Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wisconsin Beats Arkansas; Northwestern Beats Illinois State

Wisconsin 77, Arkansas 70
Arkansas actually led by 11 at halftime of this game, but Wisconsin erased it with a 16-5 run to open the second half. I was actually surprised that Arkansas was able to play as well as they did in the first half considering that Wisconsin is not a good match-up for them at all. Mike Anderson's style depends on a lot of turnovers, and they're never going to get that against Wisconsin. The Badgers also had a massive height advantage, which they weren't able to take advantage of.

Sam Dekker was superb off the bench, scoring 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting. In the Bo Ryan era I am so used to Wisconsin's freshmen barely playing - his program is all about developing talent over years. To see a true freshman already be the team's best playmaker is remarkable. Dekker is a tremendous all-around player. This was an important win for Wisconsin after losses to Florida and Creighton. They will come home to face Virginia on Wednesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Next Sunday they will play California.

As for Arkansas, BJ Young is a very good player, but he tries to do too much. So much of the Arkansas evolves revolves around him, and Wisconsin was able to completely shut down the Arkansas offense in the second half merely by limiting his effectiveness. I thought that Arkansas as a team would be more advanced in Year Two of the Mike Anderson era. But they are improved, and remember that it took a few years for his system to stick in Missouri. The Razorbacks are definitely headed in the right direction. They head home next to play Syracuse on Friday.

Northwestern 72, Illinois State 69, OT
This was an exciting game between two quality teams. A clutch three by Tyler Brown sent the game to overtime. Jared Swopshire took over in overtime, scoring six points with an assist, as Northwestern held off Illinois State despite two more clutch threes by Tyler Brown. Tyler Brown finished a superb 7-for-13 behind the arc, with 36 total points.

This was the first chance to see Northwestern against a quality opponent this season. It's obvious that the Jared Swopshire transfer will be huge as they try to replace John Shurna and Davide Curletti. Considering how big of a problem rebounding has been for Northwestern in the Big Ten the past few years, Swopshire's ability to get after the glass is a tremendous asset. The Big Ten is awfully good this season, and Northwestern is going to have to find a way to at least get to 9-9 in conference play in order to earn their first ever at-large bid. But they're definitely a contender. Their next test will be on Tuesday against Maryland.

Illinois State will be disappointed to have wasted this Tyler Brown performance in an otherwise sloppy loss. Their win against Drexel will probably end up an RPI Top 100 win, but a win over Northwestern would have been a nice scalp to have for Selection Sunday. They will play at Louisville next Saturday. Unless they can pull a huge upset there, their best remaining opponents prior to Missouri Valley play will be Dayton and Wyoming. In my opinion, they're going to need to beat Louisville or else they'll probably need to go 13-5 or better in Missouri Valley play to earn an at-large bid.

#18 UNLV 82, Iowa State 70
This was an underwhelming win by UNLV. Some hometown reffing earned them 35 free throw attempts compared to only 9 for Iowa State. They got destroyed on the glass (22 offensive rebounds for Iowa State, vs only 11 for UNLV) and allowed 23 more shot attempts from the field. But UNLV hit 40% of their threes, compared to only 28% for Iowa State, and that was enough to get them through.

The highlight for UNLV here was another monster game from Anthony Bennett (22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks). Bennett is up to 19.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, and has looked like one of the best freshmen in the entire nation.  And regardless, this is a quality win for UNLV, and nobody in March is going to care how they got it. The Runnin' Rebs have a pretty soft upcoming schedule. Their next real tough opponent should be California, on December 9th.

Iowa State leaves the Global Sports Classic in Vegas with a pair of losses. Neither is a bad loss, but both are missed opportunities. The Cyclones have only BYU and Iowa left as potential quality wins before they open Big 12 play. The BYU game is up next, on Saturday.

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