Sunday, December 28, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Undefeated Kentucky?, Georgetown Over Indiana, Gonzaga/BYU, And More

I have a bad feeling about this...
New Bracket Projection There are two significant changes in this week's bracket projection. First, Minnesota moves into the projected field, replacing Nebraska. Also, Texas is the new Big 12 favorite, replacing Kansas. For more details, and the full bracket, click the link.

Undefeated Kentucky? In retrospect, we should have seen this Kentucky/Louisville game coming. These teams have two of the better defenses that we've seen the past few years, and they in fact entered the game #1 (Kentucky at 23%) and #2 (Louisville at 24%) in the nation at defensive mid-range shooting in the nation. At the same time, both of these teams are mediocre at best in halfcourt offense. In this game, neither team got much in the way of easy offense. The two teams combined for 8 fast break points. Louisville made only 3 layups and 0 dunks all game long.

We have a tendency to treat any game with a high score as "fun" while any game with a low score as "ugly", but this game was a mixture of both. Both of these defenses played great, and deserve a lot of credit, but my goodness were there a lot of terrible shots as well. Louisville's Chris Jones, for example, was 3-for-15 from the field with nearly every shot being ill-advised. The Harrison twins were a horrible 3-for-16 combined, along with 7 turnovers to just 5 assists. Louisville had just 1 assist all game long, which wasn't at all a surprise with how many rushed off-balance shots they took early in the shot clock.

In a sense, this was an ideal game for Kentucky. They were able to dominate the glass (a 53.1 OR% compared to a 38.3 OR% for Louisville) and faced an opponent that couldn't hit a jump shot and was unwilling to work on offense to break down Kentucky's defense (34% of Louisville's shots came in the first ten seconds of the shot clock, with 90% of those being jump shots). Kentucky's defenders are insanely long, and if you don't work hard to get an open shot you're going to have a hand in your face every time. That's what Louisville faced here.

Coming out of this game, the narrative is Kentucky going undefeated. The general media attitude is summed up by Andy Katz:
But when people in the media say stuff like that, what they're really demonstrating is a lack of understanding of probability. To give you an example, let's say that Kentucky had a 95% chance of winning every game the rest of the way. A 95% chance of winning is really a one-sided affair (for example, Pomeroy gives Kentucky a 95% chance of winning their road game at Mississippi State, where he puts the spread at 16 points). Nobody in their right mind would pick a 95% favorite to lose a game. Yet a team that is a 95% favorite in every game has only a 40% chance of going 18-0. The odds are, over some 40 minute sample somewhere, that Kentucky is going to lose.

To be clear, I think Kentucky is the best team in the nation, and they have the best chance to go undefeated that any major conference team has had in a long time. But Pomeroy puts their odds of going 18-0 in SEC play at 24.2%, and if anything that's a little higher. Both the loss of Alex Poythress and Kentucky's good luck on opponent three-point shooting (currently 26.7%, ranked 10th in the nation) and two-point jump shooting (described above) suggest that Kentucky's level of play is more likely to decline a little bit than improve a little bit down the stretch. So could Kentucky be undefeated heading into the NCAA Tournament? Sure. They'll be a big favorite in every game prior to it. But the odds are quite high that they'll lose at least once.

Georgetown Comes Back To Take Out Indiana The Hoosiers offense was clicking on all cylinders for most of the game, but their defense continues to be a dumpster fire. When they went cold for a brief stretch in the second half Georgetown was able to get back in the game and take a lead. A couple of fluky Yogi Ferrell threes got Indiana back to overtime, but they eventually fell there.

Yogi Ferrell sending Indiana/Georgetown to OT one possession after banking in a three.

If Indiana had won this game they probably would have moved into the Top 25 on Monday, but that would have been almost as stupid as TCU being in the AP Top 25 this week. Indiana beat Butler, SMU and Pittsburgh, but none of those wins came outside the state of Indiana and they have yet to play a true road game, and their overall strength of schedule is currently ranked 322nd by Pomeroy. Despite that soft home schedule, they're still allowing 1.01 PPP, and their defense has probably been even worse than that. They've been lucky on opponent shooting, with opponents hitting just 58.8% at the line and 30.5% behind the arc. By the Pomeroy ratings they're easily the weakest defense in the Big Ten. Any game against a quality opponent where they're not shooting lights out they're probably going to lose. And that's why I don't see how one could reasonably project the Hoosiers as an NCAA Tournament team at this point.

Georgetown needed this win after suffering really close and tough losses to Wisconsin, Kansas and Butler. They are, in my opinion, Villanova's top competition in the Big East. But we did see in this Indiana game two of Georgetown's problems - fouling and defensive rebounding - coming to the fore again. They have a lot of offensive talent, but it seems like they spend every game struggling to keep their stars on the court and to clear the defensive glass. That has to improve for them to truly contend with Villanova.

Gonzaga Escapes BYU This was going to be the toughest game Gonzaga faced in conference play all season long, and they escaped with the win. That said, BYU was not at full strength here. Tyler Haws played injured and wasn't himself, though he did play for 33 minutes. Chase Fischer was also playing through an injury, and Nate Austin is still out with a hamstring injury. The Cougars got a lift instead from Kyle Collinsworth, who had a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

The difference for Gonzaga was Kyle Wiltjer, who scored 24 points on 11-for-13 shooting and also gave Gonzaga a big front line that won the rebounding battle and forced BYU to play even bigger than they normally like to. Gonzaga is actually one of the tallest teams in the country.

Gonzaga is now a very, very heavy favorite to take the WCC regular season title. They'll be a significant favorite in every remaining game (they were even a 5.5 point favorite here), though under the same logic I used with Kentucky above it's still likely that some team somewhere will keep them from going 18-0.

This was a win BYU really had to have. They're a bubble quality team, but Stanford is the only team they've beaten with a real chance to finish in the RPI Top 50. Their only remaining chance will be taking out Gonzaga in Spokane, or in the WCC tournament (where most likely they won't meet until the final game anyway).

Semi Ojeleye To SMU Ojeleye was a very highly sought after high school recruit, but he could barely get on the court in 1.5 seasons at Duke and he will be taking his talents to Dallas. It's an interesting decision since some higher profile programs were after him, but Larry Brown has done a really fantastic job bringing in talented recruits to his program. Things haven't really gone according to plan so far this season, but Ojeleye will potentially be eligible for the second semester of next season.

Brandone Francis Returns For Florida In a surprising development, it looks like Brandone Francis has been cleared to play for Florida moving forward. He has returned to practice. He was arguably Florida's highest rated 2014 recruit, and he'll immediately move into the shooting guard/wing regular rotation. With Alex Murphy now eligible as well, and with Eli Carter working himself healthy, Florida could finally have their full roster ready to go just in time for SEC play.

The Gators were a disappointment in non-conference play (0-4 against likely NCAA Tournament opponents, with their best win coming over Yale), but they still have hopes of contending with Kentucky near the top of the SEC. History has shown that the Selection Committee will mostly ignore non-conference play for teams that play well in conference play and finish the season strong.

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