Monday, January 11, 2016

Morning News: Villanova Wins At Butler, Illinois Stuns Purdue, Indiana Smokes Ohio State, And More

In retrospect, this isn't the most shocking midseason firing of all-time.
Villanova Picks Up A Big Road Win Villanova shot just 1-for-8 behind the arc in the first half, but they were able to stay in the game with a strong defensive effort. They held Butler to just 10-for-20 on layups and dunks, led in large part by Mikal Bridges off the bench. Butler scored just 0.82 PPP, their first game below 1 PPP all season. Josh Hart led Villanova offensively with 25 points (on 10-for-15 shooting) and 11 rebounds.

Butler drops to 1-3 in Big East play, though against an awfully difficult schedule. Their schedule eases up in a big way over the next few weeks, starting with a home game against St. John's. They're probably not winning the Big East anymore, but they should still be in line for a decent NCAA Tournament seed.

Villanova is a team that absolutely can earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this season, but it's likely going to take a 15-3 or better record in Big East play. They're now off to a 4-0 start with Marquette up next.

Illinois Stuns Purdue You don't want to overreact to 40 minute sample sizes, but Purdue just did not look like themselves here. They could find easy shots and were too reliant on long jump shots. The final score was exaggerated by atypically hot Illinois outside shooting (9-for-17 on threes), but Purdue was legitimately outplayed here. Illinois made it a big focus defensively to force Purdue's backcourt to beat them, and they couldn't do it.

Purdue is still a very good team, and they probably won't play this poorly again this season, but this loss drops them to 2-2 in Big Ten play, and they no longer look like the potential Big Ten favorites (that probably has to be Michigan State again). The good news for them is that they get to recovery with a week of Penn State and Rutgers. Everybody knows how good Purdue's front court is, but it remains to be seen whether the way Illinois was able to exploit Purdue's backcourt is something that other teams will be able to replicate, or whether this game will just look like a crazy fluke in March.

Indiana Smokes Ohio State Indiana's defense has been quietly putting up good defensive stats the past few weeks after some ugly early season performances. The question was whether they could keep it up against quality opponents, after mostly just running through cream puffs. Their defense looked good against Wisconsin, and they absolutely shut down Ohio State here. The Buckeyes scored 0.86 PPP here, their second-lowest of the season. The Hoosiers are now 4-0 in Big Ten play and have a soft upcoming two games as well. We know that Indiana can score - the question these next couple of weeks will be whether they can keep this defensive improvement up.

Ohio State had won seven straight before this game. They are still 3-1 in Big Ten play, but their poor non-conference performance means that they're likely going to need to go at least 10-8 in conference play to earn an at-large bid. They have a tough road stretch against Maryland and Purdue coming up soon.

Louisville Loses Ugly To Clemson Louisville managed to make a late run in this game, forcing Clemson to hit their free throws down the stretch, but they doomed themselves with some hideous offense. Their outside shooting was bad (they missed their first 17 three-pointers of the game before hitting 3-of-6 down the stretch), but they also failed to score near the rim, hitting just 8 of 27 layup attempts. A lot of the credit for that latter stat has to go to a Clemson defensive front line that has been excellent this season. Jaron Blossomgame was the most impressive of the bunch, but it was a team effort.

Louisville scored 0.91 PPP here, their first game under 1 PPP all season long. Rick Pitino's scheduling means that Louisville picked up zero quality wins in non-conference play. They are good enough (this game aside) to pick up a bunch of quality wins in ACC play, but Pitino might regret handicapping his team by not giving them more chances for quality wins in November and December. If they're going to stay in the ACC title race, a home game against resurgent Pittsburgh on Thursday will be crucial.

Clemson did nothing in non-conference play (losses to Minnesota, UMass, Alabama, and Georgia, with zero wins vs the Pomeroy Top 200), but they've now won three straight in ACC play. Still, even with these three wins they are still just 136th in RPI, with lots of ground to make up if they're going to make a postseason run. They'd have to go at least 11-7 in ACC play to even be considered on Selection Sunday, and despite a 3-1 start it's still unlikely that they'll finish above .500.

Allonzo Trier Out 4-6 Weeks Trier was injured while leading Arizona with 25 points in that crazy four overtime game against USC. Trier is leading Arizona with 14.8 points per game, and his injury will test the Arizona depth that was already tested earlier this season when Kaleb Tarczewski missed a few weeks. If Arizona can stay healthy, they are the most talented team in the Pac-12, but these injuries have put their Pac-12 title hopes into serious doubt.

Dave Rice Fired This perhaps isn't the most shocking midseason firing in history, as UNLV's season has been a big disappointment with the level of talent on the roster. The three consecutive losses to Fresno State, Colorado State, and Wyoming were the last straw, apparently. Dave Rice had won 65% of his games as head coach at UNLV coming into this season, but he was 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament, and that won't cut it. Assistant coach Todd Simon will stay on as the interim coach, though I'd bet on them going outside the program for a full-time coach after the season is over.

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