|Your favorite for NPOY.|
Virginia Stifles Louisville We've been wondering where Virginia's defense has been all season, and it finally showed up here. Amazingly, this was the first ACC opponent that they have held below 1 PPP all season long, after allowing just 0.88 PPP in ACC play last season. And this was, finally, a suffocating defensive performance. Louisville scored just 0.44 PPP in the first half, and only after scoring a bunch of points in garbage time did they get their game total up to 0.77 PPP.
It will remain to be seen whether this Virginia defensive performance is a sign of a real shift, or if this was just a fluke. Louisville's lack of players who score consistently in the paint, where Virginia is weakest defensively, suggests that perhaps the Cardinals were just a perfect opponent for the Cavaliers.
Even after this ugly loss, Louisville is still the team best positioned to steal the ACC regular season title from North Carolina. Their home game against the Tar Heels is up next, on Monday night. They don't have a return trip to Chapel Hill, so a win there would put them in a great position.
Florida Routs West Virginia Games involving West Virginia are almost always ugly. There are going to be a lot of turnovers, a billion fouls, and a ton of stoppages of play. This game had more fouls (45) than made baskets (40) and took nearly two and a half hours. But West Virginia needs those turnovers to win, and Florida actually had the advantage in turnovers (17 to 13). This result was hardly a shocker, as West Virginia was only a 1 point favorite in Vegas, but the margin of victory was surprising. Florida's hot outside shooting (10-for-16 on threes) was a big factor there.
This is probably the best all-around performance by Florida this season, though they've been better than their resume. Some bad luck in close games, particularly against quality opponents, has been the problem. But this win should put the bubble concerns to the side for a while. A 10-8 SEC record will likely keep their RPI in the Top 40, which would make them a near-lock to get in.
Kansas Beats Kentucky In Overtime If Kansas had blown this game, they would have pointed to their free throw shooting, hitting just 58% in regulation. They hit 75% in overtime, however, which was sufficient to put the game away. Kentucky fans will feel that the whistle was not in their favor, leading to the huge Kansas advantage in free throws attempted (47-to-22) and the fouling out of four Kentucky big men, and they would have a point. I don't recall any grievously blown calls, but Kansas seemed to get the lion's share of the 50-50 calls. But of course, that's what homecourt advantage is for.
It would have been tough to explain to somebody earlier this season how irrelevant Cheick Diallo and Skal Labissiere would be in this game. The two players combined for 6 points and 3 rebounds in 24 minutes, and it wouldn't have even been that much if Labissiere wasn't forced to play late in regulation and overtime due to foul outs.
In the end, I think this game tells us more about Kentucky than Kansas. The Wildcats have been playing better basketball the past few weeks, and fighting to a draw on the road at Kansas is just another sign of that. Texas A&M still has the inside track to the SEC regular season title, but I think that Kentucky will be the best team in the SEC when March comes around.
Texas A&M Picks Up A Big Win There aren't a lot of Top 25 wins to be had in the SEC, so this game was a huge opportunity for Texas A&M to build the type of resume to contend for a 3, 2, or even potentially a 1 seed in March. I don't know how much we really learned in this game, though. Iowa State struggled with 16 turnovers, also shot an ugly 31% on jumpers and 4-for-12 from the line, had a slightly hobbled Georges Niang, and still led this game with 4:30 to go. But Danuel House keyed the late Aggies run, scoring 10 of their next 12 points, including this exclamation point that effectively ended the game:
Iowa State will have plenty more chances for Top 25 wins in Big 12 play, so this game didn't mean as much for them as for the Aggies. They'll forget this game in an instant if they can knock off West Virginia at home on Tuesday night.
Oklahoma Tops LSU In A Thriller This game was a ton of fun, even if the Ben Simmons hype was (as expected) nauseating. The one man who apparently wasn't aware of Ben Simmons was his head coach, Johnny Jones, who allowed LSU to go completely away from him in the final stretches of the game. With ten minutes to go, LSU led this game by 10 points. Over those final ten minutes, Simmons was a grand total of 0-for-1 from the field with 0 assists. It's one thing to use Simmons as an occasional decoy, though it's not particularly effective since he's no threat to attempt a long jump shot, but at some point you have to give him the ball and let him go to work. In contrast, it was the favorite for National Player of the Year, Buddy Hield, who went off for 7-for-10 shooting behind the arc in the second half, and 32 points for the game. He was used properly as a decoy on Oklahoma's final possession, by faking a screen and flaring to the perimeter, drawing the defense away Isaiah Cousins:
This is potentially a crippling loss for LSU's at-large hopes. They still have just a single RPI Top 50 victory, and are just 8-8 against the RPI Top 200. They'll get the benefit of the doubt because they've played better since putting their full roster together at the end of the fall semester, but their computer numbers are just far too ugly at the point. At this point, they could go 12-6 in SEC play and still end up with an RPI in the mid-70s. So even if they do get to 12-6, they're going to need a strong SEC tournament run to avoid the NIT. They need to find a way to get to 13-5 in SEC play to feel good about their chances.
NC State Crushes Miami Miami fans will surely complain about the reffing, as they were called for 25 fouls, compared to 14 for NC State. But there's no question that NC State's front line was more physical. They won the rebounding battle, and dominated the paint scoring (a 34-to-20 advantage).
This loss probably ends whatever small chance Miami had at earning a share of the ACC regular season title, but they will still have plenty of opportunities down the stretch to make a case for something like a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. NC State, meanwhile, is still a long way off from the bubble. Just 2-7 in ACC play, three of their next four games are on the road against Pomeroy Top 50 opponents. They'll need to pull several upsets down the stretch just to get to 8-10.
Is Butler An NIT Team? It's amusing that in a year where ESPN has become the Ben Simmons Network, you can barely find any coverage at all of Henry Ellenson. Yet Ellenson is another one-and-done player who has a chance to sneak into the Top 5 of the NBA Draft, and he's had an absolutely monster season on a team where he is getting very little help from his teammates. He dominated this game with 32 point, 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks, while putting much of the Butler front line in foul trouble. 10-for-17 three-point shooting was perhaps the biggest reason Marquette won this game, but there's no question that Ellenson was the best player on the court.
Butler has wins over Purdue and Cincinnati, but they also have a 3-6 Big East record, and now have this bad loss. Their strong non-conference performance means that their computer numbers will be good if they can get to 9-9 in Big East play, but just getting to 9-9 is probably unlikely after this loss. A home game against Georgetown on Tuesday will be a Bubble Battle.
Columbia Stuns Harvard At The Buzzer Harvard has had a difficult season, but this might be their toughest loss to swallow. They led this game by 29-9 at one point, but Columbia outscored them 46-25 the rest of the way. Alex Rosenberg led all scorers with 14 points, including the shot at the buzzer to deliver victory:
Alex Rosenberg's #BuzzerBeater downs Harvard. Columbia moves to 4-0 in Ivies. #SCTop10 @CULionsMBB @AlexRosenberg13 pic.twitter.com/0SyROJzSf2— Robert Crawford (@CrimsonCrawford) January 31, 2016
Texas Overwhelms Vanderbilt Vanderbilt is the early leader in the clubhouse for the best team to miss the NCAA Tournament. A combination of a poorly timed Luke Kornet injury and some bad luck in close games has their resume looking pretty ugly despite some good computer numbers. They are 38th in Pomeroy and 22nd in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, yet they are just 5-9 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is just 57th. Here, they were undone by Shaka Smart's defensive pressure. They only committed 13 turnovers, but 10 of those 13 turnovers were steals, and they led to a massive 17-to-3 advantage in fast break points for the Longhorns.
Vanderbilt does have two huge opportunities remaining with home games against Texas A&M and Kentucky. If they can win those two games and get to 10-8 in SEC play, that probably is enough to get them an at-large bid.
Texas now has wins over North Carolina, Iowa State, West Virginia, and Vanderbilt, with only one bad loss (TCU). If they get to 9-9 in Big 12 play, that should lock them into the NCAA Tournament.