Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Morning News: Xavier Wins At Providence, Wake Forest Loses A Heartbreaker, Wisconsin Holds Off Indiana, And More

On a night with multiple crazy collapses, Wake Forest's was the most painful.
Xavier Wins At Providence On a night with some wild comebacks, Providence nearly had one of their own. Xavier led by 17 points with 7:20 to go. Providence then hit four consecutive three-pointers and eventually got as close as three points with around a minute to go, when JP Macura didn't see Chris Mack asking for a timeout and nailed a three-pointer instead. Despite that flurry of three-pointers, Providence's cold shooting the rest of the night was what did them in. Xavier hit 48% of their jump shots for the night, while Providence hit just 23% of theirs.

Xavier is now very much back into the Big East title race, particularly with a home game against Villanova still remaining. They head into a relatively soft stretch now, but still will have road games at Butler and Creighton before the Villanova rematch.

Wake Forest Loses A Heartbreaker Virginia has been scuffling in ACC play, and looked on their way to a bad loss at Wake Forest here. Wake Forest led by 10 points with 1:20 to go. But Wake Forest missed 7 of 14 free throws down the stretch, while Virginia hit four consecutive threes, including three 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds. The last of them was this miracle bank shot from Darius Thompson:
UVA vs. WAKE - ESPN Video
Virginia was 1-for-13 on three-pointers over the first 39 minutes of this game and 4-for-4 in the final minute. Small sample sizes are gonna small sample size. Malcolm Brogdon hit two of those final minute threes and led all players with 27 points. Virginia's defensive problems have hardly been solved (Wake Forest poured in 1.09 PPP), but the Cavaliers will be happy for a win of any kind with a nasty schedule to close the season.

Wisconsin Holds Off Indiana This was a really fun game that was close and competitive for all 45 minutes. Yogi Ferrell (30 points on 12-for-20 shooting) was spectacular, while Nigel Hayes did an excellent job driving to the hoop and taking advantage of tight reffing (31 points, including 17-for-22 at the line). Ethan Happ (25 points on 10-for-15 shooting) dominated the Indiana front line as well. One stat to note from this game is the way Wisconsin's three-point defense played excellently, even if they won't get credit for it. The media credits teams for 3P% defense, which is mostly luck, rather than 3PA%, which is mostly skill. Indiana is a 44% three-point shooting team for the season and they hit 44% here. However, 42% of their shots in Big Ten play have been three-pointers, while it was just 26% here. Wisconsin ran Indiana off the three-point line and forced them to take more two-pointers, where they're not as effective.
I made the above image from Pomeroy data and posted it on twitter last night. It's a reminder of just how ridiculously soft Indiana's Big Ten schedule had been before yesterday compared to the other Big Ten teams, and just why it was wise to remain skeptical of that 7-0 start. This Wisconsin game was easily their toughest of the season thus far. And it's going to get tougher, as they still have a home-and-home with Iowa, road games at Michigan State and Michigan, and home games against Purdue and Maryland. Rutgers is in the rear view mirror for Indiana.

This win doesn't get Wisconsin back into the projected Field of 68, but a loss here would have been brutal to their hopes. After losing their first four Big Ten games decided by six points or fewer, they've now won three straight. These things tend to even out. Now 4-4 overall, they need to get to at least 10-8 in Big Ten play to earn an at-large bid. A road game at Illinois on Sunday is the type of toss-up game that they really need to find a way to win.

Creighton Collapses Against Georgetown Wake Forest outdid Creighton a few minutes later, but Creighton's collapse probably had more meaning for the two teams involved. Georgetown had major foul trouble and trailed by 11 points with 2:30 to go. But Creighton scored just three points on their final seven possessions, while D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera took over for Georgetown. It was Smith-Rivera who drove to the rim in the final ten seconds of the game, drew the contact, and then hit a pair of free throws to give Georgetown the lead and the win.

This game had significant meaning for two potential bubble teams who both are sitting a bit outside the Field of 68 at the moment. With all the losses Georgetown has accumulated, they realistically need to get to 11-7 in Big East play to make the NCAA Tournament. This win gets them to 6-2, though against a softer schedule than they'll see the second half of the season. A home game against Providence on Saturday will be a crucial game for them to win (expect the Hoyas to be narrowly favored in Las Vegas).

Creighton, like Georgetown, had a brutal non-conference performance and needs to get to at least 11-7 in Big East play to have a real shot on Selection Sunday. This loss drops them to 5-3 with road games still remaining at Villanova, Xavier, Butler, and Providence. That's going to be an uphill battle.

Vanderbilt Finally Collects A Quality Victory Vanderbilt came into this game without a single win against a likely RPI Top 50 opponent, in large part due to a 1-5 record in games decided by seven points or fewer. They nearly blew a 13 point lead, though in the final stretches of the game Florida never did have the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. Vanderbilt won from the inside out, getting 20 points and 12 rebounds from Damion Jones, and 4 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 blocks from Luke Kornet. They had a 33-to-10 advantage in attempted free throws as a team.

Vanderbilt, now 4-4 in SEC play, heads into perhaps the most important week of their regular season, with a road game at Texas followed by a home game against Texas A&M. The game against the Aggies, in particular, will be a great chance for them to put a quality win on their resume.

Florida's only win over a likely RPI top 50 opponent came against Saint Joseph's, but their strong schedule means that their computer numbers are strong. If they can knock off West Virginia at home on Saturday then even a 10-8 SEC record will probably get them into the NCAA Tournament.

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