Sunday, January 18, 2015

Morning News: New Bracket, Iowa St Topples Kansas, Duke Cruises, Arizona Controls Utah, Texas Dominates WVU, And Much More

Bill Self didn't have a good stay at Hilton yesterday.

New Bracket Projection With just 8 weeks until Selection Sunday, the Full Bubble makes its first appearance. From here on out, potential at-large teams get eliminated one by one until we have our final Field of 68. As for the current projected Field of 68, North Carolina State and South Dakota State move in, while Michigan and Denver drop out.

Iowa State Topples Kansas This is an odd game to talk about, because in a way it meant a ton, but in another way it didn't. First, for Iowa State fans, it's a huge accomplishment to finally take down Kansas, and they did it on national television with everybody watching and with College Gameday in the house. If they were going to win the Big 12 regular season title they had to win here, and they did.

But as for judging how good these teams are? I don't think anything really changed here. Kansas was a 4 point underdog in Vegas, and they managed to take this game down to the final ten seconds despite the refs totally falling under the sway of the Hilton crowd. If just those two bad charge calls in the last few minutes went the other way, maybe Kansas wins. In the end, Iowa State had a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in foul calls, and a nearly 3-to-1 advantage in free throws. The narrative on ESPN was that Iowa State was getting to the basket and earning transition buckets while Kansas was stuck taking jumpers, but the statistics don't bear that out. Kansas ended up with 20 layups+dunks while Iowa State finished with 17. Iowa State had a 21-to-10 advantage in fast break points, though that would have evened up if you reversed some of the 50/50 referee calls that went Iowa State's way. Points in the paint were pretty even (a 40-to-34 advantage for Iowa State). But as I said on twitter, the reality is that Iowa State was owed one of these. They've had some famous screw-jobs by the refs in Lawrence. Last night was referee payback.

Kansas fans are frustrated by the lack of playing time for Cliff Alexander, and I share their frustration. He plays well in short bursts but can't seem to get on the court for more than 20 minutes in any game. He had 6 points and 6 rebounds in just 14 minutes here. For the Jayhawks, the reality is that there's a pretty good chance that no team in the Big 12 loses fewer than five games. So a competitive loss on the road at Iowa State isn't a bad loss. They have to get right back on track and take care of Oklahoma in Lawrence.

Iowa State heads into a soft week, with a home game against Kansas State followed by a road game at Texas Tech. Things will get much tougher when February comes around, though. Their return trip to Lawrence, for example, comes up on February 2nd.

Duke Cruises At Louisville The story coming out of this game was Duke's zone defense, and Louisville's resultant 6-for-37 shooting outside the paint. Louisville is certainly going to see a ton of zone all season, though they've proven to be a pretty poor shooting team against all types of opponents this past season. I doubt you'll see Duke break out the zone against a team like Virginia that shoots the ball well from outside. But Louisville's defense was also not its usual self here, perhaps impacted by their offensive frustration. Duke scored 1.05 PPP, and did it with a parade of layups (13-for-14 on dunks and layups).

There was a lot of over-reaction to Duke after NC State and Miami shot the lights out, and there's going to be an over-reaction in the other direction after Louisville couldn't hit a shot to save their lives here. The most meaningful outcome of this game is that Duke needed this win to stay in realistic contention for the ACC regular season title. They're still probably going to need a road win at Virginia on January 31st, though.

Louisville's hopes for a regular season ACC title are pretty much dashed, but they could realistically end up anywhere between a 2 seed and a 6 seed on Selection Sunday. They're pretty much just playing for seed line at this point.

Arizona Controls Utah This game was Utah's chance to wrest control of the Pac-12 from Arizona. Their defense has been great all season long, and the reality over the past few weeks is that they've been the better basketball team. But when they finally took the court together, it was surprisingly Arizona that slowed the game down to a slog and completely shut off the paint defensively. Utah was a brutal 7-for-22 (31.8%) on two-pointers, and were outscored by 20 points in the paint. Jakob Poeltl was neutralize by Kaleb Tarczewski, and Arizona's length on the wings was able to contain Delon Wright (10 points and 7 assists).

For Utah fans, the reality is that this was just a 40 minute sample size. Arizona dominated this game, but that doesn't change the fact that Utah has really been their equal overall this season. Utah will have a chance to hold serve against Arizona on February 28th in Salt Lake City, and they still have a chance to win the Pac-12 regular season title. For Arizona fans, they just have to avoid upsets the next few weeks. Their schedule opens up, and the only game where they potentially won't be favored the rest of the season will be their rematch at Utah.

Texas Dominates West Virginia West Virginia has been winning games in large part by winning the glass against physically inferior opponents, but Texas has perhaps the most imposing front line in the nation and they dominated the paint here. Texas actually controlled the glass (a 43.4 OR% compared to a 32.6 OR% for West Virginia), marking the first time since December 4th that West Virginia lost the rebounding battle against an opponent. Texas also had a 30-to-14 advantage in points in the paint, and also fouled out three Mountaineers en route to 37 free throw attempts.

West Virginia was coming off a 21 point win over Oklahoma, so the moral of the story is to not overreact to 40 minute sample sizes. This is a good West Virginia team, but not one that is going to contend for a Big 12 title. Texas, on the other hand, still harbors hopes of a piece of that Big 12 title, though they needed the win here to avoid dropping to 1-3. If they can navigate a road game at TCU on Monday then they'll have a chance next weekend to get back in the title race by beating Kansas in Austin.

Kansas State Knocks Off Baylor Baylor led this game by 12 points in the second half, but their offense bogged down late. Baylor had more second half offensive rebounds (10) than made baskets (9). The star for Kansas State was Nino Williams, who shot 6-for-9 from the field in the second half. Baylor might have had a chance in the final minute, as Kansas State is not a good free throw shooting team, but they made the classic mistake of allowing a possession to play out when trailing by three when only around 13 or 14 seconds were the difference between the game and play clock. Kansas State ran the clock down and missed, but got their own rebound and were fouled, effectively ending the game. There's just so much that has to go right for a team when they let the clock run down like that. Fouling earlier increases the potential variance and gives you more options.

Kansas State moves to 4-1 in Big 12 play,  though that record comes with the caveat that it's includes home games against TCU and Texas Tech, which will be their two easiest conference games of the season. They're still unlikely to reach .500 in conference play or to make a run at an at-large bid. Their schedule gets nasty over the next two weeks as they'll take on four straight ranked teams, beginning with a road game at Iowa State on Tuesday. Baylor drops to 2-3 in Big 12 play, though with three of their next four conference games coming at home, beginning with an important one against Oklahoma next Saturday.

Maryland Smokes Michigan State This game was something of a coming out party for Melo Trimble,  the freshman who has transformed Maryland into one of the best teams in the Big Ten, and perhaps a real contender to take the conference. Trimble hit 5-for-7 behind the arc in the first half here, finishing with 24 points for the game. His early flourish pushed Maryland to a 14 point halftime lead, and Michigan State never pulled within single digits again.

Maryland is 17-2 overall and 5-1 in Big Ten play, and quite a few people have already noticed that their one game in the regular season against Wisconsin will be in College Park. Is it possible that Maryland can steal that game and take the Big Ten regular season title? It is, particularly since Wisconsin may not yet be at full strength when that game is played. Michigan State, meanwhile, drops to 3-2 in Big Ten play, but with a soft schedule coming up the next few weeks. It's quite possible that they won't be an underdog in Vegas again in a game until March, so they should be able to run off a nice won/loss record.

Oklahoma Shuts Down Oklahoma State Oklahoma State's offense has struggled against quality opponents this season. They've cracked 1 PPP in just one of five games against Pomeroy Top 50 opponents. The problem has been that against good defenses they can't get enough easy baskets, and they just don't shoot the ball well aside from Phil Forte. Here they shot 7-for-31 (22.6%) on all jump shots outside the paint. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has quietly become one of the best defenses in the nation. They're now ranked 5th best in the nation according to Pomeroy.
It was this kind of day for Oklahoma.

Oklahoma needed to have this win after having lost two straight and with road games at Kansas and Baylor up next. If they can survive this stretch then their schedule will ease up up February. Oklahoma State is now 12-5 overall and 2-3 in conference play, with a win over Texas and no bad losses. It feels like they're destined to end up something like 10-8 or 11-7 in Big 12 play.

Notre Dame Comes Back To Beat Miami Zach Auguste's "season long suspension" turned out to be misreported as he returned here, though he wasn't particularly productive. Mike Brey took a chance against a Miami team that doesn't get after the glass and he went with a small lineup, with 6'5" Pat Connaughton being the closest thing to a big man for much of the game. Miami simply didn't have the personnel to counter, pulling down just 9 offensive rebounds, including just 3 in the final 30 minutes of the game. Miami still had an 11 point lead with 13:30 to go, but Jerian Grant took over, scoring 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting with 4 assists and 0 turnovers after that point.

Notre Dame is a weird team to figure out because they are so incredibly explosive offensively, but their defense, rebounding and depth are all so mediocre, but they have found a way to put together a really nice resume and are on pace for a possible top three finish in the ACC. Miami, meanwhile, missed a chance to add a second big scalp after that Duke upset. I think they're going to need another one to be able to earn an at-large bid with anything worse than a 10-8 ACC record. Their next chance for a big win will be February 3rd, when Louisville comes to town.

Iowa Beats Ohio State After two straight ugly second halves, Iowa fans were getting nervous when their 17 point second half lead was pared down to 6. But Aaron White put the team on his back and scored 5 straight, and it was enough for the Hawkeyes to hold on. And it's a particularly impressive win when you consider what I had pointed out last week, which is that the Buckeyes have been living and dying with the performances of their star freshman D'Angelo Russell. Russell had a big game here (27 points on 10-for-22 shooting with 14 rebounds) but Iowa still beat them.
D'Angelo Russell had the pass of the day.

Iowa needs to get to 11-7 in Big Ten to be sure of an at-large bid (though they'll still be in pretty good shape at 10-8). This win gets them to 4-1 with two of their next three games coming against Wisconsin. Their schedule gets pretty soft in February, so a split of those two games against Wisconsin would probably pull them off the Tournament bubble at least temporarily.

Ohio State is 14-5, but only 3-3 in Big Ten play and without any wins over opponents certain to finish in the RPI Top 50. They're a good team, and as a high variance team they'll be a scary opponent in March, but their resume for the moment is a lot weaker than most realize. If the season ended now, the Buckeyes would be a bubble team, though they should be plenty good enough to extricate themselves from the bubble over the next few weeks.

Ole Miss Upsets Arkansas The Arkansas defense did not put on a clinic here, to say the least. Ole Miss had a 63.6 eFG% and 1.39 PPP. Meanwhile, Arkansas couldn't get the easy transition points that they thrive on. They forced only four steals and had 0 transition points. It's a disappointing all-around performance from Arkansas coming right on the heels of a loss to Tennessee. They're in the Field of 68 at the moment, but they're far from safe. They don't get a home game against Kentucky this season, so unless they pull a miracle in Lexington they're not going to collect a big scalp in conference play.

Ole Miss is now 11-6 overall and 2-2 in SEC play, with wins over Arkansas and South Carolina to go with bad losses to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky. It's not a bubble resume yet, but they're getting there. If they can get to 11-7 in SEC play and win a game or two in the SEC tournament they'll have a real shot.

Florida Goes Down To Georgia The Gators got off to an ugly start, trailing 19-4 at one point. They pulled within 4 points in the second half, but then proceeded to commit turnovers on four of their next six possessions. Sloppy offensive play was the theme of the day for Florida, who finished with 19 turnovers to just 10 assists.
This sums up the day for Florida offensively.

Florida was missing so many players in the first half of the season that they seemed obviously primed for a second half resurgence, but we're waiting and waiting for it and it hasn't come yet. They're better than their record (2-4 in games decided by six points or less), but they're now just 10-7 with a win over South Carolina along with a bad loss to Florida State. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is an ugly 76th. They might need to get to 12-6 in SEC play just to earn an at-large bid.

Georgia is a team that the computers have loved all season long, though they hadn't done themselves favors with the way their non-conference schedule was constructed, and this is only their second win against a likely RPI Top 50 opponent (Seton Hall is the other) to go with a couple of iffy losses (Georgia Tech and LSU). They're going to need to go at least 11-7 in conference play to earn an at-large bid, and this win gets them to 2-2. They need to take care of business next week with a home game against Ole Miss and then a road game at Mississippi State.

Georgetown Escapes Butler Roosevelt Jones had a monster game for Butler, pouring in 28 points on 12-for-19 shooting, including the shot that put Butler up by 1 with 12 seconds to go. But Isaac Copeland played hero on the other end, and then D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera blocked Butler's potential retort, and Georgetown escaped with the victory. You can watch the Copeland game-winner below:

It seems like half the Big East is just barely inside the Field of 68. Any of these teams will be safe with a good seed if they can put a winning streak together, but all of them are vulnerable to dropping out to the NIT with a losing streak. Now 4-2 in Big East play, Georgetown has that chance to elevate themselves if they can take out Villanova on Monday. It's also probably the only chance for some team in the Big East to challenge Villanova for the title. Butler is now just 3-3 in Big East play, though it's come against a difficult schedule (by Pomeroy it's been easily the toughest in conference play so far). They should be able to improve their W/L record against a softer schedule the next three weeks.

Slow Start Dooms Syracuse Rakeem Christmas has been the star for Syracuse offensively this entire season, but to say that his teammates didn't help him out here was an understatement. In the first half, his teammates shot a combined 2-for-21 from the field, including 1-for-11 behind the arc. At halftime, Syracuse was down by 21 points. Things got better in the second half, but it was just too big of a hole to dig out of.

Jim Boeheim is clearly not going to force Chinoso Obokoh into the regular rotation, so with the loss of Chris McCullough he's playing a seven man rotation. So when a couple starters are having off nights, Boeheim just doesn't have a lot of options to turn to. Syracuse is 13-5 and 4-1 in ACC play, but Iowa is the only likely RPI Top 50 team they've beaten. Next Saturday they'll take on Miami at home, and if they don't care of business there they will start have to worry about the NIT. As for Clemson, they're playing better in ACC play after a disastrous non-conference performance. But realistically, even the NIT is probably an uphill battle for them.

UConn Struggles At Stanford It would have been natural to expect UConn to be the better team in the paint against a shorthanded Stanford front line, but instead it was Stanford that dominated the paint. A quick foul out for Amida Brimah (after only 9 minutes) was part of the problem, as was foul trouble for much of the rest of the UConn front line. But Stanford had an impressive 47.4 OR% (compared to an 11.8 OR% for UConn), leading to an 18-to-4 advantage in second chance points.

The AAC doesn't have a clear best team, particularly with the suspension of SMU's Keith Frazier. So UConn still looks like the best all-around team in the league. But if they fall short in the AAC tournament, the NCAA Tournament is anything but a sure thing. The Huskies probably have to get to 12-6 in AAC play to have a good shot. Stanford moves to 13-4 overall, and they're also 4-1 in Pac-12 play with wins over Texas, Washington and UConn to go with a bad loss to DePaul. They get a huge chance to pull themselves off the bubble with Arizona coming to town on Thursday.

BYU Falls At St. Mary's St. Mary's has struggled for big chunks of this season, but late last night they did harm to their conference rival, as the WCC teeters closer to being a one-bid league despite being arguably stronger than it's been in well over a decade. Kyle Collinsworth went to the bench early in the second half with four fouls, and that made BYU even weaker in the paint than normal, and they simply couldn't handle the size of Brad Waldow, or even Garrett Jackson. Saint Mary's pulled down 17 offensive rebounds (Waldow's 7 single-handedly tied all of BYU), and they scored the majority of their offense (42 points) in the paint.

BYU is 15-6, but with just a win over Stanford to go with some iffy losses (Purdue and Pepperdine). They can't afford more than one or two more losses in conference play or the lack of quality wins will drop them into the NIT. The good news for them is that their schedule eases up the next few weeks. Saint Mary's, meanwhile, has followed up a mediocre non-conference performance by a 7-0 start in WCC play. Most likely that undefeated run is going to end in Spokane on Thursday, but if they can somehow pull that upset then they'll suddenly look like the WCC favorite.

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