Tuesday, February 08, 2011

OSU Rolls Again, UNC Is Back, MSU's Defense Stinks

#1 Ohio State 82, #20 Minnesota 69
There were a few good games played early on Super Bowl Sunday which unfortunately were completely overshadowed by the Super Bowl. Obviously the Super Bowl is going to be the big story of the day - I went to a Super Bowl party like everybody else - but the only mention of college basketball the entire next morning on Sportscenter was a brief sentence about Ohio State staying undefeated. And, yes, Ohio State did stay undefeated. And this was a very impressive win indeed - the final score was deceptively close. Ohio State had 14 more offensive rebounds and 11 fewer turnovers, leading to 22 more shots from the field and 2 extra from the free throw line. One reason the game was close was that Aaron Craft fouled out in only 21 minutes on the floor. Craft is OSU's best perimeter defender, and his absence opened up a lot of things on offense for the Gophers. Ohio State now has nearly a week to prepare for a game at Wisconsin on Saturday, arguably their toughest game yet this season because of Ohio State's utter futility at the Kohl Center. Although if they're ever going to break through, this is the season. Ohio State has played tremendous the past few weeks.

This loss is a missed opportunity for Minnesota to really firm up their place in the Field of 68. They drop to 5-6 in Big Ten play and 5-5 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over North Carolina, West Virginia and Purdue, along with losses to Indiana and Virginia. Their RPI is 28th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 25th. Minnesota does have a pretty easy schedule remaining, without a single ranked opponent left. Their toughest games are either a home game against Illinois on Thursday night or a road game at Northwestern on March 2nd. A 9-9 Big Ten finish should get them into the Field of 68. If they finish 8-10 they'll likely need at least one win in the Big Ten tournament.

North Carolina 89, Florida State 69
Think Kendall Marshall was trying to send a message? I have been very firm in my belief that Larry Drew leaving the program would be an upgrade on the court because Marshall is a better point guard (see here for a summary of my thoughts on this issue), but nobody saw a day like this coming. In his first start since Drew officially left, Marshall exploded for 3-for-4 shooting, 16 assists and 3 steals, with only 3 turnovers. With him and Dexter Strickland playing at the same time they have two explosive perimeter players that draw the attention of the defense and really open things up for the paint players . Harrison Barnes in particular is really starting to come on. Barnes has been forgotten and dismissed because of his very slow start to the season relative to the preseason hype, but he will be a contender for National Freshman of the Year before all is said and done. Over the last three games Barnes is averaging 22.7 points per game with a 66.3 eFG%. And in turn, the entire Tar Heels offense has exploded. North Carolina is averaging 1.18 PPP over the past five games, including this tremendous 1.22 PPP against arguably the best defense in the country. With as good as North Carolina's defense has been all season long, the Tar Heels are suddenly a sleeper Final Four team.

I've said that while North Carolina has been underrated all season long I still expected them to lose both games to Duke because I didn't think they matched up well. The key to beating Duke's defense is to have perimeter players that can take care of the ball and post players that can attack the Plumlees offensively in the paint. With Larry Drew at the point I figured he'd be a turnover machine against Duke, and he was struggling to get the ball to UNC's post players in good positions. Combined with Harrison Barnes' struggles and I figured UNC would really struggle to score. But with Marshall playing now for Drew and Barnes turning into the superfrosh everybody expected him to be preseason, North Carolina is going to be able to score. If Duke isn't hitting their threes they could definitely lose to North Carolina... in Chapel Hill. I still don't see how Carolina can pull the upset at Duke tomorrow night. That would be a shocker.

As for Florida State, I think they need to just expunge this game from their memories. Even after this defensive debacle they are the 4th best defense in the nation according to Pomeroy. And despite giving up 1.22 PPP in this game, it was the only time since before Christmas that they'd given up even 1.0 PPP. And Xavier Gibson, arguably their best interior defender, is finally back after being injured during that last 1.0+ PPP game, on December 23rd against Butler. He played 10 minutes here against North Carolina, and I expect that to be ramped up as he gets back into game shape. With this loss the Seminoles fall narrowly outside the Top 50 in both RPI and the Sagarin ELO_CHESS, and that's a bad barrier to fall behind. They are 6-3 in the ACC and 6-6 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Duke, Baylor, Clemson and Boston College, along with a bad loss to Auburn. I think they need to get to 10-6 to make the Tournament. At 9-7 they'll have some work left to do in the ACC tournament. They need to avoid hitting a landmine over the next couple of weeks with three straight games against RPI 100+ teams, beginning with a road game at Georgia Tech on Thursday night.

#18 Wisconsin 82, Michigan State 56
It was no surprise to see Michigan State lose in this game - even before their big slump they would have been a pretty big underdog here at Wisconsin. What was surprising was how big of a blowout this was, and the way the blowout happened. Wisconsin was actually up by a score of 66-33 before taking their foot off the pedal. And Wisconsin's offense, while outstanding (they moved into #1 in the nation in offensive PPP after this game), still had a shocking 1.52 PPP against a normally stout Michigan State defense. MSU's offense wasn't that bad in this game. I was on the side of those that argued that the loss of Korie Lucious would hurt this team (see here and here for examples), but he was going to hurt the team primarily offensively. And certainly they have struggled to get to the basket and have had to settle for more jump shots, particularly when Kalin Lucas takes a rest on the bench. But the Spartans have completely fallen apart (five losses in six games, including this game and a 20 point loss to Iowa, and the only win coming by one point in overtime at home against Indiana), and the slight reduction in offense is not the cause.

Let me throw out some stats to emphasize my point. Offensively, Michigan State is averaging 1.03 PPP for the season, which moves to 1.08 if we take the Pomeroy stats, which control for the quality of opponent. Over this six game collapse they're averaging 1.02. So a little bit worse, but not much. Defensively, Michigan State is allowing 1.01 PPP, which drops to 0.94 when you control for opponents (the Big Ten has been spectacular offensively this season - the best of any conference in the nation). During this six game collapse? 1.20 PPP. That's not a defense getting worse - that's a debacle. So the collapse doesn't have to do with a lack of talent or the loss of Korie Lucious. Lucious had more of a positive impact on offense than defense, and Michigan State has plenty of strong perimeter defenders without him. Defense is about attitude, intensity and smarts. They haven't gotten any dumber in the past few weeks, so it's attitude and intensity that have evaporated. The team has just mentally given up and quit. And Tom Izzo needs to wake them up or they're going to head to the NIT. Michigan State is 5-6 in the Big Ten and if they finish 7-11 or worse they're going to the NIT. If they get to 8-10 they'll still likely need to win at least one game in the Big Ten tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. If they can get to 9-9 they'll be in very good shape because of their non-conference performance and overall strength of schedule, but 9-9 looks unlikely without a rapid turnaround because of a very difficult schedule down the stretch. The Spartans next play Penn State on Thursday night, and that's probably their second easiest game the rest of the way - if they fall there then things really become dire.

Wisconsin moves to 7-3 and a tie for second place in the Big Ten with Purdue. They have a deceptively tough game at Iowa tomorrow night and then have a huge home game against Ohio State on Saturday. They still will have road games at Ohio State and Purdue later on, so if they can't beat Ohio State on Saturday they'll likely need to win at Purdue to claw their way to a second place finish. And that should be a tremendous game on Saturday. Pomeroy projects a <1 point win for Wisconsin, Sagarin projects a <1 point win for Ohio State. In my opinion it's the game of the week.


luciente said...

I'm never really sure what you mean when you say 'deceptively tough.'

Thanks :)

Jeff said...

It means that while most people view Iowa as a bottom feeder, they have the ability to beat Wisconsin at home if the Badgers don't come out and play well. Iowa just beat Michigan State at home by 20 points after all.

They play an uptempo style that can give teams fits if they turn the ball over - the good news for Wisconsin is that they never turn the ball over.