Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Morning News: Miami Upsets Florida, Gonzaga Smokes SMU, NCAA Tourney Fixes, Colorado Wipes Out Auburn, And More

Angel Rodriguez hits the three to knock off Florida

24 Hours Of Hoops is underway. I hope you're not too sleep deprived. Let's talk about some of the action from last night, as well as very early this morning:

Miami Upsets Florida Florida seemed to absolutely have this game in hand, leading by 14 points with just over eight minutes to go. But the Gators turned into a jump shooting team late, and Angel Rodriguez (yes, the Kansas State transfer) took over down the stretch. Rodriguez scored the final 11 points for Miami, including the clutch three-pointer to give them the lead they'd never give up. Florida had one final chance after the Rodriguez three, but Eli Carter got out of control and committed an offensive foul (a good call by the ref, in my opinion).

Florida was short-handed, of course. Dorian Finney-Smith is out with an injury and Chris Walker is suspended, forcing the Gators to basically only operate a two-man bench. The bad news for Florida is that in March nobody is going to care. Nobody will remember that they were short-handed for that loss in mid-November. Their resume will be their resume. The good news is, they'll have plenty of chances ahead to shore up that resume. Beat Kentucky and win the SEC and nobody will care that Florida lost this game.

For Miami, this game is why I don't understand people who act like the NCAA regular season is meaningless. Coming into this game I had Miami as one of the last teams in the tourney field. A scalp like Florida could mean all the difference for getting into the Big Dance.

Gonzaga Smokes SMU This game was still kind of competitive at halftime, but SMU never really had a chance. And yes, this could have been a great game if Markus Kennedy and Emmanuel Mudiay were available, but they're not. At least Kennedy will be back after the semester ends. But Kevin Pangos always seems to get hot in a November game like this, and he blew this game wide open with 5-for-8 shooting behind the arc. Domantas Sabonis, the son of Arvydas Sabonis, had a nice national television debut with 13 points and 9 rebounds.

The problem for SMU as long as Markus Kennedy is out is that Nic Moore is their only real explosive scorer. He was kept in check here (10 points on 3-for-9 shooting, with 5 assists), and SMU had nowhere else to turn. Things will certainly look a lot better when Markus Kennedy is back. But until then, the Mustangs need to find a way to beat a quality non-conference opponent. Last season they were a better team than at least a dozen teams that earned at-large bids, but they were undone because they had zero non-conference achievements. To get to the NCAA Tournament this season, they need to do something out of conference. They head on the road to face a reeling Indiana team on Thursday.

NCAA Fixes Some Tourney Problems Two of the most annoying things to fans of the NCAA Tournament are going to be fixed. First, we're going back to calling the Round of 64 the "First Round" and the Round of 32 the "Second Round" in 2016. Also, for at least a few years, we won't have any games in football stadiums aside from the Final Four. Basketball games are better in basketball arenas. I think we all can applaud these two changes.

Colorado Wipes Out Auburn Auburn was actually in this game for a half, only trailing by two points early in the second half. But Colorado finished a brutal 48-19 run. At one point, Auburn didn't score a point for more than seven minutes. One can maybe give some credit to the altitude here, as it has been shown that teams at high altitude do have a slightly better homecourt advantage than teams that don't, but really I think this was just a talent differential. Bruce Pearl has a really nice recruiting class coming in next season, but he doesn't have much to work with right now.

Colorado's defense was pretty good last season, but it's at another level so far. They held Auburn to 0.83 PPP after holding Drexel to 0.71 PPP on Friday. This seemed like an NCAA Tournament team preseason, and they certainly look like one now. The question is how this defense looks against Tournament-level competition, and unfortunately we might not know for a while. If you believe in Georgia or Colorado State (I believe in the latter a lot more than the former) then those games are on Colorado's early December schedule. After that, we'll have to wait until the Diamond Head Classic around Christmas.

Florida Gulf Coast Beats UC Santa Barbara Both of these teams were preseason picks by me to win their respective leagues. Neither has much chance to contend for an at-large bid, but results like this could definitely play a role in seeding on Selection Sunday. Also, it gives us a chance to gauge each team against a similar quality opponent. It's also, of course, a chance to watch the stat stuffing Alan Williams, who finished with 29 points and 16 rebounds for UCSB. In overtime, though, it was Brett Comer taking over with six points and one assist. In the end, you never want to draw real conclusions from an overtime game, but this Florida Gulf Coast team is looking more feisty than they perhaps seemed to be preseason.

Winthrop Upsets Clemson Clemson will certainly feel like this win was in their grasp. They earned a significant free throw advantage (39 to 25) and Landry Nnoko dominated the paint (5 blocks), leading to Winthrop shooting a putrid 8-for-19 on layups and dunks. But Clemson's backcourt lacks a real scorer, and they finished with twice as many turnovers (16) as assists (8), and shot only 3-for-13 behind the arc.

The elite defense and putrid offense is a reminder of what Clemson was last season, of course, when Pomeroy ranked them the 20th best defense in the nation while they finished only 13th in the ACC in offensive efficiency. Last year's team went to the NIT, and a loss to Winthrop certainly doesn't put them on good pace for a tourney bid this season. They'll get a chance to bounce back right away, if they can, with a trip to the Virgin Islands starting with a game against Gardner Webb on Friday.

Meanwhile, Winthrop has to put themselves in the Big South conversation with this win. With this win to go with Charleston Southern's win over Ole Miss, it's a better start to the season for a conference that was pretty poor last season.

Iowa State Impresses I wasn't nearly as high on this Georgia State team preseason as others, who were a bit too blinded by big names like Kevin Ware and Ryan Harrow. But Iowa State was shorthanded here, playing without the suspended Abdel Nader and Matt Thomas, and they still whipped Georgia State. Bryce Dejean-Jones made a good impression (15 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists), but the real star was Monte Morris, who had 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting and also led all players with 9 assists. The Cyclones finished with 23 assists on 29 made shots.

So how good is this Iowa State team really? They'll take a step up in competition next week at the CBE Classic, where they'll open with Alabama on Monday and then will face either Maryland or Arizona State the following day.

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