Sunday, February 23, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Duke Beats Syracuse, Russ Smith Leads Louisville, Wisconsin Steals A Win, And Much More

Rather than lead with the Jim Boeheim meltdown pics we've all seen, I'm leading this Morning News post off with the incredible finish to Stephen F Austin/Northwestern State, with the SFA radio call over the top. This play extended SF Austin's win streak to 22 consecutive games.

New Bracket Projection It's Sunday morning, which means there's a new bracket projection out. The two changes to the Field of 68 are Baylor and BYU moving in while Missouri and Minnesota drop out. There remains a lot of confusion with the 1-4 seeds, and I talk in that post in detail about some of the reasons why. Remember that the next bracket will be out after the completion of Wednesday night's games.

Duke Beats Syracuse In Controversial Finish This game ended up being decided by the refs, which you never want to see. Down by two with under 15 seconds left, CJ Fair attacked the basket and was called for a charge. It probably should have been a blocking foul, and considering that a nearly identical play had been called a blocking foul against Syracuse on the other end of the floor just before, Jim Boeheim lost his mind. It's hard to blame Boeheim for being upset, but at the same time the refs really didn't have a choice but to at minimum tech him up. They ended up giving him two and ejecting him. The thing is, of course, that this is what happens when you're on the road. When these two teams played up in the Carrier Dome a few weeks ago, it was Syracuse getting all the 50-50 calls from the refs and Duke was the team that was furious about it all.

Syracuse has demonstrated over the last week why I've kept them as a 2 seed for a few weeks now, despite their fans calling me a huge hater on all of their message boards. Their finishing schedule is just killer. Unless they win at Virginia on Saturday, they're pretty much assured to finish no higher than second place in the ACC. With at least three regular season losses (and Syracuse is probably now more likely to lose four than three anyway), Syracuse most likely has to win the ACC tournament to earn a 1 seed.

Is Duke in the 1 seed discussion? I guess they kind of are... but they pretty much need to win out. They certainly need to win the ACC tournament to have a real shot. They're only 5-4 against the RPI Top 50 and even after this win their Sagarin PURE_ELO is still only 12th. More realistically, an ACC tournament title will earn them a 2 seed.

Russ Smith Leads Louisville Over Cincinnati Louisville was a 3.5 point favorite at Cincinnati, so despite the media calling this an "upset", the Cardinals didn't even cover the spread. That was honestly a confusing line (the computers had Louisville more like a 1 or 1.5 point favorite), but still, Louisville has been the best team in the AAC thus far, even if it hadn't shown up in the standings (Cincinnati was third in PPP margin in conference play prior to this game). But on the road you never know, and Louisville felt a bit like Syracuse in the way that they got the short stick from the refs most of the game. There were several perplexing calls that all went to Cincy late in the game. But down the stretch, Russ Smith was a monster, first with a beautiful assist to Montrezl Harrell, followed by his game-winning jumper with 2.2 seconds left.

Louisville has had spectacular computer numbers all season long, but had come up short in close games against top opponents. Their crap non-conference strength of schedule also didn't help their cause. They came into this game without a win over an RPI Top 25 foe, which was why their RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO were in the 30s despite their Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings both being in the Top 5. This win helps close that gap a bit, as their PURE_ELO slides up to 23rd. They still have a long way to go, however, to earn better than around a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Road games at Memphis and SMU over the next two weeks will be key for building that resume.

A win here would have effectively wrapped up the AAC regular season title, so it's a tough blow for Cincinnati. But they shouldn't feel too down about their performance. They had a shooting apocalypse in the first half (they finished the half 6-for-31 from the field, but were actually 3-for-27 at one point) and still managed to get close enough to cover the spread. They're still 5-3 against the RPI Top 50 with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 15th. They're still likely looking at a 4 or 5 seed.

Wisconsin Steals A Win At Iowa It felt like the Hawkeyes were in control all second half, but Wisconsin made the big plays down the stretch to escape with their second straight big road victory. Josh Gasser was big with 4-for-5 shooting behind the arc and superb defensive work on Aaron White all game, but the star was again Frank Kaminsky (21 points on 8-for-13 shooting with 7 rebounds). I think it's time to put Frank Kaminsky in play for Big Ten Player of the Year (along with Devyn Marble, Nik Stauskas and Gary Harris, in my opinion).

The finishing schedule is not particularly helpful for Wisconsin. All four games are against teams not in the RPI Top 50, which means Wisconsin won't get much for winning each game, but at the same time all four games are losable (Pomeroy puts their odds of losing at least one game at 62%). Although even if they lose one of those games, they can still potentially make a run at a 2 seed if they can do some damage in the Big Ten tournament.

There's now some panic about Iowa, but I'll say the same thing I've said over and over and over again this season: the Big Ten is really deep and everybody is going to lose a bunch of games. Iowa hasn't lost a game all season long against a team likely to earn worse than a 5 seed, and they're still ranked as one of the ten best teams in the country by both Pomeroy and Sagarin. That said, Iowa does have two tough road games coming up next, at Minnesota and at Indiana (with three games in five days due to the postponement of the game in Indiana). The odds are that they're going to lose at least one of those two, and the sense of panic about them is going to grow even more before it settles back down.

Stanford Picks Up A Massive Win Over UCLA Stanford has been hanging around the bubble for weeks. They had won four of five heading into this game, but they were without a signature victory. No longer, as they handled UCLA all game long. They grabbed a 12 point lead in the first half that they pushed to 14 in the second half. It never really felt like UCLA was going to come back. More than anything, Stanford was just on fire, finishing 55% behind the arc and with a 74.4 eFG%. That marks their best shooting day of the entire season. Chasson Randle led the way, going 7-for-10 behind the arc.

Stanford moves to 9-5 in Pac-12 play with this win. They're now a solid 5-6 against the RPI Top 50, with an RPI up to 40th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO up to 39th. I don't think there's much question that if the season ended now they'd be an NCAA Tournament team. What do they need to go to stay in? I think a 2-2 finish followed by a win in the Pac-12 tournament will probably be enough. Anything less than that, though, and they'll have to sweat out Selection Sunday.

This loss drops UCLA to 10-4 in Pac-12 play, but it's not like they were a serious contender for the Pac-12 regular season title anyway. They're still 7-4 against the RPI Top 50, and while their RPI (12th) is a bit inflated, they'd still likely be a 5 or 6 seed if the season ended now.

Arizona Takes Colorado To The Woodshed With Arizona struggling a bit since the Brandon Ashley injury, and playing a tough game at altitude on the road, Colorado seemed primed for an upset here. Instead, Arizona just ran them off the court. The Wildcats ended up with 19 layups and dunks compared to just 6 for Colorado. Points in the paint were 38 to 14 in Arizona's advantage. Aaron Gordon had another big game, scoring 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the field.

This was a wildly impressive performance by Arizona. Does it mean that they're back to being the best team in the country? They looked like the best team in the country here, but as I always warn, don't overreact to a 40 minute sample size. Before this game they had played five games without Ashley and only one was decided by more than two points in regulation. They're still very thin and vulnerable against an opponent that can draw fouls, particularly on the front court. So I think we need to see this again before believing that Arizona is back to where they were.

Colorado had won five of six before this game to pull themselves into the Field of 68, but really needed this win to firm up their place. They are 9-6 in Pac-12 play and only 3-7 against the RPI Top 50, with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 41st. If the season ended now they'd probably be one of the last teams in the Field of 68. To stay in there, they're going to need to win at least one of their final three games, and probably two. And that's a problem, because all three games are on the road against bubble quality opponents.

San Diego Stuns Gonzaga This game happened in the wee hours of the morning, not even tipping off until midnight eastern time. What made this result so emphatic was that it came despite Gonzaga shooting the ball significantly better than San Diego. Gonzaga shot 46% behind the arc compared to 36% for their opponent, and the eFG%s were 55.6% and 48.9%, respectively. But this game came down to San Diego torching Gonzaga's perimeter defense and getting to the basket and to the line at will. A staggering seven different San Diego players earned between four and six free throw attempts. Johnny Dee led the way with 16 points, and also in mentions on the broadcast. I'm convinced that announcers say "Johnny Dee" 375 times per game simply because it's so damn fun to say "Johnny Dee". He sounds like a doo-wop hit from 1956.

Gonzaga is treading disturbingly close to the Tournament bubble. Their non-conference schedule was atypically poor this season, and with a down WCC they just don't have quality wins. They have one RPI Top 50 win (BYU) along with two RPI 100+ losses (Portland and San Diego). Their RPI is still 31st, but their Sagarin PURE_ELO has dropped to 38th. Once that PURE_ELO drops out of the Top 40, you'll need to sweat out Selection Sunday unless you have a huge bag of quality wins, which Gonzaga does not have. With road games at Pacific and St. Mary's still to go, they're going to need to find a way to sweep those two games. One more loss followed by a loss in the WCC tournament will very likely force them to be very nervous on Selection Sunday about their streak of 15 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

Kansas Annihilates Texas Texas was not a serious contender in the Big 12, and I think everybody expected them to lose to Kansas here, but this game was just a beat down. Kansas finished the first half on a 36-8 run and led by around 30 points for the entire second half. Andrew Wiggins led the way on both ends of the court (21 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks), though none of the Kansas starters played long enough to accumulate too many statistics. 28 of the 60 shots Kansas attempted were either dunks or layups. Texas just put up zero resistance.

Kansas is still very much in the mix for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. To earn one, though, they'll need to win the Big 12 tournament and they can't afford more than one more regular season loss. Road games at desperate Oklahoma State and West Virginia teams will presumably be their toughest tests.

Texas has lost two straight games, though there's nothing wrong with road losses at Iowa State or Kansas. They were underdogs in both games and rightly so. They had won 9 of 10 before these two losses and are still a solid 9-5  in the Big 12. They're still 11-7 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 22nd. Realistically, they'd probably be a 6 or 7 seed if the season ended now, though they can easily slide up or down a couple of seed lines over the next few weeks.

New Mexico Easily Handles San Diego State This wasn't an "upset", despite every newspaper headline calling it such. San Diego State is ranked 6th and New Mexico is unranked, but San Diego State has been lucky in close games and isn't nearly as good as their resume suggests. Vegas had New Mexico as a 3.5 point favorite, which is pretty much in line with what the computers. Still, it was a surprise how much New Mexico dominated this game. They had a double digit lead for the final 17 minutes of the game and led by as many as 23 points.

The issue for San Diego State at times this season has been offense. In fact, their 1.03 PPP is only tied for eighth best in Mountain West play so far this season. They are either last or second-to-last in the Mountain West in eFG%, 3P% and FT% shooting. And here? They managed to top all of that with a season-worst shooting performance (33.8 eFG%) along with a stunningly odd 0-for-3 performance at the free throw line. They are only the 8th Division I team to go a full game this season without hitting a free throw. It's a concern, and the type of thing that can limit San Diego State's ceiling in the NCAA Tournament.

This result means that the Mountain West regular season title will presumably come down to the season finale between these two teams in San Diego. Although one thing to keep in mind with these two teams tied in the standings is that San Diego State has a significantly tougher schedule over the next three games. I'd expect San Diego State to drop a game at either Fresno State or UNLV. So San Diego State would be a 2 or 3 seed if the season ended now, but they could easily lose two or three games the rest of the way and tumble a couple of seed lines if they're not careful.

New Mexico, meanwhile, has basically locked up their own at-large bid. They're 7-4 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that has climbed to 19th. They're just playing for Tournament seed at this point.

Georgetown Wins Big Over Xavier Coming off two straight losses to drop them to 6-8 in Big East play, Georgetown absolutely had to have a win here over Xavier. This win was never going to be enough to get them all the way back into the Field of 68, but at least it wasn't particularly stressful for Georgetown fans. They led by 16 points at halftime, and Xavier never again pulled the game back into single-digits. Georgetown's offense, which has been awfully ugly for big stretches this season, looked really nice here. They committed only three turnovers as a team, and their 1.37 PPP were their most in a Big East game since an 82-67 win over Cincinnati on January 27th, 2007.

The Hoyas are still only 7-8 in a Big East that isn't getting a lot of credit from the media. They have wins over Michigan State, Kansas State, VCU, St. John's, Xavier and Providence, but also have bad losses to Northeastern and Seton Hall (twice). Their RPI is 61st and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 56th. If the season ended now they'd be in serious consideration for an at-large bid, though I think they'd end up in the NIT. Realistically, they're probably going to have to get to 9-9, which means beating Creighton at home and also stealing a road game at either Villanova or Marquette.

Xavier is a bubble team in their own right. This loss drops them to 8-6 in Big East play and just 6-7 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that has dropped to 50th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 46th. Considering the lack of big wins (their win over Cincinnati is their only against an RPI Top 50 opponent), you can make a good case that Xavier would be an NIT team if the season ended now. The good news is that they have home games against Creighton and Villanova still to go, so they'll get a couple of great chances for another big scalp, but they're going to need to get to at least 10-8 in Big East play to have a good at-large case.

Oklahoma Beats Kansas State This game got lost in the shuffle on a busy Saturday, but it could shift both of these teams a seed line or two on Selection Sunday. Kansas State got off to an ugly start, trailing 40-15 with three minutes left in the first half. You have to give them credit for fighting back, though, led by Marcus Foster. Foster, the most underrated freshman in the country, poured in 21 points, including 4-for-7 behind the arc. Overall, though, Oklahoma just shot the ball really well. They hit 45% of their jump shots, including 40% behind the arc.

This win should pretty much seal up Oklahoma's at-large bid. They're now 9-5 in Big 12 play and 7-4 against the RPI Top 50, with an RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO that have both crawled into the Top 25. Unless they lose their final four regular season games, they'll be in the Field of 68.

Kansas State is just 8-6 in Big 12 play and have those two RPI 100+ losses from non-conference play, but they have six RPI Top 50 victories and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is still 32nd. A 2-2 finish should seal up an at-large bid. Anything worse than a 2-2 finish, though, might force them to win a game or two in the Big 12 tournament to avoid having to sweat out Selection Sunday.


Daniel Tappa said...

Your recap of the Wisconsin @ Iowa game is interesting. It's pretty discrediting to say Wisconsin stole this game. After the first few minutes of the game, Wisconsin took control and had the lead for the rest of the first half (leading by 5-10 for most of the half), and Iowa didn't have the lead again until 10:55 left in 2nd half, then the 2 teams played very close until Wisconsin finished them off.

Looking at the game-flow here,, I sure don't understand how Wisconsin "stole" this game, when in fact, they had control of the game for a majority.

Of the projections at, you are the only one with an updated bracket after Saturday that has Wisconsin lower than a 3 seed. Between that, and your total discrediting of Wisconsin's win @ Iowa, it's clear there's something about Wisconsin you don't like.

Jeff said...

Well, I was just giving my subjective impression of watching that entire game. I think my belief that Iowa was in control for the second half of the game until the final two minutes is pretty widespread.

I've talked about the Wisconsin seed quite a bit. Remember, my bracket is a projection, not a measure of where they are now. If the season ended now, I'd have Wisconsin as a 3 seed. But as I said, I don't like their finishing schedule. They're likely going to pick up a "bad" loss, with no chance to earn a good win.

If Wisconsin can somehow win those final four games, I'll probably move them up to a 2 seed - certainly no lower than a 3. But let's see them actually win those final four games first.

Daniel Tappa said...

Iowa's largest 2nd half lead was 4 points (which happened twice and lasted for a game-time total 1 minute and 28 seconds), I don't know what universe that means a team is in control, but it certainly isn't this one.

I hope I'm not sounding overly critical, because I appreciate what you and others do. The bracket projection stuff is fun and I really enjoy the process, but we both know trying to make projections with several games left is very difficult. I just think Wisconsin has one of the most impressive resumes around, and it appears to keep getting stronger.