Friday, November 23, 2012

Is Pacific The Big West Favorite?

Pacific 76, St. Mary's 66
Some hot second half shooting allowed Pacific to open up a 19 point lead with six minutes left. A furious 19-7 run by St. Mary's forced Pacific to sweat out the final minute, but they were able to hang on. Lorenzo McCloud led the way with 18 points on 5-for-10 shooting. Coming on the heels of a win over Xavier, Pacific now heads to the DirecTV Classic title game, where they will face either California or Georgia Tech.

I hadn't realized until I was watching this game that this is Bob Thomason's final season as head coach of Pacific. His players are going to be highly motivated to send him out in style, and without a dominant Big West team this year, is Pacific the favorite? For the time being, my answer to that is no. As I warn every year, it's a mistake to draw too many conclusions from these early season tournaments. They're unlike anything else these players do all season long, and weird things have a tendency to happen. If Pacific is still playing like this a month from now then they'll have a better case as a potential Big West favorite.

This is a tough result for St. Mary's. Most likely this will end up as an RPI 100+ loss. St. Mary's can afford a couple of these while still earning an at-large bid, but their margin of error this season is now significantly smaller. They'll play in the third place game next, against either California or Georgia Tech. Their next game after that will be December 1st, against Cal Poly.

Stanford 66, Northern Iowa 50
Chasson Randle has been torching opponents all season long. The one thing he hadn't been doing on offense was shooting - he was shooting an ice cold 15% behind the arc for the season. He was still scoring 16.5 points per game, along with 2.8 assists per game. But here? He broke out of his slump, hitting 4-for-6 behind the arc and finishing with 21 points and 6 assists. And as Stanford was breaking this game open in the second half, it seemed like Randle was involved in every scoring play.

Northern Iowa shot poorly here (a 42.6 eFG%), though a big part of that was poor ball handling. They finished with 16 turnovers and only 10 assists. They can get a little bit of a pass for it coming against a tough defense, of course. If they can beat Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantic 7th place game then they can feel good about a 1-2 performance in Bahamas, considering the strength of schedule.

This is Stanford's first quality win of the season. They'll get a chance for another one against Minnesota in the Battle 4 Atlantis 5th place game. They will also face Northwestern and NC State before beginning Pac-12 play. With the Pac-12 improved this season, Stanford won't need a 14-4 or 13-5 conference record to earn an at-large bid. But a couple more quality non-conference wins will help increase that margin of error.

#4 Michigan 71, Kansas State 57
Kansas State has a lot of talent and they have a good head coach, but there just seems to be something missing. I could be wrong, but it has the feeling of a program between eras. Bruce Weber is a very different head coach than Frank Martin, and it seems like the players are struggling to adapt to his style. They crash the boards much more than Weber teams usually do, and struggle to move the ball on offense.

I do think Kansas State is still underrated, despite this result. Bruce Weber is a better coach than Frank Martin, and he will mold this team throughout the year. I do think that they're an NCAA Tournament team. Their next game will be December 2nd against USC Upstate.

Michigan should be very happy with the way Tim Hardaway Jr played here (23 points on 10-for-15 shooting) on a day that Trey Burke struggled. Having two perimeter weapons like that gives John Beilein so many options and makes their offense extremely consistent. With the NIT title they will now head home to face NC State on Tuesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

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