Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Morning News: Notre Dame Stuns UNC, Texas Goes Cold, Michigan St Smokes Indiana, And Iowa/Nebraska

TaShawn Thomas had his way with the Texas front court

Notre Dame Stuns North Carolina If North Carolina won this game, quite a few people in the media would have called it an "upset". After all, they were ranked five spots lower in the Top 25. But in fact, Notre Dame was an 8 point underdog in Vegas, making this as big of an upset as Yale over UConn, a result that the media presented as one of the stunners of the season for a good four to six weeks. The reason the computers are down on Notre Dame? Their defense, which is bad. And as a side note, Notre Dame has depth issues that make them particularly vulnerable to foul trouble, which is something much more likely to plague them in ACC play than against their cupcake non-conference schedule.

But North Carolina's offense is, at its worst, the cure of anybody's bad defense. Rather than get to the basket they constantly settle for 10-15 foot jumpers, and rely on their athletic front court players to chase down offensive rebounds. This game fit the script, with the Tar Heels hitting just 41% of their two pointers but grabbing 21 offensive rebounds. Down the stretch, the Tar Heels had plenty of chances to win, particularly after Jerian Grant was fouled out on a completely phantom foul call. But several shots rolled off the rim in the final minute for North Carolina, as can happen when you leave things to the final minute.

North Carolina was lurking as a dark horse contender in the ACC. One loss to a good team doesn't end their chances, but it's costly. Their margin of error just is a lot smaller than Duke, Virginia and Louisville. They do get a chance to bounce right back on Saturday, however, when Louisville comes to Chapel Hill.

So does this win do anything for what I said in the first paragraph about Notre Dame being overrated? Not too much, I don't think. This was their first road game of the entire season, and their only other win against a Pomeroy Top 50 opponent (Michigan State) came at home and in overtime. Just two days before beating the Tar Heels they needed double overtime to escape Georgia Tech at home. As always, the reality is somewhere between those two results. Notre Dame definitely looks like a Tournament team, but they're still a step behind the Big Three atop the ACC.

Texas Goes Cold Against Oklahoma This was just a "one of those days" game for Texas. They were weirdly passive offensively, and settled for far too much jumpers, and then proceeded to brick those jumpers. They were an atrocious 3-for-23 on jump shooting in the first half, and weren't much better at 9-for-26 in the second half. Oklahoma had a staggering 34-to-16 advantage in paint scoring. Considering the fact that Texas has the most formidable front line in the nation aside from Kentucky, I don't think we'll see them get dominated like that down low again the rest of the season.

A ton of credit for Oklahoma's success this season goes to TaShawn Thomas, the Houston transfer, who was the best player for either team here (12 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks). And with back-to-back wins over Baylor and Texas to open Big 12 play, Oklahoma is absolutely part of the Big 12 title race. They were already part of it, honestly, but this win means that everybody now realizes it.. They likely won't struggle at home against Kansas State on Saturday, but three of their next four games after that will be on the road against quality opponents, and that's where we'll see if they have the consistency to put up the 14-4 or 13-5 record it's going to take to win the Big 12.

This loss is a blow for Texas, but one they can easily recover from. The Big 12 is the deepest conference in the nation this season and every team is going to lose at least a few games. They head on the road next to face Oklahoma State 

Michigan State Smokes Indiana I've gotten some grief from Indiana fans for still having them as an NIT team, but the concern with the Hoosiers is that their defense is an absolute tire fire. It's easily the worst in the Big Ten, and that's despite playing a cupcake non-conference schedule. This final score here, if anything, understates how badly Indiana got destroyed. Michigan State led by 19 points at halftime and by 30 points early in the second half, before taking their foot off the pedal and cruising to a victory.

Michigan State's offense has looked ugly at times this season, and they'd failed to hit 1 PPP in three of their last four games, but Indiana's defense was the cure here, allowing 1.15 PPP. They shouldn't be at risk of missing the NCAA Tournament, but it remains to be seen if they can score efficiently enough against non-Indiana Big Ten defenses to contend for one of the top two or three spots in the conference standings.

Indiana has wins over Butler and SMU along with a bad loss to Eastern Washington, and a 10-8 Big Ten record would get them to 20 regular season wins. That would also put them right on the Tournament bubble heading into the Big Ten tournament. But with the Big Ten not perceived well this season, it's hard to see them getting in at 9-9.

Iowa Takes Care Of Nebraska Nebraska's offense was more of the same here, with Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields again combining for the majority of the team's shots and struggling to score efficiently. But the difference in this game was Nebraska's inability to keep Iowa off the free throw line. Iowa attempted 38 free throws, including more than a dozen apiece for both Aaron White and Gabriel Olaseni.
No, Fran. You're winning the game, Fran. No.

The Huskers not only don't look anything like a bubble team right now, but they're at real risk of finishing something like 4-14 in Big Ten play. It's been a terribly frustrating season for Tim Miles. Their offense is going to need a complete offseason rebuild.

This was a "taking care of business" game at home for Iowa. They were supposedly to win, and they did. They'll get a much more important test on Thursday when they take on Michigan State at home.

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