Friday, December 23, 2011

North Carolina Rolls Texas

#6 North Carolina 82, Texas 63
For Texas, this was just one of those days that young teams go through. They fell behind early against a very experienced North Carolina team, and just started playing afraid. They couldn't keep North Carolina from getting out in transition, and while neither team put on a defensive rebounding clinic it was Texas that just got annihilated (a brutal 45.7 DR%). Superfrosh Myck Kabongo is struggling with an injury, and after a relatively inefficient first half, Rick Barnes just sat him for the entire second half to save him for another day. There's no question that Texas will be a lot better in March than they are now. And if there was one bright spot it was another of their star freshmen (Jonathan Holmes) having a career day (16 points on 6-for-11 shooting, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks).

For North Carolina, they were just clicking. This was the best they've looked all season. They dominated the boards, forced plenty of steals, had Kendall Marshall dealing dimes, and Harrison Barnes was aggressive with the ball (26 points on 9-for-15 shooting). In some ways there's not a lot to learn about North Carolina from this game. We knew they had this type of game in them - they just have to find a way to do it consistently against teams that can slow them down offensively and can push then off the offensive glass.

This was North Carolina's final quality opponent before beginning ACC play. They have wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Texas, with zero bad losses. There's no question that if they win at least a share of the ACC regular season title and then win the ACC tournament that they'll earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They'll begin ACC play on January 7th against Boston College.

Texas has wins over Temple and UCLA with two potentially dicey losses (NC State and Oregon State). I think it's safe to say that three Big 12 teams have played better than Texas so far - Kansas, Baylor and Missouri. But there's also no question that Texas has more room to grow than any other team in the Big 12. They're going to be so much better in March than they are now, and even with this bad game it's still clear how much better they're playing than they were six weeks ago. And that's why they're still my pick to win the Big 12. They will play Rice on New Year's Eve before opening Big 12 play at Iowa State on January 4th.

Ohio 76, Northern Iowa 59
This was one of the more shocking results all season. Ohio has played well this season, but they've done it quietly against a soft schedule. To go into Cedar Falls and blow out Northern Iowa by 17 points in a game they never trailed (and led by double-digits for the final 18 minutes of the game) is impressive for any team, let alone a MAC squad. They did shoot the ball very well (11-for-21 behind the arc), but that wasn't why they won the game. The biggest advantage Ohio had this game wasn't perimeter offense, but perimeter defense. They ran the excellent Northern Iowa outside shooters off the arc, and forced eight steals (they are second in the MAC with 8.4 steals per game).

Heading into this game, Ohio had a win over Marshall and a loss to Louisville, and then a bunch of wins over inferior foes. The computers liked them, but they didn't have a resume-building win. They have one now. While their Sagarin ELO_CHESS rating (currently 3rd) is obviously ridiculous, I do think that their Pomeroy rating of 41st is about right. Ohio deserves to be in that class of mid-majors like Iona, Long Beach State, Belmont, Murray State and others that will be a scary opponent in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament.... if they can get there. The MAC is better than it's been the past few years, and both Kent State and Ball State will be serious competitors to Ohio. The Bobcats will go play a couple of cupcakes next before playing Robert Morris on January 2nd. They'll open MAC regular season play on January 7th at Bowling Green.

Northern Iowa will have to hope Ohio keeps this play up, because it won't help their resume if Ohio falls out of the RPI Top 100. They don't have any bad losses otherwise, and do have wins over Iowa State, Iowa, Old Dominion and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It's a bubblicious resume. They will probably need to finish 13-5 or better in Missouri Valley play to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. They will open conference play on December 29th at Illinois State.

Seton Hall 69, Dayton 64
Seton Hall sure isn't getting a lot of attention for a 10-1 Big East team. Though honestly, they haven't really earned it. They've played a soft schedule and had to get lucky just to get to 10-1. In their previous game before this one they needed overtime to win by three points at home against a Mercer team that had three players foul out. And this win against Dayton, which is their best win of the season so far, was honestly a bit lucky. They lost the rebounding battle (The Hall had a staggeringly low 1 offensive rebound) and committed two more turnovers, but were saved with 50% three-point shooting.

It also took overtime for this Seton Hall team to beat St. Francis (NY), and they went 2-1 against the other decent teams they've played (Northwestern, VCU and St. Joe's). Despite the 10-1 record, I don't think they'd be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. With only one cupcake left before beginning Big East play, they'll probably need to go 10-8 to earn an at-large bid. If they go only 9-9 in Big East play then they'll have work to do heading into the Big East tournament. They will open Big East play next Wednesday at Syracuse.

This loss is a missed opportunity for a Dayton team that could have used a quality win. They did knock off Alabama, but that's more than outweighed by losses to Buffalo, Miami (OH) and Murray State, along with this loss. They're sitting in the 70-80 range in all the Sagarin and Pomeroy ratings, which I think is about right. They'll play Illinois-Chicago on Friday, and then a week later will get a chance for a decent win against Ole Miss. They'll open Atlantic Ten play with a bang against Saint Louis and then on the road at Temple.

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