Sunday, February 08, 2015

Morning News: New Bracket, Arizona St Stuns Arizona, Duke Annihilates Notre Dame, Oklahoma St Knocks Off Kansas, And Much More

What a day of college hoops!
New Bracket Projection Three changes were made to the Field of 68 this week. George, Mississippi and Vermont move in, while Syracuse, Connecticut and Stony Brook drop out. Also, starting with this coming week these bracket projections will come out biweekly. So look for the next one after the completion of Wednesday night's games.

Arizona State Stuns Arizona Much was made after this upset of the fact that Arizona State was 11-11, as if this game was Texas Southern taking down Michigan State. But the reality is that while Vegas had the line at 8.5, Pomeroy had it at only 7, and the low line had far more to do with Arizona State being very underrated than anything. In fact, Arizona State came into this game 51st in Pomeroy and 52nd in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. Why the 11-11 record? A really tough schedule and a 2-6 record (before this one) in games decided by six points or fewer.

To put in perspective why this isn't a disastrous result for Arizona, realize that a road game at Arizona State is (depending on which computer rating you prefer) approximately equal to a home game against Kansas or Villanova or Notre Dame. Fans and the media (as well as the Selection Committee) significantly underrate the difference between home and road, and a road game against a bubble-quality team (which Arizona State is, despite not having a bubble-quality resume) is equivalent to a home game against a borderline Top 10 opponent. This will be a "bad" loss for Arizona's resume, but this wasn't a terrible performance by them. There's no reason for all the Arizona soul-searchings the media is going to write over the next 48 hours anymore than there would be if they lost at home to Kansas.

So what about Arizona's chances for a 1 seed? I think they still control their own destiny, but with a much smaller margin for error. If they fail to win either the Pac-12 regular season or tournament title, they'll likely need some help from teams like Duke, Kansas, Gonzaga and/or Wisconsin losing.

Duke Annihilates Notre Dame We thought that the shooting performance that Duke put on against Wisconsin was the best that they could play, but they might have outdone that here, particularly in the first half. Late in the first half they still had an offensive efficiency over 2 PPP per possession, which is so ridiculous that a possession consisting of a fast break ending with an uncontested dunk will lower your offensive efficiency. They missed some shots late in the half to finish it with a more human-like 97.6 eFG% and 1.85 PPP. By the time the game ended their final stats were a seemingly pedestrian 69.6 eFG% and 1.45 PPP.

This game was Duke at their best, of course, Justise Winslow (19 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks) was probably their most explosive player, Jahlil Okafor (20 points on 9-for-11 shooting with 10 rebounds) physically shoved around Notre Dame's undersized front line, and even Matt Jones hit 3-for-5 behind the arc for a career-high 17 points. Of course... Duke won't shoot like this every game. Their last time out they only won by 6 at home against Georgia Tech. A question worth asking is whether Duke can earn a 1 seed without winning the ACC regular season title. If they go 14-4 or 15-3 and win the ACC tournament then they likely will. But if they fail to win the ACC tournament also, that will start to get difficult.

Notre Dame drops to 9-3 in ACC play, though with a fairly soft schedule the rest of the way. If they can just forget about this game, they could go on a little winning streak here.

Oklahoma State Knocks Off Kansas This isn't a big upset, as Oklahoma State was only a 1 point Vegas dog, but it's a really important victory for Oklahoma State, and a very worthy court storming by their fans.  They needed this one to help firmly put them in the Field of 68, and they came back despite Kansas jumping out to a 12 point first half lead. They shut down Kansas in the second half, holding them to 8-for-30 shooting and 0.62 PPP. Kansas fans were once again perplexed why Cliff Alexander can't go on the floor despite playing so well when he does - he got just 4 minutes and a single shot attempt in the second half here.

This win gets Oklahoma State above .500 in Big 12 play and they are also a very strong 5-5 against the RPI Top 50. The Cowboys should be safely in the NCAA Tournament if they get to 9-9 in conference play, which means only a 3-4 finish. They have a tough remaining schedule, but they should get there.

Kansas is still in control of the Big 12, even after this loss, but the computers view them as overrated (Pomeroy's "Luck" rating has them the luckiest major conference team in the country). Even after this game they're 6-2 in games decided by six points or less.  Their efficiency margin in conference play (+0.12 PPP) is not significantly different from Oklahoma, Baylor or Iowa State (all between +0.09 and +0.11 PPP). So Kansas controls their own destiny for a 1 seed, but it's reasonable to think that their results are going to regress a little bit and to think they're more likely to end up a 2 seed than a 1 seed.

Virginia Hangs On To Beat Louisville Virginia's defense was dominant here, particularly in the first half, where Louisville tallied an ugly 0.48 PPP.  Things didn't go as well in the second half, and Louisville was actually able to make enough of a run to make the final minute a little exciting. Virginia lost Justin Anderson to a worrying injury after just 16 minutes played. And overall, Virginia just couldn't hit a shot. They had a 35.3 eFG% and 0.95 PPP, It's only the third time all season they've scored fewer than 1 PPP, and that 35.3 eFG% was their worst shooting in conference play since they had a 33.7 eFG% against Virginia Tech on January 22nd, 2012.

It tells you how good Virginia is that they could have their worst shooting performance in conference play in more than three years, lose arguably their best player halfway through, they still be totally in control of a game against a borderline Top 10 opponent. They're totally in control of the ACC as well, and unless they fall at NC State on Wednesday it will take a fairly stunning turn of events for them to fail to win the ACC regular season title. That said, if Justin Anderson does miss a few weeks (current reports are 3-6 weeks), Virginia fans will rightfully be concerned about their chances in the ACC tournament and the NCAA Tournament. It will be hard to project Virginia as the ACC tourney favorite if he's not back.

Louisville quietly has a pretty soft resume. They have just one win over an RPI Top 30 opponent (North Carolina). They're still 13th in RPI and they'd likely be a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, but it's more than a little disconcerting that they have been so unable to score against quality opponents. This was the second straight game where Jones, Harrell, Rozier and Blackshear were the only four Louisville players to score. They just don't have a lot of offensive options.

Baylor Embarrasses West Virginia West Virginia just didn't show up for the start of this game. At one point they were losing 23-3, and the game was never competitive after that. A 14-6 run in garbage time to finish the game by West Virginia made the final score a little more respectable. What made this win impressive by Baylor was that West Virginia managed to get their 19 turnovers and still got rolled. Baylor physically dominated the paint. On the offensive end they had 17 layups and dunks and shot 61% on two-pointers. On the defensive end they blocked 7 shots and held West Virgina to 42% two-point shooting.

West Virginia is getting a reputation as the nation's "worst good team", and it's an understandable perspective. Their best win in non-conference play came over NC State and they ran out to a 6-2 Big 12 record by beating both TCU and Texas Tech twice. The Big 12 is a full round robin, of course, so those final ten games were going to be nasty, and West Virginia has failed the test so far, getting annihilated by both Oklahoma and Baylor. Wednesday they have their easiest remaining game when Kansas State comes to town, but then it's right back into the frying pan with a road game at Iowa State next Saturday.

Baylor is still only 6-4 in Big 12 play, but they're quietly playing really good basketball. They're up to 10th in Pomeroy and 13th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They're in contention for a 3 or 4 seed on Selection Sunday, and are a Final Four contender if they can get the right draw.

Xavier Defeats Providence In Style Providence actually led this game for much of the second half, but a 16-1 run got the Cintas Center rocking. And with Providence trying to make one last run, with the ball and down by 7 points in the final minute, Xavier forced a turnover and clinched the win in one of the most fun ways I've ever seen:
I've been joking about Xavier being the best team to miss the NCAA Tournament, but this win puts them back in the Field of 68 for the time being. They're just 6-6 in Big East play, but they're 8-6 against the RPI Top 100 and their RPI is 33rd. With a tough remaining schedule, a 10-8 Big East record really should safely put them in the Tournament. The same is true for Providence, who can make this loss go away by knocking out Villanova at home on Wednesday night. One note for Providence is that Ed Cooley left this game in the second half feeling ill and did not return. For now, we do not know how serious this is.

Kentucky Escapes Florida The Florida Gators had their big chance here to get their season back on track and to get right back into everybody's NCAA Tournament picture. But instead they were undone, really, by free throw shooting. Kentucky, a 69% free throw shooting team for the season, hit a staggering 21-for-22 (96%), while Florida, a 67% free throw shooting team for the season, hit 7-for-14. Florida also was unfortunate to lose Michael Frazier II to an ankle injury after only 23 minutes played.
Willie Cauley-Stein. Goodness.

With the Florida test passed, the two remaining difficult regular season tests for Kentucky will be on the road at LSU and Georgia. The LSU game is up next, on Tuesday. Florida, meanwhile, needs to get to 12-6 in SEC play to have a good chance for an at-large bid. Now 5-5, that means that unless they win at Rupp Arena in their regular season finale they're going to need to win every other regular season game or to do something special in the SEC tournament. That's realistically not going to happen.

Villanova Smokes Georgetown Georgetown had their way with Villanova a month ago, winning by 20 points. But here was another great example of "Team A beat Team B, ergo Team A is better than Team B" not working out. Back at home, Villanova ran over Georgetown, leading by 30-13 at one point, and leading by as many as 24 points in the second half before cruising into the finish. The difference in this game, without question, was shooting. Villanova hit 50% of their threes and Georgetown hit 6% of theirs. Georgetown actually won the rebounding and turnover battles and still got destroyed.

Villanova has a chance next week to effectively wrap up the Big East title. They face Providence and Butler, the only two teams fewer than three losses behind them in the standings, on the road. If they win both games it's all over. If they lose one or both then this fight will continue a little while longer.

Georgetown's RPI is still 21st, but they're a mediocre 4-8 against the RPI Top 100, so their seed is going to be lower than their RPI suggests unless they can pick up some more quality scalps down the stretch. They should be safe for an at-large bid, though.

Marcus Posley Takes Out VCU At The Buzzer VCU is really struggling with injuries. Briante Weber is done for the season, while Treveon Graham missed this one with an ankle injury that has him day-to-day. And that's why there's no shame in VCU's performance here. Even at full strength, winning at St. Bonaventure is no joke. And without their two best players they took this game down to the final possession, when Marcus Posley hit a spectacular buzzer beater, which you can see below:
Marcus Posley is making this a habit. He hit the game winner just a few days ago against Davidson. St. Bonaventure isn't going to earn an at-large bid, but don't sleep on them in a wide open Atlantic Ten tournament.

Speaking of the wide open Atlantic Ten, what about VCU? They're even on losses with Rhode Island now. And on one hand, they already have the tiebreaker over Rhode Island. But on the other, they have some tough games remaining, including road contests at Richmond and Davidson. If Treveon Graham can't return and their level of play slides, VCU's resume doesn't have a ton of big scalps. They should still be pretty safe for an at-large bid, but their tourney seed is starting to slide from the 3-4 seed range to the 6-8 seed range, and it could go further.

SMU Defeats Tulsa Tulsa has been the mystery team leading the AAC.  They had jumped out to a 10-0 record despite doing nothing in non-conference play and in part due to avoiding the other top teams in the league and with some luck in close games. We all kind of thought that Tulsa would begin to fade once they faced the best the AAC has to offer, and this home loss to SMU is the first test of that. Tulsa will now need to win at SMU on March 8th, or else they'll need to make up some ground against a relatively difficult schedule down the stretch.

SMU doesn't have any wins against the Pomeroy Top 50, but they do have two against teams narrowly inside the RPI Top 50 (Temple and Tulsa) and they have no bad losses. As such, their RPI is up to 23rd, and they're looking like a safe at-large team.

Tulsa is 17-6 with an RPI inside the Top 50, but they're just 7-5 against the RPI Top 200 with a non-DI loss as well. If the season ended now that's likely an NIT resume. They're going to need to go at least 14-4 in AAC play to have a reasonable at-large chance.

Harvard Beats Yale There was probably no game all week that had as much impact on the Field of 68 as this one. Remember that the Ivy League has no conference tournament, and Yale is proving a legitimate threat to Harvard. They entered this one ahead of Harvard by one game in the standings. But with this road win, Harvard is now tied up and in control of their own destiny, knowing all they have to do is beat Yale on March 6th and they'll very likely win the league.

That said, Harvard winning at home against Yale is not automatic. Their offense has been awful at times this season, and even in the win here they only had 0.85 PPP. They're scoring only 1.00 PPP in Ivy League play. If Yale steals the title in the end, Harvard's poor offense will be the reason why.

Illinois Knocks Off Michigan State This game almost turned on a farce of a call by "TV Teddy" Valentine. Travis Trice went to the line with the Spartans down by 3 with 33 seconds to go for a one-and-one. He hit the first, but was boxed out perhaps a little too hard by Jaylon Tate. It was probably a foul on Tate, though you could argue it wasn't, but the refs didn't call it. Valentine decided to make up for that on review by calling a dead ball technical foul on Tate. Two wrongs don't make a right, and Michigan State had a serious case of "Ball don't lie" by missing two of their three foul shots after the technical. Foul shooting was what did Michigan State in here, as they shot just 7-for-18 in a game which they lost by five.

Michigan State is not a bubble team yet, but they're not far removed either. They're just 4-7 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is out to 48th. They'll be safe if they can get to 11-7 in Big Ten play (a 5-3 finish), but anything less than that and they'll have work to do in the Big Ten tournament. They need to avoid looking past a tricky road game at Northwestern at Tuesday before taking on Ohio State next weekend.

Despite Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby still being suspended, Illinois is hanging around the bubble. They're 6-5 in Big Ten play and 6-8 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI back inside the Top 50. Like Michigan State they should be safe if they get to 11-7 but will have work to do if they finish 9-9 or 10-8.

Temple Knocks Off Memphis At The Bank Temple is playing much better basketball since adding Jesse Morgan midseason, and they're starting to make a serious at-large case. What they didn't need was a bad loss here to Memphis. And what developed here was a fantastic finish where neither team took a timeout and the ball went back-and-forth, eventually being won on a Josh Brown bank shot. You can watch the final sequence below:
Temple is now 8-3 in AAC play, and on the fringes of the conference title race (they'll have to beat Tulsa on the road to have a chance). They have just a single RPI Top 50 win, but their own RPI is all the way up to 35th, though their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 48th. If they can get to 12-6 in AAC play and then win a game or two in the AAC tourney, they'll be in pretty good shape.

Kyle Collinsworth Gets His Fifth Triple Double  Four other players in Division I history have previously collected four triple doubles in a season, most recently Stephane Lasme eight years ago. But nobody had done it five times in a season until Kyle Collinsworth did it yesterday. BYU plays at a high tempo and they're an all-offense/meh-defense team, so they're ideal for putting up counting stats (their 82.8 PPG are second most in the nation), but it's still an awfully impressive achievement.

This also came in a win. And as I've said before, BYU can afford no more than one more regular season loss if they're going to earn an at-large bid, so a road win is a help. Their toughest remaining game before their season finale at Goznaga will be their road game at Portland on February 26th.

Seton Hall Falls To Marquette Seton Hall has really struggled over the last month. Their Top 25 ranking was always something of a joke, but they've now lost 5 of 7, including back-to-back losses to DePaul and Marquette. And it wasn't like Marquette played out of the ordinary here. They actually shot just 1-for-10 behind the arc and still won. Offense has been the biggest problem for Seton Hall over this stretch. They had a 36.4 eFG% and 0.83 PPP here.

Seton Hall has four RPI Top 50 wins, which is more than most bubble teams, but this loss drops their RPI out of the Top 50. If they can go 4-3 down the stretch to get to 9-9 they'll be in alright shape. Their home game against Georgetown on Tuesday is a key 50/50 game that could make the difference there.

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