Friday, January 18, 2013

Michigan Beats Minnesota; Are They The New Big Ten Favorites?

#5 Michigan 83, #9 Minnesota 75
This game was certainly played at a high level. Both defenses were aggressive, both teams were pretty solid with the ball, and both shot well. Both teams hit 50% of their three-point attempts. Tim Hardaway was the best player for either team pouring in 21 points on 7-for-8 shooting and helping to really limit Andre Hollins. Minnesota has the more formidable front line, so Michigan had to dominate the backcourt. Trey Burke played fine, but Hardaway really was the one who stepped up in a big way on both sides of the floor.

With this win coming after a couple of sketchy Indiana performances, the question is whether Michigan is the new conference favorite. As my regular readers know, I don't overreact to individual games. I haven't changed my favorite in the Big Ten, Big East, ACC, Big 12 or SEC since last April. But Michigan has certainly been the better team so far in Big Ten play. Their +0.22 PPP in conference play leads the Big Ten. Indiana is third best at +0.13 PPP.

Certainly both teams have advantages on the other. I'm not sure if Michigan has a defensive answer for Cody Zeller. At the same time, Michigan has a dramatic backcourt advantage and outside shooting advantage. Right now, I think the tiebreak is coaching. I have more faith in John Beilein than Tom Crean to continue improving ihs team throughout the season, and to have a good game plan for the most important games of the season. So for the moment, Michigan is my new Big Ten favorite.

Minnesota is a team that I still don't know what to make of. They beat Michigan State and Illinois, but Illinois has been proven to be a fraud, and I'm not a true believer in Michigan State either. And now with losses to Indiana and Michigan, what do we say? Is Minnesota the third best team in the Big Ten? Or are they in a big fight for fourth and fifth place with the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa? Like I said, I just don't know right now.

Minnesota won't play again until Wednesday, when they'll be on the road at Northwestern. The following Saturday they'll be at Wisconsin. Michigan has a full week before playing Purdue next Thursday.

Saint Mary's 70, BYU 69
This was probably the best game I've seen so far in the 2013 calendar season. Both teams have a ton of offensive weapons, and they were just going at each other like a pair of boxers in a title fight. Tyler Haws and Matthew Dellavedova were just spectacular. They were the only two players to score in the final two minutes of the game. Haws had a tremendous shot that should have been the game winner, but Dellavedova somehow got to midcourt in one dribble off an out-of-bounds pass, double-clutched and nailed a half court buzzer beater.

I give Randy Bennett credit for riding Dellavedova over the final seven minutes despite four fouls. It was obvious that St. Mary's couldn't win without his scoring. Stephen Holt (22 points on 8-for-16 shooting) also had a really nice game for St. Mary's. And you have to feel for Tyler Haws having his game overshadowed by a miracle buzzer beater. He couldn't have done much more, scoring 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting despite constant defensive attention.

One of the really good things about this game is that we'll get to see it again. These two teams will play at McKeon Pavilion on February 21st. This game also should go a long way toward clarifying the pecking order in the WCC. Gonzaga is a step above, of course, but at this point it looks like either St. Mary's or BYU will be getting a second WCC Tournament bid. For a while now I've been projecting St. Mary's as getting that bid, and I'm certainly not changing my mind after this game. But BYU will have more chances to get back into the Field of 68.

The Gaels head now into a softer part of their schedule. They'll play at Portland on Saturday, and then at home against San Diego next Thursday. BYU will play San Diego on Saturday, and then at Gonzaga next Thursday.

Washington 64, Colorado 54
Pop quiz, hot shot. Which team leads the Pac-12 in PPP margin so far in conference play? It's not Arizona. It's not UCLA. It's not Oregon. Here are the top five right now:

+0.16 Washington
+0.14 UCLA
+0.11 Oregon
+0.08 Arizona State
+0.04 Arizona

Obviously the schedules haven't been even so far, and the sample size is still limited (these teams have played anywhere between three and five games so far), but Washington's performance can't be ignored. Their defense, which was mediocre in non-conference play (0.93 or more PPP in 12 of 13 non-conference games) has been superb in conference play (a Pac-12 best 0.86 PPP). Like I said, the sample size is limited, but it's impressive.

Washington is now 12-5 overall, with wins over St. Louis and Colorado along with bad losses to Albany and Nevada. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE has moved up to 47th, and they'd at least be on the bubble if the season ended now. With their poor non-conference performance, however, they need to get to at least 12-6 in conference play to earn an at-large bid, and might need to get to 13-5. They'll play Utah on Saturday and then a road game at Oregon State on Wednesday.

Colorado has really been in a tailspin since that gut-wrenching loss to Arizona. They are now 1-4 in Pac-12 play and have dropped to 11-6 overall with a win over Baylor more than over-shadowed by potentially bad losses to Washington and Arizona State. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE has slid to 53rd, and I don't think there's much question that they're be NIT-bound if the season ended now. I don't think they can earn an at-large bid unless they get to 10-8 or better in conference play, which means that they need to win at least 9 of their final 13 games. They'll play at Washington State on Saturday, followed by home games against the two northern California teams next week.

No comments: