Thursday, January 14, 2016

Morning News: Clemson Knocks Off Duke, South Carolina Goes Down With A Thud, USC Routs UCLA, And More

Angry Frank Martin is back.
Clemson Knocks Off Duke With Amile Jefferson out, Duke is very susceptible to foul trouble. The Sean Obi situation is odd, since he played well at Rice and came to Duke with high expectations, yet even with Duke in awful foul trouble here he couldn't get a moment on the court. The front court foul trouble forced Duke to go small for much of the second half, and Clemson was able to control the paint. Clemson rebounded 33% of their own misses (compared to 13% for Duke), they had a 10-to-3 advantage in second chance points and a 28-to-20 advantage in paint points. It allowed them to win despite Duke shooting the ball pretty well (11-for-25 on threes).

This is just Duke's first ACC loss, but it does seem like they are an underdog to win the ACC if Amile Jefferson cannot return soon. The good news for them, if Jefferson does return, is that their conference schedule is mostly backloaded. Their next few weeks are relatively soft, beginning with home games against Notre Dame and Syracuse up next.

Clemson is evening things up after some bad luck in non-conference play. They went 0-3 in games decided by six points or fewer in non-conference play, and they are now 3-0 in such games in ACC play. They move to 4-1 in ACC play with wins over Louisville and Duke. That said, the NCAA Tournament is still an uphill battle. Clemson lost to UMass, Minnesota, Alabama, and Georgia in non-conference play, and their RPI is still 113th. Realistically, they need to go at least 11-7 in ACC play to earn an at-large bid.

South Carolina Goes Down With A Thud SMU is now the only undefeated team left as South Carolina's undefeated season goes down in ugly fashion. On one hand, this was just a fluky bad day for South Carolina. They shot an atrocious 8-for-37 on jump shots (22%). They're not really this bad. That said, there were so many skeptics about a 15-0 start in which the only win over a Pomeroy Top 50 opponent was against Vanderbilt, at home, by four points. Parallels will be drawn to the Clemson team from 2008-09 that started 16-0 and finished the season 7-9.

One difference between this South Carolina team and 2008-09 Clemson is that South Carolina's schedule remains easy the rest of the way. Within SEC play they only get a single game each against Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, LSU, and Texas A&M, with four of those five games at home. At the same time, they get a home-and-home against Alabama, Missouri, and Mississippi State, arguably the three worst teams in the conference. They could go 25-6 and still end up with mediocre computer numbers, giving them more of a mid-major type resume than the type of resume you'd expect from a Power 5 team.

USC Routs UCLA UCLA was asleep in the first half, and they got themselves routed early. USC was up by 18 points at halftime, and by as many as 21 points early in the second half. USC's offense has been great the past few games, and they poured in 1.22 PPP here. USC now leads the Pac-12 in efficiency margin (+0.09 PPP), narrowly ahead of California (+0.08 PPP) and Arizona (+0.05 PPP). That makes them legitimate contenders in the Pac-12 if they can keep up this level of play. The question for a surprise team like this is whether they can continue this level of play once they start getting the media hype of being favorites, and once other teams stop overlooking them. Potential performance regression is in play.

UCLA slips to 2-3 in Pac-12 play with the Oregon roadtrip up next, which means that their resume is starting to get a little bit dicey. They still have a bunch of tough road games later in the season (Arizona, USC, California, etc), so if they fall to 2-5 next week they are going to struggle to get back to .500.

Colorado Beats Ice Cold Oregon State Oregon State shot just 3-for-14 behind the arc here, and their 32.0 eFG% was their first game below 40% all season long. For a team that generally relies in part on hot outside shooting, they were never going to win like this. Gary Payton II did his best attacking the rim (26 points on 8-for-20 shooting, with 9-for-12 at the line), but Colorado is a tough team to beat at home even if Oregon State was shooting well.

This is one of the umpteenth Bubble Battles that is going to happen in the Pac-12 over the next two months, since it feels like the majority of the league is around the bubble. Both of these teams, after this game, are 2-2 in conference play, and both will be in very good shape for the NCAA Tournament if they can get to 10-8. The Pac-12 is highly respect enough to get some 9-9 teams in, and both of these teams could get in at 9-9, but that would require doing well in the Pac-12 tournament and potentially sweating out Selection Sunday.

Missouri Hit With NCAA Punishments This is now the second school hit with NCAA punishments during a Frank Haith tenure. The story that Haith left Missouri for Tulsa just four days after the school was notified of the NCAA investigation is a very, very bad look for Haith. For Missouri, the punishments thus far are not serious. They are vacating wins from a season that wasn't that good anyway, and they are self-imposing a postseason ban during a season when they are probably the worst team in the SEC. But this might not be the end, and the NCAA still could come down and impose their own additional punishments in time.

No comments: