Saturday, December 10, 2011

Duke Survives A Late Washington Rally

#5 Duke 86, Washington 80
This game was a tale of two halves. Duke absolutely dominated the first half. They were up by 14, but they would have been up much more if they could have hit more of their shots late in the half. Washington's offense looked lost, and their transition defense was terrible. But in the second half, Tony Wroten really came alive. After committing five turnovers in the first half, Wroten committed zero in the second, and he finished with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting - the best game he's had of his freshman season. The other problem Duke had was free throw shooting - they finished 27-for-44 (61%) for the game. The key stretch began with 7 minutes to go, when Duke went 5-for-12 at the line while Washington went on a 20-7 run to cut the lead to six. In the final minute, however, Duke hit 8-for-10 from the line to put the game away.

Washington came into this game knowing that however unlikely an upset was, it was an upset that they really needed to have. With this loss they fall to 4-4, but while they don't have any particularly bad losses (a road loss at Nevada is iffy), they have no quality wins either. They have no more chances for quality wins before starting Pac-12 play, which is a huge problem when you consider that the Pac-12 is quite possibly the worst BCS conference in nearly 30 years. There won't be any really big scalps available in Pac-12 play, so Washington cannot afford to finish worse than 12-6 in conference play to make the Tournament.

The fact is that Washington has a lot of talent. Tony Wroten is just starting to get going, and Abdul Gaddy has improved as the season has gone along. Terrence Ross and CJ Wilcox are very athletic and both are playing very well also. When you consider the fact that Washington has done the same thing for something like five straight years - looked like a talented-but-underperforming team for most of the year, then come on and finished strong in February and March - it's not inconceivable that Washington could be playing really well by the end of the season. But with their conference so weak, and without any quality non-conference wins, it might end up being too little too late.

Washington will play UC-Santa Barbara on Friday, which is a quality opponent (though not enough of a quality victory to be worth bragging about on Selection Sunday). After that it's all cupcakes before opening Pac-12 play on December 29th against Oregon State. Duke is now 8-1 with only a road loss at Ohio State. They probably won't be tested again until they play a road game at Temple on January 4th. They'll open ACC play at Georgia Tech on December 7th.

St. Joseph's 80, Creighton 71
I haven't seen anybody in the media overreacting too much and calling this a big upset. As good as Creighton had been playing this season, St. Joe's is a very good team in their own right. What was surprising about this game was the fact that St. Joe's didn't win the way I thought they would. Creighton has been shooting the lights out, and was leading the nation in eFG% (60.9), led by Doug McDermott's ridiculous 69.6 eFG%. You had to figure at some point they'd have a cold shooting night. But that wasn't what happened here. McDermott scored 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting (including 5-for-7 behind the arc). Creighton as a team shot 11-for-21 on threes. Instead, St. Joe's just beat Creighton in the other facets of the game. They dominated the boards (12 offensive rebounds to four) and committed one fewer turnover, while also drawing 13 more fouls and earning 20 more free throw attempts.

St. Joe's came into this game having already beaten Tulsa, Drexel, Penn State and Georgia Tech, with only one bad loss (American). It's not an at-large resume, of course, but this win doesn't completely come out of the blue. They will play Villanova next Saturday, and then have a road game at Harvard before starting Atlantic Ten play. If they can somehow win both of those games then they could actually start getting themselves into the at-large picture.

This is a disappointing loss for Creighton, particularly because it came while Doug McDermott was at his best and the team was shooting fairly well. But the odds are that it won't end up an RPI 100+ loss, and Creighton is still 7-1 with wins over San Diego St, Nebraska and Iowa. They still have a road game at Tulsa and a home game against Northwestern before beginning Missouri Valley play. Their next game will be next Saturday against Houston Baptist.

Iowa State 86, Iowa 76
I wanted to talk briefly about one last game from last night. This game was actually a blowout most of the way. Iowa State led by 21 at the half, and by as much as 24 in the second half. A 15-7 run to finish the game made the final score more respectable. The biggest difference was that Iowa couldn't handle Iowa State's size. Royce White and Melvin Ejim combined for 30 points on 12-for-15 shooting. Iowa's lack of height could be a problem all season long - it's not exactly going to get any easier in Big Ten play. It's pretty clear that the only way Iowa is going to beat quality teams this season is by turning them over and getting out into transition.

This is arguably Iowa State's best win of the year. They certainly don't have any obvious "quality" wins. They do have a bad loss, against Drake. They only have cupcakes left before beginning Big 12 play on January 4th against Texas, but that's not a huge problem. There will be plenty of chance for quality wins in Big 12 play. The shrunken conference gives them a home game against every other team in the conference.. I don't think they're good enough to win enough of those games to get into the at-large picture, but they'll have their chances to prove me wrong.

Iowa falls to 5-5 with this loss, though with zero quality wins and with bad losses to Campbell and (potentially) Iowa State. They will play a home game against Drake next Saturday, and also have a home game against Boise State before beginning Big Ten play. In my opinion, six wins or more in Big Ten play will be a successful season for them.

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