Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Arizona Beat Florida, Should Be Ranked Behind Them

#8 Arizona 65, #5 Florida 64
This is my second of two posts catching up on recaps from the weekend. And what's interesting about writing a recap nearly two full days after a game ended is getting to respond to the media hype. And there has been quite the debate on twitter about this game, which comes down to the classic line between the statistically-inclined community and the legacy media dinosaurs. To the media dinosaurs, there's no thinking involved with the new Top 25 poll. And that's why Arizona jumped way ahead of Florida - four spaces ahead in both the AP and Coaches polls.

Of course, anybody who watched this game knew that Florida played better. They had a brutal collapse in the final couple of minutes. And even regardless of that, homecourt advantage is worth four points, so winning by 1 at home means that on average you'd lose by 7 on the road. Give Florida those 8 extra points and they're up by 14 with a minute to go instead of 6, and they don't even have a chance to blow this game. This game gave more evidence that Florida is better than Arizona, not less.

The argument from the media dinosaurs is the predictable "Why should we ignore who wins the game?? Why play games if you don't care about the actual results on the court??" And the answer, of course, is that nobody is saying that. If Arizona had dominated this game and won by 20 that would have been very different from what happened. And if all that matters is wins/losses, which is how pollsters vote in both football and basketball, then you end up with the absurdity that teams are better off playing mediocre against bad teams than playing well against good teams.

As Ken Pomeroy put it on twitter early today, if Florida had played Stetson instead of Arizona and won on a buzzer beater, every pollster would have had them ahead of Arizona. Beating Stetson by 1 is way worse than losing by 1 at Arizona, yet the pollsters treat it as a significantly better performance. That is, to put it mildly, idiotic. This is why in college football, where the human polls determine who plays for the national title (the computers are irrelevant window dressing in the current form of the BCS), all of the top teams schedule cupcake opponents. What's the incentive to play a better team?

If Florida and Arizona played on a neutral court tomorrow, Florida would be a 6-7 point favorite. If the game was in Gainesville, they'd be a 10-11 point favorite. Yet to many of the people who cover this sport for a living, you can't even consider ranking Florida ahead of Arizona. Go figure.

Anyway, the fact that Arizona was even in this game impressed me, and I moved them up to a 4 seed in my bracket projection. I think that's about right for them. It's very hard for me to see them getting higher than a 3 seed. Despite what the idiot pollsters think, there's no way that Arizona is even close to being one of the five best teams in the country. Florida, meanwhile, is rated the #1 team in the country by both Pomeroy and Sagarin. They're still looking very safe for a 1 seed. The next tough game for the Gators will be Kansas State on Saturday. Arizona's next tough game will be their Pac-12 opener against Colorado, on January 3rd.

#14 Gonzaga 68, Kansas State 52
Kelly Olynyk's emergence this year has been amazing. He was an afterthought for Gonzaga last season, but has arguably been their MVP this season. He led all scorers with 20 points here, on 10-for-13 shooting. And overall, Gonzaga dominated the paint. The Zags hit 53.8% of their two-pointers, compared to Kansas State's 33.3%.

Kansas State's lack of a post scorer has been a problem all season long. None of their bigs are aggressive shooters, and none are efficient scorers. Angel Rodriguez and Rodney McGruder run the offense. But since nobody on the team can hit outside shots consistently, opposing defenses can pack the paint and force them to score over the top. They have played two quality opponents this season (Michigan and Gonzaga), and scored a total of 0.87 PPP against them.

I really don't think Gonzaga played that poorly in their Illinois loss. They didn't play well, but they also experienced a ridiculous Brandon Paul game. Brandon Paul had a 43 point game last year that allowed a mediocre Illinois team to take down an elite Ohio State team. Upsets happen. Gonzaga is still a borderline Top 10 team, in my opinion.

The Zags will play Campbell on Wednesday, followed by Baylor on December 28th. Kansas State will take on a somewhat feisty Texas Southern team on Wednesday before a huge game against Florida on Saturday.

#16 Creighton 74, California 64
Creighton really struggled here, in all phases of the game. California had been playing very soft this season, but they really got after a physical Creighton squad, dominating the boards (a 34.8 OR%, compared to a 16.2 OR% for Creighton). And they'll feel like they could have won this game if star Allen Crabbe hadn't shot a terrible 6-for-26 from the field. But Doug McDermott was able to take Creighton on his back, hitting threes (4-for-7 behind the arc) and doing damage in the paint (10-for-10 at the line), ending up with 34 total points.

Creighton is 10-1 with wins over Wisconsin, California and St. Joe's, along with an iffy loss to Boise State. A home game against Tulsa on Wednesday is their final non-conference game. Assuming that they win it, a 13-5 record or better in Missouri Valley play should be plenty for an at-large bid. I don't think they'll have trouble getting there. The question is how high of a seed they can get in March. Right now I have them as a 4 seed, and they could move up to a 3 if they really dominate in the Missouri Valley.

California has now lost three straight to drop to 6-3. In their defense, there's nothing wrong with losing to Wisconsin, UNLV and Creighton - three teams all ranked in the Top 20 of both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. The problem for California is that they need big wins, and their only real chance left is a road game at Arizona on February 10th. They will probably need to get to 11-7 or better in Pac-12 play to earn an at-large bid. I think they can get there, but it's an unfortunate missed opportunity that they couldn't find a way to steal a win against one of those three elite opponents. One win there would have made things much easier on them.

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