Saturday, November 28, 2015

Morning News: Gonzaga Holds Off UConn, Syracuse Wins Atlantis, Kris Dunn Takes Down Arizona, And More

Gonzaga Holds Off UConn The first half of this game was all about jump shooting. UConn was 0-for-11 on jump shots while Gonzaga was 7-for-12 on threes alone (and 57% on all jump shots). UConn had a 22-to-18 advantage in paint points and were still down by 16 points. Gonzaga's hot shooting disappeared in the second half, where they only hit 15% of their jump shots, but UConn simply could not make a shot. For the game, UConn shot a putrid 2-for-23 on jump shots. It was particularly rough for UConn fans given that for the second straight day Kevin Ollie chose to play out a possession when down by 3 points with only 6-8 seconds between game clock and shot clock, when the analytics says that you absolutely need to foul there. It didn't work against Syracuse and it didn't work here either.

It's always easy to overreact to these Thanksgiving tournaments, but the fact is that they'll be of relatively minor importance for a team like UConn by the time March rolls around. This game means more for Gonzaga, as they need to pick up as many RPI Top 50 victories as they can before WCC play (where there will potentially be none available). The Zags have a crucial home game coming up on Saturday against Arizona.

Syracuse Takes Battle 4 Atlantis Title The Orange defeated ranked UConn and Texas A&M, while America was introduced to star freshman Tyler Lydon. All in all it was a really nice week for Syracuse. Lydon was again white hot from outside here, hitting 3-for-3 behind the arc and scoring 13 points with 8 rebounds. Michael Gbinije was 4-for-6 behind the arc and led Syracuse with 20 points. Outside shooting really was the difference here, as the Orange shot 11-for-25 on threes, overcoming a 38-to-20 disadvantage in points in the paint.

It's nice to see Syracuse playing tough non-conference games away from home and winning, but we have to be careful about over-hyping a team after a couple good games in a Thanksgiving week tournament that featured hot outside shooting. It's hardly proof that they're a Top 25 team or an ACC contender. But certainly the emergence of Lydon as an explosive scorer off the bench makes Syracuse look like something they weren't a week ago: A clear Tournament-quality team.

As for Texas A&M, I think their fans would have happily signed up on Monday for wins over Texas and Gonzaga with a loss to Syracuse. So this loss stings as a missed opportunity, but the Aggies still leave the Bahamas as a legit Top 25 team and a possible SEC contender.

Kris Dunn Leads Upset Of Arizona Kris Dunn picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half, but he managed to avoid his fifth and absolutely took over down the stretch. He finished with 19 points and 8 assists, but he did almost all of his production late. He scored or assisted on every single Providence made basket in the last six minutes, and he scored the last ten points himself, including a beautiful jumper to put them in the lead with 32 seconds left and then the dunk to punctuate the victory after Ben Bentil forced a steal.

Arizona was shorthanded here, as Kaleb Tarczewski missed the game with an ankle injury, and could be out a little while longer. Ryan Anderson did a good job in the middle in his place, pulling down 5 offensive rebounds and scoring 27 points, but this is still a major loss for the Wildcats. Tarczewski is actually on the Wooden Award watch list this season. Despite a couple of dicey performances this week (the overtime win over Santa Clara being the other one) this is still easily the most talented team in the Pac-12 when they get healthy. There's no reason for panic.

As for Providence, a team that entered the season looking like a potential bubble team, this is a really nice win. What has stood out this season has been the number of turnovers that they have forced. They forced 21 turnovers here, and are currently 11th in the nation in defensive turnover rate after finishing only 134th in the nation last season. If this holds up, along with Kris Dunn's potential All-America play, Providence will be an NCAA Tournament team.

Alabama Defeats Short-handed Wichita State It's pretty obvious that Wichita State isn't even close to being the same team without Fred VanVleet. Yet after losing to USC in this state on Thursday, things got even worse for Wichita State as Anton Grady (already with his time shortened by foul trouble) took an elbow to the head and had to be stretchered off the court. At this time there's no timetable for his return. And to make matters even worse for this game, Ron Baker had a bad shooting day, hitting just 4-for-12 from the field. Still, even with everything going wrong, Wichita State had the ball down by three with plenty of time to tie the game. Unfortunately for them, they panicked on that final possession, and Bush Wamukota (who had never taken a three in his two-year college career) rushed a three-pointer with ten seconds still left in the game.

Wichita State drops to 37th in Pomeroy and 65th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. Obviously they're better than that when healthy, but the problem is that it's incredibly difficult to build a resume in a conference that doesn't provide you with RPI Top 50 opponents (as the Missouri Valley potentially won't). The Shockers will get Iowa tomorrow, and also have Utah, UNLV, and Seton Hall ahead, but it's going to be almost impossible for them to earn higher than a 4 or 5 seed in March unless they go close to undefeated the rest of the way. It's a long way off, but we're setting up for the real possibility of some 2 seed in March getting screwed by having a 7 seed Wichita State in their region. Ask Kansas fans their thoughts on that one.

As for Alabama, this is a great win for Avery Johnson, but it shouldn't be confused with evidence that Alabama can make an at-large run this season. It's going to have to take much more than a three point upset of a team missing two of its three stars down the stretch. They got smoked in their other two games against non-cupcakes (vs Dayton and Xavier).

Quincy Ford Stuns Miami Miami lost this game despite a staggering 50-to-18 advantage in paint scoring. The reason Northeastern was in this game was because of white hot outside shooting. They hit 12-for-22 (55%) behind the arc. Still, it took some heroics in the final seconds to delivery victory, and Quincy Ford supplied it:
Miami can call this a "hangover" after beating Utah and Butler in Puerto Rico, but this Northeastern team is actually pretty good. They're a contender in the Colonial, and a potential Top 100 team. They're the type of team that just needs some fluky outside shooting to knock you off. This Miami team has still had a very impressive start to their season, and they are still (in my opinion) a dark horse contender in the ACC.

California Is Not Enjoying Las Vegas One night after falling to San Diego State, California dropped this one to Richmond, despite a furious finish. Richmond hit 12 straight free throws over the final 65 seconds, yet California still was able to get the ball back within three points in the closing seconds, where Richmond properly executed a #FoulOrDefend by fouling and then grabbing the defensive rebound. For the game, Richmond hit 31-for-39 at the line to go with hot 9-for-18 shooting behind the arc, which allowed them to overcome a more talented Cal team.

Richmond has enough weapons that they could make a run at an at-large bid in February and March. And if they do, this win will be the start of building that resume. California is young enough that they should improve later in the season, but for now they are 0-2 against likely RPI Top 100 opponents. They have a few weeks to figure things out against softer competition. A home game against a rebuilding Saint Mary's squad is their only non-cupcake before they face Virginia on December 22nd.

Notre Dame Holds Off Iowa The Hawkeyes went on a 16-0 run at one point in this game, though long streaks (both good and bad) are typical for this jump shot happy program. The Hawkeyes took 21 two-point jumpers in this game (compared to 11 for Notre Dame), and overall hit just 31% of their jump shots. Last season, 41.2% of the shots Iowa took from the field were two-point jumpers, which was 17th highest in the nation. They are going to have to get to the rim more to win consistently in the Big Ten.

This marks Notre Dame's first win this season over a non-cupcake, and helps them to bounce back from that bad loss to Monmouth. This is a talented Irish roster, and they're going to score in bunches with all of the weapons that they have. The question, as it generally is with Mike Brey teams, is whether they can play consistently strong defense against ACC caliber teams.

Ohio State Falls Again It's been a nightmare start to the season for Ohio State, as they drop to 2-3 despite not playing a likely NCAA Tournament team yet. And this game was poorly played, with 50 fouls, 34 turnovers, and some awful execution late in the game as both teams allowed chances to win the game to slip out of their hands.

JaQuan Lyle (18 points, 8 assists, 4 turnovers) shows flashes of inconsistent brilliance, which is a way you can describe much of what Ohio State does. They have several awfully talented young players, but they are so raw and mistake-prone. The Buckeyes will get better as the season goes along, but right now they simply are not playing like an NCAA Tournament team.

Memphis has their own talented/inconsistent freshman in Dedric Lawson, but three of their top four minute earners are seniors, so they basically are what they are. This is a nice win for them, but they still look like an NIT team.

San Diego State's Offense Sputters When things go ugly for San Diego State, it tends to be their offense disappearing into a black hole, and that's what happened here. They had a horrific 21 turnovers to only 3 assists, shooting 0-for-9 on threes and finishing with 0.69 PPP. West Virginia's defense deserves a lot of the credit here, as their pressure can really frustrate teams that don't handle the ball well. Daxter Miles, Jr had six steals by himself, while also leading West Virginia with 14 points.

San Diego State has a win over California, but that is more than cancelled out by the bad loss to Arkansas-Little Rock. Unless they can stun Kansas in a few weeks, they're going to struggle to pick up quality wins in a Mountain West Conference that might have zero other teams in the RPI Top 50. They're going to need a really strong won-loss record (14-4 or better in Mountain West play) to earn an at-large bid.

West Virginia moves to 6-0, and looks very much like they did last season. They're going to overwhelm inferior teams with their pressure, but they're going to have to prove that they can beat the top tier of the Big 12 at a reasonably regular rate to challenge Kansas.

Michigan Holds Off Texas In a match-up between a pair of Power 5 teams off to disappointing starts, it was Michigan that got hot from outside, pouring in 14-for-25 from beyond the arc. It's certainly not the greatest performance for the Wolverines to end up in a tight battle with shooting like that, though it feels like John Beilein is still trying to figure out his rotation. Young players like Ricky Doyle and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman haven't developed as much as expected since last season, while at the same time they have seen surprising production from newcomers like Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner. At some point, Beilein is going to figure out the best rotation with his available personnel.

Speaking of coaches trying to figure their roster out, Texas continues to underperform under new head coach Shaka Smart. In this game, for example, Cameron Ridley was unstoppable when he got the ball but only was able to take five shots (he didn't miss a single one). At this point, the Longhorns have probably played more like an NIT team than a Tourney team, though it's hard not to think that Shaka Smart will figure his roster out sooner rather than later.

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