Friday, January 08, 2016

Morning News: Bryce Alford's Buzzer Beater, SMU Survives Again, And Purdue Pulls Away

Russell Westbrook enjoyed last night.
Bryce Alford Buzzer Beater UCLA almost had a crushing loss here, blowing a 13 point lead with 4:15 to go. Arizona actually had a free throw with a chance to take the lead with around 15 seconds to go, but Ryan Anderson missed it, and then Steve Alford drew up a high ball screen for his son:
Alford's last second shot upsets Arizona - ESPN Video
This result obviously has significant implications, and I'll get to those in a moment, but too much is being made out of the meaning of this game. The "UCLA is the most inconsistent team in the nation - they beat every great team and lose to every bad team!" narrative is overblown. Both Vegas and Pomeroy had Arizona as a 3 point favorite in this game, then UCLA had a fluky good shooting day (11-for-22 on threes) and won by 3 points. In other words, both of these teams basically played exactly to expectations, and a good shooting night put UCLA over the top. Arizona is still, in my opinion, the clear best team in the Pac-12.

UCLA's resume is awfully strong at this point, as they have wins over Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Arizona. They have losses to Washington, Washington State, Wake Forest, and Monmouth as well, but the Selection Committee will always prioritize a team with big wins and bad losses over a team with neither. That said, the computer ratings are not as high on UCLA as their current resume suggests they might be. They are 57th in Pomeroy and 56th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. There is a long way to go in this season. If UCLA does fade, as the computers think they will, they are still far from a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team. And if they end up on the bubble, this win could be the crucial win that gets them over the top.

SMU Survives Again It will start becoming a bigger story that SMU, a team ineligible for the postseason, is undefeated. SMU is far from the best team in the nation, but their schedule has been soft and they've been lucky in close games (4-0 in games decided by five points or fewer). In addition, their AAC schedule is backloaded, meaning that they have an easy few weeks coming up before their schedule picks up and gets difficult in mid-February. So they might be undefeated for a few weeks more. Of course, SMU's wins are also doing damage to the NCAA Tournament hopes of the rest of the AAC, including Cincinnati. SMU finished this game on an 11-2 run, with the most important play being Jordan Tolbert's game-saving block:
J. Tolbert Block. - ESPN Video
Cincinnati, as well as they have played, only ended up with wins over George Washington and VCU in non-conference play, and they are now 1-2 in AAC play. They're a Tournament-quality team, but last season's Selection Committee disrespect for the AAC means that the Bearcats don't want to make it close this year. A soft part of their schedule is up next, and they need to plow through it without picking up any bad losses.

Purdue Pulls Away From Michigan With Caris LeVert unable to play in this game, Michigan was going to need a dominating shooting performance to win this game. Instead it was Purdue out-shooting them, hitting 9-for-18 behind the arc. AJ Hammons dominated the Michigan front line with 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 blocks. The good news for Michigan was that they got a huge game out of Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman (25 points on 10-for-16 shooting), who had been having a somewhat disappointing and inconsistent sophomore season thus far.

Purdue came into this game ranked #20 in the AP Poll, which was stupid. They're better than that, and their poll numbers will eventually rise. Whether they win the Big Ten or not will depend in large part on whether Denzel Valentine can indeed return at 100% this weekend, as Michigan State is hoping.

Michigan not looking great without Caris LeVert isn't a huge surprise, but this Wolverines team (at full strength) is probably underrated. They only have one win over a team with a realistic chance to finish the season in the RPI Top 50, but they'll pick up plenty more in Big Ten play. In my opinion, they're a pretty clear NCAA Tournament team.


Anonymous said...

Not a Maryland fan and I get they might not be a top 5 team but I think the fact that you rarely, if ever, bring them up in the B1G title hunt is asinine. You seem to only ever mention Purdue and Michigan St like they're some world beaters. Just something interesting that I have always picked up from reading your stuff.

Jeff said...

Actually, I talk quite a bit about how I think the Big Ten is a four team race. I just think that of the four, the two favorites are Purdue and Michigan State.

Tommy said...

Re the UCLA narrative. They are 3-2 ATS against KenPom top 40 opponents and 2-9 ATS against everyone else. I think it's clear they are definitely playing down to the level of their competition as they aren't coming close to market expectations overall. The 2 spread losses to good teams are 2 of the handful teams I would consider truly elite. They get up for big named opponents but it's looking more and more like Gonzaga/Kentucky/Arizona just aren't quite that good this year (at least the level we're used to from them).

Jeff said...

The problem with going by spreads is that it's not any different than looking at wins & losses - there is a duality where covering by 1 point is the same as covering by 40. The better way would be to see what their relative efficiencies have been against good and bad teams.

I am generally skeptical of narratives that involve giving an entire team of players have some emotional state. Everybody is different, and it often feels arbitrary.

If UCLA had lost to Arizona State today, we'd have heard all about this narrative again. But instead, they won and basically matched the spread, and so we'll forget about this result.

Anonymous said...

Tell me more about Purdue being the top contender with Michigan St for the Big 10.....

Jeff said...

Last year, Duke lost at home by 20 points to a team that didn't even make the NCAA Tournament. Weird stuff can happen in 40 minute sample sizes.

Anonymous said...

And last year you also picked against Duke ATS in all 6 NCAA tournament games.