Friday, January 23, 2015

Morning News: Indiana's Hot Shooting, Is DePaul Good?, Bobby Portis Buzzer Beater, And Much More

"Pay attention to us! We're kind of relevant now!"

Indiana's Hot Shooting Tops Maryland Indiana hit 15-for-22 (68%) behind the arc here, finishing with a 75.0 eFG% and 1.39 PPP. To put that three-point shooting into perspective, the 15 three-pointers made were the most Indiana has made in a game since January 8th, 2012. The 68% three-point shooting was their most in a Big Ten game since February 24th, 2001. And that shooting outburst allowed them to overcome a Maryland team that had a respectable 1.09 PPP, their second biggest offensive outburst in Big Ten play.

Indiana was already in the Top 25 and this win moves them into a tie for first place in the Big Ten with Wisconsin, so the media hype is starting to rev up. But the reality is that this Hoosiers team is still just a bubble-quality team. They have a realistic chance to be a double-digit road underdog in Vegas on Sunday against unranked Ohio State. Their defense is still a mess, and they're a lucky 4-0 in games decided by six points or less in conference play. If they can get to 11-7 in Big Ten play that should earn them an at-large bid, but that's far from a sure thing. Even after this big win, Indiana is just 40th in Pomeroy and 44th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR.

Maryland doesn't want to lose any more ground on Wisconsin. If they can knock off the Badgers in College Park, they'd like to be close enough for that to win them the conference title. They probably won't struggle with Northwestern on Sunday, but they have a tough test next Thursday at Ohio State.

Is DePaul Good? The media went a little wild with DePaul fever when they jumped out to a 3-0 start in Big East play and first place in the league. Two straight losses put that to bed, but they followed that up with an overtime win over St. John's and then this stolen victory over Seton Hall here. And Seton Hall really did give this game up. They led by 8 points with 5:30 to go before hitting just 1 of their final 10 shots from the field (with two turnovers as well). Over the final 70 seconds, DePaul went to the free throw line five times and hit one of two every single time, but Seton Hall simply could not hit a basket on the other end.

So is DePaul good? In a word, no. Despite the 5-2 record they are outscoring opponents by just a single point, and they had an atrocious performance in non-conference play. They have a bizarre 4-3 record against the RPI Top 50 with a 7-6 record against teams outside the RPI Top 50. They seem to be immune to the quality of their opposition. They are still well outside the Top 100 in every major computer rating, including 130th in Pomeroy and 133rd  in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They now have a plausible chance to reach .500 in conference play, but realize that even with this 5-2 start that Pomeroy still projects them to finish 8-10 and Sagarin projects them to finish 7-11.

Seton Hall is in an ugly stretch, dropping three of four to fall to 3-3 in Big East play. And this was a game that they absolutely had to take care of business in, because it was the oasis in the middle of a brutal stretch of schedule. They head off on the road again next to take on Butler and Marquette. It's going to be tough for Seton Hall to earn an at-large bid unless they get to 10-8 in conference play.

Bobby Portis Buzzer Beater When coaches don't call timeouts late to set up play it's certainly a much more enjoyable viewing experience, but it might actually increase their odds of scoring. The defense doesn't have a chance to set up. Arkansas didn't get a great shot before the buzzer here, but Bobby Portis was able to put in the putback to salvage the win for Arkansas. You can watch the play below:
The SEC isn't getting a lot of respect this season, so Arkansas probably needs to get to 11-7 just to earn an at-large bid. This win keeps them from falling to 2-3. It's Alabama, instead, who fall to 2-3, with a road game at Kentucky looming in a little over a week. Unless they pull that miracle upset, it's hard to see the Crimson Tide avoiding the NIT.

Arizona Won A Foul-Marred Game Over Stanford Pac-12 refs took over this game early on. There were 51 fouls compared to 55 made field goals, with the teams combining to attempt 67 free throws. Matt Korcheck, who had seen nothing but garbage time while scoring 32 total points in two seasons with Arizona, tied a career high with 4 points off the bench in the middle of the second half to help buoy the Wildcats while the rest of their bigs were fouled out or sitting with four fouls.

This was a tricky game for Arizona, and an important one to get through, particularly after having to dig so deep on their bench with the foul trouble. With their big win over Utah, Arizona has regained the appearance of the clear favorite in the Pac-12, though they still have their road game at Utah on February 28th.

Stanford drops to 13-5 overall and 4-2 in conference play, with wins over Texas and UConn to go with bad losses to DePaul and UCLA (if you count UCLA as a "bad" loss). It's a Tournament-quality resume, but only barely. To stay in they'll probably need to get to 11-7 in Pac-12 play.

Gonzaga Pulls Away From Saint Mary's This game was close most the way, with Gonzaga's lead only at 3 points midway through the second half. But some turnovers and easy baskets snowballed into a 12-0 run, and the Gaels were defeated after that. Kevin Pangos was the catalyst during that run, assisting on two of the baskets and hitting another himself. He led Gonzaga in both points (14) and assists (5) in this game.

The Zags are in a similar position to Kentucky in that they'll be a significant Vegas favorite in every conference game, though the odds are still against them going undefeated. Their road game at St. Mary's on February 21st will be their toughest game. Though if they go undefeated the rest of the way, the odds are looking increasingly good that they'll earn a 1 seed in March. So that means we're only about 2-3 weeks from the whining starting in the media about how Gonzaga doesn't earn a 1 seed because they didn't play in a major conference. That'll be fun, I'm sure.

St. Mary's is 15-4 overall and 7-1 in WCC play, but an at-large bid is a long shot. Even if they do knock off Gonzaga later in the year, BYU is the only other realistic RPI Top 50 team they've beaten and they have a bad loss to Northern Arizona. Their only chance for an at-large bid is to put up a really gaudy conference record, like 16-2.

Western Kentucky Moves To 6-0 Western Kentucky nearly lost this game in heartbreaking fashion. They had grabbed a 2 point lead with a little over 3:30 to go, and then nobody could make a basket down the stretch. UTEP failed to score on their next four possessions, but Western Kentucky failed also, including four straight missed free throws. Finally, on their last chance, UTEP took a three with 1.2 seconds left that was missed, but the shooter was fouled. Earvin Morris missed the first free throw, though, before hitting the latter two and sending the game to overtime. Western Kentucky only hit 3 of 6 free throws down the stretch in overtime, but that was enough to avoid a repeat.

Western Ketnucky had an ugly non-conference performance, going 7-5 with only a win over Ole Miss to go with bad losses to Belmont, Stony Brook and Murray State. But they're now 6-0 and in first place in Conference USA. The league is likely to be a one-bid league, but Western Kentucky is now in first place. Are they the favorite? Unfortunately, I think the answer is still "no". They've beaten UTEP and Old Dominion, but both games were close and at home. They still have to play Old Dominion on the road, and their one game this season against Louisiana Tech will come on the road as well. The computers still all have Western Kentucky as the fourth best team in the conference, and while that might be low (they're obviously playing better basketball now than they were in November), I do think that the road games later on in the year will drag them back down. If they can win at Louisiana Tech next Thursday, however, they will become the clear favorite to take the regular season title.

Alex Wintering Buzzer Beater Portland has had a tough, frustrating season, but they broke a three game losing streak in style on an Alex Wintering three-pointer as time expired against Pacific. You can watch the video of the shot below:

Providence Wins An Ugly Game Over Xavier This game wasn't a shooting clinic. The two teams combined to hit just 5-for-37 (14%) behind the arc. But in the end, Xavier put on a demonstration of just why "clutch" execution is more random chance than an actual skill. In regulation, Xavier trailed by 10 points with just over 3 minutes to go, but hit their final four shots from the field to force overtime. In overtime, however, it was Xavier that was forcing bad shots, allowing a key offensive rebound and committing a late turnover.

Providence is 5-2 in Big East play and now has wins over Notre Dame, Xavier, Georgetown, Butler and Miami to go with bad losses to Brown and Boston College. The big wins more than balance out the bad losses, so if they can get to 10-8 in Big East play they'll be in pretty good shape.

Xavier drops to 1-5 in games decided by four points or less, and that bad luck in close games is what might make them the best team to miss the NCAA Tournament. They're 3-4 in Big East play and have as many RPI 100+ losses (2) as RPI Top 50 wins. Unless they win at Cincinnati, they're not going to earn an at-large bid with anything less than 10-8 in conference play.

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