Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Morning News: Michigan... Sigh. Also, Louisville Handles Indiana, Shaqquan Aaron, Marquette Transfers, And Villanova/Illinois


Michigan... Sigh. Coming off that historic loss to NJIT, surely Michigan would take care of Eastern Michigan? Yet while it was NJIT's fluky good shooting that won that game, Michigan cost themselves with atrocious three-point shooting here (4-for-21 behind the arc). Michigan's 0.70 PPP  represented their worst offensive efficiency in nearly five years. And they've definitely played far better defenses in the last five years than Eastern Michigan.

Now, allow me to walk Michigan fans off the ledge a little bit. First of all, while the NJIT upset was a historic disaster, Eastern Michigan isn't remotely in that same class. They're a solid team that will be in the mix to win the MAC. They could actually finish the season inside the RPI Top 100 (though it's not likely). And the shooting has been fluky in each of these two games. Michigan is better than these two performances. But these losses will look awful on their resume all season long, and they're going to need some big scalps to make up for them. A road upset at Arizona on Saturday, while unlikely, would represent that kind of season-changing victory.

Eastern Michigan has been a steadily improving program under Rob Murphy, and they do look like a legitimate contender in the MAC this season. They came into this game off of a respectable nine point loss at Dayton. They'll get a chance to name themselves Kings of Michigan if they can somehow knock off Michigan State next Wednesday.

Louisville Handles Indiana Indiana managed to keep this game close for most of the way, and they actually led by four points early in the second half, but Louisville had far too much of a physical advantage. In particular, Montrezl Harrell (21 points, 11 rebounds, 1 block) and Mangok Mathiang (6 points, 3 rebounds, 4 blocks) were a menace in the paint, with ferocious dunks, angry blocks and more than a healthy dose of taunting and preening. Indiana is a relatively small team that struggles in the paint, and they wilted under the pressure.

This won't be on Indiana's season-ending highlight tape.

Indiana played fairly well in this game, so they shouldn't come out of this 20 points loss feeling badly about their performance. Their 0.96 PPP were easily the most Louisville's defense had allowed so far this season (the previous high was Minnesota's 0.87 PPP). It's the fewest Indiana has scored this season, but six of Louisville's eight opponents have been held to a season low in offensive efficiency. Their defense is just scary good. The Hoosiers have a key test against Butler in Bankers Life Field House on December 20th. If they want to start getting at-large bid buzz they need a big win like that.

Louisville is now 8-0 and headed off to Cupcake City until their monster game against Kentucky on December 27th, when the two most athletic and physical defenses in the nation will go head-to-head. And they've got additional good news in that...

Shaqquan Aaron Cleared To Play For Louisville His eligibility had been in question all season long, but he will play his first game on December 20th. By several recruiting services, Aaron was actually the top rated recruit in Louisville's 2014 class, so he'll immediately join the rotation as a serious contributor. Louisville has plenty of size, but Aaron is a true wing, which is one area that the team lacks options.

Marquette Loses Two Via Transfer Deonte Burton is the big name leaving, as John Dawson really hadn't gotten on the floor yet in his career. But Burton was scoring 6.4 points in 16.1 minutes per game off the bench, and is a heck of an athlete who looks to have a bright future. There has been a huge exodus of players since Buzz Williams left, which isn't a total shock. Wojciechowski is building the program how he wants to with the type of players he wants, and Buzz Williams guys don't necessarily fit that well. By next season, which will only be Wojo's second in charge of the program, there are going to be no more than three Buzz Williams players left.

For the short term, Marquette is down to just seven players who have seen the court this season. They'll get better and deeper when Luke Fischer becomes eligible, but they're still not going to have a lot of options. Realistically, though, they weren't going to be on the bubble even with Deonte Burton.

Villanova Pulls Away From Illinois The final score in this one is a bit deceptive. Villanova's lead was only three points in the final seven minutes. They closed the game on a 15-4 run. However, it did feel like Villanova kept the Illini at arm's length all game long. They dominated the paint, scoring 42 points there and hitting 60% of their two-pointers for the game. Daniel Ochefu (12 points on 6-for-10 shooting) was particularly unstoppable when he tried to be.

Villanova is quietly 9-0 with wins over VCU, Illinois and Michigan, and they can build on that with a home game against Syracuse on December 20th. As the heavy favorite in the Big East, they've got to be considered a serious contender for a 1 seed on Selection Sunday.

Illinois is a solid team, but they're inconsistent on the offensive end, and it's been offensive deficiencies that have caused them to come up short against Miami and Villanova. I'd still expect them to make the NCAA Tournament, but they're not going to win consistently enough to contend for one of the top few places in the Big Ten. Their next game is Saturday, against Oregon in the United Center.

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