Sunday, January 17, 2016

Morning News: Oklahoma Will Be The New #1, Auburn Topples Kentucky, Duke Falls To Notre Dame, And More

Auburn will face a fine for rushing the court. It was worth it, I'm sure.
New Bracket Projection There were three changes to the Field of 68. Seton Hall, VCU, and Arkansas-Little Rock move in, while Ohio State, Texas Tech, and UT-Arlington drop out. This is also the first week of the Full Bubble.

Oklahoma Will Be The New #1 The way the human polls work, Oklahoma is going to move to #1 in the nation on Monday with this win over West Virginia.  But West Virginia's press caused trouble for Oklahoma, just as it has caused troubles for almost every team they've faced the past couple of seasons. They forced turnovers on 25% of possessions, and had a huge 36-to-16 advantage in paint points. The difference in this game really came at the free throw line, where Oklahoma hit 84%, compared to 59% for West Virginia. In the end, the game came down to one final play:
WVU vs. OKLA - ESPN Video
But in the same way that the story of the Kansas/Oklahoma 3OT game was that Oklahoma pushed Kansas to a draw on the road, the story of this game is that West Virginia only lost by 2 on the road at Oklahoma. If we expected West Virginia to wilt after the Kansas win, they did the opposite, providing some evidence here that they're actually better than Oklahoma. In my opinion, Kansas and Oklahoma are still the top two teams in the Big 12, but it's impossible to dismiss West Virginia as a contender any longer.

Auburn Topples Kentucky Auburn came into this game 7-8 overall, with zero wins over likely RPI Top 50 opponents and bad losses to Missouri, Middle Tennessee, and Harvard. On top of that, they were short-handed, still being without the services of the injured TJ Dunans (who had started every game before getting hurt). What allowed them to pull off the win in what was a 12 point spread in Vegas? Two things. First, Auburn chucked up threes all day and hit them at a high clip (12 made three-pointers compared to just 9 made two-pointers). Also, Kentucky's non-productive front court continued being non-productive. Derek Willis did score 12 points, but the rest of their front court players combined for just 13 points and 9 rebounds. As a team, Kentucky scored 0.93 PPP. The only other team to score fewer than 0.94 PPP against Auburn's defense this season was Georgia Southern.

I don't think there's any question that Texas A&M has outplayed Kentucky over the past few weeks. The question is, which team will be the best in the SEC in March? And at this point, I think we need to believe in the talent regressing. This wouldn't be the first time that a young John Calipari team went through a rough stretch and then figured things out in February. But Texas A&M is the favorite to take the SEC regular season title right now.

Duke Falls to Notre Dame Analyzing Duke's recent slide is pretty simple. The loss of Amile Jefferson is a huge problem. Without Sean Obi able to provide anything, Duke really only has one true big man who can defend the paint in Marshall Plumlee. Chase Jeter is a decent rebounder and is 6'10", but he's not much of a defensive presence and he does little on offense. When Jefferson got hurt, Duke was rated 3rd in Pomeroy. Now they are now 17th.

Projecting the rest of Duke's season is difficult because we don't know when or if Jefferson will return. It sounds as if the best case scenario is that he will return in mid-February, but the rehab is hard to project. Duke is probably a Top 25 team without Jefferson, but they're certainly not winning the ACC without him.

Notre Dame was quietly looking like a bubble team before this big win. They beat Iowa, but they had no other wins against likely RPI Top 50 opponents while also losing to Alabama and Monmouth. With a second quality win, they will likely make the NCAA Tournament if they get to 10-8 in ACC play. Now 3-2, they have two "take care of business" home games against Virginia Tech and Boston College up next.

Lester Medford Breaks Texas Tech Fan Hearts Staring 1-4 in the face, Texas Tech really needed to collect a home win over Baylor. Even with 5-for-18 three-point shooting, they clawed their way back and tied up the game on a Zach Smith jumper. But that's when Lester Medford did this:
Texas Tech's great RPI manipulation means that they'll be very likely to earn an at-large bid if they can get to 8-10 in Big 12 play, but this loss drops them to 1-4 with a must-win at TCU up next. Baylor, due to a significantly weaker non-conference schedule, probably needs to get to 9-9 in Big 12 play to earn an at-large bid, but they're now 4-1. The schedule gets tougher ahead, though they have a great opportunity next Saturday with Oklahoma coming to Waco.

Is Clemson Good? Clemson's non-conference performance was brutal. They beat zero Pomeroy Top 200 opponents while losing to Minnesota, UMass, Georgia, and Alabama. Even now, after winning three consecutive games against Top 10 ranked opponents, their computer numbers are still not great. Over the last three weeks, their RPI has risen from 257th to 87th, while their Pomeroy rating has risen from 101st to 56th.

A point I hammer home consistently on this blog is that analytically we can only deal with probabilities. When a team that has been mediocre all season looks great one game, it's probably a fluke. Two games... maybe it means something? Three games in a row, it's hard to ignore. The biggest change the last few weeks has been the Clemson offense, which put up 1.25 PPP here. The 1.25 PPP was the most Miami has allowed in a game this season, and it comes just two weeks after Clemson put up a season-high 1.25 PPP on Florida State. Clemson is currently 6th in the ACC in offensive efficiency after being 14th last season. Some of it is very good shooting (including 80% FT shooting in ACC play), which will regress, but they're also getting to the free throw line much more than before.

Clemson has two good things going for their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes, but one bad thing going against it. The good things are that performance in the second half of the season is weighed more heavily than performance in the first half, and also that the Selection Committee prefers teams with big wins and bad losses to teams with neither. The bad thing is their computer numbers are still pretty ugly and their won-loss record is ugly. If they go 10-8 in ACC play, they'll be just 17-13 with an RPI somewhere in the 90-100 range. So they're going to need to get to at least 11-7 to have a chance. They can get there, but I'm not sold quiet yet.

Providence Loses Again Two weeks ago, Providence was in the Top Ten of both human polls as well as the RPI, but the advanced metrics said that they were significantly overrated, closer to around the 40th best team in the nation.  They were 7-0 in games decided by eight points or fewer. This game was decided by nine points, but there was still some luck that went against Providence. For one, a terrible call that fouled out Kris Dunn with 3:02 to go. For another, Providence went ice cold with 5-for-25 three-point shooting. This stuff tends to even out over the course of a season.

The good news for Providence is that they have those wins over Arizona and Butler banked, and they only have one iffy loss (Marquette), so they are still in good shape for the NCAA Tournament right now. But they seem to have proven the computers right that they were not a serious Big East contender.

Seton Hall needed this win after a tough home loss against Creighton. It's their second quality win (Wichita State is the other), and they are up to 3-2 in Big East play with a huge opportunity at home against Villanova on Wednesday. They look like a prototypical bubble team, so a win over Villanova could be the difference on Selection Sunday.

San Diego State Takes Control Of The Mountain West In a battle between the two best teams in the Mountain West thus far, San Diego State picked up an important road win, and took clear control of the conference. It's tough to score against San Diego State under ordinary conditions, and Boise State didn't help themselves by going ice cold behind the arc. They hit just 1-for-17 behind the arc, including a point-blank look at the buzzer with a chance to tie which missed.

The Mountain West looks most likely to be a one-bid league, but Boise State is probably the best primed of the bunch to earn an at-large bid. If they can get to 14-4 in Mountain West play, they'll have a case. San Diego State realistically has to get to 15-3 or better. The Aztecs had two bad non-conference losses (San Diego and Grand Canyon) while picking up only a single win against a likely RPI Top 100 opponent (California).

Temple Wins Ugly Over Cincinnati When Temple and Cincinnati play, you expect a physical, ugly game, and that's what we got here. Temple won with only 0.86 PPP. Cincinnati was an atrocious 1-for-18 on three-pointers. And down the stretch, and in overtime, the offensive execution got even worse. Both teams were heaving up bad shots, and Cincinnati ended up blowing their last good chance on a backcourt violation out of a timeout.

Cincinnati is better than their resume, but that is not going to help them on Selection Sunday. The problem is that they had excruciating two point losses to Butler, Iowa State, and SMU, and they just don't have many chances left for "quality wins". Their RPI has slid to 83rd, and now at 3-3 they're probably going to need to get to 12-6 in AAC play to earn an at-large bid.

Maryland Embarrasses Ohio State Ohio State's season has been frustrating and inconsistent due in large part to how young they are, but this was the season low-point. The margin was in large part due to jump shooting differential, of course. Maryland was 11-for-21 on threes and 52% on all jump shots, while Ohio State hit just 21% of their jump shots. But Ohio State had nobody who could defend Robert Carter (25 points on 10-for-13 shooting).

The stumbles of Michigan State and Purdue have put Maryland into the Big Ten title race, which may now have Iowa as the favorite. Their only game against Maryland will be in College Park, on January 28th.

Ohio State is still 4-2 in Big Ten play, but their schedule thus far has been pretty soft. They still have just two wins over likely RPI Top 100 opponents (Kentucky and Northwestern). Realistically, it's going to be really hard for them to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament if they fail to reach 10-8 in Big Ten play.

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