Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wisconsin Continues To Roll... This Time Against A Quality Opponent

#11 Wisconsin 73, BYU 56
Wisconsin had been putting up gaudy numbers all season long, though against a joke of a schedule. This BYU game represented their first true quality opponent, and their first of several, as North Carolina, Marquette and UNLV are their next three opponents. And BYU did keep this game close throughout the first half, but Wisconsin shot the lights out in the second half and pulled away. The star was Ben Brust, who only played in garbage minutes as a true freshman last season, but who shot 7-for-10 behind the arc in this game, raising his season 3P% to 48.7%.

The concern for Wisconsin about depth has not been answered, however. They basically played a six man rotation in this game, and were reliant on outside shooting. The team strength is in the backcourt, and they've got a lot of good shooters, but that's still not a formula for consistency. I really want to see more from the backup bigs, be it Frank Kaminsky or Evan Anderson. I'm extremely curious to see what this team can do on Wednesday night at North Carolina, a team that probably has more height than any other top team in the nation. Playing in Chapel Hill, and angry after a loss to UNLV, UNC will pose a tremendous challenge.

From BYU's perspective, the silver lining is that most teams won't shoot 12-for-23 on threes against them. The problem is, most of those threes were wide open. They've got to do a better job of defending on the perimeter. While they're not playing badly overall, their resume is lacking so far. The only quality win they've had all season long was the win against Nevada. BYU isn't in the Mountain West anymore - in the WCC you've really got to go a long way toward earning your at-large bid before starting conference play. Wins over Gonzaga and Saint Mary's only go so far. Games ahead against Baylor and Oregon will be key.

BYU's next game will be on Wednesday night at Northern Arizona, which is no gimme game. Even though they've gotten off to a slow start this season, NAU is, in my opinion, a contender in the Big Sky Conference. The Oregon game comes up next, on Saturday. As for Wisconsin, they play their next game (as I said two paragraphs ago) on Wednesday night at UNC. On Saturday they'll play Marquette at home.

Montana 73, Long Beach State 71
This should mostly put to bed the Long Beach State at-large hype. That hype started after their win over Pittsburgh, and I talked at the time about why I didn't at all buy their at-large chances. Besides the fact that I don't think there's enough evidence that Long Beach State is good enough for an at-large bid, the reality is that their schedule isn't conducive to an at-large run anyway. They just play too many good teams and are going to rack up too many losses. They certainly didn't need a loss to Montana - a quality team, but a team that Long Beach State was favored against.

Long Beach State's next four games against Division I opponents will be against Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina and Xavier. Brutal. If they win any of those games it will be an accomplishment. This is Montana's best win of the season, and it comes after a bad loss against North Dakota. They have been my pick all season long as the favorite in the Big Sky, though Weber State is one of several teams that have a chance to knock them off. I think it will be a while before a clear pictures emerges in that balanced conference.

Northern Iowa 79, Providence 62
It's amazing that a school that has had so much success the past few years had lost nine straight games against Big East opponents. That streak ended in what was just a solid victory. They were just the better team. The silver lining in this game for Providence what that it was a minor breakout game for LaDontae Henton (16 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and 9 rebounds), the top freshman from their 2011 recruiting class. Ed Cooley has a couple of blue chippers lined up for next season (you can read more about that here), so while there won't be much success in terms of wins and losses this season for Providence, the development of their young talent will be fun for fans to follow.

Providence is now 4-2, with a win over Fairfield, and losses to Northern Iowa and Iowa State. Their next game, on Tuesday night against Holy Cross, is no gimme. They'll then be at South Carolina on Thursday. Northern Iowa is 5-1 with only a road loss to Saint Mary's, though a win over Old Dominion is probably the best they've got. There's no doubt that UNI is good enough to potentially make a run at an at-large bid, but they've got to build up their resume. They will play a true road game at Iowa State on Wednesday night, and then will come home for Colorado State and Iowa.

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