Notes from December 16th
The Most Notable Game: (#54) Western Kentucky, 70 @ (#48) Murray State, 75
This was one of those marquee mid-major matchups, one you have to be a true college basketball fanatic to enjoy. Thankfully, I am – and this one did not disappoint. At the start of this game, Western Kentucky was rated at #42 and Murray State at #70. It was back and forth throughout the game, with the first half being dominated by the big men, notably WKU’s Teeng Akol and Murray State’s Ed Daniel. The second half saw the Hilltoppers lose their point guard Jamal Crook to injury, but there was another player in the backcourt who proved more than ready to step up to the occasion – Brandon Harris. Harris ended up scoring a career high 25 points in this game, but his efforts were countered at every turn by the Racers’ star all-everything guard Isaiah Canaan. After struggling throughout much of the first 30 minutes in which he shot 3 for 12, Canaan erupted in the final 10 minutes, scoring 13 points and making his final four field goals. With NBA scouts in attendance, Isaiah Canaan – a surefire pro – stepped up at exactly the right moments. His three-pointer with just under 7 minutes remaining put Murray State up by one and they never relinquished that lead. The win put Murray State above Western Kentucky in the standings, and at the moment, the Racers look like the class of the Ohio Valley conference – although (#29) Eastern Kentucky is still looking solid after putting up a pretty good fight against (#3) Illinois (more on that game in Last-Second Thoughts).
A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Struggled Sunday: (#181) Boston College, (#137) Texas Tech
In the early morning on Sunday, Boston College tipped off with (#243) New Hampshire in what should have been an easy romp in Chestnut Hill for the Eagles. Having limped to a sub-.500 start to the year, BC had something to prove against the Wildcats, but they sure took their sweet time in making their point. UNH’s star forward Ferg Myrick took his team under his wing, scoring 11 in the first period. BC trailed by eight at the break and by as many as 13 in the second half. That is when the Eagles’ leader Ryan Anderson stepped up and started hitting some big baskets. He had 8 points to lead Boston College back to a 52-all tie with 1:33 left, but neither team could score in the final 90 seconds and this game went to overtime. In the extra period, UNH jumped out to a five-point lead, but threes from Lonnie Jackson and Oliver Hanlan gave BC a one-point advantage with 50 seconds left. A couple missed free throws kept New Hampshire (4-6, 0-0) in this one, but they couldn’t get the ball into Myrick, and instead Patrick Konan missed two shots that could have potentially tied or won the game for UNH. Boston College (5-5, 0-0) escaped with a win that brings them to .500 on the year, but it’s a victory they can’t feel too comfortable with.
Texas Tech would’ve loved an uncomfortable victory on Sunday. The Red Raiders came into this game with a 5-1 record, but their best win was over (#235) Prairie View A&M. All of their other triumphs came over sub-300 teams, including the DPI’s bottom-dwellers, (#346) Nebraska-Omaha and (#347) Grambling State (more on Grambling in Last-Second Thoughts). Their loss, however, came to a really good (#8) Arizona team, so it was hard to get a gauge on where Texas Tech was when (#164) McNeese State (6-3, 0-0) came to town. The Cowboys had won four straight coming into Sunday’s game in Lubbock, the most recent over (#68) Louisiana Tech. Texas Tech looked to be quelling some of that momentum however, as they jumped out to an early ten-point lead and went into the break up by five. With 11 minutes left in the game, the Raiders were still enjoying an eight-point advantage, behind solid performances from Jaye Crockett and Trency Jackson. At this point, however, the Cowboys woke up and went on an 18-5 run, highlighted by Ledrick Eackles’ (son of NBAer Ledell Eackles) eight points – the last five coming on a game-tying dunk and a go-ahead three-pointer. Donate Cannon stepped up for McNeese, making some big shots and bigger passes down the stretch, but a turnover with a minute left led to a Crockett basket that brought the game within one. Cannon returned fire, coolly hitting a jumper to push it back out to three. When Crockett’s three missed in final 21 seconds, Texas Tech had to start fouling. The Cowboys made all four free throws in the closing seconds, and sent the Raiders (5-2, 0-0) on a head-scratching walk of shame as they left United Spirit Arena in Lubbock – where, curiously, they’ve played all seven games so far this season. If you’re a Tech player, just be glad Bob Knight isn’t around anymore.
A Couple Low-Major Teams With Impressive Wins Saturday: (#35) Bucknell, (#115) Robert Morris
I’ve already discussed a lot of the good ones in the last couple days: (#252) Georgia State’s upset over (#63) Virginia Tech was in Sunday morning’s Last-Second Thoughts, and Murray State’s big win over WKU was detailed above. That said, another low-major team that snuck up on a bigger-name opponent was Bucknell, who upended (#73) La Salle. The Bison (9-1, 0-0) have been a solid team so far this season. I talked about them last week as a team to watch in a good Patriot League opposite (#42) Lehigh and All-American C.J. McCollum – you might remember them better as the team that beat (#7) Duke in the NCAA Tournament last year. Well, Bucknell is no stranger to March Madness either, and they could be headed back this year. Bucknell led the Explorers (6-2, 0-0) for almost the entirety of the game, last trailing by a score of 8-6 early in the first half. Behind senior big men Mike Muscala and Joe Willman, who each had 18, the Bison romped over this Atlantic 10 foe which had previously been featured in the Tournament Projections. This is the same Bucknell team that beat (#170) Purdue in the opener, sending the Boilermakers into an early free-fall, and also has wins over (#111) George Mason and (#154) Kent State. Their only loss was by three points in Happy Valley to a mediocre (#145) Penn State team. If Muscala keeps up his rate of play (18.7 points, 11.0 rebounds per game), he could challenge McCollum (24.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG) for Patriot League POY honors, although the safe money is on Lehigh’s star.
The Colonials of Robert Morris have jumped out to a good start this season, and are a favorite to win the Northeast Conference – especially after Sunday’s revelation that (#161) Long Island’s Julian Boyd will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. RMU looked pretty dismal to start the year, getting trounced by 25 and 29 points to (#146) Rider and Lehigh, respectively. Their next lost was more promising – a two-point defeat at the hands of (#56) Xavier, before they topped (#171) Cleveland State and (#94) Ohio. A perplexing loss to (#216) Savannah State came between those victories, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the Colonials’ season. They won their next two matches coming into Saturday’s affair with (#139) Duquesne, a team coming off a good win of their own over (#124) West Virginia. This intra-city battle in the suburbs of Pittsburgh seemed like it could be another victory for the Dukes, but Robert Morris (7-4, 0-0) had other plans. Duquesne (6-5, 0-0) led for most of the first half, but a 28-7 run for RMU which spanned the halftime break put the Colonials squarely in the driver’s seat. They hit their first eight shots of the second half, including five 3-pointers, and by the first media timeout, they were up by 17 all of a sudden. Velton Jones and Coron Williams were the heaviest hitters in what ended up being a 91-69 blowout, scoring 22 and 16, respectively. Each player hit four shots from beyond the arc, and Robert Morris hit 13 threes before the night was over. It was a telling day for a few teams in the Atlantic 10, where (#40) Butler and (#37) VCU scored big wins, but La Salle and Duquesne turned in decidedly subpar performances. Robert Morris looked very good in this one, and the NEC seems to be theirs to lose at the moment.
0:05 – (#19) Kansas dropped the hammer down on (#102) Belmont on Saturday: I wrote on Saturday afternoon that Belmont didn’t have to win to impress me this weekend, they just needed to keep up with the Jayhawks. Well, they didn’t anything but that, getting stomped on 89-60 in Lawrence and never really looked to be in this game. For the Bruins’ sake, they need to hope this was just the result of being overmatched, and not an indication of what’s to come against the tougher foes in the Ohio Valley Conference, like Murray State and Eastern Kentucky. Kansas, on the other hand, looked mighty in blowing out the Bruins, and made a clear case even clearer, as they look to claim their rightful spot as the Big 12’s best squad.
0:04 – (#15) Pittsburgh simply didn’t let (#299) Bethune-Cookman have the ball: So, this was always going to be a blowout. Yeah, Pittsburgh more than doubled the lowly Wildcats in beating them 89-40. That’s not what caught my attention. What really stood out to me is that Bethune-Cookman was only able to grab six rebounds all game. Six. That number between five and seven. I’ve never seen a rebounding total so low – Pittsburgh hauled in 37, for a comparison. Bethune-Cookman’s Marc Mack led the Wildcats with two rebounds, and the team evenly split their half-dozen boards on the offensive and defensive ends. Of the 18 total shots that Pittsburgh missed, the Panthers reined in 15. It was as dominant a performance on the glass as you will ever see in college basketball.
0:03 – (#347) Grambling State is the nation’s worst team – and it’s not that close: The Tigers are a perfect 0-8 on the season, achieving new depths of futility I once thought impossible. They are simply bad at everything. Grambling State is ranked in the bottom 50 of almost every statistic imaginable, including 341st (out of 347 Division I teams) in shooting percentage, 339th in rebounding, and 346th in scoring. They have lost all eight games by no fewer than 26 points, and have been beaten by as many as 50. Terry Rose is the lone bright spot, averaging 15.6 of his team’s 49.8 points per game. The Tigers have been ranked 347th in the DPI for a four straight weeks, as far back as I’ve been tracking the standings. There is simply nothing going right for them right now, although I do hope that they get at least one win on the year. One note is that they have yet to play a home game, so perhaps coming back to some friendly confines will give them the boost that they need.
0:02 – (#3) Illinois staved off (#29) Eastern Kentucky’s potential upset bid Sunday: This game looked like the Illini were going to cruise, jumping out to an early 11-3 lead, but the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky stormed back and had this game as close at 22-20 during the first half. Unfortunately for EKU, Brandon Paul and the Illini were able to keep the Colonels at arm’s length throughout the entire second half, with the deficit shrinking only as small as four points, right after the 10-minute mark. This sparked a 12-2 run, however, for Illinois, which cemented the victory and gave Eastern Kentucky their first loss of the year. Meanwhile, first-year Illinois head coach John Groce moved to a perfect 12-0 start in his new digs in Champaign.
0:01 – (#76) Oregon State defeated (#340) Chicago State, but questions abound: While it was nice for Oregon State to get another win to boost their record up to 7-2, they have been playing the Pac 12’s weakest non-conference schedule to date. Wins over Grambling State, (#290) Portland State, and now Chicago State, are not the kinds of victories that your team can really learn from, especially when the latter two came by only five and ten points, respectively. And by now, you should know that a 30-point win over Grambling is simply par for the course against the Tigers. What has been encouraging is the recent play of Roberto Nelson, who tied a career high with 34 points at Gill Coliseum on Sunday. What has been discouraging, besides the weak opponents, is the sudden disappearance of Ahmad Starks. He has not hit a field goal in either of the Beavers’ past two games, after leading them in scoring through the first seven. Any sort of lengthy slump for Starks will spell immediate trouble for the Beavers as they look to recreate and build on last year’s 21-win season.
What to Watch on Monday (27 games total):
Another really slow Monday is upon us, but it’s got some interesting games speckled in there…
(#153) Detroit @ (#2) Syracuse – Syracuse should likely cruise in this one, behind Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams. But you just never know. Well, sometimes you do… but let’s pretend anyway. Detroit hasn’t won a game on the road yet, and Syracuse hasn’t lost one at the Carrier Dome. Okay, maybe there’s no use in talking about this one anymore.
Prediction: Syracuse wins by 24
(#16) UNLV @ (#194) UTEP – This one is intriguing because while UTEP has not been good to start the year, they are currently undefeated in El Paso. UNLV is also playing without one of their cogs, forward Mike Moser, who is out indefinitely. Still, the Rebels took out (#77) California in Berkeley without Moser, so I think they’ll be fine here.
Prediction: UNLV wins by 15
(#252) Georgia Southern @ (#87) Bradley – Coming off their upset of Virginia Tech, Georgia Southern is looking to continue its road success against Bradley. The Braves, on the other hand, have been playing pretty good basketball to start the year. Walt Lemon Jr. and Tyshon Pickett will try to avoid the pitfall that Virginia Tech fell into on Saturday and beat Georgia Southern at home.
Prediction: Bradley wins by 10
(#68) Louisiana Tech @ (#90) Arkansas Little-Rock – Finally! A matchup of two Top 100 teams! And an interesting one, to boot. Louisiana Tech jumped out to a high DPI ranking this year, but have since fallen with losses to (#150) Northwestern State and McNeese State – both on the road. Despite getting trounced by (#12) Cincinnati last week, Arkansas-Little Rock is coming off of a win over (#147) Tulsa, and the Trojans of UALR will look to ride the hot hand of John Gillon (17 points vs. Tulsa) over Raheem Appleby (17.8 PPG) and the Bulldogs in Little Rock.
Prediction: Arkansas Little-Rock wins by less than 5, possibly in overtime
(#217) Cal Poly @ (#66) Santa Clara – Last but not entirely least, this west coast matchup offers two intriguing teams – Cal Poly, the team that sent (#60) UCLA into panic mode a few weeks ago, and Santa Clara, who has opened the season 8-2 and has a win over (#91) Saint Louis. Santa Clara is led by Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore, and the Broncos are in the top 10 nationally in assists. Chris Eversly and the Mustangs have shown they have the gusto to pull off the big upset on the road, but I think Santa Clara takes this one pretty easily at home.
Prediction: Santa Clara wins by 13
OK, now that all of that is out of the way, let’s get to what you really came here for – the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100 through Sunday’s games. Here’s hoping your team made the cut!