Saturday, December 29, 2012

UCLA "Upsets" Missouri

UCLA 97, #7 Missouri 94, OT
Missouri is a good team, but they're borderline Top 25 - not 7th. Throw in an underrated UCLA team playing at home and Pomeroy had UCLA as a three point favorite. And as usual, the Vegas lines matched Pomeroy. But because mainstream sports writers don't understand advanced stats, this was a "major upset". The linked AP article calls it an "upset", and Seth Davis made it his "upset special of the day" before the game. When I called him out on it on twitter, and also for his promoting of his mother's "magic water" company (my name for it), he responded by citing this guy. I guess it's not a surprise that a writer who denies modern advances in statistics would also deny modern, western medicine. All in all, a bizarre day.

Anyway, getting to the action here, it was the type of game that is really fun in short spurts. The up-and-down action and ceaseless scoring (particularly in the first ten minutes of the second half) was wild. After a while, though, it starts getting a bit grating seeing such putrid defense. UCLA had no idea how to defend a pick-and-roll and their help defense was horrific. The star of the game, of course, was Phil Pressey. His 19 points and 19 assists were one of the best performances I've seen from any player in the nation this season. But I can say that while also acknowledging that Pressey's terrible shooting performance against Illinois almost cost his team that game. He's a streaky player - it's who he is. When he's playing well he's as good as any player in the nation. But his bad games are pretty bad. And that's why he's, overall, an overrated player. The talk of him as an All-American is absurd. He's a borderline all-SEC player.

UCLA very much needed this win. They beat Texas, but that may not be a great win on Selection Sunday. With a loss to Cal Poly, their Sagarin ELO_SCORE after this win is still 66th. So they head into Pac-12 play as a bubble team. If they go 10-8 in Pac-12 play then they'll probably need at least a win or two in the Pac-12 tournament to go Dancing. They probably need to get to 12-6 to really be confident of getting into the Tournament. They will open conference play on Thursday, against California.

I've felt for a while now that Missouri is the third best team in the Pac-12, and a narrow road loss at UCLA certainly doesn't change that. They need to avoid getting tripped up against a tough Bucknell team next Saturday. A loss would significantly harm their chances of earning a 3 or 4 seed. They will open SEC play against Alabama on January 8th.

#13 Gonzaga 94, Baylor 87
There's no such concept in college basketball as a National Most Improved Player award, and for obvious reasons. It would be impossible to weigh an average player on a top team becoming a superstar vs a bench guy on a low-major becoming a star in his low-major conference. But that said, if such an award existed, Kelly Olynyk would have to be one of the top contenders, no? He was a mostly anonymous bench player last season, but he's arguably Gonzaga's best player this season. And not only has he arguably been their best player overall, but he's been at his own personal best in Gonzaga's most important games. He had 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting here, along with some key defensive plays that didn't show up in the boxscore. He also had 20+ in the Kansas State rout and while nearly single-handedly winning that road game at Washington State (a combined 20-for-27 shooting from the floor in those two games).

Of course, Kevin Pangos also had 31 points here, on 7-for-10 three-point shooting. Like Brady Heslip (who was only 1-for-5 behind the arc), he will have games like this from time to time. But that hot shooting overshadowed Olynyk's key plays. Gonzaga couldn't have won this game without either of them.

Gonzaga's defense wasn't great here, particularly in the second half, but I don't think it's cause to panic. Baylor is an explosive offensive team, and they also happened to get hot behind the arc (10-for-24) and at the free throw line (85%). This game was also played at a hot pace (76 possessions), which was a big reason why so many points were scored. So as I argued on twitter last night, there really is no cause for panicking about Gonzaga's defense.

The Zags head on the road next to play Oklahoma State on New Year's Eve. That will be an awfully tough game, but it's the type of game Gonzaga really needs to win if they're going to be able to argue for a 2 seed on Selection Sunday. With a loss there, their ceiling will probably be a 3 seed. Now 8-4, Baylor will open Big 12 play next Saturday against Texas. They're going to have to finish at least 10-8 in conference play to be in a good position for an at-large bid.

BYU 97, Virginia Tech 71
Tyler Haws was a player that I loved when he was a freshman. I called him possibly the next coming Jimmer Fredette. He then went off on a Mormon mission for two years. He's been good since coming back, but not great. It still felt like he was trying to get his sea legs back. Haws might finally be back. He exploded for 42 points on 14-for-25 shooting, including 6-for-8 behind the arc. The Hokies never had a chance.

The problem for BYU is that they got off to an awfully slow start to this season and missed other opportunities for good wins. They are 10-4 and this is the closest thing that they have to a quality win, along with an iffy loss to Florida State. They will probably need a win over Gonzaga and a 10-6 or better WCC record to have a good chance of an at-large bid. They will open conference play against Loyola-Marymount on Thursday.

Virginia Tech is now 9-4 with wins over Iowa and Oklahoma State, along with a terrible loss to Georgia Southern and an iffy loss to West Virginia. They will need to go at least 10-8 in ACC play to be on the bubble, and I'll be pretty surprised if they get there. They're just not playing that well yet - James Johnson needs to fill in his roster more. They will open ACC play next Saturday, at Maryland.

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