Friday, December 5, 2008

First Full (Kind of) Night of League Action

If Thursday night is any indication of how good league play is going to be this year, then we're in for a great season. The ending of the Butler-Cleveland State game overshadowed what I'd like to talk about here first.

UIC's dismantling of Vanderbilt AT Vanderbilt.

With Wright State's current free fall, UIC is looking like the team that might step up and make some noise. It's probably the biggest win for the league out of conference so far this season. Very talented SEC schools are made to look foolish at Memorial Gym because of its uniqueness. The Flames seemed right at home shooting 63% on three-point field goals and withstanding the inevitable second-half Commodore run. Saturday's showdown with in-city rival Loyola will tell us a little more about the consistency of the Flames. Games against Georgia Tech and Illinois State will also tell us what kind of team the rest of the league is going to have to deal with this season.

Green Bay and Milwaukee both took care of business at home in their league openers and are probably asking themselves 'why not us?' The Panthers look balanced and deep. Newcomers Tone Boyle and Tony Meier look like a good inside-outside combination. (sidenote- can we please petition coach Jeter to find someone named Toni and get the band back together.) They have a good balance of youth and experience but I'm going to hold back any excitement until they beat a team with a winning record. Their first chance might not be until Dec. 20 in Milwaukee against Bradley.

Green Bay beat the hapless Raiders Thursday night and have now won four in a row. Glancing at their schedule, the Phoenix have a chance to put together a nice little run in the coming weeks. The only game in the December where they'll be the underdog is in Madison. We might not learn too much about Green Bay during this part of their schedule (unless they leave Madison victorious) but they'll have a nice record next to their name come the first week of January.

The Main Event

I could only watch portions of the Butler-Cleveland State game due to some other work, but here were a few observations:

- Neither team played close to their best game but the visitors came out winners. This is important because in games like this the team with the best player, in this case CSU with J'Nathan Bullock, normally win. Not Thursday.

-Teams are learning how to defend Matt Howard. It has been rare this season to see him carve out good position on the block and have the ball delivered to him in a position where he can make a play.

-Both of these teams can defend. Cleveland State's ability to seemingly always get their hands on the ball and play the passing lanes is effective. Butlers constant switching and solid positioning on defense will frustrate teams as it always has.

-Zach Hahn wants the ball at the end of the game. He's just that type of player. He struggled at times in the NCAA tournament last year and many had him buried behind a recruiting class of good guards at Butler, but none of that seems to matter to Hahn. The scary thought: He's only a sophomore.

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