Friday, January 17, 2014

Morning News: UConn Wins In Memphis, Ohio State Loses Their Third Straight, UCLA Beats Shorthanded Colorado, Mizzou's At-Large Hopes Dealt A Blow

Well this is depressing.

UConn Pulls Out The Win In Memphis UConn seemed to have this game wrapped up when they led by eight with around 1:20 to go, but three turnovers down the stretch gave Memphis a chance. Memphis promptly blew that chance, going scoreless on four straight possessions (all ugly, including a pair of turnovers). The Huskies ended up sealing the win at the free throw line. In the end, the difference in the game was the paint, where UConn's bigs dominated. The Huskies finished 17-for-24 (71%) in the paint while Memphis finished 11-for-22 (50%).

UConn was reeling after those losses to Houston and SMU, but after squeaking out the win over Harvard they have looked a lot better, crushing UCF and winning here over Memphis. And after looking like a potential bubble team, they now look like a pretty safe Tournament team. They will get a chance against Louisville on Saturday to really put the bubble talk to bed.

Memphis is 12-4 overall and 3-2 in AAC play, with wins over Louisville and Oklahoma State. Even after this loss, they're still contention for the AAC title. It might come down to a home game against Louisville on March 1st. They have to assume that 14-4 will be the conference-winning record, and so they can only afford two more losses if they are going to get a share of the title (they still have road games remaining against UConn, Cincinnati and SMU).

Ohio State Loses Their Third Straight In Ohio State's defense, it's not like any of these three losses have been bad. A loss on the road in overtime to Michigan State is very respectable, and then they lost to an Iowa team that is in the Top 5 of some computer ratings. This road loss at Minnesota isn't quite at that level, but the Gophers are a Tournament team at home - it's certainly not a "bad" loss.

The first problem for Ohio State is that this losing streak has exposed what we knew Ohio State's weakness to be: offense. They haven't broken 1.00 PPP in any of the three losses, and struggled badly with only 0.84 PPP here. Aaron Craft has, over these three games, put up a combined 22 points on 7-for-19 shooting, with 16 assists and 15 turnovers. LaQuinton Ross put up 22 points for the second straight game here, but he continues to be an inconsistent scoring option. Scoring is just a burden for this team.

The second problem for Ohio State, of course, is that their Big Ten regular season title hopes are on life support. It's hard to see how the Big Ten champion will finish with a record worse than 14-4, and it certainly won't be worse than 13-5. With three losses already and a tough schedule remaining (including road games at Wisconsin and Iowa), it's hard to see a path even to 13-5 for Ohio State. But that all said, their defense is still incredible and they're still a Top 10-15 team in the country. The media is going to overreact to three straight losses because all streaks and patterns lend themselves to narratives, but the Buckeyes are still a really good team.

Minnesota moves to 3-2 in Big Ten play and has their biggest scalp of the season, and are still without a bad loss. If they get to 9-9 in Big Ten play, they really should be in pretty good shape for an at-large bid. They have a crazy schedule remaining, but should still be able to get to 9-9.

UCLA Beats Shorthanded Colorado Vegas casinos have a history of just pulling their gambling lines from without thinking, and that happened here, as they ripped KenPom's Colorado-1 line. As I pointed out before this game tipped off, you'll rarely see an easier chance for free money. But I can assure you, I've never taken less joy in making money. It's just sad to see Spencer Dinwiddie gone for the season. Everybody around the Colorado program just seems bummed out.

Colorado actually put up a good fight here. They were still in this game well into the second half. So there's no reason to think that they're just going to roll over and die. The wins they got with Dinwiddie will stay on the resume, and if they can get to 10-8 in Pac-12 play they should be in fairly good shape for an at-large bid. They're now 3-2.

With Oregon reeling and with Dinwiddie done for the season, second place in the Pac-12 suddenly is potentially between UCLA and California. We'll learn a lot about this Bruins team over the next two weeks as they play at home against Stanford and California as well as on the road against Utah and Oregon. If they can somehow get through that stretch 3-1 with a win over California, they'll be the favorites for second place.

Missouri's At-Large Hopes Dealt A Blow In Nashville Even in down years, Vanderbilt is always tough at home. That arena is just so goofy that it's uncomfortable to play in. And with the computers setting Missouri as only a 1.5 point favorite in Vegas, it's hard to call a three point loss shocking. But it's a really tough blow for a Missouri team teetering on the edge of the bubble. Mizzou was undone by 6-for-23 three-point shooting as well as a monster 24 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks by Rod Odom.

Missouri hasn't played a KenPom Top 100 team in SEC play yet, but they're 1-2 anyway, and they've plummeted out of the Field of 68. They have a win over UCLA, but that won't be enough on Selection Sunday. They'll need to get at least one win over Florida and/or Kentucky, and they'll need to start winning games as their SEC schedule gets tougher. Vanderbilt is not realistically in at-large contention, but they could potentially challenge for an NIT spot.

New Mexico State Goes Down To Chicago State No team in the nation entered the season a heavier favorite in their conference than New Mexico State. That's partially because their team is pretty good (potentially on the fringe of at-large contention), but more because of the fact that the WAC has been decimated by conference realignment. That said, they're not invincible, and that's certainly true when 7'5" Sim Bhullar is sitting on the bench with a foot injury. And that's particularly true when an opponent hits 8-for-12 behind the arc.

New Mexico State was an at-large long shot even before this loss. They hadn't been able to pull out a win against any quality opponents in non-conference play (and certainly won't be playing any quality opponents in the WAC), and they have bad losses to Western Michigan, Colorado State and now Chicago State. They remain the heavy WAC favorite, but another loss or two could potentially drop them to something like a 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

No comments: