Friday, December 20, 2013

Morning News: Duke Runs Away From UCLA, Clemson Suffers A Terrible Loss, USC's At-Large Hopes Basically Over

Kyle Anderson had a great game, but Jabari Parker got the final laugh.

Duke Runs Away From UCLA In The Second Half UCLA couldn't miss a shot early in this game, but their jump shooting failed them in the second half. They turned the game into a three-point shooting contest, and that's usually not the correct strategy to use against Duke. And while it's easy to draw narratives from a game like this, the reality is that jump shooting was the difference. Early in the second half, UCLA was 8-for-12 behind the arc and winning by 1 point. They missed their final 11 three-pointers, and were outscored by 18 points over that stretch. In other words, UCLA would have won this game if they kept hitting 2/3rds of their three-pointers... but they were fairly unlikely to continue hitting 2/3rds of their three-pointers.

The best player in this game was, surprisingly, Kyle Anderson. Duke did a good job of denying Jordan Adams, and he finished with a quiet 10 points and 5 rebounds, but Anderson nearly had a triple double (15 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals). Duke's perimeter guys seemed to struggle with his length. Anderson is not a player who beats you with his speed (to say the least), but he is deliberate and smooth with the ball, and Duke didn't know what to do about him.

Duke was due for a big win. They came into this game with a fairly mediocre resume (wins over Michigan and Alabama). but with a rapidly improving defense they're looking a lot more like the top ten team they seemed to be preseason. They are still very much in play for a 1 seed in March if they can win at least a share of the ACC regular season title and the ACC tournament title.

UCLA is now 8 days away from a key home game against Alabama. UCLA is good enough that they should be in the NCAA Tournament, but a loss to Alabama would make their non-conference slate a wash. They'll have to get to at least 10-8 in Pac-12 play just to get an at-large bid.

Clemson Suffers A Terrible Loss Auburn is a major conference team, so we don't think of them as a "terrible" loss, but this is a terrible loss. Auburn is a guarantee to finish outside the RPI Top 100, and have a good chance of finishing outside the Top 200. Even after this win they are 198th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR and 208th in Pomeroy. This is a killer loss for Clemson's computer numbers, and comes off another mediocre loss (Arkansas).

Clemson is a very strong defensive team, but they're a very bad offensive team. And the problem is, it's hard for them to put up points in bunches, even against a bad team like Auburn. They didn't have a ton of turnovers, they didn't put Auburn on the line all game, they didn't get destroyed on the glass or behind the arc... they just ended up in a grind of a game against a bad team and ended up coming up two points short.

Clemson will finish non-conference play without a quality victory. They'll get Duke, Pittsburgh, Virginia and Florida State at home this season, so they'll have chances for quality victories, but they'll probably need to get to 10-8 in conference play to avoid the NIT.

USC's At-Large Hopes Over Until Further Notice USC had already lost to Wake Forest and Utah State, but last night's loss to Long Beach State is significantly worse. Their offense sputtered, managing only 1.00 PPP against a team that hadn't beaten a Division I opponent prior to last night. The closest thing USC has to a quality victory was a win over Xavier, a team unlikely to crack the RPI Top 50.

After January 15th, I include the "full bubble" in my bracket projections, where every team that hasn't yet been mathematically eliminated (in my opinion) from the NCAA Tournament is listed. And in that first bracket, USC will be listed since it is mathematically possible for them to run off 10 straight Pac-12 wins and get back on the bubble. But let's be realistic, USC isn't going to a postseason tournament in 2014.

In Long Beach State's defense, they're pretty good for a team that was 0-9 against Division I opponents. They had played a ridiculously tough schedule and had played a lot of games close (lost in 2OT to Washington, lost by 6 on a neutral court vs VCU, lost by 10 at NC State). It wouldn't be a shock if Dan Monson can pull this team together in time to contend near the top of the Big West.

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