Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Keith Appling And Michigan State Bounce Back

#21 Michigan State 67, #7 Kansas 64
There's a reason why you don't judge teams or players off of one game. Michigan State didn't play particularly badly against UConn in Germany (they lost because UConn shot out of their minds in the first half, not because they got outplayed). But the one part of Michigan State's game that looked really bad was Keith Appling at point guard, as I described in my game recap. He didn't create any offense for his teammates against UConn. But against Kansas? He was superb. He had 19 points and his 3 assists in the boxscore are deceptively low for the offense he created. And that drive he had in the final seconds to deliver a win for Michigan State? Wow.

That said, it's always a mistake to draw too many conclusions from a game this close. This game was about two quality teams playing a really close game. Somebody had to win, but nobody can honestly say that Kansas was "outplayed". Kansas was my preseason pick to win the Big 12, and nothing in this game did anything to change my mind about that. They'll play Chattanooga on Thursday, and then will head off to the CBE Classic. They'll open up against Washington State, and then will play either Texas A&M or St. Louis.

Michigan State surely feels good about avoiding a second straight 0-2 start to their season. Their schedule eases up over the next couple of weeks. Their next game will be on Sunday, against Texas Southern. In fact, they shouldn't really be tested for the next month, other than maybe a road game at Miami (Fl) as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Xavier 62, Butler 47
This game must have felt like deja vu for Butler after so much offensive futility last season. They finished with only 0.82 PPP, featuring a 40.4 eFG%. Some of that can be written off a bit. Rotnei Clarke, who is usually an assassin behind the arc, hit only 1-for-7 here. But it is not good that Khyle Marshall, Roosevelt Jones and Kameron Woods still do not seem to be able to create their own shots on offense. I expected those three to look a lot better this year. And it's still a small sample size, but this game was definitely disconcerting for people (like me) expecting Butler's offense to look a lot better this season.

Xavier played well, of course. Jeff Robinson and Travis Taylor were dominant in the paint, combining for 14-for-23 shooting. Their thin rotation is definitely a concern, though. The Atlantic Ten is going to be a bruising league this season. And this game, remember, does not count in those standings. These two teams will meet again this season in a game that counts in the conference standings, but this non-conference game was set up before Butler switched conferences.

Butler will have to get their offensive groove back quickly as they head off to a pretty loaded Maui Invitational. They will open against Marquette on Monday. Their second game will be against either North Carolina or Mississippi State. Xavier will play Robert Morris on Saturday before heading to the Anaheim Classic, where they will open against Pacific.

Delaware 59, Virginia 53
With this win, Delaware gets to head to Madison Square Garden to play in the NIT. And while this is why a lot of the early season tournaments now fix the early rounds so that the big name schools are guaranteed a spot in the final rounds, I like the fact that a team like Delaware can earn their way into a national television game in MSG. The story of this game, though, is that Virginia's troubles are starting to become statistically significant. This loss comes on the heels of a loss to George Mason and a very narrow win over Fairfield. Virginia is a young team that lost a lot off of last year's roster, of course. And they're not totally healthy. I still believe Tony Bennett has this program headed in the right direction. But it looks like I definitely overrated Virginia when I picked them preseason to earn an at-large bid. They haven't played anything like an at-large team so far.

Delaware is not a basketball program that has had a whole lot of success on the court over the past decade. Considering the opponent and the fact that a trip to New York City was on the line, you can argue that this is Delaware's biggest win in several years. They will get a chance to follow this upset with another on Sunday when they'll play at Temple.

Virginia will try to lick their wounds on Saturday against Seattle. But after that they head off to Wisconsin for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Unless they pull a big upset against the Badgers, their only real chance for a "quality" win in their non-conference slate will be December 5th against Tennessee.

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