Friday, February 28, 2014

Morning News: Arkansas Stuns Kentucky, Penn St Knocks Off Ohio St, Indiana Upsets Iowa, Duqesne/St. Louis And Much More

The ugly finish to Utah Valley and New Mexico State which generated a whole lot of #HOTSPROTSTAKES about court storming.

Arkansas Stuns Kentucky It's pretty amazing that Arkansas won a game on the road at a really good Kentucky team and not a single person who watched the game thought they played well. Both of these teams just made a staggering number of bone-headed mistakes. The teams combined for 38 turnovers (vs only 19 assists) and 37 offensive rebounds. Kentucky had six or seven dumb alley-oop lobs that didn't work out, including a crucial one in the final 45 seconds with the Wildcats holding a two point lead. The two teams combined for five turnovers in overtime, but the difference ended up being Arkansas hitting six consecutive free throws.

What does this win mean for Arkansas? A lot, obviously. They've won six of seven to get to 8-7 in SEC play and 7-8 vs the RPI Top 100, with a sweep of Kentucky to go with wins over SMU, Minnesota and Clemson. That said... there's a little bit of overreaction in the media about this. I heard a few folks (including ESPN's postgame team) saying Arkansas was now a Tournament "lock". Everybody will, of course, forget that they said any of that in a few days. The Razorbacks still have bad losses to Texas A&M and Georgia, with an RPI that is 59th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 61st. So you can maybe argue for Arkansas in the Field of 68 if the season ended now, but I'd argue against you, and they still have a lot of work left to do regardless. Unless they win their final three regular season games (and they probably won't win their final three regular season games), they're going to have to win at least one (and probably two) SEC tournament games.

Kentucky has fallen a long way from the dumb 40-0 hype preseason. If Missouri (currently 48th in RPI) struggles down the stretch, Kentucky has a real chance to enter Selection Sunday with a single win over the RPI Top 50. With a Sagarin PURE_ELO that has slid all the way to 26th they're at real risk of dropping into a 7/10 or 8/9 game in the NCAA Tournament. But they'll be a very dangerous team if they do, not because of the typical narratives but simply because they're better than their record. They're 2-6 in games decided by five points or less, and are still a Top 15-20 team according to both Sagarin and Pomeroy.

Penn State Knocks Off Ohio State I feel like I've said this a million times this season (and be prepared, it's coming again later down this blog post), but the Big Ten is really deep. There are no bad teams, and it's absolutely ridiculous to freak out about close road losses. It's just not that bad of a performance to lose to absolutely any Big Ten team on the road. That's not to say Ohio State will be happy with their performance (they left a ton of points at the free throw line and only shot 5-for-17 behind the arc), but if they played like this at home against DePaul or Oregon State they'd have won easily.

Ohio State is now 9-7 in Big Ten play with two difficult games remaining (at Indiana, vs Michigan State). If they do somehow drop to 9-9 in Big Ten play, their tourney seed could slide to something like an 8 or 9, which would make them a very scary team to end up in your region. I don't think that even a 9-9 Ohio State team, however, would have to really worry about the bubble.

Indiana Upsets Iowa Iowa fans: Read the first paragraph to the Penn State/Ohio State recap right above this recap. Iowa hasn't had a "bad" loss all season long, and every single loss has come down to the final minute. The fact that Iowa has had some bad luck in close games doesn't change the fact that they're still most likely one of the 20 best teams in the country, and that they have a chance to be a dangerously under-seeded team on Selection Sunday.

As for this game itself, people saw the high score and assumed "horrific defense", but in fact the defenses weren't particularly bad. What made this game unique was its high tempo. The 83 possessions made it the fastest paced Big Ten game since a staggering 91 possession game played by Michigan and Iowa on March 1st, 2000. That tempo gave Indiana 1.12 PPP, which is more than Iowa would want to give up, but not significantly above the 1.04 PPP average by all teams in Big Ten play so far this season. Indiana also took 38 free throws, which also helped their cause. The star was Will Sheehy, who went for 30 points. Iowa was a rough 4-for-19 behind the arc.

Indiana absolutely had to have this win. They're 6-9 in Big Ten play now knowing that they need to get to 8-10 to have a realistic at-large chance. They now head into a monster home game against Ohio State on Sunday. Considering the fact that they close the regular season on the road at Michigan, they really need to win that game against the Buckeyes. The Hoosiers already have wins over Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, so a win over Ohio State would really look nice relative to other bubble teams. Getting to 8-10 wouldn't be sufficient to go Dancing, but it would put them in position to get there if they can do some damage in the Big Ten tournament.

Duquesne Shocks Saint Louis It goes to show you just how damn hard it is to go undefeated in conference play. Sometimes you're just not going to play well, and St. Louis just had one of those games here. What was particularly surprising were the defensive breakdowns. Duquesne had a 50.9 eFG% and scored 1.08 PPP, including 46 points in the second half. It's only the fifth time all season a team has had an eFG% over 50% vs Saint Louis, and three of those five games ended up as SLU's three losses this season.

What does this say about Saint Louis? What does it say about the Atlantic Ten? About the conference, I don't think it really means anything. I don't see how this significantly impacts the bubble hopes of teams like George Washington. But certainly St. Louis will slide a line or two in the brackets with this loss. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is still top ten, but the lack of big scalps will be a problem on Selection Sunday. With a tough finish to their season, including road games at VCU and UMass, the Billikens could easily slide to a 6 or 7 seed if they're not careful.

Oregon Beats Shorthanded UCLA This game proved that close, exciting games are not necessarily well-played games. This game was ugly throughout, and Oregon had a brutal meltdown in the final minute of regulation. Perhaps the most confusing play was the final one in regulation, where up by two with 1.3 seconds to go and UCLA lacking any timeouts, Oregon's Joseph Young hit a free throw. Oregon's defense then totally fell asleep and allowed David Wear time to get totally lost down court for an open three that he hit to send the game to overtime.

Now first of all, you have to miss the free throw there. A bunch of folks on twitter were trying to argue for making that free throw, and it comes down to a really bad understanding of math. But it's not even clear if Young was trying to make it or not - he might have tried to miss it and made it anyway. But then how does the defense break down so badly? And yes, Oregon fans, Bryce Alford clearly was defending the previous inbounding play from out of bounds.... but, you know, Pac-12 refs late in close games, and all that.

This game was a perfect opportunity for Oregon that they needed to have. UCLA's two best players (Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson) were suspended. The Selection Committee has almost never taken into account teams losing a bunch of games with a key player injured, and they're certainly not going to take into account whether a win is "tarnished" by the opponent missing players. Even if any non-UCLA/Oregon fans remember on Selection Sunday that UCLA was missing two key guys for this game, there's no chance it'll come up in the actual Selection Committee.

Oregon needed to get to at least 8-10 in conference play to have an at-large shot, and this win now gets them to 7-9. They only have two RPI Top 50 wins, but their RPI is 32nd and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 44th. If they go 8-10 in Pac-12 play and win a game or two in the Pac-12 tournament, that really could be enough to sneak them into the Field of 68, despite the fact that they lost eight of ten games at one point.

Memphis Closing In On The Bubble? It was a rough night for ranked teams. Memphis just didn't get a good performance from their backcourt here. Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford combined for 2-for-11 shooting from the field. Shaq Goodwin was dominant down low (16 points and 10 rebounds), but it's not a good game for Memphis for Goodwin is their offensive star. LJ Rose was the facilitator for Houston, collecting ten assists to only one turnover.

Memphis was ranked coming into this game, but I don't really understand why. They're a lot closer to the bubble than most people realize. They have wins over Louisville, Gonzaga and Oklahoma State, but are only 4-6 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that has slid out to 49th. And they have a brutal finishing schedule, taking on Louisville then heading on the road to play Cincinnati and then closing at home against SMU. If they lose two of three (perhaps the most likely scenario, honestly), they'll enter the AAC tournament still having work left to do to earn an at-large bid.

Georgetown Loses A Bubble Battle To Marquette It's just been that kind of season for Georgetown, hasn't it? They just can't catch a break. They had multiple chances in the final minute here, including an excruciating D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera shot at the buzzer that rolled all the way across the rim before rolling out.

This was a disjointed game, with 51 fouls and 64 free throw attempts. Marquette didn't have anybody foul out, but Georgetown loses Moses Ayegba and Nate Lubick, and was close to running out of big guys. Against a depleted Georgetown front line, Davante Gardner exploded for 26 points.

Georgetown drops to 7-9 in Big East play. They have wins over Michigan State, VCU, Kansas State and Xavier, but the losses are really mounting. Their RPI is now 65th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is only 58th. They have games remaining against Creighton and at Villanova, but they might have to win both of those to get back into the Field of 68. At this point, I don't think a split will be enough.

With five wins in their last six games, Marquette is making a final charge for an at-large bid. They're up to 9-6 in Big East play with wins over Xavier, Georgetown (twice) and Providence to go with a bad loss to Butler. They're only 5-10 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is only 73rd, but their Sagarin PURE_ELO is a much more bubbly 48th. If Marquette can get to 11-7 and then win a game in the Big East tourney game, that really should be enough to get them in.

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