Friday, January 09, 2015

Morning News: Michigan State Gets Hot, BYU Falls To Pepperdine, UCLA Beats Stanford, Bonnies/Dayton And Ivan Bender

Bill Walton is the best.

Michigan State Gets White Hot Iowa led this game by 11 points at halftime, but that's when the floodgates opened. And what's fascinating about how brutal the second half was for Iowa is that they really didn't get outplayed that badly, honestly. Michigan State won the rebounding battle and had a 6-to-0 advantage in fast break points, but otherwise the half was even. Iowa even outscored them 14-to-12 in the paint. But behind the arc? Iowa was 1-for-7, while Michigan State was 8-for-9. And that's what turned a tight game into a rout. Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine combined to hit 7-for-7 behind the arc in the second half.

Lourawls Nairn missed a three-pointer in the final 30 seconds of garbage time, which messed up two interesting trivia stats for Michigan State. It messed up their 8-for-8 three-point shooting in the second half, of course. But they were also 75% on threes before that, and instead finished at 71%. In the last 15 seasons, Michigan State had hit 75% of their threes in a game twice (and never better), most recently on February 26th, 2012 against Ohio State, but both times they did it on just 6-for-8 shooting. They were 12-for-16 here. It was just one of the most lights-out shooting performances you'll ever see.

It's always a mistake to overreact to fluky three-point shooting, but Iowa doesn't have a gigantic margin of error. Unless they get to 11-7 in Big Ten play they're going to enter the Big Ten tournament with work left to do, so at 2-1 they head into a crucial road game at Minnesota. They head into a brutal couple of weeks (including a home-and-home against Wisconsin), so they need these early victories.

Unlike Iowa, Michigan State heads into a real soft stretch of their schedule. Four of their next five games are against the dregs of the Big Ten (Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska and Rutgers).

BYU Falls To Pepperdine BYU isn't going to win a lot of games with their defense, so they need to shoot the ball well to win. And that's a problem in a conference where there are far more opportunities for "bad" losses than "quality" wins, because every team is going to have their off nights. This season, BYU is 8-0 when their eFG% is over 50%, but just 3-5 when their eFG% is under 50%. Here? Their 42.9 eFG% was their second worst of the season.

It wasn't the fault of Tyler Haws, who scored 26 points on 11-for-22 shooting, but guys like Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer were totally shut down. BYU is 13-5 now, but this is a bad loss (and probably not the last one they'll have) and their best win came over Stanford. They're going to need at least a 12-6 WCC record to go Dancing, and they've still got a home-and-home with St. Mary's as well as a road game at Gonzaga, so they can't afford too many more of these bad losses.

One of the more under-reported changes in college basketball the past two seasons (though I have talked about it on this blog) has been the improvement of the middle of the WCC pack. The two or three teams at the top of the league used to be able to absolutely annihilate the rest of the league, but the middle of the pack is just so much stronger now. Teams like Gonzaga and BYU have a far tougher time winning games, particularly on the road. This season, both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate the WCC as the 8th best league, behind just the six major conferences and the Atlantic Ten. That puts them ahead of the AAC, the Missouri Valley, the Mountain West, and everybody else. Pepperdine isn't going to compete for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but they gave St. Mary's fits last week, beat BYU here, and will provide a tough test for Gonzaga next week as well.

UCLA Beats Stanford In 2OT We all got a pretty harsh contact high watching this game with Bill Walton doing his wonderful Bill Walton things. And it was a goofy game on the court, too, with neither team playing particularly well and both executing fairly poorly in key possessions late in the game. But overall, I do think UCLA was the better team here, and Stanford really only kept themselves in the game with hot outside shooting (15-for-31 behind the arc).

The issue for Stanford is that while they're tall in the backcourt and on the wing, the loss of Reid Travis means that Stefan Nastic is their only true big man. Nastic was overwhelmed by Kevon Looney and Tony Parker (a combined 49 points and 31 rebounds), and Nastic was lost to a foul out late in the first overtime, meaning that UCLA really had the paint advantage in the second and final overtime. That said, the media was going a little nuts with the Looney hype during this game. Looney has been spotty and inconsistent this season, and it would be a mistake to overreact to a good game to a team that is going to allow a lot of good games to bigs.

UCLA finally ended a five game losing skid that included four straight games where their eFG% was below 36.0%. It's nice, but they have a lot of work to do to get back to the Tournament bubble. They need to roll through an upcoming stretch against the bottom of the Pac-12 (California, USC and Oregon State).

Stanford has that win over Texas, but also a loss to DePaul. They need to get to 11-7 in Pac-12 play to be in good shape for an at-large bid, and head on the road for a pair of tricky games at the two Los Angeles schools. Neither win would be a "quality" win, but it's going to be hard to get a sweep.

Dayton Rolls St. Bonaventure I had Dayton projected as an NCAA Tournament team all season long until they booted Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson to drop to eight total scholarship players. But amazingly they're somehow playing even better basketball than before. Walk-on Bobby Wehrli, who had played 16 minutes all season long before those suspensions, has averaged 19.4 minutes per game in the five games since, and hit 3-for-4 behind the arc here. St. Bonaventure has a chance to finish the season in the RPI Top 100, and Dayton destroyed them on the road here.

The question we have to ask ourselves about Dayton is just how sustainable this run is. They're playing well, but they also are shooting a bit beyond expectations. They have had an eFG% over 63% in three of the five games, including 69.2% here. They hit a ridiculous 14-for-24 behind the arc here. At some point they're going to have to cool off. But still, Dayton has not rolled over and quite, and they're playing like they're going to stick around the Tourney bubble all season long. They lack a win over a likely RPI Top 50 opponent, but they're 12-2 and 2-0 in Atlantic Ten play with no bad losses. To earn an at-large bid, they've realistically got to get to 12-6 in conference play, and probably have to get to 13-5 to feel good about their chances. The Atlantic Ten just isn't going to get a lot of respect this season. It's worth noting that their one game against VCU will be on the road, though not until February 28th.

St. Bonaventure is a solid team, but they're 0-4 in games decided by five points or less and then suffered this three-pointing barrage. Things just haven't bounced their way so far. But don't count the Bonnies out. They could still finish high up in the Atlantic Ten standings and be a factor in the A-10 tourney.

Maryland Adds Ivan Bender Maryland has turned over almost their entire roster in the last 12 months, so what's one more? This time it's Ivan Bender, who at 6'9" has already played for Croatia's Under-18 team. Bender will be eligible to play immediately, though additions like this are always a bit of a mystery. He might turn out to be great immediately, or we might not talk about him the rest of the season. Stay tuned.

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