Saturday, December 29, 2012

Louisville Wins A Thriller Over Kentucky

#4 Louisville 80, Kentucky 77
As I said on twitter, I just don't know what to do in a world where Kentucky basketball is underrated. More on that in a moment. Here, Louisville opened a 17 point lead early in the second half, but Kentucky chipped away with explosive play on both ends of the floor. And yes, some Louisville foul trouble helped (Russ Smith, Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng all had 4 fouls for a significant fraction of the second half, and Siva ended up fouling out late), but Kentucky also got great play from Archie Goodwin (22 points on 8-for-15 shooting) and Willie Cauley-Stein (6 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks).

Heading into this game, Kentucky was 59th in the Sagarin ELO_SCORE and 19th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. Pomeroy had them 13th. In other words, they are one of the 20 best teams in the country, but with a bad resume because they happened to come up just short against Duke and Baylor (both single digit losses). And that gap will increase now, with a very close loss on the road at a Louisville team that is one of the four best in the nation. Watching them you can see how explosive they are. You can argue that they're overrated by the computers and should be ranked around 20th, instead of being ranked higher. But you can't argue that they're a bubble team - although many people are.

I don't want to repeat things I've said many times before about advanced stats, but I have a new idea for you to chew on. The classic response from the old guard to advanced stats guys is "Do you even watch the games!?" I get that one fairly repeatedly. But the irony is, the argument against Kentucky is that watching them play well is irrelevant because they lost all of these games. They lost to Duke, they lost to Louisville, they lost to Baylor. Doesn't matter that all three games were very close and all were against elite opponents. A loss is a loss. In other words, the arguments from the media dinosaurs is that we shouldn't watch the games - we should just pick up a newspaper the next day and see who beat whom.

Anyway, I believed coming into this game that Kentucky was the second best team in the SEC, and that obviously won't change from this result. They will play Eastern Michigan on Wednesday before opening up conference play. Louisville heads straight into Big East play, beginning with Providence on Wednesday. I think Louisville is the best team in the Big East, but it is very far from a given that they'll win the league. Syracuse matches up very well with them in terms of personnel and style, and it would be a mistake to sleep on Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.

North Carolina 79, #20 UNLV 73
UNLV's offense was atrocious in the first half. They turned the ball over like there was no tomorrow, and couldn't hit a shot. They pulled things together in the second half, and actually took a brief lead, but they went ice cold again in the final seven minutes. Between the 7:33 and 2:16 marks in the second half they shot 0-for-5 from the field and 2-for-6 from the line. UNC pushed a one point lead out to a seven point lead over that stretch.

While UNC struggled to close this game out at home, the fact that they won at all without their best player (Reggie Bullock missed the game with symptoms from a concussion) is a really nice result. It's their best performance of the season, and it delivers their first quality victory of the season. They now head into ACC play with some momentum. I don't think anybody is going to seriously challenge Duke, but UNC is definitely in the mix for second place. They will open with a tough game on January 6th, at Virginia.

Considering the absence of Bullock, this is a really bad missed opportunity for UNLV. And I think this result exposed their offensive problems as well. They have a really high level of talent and athleticism, but they have no idea what they're doing on offense. Everything degenerates into one-on-one basketball. Sound defenses that know how to rotate and communicate will shut that down. I don't think it's a coincidence that they also struggled badly to score against the only other Pomeroy Top 50 defense that they've played (Oregon). Their own defense is very good, and their offense is good enough to get them to the NCAA Tournament. But I think it's a real concern for them in the Mountain West. UNLV will take on a pair of cupcakes before opening conference play at New Mexico on January 9th.

Towson 67, Oregon State 66, OT
Oregon State is starting to convince me that they're the rich man's USC. They have seriously upgraded their raw athleticism under Craig Robinson, and when you watch them in short samples or when they warm up they certainly look like a good team. But they're not. Their offense is sloppy, their defense is terrible, and they're now 9-3 with a terrible loss to go with precisely zero quality wins. They're not as bad as their RPI (208th), but at this point they're off the Tournament bubble until they can prove otherwise.

Towson is 5-8 this season, which makes them one of the most improved teams in the nation. Remember, they went 1-31 last season. The biggest addition is Jerrelle Benimon, who transferred in after two seasons at Georgetown. Benimon was the star here, scoring 20 points and pulling down 21 boards, and also hitting the game winner in overtime. Towson will head on the road on Wednesday to play UNC-Wilmington to open Colonial regular season play. UNC-Wilmington also happens to be the only team in the Colonial that Towson has beaten over the past two seasons.

Oregon State is now 9-3 with this bad loss and zero quality wins. Assuming that they beat Texas-Pan American on Monday, they will probably need to get to 11-7 in Pac-12 play to get firmly in the at-large discussion heading into the Pac-12 tournament. I don't see that as a likely result.

No comments: