Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Morning News: Louisville's Stars Come Through, Will Florida Be The Best NIT Team?, West Virginia Struggles, And More

Teammates? Who needs teammates?

Louisville's Stars Come Through Louisville's complementary players didn't do much here. Just four players (Montrezl Harrell, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear) combined to score all of Louisville's points. In fact, the other seven guys on Louisville who played combined for 0 points, 1 assist and 6 rebounds in 48 minutes. That's pretty weak. But Louisville's core group of stars has a lot of talent, and they were sufficient to pick up a quality road victory over Miami.

Louisville is now 7-2 in ACC play and has a chance on Saturday to pull a road upset at Virginia that would give them a real chance to win the ACC. It's unlikely, but all you can ask for is a shot. Either way, it's looking likely that Louisville is heading for something like a 3 seed in March.

Coming off two bad losses, Miami really could have used a big win at home. They did beat Duke earlier in the season, but that's their only RPI Top 50 win and their RPI has slid out of the Top 60. Their best chance for an RPI Top 50 win the rest of the way will be when North Carolina comes to town in a few weeks. A win there and a 9-9 ACC record will put them in reasonable shape on Selection Sunday.

Will Florida Be The Best NIT Team? I've talked a few times this season about how Xavier was the favorite to end up the best team left out of the NCAA Tournament. That position isn't a horrible insult, of course. It means you've had bad luck in close games and are due for better things the following season. The two best teams left out last season were SMU and Utah, and both of them are in good shape this season. But Florida is now 4-7 in games decided by four points or less, and just 5-4 in SEC play and 4-7 against the RPI Top 100 with 3 losses to RPI 100+ opponents.

If Florida gets to 12-6 in SEC play that should earn them an at-large bid, but with this loss that will now take a 7-2 finish. They're almost certainly going to need to beat Kentucky at home on Saturday. At 11-7 in SEC play they wouldn't be a lock for the NIT, but they'd need a lot to go right during Championship Week.

Vanderbilt came into this game 1-7, but they've basically been the Georgia Tech of the SEC. In other words, the team that is actually fairly good but just hadn't had luck in close games. They came into this game 1-6 in games decided by six points or less. If they can somehow get their way into the NIT (it would take a very strong finish) they'll have a realistic chance to win some games.

West Virginia Struggles At Oklahoma West Virginia's offense is always fairly ugly. They rely on offensive rebounds and turnovers, which they tend to get in bunches. But Oklahoma held onto the ball reasonably well here (just 13 turnovers) and West Virginia was an ugly 5-for-26 behind the arc). The 20.6% defensive turnover rate was actually the lowest West Virginia had forced in a game all season long. So credit goes to an Oklahoma backcourt that isn't otherwise known for being great at handling the ball.

Oklahoma is an underrated team. They're second in the Big 12 in efficiency margin, and by the Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings are actually narrowly the best team in the Big 12. Do I actually think they're the best team in the Big 12? No. But they're a team with a real chance to earn a 3 or 4 seed on Selection Sunday and make the second weekend.

West Virginia drops to 6-3 in Big 12 play with a nasty remaining schedule. They have a home game against Kansas State next Wednesday, but every other game will be against a team inside the Pomeroy Top 30. They could play really well down the stretch and still end up just 10-8 or 9-9 in Big 12 play.

Michael Gbinije Wins It For Syracuse In the end, it was a relatively unexciting night of college basketball. The big teams all won. But we did have a good finish in Syracuse/Virginia Tech, where the Hokies blew a 13 point lead with 5:30 to go. Syracuse put on a full court press and the Hokies turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions at one point. And after finally drawing even late, Syracuse forced one final turnover to set up Michael Gbinije for this:
Syracuse is teetering around the Tournament bubble, so this would have been a terrible home loss. They're 15-7 overall and 6-3 in the ACC, which seems good, but due to their backloaded schedule still have zero wins against the RPI Top 50. Their remaining schedule is awfully difficult, which provides both opportunity and peril. Their next big opportunity will come February 14th, when Duke comes to town. Louisville and Virginia also will come to the Carrier Dome before the season is out.

As for Virginia Tech, it's been the tough first year we expected for Buzz Williams. We'll see what happens when his first full recruiting class shows up in the fall.

NC State Goes Down To Wake Forest Wake Forest almost had a catastrophic collapse here. After leading by 23 points with 9:30 to go, a 20-2 run pulled the Wolfpack within 5 points with 4:20 to go. But the comeback stalled there, and Codi Miller-McIntyre made the big plays Wake Forest needed down the stretch.

NC State has lost 4 of 5 to drop to 5-6 in ACC play, with Virginia, Louisville and North Carolina making up three of their next four opponents. If they want to make the NCAA Tournament, these next two weeks will be when they can earn it or blow it. The Louisville and UNC games will be on the road, though, which makes the home game against Virginia next Wednesday the most important of them all.

The media loves Danny Manning and hates Jeff Bzdelik, so Wake Forest is getting a lot of "they're improving throughout the season" articles in the press, though the evidence for such improvement is sparse. Their computer numbers have been flat all year long. This is a nice win, but not a total stunner (they were 8 point underdogs in Vegas). This is a young roster, so they could be significantly better next season, but they're still a long way from being a bubble quality team.

Wisconsin Routs Indiana The Hoosiers made a strong effort late in this game to collect a nice backdoor gambling cover, but when this game was in doubt they simply could not get a defensive stop. Wisconsin is arguably the best offense in the country and Indiana is probably the worst defense in the Big Ten, so this shouldn't have been a surprise. The Badgers poured in 1.42 PPP despite only three offensive rebounds. All five starters scored in double figures, led by Frank Kaminsky's 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting.

We knew Indiana was going to have to shoot out of their minds to keep this game close. They did shoot really well (13-for-24 behind the arc), but not well enough. The silver lining, of course, being that nobody expected them to win this one. They have a relatively soft schedule the rest of the way, and if they can win five of their final eight they'll likely go Dancing. A home game against Michigan on Sunday is a classic "just take care of business" game.

If Wisconsin if going to be challenged in the Big Ten, it will happen if they lose on the road at Maryland and Ohio State, their top challengers. But they've got three games until they play either of those games. They are in a soft stretch of schedule until then, starting with a home game against Northwestern on Saturday.

St. John's Goes Down Ugly This was a game St. John's will want to forget. Things started out with Chris Obekpa getting ejected after delivering an elbow to the head of Tyler Wideman. The Johnnies then proceeded to shoot 21% on jump shots, including 17% behind the arc, while allowing Butler to get to the rim at will (68% of Butler's made baskets were layups or dunks).

I've talked about this before, but Butler is a real sleeper to look for late in the season. They're underrated (despite that Top 25 ranking) and their peripherals suggest that they're primed to be even better, and they're ideally built for a Tournament run. They're a dark horse Final Four team if they can get the right draw. This coming Saturday they will play DePaul, but a week later they'll have a fascinating home game against Villanova, with a chance to finally make the Big East title race interesting.

St. John's is now just 3-6 in Big East play, though they have two relatively easy games up next (at home against Creighton and DePaul). They should be in good shape at 9-9 in Big East play, but if they only go 8-10 then they'll have work to do in the Big East tournament to avoid the NIT.

DePaul Beats Seton Hall Isaiah Whitehead has struggled since returning, and he was a tough 3-for-10 from the field here with 1 assist and 3 turnovers. But what really doomed Seton Hall here was lifeless defense. DePaul hit 65.8% of their two-pointers, including 15-for-19 on layups and dunks, finishing with a big 40-to-26 advantage in points in the paint.

Seton Hall has lost four of six. They're 5-5 in Big East play as well as 5-5 against the RPI Top 100. A 4-4 finish, to get them to 9-9 in Big East play, will put them in reasonably good at-large shape. But with road games remaining against Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's and Providence, they don't want to blow easier games like a home game against Marquette on Saturday.

DePaul is 6-5 in Big East play and back to .500 overall, and they still have the chance to ruin the at-large hopes of several other Big East teams (such as Providence and St. John's) before the season is out.

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