Saturday, November 17, 2012

St. Joseph's Beats Notre Dame In Overtime

St. Joseph's 79, #20 Notre Dame 70, OT
This was a surprisingly well played game for this early in the season. These two teams combined for more assists (29) than either turnovers (20) or fouls (27). This is the first game all season between teams from top ten conferences to achieve that. All ten starters in this game scored in double-digits, led by Ronald Roberts, Jr. from St. Joe's (21 points, 16 rebounds). For the Irish, Jack Cooley has improved his game to the point that he's arguably their most important player. He had 14 points and 14 rebounds here, and you felt the wind come out of their sails when he fouled out in overtime.

St. Joe's returned basically everybody from last year's NIT team, and after a 26 point thumping of Yale and this victory they are looking to be in very good shape. I do still have my concerns about the team. They don't have great shooters, or a really elite go-to scorer. And depth could be an issue. But they certainly looks like a bubble team, at least. We'll get a better sense of where they are soon, though, because Phil Martelli put together a really nice non-conference schedule. They'll play Florida State tonight, then Harvard on Tuesday, followed by Creighton, Drexel, Villanova, Iona and Fairfield before moving into conference play in a really good Atlantic Ten.

The Irish will try to bounce back tonight against BYU. If they don't win that one, they could end going pretty far into the season without a quality win. They'll see Kentucky on November 29th, and after that will have to wait until Purdue on December 15th  If they don't beat BYU or Kentucky, Purdue will be their last chance for a quality win prior to Big East play.

Alabama 77, Villanova 55
Alabama could do no wrong on offense here. They hit 60% of their threes and finished with a 67.0 eFG%. To put that shooting performance in perspective, it's been four seasons since they broke 62%. Trevor Releford led the way with 25 points, including 5-for-5 behind the arc. Levi Randolph also deserves note for doing all of the little things in this game - he's a great glue guy. Alabama shut down the Villanova backcourt. Ryan Arcidiacono hadn't faced a defense like this year in his freshman season, and he struggled (3-for-11 shooting, 2 assists, 2 turnovers).

Despite this big loss, Villanova leaves Madison Square Garden with a hard-fought win over Purdue. On the heels of a win over Marshall, it's a solid start to the season after last year's terrible season. They're not playing like a Tournament team yet, but this loss doesn't change the fact that they're getting closer. They need to stay focused for a Tuesday game against very feisty Columbia team, and then will play La Salle next Sunday.

Alabama hasn't blown me away with their play this year, but their wins and losses do look impressive. They are 4-0 with three of those wins coming against likely RPI Top 100 opponents. Florida and Kentucky are at another level, but you can make a good case that Alabama is the third best team in the SEC (it's either them or Missouri). They'll play Charleston Southern on Friday. Their next serious test will be a road game at Cincinnati on December 1st.

Sacramento State 74, Utah 71
The good news for Utah is that they can lose to Sacramento State and you still can't really say they're going in the wrong direction. They lost to worse teams than Sacramento State during last season's 6-25 debacle. And, honestly, it did seem like they were going to win this game. They missed their final six shots from the field, while Sacramento State hit their final six free throws. They actually have a halfway decent player in Cedric Martin (7 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals here). Although the fact that I'm trying to find a positive spin on a home loss to a bad Sacramento State team just tells you how far this Utah program has sunk. I do honestly believe that Larry Krystkowiak is making this team better... it's just a very, very slow process.

Utah will try to get their first win over a Division I team this season on Wednesday against Idaho State. Utah has no "cupcakes" on their schedule, though. More often than not, they are the cupcake. So there will be no obvious wins for them all season long. Sacramento State, meanwhile, is off to a nice 3-0 start to their season. None of their wins have been against quality opponents, though, so at this point they can't be considered a serious contender to Montana in the Big Sky. Their next game will be on Tuesday against UC Davis.

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