Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Morning News: Jonathan Holmes Buzzer Beater, New Mexico Over Boise St, Pitt Destroys Clemson, Harvard Falls to Florida Atlantic

Jonathan Holmes sends the fans home happy

Texas Tops Kansas State On A Jonathan Holmes Buzzer Beater In a battle between two potential at-large teams, this game was tight the entire way. These are two very similar teams, and neither team had a significant advantage in any facet of the game. And so it was inevitable that this game would come down to the final seconds, and despite some pretty poor execution leading up to the final play, it was Texas that got the win on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Jonathan Holmes.

I had moved both Oklahoma and Texas into my most recent bracket projection, even though I didn't feel good about. The reason was that this would give the Big 12 seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, and I just don't think that's realistic. Somebody has to lose every game, and it's hard to imagine that seven different teams will finish with a strong enough Big 12 record. With this win, though, Texas is consolidating their position in the Field of 68. At 4-2 in conference play, Texas will be in good shape if they can go 6-6 down the stretch and get to 10-8. They do have a very tough schedule ahead, though.

Kansas State has those bad early season losses to Northern Colorado and Charlotte, but with wins over Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and George Washington (as well as 12 more games against the Big 12), the Wildcats will have all the quality wins that they need for an at-large bid. Just a 9-9 Big 12 finish should be enough for them unless they go one-and-done in the Big 12 tournament.

New Mexico Takes Care Of Business Against Boise State New Mexico grabbed an early 17-4 lead and basically led by around 10 points the rest of the night. They were in control the entire game, but Boise State kept fighting and wouldn't go away. Ryan Watkins was a monster for Boise State, pulling down 11 offensive rebounds (22 total rebounds). New Mexico was led by Kendall Williams, who had a stat-stuffing 18 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals.

It's hard to tell whether New Mexico or Boise State is the top challenger to San Diego State in the Mountain West, but New Mexico held serve here. The return game in Boise will be on February 12th. New Mexico is currently 5-1 in Mountain West play, but with only one other quality win (Cincinnati), they don't have a large margin of error between them and the NIT. They have a key stretch over the next week with road games against Colorado State and Utah State. The odds are very much against winning both games, but either loss will probably go down as a "bad" loss.

Boise State is 3-3 in Mountain West play and their best win came over Utah State, but their Mountain West schedule eases up over the next two weeks and they still have home games left against New Mexico and San Diego State. So they'll get their chances to earn their way back into the Field of 68.

Pittsburgh Destroys Clemson This was a game that went very much under the radar. The reality is, however, that this was an extremely impressive victory for Pitt. Clemson is a good team, coming into this game ranked in the Top 35 of both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR, and Pittsburgh just destroyed them. Pitt grabbed a 19 point first half lead that they pushed up to 30 less than halfway through the second half.

With this win, Pitt moves up to 3rd in the Pomeroy ratings (as I type this, the Sagarin ratings haven't updated with the results of this game), meaning that a serious argument can be made that they're the best team in the ACC. When I suggested this on twitter last night, I was bombarded with furious Syracuse fans. And yes, I know, I know, Pitt hasn't been as good in the NCAA Tournament over the last 80 years and "they haven't beaten anybody"... whatever. I'm not arguing that Pitt is the best team in the ACC, but I do think that the argument can be made. Syracuse beat them by five points at home, which is yet more evidence that these are two awfully even teams. Despite the perception that Syracuse is dominating the ACC, the reality is that there are still five teams (Syracuse, Pitt, Virginia, Duke and Florida State) with a plausible chance to win the regular season title.

Clemson is, as I said, good enough to be a Tournament team. Their resume is living on nothing but that Duke win so far, though. They're going to need a few more quality victories, and at least a 10-8 ACC record to have a good shot for an at-large bid. They head into a tough stretch, with four of five games on the road (against North Carolina, Florida State, Syracuse and Notre Dame). To stay on pace for an at-large bid they really need to at least get a split in those four games.

Harvard's At-Large Hopes Effectively End In Loss To Florida Atlantic There's nothing to say about this game from Harvard's perspective other than that it was a clunker. They were just awful, particularly on offense. Their 24.6 eFG% is their worst shooting performance in at least 15 years (I could only find stats back to the 1996-97 season, and their second-worst eFG% in that stretch was 28.2%). Their previous worst this season was 42.7% against Colorado. So just a debacle.

Harvard is still 49th in RPI, but they're only 2-2 against the RPI Top 100 with their best win coming over Green Bay, and in order to fail to get the Ivy League's automatic bid they're going to have to lose at least twice in conference play. So realistically, Harvard's at-large chances are over. They're going to have to win the auto bid. The good news for Harvard is that they're probably going to win the auto bid.

LSU Wins A Bubble Battle Over Missouri It's getting to that time of year. Bubble Battles are going to become more frequent, particularly in the SEC, where it feels like half the league is on or near the bubble. The difference in this game was the paint, where the LSU bigs were forcing the Missouri drivers to take a whole lot of off-balance shots. LSU finished with 9 blocks, and Missouri finished 11-for-25 on layups (compared to LSU, who were 9-for-10). Missouri just struggled to get good, open shots.

With this win, LSU moves to 12-5 overall and 3-2 in SEC play, though this is their best win and they have bad losses to Rhode Island and (arguably) Ole Miss. Considering where the SEC is as a league, LSU probably needs to get to at least 11-7 in conference play to have a good shot at an at-large bid.

Missouri drops to 14-4 overall and 2-3 in SEC play, with a win over UCLA to go with bad losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt. They'll have a better shot of an at-large bid at 10-8 than LSU (due to the UCLA win), but realistically they need to get to 11-7 to have a good chance. A home game against Kentucky on February 1st looms as a huge opportunity to grab another quality victory.


Anonymous said...

An argument can be made that the top of the ACC (i.e., the top 5 teams) is as strong as the top 5 from any other conference.

5 ACC teams (Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia, Duke and Florida State) are in the top 20 of the Kenpom rankings.

The Big 10 also has 5 teams in the top 20 (Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State).

The Big 12 only has 3 in the top 20 (Kansas, Ok State and Iowa State), and the next best are nearing 40.

No other conference is even close.

Jeff said...

Yes, the top of the ACC stacks up well with any conference. The difference between this ACC and a few years back, though, is that the bottom is a lot weaker. Teams like Boston College and Virginia Tech have been disappointing.