Monday, January 30, 2012

Week in Review: Mike Moser shines, Notre Dame appears

Player of the Week: Mike Moser, UNLV

The UNLV transfer has been one of the nation's most surprising stars this season, and this week he once again showed why he is such a dangerous and versatile threat. In two games this week, Moser averaged 22.5 ppg, 16.5 rpg and 2.5 spg while shooting 15-29 from the floor and 5-13 from three. I think its safe to say that UNLV wouldn't currently be sitting in a tie for first place in the Mountain West Conference had Moser done any less; the Rebels were 2-0 this week with both wins coming in overtime. Moser played 72 of the available 90 minutes.

It may appear, on the surface, that being taken to overtime by two teams in the bottom of the league is a concern, but I'm not as worried as some may think. On the one hand, UNLV was on the road in both of those games, and if there is anything that we've learned over time, in this sport home-court advantage makes all the difference. And, its worth mentioning, the bottom of the MWC is not terrible. Boise State is young, but they are a talented bunch that is probably a year or two away from being relevant. Air Force is an experienced group with a guy worthy of being first-team all-league in Michael Lyons.

These certainly aren't statement wins, but at this point in the season, a win on the road is a win on the road.

The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team:

G: JP Primm and Matt Dickey, UNC-Asheville: The Bulldogs have a one game lead in the Big South thanks to the play of their terrific back court, which is as good as any in the country regardless of conference affiliation. This past week, the Bulldogs knocked off High Point and Campbell thanks to the play of those two. Primm averaged 26.5 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.0 rpg and 3.0 apg while Dickey added 22.5 ppg, 3.0 apg and 4.0 spg.

G: Trevis Simpson, UNC-Greensboro: After firing their coach in the middle of the season, the Spartans have rallied and won six straight games, including two this past week in overtime. Simpson was the star of those two games, averaging 25.0 ppg for the week. Believe it or not, UNCG -- after losing 14 of their first 16 games this season -- is now sitting all alone in first place in the northern division of the SoCon.

F: Elston Turner, Texas A&M: Playing without Khris Middleton or Kourtney Roberson -- and with Dash Harris banged up -- Turner had 24 points, six boards and four assists as the Aggies hung with Kansas in Phog Allen. They followed that up with a 15 point win at Oklahoma State despite the fact that Harris sat the game out as well. Turner had 23 points and five assists in the win. Its a shame the Aggies have been unable to get healthy this season.

F: Perry Jones III, Baylor: After struggling against Kansas and Missouri, PJIII finally showed up last week. He had 21 points and 12 boards in a win against Oklahoma and followed that up with 22 points and 14 boards against Texas. For Baylor to have a chance to fulfill expectations this season, they are going to need their best player to play like it.

C: Mason Plumlee, Duke: Duke bounced back from their loss to Florida State with a 2-0 week, winning at Maryland before knocking off St. John's. The middle Plumlee was the best player on the court for the Blue Devils, averaging 19.0 ppg, 14.5 rpg and handing out six assists. Perhaps the most relevant stat was that Plumlee went 10-14 from the free throw line during the week. He's hit 20 of his last 27 from the stripe in the past two weeks, raising his FT% to 47.5%

Team of the Week: Notre Dame

Raise your hand if you thought that the win over Syracuse would be the highlight of the Notre Dame season. (Raises hand.) Well, that will probably be wrong, because if Notre Dame continues to trend in the direction that they are currently going, the Irish are going to be headed for the NCAA Tournament. Without Tim Abromaitis in the fold this season, Mike Brey has gone back to using his patented "Burn Offense", which is precisely what it sounds like. The Irish kill a good 20-25 seconds off of the shot clock before they even consider running any offense. Throw in the fact that they play a packed in zone defensively, and its no wonder that Notre Dame is playing at a pace that makes Wisconsin look uptempo.

This past week, Notre Dame knocked off both Seton Hall and UConn on the road. Neither game had 100 total points scored in it, but points are less important than actually winning basketball games. The Irish are now 6-3 in Big East play, which ties them for third in the league with Georgetown and (get this) South Florida. The Irish have had a couple ugly losses this season, but with the way they are currently playing -- Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant, Scott Martin and Jack Cooley form a pretty good core -- this group has the horses to pull off a couple more surprising wins. If they do that, why can't the Irish go dancing? Its not like the bubble is any good this year.

Teams deserving a shout out:

St. Mary's: I think its safe to say that the Gaels are the favorite in the WCC. They are now 10-0 in league play and 20-2 on the season, but they had that gaudy record heading into this week. The doubts that folks had about SMC is their ability to win of the road. They had lost at Denver by 12 points and their wins over Gonzaga and BYU came in Moraga. Well, this week, St. Mary's beat Loyola Marymount and BYU on the road, and they did it despite getting poor performances from both Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones.

Temple: The Owls may be sitting all alone in fourth place in the Atlantic 10, but I think that its safe to say that this group is the odds-on favorite heading into the home stretch. Why? Because the team with the most underrated back court in the country now has their starting center, Michael Eric, back in the mix. Eric's return led to dominating wins over Charlotte and St. Joseph's this week which followed up an impressive win over Maryland.

Washington: The Huskies look like they are starting to come into their own this season, which is a pleasant sight to see. For starters, CJ Wilcox is finally back in the lineup. He played 10 minutes at Arizona State on Thursday and followed it up with 15 points in a win at Arizona on Saturday. Tony Wroten is turning into the next star lead guard that Lorenzo Romar has developed, and Terrence Ross has still yet to fully embrace just how good he can be.

Cleveland State: The Vikings have taken full control of the Horizon League race, taking a one game lead on Valpo and a two game lead on Milwaukee and Youngstown State. How'd they do it? By beating Youngstown State by 20 on the road just six days after a 26 point win over Milwaukee.

Florida: The Gators have plenty of doubters across the country, and it looked like they were going to prove those doubters corrent on Thursday night when they got down by 16 points to Ole Miss in the first half. But Florida came all the way back, winning 64-60, before hosting Mississippi State on Saturday. Once again, the Gators left victorious, getting out of Starkville with a 69-57 victory. And they did it despite Patric Young continuing to struggle with an ankle injury. He had 27 points in the two games.

Five Thoughts:

- The best freshmen you haven't seen play: Well, actually maybe you saw him play on Saturday when St. John's nearly pulled off an epic comeback against Duke. Moe Harkless went for 30 points and 13 boards in that game, but more impressive may have been the 23 points and 12 boards he had in a 16 point win over West Virginia. And while that likely caught the nation's attention, its something that should have happened a long time ago. Harkless is averaging 16.6 ppg and 8.8 rpg. He's an athletic combo-forward with three-point range that has been making plays on the defensive end of the floor. You know all this talk about how St. John's is going to be good once the crop of freshmen that Steve Lavin brought in get a couple years worth of experience? Harkless may not make it that long in school

- "Pittsburgh back": Well, it may actually be more apt to hype the fact that Tray Woodall is back. The Panther point guard had missed the better part of two months, but his return has sent Pitt in the right direction. They won their first Big East game of the season on Wednesday when they knocked off Providence and followed that up with a 72-60 win over Georgetown on Saturday. Woodall had 19 assists in those two games. What makes his return so important? It moves Ashton Gibbs off the ball and it makes Lamar Patterson and Nasir Robinson that much more dangerous because they no longer have to be the creators in the Pittsburgh offensive attack.

The question that needs to be asked here is whether or not the Panthers still have a chance to make a run to the NCAA Tournament. That's easy: yes. The bubble is that weak and the Panthers will have that many chances to right the ship. But they can't avoid too many more losses in league play; I'm not sure a .500 league record will be enough to get them in.

- So who is the best team in the MVC?: The smart money would be to pick Creighton. After Wichita State's triple-overtime loss at Drake, the Bluejays have sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley. They also have the head-to-head win over the Shockers in Wichita. That's damning evidence.

But when you look deeper, that may not exactly be true. Creighton wins games because they have a powerhouse offense -- sixth, according to Kenpom -- with a number of different weapons, including a potential National Player of the Year in Doug McDermott. But Creighton is not exactly a good team defensively. In fact, they are barely in the top half of the country in terms of defensive efficiency. Wichita State, on the other hand, has a top 20 offense and a top 20 defense. That's why they are 12th in the country according to Kenpom and Creighton is 27th.

Standings and head-to-head matchups aside, could Wichita State be the better bet to make a run in the NCAA Tournament?

- Towson gets a win: For the first time in a record 41 games, Towson won. They beat UNC-Wilmington, who are the Seahawks. The day of the game, Towson head coach Pat Skerry had a hawk fly into his window and die. Coincidence?

- Keep an eye on Nevada: The Wolf Pack have taken a two game lead on the rest of the pack in the WAC after sweeping New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech on the road this week. They have now won 15 straight games and have enough talent on their roster to require a closer look. Deonte Burton has gone from a enigmatic talent to one of the best point guards out west. Malik Story and Olek Czyz are starting to play like kids that were initially enrolled at Oregon and Duke, respectively. Dario Hunt is a double-double threat and a defensive play maker.

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