Sunday, February 09, 2014

Morning News: Oklahoma State Debacle, SMU Smokes Cincinnati, Iowa Destroys Michigan, Is Gonzaga A Bubble Team?, And Much More

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Oklahoma State Suffers A Debacle There's so much to talk about this game. I'm going to start with the Smart push, the potential suspension, and then the game itself. First, Marcus Smart pushing the fan... obviously that's a dumb thing to do and it should never happen. At the same time, as I described on twitter, let's chill out moralizing about Marcus Smart. That fan has a history of bad behavior and obviously said something pretty bad. How do any of us know how we would react to that kind of abuse? Will he be suspended? Of course. It's hard to see how Smart doesn't miss at least a few games.

What about the game itself? It's worth noting that this really wasn't that big of a shock. Texas Tech has been solid under Tubby Smith this year, and Oklahoma State's level of play has dropped significantly since losing Michael Cobbins, and even more since losing Stevie Clark.

Is it possible Oklahoma State could fall to the bubble? Shockingly, the answer is "yes". They're now 4-6 in Big 12 play with an extremely short bench. As long as Smart is suspended, their sixth man will be Leyton Hammonds, who basically didn't play before the loss of Michael Cobbins. And after Hammonds? Christien Sager? It's not good. If Oklahoma State goes 9-9 in Big 12 play that will get them into the NCAA Tournament. But if they fall to 8-10, which is increasingly realistic, they will enter the Big 12 tournament on the bubble.

SMU Smokes Cincinnati This game was a blowout early on, with SMU grabbing a 14 point first half lead. Cincinnati's offense was just completely shut down, finishing with a 39.6 eFG% and 0.86 PPP. As mediocre as their offense has been all season long, that's their second worst offensive performance (they had 0.81 PPP in their 64-47 loss to Xavier back in December). This was a huge game in primetime for an SMU program that was invisible for so many years, and they showed up big time.

This is a massive result for SMU. They actually now have a better PPP differential in conference play (+0.13 PPP) than Cincinnati (+0.12). With this win coming a week after their win over Memphis, they have their glamor victories. They're 8-3 in conference play with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is up to 37th. If the season ended now, they'd be easily in the NCAA Tournament, with something like an 8 or 9 seed. What do they need to do the rest of the way? Well, they have four games left against RPI 100+ opponents, and three against the top of the conference (Louisville, Memphis and UConn). They can afford to lose to the top of the league if they can avoid any bad losses. That should be enough to get them in.

What about Cincinnati? Really, nothing, honestly. This Cincy team was long overdue for a loss. They had won their last four games by five points or less. Heading off on the road after a slew of close, big wins, this kind of clunker was kind of inevitable. I know that I personally put a lot of money on SMU to cover the spread. The question is... what now? Does Cincy go back to taking care of business and cruise to an AAC title? Or do they go into a slide (their computer numbers are still significantly weaker than their resume). We'll have to see. The good news is that they have a full week off before getting a home game against Houston.

Iowa Destroys Michigan This was a good old fashioned butt whoopin'. Iowa actually led by as many as 27 at one point, and they were extremely sharp on both ends of the floor. Offensively, they had 22 assists on 29 made baskets and also shot 59% behind the arc. Defensively, they completely bottled up Nik Stauskas (10 points, 0 assists and 4 turnovers), doing a good job of denying him the ball and also easy driving lanes. The Hawkeyes were led by Devyn Marble's 26 points, which included 6-for-10 shooting behind the arc.

The good news for Michigan is that if you put the scoring margin aside, there's no shame in losing at Iowa. Michigan State can easily lose on the road at Wisconsin later today to put the Wolverines right back into a tie for first in the conference standings. But there are real concerns with how they've played the last three games. Teams are focusing on stopping Stauskas and been largely successful (8.3 points per game over this stretch), and Michigan's offense has suffered accordingly. After cracking 1.1 PPP in seven straight games, they've now fallen short of that in two of the last three. They still might be the second best team in the Big Ten, but they're in the middle of a devastating part of their schedule, and could easily rack up a few more losses.

With four Big Ten losses already, Iowa is pretty much out of the Big Ten regular season title race. I do think 14-4 will be sufficient to earn a share of the title, but Iowa will lose again. Their schedule is too difficult. But their ridiculously terrible RPI (they were punished in a big way for playing five teams with an RPI worse than 260th, because the RPI is stupid) is starting to get a little closer to reality. They are now 9-6 against the RPI Top 100 and would probably be something like a 4 seed if the season ended now. With a strong finish, they can easily make the case for a 3 seed, or even a 2 seed.

Is Gonzaga A Bubble Team? This was a stomach punch loss for Gonzaga. They led nearly the entire second half, leading by as many as 12 points. With three minutes left they still led by four. But over those final three minutes? They were outscored 10-0. Kevin Pangos personally shot 0-for-3 behind the arc with a turnover during those three minutes. It was just a stunning turn of events, and it's a loss that really makes Gonzaga look almost like a bubble team.

The Zags beat West Virginia, BYU and St. Mary's, but that's it. BYU is an RPI Top 50 win for now, but Gonzaga could theoretically reach Selection Sunday without a Top 50 win. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is still 23rd and their RPI 22nd, and those are all firmly at-large quality numbers, but the lack of big wins will be held against them on Selection Sunday. If they win out they'll make the NCAA Tournament, but with another couple of losses they really might be staring the NIT in the face.

Memphis already had wins over Louisville and Oklahoma State, but this gives them a third quality win and pushes them to 18-5 overall with a 3-5 record against the RPI Top 50. At this point, they seem like a fairly safe NCAA Tournament team but also seem unlikely to make a serious run at the AAC regular season title. So for the most part they're just playing for NCAA Tournament seed.

Texas Suffers A "Reality Check" Loss To Kansas State Texas had been playing really good basketball the past few weeks. Their Pomeroy rating flew from 66th up to 31st during this seven game winning streak. They were a bit overdue for a clunker. Kansas State's defense is very sound, and they do a really nice job of forcing opponents into a lot of long two-point jumpers. Kansas State forces 35.3% of opponent shots to be two-point jumpers (2nd best in the Big 12), and opponents shoot 31.2% on those two-point jumpers (again 2nd best in the Big 12). Here, Texas took a staggering 62% of their shots as two-point jumpers, hitting only 18% of them.

The good news for Texas is that they've built a solid buffer between them and the bubble. They're still 7-3 in Big 12 play and 9-5 against the RPI Top 100. The key this coming week will be taking care of business at home against Oklahoma State and West Virginia. If they do lose one of those games, a scary road trip the following week at Iowa State and Kansas could potentially start the bubble talk up anew.

Kansas State moves to 6-4 in Big 12 play, with wins over Oklahoma State, Gonzaga, Texas and George Washington, along with the bad losses to Northern Colorado and Charlotte that feel like they happened three years ago. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO has slid up to 33rd. If they can just go 4-4 in their final eight regular season games, that should be plenty to seal up an at-large bid.

VCU Falls To St. Joe's VCU's offense has a tendency to struggle big time when they're not forcing turnovers. Opponents that avoid turnovers tend to be VCU kryptonite (like St. Louis, and Michigan in last year's NCAA Tournament). But that said, you'd assume St. Joe's would be a perfect VCU opponent. They're dead last in offensive turnover rate and offensive steal rate in A-10 play. This should have been a VCU layup line. But... it wasn't. St. Joe's committed only 12 turnovers, an 18.5 TO%. To put that in perspective, that's the third lowest turnover rate St. Joe's has had in 9 A-10 games. Sometimes sports is just weird.

At this point, this loss doesn't put VCU in serious danger of being on the bubble, but they have a brutal schedule upcoming, including a road game at UMass and a home-and-home with St. Louis. They could lock up the A-10 regular season title with a week to go, or they could be out of contention altogether in a couple of weeks. They could go in either direction.

St. Joe's is 16-7 overall and 6-3 in A-10 play, with wins over VCU, UMass and Dayton to go with bad losses to Temple and (arguably) Richmond. They're up to 4-6 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is 46th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 47th. So they're closer to the bubble than most people realize. But most likely they're going to need to do some damage in the A-10 tournament to actually get in.

Xavier Wins Bubble Battle Over Providence We can choose whether or not we blame Providence's six man rotation or the obscene minutes that Bryce Cotton is playing (he hasn't sat in a game in a full month and has averaged more than 40 minutes per game in Big East play), but Providence's level of play has really fallen off the last couple of weeks. After winning five straight, they've lost three of four. Cotton was a relatively impotent 4-for-11 from the field. Providence is still 6-7 against the RPI Top 100, but their computer numbers are rapidly falling out of the Top 50, and they'll have to get to at least 9-9 in Big East play to have a reasonable at-large case.

Xavier broke out of a three game losing streak here. They're now 6-4 in conference play and 7-5 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI up to 36th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 40th. They lack the really premier glamor wins that can get the attention of the Selection Committee, but if they can get to 11-7 in Big East play their overall numbers should get them into the Field of 68 by brute force.

Maryland Torches Florida State's Defense Maryland's offense has quietly been fairly efficient. They're 6th in PPP in conference play and if you factor in their fast tempo they're actually second in the conference in points per game. Florida State has a strong defense, but Maryland was able to open them up with hot outside shooting (Seth Allen was personally 7-for-10 behind the arc). That opened up the paint, and Maryland managed to go 11-for-13 on layups and dunks, fairly stunning numbers against a Florida State team that leads all major conference teams with 48.3% opponent shooting on layups and dunks. The Terps attempted only 14 two-point jumpers, compared to 21 for FSU.

With four losses in their last five games (and the one win coming at home against Virginia Tech), Florida State has been sliding right out of the Field of 68. They're now 5-6 in ACC play with a 4-9 record against the RPI Top 100 and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that has dropped all the way to 61st. If the season ended now, they might be a Tournament team, but more likely than not they'd be relegated to the NIT. The good news is that they still have home games against Syracuse and North Carolina (as well as a road game at Pitt). So they'll get their chances to work their way back into the Field of 68.

Maryland has been lurking near the bubble all season long. They're only 14-10 overall and 2-10 against the RPI Top 100, but 6-5 in ACC play. Their RPI/PUREELO. They'll need to get to at least 10-8 in ACC play to be in at-large contention, and realistically probably need to get to 11-7.

Green Bay Goes Down At Home To Milwaukee This was one of the most surprising results of the day. Green Bay had lost a Horizon League game already, but it had been on the road at Valparaiso and star 7-footer Alec Brown was out. Green Bay had their roster together here, but didn't get a whole lot out of it. Kiefer Sykes (26 points) had a big game, but his teammates combined for a 47.1 eFG% and 45% free throw shooting. Milwaukee got a monster 30 point performance out of senior Jordan Aaron.

Green Bay didn't have a real at-large shot anyway, but this loss could cost them the 1 seed in the Horizon League tournament. Cleveland State is now only one game back in the standings, and will get Green Bay on their home court next Saturday. Milwaukee is now within a half game of third place in the Horizon League. Third place earns a bye into the quarterfinals at the Horizon tournament.

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