Notes From December 5th
The Most Notable Game: (#2) Gonzaga 71, @ (#134) Washington State 69
This one was a ton of fun to watch. Gonzaga (9-0, 0-0) trailed by four at the half, and the Cougars (5-4, 0-0) stuck with them all game. The Zags went on a big run, thanks in part to Elias Harris, going up by as much as 11 in the second half. Right after Gonzaga took that lead, Washington State’s DaVonte Lacy hit two threes and Brock Motum added a pair himself to bring it within three points. With just under three minutes to play, Lacy hit another three to tie the game at 60. Kelly Olynyk, who had a career-high 22 in the game, converted on a three-point play and was fouled while converting another lay-up with 1:07 on the clock. Olynyk missed the free throw, but in what was perhaps the play of the game, Mike Hart (thanks to Chris Provencher for the correction – I wrote this a little too quickly while nursing a Jameson on the rocks) grabbed an offensive rebound, retaining possession for the Bulldogs. On this possession, Olynyk went all Tim Duncan – circa 2008 against the Suns – and nailed his first three-pointer of the season to put Gonzaga up four. Motum hit a deep three with 14 seconds remaining and after the Zags’ Gary Bell only converted on one free throw, Lacy drove the lane and hit a lay-up with less than ten seconds to go. Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos took the inbounds pass and went coast-to-coast, putting in the game-winning basket with 2.1 seconds on the clock to preserve the team’s first 9-0 start in school history. This was an adrenaline packed game, and you couldn’t help but smile while watching this one. A great effort by Wazzu, to be sure, but they just couldn’t get over the top in the second half.
Major Conference Teams Struggling Out of the Gate: (#154) Texas, (#146) Tennessee
Texas (5-3, 0-0) has been playing without their best player, Myck Kabongo, and it’s showing. The Longhorns barely got past (#159) Fresno State, but they lost by 13 to host Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. They followed that embarrassment up with a 6-point loss to (#186) USC. They won their next three over some easy opponents, but last night they looked awful against a very solid (#55) Georgetown team, losing 64-41. I didn’t expect them to win the game, by any means, but I thought that they would have been a little more competitive than that. The Longhorns, and all the faithful in Austin, are waiting on bated breath for Kabongo. A matchup of two of season’s more disappointing squads takes place in Houston on Saturday, when (#101) UCLA comes to the Lone Star State.
Tennessee’s season thus far has been a tale of two teams. They are averaging 77.8 points per game in their four wins, though they have yet to record a truly impressive one. More intriguing, however, is that they are averaging 39.7 PPG in their three losses. That’s right – the Vols (4-3, 0-0) are scoring less than 40 points per game in their losses. Georgetown prevailed in an ugly 37-36 matchup last week, and Tennessee was trounced by (#39) Oklahoma State. The most telling loss, however, might have been last night’s, when they lost 46-38 in Charlottesville to (#51) Virginia. Bruce Pearl’s squad is running into a serious problem, where they are having too many nights where they can’t put the ball in the hoop. This is the kind of issue that you simply cannot have in the SEC if you plan to be competitive.
Mid-Major Teams Who Have Fallen Off the Map: (#296) Old Dominion, (#199) Nevada
Old Dominion was 27-7 in 2011, making the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. That streak was broken last year, but they were 21-12 and received an invite to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The Monarchs (1-7, 0-0) have a lot of work to do if they want to be considered for postseason play this year. They certainly miss Kent Bazemore, who graduated after last season, and it is apparent that they have not yet found his replacement. They opened the season with a loss to (#235) Holy Cross, and have also dropped games to (#289) Texas-San Antonio, (#216) VMI, and (#130) William & Mary. Losses to perennial overachievers (#74) Murray State and (#122) Cleveland State are easier to overlook, but the way that they were demolished last night by in-state rival (#48) Richmond confirmed what many in Fairfax already feared: this is a going to be a long season for ODU if they don’t start playing better immediately.
Nevada was even better than Old Dominion last year, going 28-7 and reaching the semifinals of the NIT, before losing to eventual champion Stanford. They are off to a very slow start this season, however, and that does not bode well, given that they have are playing their first season in the Mountain West, a very tough conference. The Wolf Pack (4-4, 0-0) are the MWC’s weakest team so far, with losses to (#181) UC Irvine, (#161) Marshall, (#202) Drake, and (#164) Pacific. Save for an 18-point drubbing of (#337) Southern Utah, their other three wins have come by an average of 2 points, and in games against pretty weak opponents – (#178) Cal State Fullerton, (#193) Green Bay, and (#271) UC Davis. The first 8 games on the schedule should not have given Nevada as much trouble as it has, with their best opponent to date being the Aggies from Davis. Reno bills itself as the biggest little city in the world, but their basketball team might be the biggest little doormat in the MWC if they can’t figure things out quickly.
Now that I’ve discussed the Mountain West as a more-than-mid-major conference, it’s time to give a little love to the Altantic 10 – which, yes, has 16 teams (14 of them are in the top half of DPI). The addition of (#57) VCU and (#92) Butler into the fold makes this conference much more formidable, and it was already pretty strong with (#36) Xavier, (#22) Temple, Richmond, (#81) St. Joseph’s and (#82) Dayton. Aside from all of those squads, another team enjoying a great start to the year is (#15) Charlotte. The 49ers are undefeated, but their wins haven’t come against any major opponents — although (#145) Oral Roberts and (#142) Davidson are no slouches. (#114) St. Louis made the tournament last year, too. Like the Mountain West, this is a conference that could see four to six teams playing in late March. VCU, Butler, Xavier and Richmond have all made (at least) the Sweet 16 within the last 4 years. St. Louis could be getting a little help from above, as well, as the Billikens have won their last two contests since the passing of Rick Majerus. In a sport where emotion plays such a huge role, it can’t be ignored that this team has some extra motivation to have a great year. Overall, this is another conference teetering on major status.
What to Watch on Thursday (19 games total):
(#62) Arkansas-Little Rock @ (#12) Cincinnati
(#249) Vanderbilt @ (#36) Xavier
(#23) Creighton @ (#54) Nebraska (Note: I have a feeling this is the only game that will be worth watching, really. Slim pickins for a Thursday.)
Okay, onto the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100!