Friday, November 23, 2012

Iffy Call Helps Louisville Escape Northern Iowa

#2 Louisville 51, Northern Iowa 46
Louisville's defense is ferocious - it's probably the best in the nation. But like all of the top teams in the nation, they have a clear flaw. Their flaw, as it was last year, is offensive consistency. Both Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are explosive scorers who also will have games like this - a combined 9-for-26 from the field with 6 assists and 10 turnovers. As a team, Louisville scored 0.76 PPP here, and could have lost if not for a very fortuitous call.

Up by two with just under ten seconds to go, Siva drove into the lane and missed, and Northern Iowa came down with the rebound. A day later I can't remember off the top of my head who the players were, but a Louisville player completely bear-hugged the Northern Iowa rebounder. But instead of the obvious foul call the refs gave a jump ball, with the possession arrow to Louisville. Off the inbounds, Russ Smith scored and was fouled, effectively ending the game. A tough break for Northern Iowa, to be sure.

Louisville has been underwhelming to start the season, but this was their first game against a quality opponent all season. There's no reason to jump to hasty conclusions. They'll play Missouri next, in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals. Northern Iowa will head to the consolation bracket, where they will play Stanford.

St. Mary's 76, Drexel 64
You have to feel for Drexel. A season with such promise has gotten off to a nightmare start. Star Chris Fouch broke his ankle and is out for the season, and they lost the first two games of their season in overtime. This loss was more convincing, as they just don't have enough offense without Fouch to keep up with a very good St. Mary's team. At this point, the one piece of good luck for Drexel is that VCU is gone from the Colonial. Their at-large hopes are pretty well dashed, but they are alive for an automatic bid by winning the CAA. That has to be their primary season goal at this point.

St. Mary's moves to 4-0 with this win, though this was their best opponent of the season thus far. Because Pacific knocked off Xavier, the Gaels will face Pacific in the semifinals of the DirecTV Classic. They will face Georgia Tech or California in the finals (or consolation game). The Gaels are the clear favorites to win the tournament, of course.

Drexel will face a vulnerable Xavier team in the consolation bracket. They will then see Drake or Rice in their final game. They will open CAA regular season play on January 2nd, at Georgia State.

#17 Gonzaga 57, Clemson 49
This performance by Gonzaga at the Old Spice Classic was their worst of the season thus far. Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos were kept in check, and they were held to under 1 PPP for the first time all year. Clemson isn't a team with a lot of weapons, but they play solid defense and take care of the ball (they currently lead the nation with only 7.3 turnovers per game, as well as with turnovers on only 12.4% of offensive possessions). So it means that they will play a lot of these ugly, low-scoring contests. Gonzaga deserves credit for fighting a way through a game like this and escaping with the win.

Gonzaga will look to have a more convincing victory in the Old Spice Classic semifinals against Oklahoma. In the finals (or third place game) they'll face either Davidson or West Virginia. Clemson moves to the consolation bracket, where they will play UTEP. Their final game in Orlando will be against either Marist or Vanderbilt. It's unclear if Clemson is an NCAA Tournament quality team - right now I'm projecting them to finish just narrowly outside the field. Neither UTEP, Marist or Vanderbilt would be a good loss for an at-large team, so Clemson will certainly be looking to sweep their final two games.

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