Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday's Shootaround: Pitt's upset again while Wisconsin's still Wisconsin

No. 11 Wisconsin 64, Nebraska 40: It simply does not get more 'Wisconsin' than what the Badgers did to poor Nebraska in their Big Ten opener on Tuesday night. On the strength of a career-high 22 points from Ryan Evans, Wisky scored just 64 points as they dominated and demoralized a Nebraska team that never really was in the game after the first 10 minutes. What's more impressive is that Wisconsin allowed 40 points on 51 possessions, or 0.784 PPP, on the defensive end, but that actually was a below-averaged defensive performance for the Badgers. Coming into this game, they were giving up 0.730 PPP on the season.

The beauty of this Wisconsin system has nothing to do with the skills of the individual players, however. Sure, Jordan Taylor is an all-american that finally showed some glimpses of that ability. And yes, Ryan Evans played a fantastic basketball game. Jared Berggren, Ben Brust, Mike Breusewitz -- all good players. But what makes Wisconsin such a good team is that they just take you out of any kind of rhythm with the pace that they play. They don't attack the offensive glass hard so as to prevent run outs. They don't gamble for steals because they want to make you use clock to score. They use every second of the shot clock and hit absolutely deflating jumpers as the shot clock expires.

The Badgers are good, don't get me wrong. But the reason they are so successful has as much to do with the frustration and impatience that their style causes in their opponents than in how good the Badgers truly are.

Notre Dame 72, No. 22 Pitt 59: I don't think there is that much that is wrong with Pitt this season, but I think their issues are going to be very difficult to overcome. Simply put, this group just doesn't have the same kind of toughness and ruggedness we normally expect out of a Jamie Dixon team. We probably should have expected their defense to fall off with Gary McGhee, Gilbert Brown and Bradn Wanamaker graduating, but the fact that the Panthers are currently sitting around 150th in the country in defensive efficiency is appalling. That should be helped a bit when Travon Woodall gets healthy, and his presence on the offensive end of the floor should also help Ashton Gibbs become more efficient as a scorer by moving him off the ball.

To be fair, Pitt is also just playing poorly right now. I think that we can all agree that the Panthers are a better team than what they have shown through the first two months of the season. But that lack of toughness -- both mental and physical -- is a problem that cannot be cured. It sounds like copping out with a cliche when I say it like that, but its true. They are making mistakes on both ends of the floor we are unaccustomed to seeing players in this program make.

Illinois 81, Minnesota 72 2OT: Minnesota is going to be a tough out all year long. They don't have a ton of talent on their team, but they have some size, a lot of athletes and a roster stocked with kids that play hard. That is precisely why the Gophers were able to come back against Illinois, erasing what was a 13 point second half deficit, but its also why they were unable to pull out the win.

The Illini have, on paper, a starting lineup that is as good as anyone in the Big Ten outside of Ohio State. At every position in their starting lineup, they have a guy capable of going for 15-20 points on a given night. The problem, however, is that every one of those players is best-suited for playing as a complimentary option. In other words, there is no go-to player on the Illini, no one that you can give the ball to at the end of a clock and count on them to get a bucket. Without that star power, the Illini have to rely on offensive execution down the stretch to win them games. And, as we have come to expect with Bruce Weber coached team, Illinois' late-game execution leaves much to be desired.

Illinois allowed Minnesota to get right back into the game with poor shot selection and bad offensive possessions. But the Gophers simply don't have enough talent to take advantage of it.

Georgia 92, Winthrop 86 OT: Winthrop got robbed in a wild game. Georgia blew a 13 point second half lead, finding themselves down 66-62 with 45 seconds left. But the Bulldogs got 14 points out of Dustin Ware and Gerald Robinson -- and a couple of missed free throws out of Winthrop -- that opened the door for this game-tying layup:

Umm, travel much, Gerald? I counted four steps. Anyway, Robinson finished with 22 points and Ware added 20 as the Bulldogs took an early lead in OT and hung on late.

Other notable scores:

- No. 24 Virginia 69, UMES 42
- St. John's 91, Providence 67
- St. Louis 71, Texas Southern 39
- North Texas 78, New Orleans 47

Top performers:

Moe Harkless and D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's: There have been few freshmen in the country that have been as impressive as Harkless has been early on this season. Coming into the night, he was averaging 15 points and eight boards, and Harkless (for lack of a more fitting description) balled out: 32 points, 13 boards, four assists, four steals and two blocks in a 91-67 win over Providence. Harrison added 25 points and seven assists. Combined, the two had a single turnover.

Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech: Tolbert has been just as impressive as Harkless, especially in the past four games. After scoring 27 points and adding six boards in a win over CS Bakersfield, Tolbert has now broken 20 in four straight games. In that stretch, he has 97 points and has shot 38-54 (70.3%) from the floor.

Drew Viney, LMU: In his first game back from a foot injury, Viney had 29 points and eight boards. Granted, it was against Vanguard, but getting Viney back could end up being the turning point in what has been a very up and down season for the Lions.

Meyers Leonard, Illinois: Leonard turned in another impressive performance, finishing with 20 points, 11 boards and five blocks in Illinois' win over Minnesota.

Andre Jones, Winthrop: Jones had 33 points as Winthrop lost to Georgia in a game that they would have won had a travel been called on the final Georgia possession.

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