|Jakob Poeltl dominated Duke's short-handed front court.|
Jakob Poeltl Leads Utah Over Duke Jakob Poeltl is the National Player of the Year candidate who unfortunately isn't yet a National Player of the Year candidate because nobody is talking about him. I've said this before, but I'd be happy if he could get at least 1% of the hype that Ben Simmons gets. He was a dominant defensive player last season, but this season has done what you want to see out of a star sophomore: he has developed a dominant offensive game, too. He owned the Duke front line here, hitting 8-for-11 from the field along with 14 rebounds and 3 blocks. And after a disappointing start to the season, Utah finally has a quality win that they can build a resume around.
With Amile Jefferson out, the thought was that Duke would lean more on the 5-star freshman Chase Jeter. Interestingly, despite Poeltl dominating, Duke did no such thing. Jeter played only 6 minutes. Marshall Plumlee did little of nothing in 26 minutes before he fouled out. Duke did get a reasonably strong game out of Brandon Ingram (15 points, 3 steals, and 3 blocks), but he can't defend big men in the paint and he's a poor rebounder for his height. It will be interesting to see if Coach K gives Jeter a longer look against a softer opponent than Poeltl.
Virginia Outshoots Villanova There might be no team in the nation as dependent on three-point shooting as Villanova, and while they will be able to get past inferior foes if those shots aren't falling, they won't get past a team like Virginia. The Cavaliers were a white hot 8-for-12 behind the arc while Villanova hit just 10-for-26. There might not be another team that defends jump shots as well as Virginia, but the real story is Villanova continuing to be unable to hit outside shots, despite the staggering number that they take (50.7% of all field goals). They're down to 31% as a team, without a single player over 38%. Villanova should be shooting the ball better, and they probably eventually will, but we're pretty far into the season for their shooting to be this much worse than expectations.
With back to back wins over West Virginia and Villanova, Virginia is up to #1 in the nation in the Pomeroy ratings. They're only 5th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, but still firmly in the hunt for the ACC title and a 1 seed. Perhaps more interesting than how good they've been is that they are once again doing it offensively (Pomeroy rates their offense #1 in the nation). But because of their slow tempo, they will continue to play low scoring games, and the media will continue to credit the "pack line defense", because the media always loves coaching systems with names.
Northern Iowa Takes Down Another Top Ten Team It's hard to credit anything for this result other than three-point shooting. Northern Iowa hit 13-for-22 behind the arc while Iowa State hit 3-for-17. Take that away and everything else was in Iowa State's favor. They won the rebounding battle, won the turnover battle, shot better on two-pointers, and had a massive 52-to-26 advantage in paint scoring. Basically, Iowa State was the better team and were undone by fluky shooting. And even with that fluky shooting, Iowa State had the ball down by only a single point with 15 seconds to go, but Georges Niang lost his balance and threw the ball away. After Wes Washpun hit one of two at the line, Monte Morris had one final chance:
Kentucky Falls To Ohio State In a battle between two poor shooting team, both of these teams actually shot the ball fairly well. Both teams had season high three-point percentages, in fact, and this game was driven by the shooting streaks. When Kentucky was down by 16 points they turned the game around with six-straight three-pointers. At one point during that 29-16 run, Ohio State missed six straight jump shots.
You don't want to draw too many narrative conclusions from a single game, of course, but this Ohio State team is so young, and if they start playing significantly better the rest of the season then we will all point back to this game as the moment that they started playing like an NCAA Tournament team. But you can't draw those conclusions from one game. We need to see the Buckeyes play this well a few times in a row.
Kentucky fans are putting a lot of the blame on Skal Labissiere (an invisible 2 points and 5 rebounds). The narrative that he "isn't tough enough" that keeps bouncing around is stupid, but there's no doubt that Labissiere has not been living up to the huge hype heading into college. In contrast, Jamal Murray was a monster here, scoring 33 of Kentucky's 67 points. He is emerging as Kentucky's clear #1 offensive threat, but he's going to need some help if Kentucky is going to be a Top Ten team in the nation.
Butler Holds Off Purdue This was a weird game in that both of these teams, honestly, did a lot to blow this game. Purdue's offensive execution was poor all game. They committed 17 turnovers and had some brutally bad shots down the stretch. Butler, meanwhile, got perhaps the worst game of Kellen Dunham's career. Dunham finished 0-for-12 from the field with 0 assists and a crucial late game turnover. The difference in this game, if there was one, was the perimeter offensive execution by Butler. Roosevelt Jones had 19 points, 5 assists, and 10 rebounds. Purdue depends heavily on their big men to score, and is never going to get much production on the perimeter.
I don't think this game tells us too much about these two teams that we didn't already know. Purdue is still a Big Ten contender, though Michigan State is rightly the favorite. Butler looks to be in the mix in the Big East, though not quite at the level of Villanova (or perhaps Xavier also). Two of their first four Big East games will be against Villanova and Xavier, so we'll get an early look at how they match up against those two teams.
North Carolina Holds Off UCLA This game was tied at halftime, but a 13-0 run in the second half was the difference in what ended up a 13 point final score. Brice Johnson had to step up with Kennedy Meeks out hurt, and he did in a big way, scoring 27 points (on 11-for-12 shooting) and a team-high 9 rebounds. UCLA struggled with the pressure North Carolina applies on games, committing 17 turnovers, which was their highest turnover rate (23%) since November 23rd.
This was a missed opportunity for UCLA, but it's safe to say that they're happy getting out of non-conference play with wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga. They're probably not a serious Pac-12 contender, but for now they look like a Tournament team.
As for North Carolina, it's clear that Virginia is going to pose a significant challenge in the ACC, but the Tar Heels have done nothing so far that suggests they're not a serious contender for the ACC and a 1 seed in March. Getting Kennedy Meeks back before that road game at Florida State would be nice, though.
Texas A&M Routs Baylor This is a relatively small Baylor team compared to what Scott Drew has usually had in recent years. Of their top eight minute earners, just three are over 6'5", and none are over 6'9". They can still get on the offensive glass as well as any team in the nation, but they can be overpowered by large front lines, and Texas A&M has one of the more physical front lines in the nation. They had an 18-to-8 advantage in layups/dunks, and a 38-to-22 advantage in paint points. In a game where neither team could hit their jump shots well, that paint domination was the difference.
This is a worrying result for a Baylor team that has spent most of the season dominating inferior teams. It might be a sign that they're going to struggle a bit more when they hit to Big 12 play. As for Texas A&M, it was assumed that they were in the second tier of the SEC with Vanderbilt, but with Kentucky's struggles you have to wonder if the Aggies and the 'Dores think they might have a shot to steal the conference.
New Mexico Pulls A Chris Webber It's hard to lose in worse fashion than this. New Mexico blew a 17 point lead midway through the second half, but that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was that in a scramble for the ball in a tie game with 0.1 seconds left, Tim Williams called for a timeout that his team did not have. The ensuing technical foul delivered a bad loss for a New Mexico team without much margin for error if they're going to make an at-large run in March. Watch the play below:
The timeout New Mexico didn't have and didn't mean to call that cost it the game vs. Rice. Technical foul. #mwbb pic.twitter.com/lGev4zKVpu— Matt L. Stephens (@MattStephens) December 20, 2015
Indiana is in the Top 25 of both the Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings, though this is their first "quality" win of the season. A big part of that is bad scheduling by Tom Crean. The only other likely RPI Top 50 team they have faced this season was Duke at Cameron Indoor, which was never going to be a likely victory. If they really are as good as their computer ratings, however, they'll have plenty of chances to build a resume in Big Ten play.
Notre Dame will now likely end non-conference play 9-3 with a win over Iowa and iffy losses to Monmouth and Alabama. It's not a great resume, but an 11-7 ACC play will send them to the NCAA Tournament. If they go 9-9 or 10-8 then they'll be around the bubble.
Mathiang Out 6-8 Weeks The result of this game was never in doubt, nor was it expected to be. The story was the injury to Mangok Mathiang. Mathiang is no big offensive scorer, but he is a key defensive player on a defense currently ranked 6th best in the nation by Pomeroy. And this is really bad timing for Louisville considering how poor Rick Pitino planned his team's schedule. Despite looking great, and being rated one of the ten best teams in the nation by most computer ratings, their only game against a future RPI Top 100 opponent was on the road at Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and they lost. That means that unless they upset Kentucky without Mathiang, they will enter ACC play with zero quality victories.
Wichita State Falls This was the first time that Wichita State had their big three (Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, and Anton Grady) on the court at the same time since their second game of the season. Anton Grady was clearly not fully himself yet, but this was still a very disappointing performance for the Shockers after back-to-back nice wins over UNLV and Utah. The problem here were turnovers, as their 26.9% turnover rate was their worst in a game since January 13, 2013. VanVleet personally had 6 turnovers to only 3 assists.
Seton Hall has quietly been playing bubble-quality basketball the past few weeks, in large part because of greater balance. Isaiah Whitehead is still an inefficient volume scorer (he was 5-for-16 from the field here), but they got a nice performance out of Desi Rodriguez (18 points on 5-for-9 shooting) here, and Angel Delgado continues to be one of the better big men in the Big East. Seton Hall now has a quality win to cancel out that bad loss to Long Beach State, and they will be in the bubble mix if they can finish .500 or better in Big East play.
UNC-Asheville Stuns Georgetown Georgetown's defense has been a mess the past three games, and while they managed to escape with a narrow win over UNC-Wilmington they suffered losses to Monmouth and now UNC-Asheville. And in this three game stretch against low/mid-major opponents, Georgetown is allowing 1.10 PPP. For the season they are allowing 1.00 PPP despite a few cupcakes. They are struggling in particular with perimeter dribble drives, allowing easy baskets and also committing a ton of fouls. Georgetown had two players foul out here (including LJ Peak after just 15 minutes) while allowing UNC-Asheville 27 free throw attempts.
Georgetown is now 6-5 with wins over Syracuse and Wisconsin to go with iffy/bad losses to Radford, UNC-Asheville, and Monmouth. That's not a Tournament resume, and realistically Georgetown probably needs to go at least 10-8 in Big East play to earn an at-large bid.
UNC-Asheville, meanwhile, is no cupcake. They only lost by 4 points at Tennessee, and are in the mix with several teams for the Big South title.