|Baylor couldn't stop them. Can Oklahoma?|
Iowa's Stunning Comeback Iowa is very dependent on jump shooting, and so their results have a high level of variance, not just from game to game but from half to half. They've had quite a few "Tale Of Two Halves" basketball games, where they've looked great one half and awful the other. And they did that in a big way here, losing the first half by 17 points and winning the second half by 24 points. As you'd expect, they were ice cold on jump shots in the first half (17%) and red hot in the second half (55%). But it takes more than just hot shooting to outscore a team like Purdue by 24 points in a half. Purdue hit just 25% of their jump shots in the second half (after 40% in the first half). Iowa also got loose on fast breaks, ending up with an 18-to-5 advantage in points off turnovers in the second half. Purdue had 10 turnovers in the second half, after averaging just 12.6 per game this season.
With this win, Iowa has to be considered a serious contender in the Big Ten. Right now, it looks like a four team contest. If Denzel Valentine is able to return at full strength before Michigan State's rematch against Iowa then Michigan State will be the favorite, but Iowa's chances have to be close to the chances of Purdue and Maryland after this win.
Oklahoma Sets Up #1 vs #2 That Kansas/Oklahoma game on Monday night will now be #1 vs #2. Oklahoma struggled with Iowa State here, though. The Cyclones had a much easier time getting to the rim, and they finished with a 46-to-38 advantage in paint points, while Oklahoma took nearly twice as many three-pointers (29-to-16), despite not really being a team that loves to take jump shots. Georges Niang had a monster 29 points on 13-for-18 shooting. But this Oklahoma team is so well-balanced, and at home they're going to be nearly unbeatable this season.
A loss at Oklahoma doesn't knock Iowa State out of the Big 12 title race, of course, but it's a missed opportunity to jump into the thick of it. We'll have a better idea of where they stand in a couple of weeks, after they play several teams in the conference's middle class (Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech, and Kansas State).
Xavier Trounces Butler I talked a couple of days ago about not panicking about Xavier. Xavier was still without Edmond Sumner here, but they had no problems moving the ball against a Butler defense that has been quite accommodating this season. Xavier scored 1.28 PPP, following up on Providence torching Butler for 1.23 PPP in their Big East opener. Remy Abell was the key man for Xavier, shooting 7-for-8 from the field and adding 4 assists with 0 turnovers.
While the score was ugly against Villanova, the fact was that all that happened was a road loss to Villanova. Xavier will get a rematch at home against Villanova on February 24th, and remain in the thick of the Big East title race. And they remain, in my opinion, Villanova's top contender.
Butler, with this brutal start to Big East play, might be out of the conference title race already. At this point there is no big risk of falling to the bubble, but the Bulldogs are playing more like 6-8 Tourney seed than like a Top 10 ranked team.
Kansas Steamrolls Baylor The 1.33 PPP Kansas scored in this game was their most in a Big 12 game since they scored 1.40 PPP on February 15th, 2014 against that TCU team which went 0-18 in Big 12 play. It takes some fluky shooting to have that kind of offensive performance, and they hit 58% of threes, but they also had 20 assists to only 7 turnovers, and were just unstoppable on the offensive end all game long.
Baylor isn't going to win many games where they get out-rebounded, but there is some concern that outside of their narrow home win over Vanderbilt they have been battered pretty badly by Top 50 opponents. All four Pomeroy Top 50 opponents have broken 1 PPP against them, with an average of 1.16 PPP. The defense will have to get better for Baylor to finish in the Top 4 of the Big 12.
LSU Upsets Vanderbilt So does this game say more about LSU or about Vanderbilt? It's not clear which right now. Certainly, LSU is better than their current computer numbers. The additions of Craig Victor and Keith Hornsby have helped significantly on offense (their defense is still something of a train wreck). Meanwhile, Vanderbilt's high computer ratings (Top 20 in both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR coming into this game) seemed a little bit suspect. They've played a tough schedule and had bad luck in close games, but they have struggled against quality opponents and have yet to beat a Top 50 opponent of any kind. They were probably overvalued in the computers.
For LSU, they're clearly improving, but this single upset is hardly proof that they're playing like a Tournament team now. And they've dug such a huge hole for themselves with their non-conference struggles. This win pushed their RPI from 186th up to 154th, to give an idea of the size of the deficit they have to get out of. Realistically, their RPI won't get back inside the Top 50 before the SEC tournament, but if they can finish strong and pick up some quality wins while going 12-6 or better in SEC play, they will have a real case on Selection Sunday. That home game next week against Kentucky is massive for that "quality win" column.
As for Vanderbilt, we'll have a much better idea of where they are after a couple of tricky road games next week (Arkansas and South Carolina). They need to find a way to get at least a split there.
Texas Tech Starting To Grow Believers I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the perfect job that Tubby Smith did putting together his non-conference schedule to inflate Texas Tech's RPI. But schedule can only get the horse to water, it can't make him drink. The Big 12 still has a full round-robin, and Texas Tech is still going to need to go at least 8-10 to earn an at-large bid. And that makes this a really nice early season victory: taking care of a Tournament-quality Texas team at home. The Longhorns were without star big man Cameron Ridley, but nobody will remember that on Selection Sunday.
Speaking of Texas, their resume is looking fairly bleak outside of that North Carolina win. They are 8-5 overall with a bad loss to Washington. They might be without Ridley for much of the remaining regular season, and they are going to have to get to 9-9 in Big 12 play to have a good shot on Selection Sunday. On that topic, they have a crucial week coming up with a home game against Kansas State and a road game at TCU. The Longhorns should be slight Vegas favorites in both games, but statistically the odds are that they'll lose one of those two games. Those are the games that they need to take care of business in to get to the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia's Offense Rolls Virginia had yet another performance where their offense seemed to grind out a fantastically efficient performance. They scored just 77 points with 4-for-11 three-point shooting, but ended up with 1.33 PPP, the 7th time in 13 games that they've scored 1.30 PPP or more. Pomeroy currently rates their offense #1 in the nation. Unfortunately, Virginia's ACC schedule is backloaded - four of their final six games will come against Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, and Miami - so it won't be until late in the season before we can really figure out their chances of winning the ACC.
Notre Dame knew coming in that this was not a game they were likely going to win. That win over Iowa is looking very nice, and they'll get plenty of chances to strengthen their resume in ACC play in more winnable games than on the road at Virginia.
Miami Comes Back Against Syracuse The first half of this game was awfully ugly for Miami. They hit just 2 of 21 jump shots and scored an ugly 0.55 PPP. In fact, all players not named Sheldon McClellan shot a grand total of 2-for-20 on all shots in the first half. They didn't shoot too much better in the second half (27% on jump shots), but they did a much better job attacking the paint. They outscored Syracuse 20-to-12 in the paint, and 18-to-6 at the free throw line. In all, they outscored Syracuse 47-26 in the second half.
Miami has another home game coming up next weekend (vs Florida State) that they need to grind through to keep pace with the ACC leaders. They will be in the mix with what to appear to be four other serious contenders at this point (Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, and Louisville). The Hurricanes were some help by the ACC scheduling gods, getting Duke and Louisville only at home (along with a home-and-home against Virginia and a road game at North Carolina).
This was a big missed chance for Syracuse to turn their season around. They went 10-3 in non-conference play with wins over UConn and Texas A&M to go with a bad loss to St. John's. As good as the ACC is, they'll be in good shape if they get to 9-9 in ACC play, but they're off to an 0-2 start. A home game next weekend against North Carolina will be a key chance to grab a major scalp.
Florida State Falls These are the sorts of games that potential bubble teams can't afford to lose. Florida State's defense let them down, allowing 1.25 PPP for a Clemson team not exactly known for its offensive prowess. In fact, it's the best offensive efficiency for Clemson in a game since November 22nd, 2013. Clemson's perimeter players were able to get to the rim at will, where they mostly got themselves fouled. Clemson finished with a 33-to-18 advantage in free throws. Toss in 7-for-10 three-point shooting from Jordan Roper, and a correspondingly cold shooting day from Florida State star Dwayne Bacon (10 points on 5-for-16 shooting), and you have this result.
Florida State got wins over Florida and VCU, along with a bad loss to Hofstra, in non-conference play. To make the NCAA Tournament they probably need to get to 9-9 in ACC play, and they also need a big scalp or two. Their first big chance will come on Monday night when North Carolina comes to Tallahassee. Virginia comes to town in two weeekends later.