Sunday, January 05, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Irish Stun Duke, Kansas St Topples Oklahoma St, Cincinnati Crushes Memphis, And Much More

In case you missed it, this was the incredible finish to Dayton/Mississippi.

New Bracket Projection It's Sunday, which means a new bracket projection is posted. There's not much separating the last few teams in the Field of 68 and the first few out (not a surprise). Of the two teams that moved into the Field of 68 last week, one (Illinois) consolidated their position while the other (Arizona State) did not. So Arizona State drops out and Xavier moves in, with California the "first team out". Among the auto bids, Charleston Southern replaces High Point as the Big South favorite.

If you're wondering about "the bubble", and where I'd put it right now, I'd say that I'm confident of all of the teams I have a 1-9 seeds making the Tournament. The 10-12 seeds are the "bubble" teams that still have a decent chance of missing the Tournament altogether.

Irish Stun Duke With Late Rally Duke's interior defense is the weakest part of the team, with Jabari Parker being the only real paint defender in the regular rotation. Which was why it was odd how much of the second half he spent on the bench, with Coach K benching him for (supposedly) poor play. And he did play poorly (7 points and 4 rebounds in 24 minutes), but without him (and with Coach K still having no faith in Marshall Plumlee) the Irish bigs had a field day. Garrick Sherman and his horrible beard were unstoppable in the second half. And with Eric Atkins having his way (19 points and 11 assists), the Irish honestly earned this win. This was no fluke.

What does this mean for Duke going forward? Well, we already knew how essential Jabari Parker was, and this game reaffirmed it. If he's in the game and dominating then they can beat anybody. But without him they can lose to just about any decent team that has a strong front line. I still think Duke is the ACC favorite, but you can make plausible arguments for Syracuse, Pittsburgh or North Carolina.

The Irish aren't rolling over and giving up on the season, though you'd never expect them to. I'm not sure that they can expect this type of performance from Atkins regularly, but when he's playing well and the Irish are able to prevent turnovers, they can still beat good opponents. I'd still bet against them making the Tournament, though. Let's not overreact to a single great performance after a mediocre first two months of the season.

Kansas State Topples Oklahoma State This game is why "Record vs RPI Top 50" is a dumb stat. Kansas State is not in the RPI Top 50 now, and there's a good chance that they won't be in March, but playing them in Manhattan is a really tough game. Even for an elite team like Oklahoma State, they're inevitably going to end up in a battle. It also didn't help that Oklahoma State was shorthanded, with Michael Cobbins done for the season with an injury and Stevie Clark suspended for marijuana possession.

I don't think this result will be monumental for Oklahoma State. In the end, if they beat Kansas and win the Big 12 they'll have a good shot at a 1 seed. But more likely, particularly since the Cobbins injury makes them very thin in the front court, they're going to lose a few more games and end up somewhere in the 2-4 seed range.

This win pushes Kansas State back to the bubble. They play such good defense that they were bound to collect some big scalps, and the last two weeks have delivered Gonzaga and Oklahoma State. At even 9-9 in Big 12 play they'll end up on the bubble, and if they can get to 10-8 then they'll be in good shape.

Cincinnati Crushes Ice Cold Memphis Cincinnati wasn't ranked heading into this game, so I guess we can't bring up the "Josh Pastner can't beat ranked teams" narrative. Oh well. Either way, this was just a nightmare game for Memphis, particularly in the second half. Memphis had a 25.7 eFG% in the second half, and 34.9% for the game. The shooting and the offensive efficiency (0.75 PP) were both the lowest for Memphis since their 70-48 loss to Michigan State in last season's NCAA Tournament. Cincinnati is a very strong defensive team, and Memphis also did themselves in with 2-for-17 three-point shooting.

The concern for Cincinnati is scoring, of course. 12th year (approximately) senior Sean Kilpatrick is the only real explosive offensive weapon that they had. So they're going to end up losing some ugly low-scoring games this season. But for now, their resume is very strong. They're up to 13-2 overall and 2-2 in the AAC, with wins over Memphis, Pittsburgh and SMU, with no bad losses. It might get them into the Top 25 on Monday, and it definitely pushes them clear of the bubble for now. Don't be totally shocked if they are back on the bubble in February and March, though.

Memphis has their wins over Oklahoma State and LSU, so there shouldn't be total panic about this team. But without good outside shooters or a lot of good passers, they're going to struggle against teams with good interior defenses. Cincinnati is an example, as is UConn, though Louisville is not. So we might have a little bit of rock-paper-scissors in AAC play this season.

SMU Finally Collects A Quality Victory After falling narrowly short against Cincinnati, Virginia and Arkansas, SMU finally came through and got a Pomeroy Top 50 win, their first since February 5, 2004, believe it or not. The star was Nic Moore (20 points, 6 assists), who's been shooting the lights out this season. It's good to see SMU going to him more.

UConn came into this week ranked 15th in the Coaches Poll and 17th in the AP Poll, but with losses to Houston and SMU they've fallen almost all the way back to the bubble. They have a tough game on Wednesday against Harvard, and with a loss they will be a full bubble team again. SMU is moving in the other direction, though they're going to have to get to at least 10-8 in AAC play to have a plausible shot at an at-large bid. They have a brutal game next weekend at Louisville, but after that will have a very soft schedule for a few weeks. The key will be navigating that stretch without any bad losses.

Virginia Suffocates Florida State Virginia needed a big performance after that embarrassing performance against Tennessee (it was a fluke Tennessee shooting performance, but nobody will remember that on Selection Sunday). And they delivered, holding Florida State to 31.6% on two-pointers and 0.78 PPP. Okaro White was the only Seminoles player to reach double-digits. That said, the worry for Virginia is Joe Harris, who only played two minutes after taking a knee to the head and (presumably) getting a concussion.

Virginia probably needs to get to 10-8 in ACC play to make the NCAA Tournament, though I think they'll get there. They're perennially underrated, because slow-tempo defense-first teams will always be underrated. But I don't think this will be the biggest scalp they collect this season.

With wins over VCU and UMass and without any bad losses, Florida State probably will be in pretty good shape for an at-large bid with a 9-9 ACC record, but that task has gotten more difficult with a home loss to Virginia. Thursday night's game at Clemson now becomes a difficult test to avoid an 0-2 start.

Michigan State Takes Care Of Business Vs Indiana Michigan State hasn't been playing like one of the five best teams in the country, but I've kept them as my Big Ten favorite and a 1 seed in the Tournament because they just haven't been totally healthy and at a full strength. We got a taste in this game of what the Spartans can look like when they're running on all cylinders. Gary Harris is one of the players who has missed time and hasn't lived up to preseason expectations, but he exploded for a season high 26 points here.

Indiana's offense has had a lot of trouble this season against teams that can force turnovers and/or block shots. The Spartans ended up with a staggering 12 steals and 9 blocks. Indiana just lacks depth of scoring options. It's a problem when your only elite outside shooter is also your primary playmaker. Evan Gordon is shooting 38% behind the arc and Will Sheehey is shooting a team-high 46% on two-point jumpers, but that's not enough. The Hoosiers are going to struggle against long, athletic defenses, and they're looking more and more like a team that could drop into the NIT.

Xavier Strengthens Their At-Large Case After being in rebuilding mode last season (17-14 overall), Xavier has been sneaking up on the bubble very quietly this season. But they have now won seven straight games (including Cincinnati, Butler and St. John's), and it's very tough to keep them out of the Field of 68. I moved them into my new bracket late last night. They're not deep with offensive options, so at some point they're going to start losing games again, but they're definitely scaring a lot of Big East opponents with their play the past few weeks.

Speaking of bubble teams, Butler seems like they'll be confined to that purgatory the rest of the season. They don't have any big wins yet, but they don't have any bad losses either. They'll need to get to at least 9-9 in Big East play with a big win or two to be in a good position for an at-large bid.

LSU Falls To Rhode Island The middle of the SEC pack continues to struggle this season. There is again a massive gap between Kentucky/Florida and everybody else. And that makes this loss matter, because they're going to struggle to get wins against either Kentucky or Florida (they don't even get a home game against Florida), and so they're not going to have the big wins to counter bad losses. They enter SEC play 9-3 overall, with only a win over Butler worth bragging about. They'll need to get to at least 10-8 in SEC play to earn an at-large bid, and even if they get to 11-7 they might need a win or two in the SEC tournament.

Rhode Island has definitely improved a lot in Year Two of the Dan Hurley era. They have a real chance to finish this season over .500, which could get them into something like the CBI or CIT.

1 comment:

Bryce said...

Like most Notre Dame upsets, Brey outcoached Coach K. I don't know if you watched, but it seemed evident that Parker was flummoxed by the Irish attack. He was constantly caught out of position, as exemplified by Connaughton's posterization that being shown again and again.

Coach K took him out because he didn't have the maturity to deal with an intelligent, well-executed offensive game-plan.

You're partly right about what we should take away about the Irish - the team still isn't very good, probably not tournament quality. Because of Brey, however, I would guess that the team will rack up enough top tier wins to sneak into the tournament. zusually Brey does enough to get the team to a 5 or 6 seed that they don't deserve; this year, it will probably be an 11 or 12 they don't deserve.