Friday, January 11, 2013

New Mexico Outduels UNLV At The Pit

#25 New Mexico 65, #24 UNLV 60
UNLV has more NBA talent, but the less-flashy New Mexico Lobos ground this game out and held serve at home. Anthony Bennett is probably the leader for National Freshman of the Year, but the best player on the court here was Alex Kirk. Kirk has been New Mexico's best player on both ends of the court this season, and he finished this game with 23 points (on 7-for-13 shooting) and 9 rebounds. UNLV has a lot of size on the wings, but they don't have a true big (unless you count Khem Birch, who gives up 3 inches and 30 pounds on Kirk), so Kirk just dominated the paint.

The biggest offensive issue for UNLV, as it's been for years, is three-point shooting. They are streaky, so they can occasionally get hot and overwhelm their opponent, but more often than not they chuck up brick after brick, despite the type of athleticism that should allow them to get to the basket at will. They were 8-for-23 behind the arc here.

This was the first Mountain West game for either of these teams this season, and both look to be fairly safe NCAA Tournament teams, so I don't want to overreact to a single game (particularly a narrow home victory, a result that is typically a bad predictor of future results). New Mexico plays Fresno State tomorrow, and then has the first of many tough Mountain West road games, at Boise State on Wednesday. In fact, considering how good Air Force is at altitude at Clune Arena, only the road games at Nevada and Fresno State will not be very scary for even the best Mountain West teams this season.

UNLV will play Air Force at home tomorrow, and then will go on the road to face San Diego State and Colorado State next week.

#22 Michigan State 62, Iowa 59
Michigan State trailed for most of the night, but Keith Appling took over down the stretch, generating all of their offense and scoring 6 of their 11 points in the final two minutes. Michigan State also benefited in a big way from the lack of suspension for Branden Dawson after he pretty obviously throwing a punch in the Purdue game. Dawson was the best player for either team over the full 40 minutes, scoring 17 points and adding 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.

Iowa got run off the court in the second half against Michigan, but their other two Big Ten games have both come down to the final minute, but both ended up as losses (by a combined seven points). and now they're sitting at 0-3, facing a road game at Northwestern, a home game against Wisconsin and a road game at Ohio State. They're more likely to go 1-2 in that stretch than 2-1, making a 1-5 start to Big Ten play a very real possibility. And that's the problem for good-but-not-great teams in the Big Ten this season. Iowa will get a couple of big scalps this season (not to mention a non-conference win over Iowa State), but they need to get to at least 8-10 in conference play to earn an at-large bid. The Selection Committee almost certainly will not give an at-large bid to a team four games under .500 in conference play.

This win is huge for a Michigan State team that had been playing much more like a bubble team than a Top 25 team for the past few weeks. With a home game against Nebraska on Sunday followed by a road game at Penn State on Wednesday, they should be able to get themselves to 4-1 in Big Ten play, which will give them a nice cushion before they head into a brutal seven game stretch.

Miami (Fl) 68, North Carolina 59
North Carolina's defense has come and gone all season long. There have been times (the latter part of the Butler game, and most of the UNLV game) where they have used their length and athleticism and aggressively forced turnovers and shut down the opposition. But more often than not their defense has been flat out lazy, and it was brutal here. North Carolina's defense, particularly in the paint, was invisible. Julian Gamble and Kenny Kadji shot a combined 14-for-21 from the field. In all, Miami scored 1.08 PPP, the sixth time in North Carolina's last 11 games that they've allowed an opponent to score more than 1.00 PPP.

North Carolina's at-large hopes are getting increasingly precarious. This could be the fourth time in the past 12 seasons that North Carolina has missed the NCAA Tournament. Considering how easy it is to recruit there, that's just embarrassing. Recall that North Carolina had made 27 consecutive NCAA Tournaments prior to 2002, which includes an era where it was a lot harder to get into the NCAA Tournament than it is now. But I don't think anybody confuses Roy Williams with Dean Smith.

The Tar Heels are 10-5 overall and 0-2 in ACC play, with a win over UNLV along with a potentially bad loss to Texas. While the RPI is still a bit ridiculous this early in the season, the Tar Heels are a horrific 5-5 against the RPI Top 200. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE has slid all the way to 80th. They will need to get to at least 9-9 in ACC play, and probably more like 10-8, to make the NCAA Tournament. Their next game will be tomorrow, at Florida State.

Miami, now 2-0 in ACC play, will play Maryland tomorrow. They'll then head on the road to face Boston College on Wednesday, before getting a week to prepare for a massive home game against Duke. They can really firm up their place in the Field of 68 if they can take down the Blue Devils.

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