Sunday, January 19, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Texas Stuns Iowa St, Michigan Wins In Kohl, Providence Upsets Creighton, Kansas Escapes, And Much More

You won't like Kevin Ollie when he's angry.... OLLIE SMASH!!!

New Bracket Projection It's Sunday, which means we've got a new bracket. And as we're after January 15th, there's a "full bubble" now. Click on the link to learn what that means. Arizona State, Oklahoma and Texas moved into the Field of 68, while Dayton, Illinois and Marquette dropped out. Florida also moved in as a 1 seed, replacing Kentucky, though there are at least half a dozen other teams that had a good case for that final 1 seed. Click on the link for more explanations.

Texas Stuns Iowa State Iowa State likes to shoot a lot of three-pointers, despite the fact that they're not a particularly good three-point shooting team, and it got them in trouble here. They took the majority (52%) of their shots from the field behind the arc in this game, hitting only 34% and allowing Texas to have control of the paint. Texas made 15 shots that were layups or dunks, while Iowa State made only 13 two-pointers total.

Should there be panic about Iowa State after this three game losing streak? I don't think so, though it's only because I thought Iowa State was a bit overrated to begin with. They're a Top 20 team, but they're not a Top 5 team, which is what many were suggesting when they were still undefeated. The Cyclones are still very much in contention for second place in the Big 12.

Texas has been steadily improving throughout this season, gradually playing better and better and making an increasingly strong case for an at-large bid. They are now 14-4 overall and 3-2 in Big 12 play, with wins over Iowa State and North Carolina without a "bad" loss. If they can go 7-6 down the stretch to get to 10-8, that should be enough for an at-large bid.

Michigan Wins In The Kohl Center Michigan has quietly been playing really good basketball this season, but it's no longer a secret after this big win. They've won seven straight games and are now 5-0 in Big Ten play, and are up to 14th in Pomeroy and 13th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR (though in both ratings that's only fifth best in the Big Ten, which tells you how ridiculously good the top of the league is). They've done this all without Mitch McGary, which makes you wonder how good they could be if they were healthy. Nik Stauskas is (in my opinion) the best offensive player in the Big Ten, and Caris LeVert is one of the most improved all-around players in the nation. This should put the bubble concerns to bed, and make Michigan fans start thinking about a possible top three or four finish in the Big Ten standings.

There's going to be some panic about Wisconsin losing two straight games, but it's going to be a bit silly. Both of their losses have been very close, and neither was a "bad" loss. Michigan shot the lights out here (a 61.3 eFG%, including 7-for-13 behind the arc), and this game still came down to a 50-50 shot clock violation call. Michigan got the call, and Stauskas took the ball on the ensuing possession and hit a three after a filthy crossover move. Remember, don't overreact to luck in close games. Wisconsin is still probably one of the ten best teams in the country, and is still in contention for a Big Ten regular season title.

Providence Upsets Creighton Last year, I talked about how crazy Creighton's record was as a function of shooting. They were 1-7 when they had an eFG% of 51.0% or worse, and they were 27-1 when breaking 51.0%. It hasn't been quite so extreme this season as their defense has been improved, but they were still very close to that Mendoza Line here with a 52.8 eFG%. And it gets even worse if you break down their shot attempts. Creighton was 20-for-27 on layups and dunks, but only 6-for-26 on jump shots. They were 4-for-19 on threes. Just couldn't hit a shot. Providence, meanwhile, got all five starters in double digits, led by Bryce Cotton's 23 points and 6 assists.

Creighton doesn't have a lot of time to fret about this loss. On Monday night they play at Villanova, the team that looks like their toughest competition for the Big East regular season title. A win there would put them back in control of the conference.

Providence has bounced back with three straight wins after three straight losses. Trying to play with what is really only a six man rotation is going to be tough in the physical Big East, but for now they're hanging around the bubble. They're 3-2 in Big East play with two very winnable games up next (at home against Butler and Xavier). Those are the types of games that at-large teams need to take care of business in.

Kansas Escapes After A Late Oklahoma State Run This game looked like a blowout early on. Kansas led by 17 points at halftime and by 18 early in the second half, but a 26-11 run by the Cowboys made this a ballgame again. Marcus Smart struggled with his shot all game, but despite a 3-for-14 shooting performance he almost had a triple double (16 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists). Phil Forte's 7-for-10 three-point shooting was also key in the comeback. Naadir Tharpe led Kansas, scoring 21 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) with 6 assists. In four Big 12 games, Tharpe has averaged 16.3 points per game with a 77.4 eFG%. For all the attention Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid get, Tharpe has keyed the strong Kansas play of late.

Now 4-0 with wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State, Kansas has taken completely control of the Big 12. Though really, this should have been expected all along. They plummeted in the Top 25 polls because of four early losses, but those losses were by an averaged of 4.3 points, all against Tournament teams, and 3 of 4 were away from home. As always, don't overreact to early season luck in close games. All the pollsters who had Baylor ranked over Kansas for weeks look stupid now, but you can be sure that they won't learn their lesson.

Oklahoma State slides to 3-2 in Big 12 play, though the two losses came on the road against Kansas and Kansas State, so they're still holding serve at home. At this point, they're hard to project. The Cowboys roster has been thinned by the Cobbins injury, but if anything it's impressive to only lose by two points on the road at Kansas, and they do have nice wins over Texas and West Virginia (road) without Cobbins. They could finish second in the Big 12, or they could finish fifth.

Louisville Beats UConn In Storrs Kevin Ollie didn't enjoy this game. UConn wasn't really getting their money's worth on their homecourt advantage to the refs, and after a blown call Ollie lost his mind, getting himself a pair of technicals and an ejection. UConn fans were displeased by the whole thing, but they were also displeased with their team's play. Russ Smith poured in 23 points and Louisville owned the paint, finishing 51% on two-pointers compared to 35% for the Huskies. The breakout performer might have been Mangok Mathiang, the 6'10" freshman who had 3 blocks and filled in admirably for a Louisville front line that very much needs depth.

The AAC is increasingly looking like a battle between Louisville and Cincinnati. I give the edge to Louisville, though the teams still have their home-and-home to play. The game in Louisville is up first, on January 30th.

UConn drops to 2-3 in AAC play, but there's no shame in losing to Louisville, and they've stabilized their resume with those wins over Memphis and Harvard. They still need to get to 10-8 in AAC play to be in good shape for an at-large bid, but they shouldn't have too much trouble getting there.

Baylor Loses Again The perception that Baylor has fallen apart the past two weeks is not true. Yes, they were 12-1 before losing three of four, but all that's really happened is that their schedule has gotten tougher and their luck in close games has regressed. A month ago Baylor was 37th in the Pomeroy ratings and now they're 44th. Five of those initial 12 wins were by five points or less or in overtime, including three games against mediocre-to-bad teams (South Carolina, Charleston Southern, Northwestern State). The media and the pollsters treat an overtime win at home against Northwestern State as equivalent to a quality victory, but that's one of the reasons I drive home the points I do about analyzing teams.

Now that most people accept that Baylor is a bubble quality team, what do they have to do to make the Tournament? At 1-3 in Big 12 play, they'll be in good shape if they can get to 9-9. At 8-10 they'll have an uphill battle in the Big 12 tournament. At 7-11 they'll almost certainly be NIT-bound.

Oklahoma moves to 14-4 overall and 3-2 in Big 12 play, with wins over Iowa State, Texas and Baylor, and without a bad loss. It's a Tournament resume for now, and if they can get to 10-8 in Big 12 play they'll stay in. At 9-9 they'll have to win a game or two in the Big 12 tournament.

Indiana Falls To Northwestern Indiana didn't handle that upset victory of Wisconsin particularly well, falling here to Northwestern. Northwestern is playing pretty good defense this year, but the Indiana offense did absolutely nothing all day. They had a 28.3 eFG% and 0.73 PPP. They had a worse offensive efficiency as recently as February 25th, 2010, but that eFG% was their worst this century. Incredible.

Indiana remains what they are: a bubble team. They're going to have big wins and bad losses. In the end, they'll be in pretty good shape for an at-large bid if they can get to 9-9 in Big Ten play. Right now they're 2-3. A brutal road game at Michigan State is up next. As for Northwestern, they might be the worst team in the Big Ten, but they're not that bad. They play good defense, which means that they should be able to stay in most games. If Chris Collins can get some more talented players (particularly on the offensive end), he could have something pretty good in Evanston in a couple of seasons.

Georgetown's Skid Continues Georgetown's offense has gone from bad to worse. Despite a soft schedule, they've had 1.01 PPP or worse then last four games. They had only 0.92 PPP here, and at 0.95 PPP in conference play they are 9th out of 10 Big East teams. What's the problem? Everything. They turn the ball over a lot, they shoot poorly, they don't get offensive rebounds and they don't get to the line. They need to get Josh Smith and Jabril Trawick back soon or they're going to careen all the way into the NIT.

Georgetown has been one of the most disappointing teams in the nation this season, vastly underperforming expectations. Right now they're 11-6 overall and 3-3 in Big East play, with wins over VCU and Kansas State along with bad losses to Northeastern and Seton Hall. They're going to need to get to at least 9-9 in Big East play to have a shot for an at-large bid, and realistically probably need to get to 10-8. With Creighton and Villanova looming, an upcoming home game against Marquette is crucial.

Utah "Upsets" UCLA This was a classic non-upset "upset". While it might surprise some, Utah was the one point favorite in Vegas. It's not that UCLA is overrated (they're not, really), but Utah is underrated. Larry Krystkowiak's team came into this game 13-4 with no big wins, but all four losses came by three points or less. This win over UCLA is their first win in a close game all season long. That's tough luck. The biggest reason for the turnaround has been defense. In Krystkowiak's three seasons at Utah, they have improved in the Pomeroy defensive efficiency rankings from 215th to 119th to 29th this season. They don't have a dominant defensive player, but they play solid team defense, preventing threes, avoid fouls and boxing out on defensive rebounds.

Can Utah make a run for an at-large bid? It's not out of the question, honestly. They'll need to get to at least 10-8 in Pac-12 play, though. At 3-3 with road games coming up against Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado, that's still an uphill battle.

UCLA falls to 3-2 in Pac-12 play, but have a huge opportunity this coming week, getting Stanford and California at home. A sweep will put them back in the driver's seat for second place in the Pac-12.

Dayton Loses To Richmond Dayton fans will no doubt be unhappy with the officials, losing the free throw attempt battle 35-to-18. But that said, they also committed 8 more turnovers and had 5 fewer offensive rebounds, and it's tough to win when you have 13 fewer possessions than your opponent.

Why do we care about this result? Because Dayton is a bubble team. This loss drops them to 13-5 overall and 1-2 in Atlantic Ten play, with wins over Gonzaga and California to go with bad losses to Illinois State, USC and (arguably) Richmond. Their RPI is up to 51st and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is up to 57th, so they're hanging around the bubble, even after this loss. They'll probably need to get to 10-6 in Atlantic Ten play to earn an at-large bid. Avoiding more bad losses will be key, and a home game against VCU on Wednesday will also be an important opportunity for a quality win.


Anonymous said...

Here's the eerie statistic of the day. Oregon started 13-0 and has lost 3 straight. Iowa State started 14-0 and has lost 3 straight. Ohio State started 15-0 and has lost 3 straight. Wisconsin started 16-0 and has lost 2 straight.

Obviously Wisconsin's going to lose at Minnesota on Wednesday.

Jeff said...

Haha, I have no answer to that. Your logic is impenetrable.