Monday, December 02, 2013

Morning News: North Carolina, Oklahoma St, Arizona St & Creighton Fall; George Washington, San Diego St & LSU Get Big Wins.

Jerod Haase (far right) working as an assistant for Roy Williams two seasons ago

The Student Defeats The Teacher In Birmingham Jerod Haase has a long history with Roy Williams. He played for him at Kansas for four seasons, and then got his coaching career started there. He followed Roy to North Carolina, where he served as an assistant for close to a decade before taking the UAB head coaching job last season. It was a long first season taking over the thin roster that Mike Davis left him, but things had been looking up this year with a win over Nebraska and a game where they took New Mexico to two overtimes before losing. They're not a Tournament team yet, but they're improving. And here, with this 63-59 win over North Carolina, Haase delivered the biggest win the program has had in three seasons, at the expense of his old mentor.

The story for North Carolina is the same one we've seen all season. As long as PJ Hairston is out, the UNC offense will live and die with Marcus Paige. When he scored 32 points they were able to topple Louisville. But when he scores 13 points on 16 shots from the field with only 5 assists, they have a chance to lose to UAB. James Michael McAdoo had another poor game (3-for-13 shooting), and some of the freshmen (such as Kennedy Meeks) struggled as well. The margin of error is just too small until PJ Hairston gets back, and UNC will continue to be an inconsistent, borderline Top 25.

Memphis Collects A Top 25 Scalp When Memphis was crushed by 21 points by Oklahoma State a couple of weeks ago, every story about the game talked about Josh Pastner's 0-13 record against Top 25 teams. Memphis was a good team, the media told us, but they just "can't beat Top 25 opponents" (see here and here for a couple of examples). So what did they do last night? They beat 5th ranked Oklahoma State. Apparently they can beat Top 25 opponents, and apparently the fact that Team A beat Team B once by a significant margin does not mean that the result will be the same if they play a second time. Huh. Who knew?

This was the second straight poor performance in the final few minutes of a game for Oklahoma State, but there's no reason for any significant panic. Marcus Smart is still inconsistent, but he's a lot more consistent than he was during last year's up-and-down season. And if a five point neutral court loss to Memphis is the worst performance Oklahoma State has all season, they're going to be a 1 seed in March. They'll surely need to spend some time figuring out why their normally strong defense struggled with a mediocre Memphis offensive attack, but otherwise I think the Cowboys should be happy about how the season has gone so far. They are clearly a contender to win the Big 12.

San Diego State Beats Marquette San Diego State was actually favored by 3 points in this game due to the fact that the computers are currently not particularly fond of Marquette, but I think the computers underrate this Marquette team due to the small sample size. This is a really nice win for the Aztecs. The formula for San Diego State this year is pretty clear already: play strong defense and hit a bunch of threes. And they did that here, hitting 6-for-12 behind the arc while holding Marquette to 0.92 PPP. With wins over Creighton and Marquette, and with only a loss to Arizona, San Diego State is playing like a borderline Top 25 team so far. The three-point shooting will probably cool off a bit at some point (it's at 45%, up from 33% last season), so they're probably going to end up on the bubble in February, but that's still a lot better than most of the preseason expectations for this team.

In Marquette's defense, it's really tough to win at San Diego State with a fully healthy team, and Davante Gardner was clearly sick (he threw up on the court earlier in the night). The computers are down on them because their offense has been mostly atrocious this season, but it's hard for me to believe they won't improve substantially over the course of the season. And they certainly play strong defense. So I do think that Marquette is still a Tournament team, even if they were clearly overrated preseason.

George Washington Continues To Be Feisty George Washington has played a lot of good basketball this season. Losing only one game (to Marquette), they beat Miami (Fl), Manhattan and now Creighton. With Creighton, the story is reminiscent of the one I told repeatedly last season - if they shoot well (typically defined by me as an eFG% over 52%) they win, and if they don't then they lose. Here? They were ice cold, with a 40.2 eFG%. Still, I don't want to take away from a strong, balanced George Washington performance. They did what you have to do against Creighton, which is attack them off the dribble and on the glass. I doubt they'll end up making a serious run at an at-large bid, but they'll be competitive all season long in the top half of the Atlantic Ten.

Wichita State Escapes St. Louis Led by Ron Baker, Wichita State has been quietly really strong to start this season. The team is significantly improved from last season, and had their best performance of the entire season thus far last night. Winning in St. Louis is a really tough feat, and Wichita State got the 70-65 win. Against the suffocating Billikens defense, Wichita State managed to get five players into double-digits, led by Ron Baker's stat stuffing 22 points (on 7-for-10 shooting), 6 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 assists. If there was one concern it was ball handling. Coming into the game they were 24th in the nation in steal percentage, and they were stripped 12 times last night. But nobody's offense is going to execute exceptionally well against St. Louis, so I think the Shockers get a pass there.

There is some concern for St. Louis now that they're going to head into Atlantic Ten play without a win over a likely RPI Top 50 opponent. But the A-10, despite the losses of Butler, Xavier and Temple, still has quality teams to be beaten. St. Louis will get to play VCU (twice), Dayton (twice) and UMass in the regular season, so they should have plenty of opportunities to earn that at-large bid.

Arizona State Suffers A Bad Loss To Miami (Fl) Jahii Carson helped put Arizona State back on the casual basketball fan radar with that victory over Marquette last week, and they had only suffered a loss to Creighton prior to last night, but the season faced its first serious speed bump with a bad loss to Miami (Fl) last night. Arizona State's defense is a work in progress, and they allowed 1.07 PPP to a Miami team that had not previously cracked 1.00 PPP against any team in the Pomeroy Top 200. Davon Reed led Miami with 19 points, and the Hurricanes tied a season low with only 7 turnovers.

This type of performance is why I still have Arizona State sitting narrowly outside the Field of 68 in my bracket projection. James Harden was on the team the last time they were significant players in March, and with a bad defense we have to expect inconsistent performances like this. Arizona State is a good team that will collect some quality victories, but they have more work to do to prove that they can win consistently enough to earn an at-large bid.

Butler Falls To LSU Between all of the NFL games, BCS debates and other college basketball games, this Butler/LSU game got lost in the shuffle. But with both of these teams likely to end up on the bubble in February, this was a big win for LSU and a tough loss for Butler. You don't want to over-think a two point game in overtime, but Butler was clearly suffering from bad shooting (a 40.8 eFG%). They're going to struggle to beat any decent or good opponent when Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall combine for 13-for-39 shooting. The Bulldogs now need to win every remaining non-conference game (the toughest being a neutral court game against Purdue) in order to still have a strong resume heading into their first Big East regular season. With another tough loss, they'll enter Big East play with an uphill battle just to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, LSU really deserves to start getting respect as a possible at-large team. Johnny Jones has got his team seriously improved, and they are now 5-2 with this victory and a win over Saint Joe's, and with both losses coming to likely RPI Top 50 opponents (Memphis and UMass). If they can avoid any bad losses prior to SEC play, an 11-7 conference record should be enough for an at-large bid. If they only go 10-8, their position on Selection Sunday might come down to whether they manage to topple Kentucky and/or Florida at least once, and how they finish the season.

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