The Other 26: Week FivePosted by IRenko on December 23rd, 2011
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will bring you his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences each Friday during the season. Follow him on twitter at @IRenkoHoops.
The biggest and most impressive result — but also most perplexing — of the past week was Davidson’s 80-74 win versus Kansas. The Wildcats are a genuine contender in the Southern Conference this year, but they haven’t proven to be one of the best teams in the TO26. Indeed, the win in Kansas City was sandwiched between a 23-point drubbing at Charlotte and an eight-point loss at UMass, two teams that are hardly the caliber of the Jayhawks.
Yet for one shining moment in their non-conference schedule, Davidson went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country in one of the toughest road environments and in the process, managed to avenge their loss to Kansas in the Elite Eight in 2008. Nik Cochran led the way with 21 points on just six field goal attempts. He was 4-5 from three-point range and 7-8 from the free throw line. But it was a fairly balanced effort for the Wildcats, who also received double-digit scoring from Jake Cohen, De’Mon Brooks, and J.P. Kuhlman. Perhaps most importantly, they were able to contain Thomas Robinson on the defensive end. Although the Kansas star notched 21 points, it took him 18 field goal attempts and 12 free throw attempts to get there.
More on the week that was after the updated Top 15 rankings, after the jump.
Most Dramatic Yet Ethically Dubious Win of the Week
Southern Mississippi 64, Arizona St 61 — In a dramatic finish, transfer Darnell Dodson, playing his first game in a USM uniform, hit a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer. Dodson, who finished with 17 points and four rebounds, took an ignominious road to Monday night’s game-winner. He spent a year at JUCO before transferring to Kentucky, where he was kicked off the team in October 2010 following an arrest for disorderly conduct. Dodson then transferred to USM in January 2011, only to be indefinitely suspended a couple of months later after pleading guilty to grand larceny. Last week, USM announced that Dodson was being reinstated and would be eligible immediately. Perhaps a bit too conveniently, Dodson’s suspension lasted only for the year during which he was already ineligible to play due to transfer rules. But hey, who is Larry Eustachy to get in the way of someone’s second chance.
USM managed the victory despite shooting just 33.9% from the field, compared to ASU’s 48.8%. How did they manage this feat? By taking 15 more shots, largely due to a +12 offensive rebounding margin. Leading the way was forward Torye Pelham who had nine offensive rebounds in just 25 minutes of action. That kind of performance would normally garner unqualified praise, but alas, the reason Pelham only put it in 25 minutes is because he was ejected in the second half for landing a forearm to the back of Ruslan Pateev’s head. Pateev was ejected for retaliating, but Pelham clearly initiated the altercation. Pelham was at least suspended for one more game for which he was actually eligible.
Snark aside, with Dodson back in the fold, Southern Mississippi looks like a top three team in C-USA. They’re 9-2 on the season (losses to Denver and Murray St.) and the win at ASU was preceded by an 86-82 home win over a quality Ole Miss team and followed by a 53-51 win against South Florida.
- UNLV 64, Illinois 48 — Given a second chance to notch a road win over a ranked Big Ten team, UNLV took advantage, with a clear and convincing win over Illinois. Mike Moser matched his (now routine) double-digit rebounding total with double digits in points — 17 on 6-11 shooting. And defensively, they had their best performance of the year, limiting the Illini to less than 0.7 points per possession. With a win over Cal tonight, the Rebels will be well-positioned for a Tournament at-large bid should they miss out on an automatic berth.
- Gonzaga 80, Arizona 71 — It’s starting to become an open question as to just how good Arizona is, as they’ve now lost pretty much every game against a Tournament-quality opponent. Still, the Wildcats are not a slouch, and after recent losses to Michigan State and Illinois, Gonzaga will take even a half-decent quality win for their Tournament resume. The Zags also followed this up with double-digit wins over Butler and Air Force and are looking strong heading into conference play.
Indiana’s mid-major teams had some major results over the past week.
- Indiana State 61, Vanderbilt 55 — Vanderbilt has been such a disappointment this year that at some point, beating them will cease qualifying to be a significant upset. But it was still a big win for Indiana State, their most important of the year. The Sycamores are now 9-2 heading into the gauntlet of MVC conference play, where they expect to contend and seek a return to the Tournament.
- Butler 67, Purdue 65 / Butler 71, Stanford 66 — It had been a rough start to the season for Butler coming into the past week. The Bulldogs were on a 3-game losing streak, were already 0-1 in league play, and were 4-6 with their best win coming against Gardner Webb. But they registered two big victories this past past week, first in a dramatic finish against Purdue and then at Stanford last night. Unfortunatlely, those wins were sandwiched around a 16-point loss at Gonzaga, but they should give Butler fans some hope that, like last year, the Bulldogs can rally from early season woes to get back to the Tournament.
Some TO26 teams are starting to put it together.
- St. Joseph’s 74, Villanova 58 — A week after dealing Creighton its first loss of the season, St. Joe’s scored another big win, routing their Big 5 rivals from the Big East. The Hawks have two capable scorers in the backcourt: Langston Galloway, who led the way against Villanova with 20 points, and Carl Jones, who posted 29 against Creighton the week before. The frontcourt isn’t shabby either. Sophomore big men Ronald Roberts and C.J. Aiken are capable scorers (12 and 11 points against Villanova, respectively) and defensively, with the athletic, shot-blocking Aiken patrolling the pain (four blocks against the Wildcats), they are tough to score on inside. The Hawks are starting to look like a serious threat in the A-10, but before conference play begins, they have a big test with a New Year’s Eve matchup at Harvard.
- New Mexico 66, Oklahoma State 56 — The Lobos scored a nice win over a reasonably-talented Oklahoma State squad and are now on a 7-game win streak. New Mexico won with tough defense, which has been their hallmark all year. They held the Cowboys to 32.1% FG shooting, caused 15 turnovers, and rebounded more than 75% of OSU’s misses. Their only weakness — which is a broader problem coach Steve Alford will have to address — was allowing OSU to hit 8-19 from three-point land.
- Ohio 76, Northern Iowa 59 — Although these teams were somewhat evenly matched, the result was a surprise given the margin of victory and that the game was played in Cedar Falls. Ohio convincingly dispatched the Panthers on the road. The game was never particularly close, as the Bobcats took an early 10-point lead and stretched it out to 20 at one point in the second half.
- Marshall 87, Belmont 86 — They cracked our top 15 last week, but Marshall further solidified its place with their win over Belmont. Despite a late charge by Belmont, Marshall had a comfortable lead for most of the game. They showed again that they have a number of offensive weapons, both inside and out. Guard DeAndre Kane led the team with 29 points, but two other starters recorded double-doubles. Forward Dennis Tinnon scored 24 points on just 10 field goal attempts and pulled down 10 rebounds, while Damier Pitts added 19 points (including 3-4 from three-point range) and 11 assists.
- Denver 57, Wyoming 46 — Denver followed up a convincing 17-point win over Boise State on Saturday with a big win over Wyoming on Monday night. Though the Pioneers are a bit less methodical on offense than you might expect from a team playing under Joe Scott’s Princeton offense, this is a team that can flat out shoot the three, as they hit 9-20 from downtown. But even more important to their win on Monday was their defensive discipline. Wyoming likes to get into its offense with high ball screens, and Denver completely flummoxed the Cowboys by consistently and capably switching on all screens. Though he may be uncomortably intense at times, Denver coach Joe Scott is no dummy. And he now has the Pioneers looking like co-favorites in the Sun Belt Conference. The regular season conference crown may be decided on February 4, when they host Middle Tennessee State.
Regrets, We Have a Few
Three TO26 top 15 teams had a chance to notch some signature wins, but all fell short, while Xavier paid the price for the brawl against Cincinnati and UCSB went 0-3 in big games.
- Louisville 95, Memphis 87 / Georgetown 70, Memphis 59 — The Louisville loss wasn’t a terrible one for the Tigers. They showed their ability to put up a lot of points, especially in a fast-paced affair, and for a day, they competed well on the boards. Unfortunately, they also showed their ability to leave a lot of points at the charity stripe, as they missed 14 free throw attempts. And then they followed it up with a thoroughly mediocre performance at Georgetown, leaving the preseason top 15 team with a dubious 6-5 mark on the season.
- Baylor 86, BYU 83 — This was a tough loss for BYU who led for most of the game before a 20-6 Baylor run midway through the second half. Even then, the Cougars were able to rally, but Brandon Davies missed a three at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime. On the plus side, BYU dominated the boards against a big, athletic team, and redshirt freshman Matt Carlino had a breakout game, scoring 18 points off the bench on 7-14 shooting, including 4-8 from from three-point range.
- Texas 77, Temple 65 — Temple led for the most of the first half and was up by three minutes into the second. But the Longhorns then went on a 13-2 run and never looked back. The Owls shot well from the field, but missed half of their free throw, including four straight during Texas’ run. The Owls also struggled mightily on the glass, rebounding just over 51% of Texas’ missed shots and less than 10% of their own.
- Oral Roberts 64, Xavier 42 / Long Beach State 68, Xavier 58 — Somewhat unsurprisingly, Xavier’s undefeated season came to a grinding halt against two solid mid-major teams. The Musketeers could not overcome the absence of three starters, including the Holloway-Lyons backcourt, against Oakland, and then fell short against LBSU with Lyons and Dezmine Wells still missing from the lineup. Musketeer fans will be hoping that there isn’t a mental drag on the team resulting from the Crosstown Shootout fiasco that addles the team beyond the short-term player suspensions.
- Washington 87, UCSB 80 / Cal 70, UCSB 50 / BYU 89, UCSB 75 — UCSB had a real chance to notch some meaningful victories and prove that it is every bit as deserving of some national attention as its conference rival, Long Beach State. But they struck out this week, going 0-3 at Washington, Cal, and BYU. The Gauchos’ mediocre defense sealed their fate in all three games.
Looking Forward: What to Watch
- Cal at UNLV (12/23, 5 PM) — The new TO26 number 1 will have an immediate test, squaring off against Cal this evening. Cal plays a tough, tight defense, so UNLV’s penchant for taking and making three-pointers may prove pivotal.
- New Mexico at New Mexico State (12/28, 9 PM) — WAC favorite NMSU closes the year with a matchup against its in-state rival. The Aggies will try to score by crashing the glass and getting to the free throw line, but it won’t be easy against a Lobos squad that defends the boards and doesn’t foul much.
- BYU at St. Mary’s (12/29, 11 PM) — BYU kicks off its career as a WCC basketball powerhouse in style with a game against co-contenders St. Mary’s. The Gaels have a strong interior defense, and they’ll need to bring it to face down Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies. They’ll also have to find a way to stop the Cougars’ potent 3-point attack.
- Marshall at Belmont (12/29, 8 PM) — For the second time this year, Belmont plays an an in-season home-and-home series against a non-conference foe. The Bruins split with Middle Tennessee and will be hoping to do the same against Marshall.