Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wichita State Beats VCU In A Superb Finish

Wichita State 53, VCU 51
Games like this really get lost in the shuffle early in the season. It was buried on ESPNU, it wasn't part of any preseason tournament, and it didn't have any BCS teams in it. So unless you watched this game or are really into college hoops, you probably didn't know it happened. But it was a really well played game between two excellent mid-majors, and the finish was just great. After VCU's Darius Theus hit a cold-blooded three to time the game up with under 30 seconds left, Malcolm Armstead nailed the eventual game winning jumper with 3.8 seconds to go. Juvonte Reddic actually got to the rim and drew a foul with 0.5 seconds left for VCU, but after he missed the first he committed a lane violation on the second and that ended things. And as I noted on twitter right after it happened, doesn't it seem like that lane violation happens 75% of the time in situations like that? Coaches need to practice the "slam it off the rim to try to get a tip-in off a free throw" play a bit more.

Both of these teams could end up on the bubble in March, so this game could matter all season long. Wichita State will get a chance to build on their resume next week when they play at the Cancun Challenge. They'll open against DePaul, and then will play either Iowa or Western Kentucky in their second game. VCU's 23 point win over Florida Gulf Coast is looking better than it did a few days ago (see below), and they certainly didn't play badly here. There's certainly no reason to panic. Their next game will be Saturday at Winthrop, and then they'll head off to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. They'll open against Memphis, and then will play either Duke or Minnesota in their second game. It's a heck of a field down there this year.

Bucknell 61, George Mason 56
Bucknell has played two games this season, both against teams likely to finish in the RPI Top 100, and won both. It's a pretty impressive start, even with the high expectations that this team had heading into the season. Mike Muscala had another great game, putting up 16 points and 15 rebounds. Muscala also blocked three shots and helped really shut down George Mason's paint offense (39.5% on two-pointers). Sherrod Wright had his second consecutive quality game for George Mason (16 points on 6-for-11 shooting), but this game was really not as close as the final score would suggest. A late 12-3 run by George Mason made the final score closer than it should have been.

It seems absurd to suggest that the Patriot League could earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but as well as Bucknell and Lehigh have played early on it's something that we have to at least consider. And just the fact that I'm even talking about considering the Patriot League for an at-large bid is pretty amazing. Bucknell was my preseason pick to win the Patriot League, and I'm obviously sticking with that for now. But I had Bucknell as a 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. My next bracket won't be out until after Saturday night's games end, but right now I think I'm going to move Bucknell up to a 14 seed. I might even consider a 13 seed. They do need to avoid trap games and bad losses, though. They have a potential one coming up on Friday on the road at a decent Niagara team.

George Mason's narrow home win over Virginia doesn't look quite so impressive after Virginia's subsequent struggles. And a loss to Bucknell isn't a bad loss, but it isn't a good result either. So the jury is still out for this George Mason team. We'll have a better sense of where this team is after the Paradise Jam this weekend. They will open against Mercer on Friday, and will play their second game against either New Mexico or Illinois-Chicago.

Florida Gulf Coast 63, Miami (Fl) 51
I'm not going to tell you that this result wasn't a surprise or an upset. It was an upset. But this isn't anywhere near as big of an upset as the legacy media is making it out to be. Miami is a decent team, but they look like a bubble team more than anything. And Florida Gulf Coast, despite sounding like a cupcake, is a program on the rise. They return almost everybody from last year's middle-of-the-pack Atlantic Sun team. Back in April I named them as a dark horse contender for the Atlantic Sun title. They fell on the road to VCU in their opener, but there's no shame in that.

What's particularly bad about this loss for Miami is that it happened despite Florida Gulf Coast shooting 1-for-11 behind the arc. The Eagles hit 60% of their two-point attempts, compared to 27.6% for Miami. Reggie Johnson, by the way, finished with six points on 2-for-8 shooting. I think he's grouped in with UCLA's Joshua Smith at this point. If he was going to gain mental focus and get in shape, it would have happened by now.

Florida Gulf Coast has a pretty odd upcoming schedule. It's the life of a low-mid major. They will play a non-Division I team apparently called Ave Maria tomorrow. After that they'll play at Duke. Their next game worth paying attention to might be that November 24th game against St. John's, which could be surprisingly competitive. Miami should have no trouble bouncing back on Friday against Jacksonville. They have a huge opportunity on November 28th with a home game against Michigan State as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But they're going to have to play much better if they're going to knock off the Spartans.

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