Sunday, November 30, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Old Dominion Upsets VCU, Harvard Defeats UMass, George Mason's Buzzer Beater, And More

The All-America candidate nobody is talking about.
New Bracket Projection There is no change to the Field of 68 in my newest bracket projection, though plenty of teams moved up or down a seed line or two. As I talk about in the projection, however, I do think that there are more contenders near the top of the bracket than you might think.

Old Dominion Upsets VCU At this point, we all know the formula every time VCU has a bad result. They never end up forcing enough turnovers, and if it's a particularly bad result (like this one) there is also an outside shooting disparity. On cue, VCU forced only 12 turnovers (including just 5 steals), and shot just 32% behind the arc compared to 53% for Old Dominion (and VCU was actually just 23% on threes before Melvin Johnson and Treveon Graham combined to hit three straight in the psuedo-garbage time of the final 30 seconds).

Over the past four seasons, VCU is 64-5 when forcing turnovers on at least 25% of their opponent's positions, but just 22-22 when they don't. This season, they're at 4-0 when forcing turnovers on at least 25% of their opponent's positions, vs 0-2 when they don't. They were at 18.5% here. It's a very simple formula. It's basically the only statistic you have to keep track of when watching VCU games.

VCU plays a tough game on the road against Illinois State next, but after that is their real test, at home against Virginia. The Cavaliers have been good at taking care of the ball under Tony Bennett, but VCU really needs to get that victory. The Atlantic Ten is down this season, and it's not going to be as easy as usual for VCU to collect quality wins in conference play.

Old Dominion is now 5-1 with wins over VCU, LSU and Richmond along with just a loss to Illinois State. It's a reasonably impressive resume thus far, though also a fairly small sample size to see whether these results are a fluke or something real. They have a reasonably tough test upcoming on the road at George Mason on Wednesday.

Harvard Defeats UMass This game had a really good finish. Neither team led by more than three points in the final 17 minutes. And on the final possession, UMass had the time to set up a nice three-point look for Trey Davis at the buzzer that would have won the game but that just rolled off the rim.

Cady Lalanne faced intense pressure all game long, and committed 6 turnovers despite his 13 points and 13 rebounds. UMass is now 5-2, without a bad loss but without any good wins either. They still get to play on the road at Providence and BYU, but winning both of those games is unlikely, so they're likely going to enter Atlantic Ten play with a lot of work left to do.

Wesley Saunders is quietly putting up All-America-type numbers for Harvard so far this season. With 27 points (on 10-for-13 shooting), 3 rebounds and 3 assists here, he's now at 21.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game on the season. And he's doing it efficiently, with a 57.3 eFG%, 83.3 FT% and a 2.2-to-1 A/TO ratio. Harvard's loss to Holy Cross is going to make it very hard for them to compete for an at-large bid (remember, Harvard has to lose at least twice in Ivy League to fail to earn the auto bid), but they're the heavy favorite to win the Ivy League. The top competition is looking weaker than it appeared preseason.

George Mason's Remarkable Buzzer Beater The Manhattan/George Mason game won't end up playing into any team's at-large chances, but it featured one of the most remarkable buzzer beating victories that you'll ever see. That's Jalen Jenkins of George Mason hitting the 75 footer at the buzzer for the one point victory.

Cincinnati Loses To Ole Miss This was a "Just one of those days" games for Cincinnati. They shot 2-for-19 behind the arc and finished with a 32.1 eFG%. They dominated the glass (a 50.0 OR%), so if they just could hit a jump shot they would have won... but they couldn't.

Mick Cronin has never really had a team that shot the ball well at Cincinnati, but the last four seasons or so he's had an elite defense. So far this season, Cincy's defense has been good, but not great. They allowed 1.17 PPP here, but also gave up 0.99 PPP to NC Central, 0.97 PPP to Middle Tennessee and 0.94 PPP to Morehead State. That's okay... but not what they were last season. They have some newcomers who have the chance to develop into explosive scorers someday (Farad Cobb, Octavius Ellis and Gary Clark have all shown flashes), but for now their offense just isn't good. And their defense isn't playing well enough to make up for it.

Mississippi now has back-to-back wins over Creighton and Cincinnati, and they're starting to put that terrible Charleston Southern loss in the rearview mirror. Which is the real Ole Miss team? We don't know yet. They play TCU next, and then head on the road to Oregon next Sunday. The SEC is so wide open, that it's easy for Ole Miss to make a run near the top of the league if these Creighton and Cincinnati performances are a sign of things to come.

Referee Knocked Out I don't think I've ever seen this before, but it happened to referee Rick Crawford on the opening tip of Vanderbilt/La Salle. He ended up having to be removed on a stretcher.

Rutgers Scores 26 Points Virginia was always going to win this game easily, and so the result wasn't a surprise. We also knew that Rutgers would struggle to score against Tony Bennett's defense. But 26 points? A 25.0 eFG%? 0.48 PPP? Well, all we can do is put those stats in perspective:

The 26 points tied Savannah State (against Louisville) for the fewest by a Division I team so far this season. The 25.0 eFG% was the second worst by a major conference team, ahead of just Kansas's 22.3% against Kentucky. Four teams have done worse than 0.48 PPP in a game so far this season, but all from small conferences. The next worst scoring performance by a major conference team was Auburn's 0.56 PPP in their 53-35 loss to Tulsa.

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