Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Morning News: West Virginia Topples #1, Virginia Bounces Back, Kris Dunn Calls Game, And More

Take down #1 and you've earned yourself a court storm.
West Virginia Topples #1 West Virginia only wins games when they are forcing lots of turnovers. Last season they were 11-3 against Big 12 opponents when forcing turnovers on 24% or more of possessions, and were 0-5 when under 24%. Here, they forced turnovers on 30% of possessions, and held Kansas to 0.85 PPP, the worst offensive performance by the Jayhawks since the big Temple loss on December 22, 2014.

In my opinion, this result says a lot more about West Virginia than Kansas. Last season, West Virginia rolled over inferior competition and had great computer numbers, but then wilted against the elite of the Big 12, the teams that were able to limit the turnovers and offensive rebounds. They had a good season, but they were not a serious Big 12 contender. This win is only a single game, but it's evidence that this West Virginia team has taken the next step, and will be a legitimate contender with Kansas and Oklahoma atop the Big 12.

For Kansas, it's instructive to look at this result from the perspective of the computer ratings. The Sagarin ratings view an overtime game against Oklahoma as approximately equal to an 8 point loss at West Virginia. The Pomeroy ratings have it as approximately a 6 point loss. They lost by 11 here. In other words, this performance was not as good as the Oklahoma game performance, but not that much worse. Home vs road makes a big difference, and even the best teams are going to lose occasionally on the road against quality opponents. To me, Kansas is still the Big 12 favorite.

Virginia Bounces Back The panic over Virginia's two consecutive bad losses should abate somewhat after this nice home win over Miami. Their interior defense still had holes in it, and Miami was able to get to the rim, but Virginia's offense got back to being an unstoppable monster. They scored 1.14 PPP against the Miami defense that had been leading the ACC in defensive efficiency, doing it by getting easy baskets near the rim. 15 of 24 made baskets were layups or dunks.

The lack of interior defense is still a concern for Virginia, and it's the reason why they so far have not played as well as they did last season, but the Cavaliers are still one of the best teams in the ACC. They will try to move back above .500 in conference play on Sunday, when they have a tricky road game at Florida State.

Miami was a 4.5 point underdog in Las Vegas, so there's no shame in a competitive loss. Miami's schedule is relatively soft for the next month or so before it gets nasty in mid-February, so they have the chance to stay in the thick of the ACC race if they can avoid upsets.

Kris Dunn Calls Game This was an awfully ugly game. Providence won with 0.75 PPP, which was the third fewest by any Division I team in a win this season (if you're wondering, the season low in a win is 0.67 PPP by Mount St. Mary's in a 44-40 win over St. Francis-Brooklyn). In an ugly game, it came down to an ugly final shot, which Kris Dunn bricked... yet got the lucky bounce:
Providence is now 8-0 in games decided by eight points or fewer. That's why the computers are lower on them than their resume currently sits, but their current resume is nice. This result meant more for a Creighton team that was quietly sneaking up on the Tournament bubble. They did nothing in non-conference play (no quality wins and a bad loss to Loyola-Chicago), but they are 3-2 in Big East play with wins over Georgetown and Seton Hall. They need to get to at least 10-8 in Big East play to be in the mix on Selection Sunday.

Maryland Falls At Michigan This isn't the upset that it's being made out to be, even without Caris LeVert. Pomeroy had Michigan as a 1 point favorite, and with the LeVert injury the line moved to Maryland by 2.5 points in Vegas. So this was an upset, but not a big one. Michigan opened up a lead in this game with hot 10-for-19 three-point shooting, but 2-for-10 three-point shooting down the stretch allowed Maryland to get back into the game. The real difference was Melo Trimble being completely taken out through a team-wide effort to get the ball out of his hands. Trimble finished with 2 points on 1-for-7 shooting. Robert Carter and Diamond Stone overpowered the Michigan front line, but on the final possession Melo Trimble never saw the ball. Rasheed Sulaimon played hero ball and missed the potential game-tying shot.

Now 2-2 in Big Ten play, Michigan has a tough game at Iowa on Sunday, but if they can pull the upset there then their schedule eases up for the next few weeks. They're a good team, and a sleeper contender for a Top 3 or 4 finish in the Big Ten. Particularly if Caris LeVert can get back fully healthy and in the lineup soon.

Texas Upsets Iowa State There was referee controversy at the end of regulation here, as Isaiah Taylor looked like he was clearly fouled on Texas's last shot of regulation. Those rooting for Iowa State would argue that Taylor had an un-called travel on the previous possession, though that call was closer to being accurate, in my opinion. Either way, Texas got the win in overtime, so it was all for naught. Isaiah Taylor was the star all night, pouring in 28 points (on 11-for-17 shooting), 6 assists, and 6 rebounds.

This is a huge win for a Texas team that had been struggling since their win over North Carolina. They bounced back from an ugly loss to TCU, and also got back to 2-2 in Big 12 play while adding a second quality victory. The problem for Texas is that their schedule strength is so strong that it's going to make it hard for them to have a good W-L record. Unless they beat Vanderbilt, they are going to need to go 8-10 in Big 12 play just to finish above .500 overall. That's going to make their at-large hopes complicated.

Unless Iowa State wins at Kansas State on Saturday, they're going to be at risk of dropping out of the Top 25 on Monday, though I do think they're still a Top 25 team. The Big 12 is so deep that it's hard for any team to win reliably, night after night. The Cyclones have probably cost them any chance of stealing a piece of the Big 12 title, but they still should be on their way to a solid NCAA Tournament seed (something in the 4-7 range).

Texas A&M Holds Off Florida If Texas A&M is going to steal the SEC title, this is the type of game that they need to grind out and escape with the win. They did that here, on a night where they were struggling with Florida's big defensive front line (6-for-15 on layups). Jalen Jones had a big game, getting to the room for 11 free throw attempts and leading all players with 26 points.

The Aggies are now 4-0 in SEC play, and their only game against Kentucky will come at home, so they are in the driver's seat for the SEC title if they can keep up this level of play. The key will be avoiding too many road losses. They have a tough road game up next, at Georgia.

Even though Florida didn't collect any big wins in non-conference play, the fact that they played so many good teams means that their computer numbers are strong. If they get to 10-8 in SEC play, they should be a near certainty to make the NCAA Tournament. Now 2-2, they head on the road to face Ole Miss next.

Texas Tech Falls I wrote a long piece on how well Tubby Smith manipulated his team's schedule for a high RPI. The great RPI numbers mean that Texas Tech will be a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament if they get to 8-10 in the Big 12. But of course, getting to 8-10 in the Big 12 is no joke. There's nowhere to hide in a full round robin in what is probably the nation's best conference this season. The losses to Iowa State and Kansas were expected, but this loss at Kansas State will be painful for that effort to get to 8-10. 10-for-19 three-point shooting by Kansas State was the biggest reason for the upset.

The Red Raiders have a big week coming up with a home game against Baylor and a road game at TCU, both of which are going to be nearly 50/50 games in Las Vegas. Winning 50/50 games are the way to get to 8-10 in the Big 12.

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