Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dayton Upsets Alabama

Dayton 74, #12 Alabama 62
Dayton's 17 point second half lead seemed to be evaporating. An 11-0 run by Alabama actually pushed them within five points. But 4-for-5 shooting behind the arc to finish the game helped Dayton push their final margin of victory up to 12. And it was white hot shooting that drove them throughout - they finished 10-for-19 behind the arc, with a 71.7 eFG%. That's an even more incredibly performance when you consider just how strong the Alabama defense has been since Anthony Grant has been head coach. It's actually the best shooting performance Alabama has allowed in the nearly two and a half years that Grant has been in charge. Alabama's offense actually played fairly well (1.04 PPP), but they don't have the firepower to overcome a team shooting that well against them.

For Alabama, they did get a nice performance off the bench from true freshman Trevor Lacey, who had eight points and a career-high four assists. But as I said, offense wasn't the issue here. I don't think there's any reason for Alabama to panic - this was by far the best offensive performance against them all season. At some point if the other team is going to keep chucking up threes and keeps making them, you just have to congratulate them and move on. Alabama won't face too many more teams (if any) that shoot this well against them all season. Alabama still has one of the five best defenses in the nation, in my opinion.

This loss for Alabama comes right after a loss to Georgetown. But with wins over Purdue, Wichita State, Maryland and VCU, their resume is still strong. Kentucky is clearly the class of the SEC, but Alabama is among the teams that could end up finishing second in that conference, along with Florida and Vanderbilt (I don't buy Mississippi State yet). They have a tough game coming up on Sunday against a Detroit team that just got star Eli Holman back from suspension. Their next game after that will be December 17th against Kansas State.

While a bit of a fluke, this is a very nice win for Dayton. Their only other quality win this season came against Minnesota, and they've also got losses to Murray State, Miami-Ohio and Buffalo. They have a couple of cupcakes up next, but then will play Seton Hall and Ole Miss before beginning Atlantic Ten play. Even if they can somehow win both of those games they'll still have work to do in A-10 play to work their way into the Field of 68.

Nevada 69, Arizona State 61
It seems like Deonte Burton has carried Nevada in all of their quality wins this season. Not only did he lead all scorers with 28 points (on 6-for-11 shooting, and 13-for-15 at the free throw line), but he also forced four of Nevada's ten steals. Burton's 15 free throws were a lot by themselves, but as a whole Arizona State struggled with Nevada's athleticism. Despite the game being in Tempe, it was Nevada that drew 11 more fouls and earned 15 more free throw attempts.

Things have gone from bad to worse this season for Arizona State. They found out yesterday that star 2011 recruit Jahii Carson will not be allowed to play for them this season. That said, the future isn't necessarily bleak for Arizona State. The fact is that this year's team wasn't going to have a lot of success on the court, with or without Jahii Carson. As long as they can keep him at practice learning and can get him on the floor in games next year, they'll be fine, particularly since Herb Sendek has lined up a nice 2012 recruiting class.

Besides, as bad as Arizona State is, they're still nowhere near the worst team in the Pac-12. Utah is obviously the worst team in that conference. And I might also take Colorado and USC below Arizona State. The Sun Devils are now 3-5 with wins over Wake Forest and Tulsa, along with losses to DePaul, Pepperdine, Fairfield and Nevada. They'll play North Dakota State on Saturday, and then will have a week before playing Northern Arizona.

Nevada is 6-3 with wins over Washington and Arizona State and no particularly bad losses. It's not a bad resume, even though they've won a lot of close games (4-1 in games decided by eight points or less) so the computers aren't particularly fond of them. They have a tough road game on Saturday against Montana. A week later they'll play FIU.

Oklahoma State 72, Missouri State 67
Oklahoma State had been playing pretty well this season behind a strong defense, but just hadn't come through with a big win. They'd lost by two points to Virginia Tech, and their best win of the season was over a mediocre Tulsa team. But while losing most of this game on the road against Missouri State, their defense really toughened up down the stretch. They allowed zero made field goals in the final 4:40, during which they held Missouri State star Kyle Weems to this line: 0-for-4 shooting, 3 fouls. Oklahoma State also got the best performance yet from star true freshman Le'Bryan Nash (19 points, 8 rebounds).

This is a nice win for Oklahoma State, but with the losses to Stanford and Virginia Tech they still have work to do just to get back into the Field of 68. Fortunately, they have plenty of opportunities for quality wins even before beginning Big 12 play. They play Pittsburgh later today in Madison Square Garden, and then will play New Mexico a week from today. Alabama and Virginia Tech are also ahead before beginning Big 12 play.

This is the third straight loss for Missouri State, and a bad loss to Oral Roberts is part of that stretch. They had that impressive 18 point win over Nevada to start the season, but since then their only decent win has been in overtime over Tulsa. They have just really struggled offensively lately. In their last four games they have scored 0.94 PPP. Like last year's team they're not getting offensive rebounds and they're not getting to the line. But last year's team had guys like Jermaine Mallett and Adam Leonard that could hit threes (along with Kyle Weems), while this year's team does not. They're hitting only 31% of their threes this season. Over time I expect that to improve. Weems himself is only hitting 26% on threes this season, after hitting 40% last year. They will play only cupcakes for the next couple of weeks, but then will play West Virginia and St. Mary's before starting the Missouri Valley regular season. They really have to win at least one of those games or they'll have a mountain to climb to get back into at-large contention in conference play.

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