Saturday, December 17, 2011

Baylor Gets A Huge Win At BYU

#7 Baylor 86, BYU 83
This seems like a "taking care of business" win at first glimpse. Baylor's ranked 7th and BYU isn't ranked at all, after all. But in fact, this was a tremendous win for Baylor. First of all, in no way had Baylor earned that #7. They have moved up by inertia each week because they haven't lost, but their only wins over non-cupcakes have been against Northwestern and San Diego State. Meanwhile, not only is BYU underrated (their only poor performance was the opening game of the season at Utah State, which was an aberration game that will fade over time from importance), but this was the first game of Matt Carlino's collegiate career, and what a debut it was. Carlino, who had originally enrolled at UCLA but had transferred out before playing in a game, came off the bench, scoring 18 points in 24 minutes, including 4-for-8 on threes. And that doesn't even begin to measure his impact - he was somehow involved in every play, and the way he launched shots from 25 feet without thinking twice had more than a few people thinking about Jimmer Fredette.

The concern for Baylor, as it's been all season, is defensive rebounding. They have such tremendously long and athletic bigs that they are a formidable offensive rebounding team, but it seems like they've never learned how to box out, and constantly lose offensive rebounds under the basket. BYU finished with 16 offensive rebounds (a mind-boggling 43.2 OR%) to only five for Baylor. So how did Baylor win this game, with Matt Carlino going nuts and BYU dominating the boards? Outside shooting. They finished 12-for-23 on threes, led by 6-for-10 by Brady Heslip. This isn't the first time Heslip has driven the team with his outside shooting (he was 4-for-8 behind the arc in their win over San Diego State), and if he can do this consistently then it can really open things up in the paint for Perry Jones and the Baylor bigs.

Speaking of the Baylor bigs, a concern late in the game was a bad collision involving superstar Perry Jones. Jones looked like he might have torn his ACL, and he said afterwards that was a concern of his as well, but he limped off the court and eventually back into the game, putting in the final two points of the game off a tip-in. It will be interesting to see how he feels after the adrenaline of the game wears off, and any time he misses will be a huge concern for Baylor, but the fact that he got back into the game means it can't be too serious.

While this is a missed opportunity for BYU, they did play well enough that they would have won without abnormally good three-point shooting from Baylor. And now that Matt Carlino has shown what he can do, he'll really strengthen what was previously a relatively thin backcourt (BYU's strength is, without question, its frontcourt). They'll try to bounce back on Tuesday against a solid Buffalo team. Two days later they'll play another good mid-major in UC-Santa Barbara. And they'll start their first season in the WCC by jumping right into the deep end, on the road at St. Mary's on December 29th.

There are still question marks around this Baylor team. They've been a little lucky to have been hot from the field in all three of their games against quality opponents (they've shot much poorer, on average, against the cupcakes they've played). I want to see more of them before moving them too much higher in my bracket. Luckily, we won't have to wait long. They will head off to Las Vegas to play St. Mary's on Thursday and West Virginia on Friday. After that they'll play Mississippi State before opening Big 12 play against Texas A&M on January 2nd.

Butler 67, Purdue 65
Andrew Smith has waited a while to get that big game winner for Butler. He had the shot that looked like it would be the game winner against Pitt in the NCAA Tournament last year (we all remember what happened after that, of course). Earlier this year he thought he had hit the game winner against Evansville, but the refs ruled that though he had been fouled with 0.2 seconds remaining, his shot didn't count since it left his hands after the clock would have run out (it was the correct call, though one that I can't recall seeing before). He missed both free throws and Butler fell in overtime. But this time it finally was to be, and he finished off a Butler comeback from 12 points down in the second half with a tip in with a second to go.

Butler came into this game 3-6 against Division I opponents, with all three wins coming over cupcakes. But they haven't been as bad as that sounds. Only two of those six losses were genuine blowouts - a couple of the losses even came in overtime. They were due to finally close one of these games out. This game was a veritable offensive breakout, too, as they actually finished with narrowly more than 1 PPP (see here for a breakdown of how awful their offense had been). There wasn't an obvious reason for the improvement - they just shot a little better, rebounded a little better and passed a little better.

This is the second brutal loss for Purdue after a large second half lead - the other was against Xavier. They also have a loss to Alabama to go with a few decent wins (Temple, Miami, Iona). It's not a resume that will blow people away, but I think they've been a little unlucky and will improve as the season goes along. They're not a contender to win the Big Ten, but I still think they're one of the four best teams.

Purdue's final non-conference game will be against IPFW on Tuesday. They'll open Big Ten play at Iowa on December 28th. Butler, meanwhile, doesn't get a long time to celebrate this win. They'll play at Gonzaga on Tuesday, and then at Stanford on Thursday.

Texas 77, Temple 65
I've taken a bit of criticism for sticking with Texas as my pick to win the Big 12 and to earn a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I won't pretend that their resume so far is too impressive - coming into this game their best win was over UCLA, and they had a pair of mediocre losses (NC State and Oregon State). But they're a lot better than their resume, and they're also a very young team that I expect to get a lot better as the season goes along. Myck Kabongo looks a lot better than he did a few weeks ago, as does Jaylen Bond.

Temple isn't ranked, but they're a very good team. They're my pick to win the Atlantic Ten, over Xavier. And Texas won this game despite shooting a putrid 2-for-17 behind the arc (compared to 9-for-18 for Temple). They just dominated the boards (13 more offensive rebounds) against a fairly good defensive rebounding Temple team. Temple just couldn't handle the Texas size and athleticism.

Texas has a huge game coming up on Wednesday at Chapel Hill against a North Carolina team that has been inconsistent of late. After that they only have a game against Rice before opening Big 12 play on January 4th at Iowa State. This is a missed opportunity for Temple, but not a bad loss. They have a bad loss to Bowling Green, but also have quality victories against Wichita State and Villanova. Their next game will be Monday at Rice. They also will go against Duke on January 4th before opening up conference play.

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