Saturday, January 19, 2013

Syracuse Takes Down #1 Louisville

#6 Syracuse 70, #1 Louisville 68
The endless discussion over who is #1 is always dumb, particularly with how bad and meaningless the human polls are in college basketball. But this result, at the Yum Center, has serious implications for the Big East race. Not just because Syracuse won, but how they won. My belief all season was that Louisville is better than Syracuse, but that Syracuse matches up well with Louisville. Syracuse, like all zone defenses, is vulnerable to good outside shooting, while Louisville is a terrible three-point shooting team (32.6% for the season). And Louisville does like to run and has a tendency to be sloppy with the ball, which feeds into a Syracuse offense that lives off of transition opportunities and can get stuck at times in the half court.

Louisville only shot slightly above their season average behind the arc (7-for-20), but more importantly they turned the ball over only 9 times (only 5 of which were live ball steals). But despite having to work out of their half court offense most of the game, Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche really didn't have that much trouble getting to the basket. Triche finished with 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting; Carter-Williams finished with 16 points and 7 assists. The Louisville help defense just good enough.

I always warn against drawing too many conclusions from a single game that is so close, but even if Louisville had won this game by two points I still would have been concerned with Louisville's struggles. Louisville will still be my favorite in the Big East, but for the first time this season I really believe that Syracuse might be the best team in the Big East.

Louisville heads on the road next week. They'll play at Villanova on Tuesday and at Georgetown at Saturday. Syracuse will play Cincinnati on Monday, and then on the road at Villanova next Saturday.

#7 Arizona 71, Arizona State 54
Arizona State has been playing awfully well the past few weeks. Considered a contender for the Pac-12 basement, they had won six straight games (including three straight in the Pac-12) before a very respectable three point road loss at Oregon. This loss is a little bit of a reality check. They're a decent team, but they're not yet able to contend for the title in an improved Pac-12.

Jahii Carson played well despite foul trouble, scoring 22 points and adding 4 assists in 33 minutes (despite picking up three first half fouls). The problem for Arizona State, and the reason this result was so lopsided, was that Arizona completely shut down Carrick Felix. Felix, who has probably been Arizona State's best player this season, scoring only 5 points on 1-for-8 shooting. A lot of credit has to go to the Arizona defense that, particularly in and around the paint, is awfully good.

With Oregon winning their only regular season match-up with Arizona and winning a road game at UCLA, they have the inside track to the Pac-12 regular season title. Arizona cannot afford to drop games that they're "supposed to win", so this win is valuable in that respect. They will play at home next week, taking on UCLA on Thursday and USC on Saturday.

Arizona State is now 14-4 overall and 3-2 in Pac-12 play, with a win over Colorado and a bad loss to DePaul. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should still be inside the Top 60 when the new numbers come out tomorrow, and even after this big loss they are still fifth in the Pac-12 in PPP differential in conference play (+0.01). So while an at-large bid is certainly unlikely, it's not inconceivable if they can continue to improve. And considering their preseason expectations, that's pretty shocking.

#16 Kansas State 69, Oklahoma 60
Kansas State is a team that isn't particularly popular with the computers. They came into this game ranked 47th by Pomeroy and 52nd by the Sagarin PREDICTOR. A 5-0 record in games decided by six points or less is why the computers have the opinion that they do. But that said, I do feel like Kansas State has improved a lot throughout the season under Bruce Weber. Weber, despite losing his team in his final couple of seasons at Illinois, is a good coach when he has his team's attention. Kansas State is much more fundamentally sound than they were last season. They turn the ball over less, they protect the defensive glass better, and they do a much better job of preventing three-point attempts.

Kansas State won this game because they committed only eight turnovers and because they got uncharacteristically hot behind the arc (41.7%). Rodney McGruder hit 4-for-9 behind the arc and led all players with 20 points. Defensively, the key for this small Kansas State team was limiting the opportunities for Romero Osby, which they did - he only took 9 shots from the field and scored 10 points.

Kansas State moves to 15-2 overall and 4-0 in Big 12 play, with wins over Florida and Oklahoma State, without a bad loss. It's a very impressive resume, but I'm not ready to consider them a serious contender to Kansas unless they can pull their big upset over the Jayhawks at Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday. That will be their chance to prove that the computers are wrong and that they really can contend with Kansas.

Oklahoma is now 12-4 overall and 3-1 in Big 12 play, with a win over Oklahoma State and potentially bad losses to Arkansas and Stephen F Austin. They are 6-4 against the RPI Top 100, and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should still be around 30th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. So if the season ended now they'd be a Tournament team, but not with a huge margin for error. They need to get to at least 10-8 in conference play and need at least two "quality" victories to have a good chance for an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. Their next game will be at home on Monday against a Texas team very desperate for a win. Their next game after that will be at Kansas next Saturday.

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