Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wisconsin Topples Indiana In Assembly Hall

Wisconsin 64, #2 Indiana 59
The story after this game, for the most part, was the media chastising itself for again doubting a Bo Ryan team. In 11 seasons, he's never missed the NCAA Tournament, and he's never finished in worse than a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten. And that's true to an extent. Where I disagree with that narrative is that Wisconsin was playing just fine even before this win. They never dropped out of the Pomeroy Top 20 this season. And I know that Ken Pomeroy himself thinks his ratings overstate Wisconsin's rating a little bit, and I didn't think they were the 15th best team in the nation prior to this game either, but there's no way that they're that overrated. At no point did I view Wisconsin at serious risk of missing the NCAA Tournament, and I have had them as a 6-7 seed in my bracket projection all season.

That all said, I don't think Wisconsin is a serious contender for the Big Ten title either. They match up really well with Indiana. They don't turn the ball over and they play terrific transition defense. And they made a really nice adjustment at halftime to basically stop guarding Yogi Ferrell to put the entire defensive focus on Tyler Zeller, who annihilated them in the first half (8-for-8 from the field) and was the best player on the court for either team. And let's be honest, even with a down second half, Zeller still played a heck of a game - 23 points and 10 rebounds. The rest of the Indiana team (minus Zeller) shot 11-for-39 (28.2%) from the field.

I do think there has be a little bit of concern about Indiana's Big Ten titles chances. They've obviously played very well this season (even after this loss, both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate Indiana as narrowly better than Michigan), but they have been struggling a little in Big Ten play. Their +0.13 PPP in conference play is only fourth best in the Big Ten so far. At this point I'm starting to lean toward Michigan as the new favorite in the conference. I'd certainly trust John Beilein a lot more than Tom Crean to put together a good game plan for a big game.

Wisconsin has a very tough game coming up on Saturday at Iowa. After that they'll come home to play Michigan State and Minnesota next week. We should get a much better sense after those three games if Wisconsin is actually going to make a run at a Big Ten title, or if they're going to finish closer to the 11-7 or 12-6 record I was expecting.

Indiana shouldn't have much trouble against the porous Northwestern defense on Sunday, nor against Penn State next Wednesday. But they won't have to wait too long before they again get a chance to test themselves against the Big Ten's best.

St. John's 67, #20 Notre Dame 63
Notre Dame has now lost five straight games at Madison Square Garden, despite generally being the much better team over that stretch. There have been different reasons for those struggles, but the biggest one here was defensive passivity. They allowed a St. John's team that really struggles to shoot to hit 51.1% of their two-pointers by getting a whole lot of easy layups and dunks off of drives. Mike Brey went away from Jack Cooley early, playing him only 18 minutes and going most of the way with Cameron Biedscheid in his place. I have to say that I really don't understand that one. They needed size and toughness in the paint, and Cooley gives them that.

With the Irish going down and dropping to 2-2 in Big East play, third place in the conference remains absolutely wide open. Louisville and Syracuse are on another level from the rest of the conference, of course. But Marquette's 3-0 start is fraudulent (two overtime wins, and the third win was by a grand total of one point), and you can make cases for Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Georgetown or Pittsburgh as being the third best team. Or maybe some team like UConn sneaks in there? At this point, I'd believe just about anything. And no, I didn't mean that as a swipe about Manti Te'o.

The Irish shouldn't have too much trouble bouncing back against Rutgers on Saturday. They'll have a more important game on Monday night against Georgetown. The Johnnies are now 2-3 in Big East play with a very soft schedule upcoming. Their next four games are against DePaul (twice), Rutgers and Seton Hall. The DePaul game, which is on the road, will be up on Saturday.

Maryland 51, #14 North Carolina State 50
I've talked about this before, but the definition of a terrible court storming is one where you don't even cover the spread. Despite the media talking about this being a terrible letdown performance from NC State and a "signature victory" for Maryland, the reality is that Maryland was a one point favorite favorite in Pomeroy and a three point favorite in Sagarin. Vegas split the middle and set the line at two. So technically, Maryland didn't cover the spread.

What was surprising to me, therefore, was not that Maryland won but how they won. They actually got a pretty poor game from Alex Len, who finished with the game winner but only 10 points, 6 rebounds and 5 turnovers. Honestly, nobody on Maryland played that well. But NC State's offense was brutal, finishing with a 35.2 eFG%, more turnovers than assists, and 0.73 PPP. Maryland is used to struggling offensively, but this was only the second time all season that NC State scored fewer than 1.07 PPP.

Maryland needed this win to stay on the Tournament bubble. They are now 14-3 overall and 2-2 in ACC play, with this win and a potentially bad loss to Florida State. This win should push their ELO_SCORE rating back into the Top 50, and they should be able to keep there if they can get to 10-8 or better in ACC play. Their next game will be a key one, on Saturday at North Carolina.

NC State, despite their lofty ranking and that win over Duke, is still not a certain NCAA Tournament team. They are 3-1 in ACC play with wins over Duke and UConn. They'd certainly be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, but in a down ACC they probably need to get to 11-7 in conference play to lock up a bid. If they go 10-8 and lose their first ACC tournament game, they could end up in the NIT. They'll play Clemson on Sunday, and then on the road at Wake Forest on Tuesday.

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