Monday, December 03, 2012

Wisconsin Crushes California

Wisconsin 81, California 56
Wisconsin jumped out to an early lead here, and this game was never particularly competitive. The difference was Wisconsin's ability to get in the paint and score in the paint against a soft California defense. The Badgers hit 62.2% of their two-point attempts and assisted on 60% of made baskets. Jared Berggren couldn't be stopped, scoring 18 points (on 7-for-9 shooting) with 5 offensive rebounds. This game was surprisingly sloppy, with an astounding 27 combined steals (though only 36 combined turnovers). Neither of these teams typically force a lot of turnovers, so that seems more like a small sample size quirk than anything else.

The biggest concern from Wisconsin early this season was defensive rebounding. It was better here (a 70.0 DR%), but still not great. It's jarring to see Wisconsin ranked higher nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (50th) than defensive rebounding percentage (74th). They've always been far better at defensive rebounding than offensive rebounding under Bo Ryan. I'm assuming that they'll play more to type as the season goes along. Wisconsin is also sloppier than usual this season, though that's partially due to losing Jordan Taylor and having a faster, more aggressive offense. They're 14th in the nation with 1.15 PPP, and Pomeroy has their adjusted offensive efficiency 10th in the nation, so their offense is fine.

Obviously this was just a bad day for California, so it would be a mistake to draw too many conclusions from it. But this type of sloppy game has been typical for them this season. They are turning the ball over on 21.8% of offensive possessions, and their 15.0 turnovers per game are third worst in the Pac-12 so far (particularly bad considering their soft schedule). Allen Crabbe is an outstanding, dynamic scorer, and Justin Cobbs is a good sidekick, but the rest of the Cal offense is just putrid. They lack a quality point guard, and Crabbe is the only good outside shooter.

But as I said, there's no reason to overreact to a single game. Cal gets a big opportunity at home against UNLV on Sunday, and then the following weekend at home against Creighton. If they can steal either game then they'll be back on the right path. But they need to prove that this performance against Wisconsin was a fluke. As for Wisconsin, they will get a cream puff on Tuesday and then will have a very interesting game on the road at Marquette. Besides being a rivalry game, Marquette matches up very well with Wisconsin's flaws. Wisconsin has struggled on the defensive glass and is turning the ball over more than in the past - few teams are better at attacking the offensive glass and generating transition offense off of turnovers than Marquette. If Wisconsin's poor performance against Virginia really was a fluke, they can prove it against Marquette.

Akron 82, Middle Tennessee 77, OT
This was one of those interesting mid-major match-ups that probably wouldn't get media attention even if it wasn't happening on an NFL Sunday. Both of these teams will be scary Round of 64 opponents should they make the NCAA Tournament. Freshman Jake Kretzer was the hero for Akron, hitting a pair of threes and scoring all eight of his points in overtime. Alex Abreu was superb overall, scoring 19 points with 7 assists and 4 steals. I've been a fan of him since his freshman season, when I couldn't understand why he was backing up a clearly inferior point guard in Steve McNees.

Akron had a fairly incomprehensible loss to Coastal Carolina on opening night but has looked solid since then. This win comes after a win against Penn State and an overtime loss to Oklahoma State. They will play on the road at Creighton on Sunday - a game that they really need to win if they want to have a plausible at-large case. Without a win over Creighton they'll need to win 25+ games to have a chance.

Middle Tennessee is rated in the Top 50 of both the Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR, but that doesn't matter to the Selection Committee. They have lost both of their shots against quality opponents thus far (their other loss was to Florida). They will still play Belmont, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt before starting Sun Belt play. I don't think an at-large bid is realistic for them, but wins in those games will help give them the confidence to be a bracket buster in March. Middle Tennessee's next game will be against UAB, on Wednesday.

Nebraska 63, USC 51
If this game happened on a Saturday I wouldn't have bothered recapping it. But tonight was an awfully empty slate of college basketball (we're heading into the no-man's land of final exams), and I didn't want to completely ignore the night. This was the most interesting game on the schedule, to me at least. USC was blown away here, though, trailing by as many as 20 points in the second half before Nebraska took their foot off the pedal. Nebraska's 11-for-17 three-point shooting made this game more of a blowout than it really was, but USC probably wasn't going to win a game where they scored 0.80 PPP. The Trojans hit only 35.9% of their two-pointers and committed 15 turnovers.

It's hard to think of a team that looks better warming up that plays worse than USC. They have tremendous athletes, but just stink together as a team. They look to be on their way to a battle for 11th place in the Pac-12 (I still think Utah has 12th locked up). And it makes me wonder... just what is the argument that Kevin O'Neill is a good head coach? He hasn't had success as a head coach since he was at Marquette in the early 1990s. I don't see any real evidence that he has this program going in the right direction. And it's not like they're a young team that should be any better next season.

As for Nebraska, they are looking improved this season. Tim Miles is a good coach who has had success everywhere he's been. It's going to take time before the Cornhuskers have enough talent to compete with the top half of the Big Ten, but they're better. They could actually be a Top 100 team by the end of the season. And that doesn't sound like much, but that would be a big improvement over last season.

Nebraska is now 6-1, though without a quality win. They will get a chance for that first quality win on Thursday against Creighton. Perhaps more realistically they'll play at Oregon on December 15th. USC will play at New Mexico on Wednesday, and then at home against Minnesota on Saturday. Unless they pull a big upset in one of those two games, they're staring at a 3-6 start to the season.


Sam said...

So, this isn't exactly relevant to this post, but it's something you talk about a lot, and I was wondering if you had any idea about this.

Sagarin appears to have changed his rankings, with a ranking called "ELO_SCORE" replacing ELO_CHESS. The only information provided about the mechanics of the change is that it now takes score into account, but not to what degree it does.

At first, I didn't think too much of this when I noticed it, since the differences between the two systems looked familiar to me. Duke is better in the new ELO system and Wisconsin comes across better in the predictive one, so it didn't look like anything had changed. But then I saw some stranger results. VCU(19th by ELO_SCORE, 20th by PREDICTOR) seems to have had the season that normally resulted in a significant gap between the two measures, with narrow losses and big wins. Kentucky I would also expect to see a gap between the two numbers, but Kentucky is 14th and 15th in the two measures.

I suppose what I'm asking is, do you know what the difference in how it's calculated? And do you think this years numbers are looking different than in the past? And if so, what is this likely to mean for whether the ELO remains the closest standard to what the selection committee uses?

Or have I just missed something incredibly obvious and I'm completely wrong, which is always possible.

Jeff said...

I'm actually not totally sure. I'll try to research to find out.