Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Morning News: #1 Goes Down, UConn Wins In Austin, Temple Tops Cincinnati, And More

Mike Gesell was the star for Iowa last night
The Morning News makes a triumphant return after a few quiet days with little hoops. Let's get right into it:

#1 Goes Down This would have been a difficult game for Michigan State even at full strength. Pomeroy had Michigan State as just a one point favorite. With the loss of Denzel Valentine, Las Vegas moved Iowa to a 2.5 point favorite. Michigan State could have won this game if they had played well, but instead they hit just 13% of their jump shots in the first half. That jump shooting was bound to regress in the second half, and it did, but that was too big of a hole to get out of. Mike Gesell was the star for Iowa, pouring in 25 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

I'd still lean toward saying that Michigan State is the best team in the country when at full strength, but at this point Purdue is probably the favorite for the Big Ten regular season title. Michigan State is already a game down, still has to play more games without Denzel Valentine, and will play their only game against Purdue this season on the road at West Lafayette.

Keep Iowa in mind as a dark horse contender in the Big Ten due to the fact that they still get to play Michigan State again before the Spartans play their first game against either Purdue or Maryland. If Denzel Valentine isn't back (or back at 100%) for that game, that will give Iowa a significant advantage on their competition. If the Hawkeyes can pull the upset at Purdue on Saturday, they will vault right into the thick of the conference title race.

Connecticut Wins In Austin Both Connecticut and Texas were down a big man here. UConn is without Amida Brimah, while Texas found out this week that Cameron Ridley broke his foot. Ridley is the more significant loss, as he is the best Texas front court player both on offense and defense. With him gone, UConn was able to have their way in the paint, finishing with a 40-to-28 advantage in paint points. UConn put four starters in double-figures, the most impressive of whom was probably Daniel Hamilton (13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals). Below is one of many examples of the UConn backcourt having their way in the paint:
CONN vs. TEX - ESPN Video
More than any team in the AAC, UConn is looking in good shape for an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The AAC scheduling gods even did UConn a favor by back-loading their conference schedule, which will help with the Amida Brimah injury. Texas, in contrast, looks like a bubble team at the moment, with a bad loss to Washington to go with that nice win over North Carolina. I thought they were likely going to be an NCAA Tournament team when healthy, but the Ridley injury could dash those hopes.

Temple Outshoots Cincinnati As I have said before, "small sample sizes gonna small sample size". Temple came into this game one of the worst shooting teams in the nation. Their national rank was 275th or worse in 2P%, 3P%, and eFG%. But here? They hit 10-for-22 on threes, a season-high 3P%. If Temple had shot their season average on jumpers, Cincinnati would have won without too much trouble.

Cincinnati is a good team, but they didn't collect big scalps in non-conference play (George Washington and VCU were the top wins), and the AAC got zero respect from the Selection Committee last season, so Cincinnati doesn't want to cut it close on Selection Sunday. If they got 13-5 or better in conference play they'll be an at-large team, but at 12-6 or worse they might have to sweat out the final week of the season.

Bacon Beater Last season, Florida State took down Florida at the buzzer. This time, Dwayne Bacon's shot maybe wasn't technically a buzzer beater, but it was close enough. A smooth move that delivered the victory:
Bacon was the go-to star all night for Florida State, finishing with a team-high 22 points, including 5-for-8 behind the arc. It spoiled a career-high 32 points by KeVaughn Allen. And this delivers a likely RPI Top 50 win for Florida State, which was something they did not already have (though VCU could end up there, as well). As good as the ACC is, a 10-8 conference record will put Florida State in the NCAA Tournament. At 9-9 or 8-10 they'll be on the bubble.

Florida isn't yet #TeamBadLuck again, but they are 0-4 against the Pomeroy Top 50 despite being a borderline Top 25 team in the computers. At some point those wins will come, but unless they beat West Virginia they will complete non-conference play without a single quality win. They might need to get to 12-6 in SEC play to earn an at-large bid.

LSU Falls Again The margin for error for LSU has gotten awfully small, and this was just a bad, ugly loss at home to a not-as-good-as-the-media-thinks Wake Forest team. Part of it was ugly outside shooting (2-for-14 on threes), but LSU's offense was disjointed off the dribble, finishing with 17 turnovers to just 9 assists. LSU's defense is bad, and if their offense isn't clicking, they aren't going to beat anybody. They are now 0-4 this season when scoring under 1 PPP.

LSU's odds of a Top 50 RPI at this point, after all of these ugly losses and a poorly constructed schedule, are almost nil. They'd have to go at least 13-5 in SEC play to have any real shot. That said, if they go 12-6 in SEC play and pick up a couple of nice scalps, they would be tough to keep out of the NCAA Tournament. Their most important game of the regular season could be that game on Tuesday, at home against Kentucky. That's their chance to start building an at-large resume.

Wake Forest is starting to get some hype due to a strong non-conference resume (wins over Indiana, UCLA, and LSU, with their only iffy loss coming to Richmond), but there's a reason why the computers are down on them (~100th in both Pomeroy and Sagarin). That reason? They are 7-0 in games decided by six points or fewer, and just 2-3 in games decided by seven points or more. They have been lucky in close games, and at some point that luck is going to regress. Their odds of earning an at-large bid are still pretty low. Pomeroy currently projects a 6-12 ACC record for Wake Forest, when they'll realistically need to get to at least 9-9.

Purdue Wins Ugly Over Wisconsin The Badgers need to build a Tournament resume in Big Ten play after a disappointing non-conference performance, but they let a chance slip away here with another mediocre shooting night (5-for-17 on threes). Meanwhile, Purdue avoided a potential road speed bump on the same night that Michigan State did not - a one game swing that could potentially make the difference in the Big Ten title race at season's end.

The difference in this game was Purdue's dominant front line. AJ Hammons in particular was unstoppable, scoring 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Purdue had a 34-to-20 advantage in paint points, and also put Wisconsin in constant foul trouble with a 19-to-11 advantage in fouls called. Purdue has to avoid a letdown with a crucial home game against Iowa on Saturday.

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