Friday, December 21, 2012

Texas Thumps Discombobulated Tar Heels

Texas 85, #23 North Carolina 67
North Carolina usually loves fast-paced games like this (81 possessions), but they somehow managed to seem listless and out of energy as they ran up and down the floor. The Tar Heels looked clueless offensively, finishing with 18 turnovers and a 33.6 eFG%. In all, they scored 0.83 PPP. This isn't a new problem for them, honestly. They've faced three teams in the Pomeroy Top 100 this season, and failed to score 1 PPP in any of them.

I think North Carolina gets a pass on their offense from the media because they play at such a high tempo. They score a lot of points, so announcers and tv analysts assume that their offense is okay. I've talked about this phenomenon before (here and here). This season, they're unable to get the ball in the lane. They don't have a point guard who can create for others, and James Michael McAdoo isn't even close to fulfilling the preseason hype. They're scoring only 1.03 PPP this season, which is 108th best in the nation. Blech.

During this game it was reported that Myck Kabongo would have his suspension continue for the entire season. The NCAA changed their mind earlier today, however, ruling that he can come back in mid-February. I'm honestly a bit skeptical that he's going to be make a huge difference when he comes back. He has a lot of potential, and he's a good player, but he wasn't great as a freshman. He was still pretty raw. He'll need to be significantly improved to be the difference maker that a lot of Texas fans seem to think he will be.

The key for Texas is trying to hang on the Tournament bubble while Kabongo is out. They'd be NIT-bound if the season ended now, of course, with losses to Chaminade and USC, with this victory over UNC their closest to a quality win. They will play at Michigan State on Saturday. If they pull that upset they'll be back on the bubble. Without a win there they're going to at least 10-8 in Big 12 play to have any chance at an at-large bid.

North Carolina, as I said a few paragraphs ago, have fallen on their face in their three games against quality opponents. Like Texas, they'd be NIT-bound if the season ended now. After playing McNeese State on Saturday they'll get one more chance for a quality win the following Saturday, against UNLV. They'll open ACC play on January 6th, at Virginia.

UTEP 91, Oregon 84, 3OT
It's hard to come to strong conclusions about a game like this. Both of these teams had many, many shots to win. That said, Oregon probably deserved to win this one. They had 17 more offensive rebounds and 3 fewer turnovers. It's pretty rare that a team can have 20 more possessions than their opponent while losing. It typically takes something like Oregon's 29% three-point shooting and 52% free throw shooting. The bright spot for the Ducks continues to be freshman Damyean Dotson, who led his team with 20 points and also had 3 assists and 3 steals.

Tim Floyd put his team through a monster schedule, and I don't think he has the personnel to handle it. They finally collected their first decent win of the year, but it only gets them to 4-5 overall. They'll finally get their first cream puff of the season on Saturday when they play Arkansas Pine Bluff. After that they'll head right back into the breach, facing a road game at Colorado State before opening up Conference USA play.

This is Oregon's first bad loss of the season. Along with a good win against UNLV and a 9-2 overall record, their resume is still in decent shape. Assuming that they can get past home games against Houston Baptist and Nevada, they should be Tournament-bound if they can get to 10-8 in Pac-12 play.

Stanford 70, Northwestern 68
This was a crucial game for both teams. Both are bubble teams, and neither has a huge margin of error. Stanford jumped out to an early 32-14 lead here. Northwestern chipped away, finally drawing even with a Trey Demps three with around 6:30 to go. Stanford grabbed another small lead, and got tied up by another Demps three with 1:50 to go. But Josh Bright responded with a cold-blooded three that ended up being the game winner for Stanford. Northwestern didn't do themselves any favors with two missed free throws late. In all, they scored only seven points in the final 6:30 of the game.

It seems like Northwestern has more of these excruciating losses than other teams. But as it turns out, those intuitive feelings about clutch play always end up being disproven. Last season, for example, Northwestern went 6-6 in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. Maybe it's just that these close losses feel so much more painful when Northwestern is involved. It's something about the way that they play.

This was a crucial win for Stanford after that NC State loss. This is their first quality win of the season, and they're now 8-4 ( which looks a lot better than 7-5, if nothing else). Assuming that they get past Lafayette on December 29th they'll only need to go 10-8 in Pac-12 play to be on the bubble. Getting to 11-7 should put them in a good position.

Northwestern falls to 8-4 with this loss. They have good wins over Baylor and Illinois State, along with that bad loss to Illinois-Chicago. They will play Brown on Sunday. Even assuming that they win that one, they'll need to get to at least 9-9 in Big Ten play to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. As good as the league is, and with Drew Crawford done for the season, that's an awfully large ask.

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