Monday, December 16, 2013

Morning News: Syracuse Escapes The Garden, Stephen F Austin Impressing, Revisiting Undefeated Teams

Syracuse/St. John's was very physical all game long.

Syracuse Escapes St. John's In The Garden Syracuse came into this game something of a question mark. They had a high ranking, but hadn't played a road game and hadn't played a team rated higher than 30th in Pomeroy. St. John's isn't a Top 30 team either, but this was a true road game, with one of the best St. John's crowds I've ever heard (these Madison Square Garden games often have a tendency to feel something like neutral court games for the Johnnies). But with the offense stagnating and St. John's pulling into the lead late in the second half, CJ Fair hit two clutch jumpers to lead Syracuse to a huge victory.

St. John's will feel like they missed a big opportunity here. Over the final 5:30 they shot 0-for-10 from the field, scoring a brutal 0.3 PPP. It didn't come completely out of nowhere, though, as the game slowed to a half court battle, which was always to the advantage of Syracuse. When St. John's was at their best in this game, it was when they were getting out in transition and not allowing Syracuse to set up their zone.

How legit is Syracuse? I still think they're overrated, but not as much as they seemed to be preseason. The emergence of Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney has made this Syracuse offense much more explosive than it seemed likely preseason. At this point, they have to be considered one of the contenders in a wide open ACC race.

This win would have done a lot to put St. John's on the at-large radar. The loss means that they'll enter Big East play without a quality victory, and will need to go at least 9-9 in conference play to have a good chance at an at-large bid. At this point, I'd bet against it.

Stephen F Austin Making Some Noise It was a bit of a slow day of college basketball, which is why I'm talking about this game. But it gives a good opportunity to talk about a Stephen  F Austin team that is getting my attention. The Lumberjacks lost their coach during the offseason to Texas State (and no, I don't understand why he would do that voluntarily... I don't see how that's an improvement), but Brad Underwood has done a fantastic job so far. Driven by a strong, aggressive perimeter defense they are now 9-2. None of the wins are over impressive opponents, but the margins of victory are impressive, and Pomeroy has moved them up to 86th.

Stephen F Austin won't be contending for an at-large bid, so there won't be a lot of talking about them during the regular season. But keep an eye on them as a potentially dangerous Round of 64 opponent in March.

Revisiting Undefeated Teams I talked preseason about the stupidity of the 40-0 Kentucky hype. As I said at the time, this wasn't meant to be a criticism of Kentucky in particular, but a more general criticism of the idea that any team from a major conference can go 40-0 nowadays. There is just too much parity. It's not impossible, it's just incredibly unlikely. So on a slow day of basketball I thought I'd put up some numbers about that.

Right now, the team most likely to finish the regular season undefeated (according to Pomeroy) is Wichita State at 3.4%. Arizona is second at 0.4%. Wisconsin is third at 0.1%. And those are just the numbers for the regular season, and don't include conference tournament games or NCAA Tournament games. Wichita State is top of the list for an obvious reason: they don't have to play in a BCS conference (Toledo is in an even weaker conference, but they're not nearly as good as Wichita State and also have a road game at Kansas ahead).

But even Arizona, ranked #1 in the country, playing in a mediocre Pac-12 and with all of their tough non-conference games done, only has a 1-in-250 chance of going 18-0 in Pac-12 play. And Wisconsin (also finished with their tough non-conference games) is only as high as they are because they have a fortunate Big Ten schedule, only having to play Michigan State and Ohio State at home.

So just accept right now that nobody is going undefeated. Everybody will lose a game, and there's not going to be a reason to panic when Arizona or Wisconsin or Ohio State loses a game. It's going to happen to everybody.

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