Saturday, December 08, 2007
Spartans Travel Well, Knock Off BYU
In one of the most widely-anticipated matchups of the early college hoops season, the #9 Michigan State Spartans traveled out to Provo, Utah, to take on the 20th-ranked Brigham Young Cougars.
BYU stormed out to a 35-25 edge at the half, but Michigan State rallied on a 14-3 run to open the second half for a brief 39-38 lead. The teams exchanged baskets and leads thereafter, while BYU's Junior swingman Lee Cummard, who averages 14.8 points per game, was saddled with 4 fouls and sat out most of the second half.
Michigan State's Drew Neitzel scored seven straight points late, including a 3-pointer with 2:27 remaining to give the Spartans a 82-56 lead which proved to be insurmountable for the Cougars.
Fouls and foul-shooting played a critical role down the stretch, as the Spartans piled up personals, putting BYU in the bonus with 7 minutes left and into the double bonus at the 3:42 mark, while the Cougars committed only 4 fouls through the first 19 minutes of the second half but were forced to foul the Spartans repeatedly down the stretch as their shots would not fall and Michigan kept their lead at the foul line, as Travis Walton hit all six of his attempts from the stripe in the final minute.
Neitzel finished with 15 points as did teammate Raymar Morgan. BYU's Trent Plaisted led all scorers with 17.
The Spartans are 8-1, their only loss a thin 68-63 defeat at UCLA. BYU dropped to 7-2.
Indiana 70 Kentucky 51
Indiana positively pounded the Kentucky Wildcats in the annual border war in Bloomington, as D. J. White dropped in 16 points and hauled down 13 rebounds for his 5th straight double-double. The Hoosiers completely dominated the scoring and the boards, even without starting guard Eric Gordon, who was averaging 24.2 points per outing this season. Freshman Jordan Crawford led the Hoosiers and all scorers with 20 points.
Indiana improved to 8-1 and looks like one of the favorites in the Big 10. Kentucky dropped to 4-3, and is has not shot the ball well in most of their outings this season. They hit only 19 of 49 (39%) against Indiana, and have only cracked the 50% plateau twice, in blowout wins over pushovers Liberty and Texas Southern.
Coach Billy Gillispie will find the going tough once Kentucky enters SEC play in mid-January.
No Fluke: Duke Routs Wolverines
I may have to take back some of what I said about Duke after watching them roll over Michigan on Saturday. While they are not big up front, they do have some depth and their wingmen, notably Gerald Henderson, Taylor King and DeMarcus Nelson, are extremely versatile and play within themselves. Most impressive, however, was freshman Nolan Smith, who scored a career-high 17 points on 7-9 shooting.
Duke opened the game shooting 0-7, but Taylor King hit a sweeping hook shot, then Paulus hit a long trey, followed by a three from King on the wing. Suddenly, the Blue Devils were up 8-5. Duke could not maintain much of a lead early in the first half, as the 3-5 Wolverines continued to push the ball and force Duke into mostly outside shooting. But the Wolverines shot only 26% for the half and Duke nearly ran them out of the gym, going on a 23-9 run to expand an 18-14 lead to 41-23 at intermission. Duke shot only 37% and hit on only 6 of 17 three-point tries in the opening stanza.
The second half saw a lot of substitution by both coaches, and Duke's lead was never challenged. Michigan seemed content to just hang in and work on their offense, while the Blue Devils hammered the ball inside.
Michigan ended up shooting 38% for the game, to the Blue Devils' 49%. Duke hit 11 of 26 3-pointers, better than their average of 22 threes per game and a 41% clip.
One to watch for Michigan is freshman Manny Harris, who was held to just 8 points, well below his 16.6 per game average. He's a slick guard with good ball-handling skills. Despite the loss, the Wolverines will win more than a fair share of their Big 10 games once they develop a little more offensively.
In other early Saturday action, the Fighting Illini took the visiting Arizona Wildcats into overtime, dropping a 78-72 decision to the 6-2 Wildcats. Arizona misses head coach Lute Olson, who is on an extended leave through the end of the season as he has filed for divorce, seeking to end his second marriage. Freshman sensation Jerryd Bayless dropped in 20 for Arizona, right on his average for the season.
Louisville, playing without Juan Palacios, had their hands full with the Dayton Flyers, dropping a 70-65 decision, as the Cardinals had absolutely no answer for senior guard Brian Roberts, who poured in 28 points on 10-17 shooting. The win makes Dayton 7-1, while Louisville falls to 5-2. Both Louisville losses have come at home, the first a 78-76 defeat to BYU. The Cardinals, currently #14, may fall out of the Top 25 next week, while Dayton probably won't get any consideration, but looks like a contender in the rugged Atlantic 10, along with Xavier, Duquesne and Rhode Island.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Duke is a Fluke
Currently, the 8-0 Blue Devils are ranked #6 in the AP Poll and #7 in the USA Today/ESPN poll. Chances are good that this is as high as they'll get because this 2007-08 version is not a powerhouse, nor will they challenge for supremacy in the ACC. They're just not that good.
OK, I hear the Cameron Crazies now. "We just beat Wisconsin by 24 points and we beat Marquette in the Maui Invitational."
Right. And you slipped by Davidson by 6 this past Saturday.
The remainder of the month is pretty cushy, with only three games total and two that will have much meaning. Michigan comes to Cameron this Saturday and a December 20 game at Pittsburgh are the big ones. The Devils could win both of those, or lose both. It won't matter. They'll still be ranked in the Top 10. Everybody likes Duke, or, they're being kind to them, at least.
The real action begins on January 13, when the ACC schedule begins. Last year, Duke didn't do well, and while the conference doesn't look that strong, there are some teams that are loaded. Virginia, Maryland, Boston College and North Carolina will each pose a problem to Duke.
Why Duke is not that good? First they're thin, having just lost Junior guard Marty Pocious to season-ending surgery. A swingman, Pocius could play either guard or forward, but won't be missed too badly, as he was averaging only 8 minutes per game. The bench is going to be needed, however, and two starters, Greg Paulus and Lance Thomas, have taken early exits in a number of games. Paulus, the playmaker, is averaging just 3.8 assists per game, while Thomas is only hitting the boards for 2.8 rebounds per contest.
Up front, the Blue Devils are not very big nor experienced. Kyle Singler, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, is, like Thomas, 6-8. They can bring in sophomore 7-1 Brian Zoubek for added height, but he's not very mobile and has seen limited action.
The Blue Devils also rely on the three-pointer quite heavily. Jon Scheyer, Taylor King and Paulus are all shooting over 47% from beyond the arc, but they're heaving up more than 20 per game. Also, the free-throws aren't falling as easily as they could be. Against Marquette the Blue Devils shot 70%. In the win over Davidson, it was 60%.
Duke is a good team, but not one to hang one's March destiny upon. Enjoy the Top Ten ranking for now, because in about 6 weeks, it will be nothing but a fond memory.