Friday, November 23, 2012

Pacific Stuns Xavier

Pacific 70, Xavier 67
It's generally hard to tell from the national media what is and what is not a surprise result. The media will call a game a "shocking upset" if #20 knocks off #12, even if #20 was favored in Vegas and by the computers. And generally the media will call a game an upset if a team from a smaller conference knocks off a team from a bigger conference, even if (again) they were favored. But this game? This was a real upset.

Xavier, of course, was always going to get off to a slow start to this season. Due to several different reasons, all five of last year's Xavier starters are no longer on the team. But their new lineup is still filled with the type of elite recruits that they always get. Pacific, meanwhile, has gone eight years since being a Top 100 team. And coming off back-to-back losses to Fresno State and Oral Roberts, things weren't looking to be too different this season.

Not only was there nothing particularly fluky about this win (other than the fact that there's always a little bit of luck when any team wins by as little as three points), but what stood out most to me was how Pacific's bench front court players dominated the Xavier bench bigs. In all, Pacific finished with a 38.1 OR%, compared to a 16.7 OR% for Xavier.

I think this result tells us more about Xavier than Pacific. Xavier did knock off Butler, but it was in a game where they were hot-shooting and Butler was ice cold. This result against Pacific might be closer to where Xavier will be for most of this season. With as strong as the A-10 is this season, Xavier is at risk of not even finishing .500 in conference play. Pacific moves to the semifinals in Anaheim, against St .Mary's. Xavier will play Drexel in the consolation bracket.

#5 Duke 89, Minnesota 71
Duke was incredibly sharp on offense here. They hit 80% of their threes and had a 61.8 eFG%, led by Seth Curry's 3-for-3 behind the arc and 25 points. Quinn Cook is really coming into his own as well, as he tormented the Minnesota backcourt with 17 points, 4 assists and 5 steals. Minnesota played like a Top 25 team here, and still got walloped.

Duke came into this season with some obvious flaws - they're probably only the fourth or fifth best Coach K team in the past 10-12 seasons. But the top of the polls is soft this season. Team like Indiana, Louisville and Florida have clear flaws as well. And honestly, you can make an argument for Duke as the best team in the country. I would disagree with that argument, but you can make it. And I feel more confident in my preseason pick of Duke as the ACC champion. They will try to continue their strong play next against VCU.

Minnesota only has a win over Richmond and victories over cupcakes to go with this loss, but I have been impressed with how they have played this season. Right now I could see them finishing anywhere between 5th and 8th in the Big Ten. They definitely have a great chance to make the NCAA Tournament. They could use some quality non-conference wins, though. Taking out Memphis in the consolation bracket in the Bahamas would be a nice start.

VCU 78, #19 Memphis 65
Everything went right for VCU here in what is a huge victory for the program. Joe Jackson will have nightmares about this game for a long time. The VCU pressed forced him into 7 turnovers (and 22 total by Memphis). And with some white hot 13-for-22 three-point shooting, this game reminded me of how VCU looked during their Final Four run.

VCU  obviously won't keep up 59.1% three-point shooting all season, but they are looking very much like that Final Four team. They are very talented and athletic, and their press is ferocious. They are forcing turnovers on a staggering 29.8% of defensive possessions so far this season. They are definitely a contender in a very strong Atlantic Ten, and at this point they are my pick to win it. They will try to take things to the next level next as they take on Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals.

This was just a bad game for Memphis, but they also have not yet looked like a Top 20 team. They are obviously still the heavy, heavy favorites in Conference USA, but they need some quality non-conference wins since there will be none to be had in conference play. They will try to get one next against Minnesota in the consolation bracket. Their final game in the Bahamas will be against either Stanford or Northern Iowa.

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