Monday, January 5, 2009

Conference Season Starts

With about five or six minutes left in today's game at Crisler, this promising basketball season looked to be reaching a crisis point. After getting demolished on New Year's eve in game against Wisconsin that wasn't as close as the final 13 point margin might suggest, Beilein's boys were seven points down to Illinois. They were losing for the same reasons they lost to Wisconsin -- defense. Illinois, while not a huge team, was using a size advantage created by our lineup, essentially four guards and DeShawn Sims, to get easy shots down low or kick outs for wide open jumpers, created by help defense in the post.
I started to wonder whether this team would be able to survive in the Big Ten with its dearth of quality post defense. if we had to rely on outscoring teams in half court games, it would be a long conference season, and our hopes of finally playing meaningful games in March might be dashed.
But then something happened. They started fighting through screens on the baseline. They started getting their hands up and moving quicker in the 1-3-1. In the second half, every defensive possession, you could see the rest of the team on the bench waving their hands, exhorting the team on. And they got some balanced scoring, five players in double figures, and one more at 9 points.
Perhaps the most significant contribution in the game came from Zach Gibson, who was 4-5 for ten points, including two dunks and a three. He also had a good block and couple of assists. We are a different team when he plays like he does today. He helps our post defense tremendously, and makes us a more complete lineup.

New basketball rankings are posted. Big changes in the top ten with the start of conference play. Pittsburgh jumps up to #1 with the big win against Georgetown. MSU jumps up on the strength of two road wins at Minnesota and Northwestern. Gonzaga continues their free fall with a loss to Utah. Top overall riser was Drexel, up 93 spots with two road wins over Hofstra and St. Joseph's. Biggest loser was George Washington, on a four game losing streak, including losing three at the Rainbow classic.