Thursday, January 15, 2015

Morning News: Baylor Holds On To Beat Iowa St, North Carolina Survives NC State, San Diego St Over Wyoming, And More

Kevon Looney will break your hoop.

Baylor Holds On To Beat Iowa State Baylor almost had a soul-crushing collapse here. They led by 14 points with 8:30 to go, but Iowa State went on a 15-2 run at one point, and managed to even grab the lead briefly. But after Bryce DeJean-Jones hit a clutch three in the corner to put Iowa State up by 1, Kenny Chery dribbled the length of the court without a timeout and hit a fadeaway jumper to deliver the victory. There might have been a little push-off by Chery, but I thought the no-call was reasonable - there wasn't really that much contact.

Kenny Chery fell hard midway through the second half and had to sit on the bench for a while, but Baylor needed him down the stretch and he delivered. Overall, the biggest difference in the game was Baylor's aggressive offensive rebounding (a 45.2 OR%). The Bears move to 2-2 in Big 12 play and head on the road next hoping to avoid an upset at Kansas State.

In some sense, this was an encouraging game for Iowa State, despite the loss. A one point loss at Baylor, which actually covered the Vegas spread, is nothing to be ashamed of. That said, Iowa State shot the lights out (10-for-19 on threes). Only once in the last five seasons did Iowa State lose a game where they shot better on threes (they shot 54.2% in a loss at Oklahoma State two seasons ago). But the reality for Iowa State is that this game was just the appetizer before the huge home game against Kansas on Saturday.

North Carolina Survives NC State NC State was playing with house money this week after knocking off Duke, and they almost took out North Carolina as well. Marcus Paige had a monster game for North Carolina (23 points on 6-for-9 shooting, with 9 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals). But down the stretch, NC State had three chances down by three points to make a first free throw and miss the second. The first time, Anthony Barber opted to make the second FT. The second time, Trevor Lacey tried to miss the second free throw on purpose but accidentally made it. Finally the third time, with only a fraction of a second to go, Abdul-Malik Abu missed the free throw beautifully and Cody Martin got a great look at a tip-in that missed by inches to allow the Tar Heels to escape.
The tip-in that almost sent the game to overtime.

NC State seems destined for the tourney bubble. They're 3-2 in ACC play and will probably be on the bubble with either a 9-9 or 10-8 finish. They need to get to 11-7 or they need another big scalp to feel confident on Selection Sunday. Next up is a tricky road game at Florida State. That'll be a competitive game, and a "bad loss" if the Wolfpack lose.

North Carolina moves to 3-1 in ACC play with an easy stretch in their schedule up next (Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Florida State). If they're going to make a run at the ACC regular season title, they will almost certainly need to beat Virginia in Chapel Hill on February 2nd.

San Diego State Suffocates Wyoming The top of the Mountain West has been awfully even in the early going this season, and it's been hard to find a favorite, though San Diego State probably has the most talented roster. Wyoming had won 7 straight and was 4-0 in Mountain West play, though three of those four wins were by six points or fewer. But San Diego State did here what they do to almost every team they play: shut down their offense. Wyoming scored 0.90 PPP, and had a 46.5 eFG%, their second worst shooting performance of the season.
Larry Nance, Jr is kinda athletic

In my opinion, San Diego State is still the best team in the league. The media overreacted to Wyoming's string of close wins to start the conference season. San Diego State has a relatively soft game on Saturday with UNLV at home, while Wyoming heads on the road to face Fresno State.

St. John's Crushes Providence The Johnnies came into this game 0-3 in Big East play and absolutely needing a win. They got out to a quick start, leading by as many as 15 points in the first half, and were never at serious risk of blowing their lead in the second half. They didn't outplay Providence, though, who got a good game from LaDontae Henton (22 points on 9-for-17 shooting) and Kris Dunn (17 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds). But the Johnnies hit 10-for-17 behind the arc, their best outside shooting performance since they hit 67% against Youngstown State on December 21st, 2013.

Even if they don't beat Duke, St. John's will be in good position for an at-large bid if they can get to 10-8 in Big East play. They will be able to get back to .500 if they can win at DePaul and at home against Marquette over the next week. Providence also will be in good shape if they can get to 10-8. At 3-2 they head on the road next for a tricky game at Creighton.

Boston College Finally Beats Harvard Boston College had lost six straight against Harvard before finally toppling them in overtime here. Harvard's problem all season has been offense, which has been surprisingly disjointed and ugly despite serious talent. They are 10-0 this season when scoring 0.90 PPP or more, but 0-4 when scoring fewer than that, including 0.80 PPP here. It wasn't just 4-for-19 three-point shooting, as Harvard was dominated 38-to-16 in points in the paint. Wesley Saunders, their best player, shot 4-for-19 from the field and had 1 assist, which pretty much sums up their night offensively.

Harvard is now 10-4 with zero quality wins and three iffy/bad losses (Arizona St, Boston College and Holy Cross). With no more opportunities for quality wins, it's going to be awfully difficult for Harvard to earn an at-large bid if they fail to win the Ivy League. Boston College isn't heading for an at-large bid either, but they've been showing signs of life the past few weeks. They were coming off a narrow loss at Miami  and took Pittsburgh to overtime the game prior. They'll steal a big win or two in ACC play.

SMU Comes Back To Beat Temple Temple led this game by as many as 13 points in the second half, but their offense fell apart after that (a 28.6 eFG% the rest of the way). SMU finally got a big game from Markus Kennedy, who nearly had as many second half rebounds (7) as Temple's entire team combined (8). Is this game a sign that Kennedy is finally "in game shape", or is this game going to prove to be a one-off fluke? We'll see.

SMU is now 4-1 in AAC play, heading into the soft portion of their conference schedule. Their next five games will all come against teams unlikely to finish inside the RPI Top 100, with three of the five coming at home. They just need to step through that minefield and avoid a bad loss.

Temple's six game winning streak has ended in a thud, with consecutive home losses. They're now 3-2 in AAC play knowing that it will take at least a 12-6 record to earn an at-large bid. A road game at Cincinnati on Saturday looms as an opportunity to get back on track.

Northeastern Beats Hofstra The Colonial isn't going to earn an at-large bid this season, but this result is important for the regular season title. Hofstra had grabbed the early lead in the standings and was at risk of pulling away from the other contenders. But Northeastern's 69.1 eFG% (and 1.21 PPP) were enough to grab the home victory, and to pull into a three-way tie at 4-1 atop the league. Those three tied-up teams (William & Mary is the third) do seem like the three best teams in the Colonial this season. Both Hofstra and Northeastern will head to William & Mary for a road game before the month is out.

In my personal opinion, Hofstra remains the league favorite. A competitive road loss at Northeastern is not particularly good evidence that Northeastern is better. They'll get a chance to take revenge in their home rematch on February 12th.

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