Friday, November 27, 2015

Morning News: Monmouth Knocks Off Notre Dame, Shorthanded Wichita St Falls, San Diego St Rolls California, And More

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family. It's the greatest holiday of the year, and a time to gorge on food, drink, and sports. And we did have some really fun college basketball yesterday. Let's get to the games with the most important results:

Notre Dame Falls To Monmouth America was introduced to 5'8" Justin Robinson here. Robinson's 22 points featured 14-for-15 shooting at the free throw line, including the two in the closing seconds as he buried his shoulder into Demetrius Jackson and drew the foul. Throw in Micah Seaborn and Je'lon Hornbeak, and this Monmouth team has three explosive perimeter playmakers. It's the type of roster that would scare a Round of 64 opponent, and Justin Robinson is the type of player who could be the hero of a 13/4 or 14/3 upset in the NCAA Tournament. The question is: Can they get there? Iona is always tough to take out in the MAAC, but Monmouth appears to be their top competitor. And at this point, it's too close to have a firm opinion.

As for Notre Dame, they've now been shaky in their two games against non-cupcakes (they also had a 6 point home win over Milwaukee). Their problem, as it often has been under Mike Brey, has been defensive. That said, they're allowing 46% three-point shooting and 72% FT shooting, both of which are likely to regress over time. I don't think their defense is quite as bad as it's looked so far.

USC Knocks Off Short-Handed Wichita State Wichita State certainly was not at full strength here. Fred VanVleet was out injured, and Ron Baker seemed less than 100% (or just extremely tired) late in the second half here. But the difference was white hot USC outside shooting (12-for-23 three-point shooting), led by Bennie Boatwright's 5-for-9. Wichita State did make a furious rally in the final seconds, and got a good clean look by Zach Brown at the buzzer that just missed.

Andy Enfield was desperate for a big win to give his program some positive momentum, and this qualifies, even if it was a bit fluky. USC moves to 5-0, and are very quietly in the Top 50 of both the Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings. It's a very small sample size, but it's worth paying attention to USC as a plausible bubble team.

As for Wichita State, they've been playing shorthanded basically the entire season, so they're better than they've looked. The problem is that it's hard to build a resume for a high NCAA Tournament seed in the Missouri Valley. And now they're stuck in the consolation bracket in Orlando.

San Diego State Rolls California Cal actually led this game by 15 points early in the second half. But for the rest of the game they were outscored by a brutal 42-13 margin. Winston Shepard was a monster, pouring in 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in that second half alone. San Diego State was just better at getting the ball to the rim and drawing fouls, while California's offense sputtered.

The San Diego State defense struggled at times early this season, particularly in that game against Utah, but it seems to have settled down back to the elite level it has been at in recent seasons. They looked dominant at points in the second half here.

As for California, you have to expect inconsistencies with true freshmen, and Jaylen Brown was the superfrosh who struggled here, finishing with just 7 points on 2-for-8 shooting with 3 rebounds. Before the season I thought California was overrated because of their two hyped freshmen - the fact was that the rest of the team was pretty bad last season, and it's hard to expect two freshmen to single-handedly drag a team into the Top 25. Ivan Rabb has lived up to the billing so far, while Brown has (as he did here) struggled with his consistency. And so far, Cal isn't playing like a Top 25 team. But if Jaylen Brown can find a way to live up to expectations by the time Pac-12 play rolls around, their projection absolutely can change.

Dayton Defeats Iowa With no ranked teams in this game it definitely fell below the radar of most casual fans, but this was a game between two likely NCAA Tournament teams. The worry for Iowa here, honestly, is that this result could have been far worse. When Iowa's offense has struggled under Fran McCaffery it has been when they are too happy taking long jumpers, and don't make the effort to get to the rim. And that was on display here, as Dayton had a massive 18-to-5 advantage in layups/dunks. The reason Iowa still managed to score 1.05 PPP was because of hot outside shooting (12-for-24 on threes, and 45% on all jump shots). Iowa is a good team, and still very much in the mix for a Top 3 or 4 spot in the Big Ten, but they seem to have the same flaws and deficiencies that they had last season.

Dayton moves to 4-0, though this was easily their best win of the season. Scoochie Smith was the star for Dayton, finishing with only 11 points, but doing it with 7 assists, and scoring the two biggest baskets for the Flyers down the stretch.

Syracuse Upsets UConn This was a fun, evenly played game between two old Big East rivals. The game was at a high tempo (72 possessions), though the referees did interrupt the play quite a bit with the whistle. Foul trouble hit UConn harder than Syracuse, as six different players accumulated four fouls apiece. Amida Brimah, for example, was held to just 19 minutes on the court. The spark for Syracuse was star freshman Tyler Lydon, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds and also hit 2-for-3 behind the arc to push his season eFG% up to 59%. Lydon has very quietly been one of the best freshmen in the nation.

The Orange are now 5-0 with a quality win, and will get a chance to really launch themselves into the Top 25 if they can upset Texas A&M later today. UConn, meanwhile, gets Gonzaga today, as the Zags were also upset yesterday. Michigan/Syracuse/Gonzaga is quite the gauntlet for this trip to the Bahamas.

Texas A&M Upsets Gonzaga The Texas A&M defense came up strong here, while Gonzaga was forced by foul trouble to play smaller than they usually like. The Aggies are holding opponents to 0.87 PPP this season, and held Gonzaga to 1.00 PPP here. Domantas Sabonis fouling out with just 2 points on 3 shots was part of it, but in general the Aggies did a nice job of forcing the ball out of the hands of the Goznaga bigs. Throw in 7-for-14 three-point shooting for Texas A&M and you have this upset.

It looks like Kentucky is actually going to have some serious competition in the SEC this season. Both Vanderbilt and Texas A&M are legitimate Top 20/25 teams, and could be even better. As for Gonzaga, this loss means that the 40-0 hype will stop before it gets started. But with the WCC down this season, the Zags do need some quality victories in November and December if they're going to contend for a 1 or 2 seed in March.

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