Notes from December 15th
The Most Notable Game: (#9) Indiana, 86 @ (#41) Butler, 88 – OT
There’s not much you can say about this game except, “Wow.” Butler hung with the Hooisers from the get-go, and were helped going into halftime by an Erik Fromm three-pointer which cut the lead to four for Indiana. The Hoosiers’ Victor Oladipo was sensational in this one, scoring 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting. Roosevelt Jones and Rotnei Clarke were the catalysts for the Bulldogs throughout the game, but another player would come up in the clutch later, to become the real story of this game. Before that, however, came the big Butler run that put them in the driver’s seat. After Christian Watford hit a free-throw to put IU up by a 57-50 margin, the Bulldogs went on a 16-2 run in which five different players scored. Butler still led by five in the final minute, but after Yogi Ferrell cut it to three, an Oladipo steal and layup brought Indiana within one. Butler’s Alex Barlow made both of his free-throws with 17 seconds left, but on the ensuing possession, Ferrell came up huge again, nailing the game-tying three-pointer and giving a stay of execution to the national polls’ top-ranked team. The Hoosiers looked to have recovered, leading by four with 1:45 to play, but Clarke and Chase Stigall hit threes for Butler to put them on top 86-84. Cody Zeller tied the game back up with 23 seconds left, but it was Barlow – a sophomore walk-on – who hit the game’s most important shot, breaking the tie with seconds remaining and securing the upset for a Butler team that you can simply never count out. This in-state rivalry result speaks more to the quality of Butler (8-2, 0-1) than that of Indiana, in my opinion, so don’t go counting the Hoosiers (9-1, 0-0) out of anything just yet. They still have the look of a team that could win a national championship – they just won’t do it undefeated.
A Couple Major Conference Teams That Impressed Yesterday: (#8) Arizona, (#2) Syracuse
Yesterday I wrote about how (#13) Florida had a huge test against Arizona on Saturday, and that I was only calling it big specifically for the Gators because they were on the road. However, coming into the game, they were the team with the much stronger résumé, so it was an enormous test for the Wildcats, as well. For most of the game, Florida had the upper hand, leading by as many as 13 in the second half. A Mike Rosario three-pointer put the Gators up 11 with just under 10 minutes remaining, but the Cats clawed back and kept it close. Rosario and Kenny Boynton both had turnovers in the final minute, and Arizona brought the game to within one after Solomon Hill added the last of his 18 points, and Grant Jerrett hit only one of two free throws. Arizona sent Boynton to the line with the opportunity to put the Gators up by three, but he clanked the first one and the rebound went the Wildcats’ way. They did not call a timeout, instead giving the ball to senior guard Mark Lyons. He drove the lane and let loose an off-balance jumper, which caromed off the backboard and rattled in, giving Arizona (8-0, 0-0) their first lead of the game, and the only one they needed. This was a huge win for a team that was short on any truly good ones, and Arizona’s wherewithal down the stretch shows me that this is a team that will have some staying power come late March.
Syracuse is another squad who played well Saturday, although in a much less marquee matchup. The Orange continued a trend of obliterating opponents, and this time, the victim was (#49) Canisius. The Canes got good performances out of Isaac Sosa and Billy Baron, but it was not enough to hold off the smattering of points that Syracuse unleashed this weekend. Brandon Triche was solid, scoring 19 and dishing out five assists, while Michael Carter-Williams had 12 points and 14 dimes. The real story for Syracuse in this game was the emergence of James Southerland off the bench, who had 21 and five rebounds to lead the Orange. Canisius actually outrebounded Syracuse, but turnovers and shooting were the story of this game – the Canes turned the ball over 18 times and shot only 35% from the field, compared to the Orange’s 10 TOs and 55% shooting. This is Syracuse’s second-best win on the year, besides their opener to (#25) San Diego State, but they have a final pre-Big East test when they play (#38) Temple next weekend. Carter-Williams is one of the best guards in the country right now, averaging 12 points and 11 assists, not to mention five rebounds and 3.7 steals. The 6-6 sophomore has the Orange (9-0, 0-0) playing like a top-seed, and both Triche and Southerland are supporting him in that endeavor. Look for Syracuse and (#4) Louisville to go toe-to-toe in the Big East – at this point, both teams could end up being 1-seeds in March.
A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Are Playing Really Well: (#25) San Diego State, (#36) VCU
Now that you know how good Syracuse is, take a moment to realize that they are currently San Diego State’s only loss on the season. The Aztecs (8-1, 0-0) have won eight straight since dropping their opener to the Orange on the USS Midway. Wins over (#58) UCLA and (#161) USC have highlighted a mostly uneventful romp through the southwest for SDSU, and last night’s big victory over city rival (#223) San Diego showed that these guys haven’t missed a beat. Junior guard Jamaal Franklin has been the centerpiece of this offense, scoring 18.6 points and hauling in 9.8 rebounds per game. Along with (#16) UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, (#17) Wyoming’s Leonard Washington, and (#72) Colorado State’s Colton Iverson, Franklin is on a short list for potential Mountain West Player of the Year honors. He had 14 and 8 against the Toreros last night, and was helped out – as he has been all season – by the smooth scoring hand of Chase Tapley. Though their schedule isn’t much to look at, San Diego State is playing well enough to look like the MWC they should be. With Mike Moser out indefinitely for UNLV, the door is open for the Aztecs to make a lot of early noise and try to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Say what you want about VCU’s Final Four run from a few years back being a fluke. These guys are for real. Despite having lost three games on the year, the Rams’ have faltered against some of the best teams in the nation so far – (#18) Wichita State (by 2), (#6) Duke (by 9), and (#29) Missouri (by 3). They also put wins over (#88) Memphis and (#102) Belmont in their back pocket before hosting (#95) Alabama on Saturday and taking them to task, winning 73-54 over the Tide. Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham are leading Virginia Commonwealth in the early going, and Darius Theus has been serviceable at the point. The Rams (7-3, 0-0) do lack depth, however, and they really don’t shoot all that well. There are certain teams, however, that just go and gut out victories, week in and week out, and that’s what Shaka Smart’s VCU squad does. Granted, they’ve lost in their toughest matchups to date, but the way they played all three of those teams has to give you confidence that they will not only compete in the Atlantic 10, but could perhaps be the frontrunner for the title going into the New Year. There are no less than six teams who are willing to argue with me on that one, though.
0:05 – (#4) Louisville comes back from down 16 to beat (#88) Memphis on the road: Memphis led 25-9 in the first half, and even by as much as 10 with 12 minutes to play. Chase Behanan, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith brought Louisville back from the dead and slingshot themselves past the Tigers on Saturday. The Cardinals spent all day at the free throw line, but shooting an 82.6% clip (38-for-46) was huge for them to be able to get this win. Joe Jackson and Tarik Black were the bright spots for Memphis, combining to shoot 16 for 20 and scoring 23 and 20, respectively. Jackson’s eight turnovers helped Louisville get back into this one, though.
0:04 – (#62) Virginia Tech upset at home by (#256) Georgia Southern: Despite 28 points out of their senior star Erick Green and 21 from forward Jarell Eddie, the Hokies could not withstand the barrage of threes that Georgia Southern laid upon them. The Eagles’ C.J. Reed and Cleon Roberts led the way, combining hit 9 of 17 from downtown, and scoring 22 and 20, respectively. Georgia Southern only got two points from the bench, but all of their starters were in double figures. Eric Ferguson put in a double-double, as well. The Eagles led by as many as 16 in the second half, and actually used a game-opening 8-0 run to hold the lead on Virginia Tech for the entire 40 minutes in Blacksburg.
0:03 – (#1) Michigan drops (#127) West Virginia to remain atop the DPI: Speaking of teams who never trailed in their game, the Wolverines did the same in Brooklyn in their 81-66 win against Bob Huggins’ West Virginia, who have been up and down all year long. Michigan’s Trey Burke was outstanding, ending the game with 27 points, eight assists, and five rebounds, and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 25 points of his own. Terry Henderson scored 23 points for the Mountaineers, but was largely a one-man show. UM’s John Beilein got a big win over his former school to move his Wolverines to 11-0 on the season.
0:02 – (#14) Creighton rides McDermott’s hot hand over (#73) California: Cal head coach Mike Montgomery had been lauding Creighton’s All-American Doug McDermott all week, and when game time came in Berkeley, the big man didn’t disappoint. His 34 points and nine rebounds led the Blue Jays, who staved off a valiant effort from the Golden Bears’ Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe. Despite outrebounding the Jays 47-36, California had a moment near the end of the game when they were down by five points and could not put the ball in the bucket – literally. Creighton’s Gregory Echenique recorded two blocks in this span, but Cal had four shots in 17 seconds that would not fall, and those moments of futility really solidified the win for Creighton.
0:01 – (#281) Troy wins, moves to 5-7 with 5th “Win At The Line”: Every single win the Trojans have on the year came in a game where their opponent missed enough free-throws to make up the point differential, even had Troy knocked down all of theirs, too. No other team in the nation has won more than two games in this fashion, but somehow, Troy has done it five times already – and they haven’t won any other way in 2012. Their win over (#210) Georgia State came by a single point, and despite missing four themselves, Troy benefitted from a 15-of-22 night at the line from the Panthers. These guys could pretty easily be 0-12 right now, but luck keeps intervening. Time to buy some lottery tickets in Troy, AL.
What to Watch on Sunday (27 games total):
(#42) Western Kentucky @ (#68) Murray State – 12:00 PST – prediction: Murray State “upset”
(#23) Eastern Kentucky @ (#7) Illinois – 3:00 PST – prediction: Illinois by a few baskets