Saturday, January 19, 2013

Oregon Beats UCLA, Has Inside Track To Pac-12 Title

#21 Oregon 76, #24 UCLA 67
This was a very important game for the Pac-12 standings, for reasons I'll get to in a moment. And while I'm sure UCLA fans would like to blame the Shabazz Muhammad "suspension" for this loss, I just don't think you can do that. Muhammad had to sit the first five minutes of the game for being late to practice, but he still scored ten first half points. The problem for Muhammad was in the second half, when shot 0-for-5 from the field and failed to score.

Tony Woods led the way for Oregon, scoring 18 points on 8-for-9 shooting. His dramatic offensive improvement this season is a big reason that Oregon is playing so well. Arsalan Kazemi was a nice spark off the bench, putting up 12 points and adding 11 rebounds. Travis Wear led UCLA with 14 points, and the Bruins also got a nice performance from Larry Drew, who had 8 assists and only 2 turnovers.

The reason this game mattered so much for the Pac-12 is that UCLA, Oregon and Arizona, at this point, seem like the three best teams in the conference. Oregon only has one game this season against Arizona and already won it. And they only have to play UCLA once... and they won this game too. So they now are a game clear of everybody in the Pac-12, with the tiebreak guaranteed over their top two competitors. It's a great situation for Oregon to find themselves in.

UCLA is now 15-4 overall and 5-1 in Pac-12 play, with wins over Missouri and Colorado along with a bad loss to Cal Poly. They are 5-3 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that should be near 45th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. So they're a bubble team now, and will still be on the bubble if they go 11-7 or 12-6. They probably need to go 13-5 in Pac-12 play to lock up an at-large bid before the Pac-12 tournament tips off.

UCLA will have a tough schedule next week, going on the road to play the two Arizona schools. Oregon will be at home to face the two Washington schools.

Wichita State 67, #12 Creighton 64
The Roundhouse was rocking, as it often is, and this was a really fun game. And in the final 30 seconds, Creighton had three excellent chances to tie up the game. First, down by two, Grant Gibbs got fouled but only hit 1-for-2 at the line. Then after a pair of Malcolm Armstead free throws, Greg McDermott drew up a really nice play that got an open three-point attempt for 46% three-point shooter Ethan Wragge, who missed. Carl Hall then missed a pair of free throws, which gave Ethan Wragge one more decent look from about 30 feet out, which missed again. You can't ask for a whole more than those three chances... Creighton just couldn't get those shots to fall.

These are the two Missouri Valley teams likely to contend for the Missouri Valley title, and to be the Valley's two representatives to the NCAA Tournament. Creighton is the favorite to win the league, of course, and Wichita State needed to hold serve on their home court. They achieved that. Now they need to spend the next six weeks or so avoiding bad losses. Their game at Creighton will not happen until their regular season finale, on March 2nd. Their next game will be on Wednesday, at Missouri State.

Despite this loss, I do think that Creighton is still very much in contention for a 3 or 4 seed on Selection Sunday. Let's be honest, they weren't going to go 18-0 in conference play, and if they're going to lose a game they might as well make it on the road at Wichita State. Next week they'll go on the road to face Drake and Southern Illinois. Obviously a loss in either one of those games would be a "bad loss" and would put that potential high seed at much more risk.

#18 Michigan State 59, #11 Ohio State 56
Michigan State has been something of an enigma this season. They've been ranked high, but really haven't played well for the past month or so. They did beat Kansas in the Georgia Dome on November 13th, but they'd only won a single game since Thanksgiving against a team in the Pomeroy Top 75. That win was a three point road victory over Iowa. A nice win, but hardly proof that they're deserving of a Top 25 ranking.

I do think that this win settles the fears that Michigan State might be a bubble team, despite how bizarre the final possession played out. If you didn't see it, Ohio State had the ball down by three with 7.9 seconds left. Coming out of a timeout, Tom Izzo told his players not to foul (even though the correct play was to foul). Shannon Scott dribbled up and with nearly four seconds left took a bizarre off-balanced three-pointer. The only explanation must be that he thought he was about to be fouled. That said, Scott was pretty distraught after the game, so I don't want to be too hard on him.

Michigan State got a nice team performance here, with all five starters scoring between 8 and 15 points. But for Ohio State, it was the DeShaun Thomas show. Despite the Michigan State defense focused on stopping Ohio State's only real offensive weapon, Thomas went nuts for 28 points on 10-for-20 shooting, including 6-for-11 behind the arc. The second highest scorer for Ohio State was Lenzelle Smith, Jr, who had only 6. If Ohio State had won this game, on national television, it really would have catapulted him into the National Player of the Year discussion.

Ohio State is now only 3-2 in Big Ten play, which puts them in a three-way tie for fifth place, though their schedule eases up a little bit over the next couple of weeks. They'll play Iowa on Tuesday, followed by a road game at Penn State next Saturday. Michigan State moves to 5-1 with this win, though this was their first game against one of the top tier teams in the league. They have yet to play Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota or Wisconsin. They'll get much more familiar with those teams over the next two weeks. Their next game will be on Tuesday at Wisconsin, followed by a road game at Indiana on January 27th.

No comments: