Saturday, January 03, 2015

Morning News: Washington Falls To California, Colorado Beats UCLA, Isaiah Taylor Cleared, And More

We all hope to see this scowl on the sidelines again soon.
Washington Falls To California This wasn't really an "upset", though I suppose it technically was as Washington closed as a 1 point favorite in Vegas. But Washington followed up that bad Stony Brook loss by not providing much defensive resistance here. California only scored 1.09 PPP because they didn't shoot the ball particularly well (Tyrone Wallace was 4-for-20), but they committed just four turnovers. That 5.4% turnover rate for California was their second lowest in any game over the past decade. But Washington's offense isn't explosive enough, even with Nigel Williams-Goss nearly going for a triple double (19 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds), to win a game when they're putting no defensive pressure on an opponent.

Washington is regressing back to the mean after all the hype they got with that 11-0 start. They'll drop out of the Top 25, which was a place they never should have been to begin with. But are they a Tournament team? 10-8 in the Pac-12 will probably get them in, but they're staring at 0-2 in the face with a difficult road game at Stanford up on Sunday.

California definitely needed this win after that ugly loss to Cal St Bakersfield. They went 8-3 in non-conference play, but that bad win more than wiped out the win over Syracuse, so there's really no way they can earn an at-large bid at 9-9 in the Pac-12. At 10-8 they'll be on the bubble and at 11-7 they'll be in fairly good shape. But their conference schedule is very backloaded, so they're at risk of ending the season in ugly fashion. They need to run up these early wins in January.

Colorado Beats UCLA Colorado's offense has been absolutely brutal this season, and the only way they're going to beat decent teams is like this: ugly basketball. UCLA's offense had an ugly 35.7 eFG% and scored just 0.78 PPP. And it would have been even uglier if not for Colorado's 18 turnovers, which allowed UCLA to score 23 points off turnovers, including 13 fast break points. Wesley Gordon led the way defensively, dominating the paint with 7 blocks.

Unfortunately, nothing in this game changes the general problem that Colorado can't score efficiently. It's really hard to see how they can score consistently enough to win enough games to earn an at-large bid. UCLA is in their own rut, having lost four straight games and dropping to 0-5 now in games where they fail to score 1 PPP. After having gone 8-5 in non-conference play, there's no realistic way the Bruins can earn an at-large bid without getting to at least 10-8 in Pac-12 play. Unless they pull a stunning upset at Utah, they'll drop to 0-2.

Isaiah Taylor Cleared To Play I don't think anybody thought Texas would play so well with their star point guard out injured the last few weeks. They've played like the best team in the Big 12 even without him, and now he will reportedly be ready to go for their Big 12 regular season opener against Texas Tech later today. Texas now enters Big 12 play looking like the favorite to finally steal a Big 12 title from Bill Self and Kansas.

Reid Travis Out Indefinitely Stanford got that big road win at Texas just before Christmas and looked to be on their way to just narrowly getting into the NCAA Tournament, but they've hit a serious speed bump here. The freshman had been scoring 7.5 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds per game, and is clearly a talent for the present as well as the future. That said, this Stanford team is deeper than recent vintages, and Johnny Dawkins has basically been going with a regular ten man rotation. If Stefan Nastic gets in foul trouble then they'll have paint problems, but as long as he can play starters minutes this shouldn't harm the Cardinal too significantly.

Mick Cronin Will Miss The Rest Of The Season  Due to his health issues, Mick Cronin will not coach games or practices for Cincinnati for the rest of the season. Obviously we hope he'll be healthy and back next season. He's a good coach, and also one of the most fun coaches to watch during games, with his scowls and glares.

For the short term, this won't change my projection for the team. They're a bubble quality team, and I'm sure their playing style isn't going to change. They'll keep doing what they do - there's not a whole lot that coaches can do during games to help or hurt a team anyway. The long term concern will be if Cronin's health harms recruiting, but it's obviously way too early to speculate on something like that.

Northern Iowa Loses To Evansville This game actually happened on Thursday, but it was the only news of note that day and I passed on doing a Morning News post yesterday. But I wanted to talk about it, so it got bumped to today's Morning News post.

This is the type of game that sums up why it's so much harder for mid-majors to earn at-large bids than major conference teams. Evansville is a borderline Top 100 team in the nation, which means that playing them on the road is equivalent to playing a borderline Top 25 team at home. That makes it a tough game to win repeatedly, yet a win gets you almost nothing, while a loss is a "bad loss". If it was reversed, and Northern Iowa was playing a borderline Top 25 foe at home (as major conference teams all get), then it would be equally hard to win, but a win would be a "quality win", while a loss would be no big deal. The lack of respect for home and road differences is the primary reason mid-majors fail to earn more at-large bids.

After the auto bids are all earned and the Selection Committee sits down to put together their bracket, the odds are high (assuming that they don't win Arch Madness) that Northern Iowa will be among the 35 best teams left, but it's significantly less likely that they'll be one of the 35 best resumes, and the latter is what the Selection Committee selects. They beat Iowa, but their only other chance for an RPI Top 50 win will come against Wichita State. At the same time, any non-Wichita State loss will be a "bad" loss. The only way they can earn an at-large bid will be with a gaudy won-loss record - something like 14-4 in Valley play. The good news is that they're entering an easy stretch of their schedule. The next particularly difficult game will be January 25th at Illinois State.

Evansville is 11-2 now, though not realistically in the bubble discussion after a really soft non-conference schedule delivered zero quality wins. But they're quietly a dangerous dark horse contender in the Missouri Valley. We can't pencil Wichita State and Northern Iowa into the Arch Madness title game quite yet, and Evansville is one of the reasons why.

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