Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Big Upsets: Davidson Over Kansas, LSU Over Marquette

Davidson 80, #11 Kansas 74
There were a bunch of things that stood out about this fairly shocking upset. First, it was an even game the whole way - there were no fluke runs by Davidson. Second, while Davidson hit 11 threes, it took them 33 attempts, so it's not like they won this game because of hot shooting. Thomas Robinson was tremendous for kansas, with 21 points and 18 rebounds, but once again he didn't get a lot of help from his teammates. Kansas fans are starting to get frustrated with Tyshawn Taylor and his turnover problems. I though Elijah Johnson showed some really nice passing skills and is a lot steadier with the ball than Taylor, so I wouldn't be surprised if Bill Self tries to run more of his team's offense through Johnson.

While this is a big upset, it's not news that Davidson is a quality team. They have been my pick all season to win the SoCon over a very good College of Charleston team. One thing that's interesting to note is that all five starters on this year's team are sophomores or juniors. They're the kids that were recruited by that Elite 8 run with Steph Curry. Bob McKillop is an excellent coach, and I knew he'd be able to use that Tournament run to reload his team, the way that Jim Larranaga did with George Mason, and the way I think Shaka Smart will with VCU.

Davidson moves to 7-3, though this is their only quality win and they have a potentially bad loss to Charlotte. They're unlikely to contend for an at-large bid, but a win like this will increase their hopes of a 12 or 13 seed should they win the Southern Conference. Their chief contender for that automatic bid is, of course, Charleston. Their home game against Charleston will be on January 19th, and they'll have their return trip on February 11th.

As for Kansas, a loss like this forces us to re-evaluate their resume a little bit. Their win over Ohio State probably would not have happened if Jared Sullinger had played. They did beat Georgetown, which is a good win, and they have wins over UCLA and Long Beach State. It's a good resume, and Kansas is a contender in the Big 12, but I think they're at best a borderline Top Ten team. Texas is still my pick to win the Big 12. Their next game will be Thursday night at South Carolina.

LSU 67, #10 Marquette 59
The difference in this game, without question, was Marquette's incompetent offense (0.91 PPP). They looked like the Marquette team from the past couple of years, when their offense mostly consisted of athletic players recklessly attacking the rim, without any coherent plan. This year's team had been much more efficient on offense... until now. One big change has been the loss of Chris Otule, who tore his ACL in the game against Washington. This was Marquette's first competitive opponent since that Washington game.

Of course, even with Marquette's poor offense it took 7-for-11 shooting behind the arc for an LSU team that has shot the ball poorly this season to win. And for that reason, I don't think we should draw too many conclusions from this game. Maybe Chris Otule's absence is going to have a big impact on Marquette's offense going forward, but I think the impact will be marginal. It's not like he was in the starting lineup, and they still have two excellent bigs in Jae Crowder and Davante Gardner. And even with Marquette's struggles, they still would have won this game if LSU hadn't shot so unusually well. I think this was a fluke result more than anything else.

LSU's best win other than this one was over Georgia Tech, and they've got bad losses to South Alabama and Coastal Carolina. Even with this big upset they're still quite a long shot for an at-large bid. One big scalp does not a Tournament resume make. Their next game will be Thursday at North Texas. They will also play Virginia before opening SEC play against Ole Miss on January 7th. Marquette will play their next game on Thursday against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and also will play Vanderbilt before opening Big East play on January 1st against Villanova.

Southern Miss 64, Arizona State 61
Any time a team wins a game by three points, particularly when it comes on a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer, it involves a whole lot of luck. But even if Southern Miss had somehow lost this game in overtime I would have been impressed with the perseverance and toughness they showed. First, this was a tricky true road game just two days after a big win over Ole Miss. Second, they fell behind by nine points early on and spent most of the game catching up. And then with 12 minutes to go, Torye Pelham and Arizona State's Ruslan Pateev got into a fight and were ejected. Pateev was a minor loss for ASU, but Pelham is a dominant rebounder and had 10 of Southern Miss's 25 rebounds up to that point. But they hung in there for a huge victory.

The breakout star for Southern Miss was Darnell Dodson, the Kentucky transfer who was playing his first game with the Golden Eagles. In only 15 minutes off the bench he scored 17 points, including the game winning three-pointer. I'm guessing he'll get more than 15 minutes in their next game. The Golden Eagles, by the way, are now 9-2 with wins over New Mexico State (twice) and Ole Miss, and no particularly bad losses (though neither Denver or Murray State is a great loss either). They're looking like a bubble team, and also a really serious contender to Memphis in Conference USA. Their next game will be against South Florida on Thursday, and they'll open conference play on January 4th against East Carolina.

Arizona State, meanwhile, falls to 4-7. With Jahii Carson ineligible, there's not a whole lot for the Sun Devils to play for this season. At least the bottom of the Pac-12 will be competitive amongst each other. They'll play Fresno State before opening Pac-12 play at Arizona on December 31st.

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