Friday, January 13, 2012

Did Pittsburgh Hit Rock Bottom Against Rutgers?

Rutgers 62, Pittsburgh 39
Pittsburgh is now in a five game losing streak, and this game was the worst of the bunch. What's been killing them, more than anything, has been atrocious offensive efficiency. It's not that they're just missing open shots (though they are doing some of that as well). What it's been has just been a lack of offensive movement or flow. Whoever has the ball just wildly attacks the rim and throws the ball up. They have some great offensive rebounders (they lead the nation with a 45.9 OR%), and at times it feels like they're intentionally throwing the ball off the rim to try to get points off offensive boards. But as bad as their offense has been, this game was the absolute worst. They finished with a 24.6 eFG% and 0.56 PPP. That shooting is tied for the 8th worst shooting performance by any Division I team this season - the only team that was worse was Utah with a 24.5 eFG% during a 73-33 abomination against Colorado. The 0.56 PPP were also the worst by any BCS conference team this season other than that same Utah team in that same game. Anytime you've got a stat that has only been outdone by this year's Utah team (the worst BCS conference team in modern memory) you've got a problem.

Remember, this Pittsburgh team was rated by Pomeroy as one of the ten most efficient offenses in the nation in three of the past four years. They're were 5th in the nation last season. The biggest problem is clearly the lack of Travon Woodall, who has missed nine of the past ten games with an abdominal injury. He had double-digit assists in four of the seven games he played in before he was hurt and is averaging 2.2 A/TO, right in line with the 2.3 A/TO he averaged last season. The rest of the team is averaging only 12.9 assists per game with a ratio of 1.15 A/TO. That's not the whole problem, of course. Pitt's defense has been putrid as well. But over this five game losing streak they're allowing 1.05 PPP while scoring only 0.91 PPP. And if they clean up the offense, their defense will improve along with it. Defense is mental.

So will we look back on this game as the point where Pitt's season hit rock bottom? Panthers fans will certainly hope that's the case. They are now 0-4, needing to get to at least 8-10 to even have a chance at an at-large bid heading into the Big East tournament (and more realistically, when you consider their soft non-conference schedule, they've got to get to 9-9). And now? They head on the road to play Marquette (on Saturday) and Syracuse (Monday). Can they come back from 0-6? Probably not. They've really got to find a way to steal one of these two upcoming games. Their February schedule is soft, but it would be asking a lot of even a Pitt team playing well to go 9-3 over a 12 game stretch in Big East play.

This is the second straight big win for Rutgers, coming off a road win over UConn. They're now 2-2 in Big East play with wins over Florida, UConn and Pitt, along with bad losses to Princeton, USF, LSU, Richmond and Illinois State. They'd have to finish at least 11-7 in Big East play to even be considered for an at-large bid, and that's not going to happen, but they could continue to be a tough beat the rest of the season. They'll play at West Virginia tomorrow and then will come home to play Notre Dame on Monday.

Memphis 60, Southern Miss 58
Memphis has had a stranglehold on Conference USA since the Big East raided it after the 2004-05 season. In the six seasons since they've won four regular season titles and five tournament titles. And they came into this season the clear team to beat, and retain that position even after scuffling a bit to start the year. Southern Miss has emerged as perhaps their top rival, and had a real chance on the road to grab control of the Conference USA standings. And they had their chance here while holding Memphis to only 0.92 PPP. But the Memphis pressure defense is tough and Southern Miss looked to be very confused by the Memphis zone. The Golden Eagles took 49% of their shots behind the arc, hitting only 29% of them. Overall they finished with only a 42.1 eFG%, and only got to the line 17 times (their 0.30 FTA/FGA ratio was their worst in more than a month).

Memphis is off to a quick 2-0 record in Conference USA, though they still have their road tests to come. Their top contenders in Conference USA are Southern Miss, Marshall, UCF, Tulane and Tulsa, in some order. They still have road games to play against every one of those teams. They can't afford to finish worse than 11-5 to earn an at-large bid, and probably need to finish 12-4 or even better to have a good chance, so they'll have to win some of those road games.

This is a disappointing loss for Southern Miss, but they're still 2-1 in conference play and 15-3 overall with a pair of wins over New Mexico State and a win over Ole Miss to go with an iffy loss to Denver. They'll get a return visit from Memphis, but without a win there will head into Selection Sunday without any big wins. That means they're going to need an overwhelming won/loss record and very good computer numbers to earn an at-large bid. They probably need to get to 12-4 in conference play. At 11-5 they'll enter the C-USA tournament with work left to do. They'll play UAB at home tomorrow and then will have a week to prepare for an important home game against Marshall.

Ole Miss 71, Arkansas 63
Arkansas had been showing life the past couple of weeks and looked like they were finally starting to get Mike Anderson's system. They don't have a lot of talent, but they're figuring out how to get a lot of free offense off of their frenetic full court press and uptempo defense. Their 17.9 turnovers forced per game are third most among BCS conference teams (behind Syracuse and Oregon State). They had won seven straight coming into this game, including a nice home win over Mississippi State.

But the lack of talent is going to hold Arkansas back all season long. Their half court offense is poor, and their frenetic style exacerbates what was already a poor defensive rebounding team (they were the second worst defensive rebounding team in SEC play last season). Ole Miss destroyed them on the boards with a 60.0 OR% here.

This was something of a "reality check" game for Arkansas. They're getting better, but they still don't have enough talent and haven't learned Mike Anderson's system well enough to make a realistic run at an at-large bid. They are 12-4 overall and 1-1 in SEC play, but that win over Mississippi State is their only against the RPI Top 75, and they have bad losses to Houston, Oklahoma and now Ole Miss. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 94th, and would have to be inside the Top 60 for Arkansas to get seriously considered on Selection Sunday. They have an important home game tomorrow against LSU before going on the road to play Kentucky on Tuesday.

Despite being disliked by the computers (they're rated 125th by Pomeroy and 121st by the Sagarin PREDICTOR), Ole Miss actually has a better resume than Arkansas so far. They have a win over the University of Miami to go with this win, and they have no bad losses. A 5-1 record in games decided by four points or less is the biggest reason for their inflated resume. They'll pick up some bad losses in conference play, though, and I don't that their strong resume numbers (they're 51st in the Sagarin ELO_CHESS and 53rd in RPI) will hold for much longer.

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