Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Morning News: Tar Heels Beat Florida St, Baylor Wins A Bizarre Game, Plus Delaware/Towson and Keith Appling

I don't think Travis Ford had a gameplan preseason that involved Phil Forte as a primary playmaker.

Tar Heels Win In Tallahassee Florida State jumped out to an early 17-3 lead in this game, but a quick whistle from the refs didn't work in their favor. North Carolina has a lot more depth than the Seminoles, and the foul trouble for Michael Ojo and Okaro White was a particular problem. Florida State is a poor defensive rebounding team to begin with, and playing much of the game without their two best defensive rebounders meant that it was a free-for-all for the Tar Heels, who finished with a 38.9 OR%.

Much was made on the broadcast of James Michael McAdoo fouling out with no points, but that was vastly overplayed. The media still treats him like a superstar, despite the fact that he really just isn't an elite player. If anything, him on the bench meant more time for Kennedy Meeks, who was suprb (23 points on 11-for-12 shooting). Marcus Paige is UNC's primary playmaker, and despite a slow first half he got going with three huge three-pointers in the second half, finishing with 20 points and 7 assists.

This could be the loss that costs Florida State an NCAA Tournament bid. They are now only 6-8 in the ACC and 5-10 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO that have both dropped out of the Top 65. Their best win all season is VCU. So if the season ended now, there's no question Florida State would be an NIT. So to make the NCAA Tournament? They will need to win that season finale over Syracuse and go at least 3-1 over their final four games. And even if they achieve that, they'll still have work to do in the ACC tournament.

North Carolina has won seven straight to move to 8-4 in ACC play and 9-5 against the RPI Top 100, with computer numbers across the board that are beginning to creep into the Top 25. At this point, they're basically just playing for Tournament seed. Depending on how they finish, they're probably heading for something in the 4-6 seed range.

Baylor Wins A Bizarre Game Over Oklahoma State Travis Ford has gotten a whole lot of criticism for Oklahoma State's collapse, though I'm not totally sure it's quite fair. The roster has been absolutely gutted. The team was playing like a Top Ten squad until losing Michael Cobbins to injury. The Stevie Clark incident and the Marcus Smart suspension have left Ford with just five players left from his original eight man rotation.

Leyton Hammonds isn't a terrible guy off the bench to play sixth man, but once foul trouble started hitting this team, their roster just became a joke. This game was summed up by Mason Cox managing to get himself in foul trouble with 3 fouls in 5 minutes played in the first half. Mason Cox is a former soccer player who started his college career as a scout team player for the Oklahoma State women's team. Now a senior, he came into this game with a career total of 27 minutes and 3 points. Marek Soucek was another player who came on that I'm pretty sure nobody had heard of before. Travis Ford could have put team managers on the court and nobody would have been able to tell the difference. Phil Forte, who is basically a Brady Heslip style spot-up shooter when Oklahoma State has their starting lineup on the court, was pressed into service as the team's second best offensive playmaker after Markel Brown for about a ten minute stretch.

Watching Scott Drew coach this game was infuriating. He has a pair of front court players who will be in the NBA (and who have a decent chance of being drafted in just a few months) and they were being guarded by walk-ons and scout team players who were clearly completely in over their heads, so naturally Baylor was happy to chuck long jump shots all game. How they didn't just iso whoever was being guarded by Mason Cox on every possession was baffling. Oklahoma State actually took a ten point lead early in the second half, and this might have been the most embarrassing loss of Scott Drew's tenure if they hadn't come back to win in overtime.

This wasn't a pure Tournament elimination game, but the loser of this game was going to be in a deep at-large hole. I think both of these teams will have strong at-large cases if they get to 8-10 in conference play, but it's very rare for a team four games under .500 in conference play (i.e. 7-11) to earn an at-large bid. Baylor is now 5-8, but with three of their final five on the road against Tournament/bubble teams, starting with a road game at West Virginia on Saturday. Oklahoma State drops to 4-9, though with a relatively easier schedule. The home games against Kansas State and Kansas are now basically must-wins to get them to 8-10.

Delaware Falls To Towson I haven't talked about the Colonial too much this year. The league hasn't fared well in conference realignment, and even the historically stronger teams in the league are having down years. The dominant team, however, has been Delaware. They didn't collect any big scalps in non-conference play, but they did come really close, taking Villanova, Notre Dame, Richmond and St. Bonaventure down to the final minute of a road game. They had opened up conference play 11-0, including wins over all over their top rivals, such as a home victory over Towson. Towson got revenge at home here, however. Towson leads the Colonial in defensive 2P% and eFG%, and Delaware was bottled up, finishing with a 35.0 eFG%. That makes this Delaware's worst shooting performance of the entire season.

Delaware is still the overwhelming favorite to win the Colonial regular season title. They have a two game lead over Towson with four games to go. But Towson is now emerging as Delaware's toughest challenger for the Colonial tournament title. In fact, Towson now has a better PPP differential in conference play (+0.12 PPP) than Delaware (+0.08). It's not a significant difference, and both Pomeroy and Sagarin still rate Delaware as the slightly better team overall, but we could see a really fun game between these two teams for the Colonial's auto bid.

Keith Appling Done For The Regular Season? Keith Appling played on Sunday after missing about two weeks due to a wrist injury. He played 19 minutes but was largely ineffective, and now Tom Izzo is suggesting possibly shutting him down for the rest of the regular season to try to get him healthy for the NCAA Tournament. Missing Appling doesn't just cost him his production, but has had a dramatic effect on Gary Harris, who was looking like the Big Ten Player of the Year up until two weeks ago, but has had his stats decline precipitously as perimeter defenses have focused their efforts on shutting him down.

I've talked all season about the need for Michigan State to prioritize getting fully healthy over anything else that can happen in the regular season. A loss on Sunday at Michigan will likely cost them the Big Ten regular season title, and realistically could cost them a 1 seed as well, but I still believe that if they can ever get fully healthy that they're the best team in the country. So Michigan State fans need to hope that somehow this can all work out and all of these players missing all of this time now will pay off when everybody is healthy when the Round of 64 tips off.

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