Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Morning News: Louisville Grabs A Crucial Win, Texas Upsets Baylor, Houston Knocks Off SMU, And Stetson/North Florida

Louisville's interior defense has been fearsome this season.
Louisville Grabs A Crucial Win This game meant much more for Louisville than North Carolina. Rick Pitino had put together a horrible non-conference schedule, and the result was that Louisville picked up zero qualities until mid-January. They need big wins anywhere that they can get them. In contrast, North Carolina came in with an 11-1 record against the RPI Top 100 with four RPI Top 50 victories. The Tar Heels were 8-0 in ACC play, though against the softest SOS in conference play thus far. This was easily their toughest game of conference play thus far.

North Carolina lost this game, primarily, because they couldn't hit a shot. They finished 3-for-17 on three-pointers. Louisville's paint defense was also excellent, holding the Tar Heels to 10-for-22 on layups and dunks. In all, the Tar Heels scored 0.92 PPP, the first time they've been held below 1 PPP all season long.

This results gives us a real race in the ACC. Louisville is now just a game back of North Carolina with the tiebreak (there will be no Chapel Hill rematch). Virginia is among several teams lingering just a single game further back, and they also have a home game against the Tar Heels remaining. North Carolina's schedule continues to get tougher down the stretch, beginning with a road game at Notre Dame on Saturday.

Texas Upsets Baylor Shaka Smart came in with a significantly different system than Rick Barnes had, so perhaps it's not a shock that it took Texas some time to figure it out. But there's no question that their level of play has improved significantly over the last three to four weeks. Interestingly, there wasn't much "HAVOC" here, as Baylor committed just 11 turnovers. Texas won by physically controlling the paint, blocking 6 shots and holding Baylor to 38% two-point shooting. Texas was also efficient offensively, assisting on all 21 made baskets, and scoring 1.12 PPP.

Any concerns of Texas falling to the NIT are gone for now. They have won 6 of 7 and are now 6-3 in Big 12 play with an RPI up to 16th. Baylor is now 6-3 in Big 12 play as well, though with a softer set of wins than Texas has. Baylor is actually just 5-5 against the RPI Top 100. They're not really in danger of falling to the bubble, but they are in danger of dropping to a lower Tournament seed than their current Top 15 ranking in the polls would suggest. If the season ended now they'd likely be a 6 or 7 seed.

Houston Knocks Off SMU This result isn't anywhere near the same story now that SMU has already lost has a game, but this is still a big upset for a Houston team that has quietly gotten themselves into the mix near the top of the AAC. There's been quite a bit of luck in Houston's rise - they are 5-1 in games decided by six points or fewer or in overtime - but they potentially have a shot to be in contention for an NIT spot.

SMU is in an awkward spot the rest of the season, as they really don't have anything to play for. The AAC regular season title is possible, but that won't motivate the players like the undefeated season did. A lot of their success early in the season came from out-athleting opponents and earning a ton of offensive rebounds and free throws. Those stats have started to fall off now that their schedule is getting more difficult. Expect them to lose a few more times before this season is over.

Stetson Stuns North Florida On a relatively light night for college hoops, it's worth mentioning the upset of the night. North Florida has dominated the Atlantic Sun this season while Stetson was off to a 2-5 start. I couldn't find a Vegas line, but Pomeroy had the line at 19 points, which puts it on par with a 2/15 upset in the NCAA Tournament. North Florida had won 18 straight home games, the tenth longest streak in the nation. For a team that relies heavily on hitting three-pointers, this clunker unsurprisingly involved ice cold shooting (10-for-35 on three-pointers).

In the end, North Florida isn't playing for an at-large bid anyway, so I don't think this loss hurts them too much. They're still the heavy favorites for the Atlantic Sun regular season title. But you never know when a bad loss can cost you a seed line in the NCAA Tournament.

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