Just thought I'd take down some thoughts as I watch a very interesting Saturday in college basketball. A several pairs of highly KenPom-rated teams are going at it today:
(5)G'town @ (1)Duke: Duke won a game that was somewhat closer than the score indicated. With Monroe saddled with 3 fouls the Blue Devils took an 11-0 run to lead 40-29 at the half. Similarly in the second, the Hoyas were within 4 when Monroe picked up #4 (a technical from the bench), without Monroe (the Hoyas main rebounding threat) in the the game, the Blue Devils pulled away, knocking down shots in their 5 guard spread offense. Singler started slowly and shot poorly (7-18, 1-6), but was able to contribute in other ways, mainly with 5 offensive and 13 total rebounds, Henderson was able to pick up the Blue Devils' offense with 23 pts (10-15, 3-6).
Bottom Line: The Hoyas are a good all around team, with a gimmick offense that can catch some teams flat-footed and a true star in Greg Monroe, but the Devils staunch defense and small lineup did a good job defending the "Georgetown" (read: modified Princeton) offense, and without offensive trickery and their star, the Hoyas were somewhat easily vanquished. As always, when the Devils are hustling on defense, they easily outwork their size disadvantage. Similarly on the offensive end, when the shots are dropping for any of their main weapons (Singler, Scheyer, and Henderson)*, the Devils are hard to beat.
(8)Wake @ (17)Clemson: Early, Clemson had seemed to suck Wake in to a helter-skelter, poorly organized, style of play, during which the Tigers were hanging tough and seeming to avoid the Deacons half court defense. Since then Wake has seemed to take control, executing by making open jumpers, running the break well, and keeping Clemson off the offensive glass which helped their defense shine through. Opening the second, the Deacons do their best Tar Heel impression, running out to a 12 point lead on a made three and easy (I mean EASY) transition baskets, including a ferocious dunk by Aminu. The most impressive thing about Wake, aside from their defense, is their laundry list of big bodies to both rebound and play defense. A bonus is that none of them are good enough to be missed when in foul, except perhaps Aminu. Wake Forest's matchup with Duke next week should be interesting, their offensive styles are in stark contrast while they both play excellent defense (#4 and #2 respectively). Needless to say, I am quite jealous of the Demon Deacon defense. They are using a very Tar Heel-esque blueprint of speed and offensive rebounding on offensive, but their zone defense seems to be working better for them than intense switching man-to-man has for the boys in powder blue (come on, Marcus...).
Bottom Line: This is a very familiar Clemson team, who relies on outside shooting runs and full court pressure, that works against 80% of the country, but won't against the top three teams in the ACC. Wake has taken a large step forward, with the addition of a few extra big bodies, and a talented freshman (think Marvin Williams) in Aminu. They will challenge for the ACC and the 3 game lead the Heels have given them will be a tall mountain to climb. The more I watch this game, the better and better I feel about the Heels 3 point loss in Winston-Salem.
(9)Ariz St @ (10)UCLA: Wow, Arizona St's road unis are classy. I'm a sucker for simple, clean, classic designs. I'll also have to confess that I had NO idea Herb Sendek was in the Pitino coaching tree. It will be interesting to watch a Sendek team flow through one player as much as the Sun Devils do, James Harden (if you haven't heard of him, look him up) uses 34% of possessions while playing 83% of the team's minutes. Early, Harden's offensive prowess is drawing the attention of literally every Bruin at that end of the court. The Bruins have no individual defensive stopper with the size and speed to match up with Harden, while his teammates have been able to hit the open shots they've been the beneficiaries of. Arizona St's zone had seemed to perplex UCLA into poor outside shots, and to more than make up for the Sun Devils lack of size (only one player 6-9 on the starting lineup, 201st in effective height). The Bruins have been able to have some jumpers fall and score when the zone isn't fully set (on fast breaks and offensive rebounds) to bring the game to a tie late in the first. The Bruins march continues into the second. They're double-teaming Harden on one end and getting into the fast break and hitting shots opened up by their excellent passing to beat the once perplexing ASU zone.
Bottom Line: UCLA has the offense of past years, while their defense has slipped, Arizona State is in the Georgetown mold, with a go to guy that they are too reliant on, not that I can blame Herb Sendek, because James Harden is a special player now, and will be in the NBA (think Brandon Roy).
I won't be watching (14)L'ville host (4)Pittsburgh, but I will be interested to see how Pitt handles only its second real challenge of the season. The AP #1 Panthers have only played one other team in the KenPom top 50, a win at Georgetown early in the Big East schedule
*I'm intentionally leaving out Smith, who's main contribution is sound ball handing (a 23.5 TORate is an improvement over Paulus who averaged a 30 TORate the last 2 years). His assist and steal rates are respectively 2nd and 3rd on the team, among starters. As a side note, Mile Plumlee has a 45.4 TORate, he's a forward, right? Its no wonder Coach K doesn't run a standard offense.
As a bonus, I'll go ahead and throw together an underrated/overrated list with KenPom and the AP. I'll use the AP rankings out to about 42 (43-47 all only received 1 25th place vote, but I will mention AP #44 Mizzou)
Florida St. (31/58)
Notre Dame (12/43)
St. Mary's (30/62)
George Mason (41/77)
Boston College (37/81)
Most of the teams are mysterious, I don't know why half of them are on anyone's top 25 ballot, while some are more obvious (BC). Florida St., Syracuse, and Notre Dame are benefiting from playing in strong conferences. I didn't realized George Mason was still riding the publicity bump from 3 years ago. Oh, and who the hell voted for Arkansas?
Underrated (AP/KP) NV=No Votes (appeared on 0 ballots)
West Virginia (36/7)
Kansas St. (NV/26)
Brigham Young (34/13)
USC and Kentucky would be on this list, but KP has taken into account their recent upsets (ASU and Tenn) while the AP hasn't, I'll bet they show up on a ballot or two this week. Some good teams are getting no attention at all (UK, but that will change) Washington, K-State, and Utah are no where to be found, on any ballot. Then there are those that the national media know about but apparently don't respect enough: Gonzaga, West Virginia, Memphis and Mizzou. Obviously due to the absurd nature of polls, teams with 4 losses (Zags, WVU) can't be ranked high nationally, no matter how respectable the losses may be.