Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Morning News: LSU Loses Again, Miles Thorne Injured, And Minnesota Tops Clemson

LSU Loses Again Yes, LSU is not yet at full strength. Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor are on the way. But LSU has quite a bit of talent on this roster (including the forgotten 2015 blue chip recruit Antonio Blakeney), and they have been sub-NIT quality so far. They are now 0-3 vs Pomeroy Top 200 opponents. Even Ben Simmons was less than great here. He finished with 15 points and 18 rebounds, but it came on 4-for-15 shooting, and he had 7 turnovers to go with just 4 assists. If you're keeping track at home, he is still hitting just 17% of his two-point jump shots.

There are two pieces of silver lining for LSU here. First, the Selection Committee values late season play more than early season play, so if they're playing like an NCAA Tournament team throughout January and February then we'll mostly forget these November struggles. Second, the Selection Committee has shown a bias toward blue chip programs and players when choosing their last few at-large teams. If it's a close choice between Ben Simmons's team and Kansas State for the last at-large bid, Kansas State is losing that beauty contest every time. But LSU has to get close, and right now they're not playing remotely like an NCAA Tournament team.

Lost in the Ben Simmons narrative is that Earl Grant has done a really nice job with College of Charleston in his second season there. They are significantly improved over Year One. The odds of them winning the Colonial this year are low, but they should be in the top half of the league, which is a big step up from their 3-15 conference record last season.

Mike Thorne Done For The Season? With all the bad personnel news Illinois had this offseason, the one piece of good news was the signing of Mike Thorne, the graduate transfer from Charlotte. He has been a force inside, and probably the second best player on the Illini roster. And after surgery, his season might be done. Illinois was finally starting to get healthy (aside from Tracy Abrams, who we already knew was done), so this is a severe blow to them trying to turn the season around.

The question around Illinois is just how much of the team's struggles this season can be put on John Groce. On one hand, the injury situation at Illinois is almost comical, and some of that is just bad luck. On the other hand, John Groce is 24-30 in Big Ten play and is likely to finish well under .500 this year also. I wouldn't suggest firing him yet, but the seat is starting to get a little lukewarm.

Minnesota Tops Clemson On a normal night, a game between two Power 5 teams unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament wouldn't crack the Morning News post, but it was a light night for games. The only other competition to talk about was Kentucky struggling for a half with Illinois State before pulling away. Besides, I figured I should talk about the first day of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the only other game last night was Rutgers vs Wake Forest, which was an abortion of a game that we should all agree to pretend never happened. 

Anyway, the story of this game was Minnesota's offensive explosion. Despite not particularly great outside shooting (7-for-17 on three-pointers), the Gophers scored 1.37 PPP, which marked the worst defensive performance by Clemson since January 8, 2005. The star for Minnesota was Jordan Murphy (24 points and 10 rebounds), who has been excellent as a true freshman despite not being a particularly hyped recruit (basically a consensus three-star by the recruiting services). And he delivered the first win for Minnesota against a likely RPI Top 100 opponent this season.

The good news for Clemson is that their offense looks the best it's been since Brad Brownell's first season. The bad news is that their elite defense has disappeared. They are now 0-2 against Pomeroy Top 200 opponents, and with a weak schedule the rest of the way are not going to get much of anything out of non-conference play. If they're going to make an at-large run, it's going to require a +.500 record in ACC play.

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