Monday, January 13, 2014

Morning News: Iowa Finally Gets A Scalp, Colorado Suffers A Nightmare, Oregon Gets Swept, Creighton Wins & More

A sad sight, especially for Colorado fans.

Iowa Finally Gets A Big Scalp As it always is with these narratives, Iowa "can't beat a good team" until they do. After losing three games to Top 20 teams, all by four points or less, they finally came through with a close win here, on the road at Ohio State. Devyn Marble led Iowa with 22 points, though Aaron White (19 points, 6 rebounds) was probably the most impressive player for either team. Aaron Craft had a very forgettable 6 points, 6 assists and 6 turnovers.

Can Iowa win the Big Ten? I'd bet against it, but they'll get their shot. While the unbalanced schedule means not every team gets a home-and-home with everybody else, Iowa gets a full home-and-home against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State.

Ohio State has two straight losses now in Big Ten play, but the reality is that everybody is going to lose a few games in the Big Ten this year. I still think 14-4 is going to win the regular season title. So Ohio State can still win the title, but their margin of error is awfully small. Games like their upcoming road game at Minnesota are now must-wins.

Colorado Suffers A Nightmare This game was a disaster in every way for Colorado. Of course, they lost this game, badly, to a team that might not finish in the RPI Top 100. But even more important was the injury to Spencer Dinwiddie, their best player. They have to wait for the MRI to determine the severity of the injury, but early reports are that Dinwiddie is likely going to be done for the season. That's just heartbreaking for Buffaloes fans.

The reality was that Colorado's #15 ranking was a bit silly. Even fully healthy they were barely a Tournament team. I had them as a 9 seed in my most recent bracket. Without Dinwiddie, they're going to be firmly on the bubble. They have their wins over Kansas, Oregon and Harvard, and the Dinwiddie injury won't take those away, but they probably need to get to at least 10-8 in Pac-12 play to have a good chance. At 3-1 now, they need to take care of business against the two Los Angeles schools before going on the brutal Arizona road trip, where they might get swept.

Washington had a poor non-conference performance, going 8-5 with zero quality wins and with bad losses to Boston College and UC Irvine. But in Pac-12 play? They've been quietly very feisty. They are 3-1, with the only loss coming on the road at Arizona. And this is basically what a conference like the Pac-12 doesn't need. Washington has very little chance for an at-large bid, so all they're doing is ruining the Tournament hopes for everybody else. But with the seat under Lorenzo Romar starting to get a little warmer, he can use a strong finish in the Pac-12 standings.

Oregon Gets Swept By Northern California Oregon had multiple chances late in this game, including a layup by Dominic Artis as the clock was running out. But they didn't fall, and Oregon has now lost three straight games since starting the season 13-0. The biggest problem in this slump has been defense. They had not allowed more than 1.17 PPP in a game during that 13 game winning streak, but allowed more than that in each of their three losses. Stanford lit them up for 1.21 PPP here. The reality is that Oregon's defense just isn't good, and it's going to have to improve if they're going to get back to the Top 25 (presuming that they drop out when the new polls come out).

Stanford is basically the west coast version of Notre Dame right now. They're short-handed and playing a very tight rotation, without too much hope of earning an at-large bid, but they're playing hard in every game and they're causing trouble for quality opponents. They are going to need to get to 10-8 in Pac-12 play to have a real shot at an at-large bid, and unfortunately it's hard to see them having enough depth to pull that off.

Creighton Wins A Track Meet Over Xavier This game was wild. There were 78 possessions and the two teams combined to shoot 26-for-54 behind the arc. Dougie McBuckets poured in 35 points for Creighton while Semaj Christon had 27 points for Xavier. This was a throwback game to last season for Creighton, as for the most part their defense has been improved this season (despite losing Gregory Echenique). But once this Creighton team gets going offensively, they are almost unstoppable. Pomeroy now rates them the single best offense in the country. They're the Big East title contender that nobody is talking about.

Xavier fans will view this as a missed opportunity, but there's no shame in losing competitively on the road at Creighton. They are still 3-1 in Big East play and still look to be on pace to make the NCAA Tournament. The one concern for Xavier is that their Big East schedule is back-loaded, with a pretty brutal final two weeks (at Georgetown, at St. Johns, vs Creighton, at Seton Hall, vs Villanova). So they need to take care of business over the next few weeks against the softer part of their schedule to build up that buffer between them and the bubble.

Northwestern Wins Ugly Over Illinois This was just a terrible basketball game. Northwestern is playing better defense under Chris Collins (they're ranked in the Top 100 of the Pomeroy defensive ratings for the first time in eight seasons), but that's no excuse for the putrid offensive performance by the Illini here. Illinois had a 31.2 eFG% and 0.72 PPP. They shot 7-for-21 on layups. Layups.

Illinois never should have been ranked in the Top 25. They came into this game ranked 52nd in Pomeroy and 47th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They're a bubble team that is 2-2 in Big Ten play with wins over Indiana and Missouri along with bad losses to Northwestern and Georgia Tech. They're heading into a devastating part of their schedule, with four of their next six games coming against the Big Four atop the league, and they're going to need to win at least one of them to stay on the bubble.

Pitt's Durand Johnson Done For The Season Pitt is probably the most underrated team in the country.  They didn't do themselves any favors with their non-conference schedule, but they have crushed teams like Maryland and Stanford and were up to 6th in Pomeroy and 14th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They took a blow to their depth yesterday, however, as they lost Durand Johnson for the season with a knee injury. Johnson isn't a star, but he was the team's 6th man and a solid, valuable contributor. They're going to need young players on the bench like Jamel Artis to thrive in the additional playing time if they're going to win an ACC title.

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