Friday, December 02, 2011

Creighton Starting To Make Noise, Beats San Diego State

#22 Creighton 85, San Diego State 83
Creighton had an incredibly impressive win in this game, which was part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge. That Challenge actually has a few great match-ups that you unfortunately won't see because they're on The Mtn, which is a channel that approximately 17 people get (I had to watch a blurry illegal internet feed). But this was a great comeback for Creighton, on the road at a very good San Diego State team. They trailed by as much as 17 points early, and by as much as 8 points in the second half. But Doug McDermott took the team on his back, leading all players with both 25 points and 12 rebounds.

I thought McDermott was going to break out this season and picked Creighton preseason to win the Missouri Valley, but even I'm surprised at how good both McDermott and his team have played. McDermott is averaging 23.7 points per game with a cartoonish 70.1 eFG%. And Creighton has now rolled to a quick 6-0 start to their season with double-digit wins over Iowa and UAB in addition to this win. Their schedule will continue to toughen up the next couple of weeks, starting with Nebraska on Sunday, and then a road game at St. Joe's on December 10th.

Steve Fisher will be unhappy with how his team played defense in this game. It was their best offensive performance of the season, but it was cancelled out by arguably their worst defensive performance of the season. Doug McDermott has been putting up points on everybody, but he wasn't the only Creighton player having a big night (Ethan Wragge had 19 points off the bench, for example). In the end, however, this isn't a bad loss, and neither is their other loss this season (Baylor). And they've got victories over Arizona and Long Beach State. They've got a key game on Sunday against California. It's their last quality opponent before beginning conference play. A loss there and they'll enter Mountain West play having work to do to get themselves back into the Field of 68.

Minnesota 58, Virginia Tech 55
Does any basketball program have worse luck than Virginia Tech? It feels like they've been the first team left out of the Tournament for 7 straight seasons, including a couple of times where they've really been snubbed. And after a slew of injuries derailed last season, they've had a whole bunch of injuries to start this season (including losing JT Thompson for the season with a torn ACL). And in this game? The difference was arguably a blown call by the refs. Down by one point with 9.8 seconds to go, Dorian Finney-Smith took the ball out of bounds and passed it to Robert Brown, who bobbled it behind the backcourt before grabbing hold of it. The crowd screamed for a backcourt violation and got the call, Minnesota then got fouled and a pair of Julian Welch free throws pretty much locked the game up. The problem was, it wasn't a backcourt violation - you have to possess the ball in the front court first to be eligible for the call. Most fans don't know that part of the rule, but refs are supposed to. The Big Ten actually announced they will be disciplining the ref who messed up that call. Cold comfort that is for Virginia Tech fans, since nobody will remember the blown call in March, they'll just see the final score.

And this could go down as a bad loss for Virginia Tech. With Trevor Mbakwe out for the season I wouldn't be shocked if Minnesota finishes near the bottom of the Big Ten. Rodney Williams did his best Mbakwe impression in this game, with 14 points and 8 rebounds, but a bigger reason for this win was a surprisingly good performance from Minnesota's beleaguered backcourt (a combined 14 assists to 8 turnovers).

This is the only questionable loss for Virginia Tech so far, but their only good win was over Oklahoma State. They have two more quality opponents before beginning ACC play (Kansas State and Oklahoma State). Considering the strength of the ACC (or lack of it) this season, a loss in either of those games probably means that they'll need to go 10-6 in ACC play to get into the NCAA Tournament. The Kansas State game is up first, on Sunday.

This is Minnesota's best win of the season, and they've got a weak loss to Dayton. I don't think they'll get remotely close to the NCAA Tournament with Mbakwe gone, but it wouldn't be the first time I've underestimated a team. Let's see what they do on the court, and if this one nice win was just a fluke. Their next game will be tomorrow against USC.

Denver 67, Utah State 54
Denver has quietly been having a really solid start to this season. Joe Scott is a good coach to have fall to that program, but it's not like this type of season looked likely a month ago. They have wins over Saint Mary's and Southern Miss to go with this thumping of Utah State, and their only loss was on the road at California. Their Sagarin PREDICTOR is actually all the way up to 70th in the nation, and they definitely look to be a contender in the Sun Belt, though Florida Atlantic is still my pick to win that conference.

That said, it's still been a relatively small sample size. I don't really think they're the 70th best team in the country. They have two quality opponents left before starting Sun Belt play - Iona and Boise State. The Iona game is up first, on Wednesday.

It's also worth noting that Utah State isn't what they've been in recent years. They were decimated with graduations this past spring, and it's showing. They're 3-3 overall with one quality win (BYU), but all three losses have been against questionable/weak opponents (Weber State, Texas A&M-CC and Denver. They're still my pick to win the WAC, but that's mostly because the sample sizes have been small and I have faith that Stew Morrill will turn things around by the end of the season. I don't think there's any question that New Mexico State has played better so far this season. Nevada is another team that's in the mix. Utah State has a couple of easy opponents coming up, with Pacific tomorrow. Their next quality opponent will be Wichita State on December 10th.

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