Thursday, January 21, 2016

Morning News: Texas Impresses Against West Virginia, Michigan St Loses Another Heartbreaker, Wichita State Takes Control Of The Valley, And More

"We're in first place, but..."
Texas Impresses Against West Virginia Everybody in the Big 12 knows the formula to defeat West Virginia, the problem is that it's very difficult to execute. West Virginia's half court offense is bad, and they rely on forcing a ton of turnovers and getting easy baskets off rebounds. Texas is not a great rebounding team, but they're leading the Big 12 in offensive turnover rate, and they committed just 8 turnovers here. West Virginia dominated the glass, but their shooting was just so awful (a 33.6 eFG%) that they couldn't score enough to win.

West Virginia has lost two straight games now, but teams are going to lose games in the Big 12. We have to get used to that and not overreact to each loss. The Mountaineers can stick around in the Big 12 title race if they can consistently win games like their upcoming one, on the road at Texas Tech.

At this point, Texas really just needs wins over anybody, whoever it is. They already had big wins over North Carolina and Iowa State, and their computer numbers are going to be strong in the Big 12, so if they get to just 9-9 in Big 12 play they should be in good shape on Selection Sunday. They are 4-2 in Big 12 play now, but their schedule the last six weeks or so is just filthy difficult.

Michigan State Loses Another Heartbreaker Nebraska has quietly played pretty well in Big Ten play. Take efficiency margin for what it's worth when Nebraska has already played both Rutgers and Minnesota early in the season, but Nebraska's net efficiency in conference play is +0.10 PPP, which is 5th in the Big Ten. Still, this is their first win over a likely RPI Top 50 opponent, and they did it despite white hot 11-for-18 three-point shooting from Michigan State. How did they do it? They shredded the Michigan State defense - Shavon Shields (28 points on 12-for-20 shooting) in particular. For the second straight game, Denzel Valentine had a good look to win the game, and for the second straight game he missed.
There was no shame for Michigan State in a loss to hot-shooting Iowa, or on the road by a single point at Wisconsin, but this is a downright mediocre performance. Their defense has fallen apart (they have allowed at least 1.1 PPP in all three games in this losing streak), and they are now 3-4 in Big Ten play facing Maryland up next. Still, it's hard to believe that this team won't look at the tape and figure out what they've been doing wrong defensively the last three games. They will be favored in Vegas against Maryland on Saturday, and rightly so. But if they lose that game, there's a risk of the wheels falling off this season.

Nebraska is now 4-3 in Big Ten play though, as I said earlier, that's in large part driven by their soft schedule. This is a great win, but their schedule gets much more difficult now, with Michigan, Purdue, and Maryland up next. If their improvement in Big Ten play is real, and not a small sample size mirage, we'll find out in those next three games.

Wichita State Takes Total Control Of The Missouri Valley Even Wichita State might not earn an at-large bid if they lose in the Missouri Valley tournament, but they're the one team in the conference with a real chance. And with this win, they are now the heavy favorites for the regular season title as well. When they play like this they're tough to beat. Ron Baker went off for 21 points, as a team they hit 8-for-15 behind the arc, and they always limit turnovers and offensive rebounds.

Because of their lack of quality non-conference wins, Wichita State is going to have weak computer numbers. If they can get to 16-2 or better in Valley play, though, they will be tough to keep out of the NCAA Tournament. They are now 7-0 and will likely be favored in every remaining game.

Even after their wins over North Carolina and Iowa State, Northern Iowa was still just 66th in Pomeroy, and they have slid significantly further from there. They have accumulated a number of bad losses, and simply are not playing like an at-large team. At this point, even the NIT will be an uphill battle.

Washington Is Leading The Pac-12? Really? Technically, yes, Washington is now in first place in the Pac-12 at 5-1. That said, they are 5-1 despite actually being outscored in conference play. They are being outscored by 0.01 PPP, which makes them just 7th in the Pac-12 in efficiency margin. And that is a big part of why the computers are down on them, as they are now 88th in Pomeroy and 66th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They played well here, finishing with a 55.6 eFG% and blocking 15 shots, but this is just a single game. The computer numbers don't lie.

Considering Washington's poor non-conference performance (a win over Texas with bad losses to Oakland and UC-Santa Barbara), it's hard to see how they even have a chance at an at-large bid without getting to 11-7 in conference play. 5-1 is a good start, but their schedule is going to get tougher, and at some point that luck in close games will likely run out. Their at-large chances are still pretty low.

Colorado, in contrast, looks like a more typical bubble team. This loss drops them to 3-3 in Pac-12 play with only quality wins over Oregon and Oregon State (it will remain to be seen if that latter win will stay inside the RPI Top 50), but with zero bad losses. Their RPI at the moment is 24th, but it's likely to decline for a number of reasons. To stay inside the RPI Top 40 (no major conference team in the RPI Top 40 has missed out in the modern era) they probably need to get to 10-8 in Pac-12 play. A tricky road game at Washington State is up next before they come home for the Bay Area schools.

Seton Hall Misses A Great Opportunity The end of this game was hardly a clinic in end-game execution.  Both teams had a turnover due to failing to inbound a ball. Until Villanova fouled intentionally on the final possession during a #FoulOrDefend situation, Seton Hall had gone five consecutive possessions without scoring. Villanova, meanwhile, had just come off missing three out of four free throws. And in the end, Villanova clinched this game after Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead accidentally made a free throw that he intended to miss on purpose. On Selection Sunday, however, this will just look like any other win.

This game meant a lot more for a Seton Hall team that looks likely to be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. They are now 3-3 in Big East play with wins over Wichita State and Providence along with a bad loss to Long Beach State. If they get to 10-8 in Big East play they'll be in the mix on Selection Sunday, but unless they get to 11-7 I think they're going to need to go on a run during the Big East tournament. Their lack of quality wins is going to be a problem.

Villanova is now firmly in control of the Big East, and look on pace for their third straight regular season title. The road game at Xavier looms, but they can lose that game and still be in good shape as long as they take care of business in the games they're supposed to win.

Louisville Annihilates Florida State The media has been doubting this Louisville team, scoffing at how much the computers love them, but it's hard deny how impressive their defense is. Louisville held Florida State to 0.90 PPP here, and have allowed only one ACC opponent to crack 1 PPP. For the season, they lead the entire nation with 0.86 PPP allowed. I've talked before about how Florida State tends to go with how Dwayne Bacon goes, and Bacon was 4-for-17 from the field here.

Louisville's offense is not great, but it's good enough to challenge for an ACC title considering how elite their defense is. Road games at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech up next will be key road tests to get through before they get Virginia and North Carolina at home. Louisville does not have to play a game at Chapel Hill this season, so if they can beat UNC at the Yum Center then they will have a plausible path to the ACC title.

Florida State will want to forget this game happened, as they have a more important game up next: at home against a reeling Pitt team. The Seminoles are just 2-4 in ACC play, and need to get to at least 9-9 in ACC play to earn an at-large bid.

UCLA Wins At Oregon State UCLA's short and mid-range shooting game was on point in this one. They hit 16 of 22 two-point jumpers (73%), rolling to 1.14 PPP. Isaac Hamilton led the way, hitting 6 of his 7 two-point jumpers (and 10-for-14 overall from the field) while leading all scorers with 25 points.

UCLA needs this win to avoid dropping to 2-4 in Pac-12 play with a road game at Oregon looming. With their big wins (Kentucky, Arizona, and Gonzaga), they'll be in good shape even at 9-9 in Pac-12 play. They still have quite a few difficult road games, though, so 9-9 is far from a sure thing.

Oregon State ended up being the team in this game that dropped to 2-4, and they don't have the big wins to fall back on that UCLA does. Their only wins against likely RPI Top 50 opponents have come against Oregon and California. They realistically need to get to 9-9 in Pac-12 play to have a shot on Selection Sunday, which makes Sunday's home game against USC a crucial test to avoid dropping to 2-5 with the Arizona road trip up next.

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