Sunday, January 12, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Iowa State Loses, Duke Falls, Kansas Destroys K-State, UNC Hangs Tough & Much More

This is the bigger concern for Iowa State than losing their undefeated season. The good news after the game is that this ankle injury doesn't appear to be too serious.

New Bracket Projection It's Sunday, so that means that a new bracket projection has been posted. It's been a very busy week for the bracket with five teams changing in the Field of 68, the most in quite some time. California, Kansas State, SMU, Northern Colorado and Robert Morris move in, while Boise State, Butler, LSU, Weber State and Bryant drop out. The 1 seeds remain Kansas, Arizona, Michigan State and Kentucky. For the explanations please click on the link.

Iowa State Is No Longer Undefeated There are only four undefeated teams left as Iowa State loses here to Oklahoma. This game demonstrates just why nobody in a major conference is realistically going to go undefeated anymore, because this was a game where Iowa State was honestly the significantly better team. Oklahoma's defense had no chance against the Cyclones, allowing 71.8% shooting inside the arc, but Iowa State went cold behind the arc (23%). On the other side of the court, Oklahoma shot only 38% on twos and 43% on threes. Iowa State made 23 dunks and layups while attempting only five two-point jumpers. So Iowa State deserved to win, but they just got killed on three-point shooting percentage.

These are things that even out over a season, however. Iowa State was 4-0 in games decided by four points or less or in overtime, so they were overdue to lose a close game. Besides, everybody loses games. Arizona, Wisconsin, Syracuse and Wichita State will lose a game as well. And with Oklahoma State looking shaky since losing Michael Cobbins, you can still make a good case that Iowa State is the second best team in the Big 12 after Kansas. Obviously that all goes out the window if that DeAndre Kane injury ends up being serious, but it looks like it was just an ankle roll without serious damage.

This is a huge win for Oklahoma's at-large resume. They are 13-3 overall and 2-1 in Big 12 play, with wins over Iowa State and Texas to go with a loss to Louisiana Tech. That's arguably an at-large resume at the moment. If they can get to 9-9 in Big 12 play with at least one more big scalp and a win in the Big 12 tournament, that will probably be enough to earn an at-large bid.

Duke Falls To Clemson For the second time in three games, Duke was outplayed by an inferior team. Clemson's offense had been putrid this season (169th in the Pomeroy ratings and coming off a 0.74 PPP performance against Florida State), but they were able to get the ball into the paint, where Duke is small and thin. 30 of Clemson's shots were layups and dunks, compared to 23 shots that were not. For comparison, only 39% of Clemson's shot attempts have been layups and dunks this season.

While Duke's interior defense has been poor this defense, that offense has mostly been electric. But against Clemson's sound, effective defense, the Blue Devils looked lost. Trailing by two points with around 6:30 to play, Duke failed to hit another shot from the field the rest of the game.

How badly do we panic about Duke? Not too much, I don't think. Every team at the top of the ACC has clear flaws that can be exploited by the right lineup. And for example, Duke is the type of team that matches up very well against Syracuse. As for Clemson, this gives them their first big scalp of the year, and balances out the bad loss to Auburn. They'll probably need to get to 10-8 in ACC to make the NCAA Tournament, but they have a good shot to get there.

Kansas Destroys Kansas State Kansas remains one of the most underrated teams in the country. They have had bad luck in close games, but otherwise have just been annihilating teams. And they're not just annihilating cupcakes - they've beaten Duke, Georgetown, Kansas State and New Mexico by double digits. What they got here was an aggressive offensive game from Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden. All three attacked the rim relentlessly, despite a very strong Kansas State defense.

Kansas State is bound to be on the bubble all season long. They already have big wins over Oklahoma State and Gonzaga, along with bad losses to Northern Colorado and Charlotte. They're going to need at least one or two more big scalps or else they'll probably need a 10-8 Big 12 record to make the Tournament.

North Carolina Hangs Tough With Syracuse Yes, North Carolina lost this game by 12. And yes, 45 points is the fewest they've scored since a 45-44 win over NC State in 1997. But they were never going to score a lot of points against Syracuse, a team that is the worst possible match-up for them. UNC's offense revolves around Marcus Paige, and they have no other good outside shooters. The way to beat Syracuse is to shoot over the top. Roy Williams actually did a good job getting his guys to work the ball inside (only 12 attempted three-pointers all game), but it wasn't enough.

What stood out in this game was the North Carolina defense, which bottled up Tyler Ennis for most of the game. Trevor Cooney had a poor game from the field (2-for-12 behind the arc), and Syracuse was held below 1 PPP for the second time in the last three games. The question about Syracuse has been whether the incredible offensive performances by Ennis and Cooney would regress closer to what was projected preseason. Two poor games aren't a large enough sample size to say either way, but it's something to keep an eye on.

St. Louis Wins Impressively Over Dayton The Atlantic Ten doesn't have the depth that it had before offseason realignment, but the top of the league is still really good and these games are really fun. The Top 25 polls might not be giving respect to teams like VCU and St. Louis, but you really should do yourself a favor and watch some of these games.  St. Louis feels like they've had the same roster for six or seven straight years. Jordair Jett surely must be in his 8th or 9th season by now. They just keep rolling along.

Dayton is likely going to be on the bubble all season long. They are 12-4 with wins over Gonzaga and California, along with bad losses to Illinois State and USC. They're going to need another win or two over RPI Top 50 opponents, and they'll probably need to get to 10-8 in A-10 play, to earn an at-large bid. Road games next week against Richmond and Fordham will be key tests. The odds are that they'll lose at least one, but as a bubble team they really do need a sweep.

Shorthanded Michigan State Escapes Minnesota Probably the most talked about thing in college basketball that never happens is the Selection Committee taking injuries into account. There are only a few examples in the last 20 years of teams getting a break from the Selection Committee due to a key player missing extended time, and you'll certainly never see a team punished because a key win came while the other team was missing a player. And so with Michigan State missing Adreian Payne, this loss is a huge missed opportunity for Minnesota. The Gophers look likely to be a bubble team, and a win over a team like Michigan State would have been huge.

One thing I've been talking about all season is how banged up this Michigan State team has been. If they can ever get healthy, I think they're still the best team in the Big Ten. But that requires eventually getting healthy. As for Minnesota, they have a classic bubble resume, with a win over Florida State and without a single bad loss. Considering the strength of the Big Ten, you have to figure they'll make the Tournament if they can get to 9-9. They need more big wins, but there's no way to get to 9-9 in Big Ten play without beating a few quality teams. In the next ten days they have home games against Ohio State and Wisconsin, and managing to get a win in one of those two games will be huge.

Florida Ends Arkansas' Home Winning Streak The same issues surrounding Michigan State missing Adreian Payne (see above) apply to Florida missing Casey Prather here. Like Minnesota, Arkansas blew a great opportunity for a huge scalp for their at-large resume. And this Florida win is just awfully impressive considering how strong Arkansas is at home. Arkansas came into this game having won 23 straight games at home, which was tied for the third longest streak in college basketball. Florida is making a stronger and stronger case for being the SEC favorite, though I think the edge still has to go to Kentucky for the ability of their young roster to improve over the next two months.

As a team on the periphery of the bubble, Arkansas desperately needed this win. They'll get another chance on Tuesday against Kentucky, but without the win there they'll be in big trouble. It's hard to see them beating either Florida or Kentucky away from Bud Walton. Mike Anderson teams are always significantly better at home than on the road.

Antwan Space's Three Lifts Texas A&M Over Tennessee With the other SEC bubble teams struggling, the hopes for a third Tournament team from the SEC had fallen on a Tennessee team that had pulled into the Pomeroy Top 20 with a bunch of big blowouts (including double-digit victories over Virginia, Xavier and LSU). But in a league that isn't particularly strong, a bubble team can't afford too many of these losses. And this loss came on a 25-footer by Antwan Space with around three seconds to go, but on Selection Sunday it might as well be a 20 point loss.

One thing that's peculiar about this Tennessee is how much three-point shooting has impacted their results. They shoot threes at a lower clip than the average team and hit them at a nearly-average 35% rate, so you would peg them to a be a team relatively immune to streaky three-point shooting. But instead, they're 1-4 this season when shooting 30% or worse behind the arc and 9-1 when shooting better than 30% behind the arc. Their dominant upset of Virginia involved 61% three-point shooting. So... I don't get it. This seems like a statistical quirk that shouldn't keep on going, but you never know.

Butler Loses Another Heartbreaker It's been an excruciating season for this Butler squad. With this loss they drop to 1-4 in games that have gone to overtime. In their first four Big East games they have lost three in overtime, all coming at home. That's rough. This Butler team is good enough to make a Tournament run, but with the shorthanded roster they just can't afford to have bad luck in close games. And at this point, it's just impossible to project Butler as an at-large team. Now 0-4 in Big East play, they probably need to get to 9-9 in Big East play. And needing to avoid 0-5, a road game at Creighton isn't a good way to start next week.

Georgetown is another team that's been shorthanded. Josh Smith is suspended over academic issues and Jabril Trawick missed this game with a broken jaw. So they might continue to be shorthanded for a while longer. This is still a team that has a high ceiling, particularly if they can get the whole roster back together. Josh Smith is the key cog, as he's been very efficient scoring in the paint so far this season, and the Hoyas have struggled to score without him.

Wyoming Tops Boise State For a bubble team, this is a really tough loss for Boise State. Despite shooting 3-for-17 behind the arc, the Broncos hung in all game long, finally going down on a Larry Nance, Jr jumper with under two seconds to go. Boise State finished with a 35.0 eFG% and 0.79 PPP. Both of those are team worsts since their 53-42 loss to New Mexico back on March 2nd.

Boise State drops to 1-2 in Mountain West play and 11-5 overall, with no wins over likely RPI Top 50 opponents, and with this bad loss to Wyoming. It's not a Tournament resume at the moment, and it's hard to see them earning an at-large bid without going at least 11-7 in conference play. Wyoming moves to 10-6 overall and 1-2 in conference play, with bad losses to Denver and Nevada. It's hard to see them making a run at an at-large bid, but they'll be a pest at home all season long.


Anonymous said...

I gotta disagree that the way to beat Syracuse is to shoot over the top of them. I've rarely seen a team be successful with this tactic. The most reliable way to beat syracuse is to play through the foul line. The teams that have historically done this vs syracuse (Louisville and Pittsburgh come to mine) have been the most successful.
Three point % defense is mostly random luck, but I wouldn't say that's the case with Syracuse. Their three point % defense has been extremely good pretty much every year. They usually make even the best shooting teams look average from three.
I'm fairly confident that most syracuse fans are actually more fearful of Pitt this season than Duke. Anyone out there that could back this up?

Jeff said...

Well, as I've said before and others have noted, 3P% defense isn't totally luck. There is some skill there, and as you noted Syracuse is generally a better-than-average 3P% defense team.

That said, it's still mostly luck, and Syracuse gives up a ton of three-pointers. If you get hot, you will put up points. A perfect example of this was the Villanova game. Villanova opened up a 25-7 lead by bombing threes on Syracuse. The rest of the game they went 5-for-23 behind the arc and ended up losing. But a team better at shooting threes (Nova shoots a ton of threes but only is hitting 35% of them this season) could sustain that a whole game.

You are right that Pittsburgh should be scary to both Duke and Syracuse. They are wildly underrated, and they're always tough in a tournament setting with their physical and mental toughness. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's Pitt that ends up taking the ACC tournament.