Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Morning News: Creighton Goes Nuts, Nebraska Stuns Ohio St, Virgina Crushes UNC, Kansas Takes Care Of Business Vs Baylor

The Man. The Myth. The Legend.

Creighton Goes Nuts There's nothing much to say about this game besides just listing some of the insane stats. Ethan Wragge was personally 7-for-7 on threes in the first seven minutes of the game. The 21 three-pointers that Creighton hit as a team were the most by any team ever in a Big East game. Their 1.48 PPP (and it was 1.58 PPP when Doug McDermott got pulled and they cleared their bench) were the most by a team in a "major" conference game since Syracuse scored 1.50 PPP against DePaul on March 5, 2011. And needless to say, a Villanova team that came into this game ranked the 8th best defense in the country by Pomeroy isn't the same level of opponent as that DePaul team that went 1-17 in Big East play.

Obviously Creighton was underrated. They weren't ranked despite the fact that basically every computer rating you ever heard of had them in the Top 15 before last night's game. The thing is, I wonder if a lot of pollsters had processed the fact that Creighton is now in the Big East. It just seems impossible to believe that a "traditional" Big East team like St. John's or Georgetown or Villanova would be unranked if they were 15-3 overall and 5-1 in Big East play, regardless of strength of schedule. Creighton will definitely be ranked next week.

The biggest question coming out of this game is how overrated Villanova is. Really, though, it's a bit unfair to judge them on this. Creighton is one of those teams where your level of play doesn't matter a whole lot. When they go nuts on threes they're almost impossible for anybody to beat, but when they're cold behind the arc they can lose to basically anybody. They were just coming off that clunker against Providence (4-for-19 on threes), and the odds are that they'll have one or two more of those this season. Villanova still plays very good defense (on average) and they're a Top 10 or 15 team in the country.

Nebraska stuns Ohio State The Buckeyes tailspin continues, and they have now dropped four straight after starting the season 15-0. What's gone wrong in this streak? Everything, basically. Three of their four worst offensive efficiency games have come in this streak, as have four of their six worst defensive efficiency games. The stat that sticks out most, though, is that the only four games all season where an opponent has had an eFG% over 50% against Ohio State have been the four games in this losing streak. Their defense just hasn't been there.

The Buckeyes played well in that Michigan State game and were only done in by hot Spartans outside shooting and late-game luck, but that isn't true of the other three games. Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska all shot better than 50% on two-pointers against the Buckeyes, with Nebraska pouring in a staggering 64% of their two-pointers here. And so the question you have to ask is: what is the real Ohio State team? Throughout their 15 game winning streak (as well as the Michigan State game) they played like one of the five best teams in the country. But over these last three games they haven't even played like a Top 25 team.

My answer is what it usually is, which is to trust the larger sample size. There's no question that Ohio State has blown their shot at the Big Ten title and has some real problems that need fixing, but at the same time those performances over 16 games really happened and it's not like they've suffered a bad injury or suspension. More likely than not, Ohio State is going to play like a Top 10 or 15 team the rest of the season.

By the way, I noted on twitter last night that according to the Sagarin ratings Nebraska would be favored at home against 9 of their 14 SEC teams. With this big win that number might be ten (as of this morning, Sagarin has Nebraska as a 0.1 point favorite at home over Missouri, which probably rounds down to a PK line. They're going to finish below .500 in Big Ten play, but that's only because the conference is so good. Tim Miles has this team playing better basketball, and they're going to be tough for any team to beat in Lincoln this season. Considering how young the team is (only one senior in the regular rotation) they could very much make a run at an at-large bid next season.

Virginia Crushes North Carolina This game was competitive in the first half, but Virginia jumped out to a 14 point lead early in the second half and the Tar Heels were never within single digits again. This wasn't a surprise, of course, as UVA was a bigger favorite in Vegas than Villanova was. They have simply been the better team this season. The Cavaliers at 5-1 are very much in contention for the ACC title, and like Creighton it's a bit absurd that they're not ranked. Though Virginia being a team that is defensive minded and that plays a slow tempo is bound to always be underrated by the media.

The reputation North Carolina has is one of a crazy up-and-down team, but at this point I just don't see how that's true anymore. Yes, they beat Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, but otherwise they have been mostly mediocre. Their only win over a Pomeroy Top 150 team other than those three was an early season win over Richmond. So yes, North Carolina is 4-7 against the Pomeroy Top 150 this season. And even if you break down those three big wins, they're not as crazy as they seem. Beating Kentucky at home seemed more surprising at the time because we were just recently removed from all of that 40-0 talk... but now it seems reasonable for a bubble team to beat them at home. And that Louisville performance was atrocious - it was their first game all season against a team with a pulse and they stunk (the transition defense was the laziest I've ever seen from a Rick Pitino team). The only real big time performance UNC had this year was over Michigan State, and every team is allowed one big upset and elite performance per season.

The Tar Heels aren't a bubble team yet, but they could be. They need to get to 9-9 in ACC play to be in good shape for an at-large bid, and they're 1-4 now. They have an easy schedule the next few weeks before it gets tough in late February, so they need to take care of business in the games they're supposed to win over the next few weeks.

Kansas Takes Care Of Business Against Baylor Baylor was 8-for-10 on three-pointers in the first half and still trailed by two points at halftime, which was a bad sign. In the end, there were no surprises in this game. Kansas nailed the Vegas spread perfectly. Those that follow me on twitter have heard me talk about Kansas/Baylor a lot, but those without twitter probably missed most of this. Kansas/Baylor is just the latest example of the pollsters and the mainstream media not understanding how to judge teams. If all you are going to do is rank teams by wins and losses and assume that an overtime win against a crap team is better than a close loss on the road against a Top 10 team, why do we need to pay you for your expertise?

Baylor was ranked ahead of Kansas for most of the season, because they had the better W/L record. Meanwhile, Baylor had gotten there with five very tight wins, including three that came down to the final minute against crap teams (Northwestern State, Charleston Southern and South Carolina). The four Kansas losses, on the other hand, were by an average of 4.3 points, all against Tournament teams, and 3 of 4 were on the road. I got in an argument on twitter a few days ago with Jeff Goodman and Rob Dauster, who both continued to insist that Baylor was better than Kansas a month ago. No, Baylor was never better than Kansas, and even a month ago would have been an underdog in Vegas at home against the Jayhawks. Don't overreact to luck in close games, or you're going to rank a bubble team ahead of one of the ten best teams in the country and you're going to look dumb in a few weeks.

Georgetown's Season Of Horrors Continues It's hard to think of a team other than maybe Penn State or Boston College that has had it worse this season than Georgetown. Between injuries, suspensions and gut punch losses, there is just nothing that has gone right for them. In the final 30 seconds here, Reggie Cameron missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and then another missed free throw by Markel Starks gave Todd Mayo the opening to hit a three-pointer to send this game to overtime. Marquette got a quick start in overtime, leading to several minutes of shots of shell-shocked Georgetown fans.

The Hoyas have tumbled from 18th to 69th in the Pomeroy ratings over the last six weeks, and it's hard to see a major turnaround unless they can get healthy again. Josh Smith, in particular, is crucial to this Georgetown team. Without him, they don't have an interior scorer. And like all things with Georgetown this season, the Smith suspension has been designed for maximum pain, as it's a vague "academic" suspension with no hint of length. He could be back tomorrow and he could be done for the season - nobody is saying.

Marquette is firmly on the bubble. They are 11-8 overall and 3-3 in the Big East, with wins over Georgetown and George Washington along with an iffy loss to Butler. Their RPI is 89th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 71st, so if the season ended now they'd almost certainly be an NIT team, but they're very much in contention. Realistically, they need to get to at least 10-8 in Big East play make the Tournament, and need to get to 11-7 to have a good chance. They have a key stretch upcoming with home games against Villanova and Providence. They really need to find a way to get a sweep, because after mid-February their schedule strength really starts to pick up.

Syracuse's DaJuan Coleman Done For The Season This isn't shocking news, as Coleman had been out injured for basically the last three weeks (he tried to play in a game two weeks ago but only lasted three minutes). Coleman isn't a big scorer, but he's a good rebounder and an interior defensive presence on a team that has depth issues. Syracuse only has a seven man rotation now. The thing to keep in mind with Syracuse is that their schedule this season is very back-loaded. Starting with the road game at Pittsburgh, their final four games are staggeringly difficult. They could easily be underdogs in all four games, and I'll be surprised if they win more than five of the eight. If a lack of depth crops up as a big problem, it's most likely to crop up there.

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