Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Morning News: Kansas State Knocks Off Kansas, St. John's Beats Xavier, Louisville Holds Off Georgia Tech, And LJ Rose Is Done

Georgia Tech lost, but this was still the play of the night.

Kansas State Knocks Off Kansas Kansas State had lost 7 of 8 and almost certainly will fail to qualify for even the NIT, so this game was their Super Bowl, and they played like it. Nino Williams couldn't get jump shots to fall, but he attacked the rim without fear. Nigel Johnson was a spark off the bench, hitting 4-for-5 behind the arc. But more importantly, their defense shut down Kansas, holding them to a 41.1 eFG% and 0.95 PPP. Bruce Weber teams historically are known for their defense, yet this Kansas State team has been an exception. Via Pomeroy, this is the worst defensive team Weber has coached since he took the Illinois job more than a decade ago. But they turned back the clock with a stellar performance here.

While this was an upset, this isn't exactly Texas Southern over Michigan State. Kansas State was only a 6 point underdog in Vegas. And it was partially because they're a decent team stuck in the best conference in basketball, but also because Kansas is a bit overrated. Their resume speaks for itself, of course, but they also entered this game 6-3 in games decided by six points or fewer. They could easily have two or three more losses if some luck went against them.

To be clear, I still think Kansas is the best team in the Big 12. But they're a step below the Kentucky/Duke/Virginia/Wisconsin/Arizona/Gonzaga tier of teams, and they weren't as far ahead of the pack in the Big 12 as the conference standings suggested ten days ago. If Kansas ends up tied for the conference title with Oklahoma or Iowa State, it wouldn't be a terribly unjust result.

St. John's Beats Xavier This game was fun for the entire second half, really. These two teams went back and forth, never able to separate from each other. But more than anybody, it was Sir'Dominic Pointer making the big plays down the stretch for St. John's, on both ends of the court. He finished with a stat-stuffing 19 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks, 4 steals and 3 assists. I've said this before, but I think you have to find a spot on First Team All-Big East for Pointer. Still, Xavier did have a chance on their final possession, but they executed poorly and ended up with just a tough, off-balance, contested jumper for Myles Davis which missed.

St. John's needed this win more than Xavier did. Xavier is still in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament, but the Johnnies had to get at least one win in this home stretch against Xavier and Georgetown or they'd be staring the NIT in the face. They now have that win. If they can beat Georgetown on Senior Day on Saturday they'll have their ninth Big East wins. That won't put them safely in the NCAA Tournament yet, but it'll put them in really good shape.

Xavier is 8-8 in Big East play and 5-5 against the RPI Top 50, with an RPI that is still 30th, though that RPI is a bit inflated (they've only played two RPI 200+ opponents). If they can beat Villanova on Saturday they'll be safely in the NCAA Tournament. If they fail to, though, they'll need to win at Creighton the following weekend to avoid serious trouble.

Louisville Holds Off Georgia Tech I wouldn't normally use a Morning News post talk about a team like Louisville beating a 3-12 team in their conference, but it's worth pointing out that this was an impressive win, and it put to bed a lot of ridiculous panic on social media during this game. The reality is that Georgia Tech is much better than their record (they are now an incredible 0-11 in ACC games decided by seven points or fewer), and their ability to get after the glass was always going to cause troubles for Louisville. Considering that the Pomeroy ratings only projected this a three point spread without taking into account Chris Jones being kicked off the team, this was really a toss-up game when it tipped off.

So, while social media was talking about Louisville being a bubble team with Georgia Tech winning this game, I was already preparing a "Don't panic about Louisville losing this game" paragraph in this Morning News post. But down the stretch, Louisville started hitting shots (they hit 5 of their final 7 three-pointers) and Georgia Tech didn't (they were 0-for-10 on three-pointers before Tadric Jackson hit one at the buzzer).

Louisville is not the same team without Chris Jones. But they're still, in my opinion, one of the 25 best teams in the country. The test in the final week of the regular season will be winning at home against either Notre Dame or Virginia. If they fall in both games, that will cause them to drop a few seed lines on Selection Sunday, and it will give their fans zero confidence for their chances of a long NCAA Tourney run.

LJ Rose Done For The Season As Houston's only real point guard, this is a significant blow to Houston. The silver lining is that their season wasn't going anywhere with him anyway. They are 1-13 in AAC play. Kelvin Sampson knew he was walking into a total rebuild, and this season will mercifully be over for him soon enough. We'll see what he can do in Year #2.

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