but I think it's safe to say that this win is enough to elevate them off the 15-line should they win the Big West.

Likely looking at a 13 seed at this point IMO.

Jeff said...

I'll look at the bracket closer on Saturday. I'm definitely going to move Long Beach State up to the 14 line. I'm unsure about moving them to the 13, though.