Thursday, December 01, 2011

Wisconsin Acquits Themselves Well In Chapel Hill

#5 North Carolina 60, #7 Wisconsin 57
I thought Wisconsin did a great job of forcing their tempo on this game, as they do to every team that likes to run with the ball. The slow tempo really seemed to bother the Tar Heels, who committed 14 turnovers in (by my calculation) 61 possessions. In fact, despite the home court advantage, it took incredibly fluky shooting for North Carolina to escape with the win. A Wisconsin team that had shot 47% on threes coming into this game was a frigid 8-for-28 here. A North Carolina team that had shot 60.7% at the line shot 79% here, while a Wisconsin team that set the NCAA record for free throw percentage last season hit 3-for-6 here.

So is this result a worrying result for North Carolina? I don't think so. Wisconsin does this to everybody, and North Carolina will have a better opportunity to use their athleticism against basically every other team they play this year. And I think that the emergence of Harrison Barnes in the second half of this game portends good things for the future. He's the one true offensive mismatch that they have. As good as Kendall Marshall is, he's not a scorer. Barnes can take the ball up the floor and score at will.

For Wisconsin, I think this result emphasizes the fact that Ohio State will not have a cakewalk to the Big Ten championship. Wisconsin is going to be right there all season long. I'll be surprised if those two teams don't split their home-and-home during conference play, and so the title will come down to which team can do better on the road against the rest of the conference. Ohio State is still the favorite, and is still my pick to win in the end, but Wisconsin has to be in the conversation.

North Carolina heads to Kentucky next for a big game on Saturday. Wisconsin doesn't get a breather either, as they come home to play Marquette the same day. They have a game against UNLV, which delivered UNC's only loss of the season, the following Saturday.

Wake Forest 55, Nebraska 53
Nebraska is obviously the better of these two teams, and they were playing at home, but they just couldn't hit any shots. The Cornhuskers finished the game with a 43.9 eFG% (compared to 51.1% for Wake Forest). And with the game tied in the final seconds it was a defensive breakdown that allowed CJ Harris the opportunity to score the winning basket on a layup. This was a frustrating game for the Cornhuskers because quality shooting was actually all that Nebraska had going for their offense coming into this game. They'd been shooting well as a team (a 53.9 eFG%), but had been held back by turnovers and poor rebounding. Other than a dominant win over Rhode Island, they haven't had a good game all season, losing to Oregon and Wake Forest, and needing a couple of overtimes to get past USC.

Nebraska obviously will get plenty of opportunities to work their way onto the Tournament Bubble in conference play. But right now they're just not playing well enough for me to believe they can do that. Their offense just struggles too much to put up points, and lacks a go-to-scorer for the key moments. Their defense, while solid, isn't Alabama/Florida State dominant, which means that there's only so far they can go without a competent offense. They have a road game at Creighton coming up on Sunday. Their next decent opponent after that will be on December 10th against TCU.

For Wake Forest, this is their best win of the season. Their previous best win was over Texas Tech, and their two losses were to Dayton and Arizona State. They're still well outside the Top 100 in all of the computer ratings, and I expect it to stay that way, but Wake Forest is still clearly a lot better than last year's team. I don't even think they're the worst team in the ACC this season (that would be Boston College). It's going to be a slow process under Jeff Bzdelik, but they're at least moving in the right direction. Their next game will be Saturday against Richmond.

Oral Roberts 68, Missouri State 63
Oral Roberts jumped out to an early lead in this game, grabbing a 14 point lead at halftime. They still led by ten points with just over two minutes to go. A ferocious late comeback actually got Missouri State within three with a few seconds to go, but a pair of Warren Miles free throws iced the game. The problem for Missouri State was that too many players were standing around watching Kyle Weems play. He did score 22 points on 9-for-17 shooting, but he also committed six turnovers and had only two assists. He got almost no help from his teammates, compared to the balanced Oral Roberts attack (four players with double-digit scoring).

It's not a good loss for a Missouri State team that is still something of an unknown quantity. They entered this game only 3-0 against Division I opponents. Victories over Nevada and Tulsa are nice, but not great. And while a loss to Oral Roberts isn't a good loss, there is a chance that they could end up an RPI Top 100 team. In other words, we still don't know a whole lot about this Missouri State team. We should learn a lot more in their next two games, on Saturday at New Mexico and on Wednesday against Oklahoma State.

This is the best win Oral Roberts has had this season, which has had, despite a bad loss to UT-San Antonio, a successful start. Their computer numbers are strong, and they're in a position to seriously challenge Oakland (my pick to win the Summit League). North Dakota State is another contender in that conference. Oral Roberts will continue toughening themselves up with a few more quality opponents, including Xavier, Gonzaga and Oklahoma. The Oklahoma game is up first, on December 8th.

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