Sunday, February 15, 2015

Morning News: New Bracket, Darrun Hilliard Leads Villanova, NC State Knocks Off Louisville, Pitt Routs North Carolina, And Much More

Norman Powell Being Ridiculous

New Bracket Projection There are three changes to the makeup of the Field of 68 this week. NC State, LSU and UC-Davis move in, while Tulsa, Florida and UC-Irvine drop out. For all the details, as well as some thoughts about nearing the end of the regular season, click the link.

Darrun Hilliard Leads Villanova To Big East Control Villanova knew that a win at Hinkle Fieldhouse would basically lock up the Big East regular season title. And this was a really fun game that was tight the entire way. Alex Barlow had maybe the best game of his career, hitting 4-for-7 behind the arc and scoring 19 points, but he committed a silly foul behind the three-point line that allowed Darrun Hilliard to knock in three free throws to put Villanova back up by two. After Roosevelt Jones tied up the game, Butler had a defensive breakdown that left open the only guy they couldn't leave open, and Darrun Hilliard hit the three-pointer for the win. With just 1.8 seconds left, Butler actually set up a great play that got an open three for Kelan Martin, but he missed. Hilliard finished the game a ridiculous 8-for-13 on three-pointers. Here is Hilliard's shot:
Villanova basically has the Big East regular season title wrapped up. The question is, will they earn a 1 seed if they win the Big East tournament. And they might, but they're going to need some help. Also, for the second straight year we are asking ourselves whether Villanova is one of the most underrated or one of the most overrated teams in the nation. And here's what I mean by that. On one hand, the computers rate them as deserving of their high ranking and a legitimate title contender, so is it possible that everybody who is so sure they won't even make the Sweet 16 just wildly underrating them? Or is the Big East not as good as we think it is and Villanova is running up the score on bad teams, and Villanova is going to be a joke of a 2 seed that everybody wants in their region on Selection Sunday?

Butler has been playing really good basketball the last few weeks. There's no shame in a three point loss to Villanova, I don't think. They are still, in my opinion, a true dark horse Final Four contender with the right draw. Their peripherals set them up really well for a tourney run.

NC State Knocks Off Louisville Everything went wrong for Louisville here. Offensively, they couldn't get shots for their stars. Terry Rozier fouled out after only 24 minutes, while he and Montrezl Harrell combined for just 14 points on 4-for-16 shooting. They shot just 2-for-11 on layups, and hit just 29.5% of their two-pointers. In contrast, NC State was getting to the rim at will against a Louisville defense that was perhaps over-aggressive and over-pursuing. NC State had a 32-to-16 advantage in paint points. The 1.12 PPP that NC State scored were the most that any team had scored against Louisville this season.

After five losses in their last six games, NC State desperately needed something to work their way back onto the bubble. To earn an at-large bid, they're realistically going to have to get to at least 9-9 in ACC play plus at least one win in the ACC tournament. They're 6-7 with road games at North Carolina and Clemson still to come.

This loss probably ends whatever chances Louisville had for a share of the ACC regular season title. But they're still 15th in RPI and in the mix for something between a 3 and 5 seed on Selection Sunday. They do have some tricky road games remaining, including one at Syracuse on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh Routs North Carolina Despite all the talks about Pittsburgh's "blue collar defense", Pitt has always been a far better offensive than defensive team. They simply play a slow tempo. This is Jamie Dixon's 12th season at Pitt, and they have never once finished lower than 45th in Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency. What holds them back is defense, as it has this year where they are arguably the worst defense in the ACC.

That said, while Pitt's offense is often good, this game was ridiculous. They hit 8-for-15 behind the arc and had a 71.9 eFG% with only 5 turnovers. I can look up efficiency stats back to the 1996-97 season (the last season Dean Smith coached), and in that time no team facing North Carolina scored as many as the 1.44 PPP that Pitt scored here. The previous best offensive performance against UNC since Smith reitred was 1.38 PPP by NC State on February 21st, 1998. Pretty amazing thing to come in the first game UNC had played since Smith's death.

North Carolina has lost three of four with a road game at Duke up next. But this has been a nasty stretch of schedule. This was a bad game, but there's no shame in a close loss to Virginia or on the road at Louisville. There's no reason to overreact to a single bad game.

With wins over North Carolina and Notre Dame and an RPI up to 52, Pitt is beginning to make an at-large case. That said, take those two games out and they're just 1-7 against the RPI Top 100, and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is just 60th. If they can go 4-2 down the stretch to get to 10-8 in ACC play they'll be in decent shape. At 3-3, though, they'll have a bunch of work to do in the ACC tourney.

Johnathan Stark's Buzzer Beater Stuns Cincinnati Cincinnati's offense was awful in the first half here. They tallied just 0.45 PPP. Yet despite being unable to hit outside shots all game (0-for-11 behind the arc), they worked the ball inside and hit 76% of their two-pointers in the second half. And they seemed to have escaped after Gary Clark hit a shot to put Cincinnati up by 2 with 4.7 seconds to go. But without calling timeout Tulane rushed the ball down court and Johnathan Stark hit the buzzer beater for the win. Hilariously, the announcers crushed Cincinnati for "starting their offense too quickly", and that "there was no luck" in Tulane's win, as if you expect a 31% three-point shooter to nail a 30 foot contested off-balance shot at the buzzer. But in a one possession game, crazy stuff can happen. You can watch the shot here:
Cincinnati has dropped to 8-5 in AAC play, though they have a very manageable schedule the rest of the way. A home game against Xavier on Wednesday will be a good chance for a late-season non-conference victory as well. Tulane, meanwhile, is playing significantly better basketball this season than they did last season. They have a real chance to get to .500 in AAC play this season.

[/Lame Headline Title With A Terrible Valentine's Day Pun] What stood out to me on the final Michigan State possession which led to the Denzel Valentine three-pointer was why Tom Izzo chose not to call a timeout. We see so often in college basketball with so many timeouts that coaches feel compelled to call timeouts, even if often times their opponent gets more out of the timeout than they do. Late game possessions are just as likely to be ugly with a timeout as without one. But here, Michigan State got the ball back with just about the full 35 seconds to go. Izzo had his team dribble in place at midcourt while he shouted out the play to everybody and told everybody where to go. Thad Matta, on the other side of the court and far from the play, couldn't really hope to counter. The Spartans got a great look for Denzel Valentine and he hit it. Here's the shot:
There was some bubble talk about Michigan State, but it seemed a bit silly to me. As long as teams like Tulsa, Seton Hall and George Washington are on the bubble, Michigan State is fine. But this win should put those bubble concerns to bed in the media as well. If they win the games they're supposed to win the rest of the way they'll be safe.

Ohio State is now 8-5 in Big Ten play with a tricky road game at Michigan up next. But after that their finishing schedule is very manageable, including a great opportunity to build their resume on Senior Night against Wisconsin.

Kansas State Takes Down Oklahoma Oklahoma struggled to shoot the ball here, hitting just 3-for-17 behind the arc. Though this is the concern with Oklahoma, that as dominant as their defense is (and it is probably the best in the Big 12), their offense can go cold for long stretches, and that makes them vulnerable to an upset in the NCAA Tournament. Still, it wasn't just cold offense here. Sooners fans surely didn't enjoy the reffing, including quite a few dicey foul calls as well as a controversial three-pointer for Kansas State that clearly came after the shot clock went off.

In addition, the end of this game was a demonstration of what I often talk about: late game execution doesn't really correlate with late game winning percentages. Kansas State had the ball with 1:01 to go in a tie game, which meant that they should go for a quick 2-for-1. Instead they intentionally burned clock, ruining the 2-for-1, but got their own offensive rebound off the miss. And then when their next possession went nowhere, Marcus Foster was forced to launch a deep three-pointer... which he hit. That's how it goes sometimes. Here's the Foster shot, if you missed it:
Oklahoma's slim hopes of stealing a share of the Big 12 regular season title got slimmer here, though their schedule still sets up for a good finish to their season an NCAA Tournament seed somewhere in the 3-6 range.

TCU Upsets Oklahoma State This isn't as big of an upset as you think it is, particularly since the final score is very deceptive. This game was very tight the whole way, with the two teams trading small leads. TCU finished the game on a 14-2 run to give the appearance of a much more dominant victory. This was only a 2.5 point spread in Vegas, and Oklahoma State shot an ugly 3-for-16 behind the arc.

While TCU being ranked in the Top 25 for running through a bunch of cupcakes was a joke, and we all knew that they would slam face-first into the brick wall reality of the Big 12 conference, the reality is that this TCU team is better than their 1-10 Big 12 record would indicate. Four of those ten losses were by five points or fewer or in overtime. They were due to finally win one of these games.

Kansas Squeezes Baylor In The Second Half Baylor has been playing great basketball, and they looked really strong in the first half against Kansas here. But the Jayhawks turned up the defense in the second half, holding Baylor to just 5-for-16 shooting on two-pointers. The offensive star for Kansas was Kelly Oubre, who hit 4-for-6 behind the arc and tied for a game-high with 18 points scored.

As tough as every game is in the Big 12, Kansas hasn't quite wrapped up the Big 12 regular season title, but they're getting close. If any team steals it from the Jayhawks, Oklahoma seems most likely, though they'd have to beat Kansas head-to-head and also get a bunch of help. Baylor has lost two straight to drop to 6-6 in Big 12 play, but that's just a symptom of how nasty and deep the Big 12 is. They're still 16th in RPI and in contention for a 4 or 5 seed on Selection Sunday.

VCU Crushes George Washington The media was starting to panic a little bit about VCU.  The Rams had lost two straight and three of four. But while Briante Weber is done for the season, their best player (Treveon Graham) did manage to come back for this one. He wasn't 100% healthy, and he only scored 10 points, but his mere presence opened up things for the offense. The 1.22 PPP that VCU scored here were actually their most in Atlantic Ten play this season.

It was a frustrating home loss and missed opportunity for a George Washington team on the bubble that really needed a quality win. They're now just 2-7 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that has slid from 49th to 78th in less than a week. They'd be in the NIT if the season ended now, and probably need to win at least five of their final six regular season games to get back into the Field of 68.

VCU is still in a four-way tie atop the Atlantic Ten, but they control their own destiny for the 1 seed in the Atlantic Ten tournament. They have key home games against two of the three teams they're tied with over the next two Saturdays: UMass on on February 21st and Dayton on February 28th.

Iowa State Pulls Away From West Virginia Iowa State's defense has struggled this season. They have the second worst defensive efficiency in Big 12 play, ahead of only Texas Tech. But West Virginia's offense is bad when they're not getting easy baskets off of turnovers or offensive rebounds. West Virginia has rebounded 39.8% of their misses this season, but only collected 25% of them here. And it was Iowa State that had the 23-to-8 advantage in fast break points. West Virginia finished with just 0.82 PPP,

Iowa State has a small chance for a share of the Big 12 title, but realistically are just playing for an NCAA Tournament seed likely to end up somewhere in the 3-5 range. West Virginia, on the other hand, is living up to its reputation of "the worst good team in America". They got off to a 6-2 start in Big 12 play where five of those wins came over Texas Tech, TCU or Kansas State. They still have only 1 win against the rest of the conference (more than a month ago, against Oklahoma). In the last two weeks they've gotten smoked by Oklahoma, Baylor and Iowa State. If they fall at home to Kansas on Monday, the risk of West Virginia falling to the bubble will become very real.

Arkansas Escapes Ole Miss Mississippi had a great opportunity at home here to collect a quality victory and to really firm up their place in the Field of 68, but they struggled badly offensively. Despite dominating the glass (a 48.8 OR%) they finished just 10-for-27 on layups, getting 7 of their shots blocked. And they hit just 5-for-20 behind the arc. They still had a chance on the final possession, but Manuale Watkins hit a shot for Arkansas and Jarvis Summers missed a pretty good look on the other end.

Mississippi's six game winning streak was snapped here. They're a strong 8-4 in SEC play and their RPI is still 38th, but they have no big scalps (either Arkansas or Cincinnati is their best win) and they have bad losses to Charleston Southern, Western Kentucky and TCU. If the season ended now they'd be right on the boundary between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT. If they can go 4-2 or better down the stretch to get to 12-6 in SEC play they'll be in pretty good shape on Selection Sunday.

Arkansas is now up into the Top 20 in RPI. They're at the point that it would take a pretty serious collapse down the stretch to miss the NCAA Tournament. Just a 3-3 finish down the stretch will lock them in for sure, and even a 2-4 finish should be enough.

Auburn Upsets Georgia Georgia looked like they had finally comfortably moved into the Field of 68 with the third strongest resume in the SEC, after Kentucky and Arkansas. They had won 7 of 9, with 1 of those 2 losses coming on the road at Kentucky. But Georgia suffered an ugly loss here. The Bulldogs couldn't hit a jump shot, hitting just 28.6% for the day, including 21% behind the arc.

Georgia is now just 7-5 in SEC play and 5-5 against the RPI Top 100 with three RPI 100+ losses. Their RPI is still 33rd, though their RPI is inflated by some smart scheduling. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 37th. They'd still be in the Field of 68 if the season ended now, but they need to win 4 of their final 6 games to stay in there. If they end up 10-8 or worse in SEC play they'll be in trouble.

St. John's Holds Off Xavier This was actually a very fun game, even if it was overshadowed by other games on Saturday. Down the stretch it was Sir'Dominic Pointer who totally took over and made big plays on both ends of the court. He led all players with 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting, with 4 steals and 2 blocks as well. You can make a compelling case that Pointer deserves a spot on First Team All-Big East at the end of the season.

St. John's has won three straight games to get back to 6-6 in Big East play. They're 7-6 against the RPI Top 100 and their RPI is back up to 42nd. If they can go 3-3 in their final six games they'll be in pretty good shape on Selection Sunday. Xavier also will be in pretty good shape if they can get to 9-9, but that will require a 2-2 finish in their final four Big East games. They also have an interesting non-conference battle at Cincinnati on Wednesday.


Anonymous said...

Arkansas RPI 16 = 7 seed?

Jeff said...

They're actually 18th in RPI, and their RPI is a little inflated. They'd probably be a 6 seed if the season ended now. Having them as the top 7 seed right now seems like a reasonable projection.