Saturday, November 22, 2014

Morning News: Texas Wins Without Taylor, Syracuse Escapes Iowa, UConn Handles Dayton, Danuel House And More

Cornell's heartbreaking loss to Penn State last night

Texas Wins Despite Losing Taylor The Isaiah Taylor injury was presented last night as a possible "day to day" injury, but it now looks like he'll be out for four to six weeks. That should have caused a problem against California, with their lack of backcourt depth, but Texas owned the paint to the point that California barely even dribbled the ball in there during the first half. The Longhorns blocked 9 shots, had a 47.6 OR% (compared to 32.4% for California), committed ten fewer fouls and held Cal to 32.7% two-point shooting. When Cal finally attacked the paint in the second half, more often than not it was an out-of-control drive by a careening Tyrone Wallace.

Texas will play UConn next weekend, but the real interesting game coming up is the Kentucky match-up on December 5th. It's a shame that Isaiah Taylor will miss it, but it will be fascinating to watch the two huge front lines go up against each other.

Syracuse Escapes Iowa Syracuse opened up a 15 point lead with under 12 minutes left in this game, but Iowa actually got back in this game with defense, holding the Orange without a made field goal for more than six minutes (a stretch during which Syracuse had four turnovers). Just like the California game, Syracuse just didn't get very much from their perimeter options. Unlike the California game, Rakeem Christmas was able to minimize his foul trouble. He still picked up four fouls, but he managed to play 33 minutes, giving Syracuse a strong paint scoring option inside, as well as a defensive weapon. The other breakout star for Syracuse here was 6'10" freshman Chris McCullough, who poured in 20 points while controlling the paint with 9 rebounds and 3 blocks.

Iowa's offense was disjointed all game here. It was better than the Texas game, but not much better. They did turn more to Jarrod Uthoff as the game wore on, and it paid off. Uthoff finished with 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting. But Iowa's backcourt players just haven't seemed to have gotten any better with another year of seasoning. For now, Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff are going to have to run a lot of the offense themselves.

Iowa has a tough road game coming up at North Carolina for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. If they don't pull the upset there, their final chance for a quality non-conference win will be their rivalry game against Iowa State on December 12th. This is not at all the way the Hawkeyes expected to start the season.

UConn Handles Dayton The story coming out of this game for UConn is probably Amida Brimah and his defensive control of the paint. He had five blocks by himself. But as good as he was defensively, the real story for me is that Ryan Boatright got more help from his teammates. When UConn was struggling with Bryant and College of Charleston, there were way too many possessions where the other four UConn players on the court just stood around and waited for Boatright to do something. The breakout player here was Rodney Purvis, the NC State transfer, who poured in 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting.

Yesterday, I mused about the possibility of a one-bid AAC. As I said then, it's not likely, but not impossible either. With this nice win, UConn does seem to be looking more like a relatively safe Tournament team, but so far they're the only one in the AAC. SMU might look more like the Top 25 team we expected when Markus Kennedy returns.

Dayton is a team that seems good enough to make an at-large run, but with the loss here their schedule is not particularly conducive to building a resume. Their only remaining non-conference game against a likely at-large team is a road game at Arkansas on December 13th.

Texas A&M Gets A Waiver For Danuel House The 6'7" transfer from Houston will immediately be an important piece for Texas A&M. This surprise eligibility makes the team a whole lot better in a season where it really might matter. Kentucky is obviously the best in the SEC, but right now the rest of the SEC is a big jumble. Is there really a good reason why Texas A&M couldn't be the third or fourth best team in the SEC and earn an at-large bid? They lost to Dayton, but that will not likely be a "bad" loss, and they won again last night. I doubt they'd have earned an at-large bid this season without House... but with him, it's a whole new ballgame.

Hawaii Knocks Off Pittsburgh This one happened in the middle of the night, finishing after 2AM eastern time. Pittsburgh was doing what many teams do on their way to the Maui Invitational, which is to pick up a warm-up game on the west coast or in Hawaii itself. But as often happens to these teams, they don't show up and play at their best. And the big problem for Pittsburgh here was interior defense, which has historically been a strength for Jamie Dixon's program. But there's no Talib Zanna anymore, and they were outscored in the paint 38-24, allowing Hawaii to shoot 64.5% on two-pointers.

This is the type of loss that is going to be an anchor on Pittsburgh's resume all season long. This is not a good Hawaii team, at all. Hawaii just fired their head coach, and they have a real chance to finish outside the RPI Top 200. Very few at-large or bubble teams will have a loss this bad all season long.

Kansas State Falls To Long Beach State This was a very frustrating shooting night for Kansas State. Including both two-pointers and three-pointers, the Wildcats shot 11-for-46 (23.9%) on jump shots. They finished with just 0.90 PPP. Recall that last season, the Wildcats tended to lose only when their offense let them down, because the defense was always there. They were 3-8 when scoring fewer than 0.970 PPP, as opposed to 17-5 in all other games.

Kansas State simply does not have a go-to scorer this season. Offense is going to be a significant grind for them all season long. It goes without saying that a player like Angel Rodriguez would be helpful. They will try to bounce back next week at the Maui Invitational, where they'll open against Purdue on Monday.

Long Beach State is now just 1-2 against Division I opponents, but this is a nice win, and the two losses came on the road to good opponents (BYU and Xavier). So while the Big West looks like a two team race between UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State has to at least be in the conversation. 

Gardner Webb Upsets Clemson Clemon's season is off to an awful start. And after their offense failed them in the loss to Winthrop, it was surprising to see their defense letting them down against Gardner Webb. Now, to be specific, it was actually Clemson "Chris Webber'ing" themselves and calling a timeout they didn't have that cost them the win in the final seconds here. But poor defense is why they were in a situation where it came down to the final possession to begin with. Gardner Webb didn't even shoot particularly well (a 45.5 eFG%), but they had 18 assists to only 7 turnovers, leading to 1.13 PPP. To put that in perspective, Clemson only allowed four different teams to crack 1.13 PPP against them last season: North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia and Pittsburgh. None of those programs is quite like Gardner Webb.

Clemson has an easy schedule coming up, and at this point they just have to get back on the right track by beating teams they're supposed to beat. But they were supposed to beat Winthrop and Gardner Webb also, and it didn't work out.

Gardner Webb, meanwhile, is off to a solid start, with this win to go with a win over College of Charleston, and only a competitive road loss at LSU. The Big South as a whole is playing better than it was last season, but Gardner Webb obviously has to be in the conversation at the top of the league.

Iona Upsets Wake Forest Iona wanted to bounce back after the tough loss at Wofford, and they did it by hanging on to a late lead here. They actually led for double digits for much of the season half, but a late Wake Forest run nearly pulled this one out. Iona struggled with the Wake Forest height, with David Laury getting shut down and with Wake Forest controlling the glass (a 51.2 OR% vs a 35.0 OR% for Iona). The Gaels won primarily due to strong 13-for-33 three-point shooting. AJ English hit 6-for-12 behind the arc en route to 27 points, while Isaiah Williams hit 4-for-8 himself.

Wake Forest, as much as their fans don't want to admit it, was improving significantly each year under Jeff Bzdelik, but the Danny Manning era is off to a choppy start. Certainly they lost a little bit of talent, but this loss comes on the back of a blowout loss at Arkansas. The Demon Deacons will get Minnesota on their homecourt for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but with a loss there they'll probably end non-conference play without a quality win.

Iona's next quality opponent will be Arkansas, on the road on November 30th. They will open MAAC play on December 7th, at Monmouth.

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