Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Morning News: Michigan Stuns Ohio St, San Diego St's Streak Ends, Texas Embarrasses Oklahoma St, And More


Michigan Stuns Ohio State This was a fairly significant upset. Ohio State was only a 3.5 point favorite in Vegas, but it felt like the line should have been even higher. Surely Aaron Craft would be able to keep Nik Stauskas under control and the Buckeyes team perimeter defense would cut out the threes that Michigan depend on. And to some extent that was true, as Stauskas was held to 15 points and Michigan only attempted 17 three-pointers. But Ohio State just could not score. The Buckeyes hit just 25% of their jump shots, including just 15% of their three-pointers. Michigan also dominated the glass (a 42.4 OR% compared to a 24.2 OR% for the Buckeyes).

Michigan heads into a crucial stretch with Wisconsin at home on Sunday and then a week off before a home game against Michigan State. A sweep in those two games would make them the overwhelming favorite to take the Big Ten regular season title.

This loss drops Ohio State to 6-6 in Big Ten play, but their Big Ten schedule will continue to ease up down the stretch. Up next are Illinois and Northwestern, and they really should be able to get to 10-8 or 11-7 in Big Ten play to avoid any serious bubble concerns.

San Diego State's Winning Streak Ends It's hard to know whether to credit the altitude or not, but San Diego State wasn't at their best here. They were able to physically own the glass (50.0 OR%), but they were sloppy offensively, finishing with nearly twice as many turnovers (13) as assists (7), and shooting 24% behind the arc. Xavier Thames was a brutal 3-for-16 from the field, including 0-for-8 behind the arc.

The reality was, though, that San Diego State was overdue for a game like this. During their 20 game winning streak, a full half of their wins (ten of them) were by eight points or less. Even after this close loss, there is still a big gap between their resume and team quality. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 5th while their PREDICTOR is 22nd. They're very similar to Wichita State in this respect (2nd in PURE_ELO, 20th in PREDICTOR). The difference is that while the Mountain West is down this year, it's still significantly stronger than the Missouri Valley, and so San Diego State's odds of losing a game or two were always going to be significantly higher than for Wichita State.

If San Diego State wins out they'll be in the 1 seed discussion, but probably will end up as a 2 seed. More realistically (since they'll probably lose at least one more game), they're going to end up somewhere in the range of a 2-4 seed. Wyoming, at 6-9 against the RPI Top 200, is unlikely to contend for an at-large bid, but this win pulls them within a game of third place in the Mountain West with a relatively easy remaining schedule.

Texas Embarrasses Oklahoma State The final margin of this game was only 19 points, but that is wildly deceptive. This game was an absolutely demolition of Oklahoma State in every possible way. Texas led by 26 points in the first half, and then by as many as 29 points early in the second half before taking their foot off the pedal. Texas was unstoppable offensively, scoring 1.24 PPP (and it was 1.59 PPP at halftime).

One of the things that this game reminded of us is just how good and important Marcus Smart is. The common media narrative is that he was a monster last year who was a contender for National Player of the Year, but he has dropped off in a big way this season and that this tailspin reached its nadir with the shove of the Texas Tech fan. The only problem with this narrative is that Marcus Smart is actually significantly better this season than he was last season. He is a bad shooter and he can be inefficient... but that was even more true last season. This season he is bearing a larger fraction of the offense and taking more shots, yet his shooting has gotten better, his assist-to-turnover ratio is up, and his efficiency is better.

Last season, Smart only had a 45.5 eFG%. Pointing that out made you a neeeeeeeerd who didn't understand what a great prospect he was, but the reality is that the point of the game of basketball is to make baskets. And lest you think he just got off to a slow start as a freshman, his stats were actually worse later in the season. In February and March, Smart only had a 43.2 eFG% (including 27.8% behind the arc), with more turnovers (52) than assists (51). He's been much better than that this season.

Oklahoma State's season is in a free fall, and they are now 4-7 in Big 12 play and 6-7 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that has dropped to 43rd. If the season ended now they'd be in the Field of 68, but only barely. Unless they get to 9-9 in conference play, they'll have significant work to do in the Big 12 tournament to avoid the NIT.

This win pushes Texas to 8-3 in Big 12 play and in the pole position for second place in the Big 12. Barring a big collapse down the stretch, they're looking safe for an at-large bid. They'll even get a chance on February 22nd to win in Lawrence and challenge for the conference title.

Florida Holds Off Tennessee For An Important Road Victory This wasn't the smoothest game. Florida was a brutal 5-for-27 on two-point jumpers. Scottie Wilbekin led Florida in scoring despite shooting only 5-for-17 from the field (he hit 10 free throws). More than anything, the Gators just outworked Tennessee on the offensive glass, finishing with a 43.9 OR%, which is particularly impressive when you realize that Tennessee leads the SEC in defensive rebounding percentage.

The Gators move to 11-0 in SEC play with their biggest game of the season thus far coming up on Saturday, at Kentucky. They probably won't go 18-0, even if they beat Kentucky, but a win over Kentucky will effectively seal up the SEC regular season title and put them in really good position for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee remains highly ranked in the computers, but they are 0-3 in games decided by 5 points or less. Their bad luck stands out even more when you realize that they're 2-8 in games decided by single digits and 13-1 in games decided by ten or more points. They have wins over Virginia and Xavier, but really could have used another premier win. This is a big opportunity missed. With a Sagarin PURE_ELO that has dropped to 49th, they're very much a bubble team for now.

Notre Dame Upsets Clemson This was a tough game to watch. The two teams combined to shoot 12-for-50 (24%) behind the arc, and KJ McDaniels (30 points) was the only player on either team who could reliably score. But down the stretch, even McDaniels went cold as Clemson's offense ground to a halt. In the final 11 minutes of the game, Clemson shot a brutal 4-for-17 from the field.

Clemson has lost four of six to drop to 6-5 in ACC play and just 8-8 against the RPI Top 200, with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that has plummeted to 79th. If the season ended now, they'd be an NIT team. The good news for them is that they're better than their resume and still have home games against Virginia, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. They're going to need to win one or two of those games and then to get to at least 10-8 in ACC play to have a real chance for an at-large bid.

The Irish have been shorthanded for a while, and had an even shorter bench here with Demetrius Jackson sitting for a vague "academic" reason. But they're well coached and they play hard, and if you don't play well against them they will beat you. This won't be the last quality team that suffers an unfortunate loss to this Irish squad.

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