Sunday, January 10, 2016

Morning News: USC Wins A 4OT Classic, Virginia Loses Again, Baylor Upsets Iowa State, And More

Tony Bennett has had better weeks as a head coach.
New Bracket Projection There were two changes to the Field of 68 this week. Ohio State moves in as an at-large, replacing Wisconsin. Texas Southern moves in as the SWAC favorite, replacing Southern. More details are at the link.

USC Wins A 4OT Classic Because nobody gets the Pac-12 Network, and because it was going against the NFL Playoffs, very few people saw this game compared to the Oklahoma/Kansas classic from a few days ago. But while this game didn't have the same level of play, it had the same level of craziness, with both teams having multiple chances to win the game.  In the end, the game was decided in the fourth overtime by Kadeem Allen committing a dumb foul on a jump shot with the shot clock running out. Arizona had close to 20 seconds to come back and score, but their final possession did not go according to plan:
USC wins with defense on final possession of 4th OT - ESPN Video

This result increases the chances that a team like USC, Oregon, or Utah can steal the Pac-12 title, though Arizona is still the favorite for now. This also firms up the at-large chances for USC, who now have a second quality win to go with the Wichita State win. If they can get to 10-8 in Pac-12 play, that should be enough to secure an NCAA Tournament spot.

Virginia Loses Again Virginia's last week has been really bad, and it's hard to understand why the drop-off has been so dramatic. The primary problem is defensive, where they simply aren't as good as they were last season. Darion Atkins was so good in the paint defensively, and Virginia's paint defense has dropped off in a big way. Last season they were 3rd in the nation in 2P% defense, while they are 117th in the nation this season. It's only been three ACC games, but all three opponents have cracked 1 PPP, and as a whole they are allowing 1.10 PPP in ACC play thus far, after giving up just 0.85 PPP in ACC play last season.

Georgia Tech didn't do much of anything in non-conference play (a win over VCU with losses to East Tennessee State and Georgia), but this win is going to spark some at-large talk. It's not implausible, but they're going to have to play better to get to 9-9, which is the bare minimum for them being in contention on Selection Sunday.

Baylor Wins At Iowa State Baylor was down by 11 points with 13:40 to go, but they responded by hitting 7 of their next 8 jump shots to take a 1 point lead. They struggled with the Iowa State press in the final minute, but managed to hang on. The star in this game was a player who will become much more of a household name soon: Johnathan Motley (27 points on 13-for-15 shooting with 13 rebounds).

Baylor had been scuffling over the three weeks prior to this game, but this win definitely gets them back on the right track and puts to bed (for now, at least) the concerns of falling to the NCAA Tournament bubble. There's no reason that they can't compete with West Virginia and Iowa State for third place in the Big 12, as they proved here. A road game at Texas Tech next weekend will be key in that regard.

Melo Trimble's Buzzer Beater Maryland has been on an incredible run in close games since the start of last season, while Wisconsin is having a "can't catch a break" season, and that continued here. Wisconsin had another brutal shooting day, hitting 45% at the FT line and 27% on jump shots (in contrast, Maryland hit 75% at the line and 46% on jump shots), but the Badgers managed to tie things up on their final offensive possession before Melo Trimble did this:
I'm not going to rehash the arguments over luck in close games. Fan bases always decide whether or not they love analytics or hate analytics based on whether analytics thinks their team is underrated or overrated, so Maryland fans have hated analytics the past few seasons. And that's fine. This win could certainly be a big factor in what, for now, is a four-team race for the Big Ten title.

This is a massive missed opportunity for Wisconsin. In terms of "chance to win" x "value of win to the Selection Committee", they probably won't have a better opportunity than this all season long. To have it go down on a buzzer beater sums up the way their season has been going. They are playing well enough that they could get on a run, but they're not making the NCAA Tournament unless they get to 10-8 or better in Big Ten play, and they're off to a 1-3 start.

Pittsburgh Holds Off Notre Dame Pitt seemed to have this game comfortably in hand. They led by 18 points with 10 minutes to go, but a 23-7 Notre Dame run force the Panthers to have to sweat out the final minute. This was a well-played game in general. The two teams combined to hit 49% of their three-pointers with 31 assists to just 10 turnovers. In fact, the 1.30 PPP Notre Dame scored was the most scored by a Division I team this season in a loss (the previous high was 1.29 PPP by North Florida against LSU). Of course, Pomeroy rates these as two of the best four offenses in the nation while rating both defenses 185th and 213th, so maybe we should have expected a scoring explosion like this.

Pittsburgh is now 3-0 in ACC play, and a dark horse for a Top 3 finish in the conference. A road game at Louisville on Thursday is a chance to maybe even get into the title race. Notre Dame, meanwhile, is still 31st in Pomeroy and 34th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, but their resume at the moment is pretty weak. They have a win over Iowa and a loss to Alabama, with a 1-2 ACC record. The lack of non-conference success means that they'll be in trouble if they only finish 9-9 in ACC play, so they need to try to get to 10-8 or better. Three of their next four games are at home against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, the very types of games you can use to inflate your W-L record.

Chris Washburn Blocks Texas Texas has been struggling the last few weeks, and you figure in the Big 12 that the one team you should be able to beat is TCU. But 3-for-21 three-point shooting put them in an ugly slog which ended on a dramatic Chris Washburn block:
C. Washburn Block. - ESPN Video
Texas has that win over North Carolina, but they also have bad losses to Washington and TCU and their record is down to 9-6, including 1-2 in Big 12 play. As good as the Big 12 is, a 9-9 record should give Texas enough quality wins and strong enough computer numbers to get them into the NCAA Tournament, but at this point that's an uphill battle. A Tuesday home game against Iowa State is a crucial opportunity for them.

Dayton Suffers A Bad Loss Due to injuries, La Salle only played six players for this game. And in fact, every single point, rebound, and assist was credited to the starting five. In addition, La Salle had not beaten a Division I team of any kind since November 23rd, and hadn't beaten a Pomeroy Top 150 opponent all season long. How did Dayton lose?T hey were physically out-matched in the paint. La Salle had a 12-to-5 advantage in layups/dunks and a 24-to-12 advantage in paint points. Dayton hit just 33% of their two-pointers.

Dayton has a little bit of buffer between themselves and the bubble, but the Atlantic Ten is not a strong enough league this season to keep cannibalizing itself like this. Dayton has wins over Iowa and Vanderbilt, along with bad losses to Chattanooga and now La Salle. They're still 19th in RPI, but that number will fade as the season goes along. If they go 12-6 or better in Atlantic Ten play that should lock up an at-large bid, and at 11-7 they'll be in pretty good shape, but at 10-8 or worse they'll be in trouble. At 2-1, they have important games up next at home against Davidson and George Washington.

South Carolina Stays Undefeated It's interesting how little media hype there is for the two remaining undefeated teams (South Carolina and SMU). In South Carolina's case, it's in large part because everybody is pretty skeptical of a start primarily driven by a soft schedule. If we consider Vanderbilt a team likely to end up in the RPI Top 50, they'll be the first such team that South Carolina has defeated this season. Their defense has been really good (just 0.90 PPP allowed so far this season), but the question is whether that defense will translate to better opponents.

The thing with South Carolina's schedule is that even within SEC play it's soft, and back-loaded. They only play Kentucky, Florida, LSU, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M once apiece, only one of them on the road, and this was the only one of the bunch before February 6th. So South Carolina should end up with a gaudy W-L record, but they won't have a lot of big wins, and that Selection Sunday resume may look more like a mid-major team than a Power 5 team.

Vanderbilt is off to a surprising 0-3 start to SEC play, though it's fair to note that it's been a tough schedule (vs LSU, at Arkansas, at South Carolina) and all three games have been decided in the final two minutes, with an average deficit at the end of regulation of 4 points per game. I still think this Vanderbilt team is an NCAA Tournament team, but they're going to have to get to 11-7 in SEC play to be in good shape. That means 11-4 the rest of the way. Home games against Auburn and Alabama next are "take care of business" games.

Gary Payton II Leads Oregon State In a battle between two potential bubble teams, Oregon State got out to a 14 point lead early in the second half, but California chipped away and pulled within two points with a minute to go. So Oregon State naturally turned to Gary Payton II for the dagger. Payton finished the game with 20 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, and 4 steals.

California already had wins over St. Mary's, Colorado, and Utah, and this is certainly not a bad road loss, so this result doesn't hurt them too much. They will be near an NCAA Tournament lock if they get to 10-8 in Pac-12 play. Currently 2-2, they have a road game at Stanford up next.

Even though Oregon State didn't beat any likely RPI Top 50 teams in non-conference play, Wayne Tinkle did a nice job building an RPI-friendly schedule, and so their computer numbers look good. This win pushes them up 33rd in RPI, and a 9-9 Pac-12 finish should keep them in the RPI Top 50. 10-8 should be enough to get them Dancing.

Saint Mary's Falls Saint Mary's is a team that the computers love. Even after this loss they are 18th in Pomeroy and 14th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. The problem is that their schedule has been very soft, and this was their first game all season long outside the Bay Area. They wouldn't be the first team to see their efficiencies decline when the schedule gets more difficult and they have to start traveling. Another reason to doubt them is their hot shooting (they led the nation in eFG% and are second in 3P%), which is likely to regress over time.

That said, this Saint Mary's team is awfully explosive offensively, and they could be a dangerous NCAA Tournament team if they can get in. That soft schedule means no quality wins, though. BYU and Stanford are their two best wins so far. Unless they knock off Gonzaga, they might not have a single RPI Top 50 win. Their RPI will also fall off very quickly if they lose more than two or three games in conference play. And that makes this a tough loss for them. They really can't avoid another one of these.

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