Thursday, December 12, 2013

Morning News: Tough Night For Digger Phelps & Notre Dame; Also, Season Ending Injuries For Kris Dunn & Aaron Bright

Digger Phelps at halftime of the Notre Dame/North Dakota State game. This is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Only one real game to talk about from last night. That's going to happen on these slow nights of basketball for these next three weeks. Conference play has gotten under way in fits and starts (congrats on holding the lead in the ACC for three weeks, Virginia Tech), but conference play will start in earnest in three weeks. Since there's not a lot to talk about from last night's action, I went a bit deeper into Notre Dame and North Dakota State:

North Dakota State Wins In South Bend North Dakota State winning in Notre Dame probably isn't the surprise or upset that most thought it was. The Irish were only 6.5 point favorites in Vegas. And it's not because Notre Dame is bad (more on that in a moment) but because North Dakota State is good. Pomeroy has them 76th, and they feature perhaps the most underrated offensive player in the country in Marshall Bjorklund.

This game was clean and crisp (both teams committed only 8 turnovers), and North Dakota State seemed to have a lead of a few points almost the entire night. The big moment came in the final 30 seconds, after Marshall Bjorklund had fouled out, when the Irish had the ball down by 3 but Jerian Grant turned it over, leading to a fast break dunk at the other end. That was the killer for Notre Dame, who fall to 1-3 against the Pomeroy Top 100, with the only win coming over Delaware.

The idea that the Irish are really bad this year is a false one. The loss to Indiana State was their one particularly bad loss, though even Indiana State is a bubble team. This North Dakota State loss came down to the final seconds, and the third loss came by 5 points on the road at Iowa (no shame in that). Notre Dame is definitely a bubble-quality team. The problem is that their resume is a mess right now. They have to win at least one of their upcoming neutral court games against Indiana and Ohio State or they will fall to 8-5 with no quality wins heading into ACC play. They will collect a big scalp or two in ACC play, I'm sure, but an 8-5 non-conference record would mean that a minimum of a 10-8 ACC record would be required for serious at-large consideration. That will be an uphill battle.

What about North Dakota State? We know they're a scary potential 12 or 13 seed if they win the Summit, but is an at-large bid possible? It would be a mistake to say 'no', but it's very hard to see it happening unless they upset Ohio State on Saturday. Without the Ohio State win, this Notre Dame victory will be their only against a plausible RPI Top 50 opponent, and they have a bad loss to North Dakota already. Maybe if they won every other game the rest of the way other than the Ohio State game and put up a particularly gaudy won-loss record it would be plausible, but I'd bet against it. The Bison are a very tough team, but they're going to need to get through the Summit League tournament to have a real chance to wreak havoc in March.

Kris Dunn Is Done For The Season The disappointing, injury-filled career of Kris Dunn continues on, as he is out for the second straight season with a shoulder injury. It's unclear what happened here, since the story from Providence was that he was out indefinitely but hoping to start playing relatively early this season. Then yesterday came the news that in fact he was done for the year. It's very curious, and I'm sure Providence fans aren't happy about how this all played out.

Providence remains a team that could plausibly make a run at an at-large bid, but they seem a piece short. Friars fans were certainly hoping that Kris Dunn would help put them over the top in Big East play. Most likely, they're now headed back to the NIT.

Aaron Bright Out For The Season Kris Dunn was not the only season-ending injury announced yesterday. The other was Stanford's Aaron Bright, the senior sixth man who was averaging 19 minutes per game off the bench. One of just six players on Stanford earning double-digit minutes per game, this injury is going to force Johnny Dawkins to go deeper on his bench. And this is the type of injury that could cost Stanford, a bubble team, a bid to the tourney. They have tough upcoming games against UConn and Michigan away from home, and are desperate for a quality non-conference win. Losses in those two games will force them to earn their way back into the Field of 68 in Pac-12 play with a very thin roster.

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