Saturday, November 29, 2014

Morning News: Wisconsin Wins, Florida Goes Cold Again, Butler Finishes Strong, Dez Wells Out, And More

Bring on Duke
Wisconsin Wins The Battle 4 Atlantis This was a very competitive first half, with Bo Ryan doing the ever-hated #Autobench, keeping star Frank Kaminsky on the bench for the final 14:28 of the first half. Kaminsky committed just one foul in the second half, which isn't a surprise since he's only committing 2.7 fouls per 40 minutes this season. But regardless, Wisconsin looked much sharper in the second half, again getting a really balanced offensive effort. The Badgers also looked very good defensively here, bottling up Buddy Hield (9 points on 2-for-11 shooting) and forcing 21 turnovers (including 12 steals).

What we've learned about Wisconsin in the Bahamas is that they basically have a seven man starting lineup. There is just no drop-off when they go to Duje Dukan or Bronson Koenig, as each was a hero for a half in this tournament. You can't count on stopping one or two Badgers stars and expecting to beat them. That game coming up against Duke should be awesome.

Oklahoma impressed in a big way in this Tournament, even with the loss here. I'm not sure if they'll get moved back into the Top 25 on Monday, but in my opinion they're one of the 25 best teams in the nation. Their remaining non-conference schedule is pretty soft, but they'll enter Big 12 play as one of the real contenders for the conference title.

Florida Goes Cold Again Florida's shooting has been fairly awful this season. Their eFG% has been 40.6% or worse in four straight games, including a 37.7 eFG% here. To put that in perspective, their eFG% was under 42% just once all of last season, in their Final Four loss to UConn. For the season, their 2P% (44.1%), 3P% (29.5%) and eFG% (44.1%) are all outside the Top 230 in the nation. Billy Donovan has called his team "streaky" with their shooting, but that is always just a euphemism for "bad".

The Gators will get better. Eli Carter is still not fully healthy, and he sat on the bench for most of this one. Their defense is still very strong, and they still should be a fairly good team. But at this point, are they even Kentucky's top challenger in the SEC? It might be Arkansas.

North Carolina has done a good job fixing the rebounding problems that plagued them against Butler. Kennedy Meeks continues to impress as his new, thinner self (18 points and 13 rebounds here). The Tar Heels have interesting games coming up against Iowa, Kentucky and Ohio State. The Iowa game is up next, in Chapel Hill for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Butler Finishes Strong In The Bahamas Butler didn't win the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they may end up getting more out of it than any other team. They finish with resume-building wins over North Carolina and Georgetown, with only a loss against a very good and underrated Oklahoma team that I expect to spend most of the season in the Top 25. They're playing very strong defense, they're a menace on the glass, and they have multiple players who can create their own offense. The player I was most impressed with here was Kam Woods (5 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals), who did the dirty work in the paint against this physical Georgetown team.

This game, of course, is not a "conference game" despite these teams being in the same conference. But these two teams just might be the top contenders to Villanova in the Big East (obviously Providence and Xavier have to be in that discussion as well), so this was an early chance for these squads to feel each other out. These teams will play next on January 17th, at Georgetown.

Georgetown went 1-2 in the three games in the Bahamas, but I think their fans have to come out of this feeling better about their team. There's no shame in close losses to Butler or Wisconsin, and they got a victory over Florida. They look like a Tournament team, for sure. That said, they could use another quality victory before Big East play. They'll have a great chance on December 10th, when they get Kansas at home.

Dez Wells Out With Fractured Wrist Maryland's best player will miss the next four weeks or so. The big concern for the Terps is going to be offensive playmaking. Dez Wells not only leads the team in points (16.2) and assists (2.6) per game, but he's absolutely dominated their shot taking. He's had a 35.3 shot percentage this year, when nobody else on the team is even above 25%.

The good news, I suppose, is that Maryland is mostly playing cupcakes over the next month. Their home game with Virginia on December 3rd  is the only big game that Wells will miss for certain. The road game at Oklahoma State on December 21st will be a question mark.

Ole Miss Upsets Creighton As I say so often early in the season: This is why you don't overreact to a single game. What makes this result so perplexing for Creighton is that they collected that nice win over Oklahoma without really shooting that well behind the arc, yet here against Mississippi they actually shot really well (13-for-31 behind the arc, along with 4-for-8 on two-point jumpers). But their perimeter defense was just not good. They got sliced and diced by Jarvis Summers (23 points) and Ladarius White (18 points on 7-for-10 shooting). In all, Mississippi ended up with 1.15 PPP.

Creighton's one remaining chance to get a quality win before conference play will come on the road at Nebraska on December 7th, though they've got some other tricky games as well (vs Middle Tennessee, at Tulsa, vs St. Mary's).

Mississippi is now 4-1, with this nice win, but that season-opening loss to Charleston Southern is a resume killer. Besides, one good result isn't particularly good evidence that Ole Miss is a bubble or Tournament quality team anyway. We'll see how they look later today against Cincinnati.

Gonzaga Escapes The Garden St. John's made a late rally in this game. Down by 15 points with 9 minutes left, they actually earned two consecutive possessions in the final minute with their deficit down to just 3 points. But while there were no obviously "blown" referee calls, it felt down the stretch like Gonzaga was getting the 50-50 calls, including a charge on D'Angelo Harrison on the last real Johnnies chance.

The controversial late charging call against D'Angelo Harrison

This is a huge missed opportunity for St. John's, who are likely to be in the vicinity of the bubble this season. They do have their win over Minnesota, and they'll get a chance on the road at Syracuse on December 6th, but realistically they're probably going to need to get to at least 10-8 in Big East play to go the tourney.

Mark Few has to be happy with how balanced the Gonzaga attack was here, even if it wasn't a great overall team performance. Kevin Pangos played the role of distributor, collecting more assists (9) than attempted shots (8). Domantas Sabonis had a big double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) off the bench. The Zags are now 6-0, with road games against Arizona and UCLA still ahead before they start WCC play. The Arizona game is up first, on December 6th.

Kansas Bounces Back Kansas is slowly get the taste out of their mouth from that horrible performance against Kentucky. Thumping an underrated Rhode Island team was impressive, but well below the radar of the media and casual fans. This relatively comfortable win over Tennessee helps also. Next they'll get Michigan State, which will be their real chance to move the needle.

Perry Ellis led the way for Kansas with 24 points and 13 rebounds, but this was also a coming out game for Cliff Alexander, who had a career-high 16 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Steady play from Frank Mason III (4-for-6 shooting, 7 assists, 3 turnovers) also was important.

Tennessee has had two shots at Tournament quality teams so far this season and lost both by double digits, but it's still early. They'll only play Marquette next, but they still have home games against Kansas State and Butler ahead in the next couple of weeks. But the SEC is not looking good this season, so the Vols really don't want to enter conference play without something good on their resume.

Illinois Beats Baylor Baylor had been off to a quick 5-0 start, including a thumping of Memphis, but it never means much until you measure yourself against a Tournament-quality opponent. Illinois shot an ugly 1-for-11 behind the arc in the first half, but looked sharper in the second half (5-for-12) while also shutting down Baylor (37.9 eFG% in the second half, 38.2% for the game). Rayvonte Rice was the best player for either team, finishing with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals.

Baylor's offense has been predicated in a big way this season (as it often has been under Scott Drew) on offensive rebounds. They collected 47.5% of their misses against Memphis, but only 35.9% here against Illinois. When they only get one shot per possession, they don't have the scorers to conduct offense efficiently. And that's going to be a problem against the big front lines in the Big 12. They have a soft remaining non-conference schedule, so they'll enter Big 12 play with a good W/L record but with a lot still to prove.

The Illini are off to a quick 6-0 start, though this is their first win over a team with a pulse. They take a step up in difficulty next, when they go on the road to face Miami in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. A week later they'll face Villanova in Madison Square Garden.

UTEP Upsets Xavier UTEP did an excellent job of avoiding two-point jump shots here. They hit 8-for-20 behind the arc while 17 of their 18 made two-pointers came in the paint. They also earned a 26-to-15 advantage in free throws attempted. CJ Cooper led the way, scoring 22 points with 4-for-7 shooting on threes.

Dee Davis didn't play poorly (12 points and 5 assists), but he isn't yet the explosive offensive creator that Semaj Christon was, or that Tu Holloway or Jordan Crawford was before that. This Xavier team is not going to be relying on a single perimeter creator, but instead on their very talented front line. Trevon Bluiett, in particular, has been impressive. The Musketeers will try to bounce back against Long Beach State, but are going to enter Big East play without a win over a likely NCAA Tournament opponent. If they're going to earn an at-large bid, they'll have to earn it in conference play.

UTEP is now 4-0, though three of the four wins have come by six points or less, and Xavier was easily their toughest opponent so far. Their one chance to earn some national buzz and to really build a Tournament resume will come on December 19th, when Arizona comes to town.

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