Monday, December 8, 2008

Basketball is the new football

Traditional football powers Ohio State and Michigan each had huge wins this weekend, with the Buckeyes taking down Notre Dame in Indianapolis and Michigan handing Duke its first loss on the season.

So far into this young season, Ohio State is flexing its muscles on the defensive end. By adjusted defensive efficiency, they rank #2 in the nation. Now, part of that is its ridiculous 59-22 drubbing of Samford, but that sort of proves this team is tough to score on, doesn't it? Sure, it's just Samford, but when a team is held to 0.36 points per possession, something is going right on defense.

This game against the Irish again featured excellent defense, as the Buckeyes held Notre Dame to 0.88 points per possession. That's tough to do. With the caveat that it's only December, Notre Dame, even after this game, ranks as the #1 offensive team in the country. And as an experienced team with a track record of great offense, this probably isn't a fluke. Notre Dame is explosive, and OSU stopped them. Looking at the box score, it's clear what happened - Dallas Lauderdale owned the paint. Notre Dame shot 39% from 2 point range, and Lauderdale's 6 blocks and imposing presence likely had a lot to do with that. And against a team that features Luke Harangody, that's impressive (Big Luke was "held" to 25 points on 25 shots).

On offense, Evan Turner continues to lead this team (although perhaps he shouldn't lead so much). On 16 shots, he scored 28 points to go with 10 rebounds (5 on the offensive end) and 5 assists. But the Buckeyes need to find someone who can lighten Mr. Turner's load, as the wing also ended up with 6 turnovers - his 3rd game (out of 6) in which he had 4 or more TOs. Right now, the only blemish on Turner's season is the TOs - other than that, he's having a remarkable sophomore season.

The second time was the charm for Michigan, who took down Duke, 81-73 in a 70 possession game. The Wolverines' game plan was simple - pack that zone in, and dare the Devils to beat Michigan from the outside. Duke shot 7-33 (21%) from the outside, and that was it. Inside the arc, Duke shot a red-hot 75%, but they only took 32 attempts from there.

Was this madness, or genius from John Beilein? After all, Duke returned most of the minutes from a team that shot 38% from three point range last season. Certainly, they are capable of better than this. But that didn't happen on Saturday, for whatever reason. Another byproduct of Duke's extreme POT-ness in this contest was that the Blue Devils reached the free throw line only six times. DeShawn Sims had more than that all by himself.

Speaking of Mr. Sims, it was a solid day at the office for him - 28 points (on 16 shots) and 12 boards. Box score.

Indiana actually made a game of it before Gonzaga pulled away, 70-54 in a 69 possession game. This was a tight game until about midway through the second half, as Gonzaga failed to put any real distance between them and the Hoosiers. Indiana actually defended pretty well, holding one of the more explosive teams in the country to about 1.0 point per possession. In a season to be filled with moral victories, the one that can be taken from this game was that the Bulldogs won in large part thanks to height. Had the Hoosiers been a bit taller, maybe they get the win. But the vertically-challenged Hoosiers shot 26% from inside the arc, while the relatively giant Bulldogs shot 56% from 2. Outside of Tom Pritchard, who was 4-6, IU was 3-21 from 2 point range. IU's 25 TOs, which resulted in their worst TO Rate of the season to date, didn't help matters either. Box score.

If you managed to stay awake through it, you saw Iowa take down Bryant 61-36 in a 50 possession game. Yes, you read that right - 50 possessions. Lickliter has set a new low for his Iowa tenure. A game this slow really throws off your box score meter. Eleven turnovers doesn't sound like a lot, but in a game like this, it's actually kind of high. But that doesn't matter much when 65% of your attempts are three pointers, and you make 43% of them. Freshman Matt Gatens led the barrage with 19 points on 12 shots. Box score.

Illinois ripped apart Georgia on Saturday, 76-42 in a 65 possession game. The game ended on a 22-0 run by the Illini, who displayed excellence on both sides of the floor. That said, there might have been foreshadowing of problems for the Illini frontcourt, as Georgia grabbed 48.5% of the available rebounds on the offensive end of the floor. Rebounding was widely thought to be a problem with this team, and Illinois' All-Mike frontcourt had the kind of game many were expecting - lots of scoring (28 points on 20 shots for Davis and Tisdale), little rebounding (combined 7 boards). That has to change in conference play. Sophomore Demetri McCamey was sparkling, scoring 19 points on 12 shots, dishing 6 assists, grabbing 3 steals, 4 rebounds, and just 2 turnovers. Box score.

Minnesota took down Cornell, 71-54 in a 63 possession game on Saturday. The Gophers did everything well except take care of the ball, committing 17 turnovers on the day. Big Red had its PG Louis Dale back in the lineup for limited action (10 minutes), and actually held a 12 point lead at halftime. After the half though, Minnesota took possession of the paint, making 57% of their twos. Lawrence Westbrook led Minnesota with 17 points on just 9 shots, to go with 5 assists and 2 turnovers. Box score.

The Wildcats are making us look good for predicting a big step forward this season. Northwestern embarassed DePaul, 63-36 in a 58 possession game. Obviously, defense was key. Curiously, it wasn't Northwestern's trapping defense creating lots of turnovers. It was Northwestern's excellent 2 point defense (???) that did the job, holding the Blue Demons to 26% shooting from inside the arc. To be fair, DePaul was without 6-10 Mac Koshwal, but still, the Wildcats held Dar Tucker to 4-14 from inside the arc, and this guy shot 54% from 2 last season. Kevin Coble led the Wildcats, who are thinking postseason, with 25 points on 19 shots to go with 6 rebounds. Box score.

Penn State's impressive early season run hit a speedbump on Saturday, as the Nittany Lions were taken out at home by the Temple Owls, 65-59 in a 60 possession game. The Nittany Lions just couldn't make shots, hitting only 33% of their twos. It didn't help matters that Stanley Pringle was limited to just 9 minutes. This might not be a terrible loss come Selection Sunday, because Temple is hard to figure out at this point (they lost by just 4 at Clemson, for instance). Still, it's never good to be someone else's best win. Talor Battle played every minute, and Jamelle Cornley sat out just 2 - I think it's clear at this point that DeChellis has a short bench. Battle led with 19 points on 15 shots to go with 7 assists and just one TO. Box score.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff didn't stand a chance against Purdue, who dominated with defense en route to a 90-42 victory in a 81 possession game (yes, A-PB is playing very fast this year. No, it isn't helping). Sometimes, one stat is all you need to describe a game: Arkansas-Pine Bluff committed 35 turnovers. There. Box score.

Wisconsin lost a heartbreaker at Marquette, 61-58 in a 63 possession game. Wisconsin's 2 losses this season have one thing in common - that "no foul" defense is nowhere to be seen. The Golden Eagles shot 23 FTs compared to Wisconsin's 13, and that was enough for Marquette to win. In fact, considering the FT gap and the fact that Marcus Landry attempted only 5 shots, it was kind of impressive that Wisconsin was even in this game (Marquette is a good team, even considering the strange blowout loss to Dayton earlier this season). The Badgers need more out of their senior. Trevon Hughes led the Badgers with 14 points on 11 shots. Box score.

Michigan State dispatched with Bradley, 75-59 in a 78 possession game, but didn't exactly look impressive. This was a close game at the half, and a big part of that was MSU's TO problem. The Spartans had 19 in this one, and Tom Izzo must feel like he's in a nightmare that he can't wake up from. Turnovers have plagued the Spartans for going on three seasons now, though it appeared this was all figured out at the end of last season. Apparently, that's not the case. BTG Breakout Candidate Chris Allen led the Spartans with 19 points on 14 shots. Box score.

Tonight Hawaii takes on Illinois in Champaign.

(Get your fill of Big Ten Wonking over at Unfiltered, the blog for Basketball Prospectus).

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