Monday, February 17, 2014

Morning News: Nebraska Stuns Michigan St, Creighton Smokes Nova, Wisconsin Wins, And Also Temple/SMU, Georgetown/St. John's and Pat Knight

Somebody needs to get Tim Miles a shorter tie. He always looks like a nervous kid standing along the wall at a school dance.

Nebraska Stuns Michigan State Terran Petteway has been a revelation for Nebraska. After playing poorly on the rare occasions he actually got on the court for Texas Tech two seasons ago, he has emerged as one of the most aggressive scorers in the Big Ten this season. He takes bad shots, and so his efficiency isn't great, but he is clearly more responsible for this successful Nebraska season than any other player. Late in this game, three consecutive made baskets for Nebraska were all deep threes by Petteway... and all three were off-balance, and he was fouled (without it being called) on at least one of them.

The announcers calling this game made much of the fact that Nebraska was 1-7 in true road games this season, but that's a bit deceptive. Six of those seven losses came against Pomeroy Top 25 teams, and there's no shame there. This is a big upset, certainly, but there's no reason to view Nebraska as a team that we should expect to have a larger-than-expected home court advantage (like Arkansas, for example).

Is Nebraska a bubble team? It depends what you mean. If I was doing another bracket projection tonight, I'd move Nebraska up one category, into the "Decent resumes..." category. They are 5-7 against the RPI Top 100 with three RPI 100+ losses, and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 70th. If the season ended now they'd be in the NIT, but they're definitely in at-large contention. What do they need to do to get in? At minimum I think they need a 4-2 finish in Big Ten play. A 4-2 finish plus a couple of Big Ten tournament wins can do it.

This is a concerning performance by Michigan State, who seemed utterly perplexed by Nebraska's defense. Keith Appling was fairly ineffective, but he did play a significant number of minutes. Adreian Payne played well and looks fully healthy now. Branden Dawson is still out, but the Spartans are getting closer to being fully healthy. I still think Michigan State is the best team in the Big Ten if they can ever get fully healthy, but this is the type of loss that can end up costing them a 1 seed.

Creighton Smokes Villanova The first time these two teams played this season, Ethan Wragge hit nine three-pointers and Creighton's 21 three-pointers as a team were a new Big East record. This time, Creighton "only" shot 9-for-15 behind the arc while Doug McDermott went for 39 points on 13-for-17 shooting. Overall in these two games, Creighton has had a 73.9 eFG% and 1.46 PPP. Those are just video game numbers. Villanova actually shot 11-for-22 behind the arc and shot 89% at the line for 1.16 PPP and still got annihilated.

Does this mean Creighton is definitely better than Villanova? Well... it depends what you mean. I do think Villanova matches up poorly defensively against Creighton. They're not good at defending the three, and by selling out to stop the three last night they opened up the paint for McDermott, where Villanova has nobody who can defend him one-on-one. At the same time, for the entire season Creighton hasn't been significantly better than Villanova, and these two shooting performances are pretty fluky. If these two teams played again tomorrow on a neutral court, I might make Creighton a 2 or 3 point favorite, but let's not pretend that Creighton is going to shoot 60% behind the arc every time they play Villanova.

Villanova is 10-0 against Big East teams not named Creighton this season (and their only non-conference loss came on the road at Syracuse), but they're now going to have a really difficult time earning the 1 seed in the Big East tournament. Creighton has a 1 game lead and the tiebreak. Creighton's schedule isn't easy, and they could easily lose a game or two, but Villanova's got several losable games as well.

No matter what happens, both Villanova and Creighton are primed for good NCAA Tournament seeds. They're both likely going to earn something between a 2 or a 4 seed. With the carnage going on with the 1 seeds right now, both teams can still make a run for a 1 seed, but they'll probably need some help during Championship Week.

Wisconsin Wins In Ann Arbor Michigan was out of sorts in the first half of this game, falling behind by as many as 18 points in the first half. They made a run in the second half, but just built themselves too large of a hole to pull out of. Frank Kaminsky was dominant for Wisconsin, scoring 25 points (on 11-for-16 shooting) with 11 rebounds, including the clutch three-pointer that was the effective dagger in this game. Caris LeVert continued his breakout season with 25 points, including 5-for-6 behind the arc, but Wisconsin bottled up both Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. One quirk from this game was the fact that these two teams combined to attempt 7 layups and dunks while attempting 101 jump shots. To be fair, Wisconsin actually scored 32 points in the paint in this game, and a 6 foot runner will go into the official boxscore as a "jump shot" rather than a "layup". But still, that's a pretty extraordinary differential.

I've talked about this many times before: don't overreact to a small winning streak or losing streak unless there's an obvious reason why a team should be getting significantly better or worse. So it makes sense that Oklahoma State has gotten significantly worse since losing three players from their original eight man rotation. But if you think teams are regularly getting dramatically worse or better every couple of weeks, you're just bad at judging teams. There was massive overreaction to Wisconsin's five losses in six games, which were mostly due to a couple of statistically fluky shooting days, some bad luck in close games and the fact that the Big Ten is really deep (there are no easy games). There was no reason to believe that they weren't still one of the best teams in the Big Ten, and with four straight wins they are right back on track.

Michigan has a week to get ready for their biggest game of the season thus far, at home against Michigan State. A win there will put them a game clear in the Big Ten standings with the tiebreak, and make them the clear favorite for the Big Ten regular season title. A loss won't knock them out of contention, though, as Michigan State has the tougher remaining schedule.

Temple Upsets SMU SMU had been playing really good basketball over the past four or five weeks, and perhaps they were due for a letdown game. And they didn't play well here, shooting poorly from deep (2-for-10 behind the arc), leaving points at the line (54%) and getting beating badly on the boards (12 offensive rebounds for Temple vs 4 for SMU). And while Temple entered this game 1-10 in AAC play, the reality is that they're better than their record. They came into this game 3-9 in games decided by seven points or less. Vegas appears to sense a letdown game also, as casinos had the line for this game between 7.5 and 8.5 points despite the fact that the various computer ratings had the line closer to 11 or 12.

The good news for SMU is that they built up a buffer between them and the bubble that even a loss to Temple can't pierce. Their RPI is only 49th, but they're 3-3 against the RPI Top 50 and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 39th. If the season ended now they'd definitely be in the Field of 68. They've got three difficult games and two easy games remaining. If they can take one of the three difficult games and avoid any more bad losses, that should be enough to get them Dancing.

St. John's Crushes Georgetown This game was never competitive. After 8 possessions, St. John's led 15-0, and by halftime the lead was up to 18. Georgetown made a little run in the second half, briefly getting as close as 7, but it was just too large of a deficit to overcome. Georgetown's defense has actually been pretty good this season at keeping opponents away from the rim - opponents take only 34.9% of their shots at the rim, which is well below the national average. But D'Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan torched the Georgetown perimeter defense at will. The two combined for 48 points on 15-for-26 shooting, including 14 free throw attempts.

Both of these teams are hanging around the bubble, and this is a huge result for the Johnnies. They've won 7 of their last 8 Big East games, and are now 17-6 overall with wins over Creighton, Marquette, Providence and Georgetown, along with bad losses to DePaul and Penn State. They're only 1-5 against the RPI Top 50, but their Sagarin PURE_ELO is up to 41st. Historically, it's very rare for a team inside the PURE_ELO Top 40 to miss out on an at-large bid - it happens maybe once per year - so the Johnnies might actually be in the Field of 68 if the season ended now. What do they need to do the rest of the way? I think a 3-2 finish and then a win or two in the Big East tournament will more likely than not earn St. John's an at-large bid.

Georgetown had won four straight after their five game losing streak, but this loss drops them back down to 6-7 in conference play and 5-8 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that is 58th. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 46th, and that's right around where teams are 50/50 to earn an at-large bid. But my guess is, based on their rest of their resume, that if the season ended now Georgetown would be in the NIT. They're going to have to go at least 3-2 down the stretch to earn an at-large bid, and realistically have to go 4-1 or else they'll have to do a lot of damage in the Big East tournament. Thursday's game at Seton Hall is one to watch out for, as the Hoyas will probably be a one or two point underdog but really have to win or risk careening off the bubble altogether.

Lamar Fires Pat Knight Well, I suppose the only surprise is that Lamar didn't wait until the end of the season to fire Pat Knight. He took a senior-laden squad to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, but they've been a horrific 6-50 since, with zero signs of improvement. You generally don't like to see college coaches fired midseason, but if this season was getting toxic in the locker room then you've got to pull the plug.

Pat Knight is still a young guy, but at this point he's got to go be an assistant somewhere or he's got to work at a non-Division I school. I just don't see how you can give the reins of your team to a guy who has failed so badly in his first two stops, and who hasn't shown the ability to run a program. If I was an AD, I wouldn't hire him for his "worst group of seniors right now that I've ever been associated with" rant alone.

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