Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stanford Routs Oregon

Stanford 76, #10 Oregon 52
This result is a surprise, but only in terms of the final margin. Stanford was a two point favorite in Vegas. The reason? Oregon is nowhere near the 10th best team in the nation. They came into this game ranked 23rd by Pomeroy and 32nd by the Sagarin PREDICTOR. How do they only have two losses? First, their non-conference schedule was a joke (rated 330th toughest in Division I by Pomeroy), and they were lucky with a 5-1 record in games decided by five points or fewer.

The Oregon offense was a mess here, finishing with more turnovers (21) than made field goals (18). They finished with 0.72 PPP, their worst offense performance since they lost 62-42 to Oregon State on February 6, 2010. Stanford hit 8-for-14 behind the arc, and was led by Josh Huestis (14 points on 6-for-9 shooting, with 13 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals).

Oregon remains firmly in control of the Pac-12 regular season title race. They are a game clear of Arizona and Arizona State, and two games clear of UCLA, with the season tiebreakers already locked up against all of them. They do need to navigate through a fairly tough remaining schedule, though. Up next is a road game at California, on Saturday. After that will be a home game against Colorado.

Stanford ris very much on the Tournament bubble. They are 13-8 overall and 4-4 in conference play, against a far tougher schedule than Oregon has faced. They are only 1-6 against the RPI Top 50 (this is that first Top 50 win), but their only bad losses are Washington and USC, neither of which is really that bad. Their RPI is 77th, though their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should move into the Top 50 when the new numbers come out tomorrow. They'd very likely be an NIT team if the season ended now, but they should be a Tournament team if they can get to 11-7 in Pac-12 play and then win a game or two in the Pac-12 tournament. Their next game will be on Sunday against Oregon State, which is something of a must-win game with a brutal road game at Arizona up the following Wednesday.

Florida State 73, Maryland 71
Michael Snaer is becoming this generation's Robert Horry. It was the second time in a week that he hit a game winner in the final seconds, after a pair of prominent buzzer beating shots last season. A big reason Maryland was in this situation was because foul trouble limited Alex Len to 17 minutes played. But 16 turnovers (compared to only 26 made field goals) against a mediocre Florida State defense also didn't help. Besides Michael Snear, Florida State's biggest contributor was Okaro White. White was only 2-for-8 from the field, but he took advantage of the small Maryland front line sans Alex Len and ended up 10-for-10 from the free throw line.

Florida State is closer to the bubble than most people realize. They are only 12-8 overall, but 4-3 in the ACC and 5-5 against the RPI Top 100. They have wins over BYU and Maryland (twice), along with bad losses to South Alabama, Mercer and Auburn. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is going to move up close to 50th after this win. If the season ended now they'd be NIT bound, but they can get onto the bubble if they get to 11-7 in conference play. They'll have a huge opportunity to dramatically increase that at-large hype if they can beat a reeling Duke squad on Saturday.

Maryland drops to 3-5 in the ACC after this loss. They have a win over NC State along with a pair of losses to Florida State. It's a pretty boring resume, honestly. They need a quality win, and will get a home game against Duke. But they're already done playing Miami and will not get a road game at Cameron, so that really is their only chance. Their next game will be on Saturday against Wake Forest.

USC 75, UCLA 71, OT
UCLA had to overcome a 15 point second half deficit here. They closed regulation on a 24-11 run, sparked by some nice plays on both ends of the court by Larry Drew III. Jordan Adams hit a shot from the corner with 24 seconds left to send the game into overtime. In overtime, the surprising star was USC's Ari Stewart. With USC up by 1 with 11 seconds left, Stewart went to the line for his first free throws of the entire season. Despite Ben Howland icing him with a timeout in between his two shots, Stewart still hit both. On the other end of the floor, Shabazz Muhammad missed a shot and Jordan Adams was called for an over-the-back on the rebound.

It's been a tough week for UCLA. After beating Arizona to get to 6-1 in Pac-12 play and firmly in the Pac-12 title race, they fell to Arizona State and then lost to USC here. They are now only 16-6 overall, with wins over Missouri, Colorado and Arizona, along with bad losses to Cal Poly, Arizona State and USC. Their RPI is 41st, and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should also be in the 40-45 range. They will likely be an NCAA Tournament team if they get to 12-6. At 11-7 or 10-8 they'll have work to do in the Pac-12 tournament.

UCLA won't play this weekend, but next week they'll be at home to face the two Washington schools. USC, now 4-5 in Pac-12 play, will also play the two Washington schools next week. The Trojans could move to .500 in conference play, though at 9-13 overall it's unlikely that they'll get back to .500 overall at any point this season.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

LSU Upsets Missouri

LSU 73, #17 Missouri 70
Missouri is a team that's basically been overrated all season and is slowly regressing to the mean. Their biggest problem so far in SEC play has been defense. They were allowing 0.97 PPP in a down SEC coming into this game, and gave up 1.14 PPP here. Anthony Hickey was able to get into the paint at will (9-for-17 from the field with 4 assists), and LSU hit 67.9% of their two-point attempts.

The silver lining for Missouri is that Laurence Bowers finally returned after missing five games. He didn't look quite like himself, but if he can get back to where he was then Missouri might be able to stop this defensive bleeding a little bit. Their offense is pretty good and they can rebound, if only they can get some misses from the other team. Phil Pressey continues to perplex, by the way, He scored 25 points here, but it came with 1-for-9 shooting behind the arc. Any time Pressey launches threes instead of attacking the basket to generate offense, that's a win for the opposing defense.

Missouri drops to 4-3 in the SEC with this win. They have wins over VCU and Illinois along with this bad loss to LSU. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should drop to the mid-30s when the new numbers come out tomorrow. Considering how bad the SEC is, even 11-7 might not guarantee Missouri an at-large bid. They need to go 12-6 to be sure. Their next game will be on Saturday, against Auburn.

LSU moves to 11-7 overall and 2-5 in the SEC with this win. This is their best win of the season by far, and helps their chances of still being over .500 at season's end. Their next game will be at Mississippi State, on Saturday.

UMass 61, La Salle 60
I've gotten a bunch of grief from La Salle fans for not having them in my bracket projection, but I just did not want to overreact to one crazy week. Yes, they did knock off Butler and VCU for their biggest week in close to 20 years, but those are just two games out of a long season (and Butler is overrated, too). La Salle is a team that is good at everything, but great at nothing, and they certainly weren't as good as their resume. They came into this game 4-0 in games decided by two points or less or in overtime, meaning that they were overdue to lose a game on a Chaz Williams drive like they did here.

La Salle drops to 4-3 in Atlantic Ten play with this loss, with losses to Charlotte and Central Connecticut to go with those two big wins. They are 5-5 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that should fall to around 60th. If the season ended now they'd almost certainly be NIT bound. I think they need to get to 11-5 in A-10 play to feel good about their at-large chances heading into the A-10 tournament, which isn't that unlikely considering their soft remaining schedule. Their next game will be on Saturday, at George Washington.

UMass is a team that I never thought of as a serious at-large team, even before Jesse Morgan went down with a season-ending ACL injury. They got a lot of at-large hype back when they were 10-3, but their only Pomeroy Top 100 win at that point had came over Ohio, and they were 5-0 in games decided by five or less. And in fact their luck is still pretty good - with this win they are now 8-1 in games decided by five points or less. It's why they are 14-5 overall and 4-2 in the A-10 with an RPI that is 43rd, despite the fact that even after this win they will not be rated as one of the 100 best teams in the country by either Pomeroy or Sagarin. They can stay on the Tournament bubble if they get to 10-6 in A-10 play, but you have to assume that their luck is going to start evening out and they won't get there. The Minutemen will play next on Saturday at Charlotte.

Oklahoma State 78, Iowa State 76
This game was tight the entire way. Neither team led by more than six points in the final 14 minutes. But Iowa State was undone by some brutal play down the stretch. They failed to score on their final five possessions, tallying three turnovers and two missed shots. Marcus Smart, meanwhile, had a monster game for Oklahoma State. He scored 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting (including the game winner), along with 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals.

Marcus Smart was something of a battle early in the season between the statistical community and the anti-stat community. Smart clearly has NBA talent and a ton of raw skill, but his shooting and overall offensive efficiency was just brutal in the first couple of months. Nothing is more underrated in basketball than shooting efficiency. Now that Smart is scoring efficiently (and has been doing so for the past few weeks) the anti-stats community is saying "I told you so!" But nobody ever said Smart wasn't going to be a really good player someday. He just wasn't a really good player until he started to hit some shots. With this performance his season eFG% is up to 47.6%, which is pretty respectable when you consider how bad it was early in the season and how much of the offensive load he carries.

Oklahoma State is now 4-3 in Big 12 play and 14-5 overall, though this is their best win of the season. They also have a bad loss to Virginia Tech. But despite an underwhelming resume, they will probably wake up tomorrow rated as the second best team in the Big 12 by both Pomeroy and Sagarin. They do still have home games against Kansas and Baylor to try to improve the strength of their resume. Their next game will be their road game at Kansas, on Saturday.

Iowa State drops to 14-6 overall and 4-3 in the Big 12 with this loss. They have wins over BYU and Kansas State along with a bad loss to Texas Tech. To have a decent at-large case they are going to need to get to at least 10-8 in conference play with a win in the Big 12 tournament. They will play Baylor at home on Saturday, followed by a home game against Oklahoma on Monday.

Nerlens Noel Leads Kentucky Over Ole Miss

Kentucky 87, #16 Ole Miss 74
This game was supposed to be the Marshall Henderson show. The hype around him has been growing like crazy, and ESPN had about 6 montages of his play and behavior ready to go before and during this game. But in the end, Henderson wasn't the top story. In fact, even the horrendous officiating (pretty even against both sides, but just one of the worst reffing performances I've seen all season) wasn't the top story. The top story was Nerlens Noel, who completely dominated the paint.

The key moment came at 9:53 to go in the game, when Noel picked up his fourth foul with Kentucky leading by 17. Ole Miss quickly went on a run, and after Calipari rushed Noel back into the game he started off just backing off defensively out of fear of a fifth foul. Over a four minute stretch, a 13-0 Ole Miss run pulled them within four points. But over the final 5:30 of the game, Noel had five blocks, and made the paint a complete no-go in a way that I haven't even seen Jeff Withey do. In all, Ole Miss hit only 33.3% of their two point attempts in this game. Their only hope was for Henderson to start launching threes... which he did, though it was a lot of quantity over quality. I haven't seen a player since Jimmer Fredette take so many fade away three-pointers. He finished the game 2-for-11 behind the arc.

I've been pointing out for some time that Kentucky is very underrated. The classic argument that you hear from the media is "I don't care what some computer says - they haven't proven that they can beat good teams!" That is, of course, garbage. If you're a borderline Top 25 team in terms of quality, as Kentucky is, then you will eventually beat your share of good teams if you get enough chances. Now, the fact that the SEC is terrible this season (by far the weakest of the six BCS conferences) means that Kentucky won't be able to improve their NCAA seed much higher than a 7 or 8 seed (in my most recent bracket projection I had them as a 9), but they're certainly capable of beating good teams, as they did here.

Now 5-2, Kentucky will play at Texas A&M on Saturday, followed by a Tuesday night home game against South Carolina. They also will play Auburn, another team they should beat easily, before their big game in Gainesville on February 12th. Kentucky is the SEC team most capable, in terms of pure talent, of giving Florida a tough game. A potentially 8-2 Kentucky game on a five-game winning streak and full of confidence will be a very interesting test for the Gators.

Ole Miss is 17-3 overall and 6-1 in the SEC, with a win over Missouri along with a bad loss to Indiana State. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is currently 35th. They're still a Tournament team at the moment, but their cream puff non-conference schedule means that they could easily fall onto the Tournament bubble if they don't finish 12-6 or better in SEC play. They have to play at Florida on Saturday, and they also a road game at Missouri the following weekend.  But other than that, their remaining schedule is pretty much a joke.

Indiana State 68, #15 Wichita State 55
Indiana State came into this game knowing that their front line cannot compete with the Wichita State front line. Wichita State has been scoring at will in the paint all season, but has only one regular that shoots better than 34% behind the arc. I give Greg Lansing a ton of credit for going with a zone defense here and goading Wichita State into launching up those low-percentage outside shots. In all, Wichita State threw up 28 of their 59 shots from behind the arc, They ended up with a 34.7 eFG%, which was their worst shooting performance since a 32.0 eFG% against Georgetown on November 27, 2008.

Indiana State has one of the more perplexing at-large resumes right now. They are 14-7 overall and 7-3 in the Missouri Valley, with wins over Miami, Missouri and Wichita State, along with bad losses to Morehead State, Southern Illinois and Illinois State. Their RPI is 37th, but they are 3-4 against the RPI Top 100 with three RPI 100+ losses, and a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that is still only 78th. And considering the fact that I can't find a computer rating that has them as one of the 60 best teams in the nation, I don't see how one can project Indiana State to work their way into the NCAA Tournament. So at this point, despite those nice wins, Indiana State is still clearly NIT bound.

The key for Indiana State will be home games against Creighton and Wichita State. They need to win at least one of those two games and will need to go at least 13-5 in Missouri Valley play to have a good shot at an at-large bid. They'll play at Drake on Saturday, and then will have their home game against Creighton next Wednesday.

Wichita State falls to 19-3 and 8-2 in conference play with this loss. This loss isn't that much of a killer, but the Shockers still have road games left against Creighton, Northern Iowa, Indiana State and Illinois State. They have to be careful or they could start piling up some losses. The Northern Iowa road game is up next, on Saturday.

Oklahoma 74, Baylor 71
Oklahoma almost blew a pretty big lead here. The Sooners led by as many as 14 in the first half and by 16 in the second half. And with with 2:40 left in the game they still led by 11. But two turnovers and a pair of missed free throws allowed that lead to melt all the way down to one. In the closing seconds, Baylor had the ball down by three. Oklahoma tried to foul Pierre Jackson but couldn't get the call. After he missed a three-pointer, the ball found its way to Brady Heslip, who took a three that hit every corner of the rim but just didn't fall in.

Steven Pledger and Amath M'Baye both scored 20 points for Oklahoma. Their play was needed because Romero Osby was destroyed inside by Isaiah Austin. Austin had 12 offensive rebounds, which is the most recorded by any Division I player this season, and the most in a BCS conference game since Jon Brockman also had 12, against Stanford on January 8, 2009.

With this win, Oklahoma moves to 5-2 in Big 12 play, with wins over Oklahoma State and Baylor, along with a bad loss to Arkansas. At 6-5 against the RPI Top 100 and with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE narrowly inside the Top 40, they'd definitely be an NCAA Tournament team if the season ended now, and probably need to get to 11-7 with a win in the Big 12 tournament to stay there. Their next game will be on Saturday, against Kansas State.

Baylor drops to 5-2 in conference play. Nobody is going to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, of course, but this loss could mean a lot in the battle for second place. At only 5-5 against the RPI Top 100, Baylor is closer to the bubble than most people realize. They have a tough week coming up, too, with a road game at Iowa State on Saturday followed by a road game at Oklahoma State next Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ohio State Very Sharp In Win Over Wisconsin

#11 Ohio State 58, Wisconsin 49
I've been uncertain whether Ohio State is a true contender for the Big Ten title, but they sure looked like a contender here. DeShaun Thomas played like a legit National Player of the Year contender, and the Buckeyes offense was almost flawless in the second half, where they had a 71.4 eFG% against a very tough Wisconsin defensive performance. Wisconsin committed only 7 turnovers, allowed only 4 offensive rebounds, allowed only five Ohio State three-point attempts, and allowed the Buckeyes to only take about three shots all game without a hand right in their face. But they didn't have DeShaun Thomas, who finished with 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting.

While Wisconsin is always known as a team that plays ugly defense-first basketball, it's almost never the case. Bo Ryan's teams are usually better offensively than defensively, and only get the other reputation because most television analysts don't understand the concept of tempo-free statistics. But this year the stereotype is actually basically right. They put on a defensive clinic here, and also in their win over Minnesota, but their offense really can be ugly at times. Traevon Jackson is confident, but inconsistent, and Ryan Evans is just a mess. Both played superb defense in this game, but Wisconsin needs to find a way to get more shots for their more efficient scorers. Of the players in Wisconsin's regular rotation, Jackson and Evans have the two worst ORtgs.

Ohio State is one game back in the loss column in the Big Ten. They have a game at Nebraska at Saturday, but more importantly will play at Michigan next Tuesday. A win there would put them firmly in the Big Ten title race. Wisconsin will try to bounce back on Sunday with a road game at Illinois.

#12 Louisville 64, Pittsburgh 61
This was one last game from last night that I wanted to talk about. Both of these teams are very underrated. Considering that Pittsburgh is way overdue for a big win, I thought they'd actually come through here with Louisville shorthanded. Wayne Blackshear missed the game with a shoulder injury while Kevin Ware is out indefinitely for some undisclosed off-the-court issue. And with Blackshear out, Pitt was able to really aggressively on the offensive glass (a 48.6 OR%).

Pitt was undone by two things. First, Gorgui Dieng was spectacular - he shot 5-for-7 from the field, blocked 5 shots, had 4 assists and 12 rebounds. Second, Pitt shot themselves in the foot with 3-for-12 free throw shooting. They had their chance and just didn't make it happen. And so Pitt still only has two RPI Top 50 wins (UConn and Georgetown), despite being ranked 6th by Pomeroy and 8th by the Sagarin PREDICTOR. I don't think they're actually the 6th best team in the country, but they're definitely a Top 20 team or so. The Pomeroy ratings are never off by that much.

Pitt is like Kentucky in terms of being a really good team that just hasn't managed to pull off a "big win" yet. But the season is long, and at some point they will, and they'll go on a little winning streak. And look forward to the media over-analyzing "adjustments" and "improvements". It probably won't be true. As I said on twitter last night, Pitt has passed Minnesota and Wisconsin as the most underrated team in the country.

The Panthers have until Saturday before they play again, against Syracuse. With Syracuse very short-handed on their front line, and as a team that already struggles with the defensive glass, look for Pitt to finally pull off that big win. Louisville's next game will be on Sunday, against Marquette.

Virginia 58, #19 NC State 55
Count this as another non-upset "upset". Virginia actually didn't cover the spread - they were a 3.5 point favorite in Vegas. And NC State played this game so close despite losing Lorenzo Brown to injury after playing only ten minutes. The reason they played so well was because of a monster game from CJ Leslie (20 points, 14 rebounds). Virginia also didn't do themselves any favors with 4-for-16 three-point shooting. And then in the final three minutes, NC State shot 0-for-4 from the field and committed a turnover.

Virginia has one of the goofier at-large resumes. They are 5-0 against the RPI Top 100 but only 10-5 against the RPI 100+. They have wins over Wisconsin, NC State and North Carolina, along with bad losses to Old Dominion, Delaware, George Mason, Wake Forest and Clemson. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should be around 40th when the new numbers come out, but with all of those bad losses they'd be right on the fat part of the bubble if the season ended now. At 5-2 in ACC play, I think they need to get to 11-7 and then need to win a game in the ACC tournament to feel about their at-large chances.

NC State is not a Tournament certainty yet, but they're in better shape than Virginia. They are 5-3 in ACC play and have wins over Duke, North Carolina and UConn, along with a bad loss to Wake Forest. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should remain in the Top 25. They should be safe for an at-large bid if they get to 10-8.

NC State will play next against Miami on Saturday. Virginia will play at Georgia Tech on Sunday.

NCAA Quality And Talent Are Down... Right?


We all know that there's been a talent drain in the NCAA, and the result has been reduced quality and reduced scoring. It's getting to the point of a crisis. Eric Sharp wrote in the Detroit Free Press about the embarrassing play in the most recent Final Four in an article called "Revise rules to help woeful shooting":
But the three Final Four games were a microcosm of the entire season's ills: Nobody could shoot the ball. Shooting percentages overall plummeted to depths not seen since the days when the dunk was prohibited. Everyone gasped in horror when only twice during Final Four games did a team shoot better than 40 percent....  
The college game's apologists [like Dick Vitale] point out that improved defenses have made it harder for players to get open shots. That's ridiculous. The open shots are there. The good shooters aren't. We saw enough air balls heaved from open three-point shots that they could have inflated the Goodyear blimp.

In a piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called "Amid Game's Flash, Scoring Slows", Tony Barnhart suggests some ways to improve the dramatic reduction in scoring and shooting percentages, about which:
The guardians of the game are more than embarrassed. With television ratings down for this tournament, they are worried that the game could be in a decline and are wondering if anything can be done about it.
Barnhart suggests that we consider reducing the shot clock from 35 seconds to keep inferior teams from taking the air out of the ball. We need to get the "grabbing and holding and banging" out of the game, because it's no longer fun for anybody, even the players. But of course, the elephant in the room is that the talent just isn't there. As tv ratings decline, the reality is that it's all about:
Talent drain. Early defections to the NBA are starting to take their toll on the quality of play. The ACC, for example, should have had a senior class of 29 this season. Instead, there were 12 seniors playing meaningful roles on [an ACC team].
Steve Wieberg wrote in the USA Today about the impact of reduced quality of play on television ratings and crowds. Attendance is down for the fourth time in five years and CBS NCAA Tournament ratings are down almost 40% since 1992-93. And everybody knows the reason why:
The college game takes a double hit to its star power and, less noticeably, to its quality of play.
[Mike Krzyzewski warns] "The game keeps getting hit, over and over. People don't look for ways to improve things. All of a sudden, you can have a castle that looks like it's falling apart."
As Stephen A Smith wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the exodus of talent from the NCAA game: "The current version of Hoop Dreams is turning into a nightmare for college basketball." Terence Moore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution sees an even more dire situation, in an article titled "Collegiate early exodus for NBA bankrupts programs":
Mediocrity will get you far these days in college hoops
...
This actually is an epidemic with no cure in sight, and everybody knows the problem. Many of this season's All-America players are in the NBA. Most are doing well only in their bank accounts. 
So the epidemic will continue, with more quality players skipping either some or all of their years of college eligibility to create future Utahs, Clemsons and New Mexicos to bore the rest of us.
In Sports Illustrated, Jack McCallum rued the one-and-done NCAA player in an article called "Going, Going, Gone; The growing exodus of star underclassmen to the NBA is ripping the heart out of the college game":
The sad truth is that one-year plans aren't even news anymore. And while there are coaches, such as Georgetown's Thompson, who can talk about education and not sound like complete hypocrites, there are few, if any, who will turn down a player even if he's almost certain to leave early.
As Rick Pitino added in that same article: "Quite frankly, I think college basketball is in serious trouble." McCallum repeated the stat about the dramatic reduction in NCAA Tournament television ratings on CBS.

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You may or may not have realized by now that all of those articles were written last century. Those articles cited were all written between 1996 and 1999. Of course, scoring is down. But why? Let's look at some statistics. Below are plots featuring the average data from all Division I games going back more than 60 seasons. The year on the x-axis refers to the calendar year that the season ends (so "1950" means 1949-50). All of the data is normalized to 1980, which is a nice middle ground that also happens to be near the beginning of the "modern era" of college basketball. Go watch college basketball from 1950 - it looks like a rec league. Note also that I have labeled the implementation of the shot clock (originally 45 seconds), the 35 second shot clock, and the implementation of the three-pointer. You can click to embiggen:


The first thing that you notice here is that while scoring is down over the past couple of decades, it's really not down that much. We're talking about approximately 4-5% over the past 30 years. The much bigger changes happened in the earlier years, when basketball as a sport was just different than it is now. Also, note that the implementation of the shot clock (and then reducing it to 35 seconds) did not have a significant impact on the game at all.

The implementation of the three-pointer did increase scoring, and also increased free throw attempts. The former is obvious. The latter is a bit confusing - perhaps the three-pointer spread out defenses, which made it harder to give defensive help without fouling? But overall foul rates didn't increase? I'm not sure what to tell you. That might be an interesting topic to research some day.

The bottom chart is fascinating to me. It shows just how amazingly constant shooting has been for decades. Shooting back 60 years ago was terrible, but by the early 1970s it was essentially where it is now. The only change is FG%, which declines from the institution of the three-point shot until around 1995. It took close to a decade for teams to really learn how to use it properly. But since then? Shooting has basically been flat.

So what about efficiency data? Unfortunately, I can only find that back to the 1996-97 season. Here it is:

What you'll notice in the top plot is that scoring is down over the past 15 years, but it basically just tracks possessions. In fact, possessions have slowed more than points have decreased. And you can see that in the bottom plot, where PPP is actually very slightly up over the past 15 years (by around 1.3%).

What else do we see? Turnovers per game are decreasing even faster than possessions (meaning that the turnover rate has decreased). Furthermore, the assist-to-turnover rate has increased and offensive rebounding percentages have dropped.

So what has changed over the past few decades? The most dominant change is that the game is slower. There are fewer possessions per game. But the change isn't that much. Analysts saying that teams used to score 100 per game and now we have 43-42 games are anomaly hunting. The average game is only down over the past 30 years from around 70-71 points per game to around 68. There's always been large game-to-game and team-to-team variation, and it washes out over a sample of around 5,000 games per season.

The more important thing to me is that games are much cleaner. Teams are better at not turning the ball over. They are better protecting the defensive glass. And scoring efficiency is, ever so slightly, increasing.

So in other words, the common myth that you will read constantly from major publications and will hear constantly on television that scoring is significantly down because quality is down and the game is much more physical is not at all backed up by the statistics.

What the statistics tell us is that players are more cautious now. They take more time running their offense, and play a cleaner game. And it's been a steady trend for decades, and does not seem to have been impacted in any significant way by the increase in players going pro early.

Why is this happening? I can only speculate. There is more film study now, the attention paid to the sport is greater and the stakes are higher. I guess it makes sense that coaches would slow down and clean up the game a bit. But like I said, that's just speculation.

But the idea that the quality level is down significantly and that the game has gotten boring, which you have heard for decades and will hear for decades into the future, is simply not backed up by anything objective.




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Addendum

In researching this article I had originally wanted articles from the 1980s or early 1990s, but any article from that era complaining about reduced scoring or decreasing quality of play was tied up in discussions about the shot clock and the three-point line, and I didn't feel it was quite fair to quote reporters complaining about reduced scoring prior to those rule changes.

But while doing that research I came up with great quotes worth sharing to remind you that, in a sense, nothing ever changes:

In a February 4, 1979 Washington Post article called "Trend is to parity in college basketball play" by David Dupree:
The trend the last few seasons indicates that there never will be another UCLA-type dominance of college basketball.
In a February 13, 1982 United Press International article called "Scoring drought hits college basketball" by Richard Rosenblatt on scoring, which was its lowest point since 1952:
[Southern California Coach Stan Morrison]: "I think there is greater parity in basketball than ever. In the past, there would be obvious differences in two teams. Parity had made the weaker team not that much weaker. Now, the weaker team feels if it can control the tempo of the game it can win."
[Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim]: "There are a little more zones than in the past and teams are more conscious of ball control. I don't think there is as much emphasis on the fast break. Running causes more mistakes and the tendency by coaches is to be more careful. You always have the underdog trying to control the ball, more so now, and it can be successful."
But everybody's favorite curmudgeon, Billy Packer, warns that a shot clock would be a terrible answer:
''It's a travesty to put a clock in,'' he says. ''It would put more pressure on recruiting and give the man without top talent no opportunity to play the game. If put in, it would be legislating a terrible game."
In an April 2, 1985 Associated Press article, Bob Baum quotes coaches worried that the implementation of a shot clock will ruin the game:
"I think you will see upsets are going to start to disappear. Simply, the rich are going to get richer and the poor are going to get poorer," [Oregon State coach Ralph] Miller said. "You will not see a team like a North Carolina State or a Villanova go through and win a national championships with a clock."
But even the shot clock didn't concern people as much as the three-point line. In a November 23, 1986 Washington Post article called "Open season, and masters of change will rule" by John Feinstein:
"It's stupid, horrible, awful," said N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano, echoing many colleagues. "The game doesn't need the thing. It's going to penalize teams that play the game the right way and it brings us closer to being like the pro game. Why would we want that? The rule will be gone after this year, guaranteed."
And the classic proof that old fogies complaining about statistical analysis is not confined to the "sabermetric era" is this classic article from a Sports Illustrated article title "The great numbers nonsense":

The greatest menace to big-time sports today is neither the shrinking gate nor TV, either in the free or paid version. It is a nonsense of numbers, the stupefying emphasis on meaningless statistics which is draining the color from competition, stifling the fans' spontaneity and distorting their appreciation of skills.
...
Sports statistics are meaningless because they do not measure the most important factor in the business—the resourcefulness that is the hallmark of a champion. The Braves compiled more hits than the Yankees in the last World Series, for all the good it did them. Or, for that matter, all the good it did the Yankees in 1957 to tally not only more hits but more runs too.
That article? It was published on November 24, 1958.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Indiana Escapes Michigan State

#7 Indiana 75, #13 Michigan State 70
Michigan State gets the loss in the standings here, and I don't think that they outplayed Indiana, but they looked really good and should be happy with this performance. What stood out more than anything was their front court, which has a ton of raw talent but hasn't lived up to expectations for most of this season. Adreian Payne showed his range, hitting 3-for-4 behind the arc. Derrick Nix had 4 offensive rebounds and 6 assists. Meanwhile, Branden Dawson was good all over the place, scoring 12 points (on 6-for-12 shooting), bringing down 3 offensive boards and forcing 4 steals.

In the final 5-6 minutes, though, it seemed like Indiana got all of the 50-50 calls from the refs. Keith Appling had a pretty soft foul out, the Derrick Nix travel seemed like a bad call (he was fouled before the travel), and then the charging call on Adreian Payne (which effectively iced the game) was iffy at best. But that is what home court advantage is. I'm sure the refs will have a different opinion on all of those calls on February 19th when Indiana comes to the Breslin Center.

This loss snapped Michigan State's six game winning streak, but doesn't change the fact that they're probably trending up more than any other Big Ten team. I don't think they can win the Big Ten, but they could finish as high as second. Obviously they'll need to win the Indiana rematch for that. Next week will be light for them, with only a home game against Illinois on Thursday.

Victor Oladipo had a monster game for Indiana (8-for-12 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 steals), though a big development is the confidence of Yogi Ferrell (11 points on 4-for-9 shooting). Teams have been giving him the Rajon Rondo treatment and leaving him alone at the top of the key, knowing he had no confidence in his jumper, but he showed much more confidence here. That's a key development for Indiana since that sagging defender is often used to help deny Cody Zeller. Indiana remains firmly in the Big Ten title race, and will have an important battle next week. They will have to get past a road game at Purdue on Wednesday, but then will have a home game against Michigan on Saturday.

Air Force 57, Wyoming 48
After two consecutive games with 90+ points, Air Force's offense finally cooled off here against Wyoming. But Wyoming's offense has just been such a disaster since Luke Martinez was suspended. Wyoming has lost 4 of 7 games without him, and has now also failed to break 1 PPP in 6 of those 7 games. This game also featured their worst three-point shooting of the season (17.9%).

With this loss, Wyoming is now 15-4 overall, with an RPI that is 54th and wins over San Diego State and Colorado, along with just one real bad loss (Fresno State). You can probably make an argument that if the season ended now they'd still be an at-large team (though I'd argue against you). But they are trending downward, and are now 2-4 in Mountain West play despite actually having gone through a relatively soft part of their schedule. Things will just get tougher, and they'll have to play significantly better just to crawl back to 8-8 in conference play. And despite how good the Mountain West is this season, that's just not going to be enough. They're an NIT team unless things turn around.

Air Force moves up to 3-2 in Mountain West play with this win, with a Pomeroy rating that has slid all the way up to 88th. I don't think they can make a run at an at-large bid, but an 8-8 or 9-7 overall record is definitely within reach. Keep in mind that it's been six seasons since Air Force finished better than .500 in the Mountain West, and this season is probably the strongest that the league has ever been.

Wyoming's next game will be on Wednesday against New Mexico. Air Force will also play on Wednesday, against Fresno State.

Purdue 65, Iowa 62, OT
Purdue tried really hard to blow this game, it seemed. Their offense fell apart after they grabbed a 12 point lead with eight minutes to go. They hit only three shots from the field in those final eight minutes, though one was a driving layup by Ronnie Johnson out of a timeout with 33 seconds left to send the game to overtime. Purdue was lucky that Iowa completely botched the final possession of regulation, with Roy Devyn Marble taking the clock all the way down to four seconds and then going one-on-three and taking a terrible shot just before the buzzer.

In all, Purdue hit only 60% of their free throws, including several key misses late in the game and in overtime, though free throw shooting has been a big problem for them all season long. All of Purdue's top seven minutes-per-game players other than DJ Byrd are shooting 64% or worse at the line. Wisconsin's own free throw shooting woes mean that Purdue is only second worst at the line in the Big Ten, but it's still far and away the worst Matt Painter has ever had as a head coach. All in all, this is probably the sloppiest offense Painter has had at Purdue. But it's a very young team, so you have to assume that a guy like Ronnie Johnson will be a lot better in a year or two.

This loss drops Iowa to 2-5 in Big Ten play. They have wins over Wisconsin and Iowa State, along with bad losses to Virginia Tech and now Purdue. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE will drop to near 50th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. It's a resume that puts them right on the fat part of the bubble. They need to get to at least 8-10 in Big Ten play to have a chance for an at-large, and probably need to get to 9-9 to have a good chance. They do get a little breather with a home game against Penn State on Thursday, but after that they go right back on the road to face Minnesota and Wisconsin.

As this game was finishing up, the Big Ten Network announcers tried to break down Purdue's resume and at-large chances. They concluded that at this point they're probably narrowly out of the Field of 68. That was, to say the least, a bit of an understatement. Purdue is 11-9 overall 6-8 against the RPI Top 200. They have wins over Illinois and Iowa, but also bad losses to Oregon State, Eastern Michigan and Xavier. Even if they go 10-8 in Big Ten play, as good as the league is, they'll still be an at-large long shot. And considering how tough their schedule gets in late February into March, even 9-9 is a bit of a stretch. They'll play Indiana on Wednesday, followed by a road game at Northwestern on Saturday.

W-7 BP68

Alright, folks, here is my new bracket projection. It was a little later than I planned on it being, but that was before the Marshall Henderson gif happened. Seriously, watch it again. Greatest gif of the past year. You can pick a character, like "Auburn pajamas girl" or "white-shirted security guy who is obviously an Alabama fan loving it" and stare at them four or five times in a row.

Anyway, there are actually some changes at the top of this bracket. Florida is my new #1 overall. The way that they are destroying the SEC is historic, and it's hard to see them not sweeping the regular season and tournament titles. Kansas slid up to a 1 seed for the same reason. I dropped Louisville to a 2 seed - a line that they share with Syracuse.

At the bottom of the bracket, I made three changes. Virginia and BYU join the field as at-larges, replacing Temple and Wyoming. Also, North Carolina Central is my new pick to win the MEAC, replacing Savannah State.

Of the teams out of the field, the one I most wanted to put in was La Salle. But I need to see them prove for one week that what they did this past week wasn't a fluke. So they remain out for now. But the margin between them and St. Louis is pretty small.

We have the "full bubble" for the rest of the season. And this week, eight teams were eliminated from at-large contention: UAB, Bryant, Kent State, Murray State, Rhode Island, San Diego, Tennessee State and Western Illinois. That leaves 79 teams not in my bracket that still have a chance at an at-large bid.

Remember, this is a projection of the final bracket on Selection Sunday, rather than of how I think teams would be seeded if the season ended now. There's a difference.

Here we go:

1. FLORIDA (SEC)
1. MICHIGAN (BIG TEN)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. DUKE (ACC)

2. LOUISVILLE (BIG EAST)
2. Indiana
2. Syracuse
2. Ohio State

3. ARIZONA (PAC 12)
3. GONZAGA (WCC)
3. Cincinnati
3. UNLV (MOUNTAIN WEST)

4. Michigan State.
4. CREIGHTON (MVC)
4. Miami (Fl)
4. San Diego State

5. Minnesota
5. VCU (ATLANTIC TEN)
5. NC State
5. Wisconsin

6. Pittsburgh
6. Butler
6. Baylor
6. Ole Miss

7. Notre Dame
7. Wichita State
7. New Mexico
7. Oregon

8. Missouri
8. Marquette
8. Oklahoma State
8. UCLA

9. Iowa
9. Georgetown
9. Kentucky
9. Kansas State

10. MEMPHIS (CONFERENCE USA)
10. Colorado
10. Colorado State
10. Iowa State

11. Oklahoma
11. North Carolina
11. Illinois
11. Saint Mary's

12. Maryland
12. Virginia
12. BELMONT (OVC)
12. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (SUN BELT)
12. BYU
12. St. Louis

13. BUCKNELL (PATRIOT)
13. OHIO (MAC)
13. VALPARAISO (HORIZON)
13. DENVER (WAC)

14. HARVARD (IVY)
14. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (SUMMIT)
14. STEPHEN F AUSTIN (SOUTHLAND)
14. GEORGE MASON (COLONIAL)

15. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
15. DAVIDSON (SOCON)
15. IONA (MAAC)
15. MERCER (ATLANTIC SUN)

16. PACIFIC (BIG WEST)
16. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
16. ROBERT MORRIS (NEC)
16. CHARLESTON SOUTHERN (BIG SOUTH)
16. NC CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
La Salle, Saint Joseph's, Temple, Villanova, Southern Miss, Boise State, Wyoming, Arizona State, Alabama

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Charlotte, Dayton, Xavier, Rutgers, St. John's, Northwestern, Purdue, Texas, Akron, California, Stanford, Washington, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana Tech

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, UMass, Richmond, Providence, Seton Hall, Nebraska, West Virginia, UTEP, Detroit, Illinois State, Indiana State, Northern Iowa, Air Force, Washington State, Lehigh, Texas A&M, North Dakota State, Santa Clara, New Mexico State

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
Stony Brook, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, George Washington, St. Bonaventure, DePaul, South Florida, Montana, Penn State, TCU, Texas Tech, East Carolina, Houston, Tulane, Tulsa, Illinois-Chicago, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wright State, Loyola-Maryland, Western Michigan, Bradley, Fresno State, Nevada, Eastern Kentucky, Oregon State, USC, Utah, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Utah State

Saturday, January 26, 2013

La Salle Topples VCU To Finish Off A Huge Week

La Salle 69, #19 VCU 61
You can make a pretty good case that this was the best week La Salle basketball has had since joining the Atlantic Ten in 1995, an era during which they have not made the NCAA Tournament (they last went to the Big Dance in 1992, when they won the MAAC). But this week they took down a pair of ranked teams in Butler and VCU, and tossed themselves into both the Atlantic Ten regular season race and the NCAA Tournament bubble discussion.

The key to beating VCU is not turning the ball over. That sounds like a dumb and obvious statement, but it's not just the transition offense, but the under-reported fact that VCU's half court defense actually isn't that good. Full court pressing will always take away from your half court defense, but VCU is a below-average defensive rebounding team (they came into this game 10th best in the Atlantic Ten) and 2P% defense (tied for 206th in the nation). La Salle committed 14 turnovers, which is well below the 20.1 that VCU is forcing per game. On top of that, La Salle locked down on VCU's offense. Juvonte Reddic had a big 22 points, getting much of his offense in transition, but his teammates combined to shoot only 29.8% from the field.

With these two big wins back-to-back, La Salle is now 3-2 against the RPI Top 50, although one of those wins was over Villanova (fairly high likelihood of not being an RPI Top 50 win on Selection Sunday). At 14-5 overall, their RPI is all the way up to 27th, though their Sagarin ELO_SCORE will probably still be in the high-50s. If they can get to 10-6 in Atlantic Ten play (they're currently 4-2) and win a game in the A-10 tournament then I like their chances to earn an at-large. At 9-7 they'll have longer odds.

VCU has now lost consecutive games to fall to 4-2 in Atlantic Ten play. The conference is a mess now with eight teams within one game of first place, though I still think VCU and Butler are a class ahead of the field. And because I think Butler's struggles against the press match them up poorly with VCU, the Rams are still my pick to win the A-10 automatic bid. But with an RPI that is 38th and a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will slide out to near 40th, their NCAA Tournament seed is tumbling. They're now a long shot to earn higher than a 4 seed in the Tournament, even if they go on a long winning streak.

VCU's next game will be on Wednesday at an underrated and tough Rhode Island team. La Salle's next game will be on Wednesday against UMass.

#18 NC State 91, North Carolina 83
Midway through the second half it seemed like this game was over. NC State led by as many as 23 in the first half and 28 in the second half, and still led by 17 with 3:15 to go. Over the next 2:30, NC State committed four turnovers and missed the front end of a one-and-one, while UNC hit five of six, with three of those hits coming from behind the arc. So somehow, North Carolina pulled within 5 with around 36 seconds to go, as the camera cut to panic-stricken NC State fans around PNC Arena. Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown had to combined to hit six consecutive free throws to ice the game.

Lorenzo Brown was the best player on the court for either team, scoring 20 points with 11 assists. TJ Warren also put his little twitter flap to bed with 19 points (on 9-for-12 shooting) off the bench. NC State's offense continues to roll (a 54.6 eFG% and 68.8 assist rate here), but the late Tar Heels rally reinforces the concerns about NC State's defense. Their defense is mediocre enough (0.98 allowed in ACC play is fourth worst in the conference) when they're trying that it becomes full-fledged matador defense when they take their foot off the pedal. North Carolina scored 50 points in the final 13:30.

With this loss, the Tar Heels continue to linger near the Tournament bubble. They are now 13-6 overall and 3-3 in ACC play, with wins over UNLV and Maryland along with a bad loss to Texas. At 7-6 against the RPI Top 200, their RPI is 35th, which is close to where their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should be tomorrow. If the season ended now they'd be in the NCAA Tournament, but not with a lot of room to spare. Even at 10-8 in ACC play they might need a win in the ACC tournament to lock up an at-large bid. At 9-9 they'll be right on the fat part of the bubble.

NC State moves to 5-2 in ACC play with this win. I think Duke and Miami are probably out of reach for them, but Virginia is probably their only serious contender for third place. Every other team besides North Carolina is being outscored in ACC play, and UNC is only barely outscoring their opponents (+0.01 PPP).

NC State's next game will be at Virginia, on Tuesday. North Carolina will also play on Tuesday, on the road at Boston College.

#9 Butler 83, Temple 71
Both of these teams have played to their opponent all season long (which is why their resumes are becoming increasingly weird), so I expected this game to be close. But buoyed by the return of Rotnei Clarke, Butler was really sharp offensively. Clarke led the way with 24 points as Butler hit 60% of their 2s, 40% of their 3s, and had more assists (16) than turnovers (14). Khyle Marshall dominated inside with 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Khalif Wyatt did his best to lead Temple (22 points, 6 assists and 4 steals), but he didn't get enough help from his teammates.

Butler is now 16-3 overall and 8-3 against the RPI Top 100 and an RPI that is up to 10th. If the season ended now they'd be a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The season doesn't end now, though, and I do think Butler is due for another bad loss or two. Their three very narrow wins over Gonzaga, Indiana and Marquette mean that they're not as good as their resume. I think they're more likely to end up somewhere around a 5 seed or so. Their next game will be a tough one, on Thursday at St. Louis.

Temple is 13-6 overall and 2-3 in the Atlantic Ten, with wins over Syracuse and St. Louis along with bad losses to Canisius, St. Bonaventure and Xavier. They are only 3-4 against the RPI Top 100 and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is right around 50th. I think that a 9-7 finish in the A-10 will put them squarely on the bubble. If they get to 10-6 then a win in the A-10 tournament should earn them an at-large bid. Their next game will be on Wednesday against Richmond.

Arizona State Beat UCLA; Are They A Pac-12 Contender?

Arizona State 78, UCLA 60
This was a fairly emphatic victory. UCLA never trailed by fewer than nine points in the final 18 minutes of the game. The Sun Devils dominated the glass (a 36.1 OR% vs a 14.3 OR% for the Bruins) and shut down UCLA offensively (a 38.2 eFG%). In all, UCLA was held to 0.76 PPP, their worst offensive performance since a 67-46 thrashing by USC on January 16th, 2010. Shabazz Muhammad actually had a pretty good game (18 points on 8-for-15 shooting), but Travis Wear didn't play while David Wear (2-for-12 shooting, 1 offensive rebound) got abused by Jordan Bachynski (22 points on 10-for-12 shooting with 8 offensive rebounds and 6 blocks).

With this win, Arizona State moves to 5-2 in Pac-12 play. Other Pac-12 teams with two losses are UCLA, Arizona and Washington. The only team with fewer than two losses, Oregon, just lost Dominic Artis indefinitely with a foot injury. So is Arizona State a real contender in the Pac-12? Honestly, I don't think so. Five of their seven games have come at home and two of their wins came in overtime. They're nowhere near the top Pac-12 teams in Pomeroy or the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They can finish near the top of the standings, but I don't see how even an Artis-less Oregon team is within reach. Particularly since Oregon has already beaten them head-to-head to lock in the tiebreak.

Overall, the Sun Devils are 16-4, with wins over Colorado and UCLA, along with a bad loss to DePaul. They are 3-3 against the RPI Top 100 and their RPI is up to 58th. If the season ended now they'd be in the NIT, but they're not far from the bubble. A 6-5 finish (to get to 11-7 overall) would put them on the bubble heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Next week they'll be on the road, heading to Washington State on Thursday and Washington on Saturday.

This was a tough letdown game for UCLA after that big win over Arizona. I still think that they are one of the two teams (along with Arizona) with a real shot to take the Pac-12 regular season title from Oregon. But they just made their task harder with this bad loss. Their next game will be on Wednesday, against USC.

#3 Kansas 67, Oklahoma 54
With the fact that the Big 12 doesn't have a second elite team or serious challenger to the Jayhawks, it feels like we're really not going to hear much from Kansas until the NCAA Tournament. They're going to quietly churn through game after game like this, getting closer to locking up that 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They'll probably lose a game or two because it's just so difficult to go 18-0 in any of the power conferences, but they should win the Big 12 with two or three games to spare.

Jeff Withey had another outstanding game here, scoring 13 points (on 6-for-11 shooting) with 5 offensive rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 steals. Romero Osby had no chance (4-for-16 shooting). Withey is far and away the best defender in the nation, and he's a pretty good offensive player and rebounder as well. I don't understand (other than the typical bias toward offense and toward one-and-done freshmen with NBA star potential) why Ben McLemore is considered the only Kansas player in contention for National Player of the Year. Withey wouldn't be my pick for NPOY, but I'd have him before McLemore and at least in the discussion.

Oklahoma is 13-5 overall and 4-2 in the Big 12, with a win over Oklahoma State and iffy losses to Arkansas and Stephen F Austin. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is sitting around 40th. Right now, that's a very bubble-ish resume. I think they'll be in the NCAA Tournament if they get to 11-7 in Big 12 play. At 10-8 they'll probably need a win or two in the Big 12 tournament.

The Sooners will next play on Wednesday at Baylor. Kansas will play on Monday night, at West Virginia.

San Diego State 55, #15 New Mexico 34
New Mexico came into this match-up two games clear in the Mountain West, though as I discussed on Thursday the race was still very tight at the top. New Mexico hadn't been significantly better than any other team, so it makes sense that San Diego State was able to chip away at half of their lead in the standings here. The difference in this game was the length and athleticism of this San Diego State defense. New Mexico is a perimeter-oriented offense that is putrid at scoring in the paint (their 44.2 2P% is tied for 285th best in the nation), and they hit only 27.6% of their two-point attempts here.

San Diego State won this game emphatically despite a 4-for-16 shooting performance from Jamaal Franklin, but you can get away with some bad offense when you hold your opponent to 0.56 PPP, which is tied for the 19th worst offensive performance by any Division I team this season (the worst was a 0.43 PPP by UC-Riverside against USC).

New Mexico doesn't have long to dwell on this loss. They'll play on the road at Wyoming on Wednesday. After that they'll play Nevada on Saturday. San Diego State has a week off before a road game at Air Force next Saturday.

Iowa State Bounces Back Against Kansas State

Iowa State 73, #11 Kansas State 67
Iowa State had one of the worst performances by any team in the nation in the past few weeks when they sleep-walked through a loss to Texas Tech on Wednesday. I expected them to bounce back with a win here against an overrated Kansas State team, but they actually underwhelmed. They did barely cover the spread (Iowa State was a 4.5 point favorite in Vegas), but only because of 11-for-22 three-point shooting. Defensively, they couldn't keep Kansas State out of the paint. Kansas State had 18 assists on 28 made baskets, and shot 58.3% on two-pointers.

Iowa State is a team that lives and dies with the three a lot, though. They lead the Big 12 in 3PA/FGA ratio, and this year they are 3-4 when shooting below 33% behind the arc, and 11-1 when shooting 33% or better. They are 4-2 now in Big 12 play, with a 2-4 record against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 40th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should move up to around 45th with this win. I think that a 10-8 Big 12 record and a win win the Big 12 tournament should put them into the NCAA Tournament. If they only finish 9-9 then they're going to have a bit of work to do in the Big 12 tournament. Their next game will be on Wednesday, at Oklahoma State.

Kansas State started the season 5-0 in games decided by six or less, but have now lost two consecutive such games. Like I always say, this type of luck tends to even out. They are now 4-2 in Big 12 play, with wins over Florida, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that should still be near 30th. They should be an NCAA Tournament team if they get to 10-8 in conference play. At 9-9 they'll be on the bubble. They'll play Texas on Wednesday, and then on the road at Oklahoma on Saturday.

Wisconsin 45, #12 Minnesota 44
This game had a very bizarre finish. Wisconsin got the ball in a tie game with around 39 seconds to go. Traevon Jackson used up the entire clock and hit a short jumper as the shot clock was expiring. Minnesota had only a desperation chance left, but the refs called a foul on Mike Bruesewitz to put Trevor Mbakwe to the line... only Mbakwe grabbed at his wrist and insisted he couldn't take the shots. Seeing as how nobody could see any contact with his wrist on the play, there's a lot of suspicions that Mbakwe was faking it. The Wisconsin coaches took as much advantage as they could, delaying for several minutes (including a bizarre period where the entire coaching staff huddled around a stat sheet) before putting Rodney Williams, a 65% free throw shooter, on the line. Williams hit the first but missed the second, giving Wisconsin a strange victory.

Traevon Jackson had a relatively quiet game until the final minutes, finishing with only 9 points on 4-for-7 shooting, along with just 1 assist. But he's starting to gain a reputation as a guy who is calm and confident in tight games, which is pretty impressive for a guy who basically didn't play last season as a true freshman. Bo Ryan seems to always do this with his point guards. You can already tell that George Marshall (8 points on 3-for-7 shooting with 1 assist off the bench) will be a good one someday as well. Minnesota got approximately half of their offense from Andre Hollins, who scored 20 points (including 3-for-4 behind the arc). Wisconsin could not stop him all day, and it honestly felt like he could have gone for 30 if Minnesota kept going to him. Andre Hollins joins Aaron White as players who didn't get a lot of hype when they first showed up in the Big Ten, but as sophomores this season deserve serious consideration for First Team All-Big Ten.h

Minnesota has lost four straight games to fall to 3-4 in Big Ten play, leading to a lot of talk postgame on twitter of Minnesota being a potential bubble team. To me, that's ridiculous. All four of those losses came against quality opponents, three came on the road, and all were decided by eight points or fewer. Minnesota came into this game ranked 9th by Pomeroy and 10th by the Sagarin PREDICTOR, and considering the fact that they actually covered the Vegas spread (they were three point dogs) they're not going to drop in the computers. The Big Ten is just really good this season, and every team (other than maybe Michigan) is going to lose a bunch of games. Minnesota should be an NCAA Tournament team if they get to 9-9 in conference play, and they should clear that bar easily.

Minnesota comes home next week to play Nebraska on Tuesday, and then Iowa the following Sunday. Wisconsin moves to 5-2 in Big Ten play with this win, but with a tough week coming up. They'll be on the road to face Ohio State on Tuesday, and then Illinois the following Sunday.

South Dakota State 69, North Dakota State 53
I had been looking forward to this game between the two best teams in the Summit League. North Dakota State had been the much better team in non-conference play and had beaten South Dakota State by three in Fargo on December 29th.  I had stuck with South Dakota State as the favorite in the league, mainly because of Nate Wolters. And Wolters did pour in 26 points here on 7-for-16 shooting. But as South Dakota State has improved their play over the past month, what has really changed has been their defense.

South Dakota State has lost six times this season, including terrible losses to Hofstra and South Dakota. But what those losses have in common is that South Dakota State allowed at least 1.12 PPP in each of them. They have now held four straight opponents below 1.04 PPP and are now second in the Summit with 0.98 PPP allowed in conference play. And that really is the key for them, because Nate Wolters can put up 20-25 points against anybody, and they just need the stops on the other end.

Coming into this game, North Dakota State was 14-4 overall with only a couple of iffy losses (Wisconsin-Green Bay and Western Illinois) and an RPI that had pushed up to 53rd. They were actually kind of a long shot at-large team. But the reality is that there aren't a lot of quality losses to be had in the Summit League. They're going to need to find a way to shut down Nate Wolters in what will presumably be a rubber match in the Summit League title game.

North Dakota State will play next on Thursday, against UMKC. South Dakota State will get a rematch against South Dakota on Thursday.

Big East Craziness: Syracuse And Louisville Go Down

Villanova 75, #3 Syracuse 71, OT
It's been a crazy week in the Big East. Louisville lost twice and Syracuse went down as well. Villanova delivered two of those blows, taking down both of the Big East giants in consecutive games. Although after taking the lead early in this game, Villanova gave away the lead late. Brandon Triche played one of the best games of his career, scoring 23 points with 4 assists, and putting Syracuse on his back late. Though in the final two minutes and into overtime, everything ran through Michael Carter-Williams, who played one the worst games of his short career. Carter-Williams finished 4-for-17 from the field with 4 assists and 5 turnovers. In the final three minutes of regulation, he committed a pair of turnovers and missed the front end at the free throw line, allowing Villanova to come down for a final possession that was full of scrambling and ended with Ryan Arcidiacono hitting an off-balance three-pointer to send the game to overtime.

Arcidiacono honestly didn't have that great of a game overall. He finished with 10 points on 2-for-10 shooting with 2 assists. But it's pretty clear how his teammates and the crowd respond to his hustle and attitude, which is a breath of fresh air after the negative attitude that seemed to pervade the Villanova squad last season.

You can be pretty sure that Villanova is going to be in some bracket projections in the next few days. They have a pair of Top Ten wins now, and are a respectable 4-5 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that should move inside the Top 50. But at the same time, they have a bunch of bad losses (Columbia, Providence, La Salle, Alabama) and are still likely to be only around 60th in the Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings when the new numbers come out tomorrow. In general, overreacting to two games and ignoring the previous 18 is a mistake. Villanova still has to do more to move into my bracket projection.

Villanova is 4-3 in Big East play, and will need to get to at least 10-8 to have a real shot for an at-large bid. They have a very tough game on Wednesday at Notre Dame, though after that they'll have easier games for a couple of weeks. Syracuse has a week to recover from this loss before a tough road game at Pittsburgh.

Georgetown 53, #5 Louisville 51
Peyton Siva will want to forget this game. He finished with 0 points, 2 assists, 3 turnovers and 4 fouls. Russ Smith wasn't a whole lot better, scoring just 12 points in 29 minutes off the bench. In the final four minutes of the game, Louisville scored all of 1 point. And while they didn't play terribly in the loss to Syracuse, the Cardinals have now scored 0.85 and 0.84 PPP in losses to Villanova and Georgetown, and they're suddenly tied with the likes of St. John's and Villanova at 4-3 in the Big East.

Louisville probably should never have been #1 in the country since they've never been the best team in the nation, but the panic that is going to surround them after these three straight losses is going to be a severe overreaction in the other direction. Louisville still has one of the two or three best defenses in the nation, and they have several explosive offensive players. The nature of Siva and Russ Smith is that they're inconsistent, and they're occasionally going to have stinkers like this. To relate them to a team I've talked about a lot this season, they're kind of a rich man's Cincinnati.

Louisville and Syracuse are still the clear two best teams in the Big East. I'm not sure which of those two is better, but I know that Louisville is not going to finish the season 10-8 or 11-7 in Big East play. They should be able to get to at least 13-5. You can be sure that they'll be looking to bounce back with a flourish on Monday night against Pittsburgh. Their next game after that will be the following Sunday, against Marquette.

For Georgetown, what stood out to me here was Markel Starks, who scored 17 points on 7-for-16 shooting. Otto Porter is the best player on Georgetown, but Starks has a unique ability to create his own offense. Porter is a better fit for the quasi-Princeton offense that JTIII runs, but this game looked more like a Rucker League game than an old fashioned Princeton game, and Starks was the best weapon Georgetown had in that environment.

Georgetown fans were in the dumps after that terrible loss to South Florida, but back-to-back wins over Notre Dame and Louisville has Georgetown back to 4-3 overall and 5-4 against the RPI Top 100. They certainly look like an NCAA Tournament team, and should stay there if they can get to 10-8. Next week will be a relatively soft week, with home games against Seton Hall and St. John's.

#1 Duke 84, Maryland 64
After the way Duke got embarrassed by Miami, you knew that the Blue Devils couldn't wait to take the floor again, and they took their frustrations out here against Maryland. They were very sharp, committing only 4 turnovers and hit 50% of their threes, while doing a good enough job of containing an aggressive offensive rebounding Maryland squad.

Mason Plumlee was the star, with 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting and 7 rebounds, along with yet another highlight reel dunk. At the same time, the breakout star for Duke was Rasheed Sulaimon, who hit 6-for-8 behind the arc and scored a career-high 25 points (his previous career high was 19 against Florida Gulf Coast). Ryan Kelly still looks to be pretty far away from coming back, so they need younger guys like Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson (11 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks) to step up and fill the void.

Maryland got another fairly invisible performance from Alex Len, who had 8 points on 2-for-10 shooting. He always has a few plays where he looks like a future NBA All-Star, but he's too inconsistent. If he can play at his best for 40 minutes then Maryland can beat just about anybody, but he so rarely actually does.

Maryland is 15-5 overall and 3-4 in the ACC, with a win over NC State and a bad loss to Florida State. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE will remain inside the Top 50, though if the season ended now it's more likely than not that they'd be stuck in the NIT. To make the NCAA Tournament, they probably need to get to 10-8 in the ACC. At 9-9 they'll have work left to do in the ACC tournament. Their next game will be on Wednesday, at Florida State. Duke will be on the road next week, at Wake Forest on Wednesday and at Florida State on Saturday.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Arizona Falls At Home To UCLA

UCLA 84, #6 Arizona 73
Arizona only hit 1 of their first 13 shots from the field, falling behind 19-3 to open this game. Arizona was able to chip away, eventually getting within six points with 3:47 to go, but they could not get closer. Arizona could have won this game with some better shooting - they shot 5-for-24 behind the arc after coming in as a 38% three-point shooting team - but the biggest difference in this game was Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad scored 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting here, the 7th time he's broken 20 points in his last 11 games.

I find it odd how little hype Shabazz Muhammad is getting. He was a very hyped recruit whose issues with NCAA eligibility got a ton of attention from the national media. But now that he's playing and making a serious case for Pac-12 Player of the Year, you basically never hear about him. When was the last time you heard his name on Sportscenter? And yes, I know, "east coast bias" and all that... but UCLA is usually exempt from that. It's bizarre. Muhammad will make some noise in the NCAA Tournament and he's going to be a very good NBA player. That's apparent already.

UCLA is the biggest winner here, but Oregon isn't far behind. The Ducks are now in very firm control of the Pac-12 regular season title race. They have one fewer loss than UCLA and two fewer than Arizona, with the tiebreaks over both. Oregon would have to really struggle over the next month to blow this now. Despite being dumped into a tie for third place, I do still think Arizona is Oregon's top contender. The Wildcats will play USC on Saturday. Next week they'll go on the road to face the two Washington schools.

UCLA is now 6-1 in Pac-12 play, with wins over Missouri, Arizona and Colorado, along with a bad loss to Cal Poly. Their RPI is 32nd and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should move into the Top 40 as well. They'll probably make the NCAA Tournament if they can get to 12-6 in conference play. 13-5 should clinch it. They'll try to avoid an upset on Saturday at Arizona State. Next week they have only one game, at home on Wednesday against USC.

Northwestern 55, #12 Minnesota 48
Minnesota looked lost in this game. Athletically they are on a different level from Northwestern, but their offense was incredibly passive. They were too satisfied to take jumpers. The 26.3% three-point shooting was a cold hand, but 37.1% two-point shooting was poor offense. Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins were invisible. Meanwhile, Jared Swopshire (16 points on 6-for-10 shooting and 8 rebounds) played well doing his best to battle Minnesota's front line.

Honestly, I'm not totally sure what to make of Minnesota. The computers still love them - even after this loss they are rated 9th by both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. At the same time they are 1-4 against the Pomeroy Top 35 and have lost three straight games since moving as high as 8th in the AP Poll. Minnesota has not had a whole lot of success during the Tubby Smith era, and you have to wonder whether they peaked this season in early January. They will head on the road to face Wisconsin on Saturday. Their schedule gets easier next week, but nothing is ever that easy in the Big Ten.

Northwestern is now 3-4 in the Big Ten, with wins over Minnesota, Baylor and Illinois, along with bad losses to Illinois-Chicago and Stanford. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is now 69th. They'll try to move to 4-4 on Saturday at Nebraska.

Richmond 86, #19 VCU 74, OT
The key to staying in a game against VCU is not turning the ball over. The Rams live off of transition offense, and at times will get bogged down offensively in the half court. Richmond did pretty well in that regard, turning the ball over only 11 times in 69 possessions. The only team to have a better turnover percentage against VCU this season was Duke.

Yet despite great outside shooting for Richmond (44.4 3P%) vs terrible outside shooting for VCU (17.6%), the Rams still led by three in the closing seconds of regulation when they allowed Darien Brothers to take a three-pointer in the final seconds to send the game to overtime. In overtime, things just fell apart for VCU. They committed three turnovers to fall behind, and then just bricked three-pointer after three-pointer trying to catch up. In the end, this game finished with a deceptively lopsided score.

VCU had won 13 straight games coming into this one. With this loss they are now 16-4 overall and 4-1 in the Atlantic Ten, with wins over Memphis and Belmont, along with this bad loss to Richmond. It's not an overwhelming resume, but it doesn't change the fact that VCU is a very good team. They're much better, in fact, than the VCU team that went to the Final Four a couple of years ago. But they're going to need some quality wins to contend for a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They'll get a chance for a decent win against La Salle on Saturday. Butler, St. Louis and Temple are all ahead for VCU later in the season.

Richmond moves to 13-7 overall and 3-2 in the Atlantic Ten with this win. Both of those marks sound impressive, but it's come against a soft schedule. This is their first quality victory of the season, and they have bad losses to Davidson, George Mason and Ohio. Their next game will be at UMass on Sunday, followed by a game at Temple on Wednesday.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Drake Shocks Creighton

Drake 74, #17 Creighton 69
We saw a number of court stormings tonight, but the most surprising result had to be this one. Creighton was a ten point favorite in Vegas. The difference in this game was horrific first half shooting by Creighton. They were 0-7 for behind the arc in the first half, trailing by 16 at the break. In the second half they shot a little better and did manage to briefly grab the lead, but they still finished only 5-for-21 (24%) on threes. Remember, Creighton came into this game with the highest three-point percentage (45.2%) in the nation.

The play of star Doug McDermott was odd here. His 17 points were the only things that kept Creighton in the game in the first half at all. Yet in the second half, as his team was making a comeback, he was basically invisible. He scored only one basket, a quick turnaround in the paint, in the entire half. Creighton just wasn't going to him with the ball. Grant Gibbs played really well in the second half (he finished with 18 points, 8 assists and 4 steals), but it's hard to imagine that Creighton wouldn't have been better off if McDermott got some more second half shots.

This was not the way Creighton wanted to bounce back from that Wichita State loss. They fall to 6-2 in conference play with this loss, and are also sliding down the NCAA Tournament bracket. If the season ended now they'd probably be a 5 seed, and they'll need to go on a winning streak to get back in contention for a 3 seed. I don't think they have a realistic path to a 2 seed any longer. Their next game will be on Sunday, at Southern Illinois.

This will almost certainly be the season highlight for Drake. It is their first win all season over an RPI Top 100 team. They are now 3-5 in Missouri Valley play and will play next on Sunday, at Missouri State.

#15 New Mexico 66, Colorado State 61
There are very few teams in the nation tougher to put away with Colorado State. This is at least the fourth or fifth time this season that they have overcome a huge second half deficit to make a game competitive in the final moments. Here, they trailed by 22 points with under 12 minutes to go. A 29-10 run, finished off by a Wes Elkmeier three-pointer, pulled the Rams within three with just under ten seconds to go. But Tony Snell hit a pair of free throws and Elkmeier couldn't hit on the other end of the floor.

Tony Snell was the difference for New Mexico, pouring in 23 points and helping with some very strong New Mexico defense. Colorado State turned over the ball 16 times, which helped wipe out their typical rebounding advantage (a 43.8 OR%). Colorado State also really struggled with foul trouble. Everybody in CSU's starting lineup other than Wes Elkmeier was in foul trouble, with Greg Smith actually fouling out. So with that and New Mexico's homecourt advantage taken into account, I don't think Colorado State fans should feel bad about this loss at all. Their team played very well.

The Mountain West continues to be a confusing four-team race. New Mexico has grabbed a two game lead in the standings, but in no way have they been clearly better than anybody else. Here are the standings in terms of PPP margin in conference play:

+0.13 New Mexico
+0.11 Colorado State
+0.06 Wyoming
+0.02 San Diego State
+0.00 UNLV
-0.01 Boise State

So New Mexico has been the best so far in conference play, but not by a whole lot. The league is still wide open. And now New Mexico is the hunted, with a brutal upcoming week: at San Diego State on Saturday and at Wyoming on Wednesday.

Colorado State will try to bounce back at Fresno State on Saturday. Next week they'll be at home to face Boise State and Wyoming.

Texas Tech 56, Iowa State 51
As the saying goes, these are college kids and not robots. You expect teams to occasionally not show up. But this was a putrid effort by Iowa State. What stood out more than anything was this Iowa State team, which lives off of 13.8 offensive rebounds per game, only brought down three offensive rebounds against a poor Texas Tech rebounding team. In all they had an 8.8 OR%, their worst offensive rebounding performance since at least 2003.

One of my running jokes on twitter is "they just wanted it more", which is making fun of the classic media narrative to explain a close result. I got a kick out of Rutgers coach Mike Rice a few days ago saying "They wanted it more, and that usually wins Big East basketball games"... as if DePaul could suddenly become an 11-7 Big East team by just "wanting it" enough. But while effort doesn't explain results in close games, effort does matter overall from night to night. Sometimes teams just sleepwalk through games, and there's no other way to describe this performance from Iowa State. Texas Tech was playing harder all night. Iowa State could have hit three extra shots and still won this game, but then they just would have been lucky.

Iowa State is now 13-5 overall and 3-2 in Big 12 play, with a win over BYU along with this bad loss. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 53rd. If the season ended now they'd be NIT-bound. They're better than their record, though, so I expect them to be on the bubble until the very end, even after this bad loss. If they go 10-8 in Big 12 play then they'll be the protypical bubble team and will have work to do in the Big 12 tournament. They probably need to get to 11-7 to feel good about their at-large chances. Their home game on Saturday against Kansas State is crucial. A loss there and they might fall out of the next BP68.

This has been a long, difficult season for Chris Walker. This nice win pushes them to 2-4 in Big 12 play and 9-8 overall. It's hard to see them staying above .500 for too much longer, though. They'll play next on Saturday, at Texas.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Miami Crushes #1 Duke

#25 Miami (Fl) 90, #1 Duke 63
I've been saying for some time that Miami is one of the most underrated teams in the country, but nobody saw this kind of demolition coming. What happened? A few things, naturally. Reggie Johnson came back after being injured for more than a month, finally get Miami back to full strength. Duke was still without Ryan Kelly. Those two things combined to give Miami a huge size advantage in the paint. Miami hit 61.5% of their two-point attempts, led by Kenny Kadji (9-for-11). Durand Scott (25 points on 9-for-14 shooting) also generated a lot of his offense by getting into the paint. And while this alone would have been enough for a Miami win, some terrible Duke shooting (4-for-23 behind the arc) turned a loss into an embarrassing blowout.

You're not going to find too many silver linings for Duke in a game like this, but I do think that they should be pleased with Alex Murphy (11 points and 5 rebounds off the bench). Murphy has seen his playing time increase with Ryan Kelly injured, and he's showing a lot more polish than he did early in the season. Coach K had him buried on the bench, but I think he's starting to prove that he deserves more playing time even after Kelly comes back.

It had been increasingly looked like Miami was the one team that could steal the ACC regular season title from Duke, and now they have that huge head-to-head win. They will have to play at Cameron on March 2nd, though for the time being they just have to avoid bad losses. They have a fairly easy week coming up on paper (vs Florida State on Sunday, at Virginia Tech next Wednesday), but they always have to beware the classic letdown game after a big win.

The fact that the ACC is down this season means that Duke doesn't have the margin of error that they usually have for earning a 1 seed. But that all said, there's no reason for them to panic. Unless Ryan Kelly is still on the bench a few weeks from now, they're still the favorites to win the ACC. If the sweep the regular season and tournament titles, they're still very likely going to earn that 1 seed. They have a pretty easy schedule coming up the next few weeks, so they should be able to run off on a little winning streak. Their next game will be against Maryland on Saturday.

La Salle 54, #9 Butler 53
La Salle fans rushed the court not once, but twice in this game. After Ramon Galloway drove to the basket and scored the apparent game-winner for La Salle, Roosevelt Jones launched a desperation full court shot that wasn't even close. But the officials decided that there might still be some time on the clock due to an error on Andrew Smith's basket prior to Galloway's shot, and ordered all of the fans off the court. But after a review they upheld the original call and the La Salle fans got to rush the court a second time.

What was interesting about this court rushing was that La Salle actually didn't cover the spread. They were 2.5-3 point favorites in Vegas, depending on where you looked. Why? Well, La Salle is a bubble quality team while Butler is way over-ranked at #9. And yes, I know that Butler beat Indiana and Gonzaga, as well as teams like Marquette and North Carolina. But let's be honest, three of those games came down to buzzer beaters, and they have struggled against teams like Pennsylvania and Evansville while also losing by double-digits to Illinois and Xavier. Even before this game tipped off they were rated 30th by Pomeroy and 37th by the Sagarin PREDICTOR.

That all said, this is a huge win for La Salle. They needed a big win and they finally got one. They have bad losses to Central Connecticut, Charlotte and Xavier, though they're now 3-2 in Atlantic Ten play. They have a brutal road game at VCU looming, on Saturday, but after that their schedule eases up. They'll need to get to at least 10-6 in A-10 play to have a real chance at an at-large bid.

Butler falls to 3-1 in A-10 play with this loss. I think VCU matches up very well with them in terms of personnel and style, and the one match-up between those two teams this season will be at VCU, so it's unlikely that Butler will win the A-10 regular season title, but they're certainly still in good shape for second place, assuming Rotnei Clarke comes back soon. They will play Temple on Saturday, followed by a road game at St. Louis the following Thursday.

Lehigh 65, Bucknell 62
I have to admit that I don't know what to make of this game. With CJ McCollum out with injury and with the game at Bucknell, you'd have assumed Bucknell would win this game easily. And while Lehigh won, I'm not sure that they were actually better. The difference in the game was 10-for-18 three-point shooting for Lehigh, compared to 2-for-14 three-point shooting for Bucknell. If both teams shot their season average behind the arc then that 3 point Lehigh win would have turned into a 12 point Bucknell win.

But that all said, Lehigh has actually been playing pretty well since McCollum got hurt. McCollum is a true stud player, but his teammates aren't that bad themselves. Lehigh had rolled through their first three Patriot League games without him. So even though Bucknell is better than a McCollum-less Lehigh team, the gap isn't as large as most people thought it would be. And Lehigh now definitely has the confidence that they are the best team in the Patriot League. Certainly they proved to themselves that they can contain and limit Mike Muscala offensively.

These two teams will meet again on February 18th. And you have to presume that they'll play again in the Patriot League tournament title game. Lehigh's next game will be on Sunday, against Lafayette. Bucknell will try to bounce back at Holy Cross on Saturday.

Louisville Falls To Villanova

Villanova 73, #5 Louisville 64
Louisville just played like crap here. I don't think there's any other way to describe this performance. They committed 17 turnovers, they hit only 50% of their free throws and almost everybody was in foul trouble (Gorgui Dieng fouled out while Wayne Blackshear and Russ Smith ended up with 4). Honestly, Villanova didn't even play much better than I've seen them play most of the season. They had a nice balanced attack, but nobody was spectacular. They just allowed Louisville to self destruct and took advantage.

Louisville can still come back to win the Big East, of course. They'll have to win at Syracuse on March 2nd to win a share of the regular season title, but they certainly could win the Big East tournament. But even if they do, a loss like this could be what costs them a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Big Ten clearly deserves at least one of those 1 seeds, and then Duke, Florida and Kansas will all have formidable resumes. The Big East isn't what it's been in the past, and it's a very realistic scenario that no team from the conference will earn a 1 seed. The Cardinals will try to bounce back on Saturday at Georgetown.

Coming off of three straight losses, Jay Wright will have to hope that this win turns his season around. This is a young team, of course, and at 3-3 in Big East play it's not unreasonable to think that they could work their way to 9-9. I still don't think they're a serious contender for the Tournament bubble, but they could still get there. Their next game will be on Saturday, against Syracuse.

#3 Kansas 59, #11 Kansas State 55
With this win, we can effectively hand the Big 12 regular season title to Kansas. They're going to run away with the league, and it shouldn't even be close. It will be their ninth consecutive season with at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title - a remarkable string of success. The Big 12 isn't getting a lot of love from the media this season, so Kansas could win the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles while still getting stuck with a 2 seed, but their chances of a 1 seed are definitely improving.

Kansas does control their own destiny for a 1 seed. If they go 16-2 or 17-1 in Big 12 play and then run through the Big 12 tournament, that should do it for them. If they end up 15-3 or 14-4 then they'll be at the mercy of what happens in the other top leagues. And yes, Kansas is 5-0 and should be favored for every remaining game, but they're not going to go 18-0. They'll lose eventually due to statistical randomness if nothing else.

This is a tough loss for a Kansas State team that isn't popular with the computers but has a fairly strong resume. After this loss they are 15-3 overall and 4-1 in conference play, with wins over Florida and Oklahoma State. They should be able to assure a spot in the NCAA Tournament if they can get to 10-8 or better. They'll play on the road at Iowa State on Saturday.

Alabama 59, Kentucky 55
Kentucky's struggles the past few weeks have been remarkable. They are now 3-2 in SEC play, but more importantly are a horrific 1-6 against the RPI Top 100 (the one win came over Maryland). They got terrible play from their starting lineup here. Only Julius Mays (4-for-5 on threes) played well, though Kyle Wiltjer gave them a solid 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting off the bench.

There's no question that Kentucky would be NIT-bound if the season ended now. That 1-6 RPI Top 100 record would be the clincher. But the reality is, as I argued on twitter, it's way too early to write their obituary. The reality is that they're better than their resume. Their Pomeroy rating should still be in the Top 25 after this win. Also, here is the PPP scoring margin for the top SEC teams in conference play:

1. Florida +0.42
2. Ole Miss +0.18
3. Kentucky +0.12
4. Alabama +0.06
5. Texas A&M +0.04
6. Arkansas +0.01
7. Missouri -0.02


So first of all, obviously, Florida is awfully good. They're arguably the best team in the nation. But after that? Kentucky is in the mix. Even after this loss I'd expect Kentucky's projected SEC record in Pomeroy and Sagarin to be around 12-6. If they get there that should be enough for an at-large bid, particularly if they find a way to knock off Florida.


Alabama is now 4-1 in SEC play with this big win along with bad losses to Mercer, Tulane and Dayton. Considering all of those bad losses, they probably need to get to 12-6 in SEC play to make the NCAA Tournament, so they still have an uphill battle. Their next game will be on Saturday at Tennessee.


Kentucky shouldn't have much trouble bouncing back on Saturday against LSU. A much tougher game will come next Tuesday, when they'll play on the road at Ole Miss.