Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Morning News: Michigan St Escapes Ohio St, Iowa St Destroys Overrated Baylor, LSU's Slide Continues, Notre Dame Loses To NC State

Ah, conference play. Lots of guys diving all over the floor. Even Old Man Adreian Payne.

Michigan State Escapes Ohio State In Overtime This game was closer than it needed to be. Michigan State fell apart offensively down the stretch. Over a 10:30 stretch through the end of regulation and into overtime, the Spartans had 10 turnovers and one made field goal for a grand total offensive output of 0.20 PPP. Aaron Craft gets all the credit from announcers, but Shannon Scott is a terror on the perimeter and Amir Williams is fantastic on the inside. This Ohio State team just has really good defenders everywhere, and they're awfully tough to score against once they get going. There's a reason Pomeroy rates them the single best defense in the nation.

As fun as games like this are, they're far from being decisive in a conference like the Big Ten, where there's great depth and where every road game is difficult. The reality is that the most likely record for the Big Ten champion is 14-4. So a single loss is not a killer. All Ohio State has to do is beat Michigan State in Columbus to hold serve.

As for Michigan State, at some point they need to get healthy, right? Adreian Payne was moving around like he had a 50 pound anchor chained to his neck. The Spartans might be the best team in the country if they can ever get to full strength.

Iowa State Destroys Overrated Baylor Let me first say that this is an impressive win for Iowa State. They dismantled Baylor and won easily by 15 points. At the same time (and this doesn't invalidate what I already said), Baylor's #7 ranking in the polls is a joke. They're 5-0 in games decided by five points or less, and were taken to the final 60 seconds by Charleston Southern, Northwestern State and South Carolina. I've been talking about this for weeks. Every year there are some December/January Top 25 rankings that look absurd in March, and Baylor at #7 in the polls (and a 3 seed in Joe Lunardi's bracket) is going to be that. In my opinion, they're almost a bubble team. I had them as an 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament coming into this game.

But as I said at the top, this isn't to take away from Iowa State's win. If they squeaked past Baylor by 2 points then it wouldn't be an impressive performance, but they crushed Baylor. Baylor was dominated in the paint. The star for Iowa State was DeAndre Kane, the Marshall transfer who almost had a triple double (30 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds). Kane had a triple double for Marshall last season, though it came in double overtime. It seems like this is the fourth or fifth time he's come close to another one this season for Iowa State. He's just a stat stuffer.

In my opinion, Kansas remains the Big 12 favorites. But you can make a strong case that with Oklahoma State shorthanded, Iowa State might be the toughest challenger.

LSU's Slide Continues Against Tennessee One of the issues that computer ratings will always have is trying to separate past performance from regression to the mean. What that means is, a team can play really well for a few weeks, but are they really that good or are they just on a hot streak? When LSU was 9-2, they were inside the Top 40 in both Pomeroy and Sagarin... but could they really keep up that level of play for the entire season? The answer so far appears to be "no". After a loss to Rhode Island they got crushed here by Tennessee.

LSU's issue is that they're sloppy and inefficient offensively. They just get into long droughts and have no obvious way to get out. Here, they hit only five shots from the field in the final 12 minutes. They're probably going to need to get to 11-7 in SEC play to make the NCAA Tournament. This is a bad start.

Tennessee doesn't have any really notable wins (they've beaten Virginia, Xavier, LSU and Wake Forest), but they're blowing teams out. You can make a really good case that they're the third best team in the SEC right now.

Notre Dame Loses To NC State So this is why you don't overreact to an upset of Duke. Eric Atkins regressed back from his spectacular performance to go 5-for-15 from the field here, and the Irish struggled mightily to keep NC State from forcing contact and getting to the line. Despite being on the road, NC State had a 32-to-12 free throw attempt advantage.

Notre Dame just seems to lack the roster depth now to earn an at-large bid. They should hang on or around the bubble, but they're going to have to get to at least 9-9 in ACC to play to earn an at-large bid (and unless they get to 10-8 or better they're going to have to win a game or two in the ACC tournament).

NC State is now 11-4 overall, with wins over Tennessee and Notre Dame along with a bad loss to NC Central. It's not a resume that will get them into the Field of 68, but it's in the ballpark. If they can beat Virginia on Saturday then they'll be awfully close to the bubble. They're going to have to get to at least 9-9 in ACC play to still be on the bubble on Selection Sunday.

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