Friday, February 04, 2011

What Has Happened To Washington's O?

Oregon State 68, #19 Washington 56
Washington's offense and tempo had been dominant for almost this entire season. They've been ranked in the top ten in Pomeroy Adjusted Offense, and also near 10th in tempo, meaning that they were blowing the nation away in points per game. But over the last two games they've scored only 136 points in 158 possessions (0.86 PPP). They won't weep about dropping to second in the nation in points scored per game, but this offensive lull has led to two consecutive losses, and this loss in particular is a really bad loss. What's been going on? A few things. For one, Isaiah Thomas is really, really struggling. Over the past two games he's shooting a combined 5-for-24 with 11 assists and 14 turnovers. And when Isaiah Thomas is struggling Washington doesn't have a good way of getting the ball into the paint, and so they're settling for three-pointers. Their 3PA/FGA is only 36.6% for the season, but it's been 48.4% over the past two games. Sloppy play + bad shots + bad shooting = offensive implosion.

Washington is still a very good team. They're rated in the Top Ten by both Pomeroy and Sagarin. But the problem with the Pac-10 right now is that it's so bad that almost every loss is a bad loss, and there aren't really any big wins to be had. So it's so hard for Washington to improve their resume, and so easy for them to harm it. Washington's Sagarin ELO_CHESS has actually fallen all the way to 43rd. If the season ended now I could actually see them ending up with as bad as an 8 or 9 seed. If they finish strong they can easily get themselves back up in the 4-5 seed range, but I don't see any way now that they end up with higher than a 3 seed, even if they go undefeated the rest of the way. The Huskies head to Oregon for a game tomorrow before coming home to play the two northern California schools. As for Oregon State, this is not their first big upset of the season. They also have knocked off Arizona. But even after this win their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is outside of the Top 200. They aren't even in contention for the NIT.

Coastal Carolina 77, Liberty 71
Coastal Carolina and Liberty have dominated the Big South Conference standings this season. Both teams are 10-0 against the rest of the conference. But with this win Coastal Carolina has now swept the season series. They are 12-0, and Liberty is back at 10-2, with basically zero hope of a regular season conference title. With this win Coastal Carolina moves their record to a shocking 21-2, which seems really impressive at first sight. But when you apply a little depth you realize it's not what it first appears. First of all, Coastal Carolina has played two teams in the RPI Top 100 all season long (Georgetown and Charleston) and were destroyed in both games by double-digits. Second of all, they're a solid team, but not spectacular at anything. The small conference teams that worry major conference opponents most in the NCAA Tournament are teams that can do at least one thing really well, be it a pressing defense, three-point shooting, rebounding, an electric scorer, etc. Coastal Carolina isn't very good at anything. And that 67.4% free throw shooting really worries me. If they can keep on winning then that impressive won-loss record can earn them a good seed - possibly as high as a 13. But I think they're going to be over-hyped as a potential Cinderella team. I just don't see it. Give me Belmont any day of the week. It's worth nothing that even though Costal Carolina and Liberty are far and away atop the standings in the Big South, both Sagarin and Pomeroy actually rate UNC-Asheville as the second best team in the conference. So it wouldn't be a complete shock to see them steal the Big South's automatic bid.

Princeton 65, Harvard 61
Harvard is clearly the best team in the Ivy League, but they had lost 21 straight at Princeton and could not prevent that streak from moving to 22 tonight. A few things stood out to me while I watched this game. First of all, the athletic differential between these two teams was dramatic. Harvard probably had the five most athletic players in the game. But the problem was, Harvard's players thought they were better than they really were. There was far too much one-on-one basketball - too many players not working the ball around or showing patience. Meanwhile, Princeton knew who they were and spent their time working their offense, setting screens and doing back cuts. Ironically, Harvard ended up looking like a bad major conference team trying to out-athlete the sound, mistake-free Ivy League team. Harvard ended up with 14 turnovers to only 7 assists - nobody wins in the Ivy League with numbers like that. Throw in 3-for-16 three-point shooting and the Crimson were lucky to be as close as they were.

Of course, these two teams will play again at Harvard, on March 5th. And they might play again after that. Remember, while the Ivy League doesn't play a conference tournament, they will hold a playoff between teams tied for the conference title. Princeton and Harvard are far and away the best two teams in the Ivy League, so it wouldn't be a huge shock if they ended up 13-1 and tied atop the conference at the end of the regular season. The Ivy League's best shot for an at-large bid, while remote, is both of these teams ending up 13-1, and then Princeton winning the playoff. That would give Princeton the automatic bid, and leave Harvard (the team with the better resume) at 24-5 with wins against Boston College and Colorado, and their losses only coming to UConn, Michigan, George Mason and Princeton (twice). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS would probably be inside the Top 50 in that scenario, and Harvard would have a chance at an at-large bid if there were a weak bubble. But the lack of a big win would likely keep them out, even in this best-case scenario.

No comments: