Saturday, December 15, 2012

Boise State Bounces Back, Hands LSU Their First Loss

Boise State 89, LSU 70
We entered last night's games with 13 undefeated teams left. By the end of the night we were down to 11. One of those undefeated to finally lose was LSU, And LSU had actually picked up some Top 25 votes in the human polls, though to me that was absurd. LSU was 6-0 because they hadn't played anybody - not because they were any good. The only team they'd beaten inside the Pomeroy Top 175 was Seton Hall, and they won that game at home by only five points. LSU is a borderline Top 100 team at best, and the same thinking that causes a team to keep moving up in the polls for beating up on cupcakes is the same thinking that causes the college football polls to suck so badly. It's why I'm always so glad that the human polls are irrelevant in college basketball.

LSU has played sloppy games all season. They are 9th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and 290th in defensive rebounding percentage, and they are 14th in the nation with 18.3 turnovers per game. This game followed form, with a combined 28 offensive rebounds, 21 steals and 37 turnovers. Boise State was able to hold their own on the defensive glass, though. They also limited the number of live-ball turnovers, which forced LSU to try to score in the half court.

This was an important bounce back win for Boise State after that bad loss at Utah on Rick Majerus Night. Beating LSU isn't anything to brag about, but they also have a win over Creighton, and that Utah loss is their only bad loss. Their one remaining tough non-conference game will be January 2nd at Texas-Arlington. If they can negotiate that remaining non-conference schedule without a loss then they'll be in pretty good shape to make a run at an at-large bid during Mountain West play.

Because LSU has played such a soft schedule, it's hard to tell if they're actually half decent or if they just stink. We'll get a better idea over the next week. They'll play on the road at UC Irvine on Tuesday, and then on the road at Marquette on Saturday. If they're a half decent team, they should be able to find a way to at least get past UC Irvine (a game that they might be underdogs in Vegas for, honestly).

Belmont 64, Middle Tennessee 49
To casual basketball fans and even most sportswriters in the legacy media, this game might as well have been between Eastern Kentucky and North Texas. Two decent mid-majors playing a meaningless game. But the advanced stats community knows that both of these are Top 50 teams. This was an opportunity not just for these two teams to measure themselves against each other, but also to potentially make an (admittedly long shot) case for an at-large bid. The reason it's a long shot for both of these teams is because they come from conferences that don't have big wins to be had. The only chance for either of these teams is to take down a really big opponent during their non-conference slate. More on that in a moment.

The difference in this game was Belmont's suffocating defense, as well as the fact that Middle Tennessee couldn't hit a jump shot. Sometimes it's hard to separate those two things, of course. Middle Tennessee's 3-for-16 three-point shooting was just bad luck (3P% defense is random luck), but Belmont's 7 shots and their ability to hold Middle Tennessee to 31.9 2P% despite all of the offensive rebounds (18) and steals (6) that they gave up was very impressive. Rick Byrd's teams have always been known for forcing turnovers and getting transition offense, but their interior defense is better this year than it's ever been. The biggest reason has been the emergence of 6'7" Blake Jenkins as a really dominant low post player. Jenkins had five of Belmont's seven blocks here. He is up to 3.1 blocks per 40 minutes played this season, compared to only 0.7 blocks per 40 minutes in his previous two seasons.

Belmont has a decent win over Stanford to go with this win, and only one bad loss (Northeastern). But they need a big scalp to have any shot at an at-large bid, and their one remaining chance will come tonight at Kansas. It would be an unlikely upset, but not too crazy (the 13 points they're giving in Vegas at last check are too many). If they can win then we can talk about their at-large chances. If they fall then they can pretty much forget about it.

Middle Tennessee has a win over Ole Miss along with an iffy loss to Akron. They will play Tennessee State on Tuesday, followed by Vanderbilt on Friday. I don't think they have a plausible path to an at-large bid anymore, but they are the heavy favorites to win the Sun Belt. If they can take care of business and earn the league's auto bid, they will be a scary Round of 64 opponent in March.

Miami (Fl) 77, Charlotte 46
I spoke higher up in this post about two undefeated teams going down last night. LSU was one, and Charlotte was the other. Like LSU, Charlotte's gaudy record had more to do with a soft schedule than anything else. They do have a nice road win over Davidson, though, and so like LSU they're probably a borderline Top 100 team. And while Miami beating Charlotte at home isn't earth-shaking news, the 31 point margin is very impressive. And it underscores the fact that this Miami team is better than the media wants to give them credit for.

Miami had that bad loss to Florida Gulf Coast, but that was before Durand Scott was able to play in games (and besides, Florida Gulf Coast is a borderline Top 100 team in their own right). In their last three games they beat Michigan State, whooped UMass on the road, and now destroyed Charlotte. That's pretty darn impressive, and it's pushed their Pomeroy rating from 58th up to 30th. They also moved into the Top 50 in the Sagarin ratings, where they're up to 36th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. Durand Scott, more than anything, really sparks their offense. They haven't scored fewer than 1.10 PPP in any game since he's been back, after a putrid 0.76 PPP in that loss to Florida Gulf Coast.

So in my view, Miami deserves hype as a borderline Top 25 team. I wouldn't put them that high, but I do think that they're playing like a clear Tournament team. I will most likely move them up to around an 8 or 9 seed in my bracket projection after tonight's games. Their next game will be on Tuesday, at Central Florida.

Charlotte will play Kennesaw State on Sunday. Their next tough test will be next Saturday, against Florida State.

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