Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Miami Shocks Duke

Miami (FL) 78, #5 Duke 74, OT
This was an unbelievable upset for more than one reason. Besides the fact that it's pretty unheard of for Duke to lose home games to bubble or below-bubble quality teams, there's the way that they lost this game. They shot poorly all day (a 44.8 eFG%, their worst shooting game of the season), and trailed by as many as 16 points early in the second half. But once they fought back and forced overtime, you had to figure that they'd close the win out. But in overtime? This Duke team that is on pace to hit 70% or more of their free throws for the ninth time in the past ten seasons, and that hit 13-for-16 at the free throw line in regulation. went 0-for-6 from the line in overtime. To add insult to injury, it was 58% free throw shooter DeQuan Jones that hit a pair of free throws to put Miami up by three with 12.9 seconds to go, forcing Duke into a desperation three just before the buzzer.

As is normally the case, Duke is overrated in the human polls, but underrated by most fans of college basketball. Duke is definitely an elite team and a serious contender in the ACC, but they also should never have been ranked as high as 5th. Duke is 19-4 overall and 6-2 in conference play, but what worries me is that a three-point squeaker at home over Virginia a month ago is their only win in more than two months against a team inside the Pomeroy Top 50. And while I see all sorts of mainstream media analysts saying that Duke's offense stinks, the reality is that their offense is excellent (I talked about that misconception here). It's their defense that is a problem. Coach K always has excellent defenses, but this year his team is giving up 1.01 PPP in conference play against a down ACC. For comparison, last year's team only gave up 0.90 PPP in conference play, against a stronger ACC. That's going to have to improve if they're going to make a Final Four run. Their next game will be tomorrow night at Chapel Hill.

This is a huge win for Miami. Not only is this their first big scalp, but it's actually their first RPI Top 50 win of any kind. They're now 5-3 in ACC play and have pushed their RPI all the way up to 37th. That said, their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 52nd, and I don't think one Top 50 win is going to cut it, even if that win was on the road at Duke. If the season ended now, Miami would still be an NIT team. But now they're very close. If they can go 5-3 the rest of the way to reach 10-6 and then win a game in the ACC tournament, that will probably be sufficient for an at-large bid. They'll play Virginia Tech on Thursday and then will head on the road to play Florida State on Saturday.

#10 Michigan State 64, #22 Michigan 54
There was a thought for a moment after Draymond Green went down in a heap of pain against Illinois last week that Michigan might have a chance here at the Breslin Center. But Green surprised me by not just playing, but playing well (14 points on 7-for-11 shooting, along with 16 rebounds and 4 assists). And so this game was never really close. Michigan State grabbed their first double-digit lead 12 minutes into the game, and basically led by 10-15 points the rest of the way. The Michigan State backcourt seemed to reach the basket at will, and then the Spartans just dominated the boards. Michigan has done a better job of clogging the paint in the past, so I was surprised at how easily Trey Bruke and Branden Dawson got to the rim, but Michigan never had much chance at winning the rebounding battle against Michigan State. They just don't have personnel that can match up down there.

With this win, Michigan State stays a game back of Ohio State. They remain the one team that really has a shot at stealing a share of the Big Ten title. They still have their home-and-home to play against the Buckeyes. The first game will be in Columbus on Saturday. The return trip to East Lansing will be on March 4th. Michigan State shouldn't have much trouble dispatching Penn State at home tomorrow night in preparation for Saturday. I don't think Michigan State is a serious contender for a 1 seed, but they are getting into the discussion for a 2 seed, particularly if they can pull the upset on Saturday.

Michigan falls to 7-4 in Big Ten play with this loss. They have wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State, Memphis, Indiana, Iowa State, Purdue and Northwestern, along with a bad loss to Iowa. Even a 3-5 finish (to get to 10-8 in Big Ten play) will lock them into the NCAA Tournament. They are in contention for an NCAA Tournament seed in the 4-5 range if they can finish strong. They'll play at Nebraska tomorrow and then will come home to play Illinois on Saturday.

Northwestern 74, Illinois 70
Northwestern was starving for a quality win, and they got one here by putting on a shooting clinic. The Wildcats finished with a 68.8 eFG%, their best shooting performance since a 77-75 win over Indiana on January 28th, 2009 (and that was a horrible Indiana team that went 1-17 in Big Ten play. Reggie Hearn had a huge game with 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting. Three players combined to hit 6-for-8 from the line down the stretch, which helped the team hold off Brandon Paul, who hit three three-pointers in the final 40 seconds (Paul hit 6-for-10 behind the arc for the game).

This win gives something Northwestern a rare accomplishment: a quality road win. It's their first true road win over an RPI Top 50 team since they beat Purdue on March 4th, 2009. This season they do have a home win over Michigan State and a neutral court win over Seton Hall, and they haven't lost to any bad teams, but they're only 4-6 in Big Ten play. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 35th, which would put them in the NCAA Tournament for the time being, but they don't have a lot of room to spare. No Big Ten team has ever gone 7-11 and made the NCAA Tournament, so Northwestern has to at least get to 8-10 to have a real chance. Considering their remaining schedule, even getting to 8-10 will be difficult (Pomeroy and Sagarin both predict a 7-11 finish). Their next game will be Thursday at home against Iowa, a game that they certainly can't afford to lose. On Sunday they'll try to pull an upset on the road at Purdue.

Illinois is in a similar situation to Northwestern, though their resume is stronger at the moment. They also have a bunch of quality wins (Ohio State, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Minnesota and Northwestern), zero bad losses and nice computer numbers (30th in the Sagarin ELO_CHESS). But they also have to be wary of their won-loss record, at only 5-5 in Big Ten play. If they can go 4-4 down the stretch to finish 9-9 then they'll be an NCAA Tournament lock. Anything less and they'll enter the Big Ten tournament with work left to do. But they have a brutal remaining schedule, with road games at Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. The Indiana game is up first, on Thursday.

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