Okay, sorry for no update yesterday. I had some things going on that prevented me from updating the scores and stats from a big Saturday and I figured I’d just roll the weekend into one update. So, without further adieu, here are my notes from the weekend:
The Most Notable Game from Saturday: (#10) Illinois, 85 @ (#9) Gonzaga, 74;
This game was slated to be a great one and it did not disappoint – especially for Illini fans. At the start of the game, Gonzaga looked to be in control, jumping out to an early 12-3 lead. With about 8 minutes left in the first half, Gonzaga had an 11-point lead, but Illinois countered and ended the half with a 21-10 run to tie the game at 41 apiece going into the break. Brandon Paul was instrumental in the run and had already tallied 18 points in the first half alone. One turning point of the game was after a Kevin Pangos steal for Gonzaga after which he could not convert the lay-up. The change in possession back to Illinois sparked a 10-2 run for the Illini and gave them the opportunity to keep Gonzaga at arm’s reach. The game got as close as three points after Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris made some free throws. But it was Pangos again whose misses catalyzed the Illini – he missed a free throw that would’ve brought it to three again, and after Mike Hart got the rebound, Pangos missed a 3-pointer, which set off an 8-0 run for Illinois. This put the score at 80-71 with just a minute to play. Brandon Paul was amazing in this game, scoring 35 in all, not to mention solid efforts from D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams. All three players seemed to get big buckets at the exact right moments, and Gonzaga simply could not keep up late in the game. This was a huge win for Illinois, and one that mortalized the Zags a bit.
The Most Notable Game from Sunday: (#19) UNLV, 76 @ (#67) California, 75
This game was important for UNLV in that they needed another good win over a major-conference foe to solidify themselves in the rankings. The loss to (#16) Oregon was still stinging the Rebels, and the win over (#50) Iowa State was not enough to get the taste out of their mouths. California was looking for retribution after an embarrassing 25-point loss to (#58) Wisconsin last week. Both teams had something to prove and they played like it. These two played neck-and-neck until an 11-4 run for UNLV gave them a 7-point advantage at the end of the half. The Rebels’ Anthony Bennett and Anthony Marshall were huge in this one, but Cal’s Allen Crabbe had some things of his own to say. Crabbe hit two three pointers in the early going of the second half, and the Bears tied the game up at 56 with less than 10 minutes remaining. As the second half progresses, Cal actually took a 70-68 lead with 2:37 left, and with a minute left UNLV tied the game back up at 72 with a Bennett dunk. Crabbe made only one of two free throws with 39 seconds left, and Bennett hit a go-ahead jumper with 24 on the clock. A foul with 11 ticks remaining put Cal’s Justin Cobbs at the line, and he hit both, giving Cal a late 75-74 lead. UNLV drove down, and Marshall airballed a shot with just seconds remaining, but senior forward Quintrell Thomas grabbed the rebound and scored the put-back with 1.2 seconds remaining, quieting the crowd in Berkeley and giving UNLV the win they needed. A frantic finish to a great game.
A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Are Really, Really Good: (#1) Indiana, (#12) Duke
Save for a few scattered days here and there, there’s been one team that has consistently topped the DPI: the Indiana Hoosiers. They were simply crushing opponents in the early going behind their talented starting five. All of these guys – Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, and Jordan Hulls – are all averaging between 11.9 and 15.4 PPG, and all of them are playing over 20 minutes in each contest. The Hoosiers are pulling down a daunting 43 rebounds per game, led by the preseason All-American Zeller. They take care of the ball well (1.42 AST/TO) and they’ve made a ridiculous 51.5% of their field goals so far. A strong-willed win over (#49) Georgetown in overtime showed the heart that these guys have, and their demolition of (#40) North Carolina showed just how dominant the Hoosiers can be. Coach Tom Crean has the red and white firing on all cylinders right now as they head into Saturday’s game against (#65) Butler. They’ll have some staunch competition in the Big Ten this year, but at the moment, Indiana looks poised to handle any and every challenge thrown their way.
A team that has perplexed me in terms of its inability to jump much higher in the DPI is Duke. One of the reasons is that they are not ranked as highly in one of my proprietary equations – a plus/minus of sorts, based on a few statistics judged on a game-by-game basis. What this means is that, despite not always dominating teams in the peripheral statistics, Duke is finding ways to win, anyway. The Blue Devils have played one of the toughest schedules to date, and they’ve prevailed in every contest. They’ve taken down the likes of (#56) Kentucky, (#6) Minnesota, (#52) VCU, (#5) Louisville, (#26) Ohio State and (#48) Temple already. The wins over the Gophers and Owls were very impressive, beating them by 18 and 23, respectively, while all the others were close contests that showed the gutsy resolve of a national championship contender. Besides seniors Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, and Ryan Kelly, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon have done everything asked of them in their new roles as main pieces on this team. The Blue Devils, like Indiana, have a solid rotation with five double-digit scorers, and all of them average over 30 minutes per contest, and Tyler Thornton is a great defensive player who plays 20 minutes a game. The Blue Devils seem to have all the right pieces to cut down the nets in April, and Plumlee could be in contention for a Naismith Award if he keeps up his stellar play (19.2 PPG, 11.3 RPG). Coach Mike Krzyzewski has to feel great about his team’s chances, despite last year’s huge disappointment in the Big Dance, when they lost in their opener to Lehigh. Despite my rankings, this team is easily one of the best in the country, and the numbers should catch up before too long.
A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Have Been Overlooked: (#15) New Mexico, (#14) Charlotte
New Mexico has looked great this season, jumping out to an early 10-0 record and recording some pretty decent wins in the run. The best of these wins talent-wise is likely (#70) Connecticut, but wins over solid mid-major clubs (#33) Illinois-Chicago, (#99) Valparaiso, and (#123) George Mason shouldn’t be ignored either. The Lobos have a solid rotation of seven guys playing over 18 minutes per game, and they are headlined by junior guard Kendall Williams and sophomore 7-footer Alex Kirk. Tony Snell has also been a solid piece for UNM, and this trio is picking up steam as the team move up the national ranks. One of the reasons they have been somewhat overlooked is because the Mountain West is featuring some great basketball at the moment. Aside from the Lobos, you have (#30) San Diego State and UNLV, not to mention the upstart (#13) Wyoming squad and a (#69) Colorado State team who is starting to look more and more beatable after two consecutive losses. But quietly flying under the radar have been these boys from New Mexico – a feat that’s going to be much harder if Williams, Kirk and Snell continue to play the way that they have.
Another team that has enjoyed a quality start to the season, but has been drowned out by a lot of the noise in their conference is Charlotte. The 49ers are the only undefeated team left in the Atlantic 10, yet they seem to be receiving only marginal love. That has something to do with their scheduling – their best wins are against (#78) East Carolina and (#125) Davidson – but still, they deserve at least some mention. Senior forward Chris Braswell has been leading the charge for the Niners, scoring over 14 points per game and grabbing 7 rebounds and DeMario Mayfield, a junior guard, has likewise been effective in the early going. A couple games against ACC foes (#64) Miami (FL) and (#129) Florida State are on the docket for Charlotte before they enter A-10 play. Both of those schools have not looked impossibly strong, so it could be that the 49ers don’t lose a game until 2013. Time will tell, but for now, take a moment and give some kudos to a team that’s doing the best with the schedule they’ve been given.
This was a big weekend for a few different teams. Minnesota beat (#212) USC to move to 10-1, and more notably, coach Tubby Smith got his 500th career victory. (#107) West Virginia did a lot to combat a slow beginning by knocking off (#39) Virginia Tech in Morgantown. (#4) Michigan showed some moxie in holding off a decent (#128) Arkansas squad who had their eyes on an upset. Georgetown looked shaky in what should have been a walkover against a lowly (#190) Towson squad, but they prevailed nonetheless. (#90) UCLA got an important win over (#162) Texas in Houston, a game that both teams really needed to feel better about the nonconference season. Despite a less-than-dominant performance by either team, this is the type of game that UCLA simply had to have if they wanted to salvage their early season. Texas, on the other hand, is still waiting for an NCAA decision to be made regarding Myck Kabongo’s return, and until they get their best player back, they will continue to be playing with one hand tied. Lastly, (#24) Middle Tennessee did a lot to make me feel smart by upending previously-undefeated (#21) Ole Miss in a close game, just days after I had lauded them as a low-major team to keep an eye on. It has been a very fun season to watch, so far, and I can only imagine it getting more fun as conference play really ramps up.
What to Watch on Monday (7 games total):
Uh, nothing, really… of the seven games being played, three feature winless teams, one includes a Non-Division I school, and there are no matchups in which both teams have winning records. I guess if you have to watch something, the (#158) Bryant University @ (#225) Navy game is probably the most evenly matched. Virginia Tech and Georgetown both have cakewalks that will be televised on ESPN3, but I doubt they’ll be worth your time. Hopefully this will be the last truly boring day of the season, but only time will tell.
Now check out the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100 through Sunday’s games!