Friday, February 07, 2014

Morning News: Cincinnati Wins Another Close One, Arizona Underwhelms, And LSU Suffers An Ugly Loss

Justin Jackon's chin-jutting scowl is becoming my favorite celebratory move in college basketball. It's just fantastic. This photo is actually from a few weeks ago, but I couldn't find a good one from last night.

Cincinnati Wins Another Close One UConn was always going to be a tough match-up for Cincinnati, even at home. UConn's length and athleticism forces opponents out of the lane and turns them into jump shooters. Cincinnati's 29.1% shooting on two-point jumpers this season is only 334th best in the nation. The Bearcats did shoot fairly well, though, finishing 50% on two-pointers. Sean Kilpatrick was an absolute monster down the stretch, though. He finished 5-for-8 behind the arc with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists. I've talked about this on twitter, but Sean Kilpatrick has the same problem that Russ Smith has, in that earlier in his college career he was a gunner who took too many shots, but has now turned into a very efficient scorer. But because the media gets stuck in their narratives, both Kilpatrick and Smith don't get nearly enough credit for their current quality of play. Sean Kilpatrick not being on the midseason Wooden midseason Top 25 list (along with Lamar Patterson, for that matter) remains laughable.

Cincinnati has certainly had some good luck lately. They've won four straight games by five points or less. Their Sagarin ratings demonstrate that, as they're now 7th in the PURE_ELO and 23rd in the PREDICTOR. Remember, though, that the college basketball regular season is a relatively small sample size, and it's looking increasingly likely that Cincinnati will have a really nice resume on Selection Sunday, even if they're not quite as good as their resume. They could be a 3 seed that's an underdog against a 6 seed, for example. They do still have to play SMU, UConn, Louisville and Memphis, however, with two of the four games on the road. So they'll have chances to lose.

Despite only being 5-4 in AAC play, UConn still has a pretty nice buffer between them and the bubble. They have wins over Florida, Memphis, Harvard and Indiana to go with a bad loss to Houston.  Their RPI is still 32nd and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 29th. Just a 5-4 finish down the stretch should be plenty to get them Dancing.

Arizona Underwhelms Against Oregon This was a poorly played game by both teams, particularly down the stretch. As I've talked about already, the problem with Brandon Ashley out for Arizona isn't the starting lineup, which doesn't really lose much. The problem is depth, as Arizona had only been playing a seven man rotation. They continued with the seven man rotation here, bringing in Elliott Pitts, the lesser known third member of their 2013 recruiting class (Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson being the other two). He played okay, but Arizona still had significant foul difficulties despite the fact that homecourt afforded them a favorable whistle (only 14 fouls, compared to 22 for Oregon). When Arizona gets a quicker whistle on the road, that's when their depth (particularly in the front court) is really going to be tested.

Arizona should be comforted by the fact that they had a horrific shooting day (25% on threes, 54% at the line) that is unlikely to be too common. But they're going to struggle against teams that, unlike Oregon, can attack the post and know how to take advantage of opponents in foul trouble. It would be a mistake to overreact to a 40 minute sample size without Brandon Ashley, but so far Arizona hasn't impressed.

Oregon's offense was a disaster down the stretch, taking stupid shots and committing stupid turnovers, and also missing three straight free throws in the final 30 seconds. They'll really regret the lost opportunity here. They are now only 3-7 in Pac-12 play and 1-4 against the RPI Top 50. If they can somehow get to 9-9 in Pac-12 play, their strong non-conference performance will probably be enough to get them to the NCAA Tournament, but that's looking like a bit of a long shot. Their road game at Arizona State on Saturday is almost a must-win.

LSU Suffers An Ugly Loss This was an ugly game for LSU in every way. Teetering on the bubble, this is a terrible loss to a bad Georgia team. And it came with refs blowing a very tight whistle. LSU's starting lineup committed 22 fouls alone. As a team, LSU had more fouls (33) than made baskets (27). Georgia finished 32-for-46 at the free throw line.

LSU is now 5-4 in SEC play with wins over Kentucky and Missouri to go with bad losses to Alabama, Rhode Island and now Georgia. Their RPI has plummeted over the last few weeks to 64th, and their Sagarin PURE_ELO has dropped all the way to 68th. Unless they win at Kentucky or Florida, it's going to be awfully hard to see LSU making the Tournament without at least 11 wins in SEC play (a 6-3 or better record down the stretch). They'll also probably need a run in the SEC tournament. Meanwhile, Georgia won't be earning an at-large bid but this win gets them into a tie for fourth place in the SEC.

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