|It was impossible to not like Dean Smith.|
Iowa Routs Maryland Maryland's offense couldn't do anything right here. All players not named Melo Trimble shot 1-for-17 in a first half where they scored 0.50 PPP as a team. Maryland finished the game with 0.86 PPP. That said, the narrative after this game is instructive in the value of tempo free stats. Stephen Bardo was on the call for Big Ten Network and he was going on and on about how this was the second straight game where Iowa had held an opponent below 60 points, and that this was their defense "stepping up" lately. The reality is that the 54 points they gave up to Michigan came on 52 possessions, and Michigan is averaging 0.98 PPP in Big Ten play, making that actually a below average defensive effort. Only after this effort did Iowa slip past Indiana for the second worst defensive efficiency in Big Ten play.
Iowa has quietly turned into a very slow tempo team. They're averaging just 59.7 possessions per game in Big Ten play. Of course, Stephen Bardo also kept talking about how Iowa loves to push tempo and get out and run, so maybe tempo free stats aren't for him.
This Iowa team wins games with offense. Jarrod Uthoff has stepped up as a second top tier scorer, opening things up for a more aggressive and effective Aaron White. In calendar years 2014 and 2015, Iowa is just 1-6 when scoring below 1 PPP. They need to score to win. But for now, this win pushes their RPI into the Top 40, and they're off the bubble for the time being.
The narrative around Maryland is that they are struggling on the road due to three straight road blowouts. But of course, earlier in the season they won at Oklahoma State, Michigan State and Purdue. Those types of small sample size narratives are dumb. The real concern is that Maryland is that they're being outscored by 0.01 PPP in conference play. They're still 17th in RPI, but they're not really as good as their resume, and they might slide down the Tourney bracket as the season goes along.
Rhode Island Is Making A Bubble Case Richmond is a better team than most people think, and Rhode Island was a 4.5 point underdog in Vegas. And that makes this a big road upset for their at-large hopes. The sophomore duo of EC Matthews and Hassan Martin has led them all season, and they were huge here (Matthews had 26 points while Martin had 16 with 16 rebounds).
Rhode Island has now won five straight to move into a tie with VCU atop the Atlantic Ten. They have a win over George Washington to go with a loss to UMass, which makes it a fairly quiet resume. But their RPI is up to 55th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is up to 54th. If they can go 6-2 down the stretch to get to 14-4, they'll have a reasonable case on Selection Sunday.
Poor Richmond is now 2-9 in games decided by six points or fewer. Star Kendall Anthony is a senior, but everybody else will be back next season. In other words, already pencil Richmond in for your "underrated preseason" list for the 2015-16 season.
Boise State Suffocates San Diego State San Diego State struggles to score against most teams, particularly when they're not getting easy baskets off offensive rebounds and turnovers. They're outside the Top 240 in the nation in 2P%, 3P% and eFG%. And here? 2-for-19 behind the arc. Without easy baskets (just 2 fast break points and 11 second chance points) or jump shots falling, the Aztecs offense had nowhere to turn. The 0.84 PPP made it San Diego State's worst offensive performance in conference play.
The Mountain West is wide open at the top. Let's look at the traditional and efficiency margin standings:
8-3 San Diego St
7-3 Boise St
7-4 Colorado St
+0.14 PPP Boise St
+0.10 PPP Colorado St
+0.08 PPP San Diego St
+0.07 PPP New Mexico
+0.02 PPP Wyoming
The stats suggest that Wyoming is the paper tiger at the top of the league, though it's fair to point out that they suffered a 23 point blowout loss when Larry Nance, Jr sat. San Diego State probably has the easiest remaining schedule of the bunch, so they remain the favorite for the Mountain West regular season title, but the Mountain West tourney should be totally wide open.
Indiana Tops Michigan This game was like, well, every other Indiana game. Their offense is explosive and rains threes down on everybody, but they can't stop a nosebleed defensively. Michigan scored 1.12 PPP, which was their second biggest offensive outburst in more than two months, but they still lost. They managed to make this game competitive in the final minutes, and got a shot to tie at the buzzer for Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, but they trailed basically the whole way.
This was a "taking care of business" game for Indiana. Now 7-4 in Big Ten play, they need to get to 11-7 in Big Ten play to be reasonably safe for an at-large bid. They can get in at 10-8, but they'll have to win a game or two in the Big Ten tournament. Their remaining schedule is almost entirely 50/50 games which will have small lines in Vegas. So it should be a fun finish to the season for Indiana fans, with the results of close games determining whether they head to the NCAAs or to the NIT.