Friday, January 30, 2015

Morning News: UCLA Stuns Utah, Ohio St Runs Over Maryland, Rasheed Sulaimon, Dayton/UMass, And La Tech/WKU

This feels like a long time ago, doesn't it?

UCLA Stuns Utah Utah never seemed right in this game. They fell behind by double-digits early in the second half and never really made much of a charge. Their offense was weirdly passive all night. A full 47% of their shots from the field were three-pointers. Delon Wright disappeared for large stretches, finishing with a quiet 15 points and 2 assists.

Utah's last two road games have been ugly, with this upset following the 18 point drubbing by Arizona. But it would be a mistake to draw too many conclusions from that. Home/road narratives are always dumb and overstated. The statistics say that every team's homecourt advantage is pretty much equal, plus or minus at most a single point. There's no reason to think that Utah won't go on the road on Sunday and easily handle USC. Also, even after this loss Utah is still tied with Arizona in efficiency margin in conference play (+0.25 PPP). So it would be a mistake to think Utah couldn't still come back to take the Pac-12.

This would be a great win for UCLA's resume if they hadn't just lost 7 of 10 games. Even after this win there's still a pretty significant gap between them and the bubble. They're 4-4 in Pac-12 play and will need to finish at least 10-8 to get any bubble consideration, and realistically need to reach 11-7.

Ohio State Runs Away From Maryland Ohio State completed two "upsets" this week, beating ranked teams while they were unranked, though of course they were favored by approximately 8 points in Vegas in both games. This game was also a total Ohio State demolition in every way. They controlled the glass (a 42.1 OR% compared to a 22.2 OR% for Maryland), they shot much better from outside (59% on threes compared to 35% for Maryland) and dominated inside (a 32-to-16 advantage in points in the paint).

As recently as a week ago, Ohio State's resume was looking awfully bubbly, but the reality was that they were better than their resume. Even before this win they had the second best efficiency margin in Big Ten play, and with this rout it's now up to +0.09 PPP, and the Buckcyes are in control of second place in the Big Ten. Can they hold it? They've got some tricky road games coming up, including one at Purdue on Wednesday. Their one game against Wisconsin will come at home, so if they can get through this stretch undefeated then they could still challenge for the Big Ten title.

Maryland has nearly a week to lick their wounds before they play Penn State at home. Any tenuous chance they still have to challenge for the Big Ten title will require a home victory over Wisconsin on February 24th.

Rasheed Sulaimon Booted From Duke This news came out of nowhere. Sulaimon has spent some time in Coach K's dog house, but he had been playing plenty lately. Duke's depth is going to be seriously tested now, as they're down to just eight scholarship players. Certainly we'll see more Matt Jones, but the biggest winner will probably be Grayson Allen, who had been the last scholarship player off the bench for Duke. He hasn't shown much in ACC play, but he'll get his chance now. Duke doesn't have a long time to figure this out, as they head on the road to face Virginia tomorrow.

Dayton Falls To UMass Dayton will feel as if they gave this one away. They were an ugly 6-for-12 at the line with 7 turnovers in the second half alone, and the key play of the game was Dyshawn Pierre missing a layup that was almost too wide open with Dayton trailing by 3 points and around a minute to go. On the other end of the court the Flyers didn't get the benefit of the doubt from the ref after Scoochie Smith got a defensive rebound and was ruled out-of-bounds, though reviews seemed to show he was clearly inbounds.

Depth is going to be an issue for Dayton all season long. All five starters played at least 34 minutes here, and they effectively played a six man rotation (their seventh man, Bobby Wehrli, played only 4 minutes). That said, a road win at UMass was always going to be difficult, so this isn't a terrible performance. Dayton is still 15-4 overall and 5-4 against the RPI Top 100, and they should earn an at-large bid if they get to 13-5 or better in Atlantic Ten play.

This win keeps UMass from dropping to .500 for the season, though their crazy difficult non-conference schedule has them sitting a respectable 55th in the RPI. Realistically, though, they're not in the at-large conversation. They've got some lower-tier Atlantic Ten opponents coming up the next few weeks, and that's going to drop their RPI even if they win every game.

Louisiana Tech Rolls Western Kentucky Western Kentucky came into this game 7-0 in Conference USA play, though I still had Louisiana Tech as my projected favorite. Western Kentucky had beaten Old Dominion and UTEP at home, but they still had to go on the road to face Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion, UAB and Middle Tennessee. This was the first of those four tough road games, and Louisiana Tech wiped the floor with them here, leading by double figures for nearly the entire second half despite just 20% three-point shooting and 50% free throw shooting.

Louisiana Tech is now on top of Conference USA in efficiency margin (+0.14 PPP, compared to +0.11 PPP for UAB and UTEP), and they also lead the standings now that they are tied with WKU and own the tiebreak. They've got some tough remaining road tests, though, starting with a game at UAB next Thursday, so they're far from being comfortable atop the league.

Western Kentucky has a pretty soft upcoming schedule. Their next particularly difficult game will be on the road at UAB on February 19th.

Cincinnati Defeats UConn This wasn't the prettiest game, but it was awfully physical. UConn struggled to get jump shots to fall, finishing an ugly 1-for-14 on two-point jumpers and 34% overall on two-pointers. Troy Caupain was the focal point for Cincinnati, scoring 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting and also getting himself ejected on two separate technical fouls for taunting in the second half.

Cincinnati is starting to make the case that they might be the best team in the AAC. They're two games back of Tulsa, though against a more difficult schedule and with a better efficiency margin. SMU has the highest efficiency margin in the AAC (+0.21 PPP, compared to +0.19 PPP for Cincinnati and +0.15 PPP for Tulsa), but they have yet to play a decent opponent since losing Keith Frazier for the season. Cincinnati has a big time test coming up at SMU next Thursday.

UConn has struggled really badly the last few weeks. They've lost three of five and dropped significantly in every computer rating. They do get close to two weeks now to lick their wounds against a soft stretch of schedule, but have some tough games down the stretch, including a home-and-home with SMU.

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