Saturday, December 06, 2014

Morning News: Kentucky/Texas, Florida/Kansas, Yale Upsets UConn, Boston College Over Providence, And SMU/Wyoming

The paint was not a place for the meek in Lexington last night.
Kentucky Holds Off Texas The final score of this game was deceptive, as it was tight almost the entire way. Texas was still within five points with under 90 seconds to go. The Longhorns hung in this game by controlling the glass (a 45.7 OR% compared to a 31.6 OR% for Kentucky). But without Isaiah Taylor they struggled with ball control when Kentucky turned up the defensive pressure, finishing with 22 turnovers (to just 8 for Kentucky).

Offensively, Kentucky needs to get used to seeing the type of zone that Texas ran here. They don't shoot the ball well and they don't pass the ball that well either. The risk with zoning Kentucky is that they can annihilate you on the glass. Texas has the size to handle Kentucky's bigs, but not many other teams do. Meanwhile, Kentucky's defense is the best in the country, and it's a team-wide effort. The tv broadcast was focusing all on Willie Cauley-Stein because of his 5 steals and 3 blocks, but counting stats are a bad way to judge defense, and Cauley-Stein actually struggled quite a bit one-on-one. It's their length and athleticism on the perimeter that really drives opponents nuts more than anything.

Texas has a fairly soft remaining non-conference schedule. Their toughest game will be at home against Stanford. But they've already got wins over Iowa, UConn and Cal, which will be good enough for a 1 seed if they can sweep the Big 12 titles.

Kentucky's next realistic chance for a loss will be North Carolina on December 13th, though UNC is really the absolutely wrong type of a team to try to beat Kentucky. That road game at Louisville on December 27th is going to be Kentucky's toughest test before the NCAA Tournament.

Florida Falls Apart Late Florida seemed to have this game completely under control. They led by 17 points early in the second half when it all fell apart, and Kansas went on a 41-13 run. Florida went more than seven minutes without a made basket (2 points over 14 possessions). In all, over that 41-13 run, Florida shot 6-for-25 from the field (a 28.0 eFG%) with 7 turnovers. When their offense is at its worst, throughout the recent Billy Donovan era, it's when they get way too satisfied launching long two-point jumpers, and that was the case here as well.

Kansas looks to have righted the ship now, with that horrible Kentucky performance well in the past. They now have wins over Florida, Michigan State, Tennessee and Rhode Island in their last four games, and they have a chance to continue this roll against Georgetown and Utah. Considering the strength of the Big 12, Kansas is going to have a killer SOS this season. At this point, they're probably the favorite to finish with the #1 RPI SOS. They'll have every chance to earn a 1 seed if they can take the Big 12.

Last season, Florida was short several players early in the season and got off to a choppy start before getting really good in February and March. Obviously Gators fans are hoping for more of the season this season. Eli Carter and Dorian Finney-Smith have both missed significant time with injuries, while Chris Walker has taken a lot of time to figure his game out at the college level (though he did have a mini-breakout game here with 12 points and 5 rebounds). Alex Murphy is on his way via midseason transfer as well. So they're going to get better. And despite being 3-4 overall, all four losses have come against likely RPI Top 50 opponents. So this still could be a good Gators team, if all of these pieces eventually come together. Though assuming it all will come together is obviously a mistake.

Yale Upsets UConn If you're capable of performing exorcisms, UConn's athletic department would like you to work on the far right corner of their court, because Jack Montague hit the game-winning three pointer just inches from where Jonathan Holmes did it in UConn's previous game, five days earlier. The Huskies have now dropped three straight games, with the latter two at home. And amazingly, this loss came despite Yale shooting 3-for-21 on threes and 4-for-18 on two-point jumpers. Weirdly, Yale won this game by dominating the glass (13-to-1 offensive rebounding advantage).

Jack Montague's game winner

It's going to be easy to panic about UConn after three straight losses, but there are mitigating factors here. For one, these are all good teams - even Yale has a very good chance to finish in the RPI Top 100. The media is acting like this is a far bigger upset than it really is. Second, Ryan Boatright was clearly not physically 100% here, partially hobbled by his ankle and shooting just 3-for-9 from the field. Third, UConn's had a horrendous shooting stretch, hitting below 20% on their threes in each of these three losses. That's obviously not going to keep up.

The concern for UConn is that the AAC is not good this season. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate the WCC as better than the AAC, and (until SMU snuck into the Pomeroy Top 50 with their win over Wyoming last night) UConn was the only Top 50 AAC team in either rating. So the Huskies are going to have to collect a quality win away from home in non-conference play (Duke, Florida or Stanford) to avoid a real risk of being on the bubble in March.

With Princeton falling off badly and with Columbia losing their best player for the season, Yale is the one remaining contender to Harvard in the Ivy League, and they do look like a real challenger. This win comes just one week after a tough six point loss at Providence. An at-large bid for the Ivy League doesn't seem realistic, but it wouldn't be the weirdest thing that ever happened if Yale stole the Ivy League title.

Boston College Upsets Providence LaDontae Henton has been a scoring monster this season, but Boston College completely shut him down here, holding him to 4-for-16 shooting. While Kris Dunn played well (24 points, 6 assists, 4 steals), Olivier Hanlan (24 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) was the best player for either team.

This Boston College team doesn't have a lot of talent, but the fact that Jim Christian was able to keep Olivier Hanlan from leaving the program has at least made this a competitive team. They're going to steal some quality wins in ACC play, even if they're unlikely to get too close to the bubble.

As well as Providence has played to start this season, they're still looking like a bubble team at best. This loss more than balances out the win over Notre Dame. They've got tricky games coming up in the next couple of weeks against Rhode Island and UMass before their next chance for a real quality victory, against Miami.

SMU Pulls Away From Wyoming Wyoming started the season 7-0 and looking strong, and they had a real chance to start building some at-large bid hype with a win here over SMU. And they had a four point lead with under nine minutes to go before it all fell apart. They went more than seven minutes without making a basket from the field, a period during which they committed five turnovers. SMU went on a 20-4 run that put the game out of reach.

Wyoming's next competitive game, and their final before conference play, will be at California on December 10th. They are a weird team to watch because of how slow they play and how little they try for things like offensive rebounds, but they're an awfully good shooting team and they're going to win a lot of games in Mountain West play. Don't give up on them as an at-large contender quite yet.

I talked in the Yale/UConn recap about how down the rest of the AAC is. SMU does know that they have Markus Kennedy on the way, but their fans know all too well how easily they can be punished for failing to do anything in non-conference play. It still is unclear if Kennedy will be eligible for the Michigan game on December 20th, but that is their one remaining chance for a quality non-conference win.

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